A life-long bass fisherman — he started when he was 6, Karl Hudson of Corinth began realizing few years ago that his love of chasing largemouth was diminishing.
The challenge was just not as appealing, standing like most longtime bass anglers on the front deck of a shiny fiberglass boat and running from hole to hole just like everybody else with a big rig, and fishing the same spots that they were.
Then one day, Hudson put his finger in the hole that was draining the excitement out of bass fishing. He learned how to slow down, and he learned that the best way to fish where others couldn’t was to do what they wouldn’t do.
He traded boats.
“About 15 years ago, I bought a 10-foot sit-inside kayak and fished in it a lot,” Hudson said. “As matter of fact, I finally wore a hole in the bottom of it. I’m now fishing in a Jackson Cuda 14 kayak.
“I’ve always had a love for fishing out of paddle boats. I tell folks my boat starts every time I go to the lake. I don’t have to spend any money on fuel. I don’t have to worry about my motor or other mechanical things breaking down, so on and so forth. The main thing I like is I can get into places that other people just don’t fish.”
Home water, as far as big lakes go for Hudson is Lake Pickwick, saddled in the corners between Tennessee, Mississippi, and Alabama.
Hudson also fishes a lot of small watershed lakes around Corinth, and also hits some small local rivers and creeks, both at home and up into middle Tennessee.
Even when fishing big public water at Pickwick, Hudson feels like he still has a sizeable advantage over other anglers fishing from larger bass boats. He passes on the need for speed and the desire to run all over the lake, looking for one bite here and one bite there. Paddling his small boat allows him to concentrate on one home area and target every big fish in it.
“I have an advantage,” said the kayaking angler. “The bigger boats tend to fish out on the main river. They tend to fish just the deep-water places. Everybody knows where those places are because of community holes with GPS coordinates. I like to fish in places where I can get in close around boat docks, marinas and grass beds, back in behind places that people usually don’t think to fish — the overlooked spots. I’ve always enjoys fishing places that other anglers overlook.”
Although Hudson spends as much time on the water as any bass boating angler, even time on big water that is accessible to all types of boats, Hudson continually catches more than his share of trophy-sized bass. Many anglers, including those who don’t fish with a paddle across their laps, have asked him about his secrets to catching big fish.
“For big fish, I’m looking for solitary fish,” he said. “I feel like a big bass is a solitary fish. He’s not a school fish. He’s going to set up in a place where he’s got plenty of bait, cover and shade, everything he needs.
“A trophy bass is a home body. He’s not roving all over the lake. So, the way I fish, from a kayak, I can get right in there with the solitary fish, especially around boat docks, humps, back ends of coves — the places where the bigger fish are going to be. I may only catch one or two in a day but they’re going to be better than average fish.”
Hudson does share a trait with the bass-boating bunch: He’s not a hole sitter. He does not wait for that big bass to just show up. Hudson is actively seeking out fish willing to bite, all the while maintaining an up-close-and-personal presence to the fish and the cover. But there are distinct differences.
“I’m not going to fish the way a boating angler would because I make much shorter casts,” he said. “I certainly don’t consider myself a finesse fisherman. I do fish with light line occasionally, but I prefer to fish with the heaviest line I possibly can. I also like extremely big lures.
“I don’t sit on one spot. I like to move. I like to fish for active fish. The difference is that because I’m in good cover almost everywhere I look, I’m in productive water the whole time.”
Hudson feels his kayak gives him his biggest advantage from late August through September, and well into the fall, because most of the bass, both largemouth and smallmouth in the lake, are making a transition from deeper water to shallow.
Though he’s not immune to deep water — his plastic boat floats as well as any other, Hudson said he can stay in tune with bass better when they reside in shallow water. And on a lake like Pickwick, shallow water can still be deep.
“In the fall, the fish are in transition, moving from deep water into shallow water, so they’re going to be in that 10- to 15-foot depth range around bait,” he said. “If you don’t see bait, you’re not going to find fish. Pickwick has a huge shad population. If you’re fishing around bait, you should be around fish, but there’s a little more to it.”
Hudson loves to fish with a football head jig. He said he can catch fish with it anywhere year round, but like the sport for which it is named, the football head jig really shines in the fall.
Hudson will take a ¾-ounce football head jig and fish around boat docks with shell beds underneath. Taking a broader perspective, he does extremely well anywhere he can find a marina dock.
“I don’t always run a depth finder or sonar on my kayak because I feel can stay in tune with my surroundings and the depth by bumping the bottom with the jig,” he said. “But the one thing I can pick up with my depth finder pretty readily is the bottom composition and I can tell where shell beds are. It has a different reading. When I pick those up, I fish them pretty hard.
“One of my favorite locations to fish in the fall is around Yellow Creek. I’m looking for shell beds in that 10- to 15-foot range, especially around boat docks. Another good location is in the Goat Island area; again the boat docks and shell beds. I also fish up at Safe Harbor; there’s a marina there that has a big area that fishes good.”
The final key in breaking down Hudson’s pattern of fishing boat docks over shell beds is how he puts the football jig in play. As mentioned, fall is a time when the presence of baitfish is going to make or break the pattern. Hudson wants bait present, but he has more success on the bottom so he’s not always imitating baitfish to get a strike.
“I like the purple with the olive colors with a football jig, green pumpkin and purple with a twin-tailed trailer,” he said. “You can mimic a crawfish or a bait fish in the same cast. When you’re dragging it across the bottom, it looks like a crawfish. When you pop it up off the bottom, it looks like a baitfish trying to escape. I’ll also swim a jig, so in the same cast, I can mimic both things. Most of all, I feel like a big bass is not going to pass a crawfish or a bluegill underneath these docks, so that’s what I’m trying to mimic is a bluegill or crawfish.”
Getting there: Pickwick Lake is located on the Tennessee River and forms the headwaters originate behind the Lake Wilson dam near Muscle Shoals, Ala., and runs some 48 miles to the Pickwick Dam near Counce, Tenn. Mississippi’s best access points to reach the recommended fishing sites is the State Line Boat Launch located on the north shore of Yellow Creek near the Highway 57 bridge (from 57, take Magnolia Lane to the launch site offering a 2-lane concrete ramp and paved parking area) and J.P. Coleman State Park on Indian Creek.
License: Due to reciprocal agreements with both Tennessee and Alabama, a Mississippi license is valid on the waters of Pickwick Lake where Mississippi has a shared bank with either state. However, upon leaving shared water, fishermen must have a valid license for the corresponding state.
Bass tactics: Kayak bass fishing expert Karl Hudson looks for bass and baitfish to migrate from deeper water into the shallows during the early fall. Hudson uses a sit-on-top kayak to target boat docks near the backs of creeks in 10 to 15 feet of water that have shell beds in the immediate area. Fishing from a kayak allows the angler to make shorter casts and working the area thoroughly before moving to the next dock or slip. A ¾-ounce football head jig with twin trailers in purple and olive colors can be worked at a variety of depths to imitate baitfish, bluegill, or crawfish.
Hot spots: Hudson favors areas in Yellow Creek, around Goat Island, and near Safe Harbor.
Lodging: Visit www.pickwicklake.net
Maps: Delorme Mississippi Atlas & Gazetteer, (800) 561-5105 or visit www.delorme.com; Fishing Hot Spots, (800) ALL-MAPS or visit www.fishinghotspots.com; Navionics Electronic Charts, (800) 848-5896 or visit www.navionics.com