Pickwick can be broken into two segments this month. At the beginning of the month, fish the summer patterns. Toward the end of September, after a couple of cool nights, use fall fishing patterns.
During that first segment, we’ll fish big crankbaits, football head jigs and Carolina-rigged worms.
And then, toward the end of the month when shad become more active, I’ll fish topwater lures like the Zara Spook and popping lures.
Also this month, location, location, location will play a major role in your success.
During the early part of the month, I like to fish between Bear Creek and the Natchez Trace Bridge with its numerous drop-offs, humps, grass and underwater structure.
I’ll start off fishing the ends of mussel bars out on the main lake and the main river channel. Most people cast from the deep water to the shallow water, but I catch more bass fishing from shallow water to the deep water.
Football head jigs
I’ll cast out a football-head jig 30 or 40 feet to the main river channel and drag it or hop it up on bars with mussel shells.
Bass can be deep or right on top of the bar. I want to cover every water depth, as I slowly drag my 1-ounce peanut-butter-and-jelly jig up the bar.
Pulling your jig from the deep side of the structure to the shallow side, the jig will crawl through every portion of the bottom.
The bass also don’t see nearly as many baits coming up from the deep side of the bar. In the hottest part of September, the bass definitely will be relating to the bottom.
Casting to the deep side of the structure will get you hung up more often than when you pull the jig from the top side of the bar out to the river channel. But this time of the year I’ve found that I’d rather be aggravated and catch fish than be aggravated because I’m not catching fish.
Another key to finding and catching bass, especially when the water’s running, is to cast your jig upcurrent and let the boat drift back slowly with the current.
I’ll use a medium-heavy, 7½-foot Pinnacle flipping and pitching rod, 17-pound-test Berkley fluorocarbon line and a Pinnacle 7.3:1 gear ratio reel.
I like the new Mann’s Easy Crank 30, which is made from the 30+ body with a new lip on the bait. This lip design enables the lure to come through the water without as much pull and strain on the angler, and it casts better and farther.
I prefer the gray ghost color, a shad pattern and a black-back with a chartreuse belly.
I’ll fish the crankbait the same way as the jig, with my boat on the shallow side of the bar and casting out into the main river channel.
As I reel the crankbait from the deep water to the shallow water, the bill of the bait will bounce and ricochet off the mussels and rocks, creating motion and running erratic to get reaction strikes.
I’ll come down in line size and use 12-pound-test Berkley 100-percent fluorocarbon. I’ll cast the crankbait on a Pinnacle deep-diving crankbait rod with a 5.5:1 gear ratio Pinnacle reel.
If bass aren’t biting, I’ll give them a softer, smaller presentation with a Carolina rig, reeling slowly. I’ll put a 1-ounce sinker up the line, a bead below the sinker, a barrel swivel below the bead and 2 feet of leader on the end of the barrel swivel. I’ll use a Mann’s HardNose Freefall 5-inch, straight-tail, fat, round green pumpkin worm.
My main line will be 30-pound-test Trilene braid on a 7 ½-foot pitching and flipping rod and a Pinnacle reel with a 6.4:1 gear ratio. My leader line will be 20-pound-test Trilene Big Game line that has some stretch. Then when I set the hook, I won’t break the line.
End of September tactics
I’ll change methods and locations at the end of the month. I’ll cast a Zara Spook or a popping/chugging lure above the Natchez Trace Bridge on the secondary mussel bars.
I’ll look for grass that comes to a point on the ends of the secondary bars, places where ditches cut through the bars, and channels and ditches that don’t have any grass growing in them or where the grass hasn’t reached the surface.
The area about a mile away from the north end of the Natchez Trace Bridge is where you’ll have a very good chance to catch some nice-sized smallmouths on topwater lures like a shad-color Zara Spook or a popping bait. The smallmouths will pull out of the deep water and chase shad in those pockets and secondary points.
The bass always dictate the retrieve. However, generally I’ll work the Zara Spook fast.
I’ll pop the popping bait three or four times, let it sit still, pop it three or four more times, and then allow it to sit still again.
When you’re fishing the Spook or a chugger, make sure the bass has the lure in its mouth before you set the hook, because a bass often will blow the bait out of the water, hit the bait with its sides or tail — trying to injure the bait before circling around and eating the lure.
Lower your expectations, however, because September can be a tough month to fish. If I catch 10 to 12 bass in a day of fishing, I feel like I’ve had a really good day.
Using these tactics, you may catch a 5- or a 6-pound smallmouth. The majority of bass you’ll catch will be largemouths, but you’ll have a mixed bag of spotted bass, largemouths and smallmouths.
And don’t be surprised if you also catch some stripers.