An obvious key to successfully bass fishing on a post-spawn pattern at Pickwick Lake, or any water for that matter, is knowing in what phase of the spawn the largemouth and smallmouth are at any given time.
If you’re around Pickwick, in the northeast corner of Mississippi where it borders both Alabama and Tennessee, you might consider a short drive into Tennessee to the Sweet Lips Store and strike up a conversation with owner Lou Williams.
As resources go, Williams offers some of the best bass-fishing information on the Tennessee River impoundment. In addition to the store, Williams operates a Facebook page (Lou’s Pickwick Reports), a valuable resource for anglers wanting to get the most updated fishing information.
One of Williams’ favorite topics is when the bass spawn occurs and whether it occurs separately for largemouth bass and smallmouth bass.
“The biology books all say largemouth spawn between 68 and 72 degrees and smallmouth spawn between 58 and 62 degrees,” Williams said. “What they don’t factor in is that largemouth spawn in shallow water, from a foot to 5 feet deep, and smallmouth go deeper, 8 to 10 feet deep. What happens is these two locations reach those temperatures at about the same time.”
No one is arguing that by May, both species are in post-spawn patterns, especially on Pickwick. Williams said a lot of anglers struggle during the post-spawn period, but rarely because the fish won’t bite.
“They move, and they suspend,” he said. “That’s what throws people off. It’s similar to the prespawn when they move into the spawning grounds, except they’ll stage at various places along the way. In post-spawn, if you’re not out there on the water chasing them nearly every day, you can get lost.”
Williams makes no great distinction in the tactics he uses to catch both largemouth and smallmouth on Pickwick in May. He said bass are moving out of the shallows and are hungry, but because they stay on the move, they are hard to locate.
“Smallmouth take a lot longer to regain weight, because they’re always on the move,” he said. “Largemouth will go somewhere and lay up and ambush prey, so they expend less energy and regain weight faster than smallmouth.”
Points and humps in 6 to 12 feet of water are ideal post-spawn locations to find both species; look for bass to suspend off the structure. Other good locations are along the ledges that line the lake’s western end. A rock ledge that sticks out a foot or two is a great concentration point along an otherwise unbroken length of solid rock wall.
“You don’t want to fish these areas vertically; you want to cast to them and work the bait to you horizontally so you cover more area,” Williams said. “A lot of guys think about fishing clear water vertically, but you’re only fishing a small target area, and you need to cover more water by casting.”
Areas with gravel bottom and chunk rock are also good spots. By May, the lake will be approaching summer pool of 414 feet above mean sea level, and the water color is usually a greenish color. Because of this, the big distinction between species will be the color of baits used.
Williams said crankbaits, jigs and plastic worm rigs will all work as well as swimbaits and jerkbaits. The difference is, smallmouth seem to prefer brighter colors like chartreuses, pinks and oranges while largemouth favor more subtle, natural colors.
Williams does most of his fishing on the west end of the lake, but he recommends the southern end where major tributaries like Bear Creek and Yellow Creek, both in Mississippi, and Second Creek, in Alabama, offer more spawning grounds and will have more bass migrating from those areas out to the main lake and into the main tributaries.
“Going south on that end of the lake, you’ll find a lot of bars, humps and points that will hold post-spawn fish,” said Williams, who makes a distinction between resident fish — those that live in a particular area year-round — and the migratory fish that stay on the move and only commit to an area only during the spawn.
“You have to factor that in, too; some fish will move off the beds, but they stick around because it won’t be long until the bream move in to spawn, and quality bass will stick around and pick off those bream,” Williams said. “The other two major food sources are crawfish and the abundant threadfin shad population.”
The live-bait approach
Guide Brad Whitehead from in Muscle Shoals, Ala., will start catching and using threadfin shad, which he refers to as yellowtails, as soon as smallmouth bass come off the spawn.
“Lou is on the west end of the lake near the Pickwick Dam, but this live-bait pattern is for the east end, behind Wilson Dam in Pickwick” said Whitehead, who believes it is important to understand a riverine lake. If there’s no current flowing, it’s going to be hard to catch fish anywhere, but especially near the dam, which is why he prefers to wait until the late afternoon to do live-bait trips for bass.
“People get home from work, and the day is starting to get hot, so they turn on their air conditioners,” Whitehead said. “That’s usually when the power company needs that boost, so they run water to generate the additional electricity.”
Whitehead will arrive an hour or so before he starts fishing and will catch threadfin shad using either a cast net or a long-handled metal box net.
“You need to change the water in your tank or whatever you’re using to keep the bait, because they get stressed and contaminate their water, and that will kill them quickly,” he said. “You really need fresh, lively bait for this.”
Using a light-action spinning rod spooled with high visibility 8-pound monofilament, Whitehead ties a 1/0 hook on the line and attaches a split-shot about 18 to 20 inches above the hook. Though it may seem a bit on the large side, his preference is a 4- to 6-inch threadfin, although finding baits that size in May could be difficult.
“Use the biggest baits you can catch up to that range,” he said. “You want that bait close to the bottom but not dragging the bottom, so you adjust the weight of your split shot by the amount of current you have: more current, more weight.”
He puts a couple of rods in rod holders and drifts with the current. Fish will hold behind rocks around bars or other structure out of the direct flow of current.
“You really need to watch your line, which is why I like the high-visibility stuff,” Whitehead said. “Sometimes, the fish will take it and run with it, but many times they just inhale the bait and don’t move much, and you want to set the hook before he figures it out.”
GETTING THERE — Pickwick Lake on the Tennessee River forms the border between portions of Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee. The lake originates downstream from Wilson Dam near Muscle Shoals, Ala., and runs 48 miles to the Pickwick Dam near Counce, Tenn. Mississippi’s nearest town is Iuka, at the intersection of MS HWY 25 and US 72.
MISSISSIPPI ACCESS — The best access area to reach the Mississippi side of the lake is the State Line Boat Launch on the north shore of Yellow Creek near the MS HWY 57 bridge. Cooks Landing, another choice, is at the mouth of Indian Creek in J.P. Coleman State Park.
TACTICS/TECHNIQUES — Favorite Mississippi areas for post-spawn bass fishing include Yellow Creek, Indian Creek, Bear Creek and smaller “sloughs” off the main Tennessee River and the upper end of Yellow Creek. Look for fish on points, humps and underwater bars or around large rock outcroppings. Both largemouths and smallmouths will suspend, so you need to make long casts to cover ground around the structure. In the Wilson tailrace on the east end of Pickwick, primarily smallmouth bass can be caught fishing live threadfin shad on light tackle, drifting the bait on a split-shot rig near the bottom with the current.
LICENSES — A Mississippi license is good only on sections of Pickwick Lake where it shares a border with either Tennessee or Alabama. Once an angler enters into areas totally in Alabama or Tennessee, licenses for those states are required.
FISHING INFO/GUIDES — Lou Williams, Sweet Lips Store, Henderson, Tenn. 731-989-2156; www.facebook.com/Lous-Pickwick-Reports-175616311651; Brad Whitehead, 256-381-7231.
MAPS — Kingfisher Maps, 800-326-0257, www.kfmaps.com.