Terry Bates shut off the big motor, climbed up on the front deck, and began casting his spinnerbait into the shallow water around the cypress trees of Lake Washington.

Wham!

We hadn't gone very far when a nice bass smashed his offering, and our day was off to a rousing start.

"Last week I pulled in here and caught two 4-pounders," said Bates.

Lake Washington is a well-known Delta lake located about 20 minutes south of Greenville on Highway 1 near Glen Allan. The lake is probably better known for the fine crappie, bream and catfish it produces annually as anglers from all around the country come to share in its bounty.

I joined Bates on a rare February outing when the water surface temperature had risen to 61 degrees. Only a week earlier, the shallow waters had been frozen as snow and ice blanketed the Delta area. A major warm-up melted the ice, however, and the surface temperature rose quickly.

 

8:00 a.m. - I meet Bates at the Lake Washington boat ramp, and quickly load my gear into his Ranger boat. Bates fished a tournament on the lake a week before, had a five-fish limit in excess of 20 pounds and came in third.

"The winner had a 25-pound string," he said.

A winning weight with an average of 5 pounds per bass is strong anywhere, anytime, but in February it's phenomenal. Bates launched the boat and we made a short run across the lake near the upper end.

 

8:05 a.m. - Bates begins casting his spinnerbait around the cypress trees in the shallow water.

"I caught some quality fish here the other day with three lunkers hitting before I left them alone," Bates said.

As the accomplished tournament angler pitches his spinnerbait in and around the small clump of cypress trees that lined the outer edge of this area, he continues schooling me on the bass movement and activity of late.

"The bass start moving in around the outer trees first and gradually move shallower as they head toward the spawning grounds," he says. "Once you find the right depth, just stay with that, and you're likely to catch some quality bass."

 

8:20 a.m. - Bates pitches a Berkley Power Tube next to a cypress knee, lets it sit a few seconds and jiggles it slightly with no takers. After reeling the tube in, he repeats the previous cast and gets into a rhythm of pitch, jiggle, retrieve and pitch again. Suddenly, the monotony is broken as Bates rears back and sets the hook on a feisty largemouth. After a short battle, our first bass is history.

After a quick photo, Bates quickly releases the bass to grow some more and perhaps catch another day. Bates practices strict catch and release, and is obviously good at it, as he continues to catch and release fish year after year while bringing in large sacks of bass.

 

9:00 a.m. - Bates pitches a custom-made spinnerbait around a piece of wood cover, and a bass strikes short and misses. Bates continues working the shallow water, and covers a lot of ground looking for an area where there is a concentration of bass.

 

9:30 a.m. - We leave our first spot in search of more fish and better bites, arriving at a similar location downlake. To the untrained eye, the cypress trees look the same all around the lake with similar water depths. However, some hold fish and other areas rarely hold many bass.

"The predominant patterns here are boat docks and cypress trees; there's no ledge fishing that I know of," Bates says.

Bates pitches his spinnerbait in every nook and cranny he can find in search of a bite.

"I pulled in here last Saturday at 11:30, and caught three keepers, the largest a 6-pounder, and it wasn't even the lunker of the tournament," he says.

 

9:50 a.m. - After going a little while with no strikes, Bates changes tactics and picks up his Berkley tube, black with red flakes, and begins pitching it around the cypress trees and laydowns.

Wham!

Another bass sucks in Bates' offering in 2 feet of water, and the accomplished angler drives the steel hook deep into the jaws of the fish. The 3-pounder fights like a wild man before Bates wears him down and lands him.

"I pitched it up next to that cypress and picked it up, and she was on there in 2 feet of water," he says.

According to Bates, the most important thing in tournament bass fishing is the mental aspect. Many of the anglers have the best equipment money can buy, including boats, tackle and terminal gear, yet a small percentage of fishermen consistently win or place in the top 5 percent of the tournament field.

"You've got to be prepared and keep a positive mental attitude," he said. "And just as important is spending time on the water - that's the biggest advantage and the only way to know what's going on with the fish."

 

10:00 a.m. - I miss a short strike on a tube.

 

10:15 a.m. - Bates pitches a tube near a tree, and misses another bass on a subtle strike. Though the water is warmer, the bass have become finicky, and strikes are hard to come by on this day.

"When I came to Greenville, this lake had a reputation of not having any bass, but I caught a 22-pound string here and won a tourney," Bates says. "It's been mostly good ever since."

 

10:30 a.m. - Bates suddenly jerks his rod straight up, and the bass on the other end tears out in the other direction. After a short battle, this bass is history as well, and another quality 3.5-pound lunker is released.

"She held onto the lure good, just like she's supposed to," said Bates.

 

10:38 a.m. - By now I'm settling down, following Bates' advice and pitching my tube by every piece of cover that I can see. I try to hit the places that Bates is leaving, but there are plenty of spots to hit as cypress trees surround us in every direction.

Bam!

A fat bass nails my tube. I quickly set the hook, and have a battle on my hands. Things are heating up and the bass are showing their quality as I land a fat 3-pounder.

 

11:15 a.m. - After going a long stretch without many bites, Bates has put us in an area that has a few bass that are biting.

"We're going to work into the wind and hit the outside row of the cypress trees," Bates says. "You pitch to the left side, and I'll hit the right."

I continue fishing alongside the expert angler as he fishes the right side of the cypress trees and I fish the left as we work the outer edge of the trees while heading into the wind.

After watching Bates pitch to the right side of one tree, I follow up with a pitch to the backside, or downwind side, of the tree. When I pick up the slack, something doesn't feel quite right, and there is just a bit of tension on the other end. I rear back and set the hook, and a bass explodes through the surface like a stick of dynamite.

It doesn't take Bates long to go for the net as the lunker vaults from the depths and sends a shower of water spraying in all directions.

After quite a battle, Bates nets my 5.5-pounder, and I have a taste of how the Lake Washington lunker bass fight!

 

11:30 a.m. - "When I catch a fish like that, I'll swing around and fish a 50-yard circle to see if any more bass are holding in the area, and then expand from there if there is a concentration of bass," says Bates.

And we proceed to do just that, working a 50-yard perimeter around the core area where we caught the last couple of fish.

 

12:00 p.m. - Continuing on our pattern of hitting the cypress trees on either side, Bates pitches to the right and I pitch to the backside again. As I pick up the slack, I feel a spongy sensation as if something has my tube.

This time a 4.5-pound lunker fell to my subtle presentation.

"Both of your bass came off of the shady and downwind side of the trees," Bates says. "That's unusual for this time of year, but we'll have to see if that pattern holds up."

 

12:03 p.m. - Bates misses a good bass that bumps the bait three times before keeping it in its mouth. It's obvious that the bass are turned off on this day, as we have to work for every strike.

 

12:15 p.m. - We move farther downlake and pull over on the right-hand side to try a new area. Bates doesn't believe in moving a lot if you're catching fish, but the bite has slowed enough that he wants to prospect in another area where he has caught a 5-pounder earlier in the week. This time we continue to work in an area that has plenty of exposed cypress knees that are well above the water surface due to the low water conditions.

 

12:30 p.m. - Bates sets the hook as yet another bass smashes his spinnerbait. This time the bass is a solid 2-pounder, but not big enough to boost our creel weight. He admires the bass and quickly releases it. Bates had caught a lunker here earlier in the week on a spinnerbait, so that's why he switched tactics in this area, but high winds changed things for today. With a lake wind advisory out and 20-m.p.h. winds with gusts from 25 to 30, the conditions changed quickly.

 

2:00 p.m. - After fishing the area thoroughly, we move downlake even farther and stop and fish a small cypress-tree island where Bates usually has success. After we work the area for about 30 minutes, a fish swipes at Bates' spinnerbait but misses cleanly. After covering the area with no further strikes, it's time to move again.

 

2:30 p.m. - We motor back up the lake to try an area where we had caught several fish earlier. By now, we have switched back to the Berkley and Zoom tubes, and work a section of trees that were near our core area of success.

 

3:00 p.m. - An owl hoots from a flooded cypress in a nearby tree, and I answer with an owl hoot of my own. Another owl flies in and joins in the cacophony of owl hooting. Too bad there isn't an old gobbler to be found nearby, or we might even hear a gobble or two. We continue working the tubes in and around the cypress flat with no luck.

 

3:15 p.m. - Bates picks up his spinnerbait, and starts working the area over while covering every piece of the flooded brush. As he pitches the spinnerbait by one cypress and starts his retrieve past the base of the tree, a feisty 2-pounder nails it and the fight is on once again. After a short battle, Bates maneuvers the bass out of the thick cover and hoists it into the boat.

 

4:15 p.m. - Bates ties on a Zoom Baby Brush Hog, black/neon red, and begins working new cover and trees while trying to find something more consistent than the spinnerbait. As he continues working the trees, he probes every piece of cover he can find.

"You've just got to keep that bait in the water, and sooner or later you're going to get bit," he says.

 

4:30 p.m. - As the accomplished angler continues plying his trade with the tube, I'm amazed at his tenacity and endurance; he hardly stopped for a drink of water, and ate nothing the entire day.

Bates pitches his lure into a clump of cypress trees and feels tension.

Wham!

Bates sets the hook, sticks another hawg and the fight is on again.

This time a nice 4.5-pounder has fallen victim to his tube presentation, and our day of quality bites continues.

 

4:45 p.m. - "We're going to move up the lake to a sheltered cove that has 8 or 9 feet of water in the middle with shallow cover around the edges, and give it one more try," Bates says. "For some reason, big fish move up in here at times, and you'll catch a bunch of them at once."

Bates pulls out the Baby Brush Hog and dissects the shoreline like a skilled surgeon carving up the cover.

 

5:05 p.m. - Bates pitches his Brush Hog right up onto the bank and works it a few feet out, and another nice bass sucks it in. Bates reared back on the rod, and drives the steel home for the final time as yet another 4-pounder falls victim to his expertise. After a short battle, Bates lands the bass, and our day ends on a high note.

 

Our trip was a rousing success after an extreme weather change as we caught and released over 30 pounds of bass on a day when few others braved the winds and harsh weather.

Our best five bass would have pushed 23 pounds and made a fine showing in any tournament around the state. With a lake full of 4- to 5-pounders, it's not hard to see why so many anglers want to keep this lake a secret in the bass-fishing world.

If you're hankering to try a new fishing spot, give Lake Washington a try. And give Terry Bates a call at 662-390-3886 if you need a top notch guide and instructor on the finer points of fishing the lake.