River Run

Now’s the time to be fishing deep in the river systems, according to Bill Martin. He especially likes the Mississippi and Tennessee rivers.

In September, some of the state’s best bass action is in these two rivers.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Bill Martin of Holly Springs, a tournament bass angler who fishes the ABA Grand Slam Pro Series, goes fishing every chance he gets. We asked Martin to name his two best places to catch Mississippi bass in September. During September, I like to fish the Mississippi River and the Tennessee River systems,” Bill Martin says. “River systems at this time of year usually have plenty of current and moving water. Both of these river systems, because they’re so large, have huge flows in them.

“The Tennessee River has dams that constantly generate power, especially during the summer and early fall when the weather’s still hot. This water tends to be highly oxygenated and much cooler than the water in other rivers that have been built strictly for flood control.

“Remember that the water that turns the generators on the Tennessee comes out of the bottoms of the lakes where the water’s the coldest. After being pulled up from the bottom, the water is churned-up and oxygenated. Also, some baitfish will be ground-up in the process — all factors that foster great crappie fishing.

“The Mississippi River is like a funnel that drains the entire middle of the United States. The Mississippi River rises and falls due to rains, often upstream from the oxbows in Mississippi. The current that affects the Mississippi River is determined by how much flow is coming down the river. The flow moving down causes the water to rise or fall in these backwater oxbow lakes where I like to fish. I say all of this to explain that the better bass fishing will be in rivers with current and plenty of water movement in them.

“In both the Mississippi and the Tennessee rivers, the bass still will be in their summer patterns. So the key to catching them is to look for them on deep ledges and points where you locate baitfish.”

Martin will use his depth finder to pinpoint baitfish in 10 to 20 feet of water around brushpiles that hold the plankton bass eat.

Mississippi oxbows

Martin considers the northern Mississippi River oxbows around the Tunica Cutoff, west of Tunica, DeSoto Lake, west of Clarksdale, and Lake Whittington near Bolivar his best bets for catching September bass in that section of the state.

Usually when you hear bass fishermen say that they’re planning to fish the Mississippi River, they’re talking about fishing the oxbows because the Mississippi River generally has a current too strong to fish. Anglers will enjoy fishing the oxbows, and have the opportunities to catch plenty of bass.

“At this time of year, I’ll fish jigs and Carolina-rigged plastic worms and lizards on those deep drop-offs and brushpiles,” Martin explains. “The real secret is to find the brushpiles, most of which are man-made and usually located somewhere along the points or the main river or creek drop-offs.

“Most bass fishermen realize the bass will be deep in September. Many fishermen have built and continue to build productive brushpiles in nearly every cut-off section of the Mississippi River. If you use your depth finder, you can locate these brushpiles.”

Martin prefers to flip the brushpiles in deep water with a 1-ounce jig in black, blue or green pumpkin on 20-pound-test line.

“I’m primarily vertical-fishing these spots and working the jigs down in the brush where the fish are holding,” he said. “Using this tactic, on a good day, you usually can catch bass that weigh 2 1/2 to 5 pounds each in the oxbows.

On one of the best days I’ve ever had fishing these oxbows, I caught five bass that weighed a total of 22 pounds. On that day, I didn’t catch the bass on jigs. We found the big bass schooled up on main-point rock piles in the oxbows, and caught them with Carolina rigs.”

On this day of fishing, Martin’s Carolina rig had a 12-inch Baby Huey, a paddletail worm, on its end. This blue/black Baby Huey caught the most bass.

“We were casting across the rocks with our Carolina rigs, working the rigs over the rocks, letting our worms fall down the rocks, and then working the lures all the way to the bottom of the rock pile,” Martin explains. “When a bass took the bait, it didn’t lick it like an ice cream cone; the bass smashed it like a bull hitting an unsuspecting bull rider. The biggest bass we caught weighed 6 1/2 pounds.”

Martin said that bass fishing on the Mississippi River at this time of year pays so many dividends that to win most bass tournaments, you’ll need a five-fish limit that weighs 20 pounds or more. To consistently catch bass in the oxbows off the main-river channel, you need to learn how the different water levels affect the bass, and where the bass move and hold as the water level rises and falls.

“The water level tells me which oxbows I’ll fish and how to fish them,” Martin said. “If the area we’re fishing on the Mississippi River has had a lot of rain and the river has high water, then Tunica, DeSoto or Whittington will be the oxbows I’ll fish this month.”

When the water rises in these areas, Martin fishes a buzz bait and a rubber frog.

“Remember, on high water, the fish will move shallow and be really active on topwater lures,” Martin said. “If this region has low water in September, I’ll be fishing harbors by looking for points or drop-offs in the backwater harbors.”

In low water, Martin prefers to fish deep-diving crankbaits on the ends of points closest to deep-water drop-offs.

“When I’m fishing crankbaits in low water, I like to fish a Bill Norman DD22 in the Tennessee shad and the splat-back colors like chartreuse and blue,” he said. “You can fish as deep as 18 feet on a long cast with this medium-wide wobble lure with the built-in rattle.”

Tennessee hotspots

“Pickwick Lake in northeast Mississippi really can be good in September,” Martin said. “I fish a lot of the river ledges and humps there with Carolina rigs, deep-diving crankbaits and Texas-rigged plastic worms.”

Martin primarily fishes offshore structure at Pickwick Lake. To identify this structure, he studies a lake map with bottom elevations, and pinpoints the river, the creek channels and the humps out in the lake with his depth finder. He’s found these hump areas — actually ancient Indian mounds before TVA raised the lake — very productive.

Due to lack of time when building Pickwick Lake, TVA used steam shovels and backhoes to cut trenches through the centers of the mounds to allow archaeologists to determine what types of artifacts the mounds held.

“Through the years, the current sweeping over the mounds has cleaned them off,” Martin reports. “The bass often will hold in the trenches in the centers of these mounds.”

Although anglers know Pickwick primarily as a smallmouth lake, in September Martin fishes Pickwick for largemouth.

“In September, smallmouth are more difficult to catch than largemouth and pretty much are current-dependent,” he said. “If you’re looking for smallmouth on Pickwick in September, you’ll have to go up the river and fish in Alabama waters near Florence. You’ll need an Alabama license, if you fish there. If you stay in Mississippi waters on the lower end of the lake, you still can catch some smallmouths on the ledges, but the largemouth are easier to find and catch, and are much-more dependable.”

Martin doesn’t fish for wimpy-size largemouths on the lower end of Pickwick. He’s fishing Carolina-rigged 10-inch plastic worms and large plastic lizards as well as deep-diving crankbaits.

“If I’m fishing a crankbait, I’ll be fishing a shad-pattern,” he said. “If I’m fishing a hump, I like to pull that crankbait up the hump on 12- or 14-pound-test line.”

Martin believes that by pulling the crankbait up the hump, he can feel the bottom and the strike much better.

“Also, I use both Spike-It and Zoom lizards and worms on Texas and Carolina rigs,” he said. “My favorite colors are junebug, red shad, tequila sunrise, watermelon and green pumpkin. On an average day of fishing Pickwick during September, I expect to catch 10 to 20 bass that are 12 to 18 inches long each, but I also may get on a real monster-sized bass.”

On Martin’s best day on Pickwick in September, he caught five largemouth bass that weighed a total of 18 pounds with the biggest bass weighing a little over 4 1/2 pounds.

“A 4- to 5-pound largemouth on the Tennessee River in September is a good-sized fish,” he said. “That’s not to say you can’t catch bigger bass this month, but I’m thrilled to get a 4- to 5-pounder on Pickwick in September.”

Although anglers have to remember that they’ll have the most success this month on Pickwick Lake by fishing the lake’s structure, Martin also advises fishermen not to overlook the docks.

“You’ll often find brush around the lake’s docks,” he said. “I generally cast to the docks with a Carolina- or Texas-rigged worm, pull the worm into the brush and let it sit there and soak. I’ll often shake the worm, but I don’t fish it on a shaky-head-style jig. I’ll fish 10-inch worms and 8-inch lizards using this technique. Patience is the key to catching these dock-brush bass. You have to shake the worm or the lizard, and then let it sit still.”

Remember, most people drag worms and lizards through the brush. Instead, if you’ll let the soft-plastic lures shake and sit still in those brushpiles, you’ll catch more fish. The bass generally never have seen this presentation.

“I’ll use 17-pound-test as my main line,” Martin said. “If I’m fishing a Carolina rig, I’ll use 12-pound-test leader. These are my two best fishing hotspots for this month, and this is how I catch bass whether I’m fishing for money in a tournament or fishing for fun.”


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