Looking for a surefire bet for winter time bassin’? Try fishing Lake Martin in the dead of winter and watch things suddenly come to life.
Even though it happened several years ago, I can still remember as if it were yesterday.
The Eufaula Bass Club was fishing its final tournament of the year. It was a very crisp December morning. Traditionally, we always ended our year on Lake Martin. Why? Because it was, without question, the best cold-water lake in the state of Alabama to catch a boatload of spotted bass.
We always launched at the Public Access ramp, located near Pleasure Point. This put us about midway between the dam and the upper reaches of the lake.
On this particular midwinter morning, my partner and I were making a fifteen-minute run up the lake to Manoy Creek. Near the back end of this creek, a long point jutted out from the left-hand shore. The point sat in about twelve feet of water until it reached the creek channel. There a sharp drop occurred, producing a ledge 22 feet deep.
A week prior to this event, a friend and I had been fishing a practice day. We located a nice school of spots on the end of this particular point and I hoped they were still hanging around the area. Because it was wintertime, the odds were in my favor that the fish had not moved far.
I shut my big engine down a reasonable distance from the point. As the boat slowly glided to a stop, I eased the trolling motor into the water and turned on my bow mounted Humminbird. When I passed over the end of the point, the fish finder lit up like 9 p.m. on the Fourth of July. The school of fish was directly beneath the boat, just as I had hoped. I eased a colorful marker buoy into the water and grabbed my jigging rod.
“The frosty mornings of December and January seem to get Lake Martin’s spotted bass population fired up.”
In about 45 minutes, my partner and I boated nineteen spots, all coming from just a few feet from where the buoy had marked the school. Now, these were not big fish. Most of them would run between one and two pounds. They were all good keepers as far as tournament fish were concerned; nothing for the record books, but what fun we had that opening hour of our club event.
On numerous occasions, I returned to that particular area of Lake Martin. Bass were always to be found there. It seemed like the colder the weather got, the better the bass would cooperate. This is typical for Lake Martin in the wintertime.
Many fishermen don’t start fishing Lake Martin seriously until after the weather turns cold. The frosty mornings of December and January seem to get Lake Martin’s spotted bass population fired up.
Since Alabama Power controls Lake Martin, it will draw the lake down to winter pool beginning in the late fall. By midwinter Lake Martin will be down between ten and eleven feet. A structure will be evident everywhere you look at the time. Long stump-filled points, rocky outcrops, boat docks with enough structure piled around them to look like a Christmas tree farm, plus hundreds of underwater islands and humps, are just some of the fish-holding areas you will find at Lake Martin in the wintertime.
When to Go
Since Lake Martin is a popular recreational lake, the best time to go is when the weather is cold enough to keep the water skiers and pleasure boaters inside next to a warm fireplace. The cold, frosty nights of November will push the water temperature down into the high forties and low fifties. By December, when fishing Lake Martin, it will be just right for catching a boatload of spotted bass.
Watch the weather forecast and pick a day in December when the prediction says that by midday the temperature will be in the mid-fifties. Overcast means it will be a good day when fishing Lake Martin. Many of the bass will stay in relatively shallow water all day long. A little wind won’t hurt a thing, as those long, rocky points get even better with a little wind blowing the bait against the shoreline. Personally, I love those “bluebird” days when you can actually shed the heavy coats and gloves and soak up a little wintertime sunlight. Those are the days we go deep and enjoy jigging spoon fishing Lake Martin.
Where to Go
The great thing about Lake Martin is, there’s no bad place to fish during the cold days of winter. You will find bass on this great body of water from the dam to the upper reaches of every feeder creek, including as far as you can navigate up the Tallapoosa River.
A lot depends on what you are seeking. Largemouth can be found in abundance up the Elkahatchee River, which is located up the lake in the Wind Creek State Park area. The dark, tannic water of this major feeder creek will produce some of the most beautiful bass to come from Lake Martin. Many tournaments have been won in this area, as the largemouth tend to run much heavier than their popular cousins, the Kentucky spotted bass. However, most people who visit Lake Martin in the winter are seeking those scrappy spots.
I personally love the waters of Sandy Creek, Manoy Creek, and Blue Creek. You will find thousands of boat docks jutting out from the shorelines of Lake Martin. They’re everywhere you look. If you fished nothing but boat docks during this time of year, you will come home with all the spotted bass you desire. Your bonus might even be a five pound or better largemouth. They, too, love to hang around the structure placed around nearly every dock on the lake.
There are no less than ten good launching areas on Lake Martin. All the major marinas have a ramp. The public access ramps are all well-maintained and functional even with the water at winter level. Any good map of Lake Martin will show the locations of the ramps. And since this is a relatively slow time of year on the lake, it might be recommended that you choose a ramp near a marina for the safety of your vehicle and equipment. I don’t think vandalism is a major problem at Lake Martin, but an ounce of prevention is, well, you know the rest.
What to Look For
It won’t be hard to find a good place to fish on Lake Martin in the wintertime. With the lake down to winter pool, there will be so much exposed structure that you will be able to find a familiar pattern with ease.
Look for long structure-filled points in every creek you visit. If you see an ample amount of structure visible, you can bet there is every bit as much submerged. Start in twenty feet of water and move up. Somewhere between the shoreline and that twenty plus foot range, you will locate some fish.
Boat docks clutter the shoreline of Lake Martin, and it won’t take long to find the ones holding fish. The dock owners will have piled tons of structure under and around their docks, primarily for the spring run of crappie that gather around such structures during the spawn. Trees, stumps, wooden pallets, bricks and concrete blocks are only some of the man-made structure you will find around nearly every dock. Once in a great while, you might get a verbal reprimand from a property owner about fishing around his dock, but this will be a rare occurrence.
If you are even the least bit skilled at reading a depth sounder, you can locate scores of underwater islands and humps during this time of year at Lake Martin. In fact, if you’re not familiar with running the lake, I would caution you to watch closely as those humps can rise up without warning, even in the middle of the lake.
Lake Martin, for the most part, is a deep-water lake. But because of the twisting and turning of the creek and river channels, shallow water hazards are abundant there. Many are marked with hazard buoys, but some are not. Run slow, exercise caution, and watch your depth finder.
What to Use
Where and how you choose to fish Lake Martin will determine the best technique for catching a stringer of spotted bass. For fishing, those long, sloping points, the number one choice of the pros would probably be a short Carolina rig with a single number one hook and a four-inch trick worm. One of the most popular plastic worms is a Mann’s Hardnose finesse worm in a light pumpkin color. Some will enhance this type of bait by dipping the tail in a chartreuse dye.
“…Use light line any time you are fishing Lake Martin”
A small deep-diving crankbait in a light shad color will take its share of spots almost anywhere on Lake Martin. Find a rock outcropping or fish along a rocky bluff and make long casts that will enable the lure to get to its maximum depth.
One of my personal favorites for the cold water is a jigging spoon. You will always find spotted bass at Lake Martin in twenty to thirty feet of water. They might move shallow to feed sometime during the day, but on those bright, sunny, bluebird days, you will find schools of bass just ripe for the plucking with a spoon.
A good fish finder will be worth its weight in gold in a situation such as this. If you find the fish and can interpret what your unit is trying to tell you, then dropping a spoon is a no-miss method of taking spots at Lake Martin.
I have always been partial to a half-ounce white Mann-O-Lure but that’s just a personal favorite. A silver Hopkins or any bright chrome spoon in a quarter to half-ounce size will work well. And don’t be totally surprised if you start catching crappie using this technique. You will want to throw these in the livewell, as there will be no finer eating than those cold water crappie from Lake Martin.
A very important tip to remember is to use light line any time you are fishing Lake Martin. Since the water there is gin clear, especially in midwinter, it is essential that you back down to ten, eight or even six-pound test monofilament for more success. Some days the fish in those spots can be quite finicky and you will need to put the odds in your favor by using some standard tricks. Perhaps the only exception would be on a windy day while fishing a spinnerbait across a windblown point. In this case, you could probably get by with twelve-pound test line. Remember with faster moving baits such as crankbaits or spinner baits, you can get by with a little heavier line. The very slow-moving baits such as a small Texas-rigged worm or Carolina rig requires much lighter line.
And if you’ve noticed, most of my recommendations have been for small baits. Short worms, small spinner baits, tiny cranks and light spoons – all required if you want the odds in your favor at Lake Martin.
As I mentioned earlier, no world record class fish here; just healthy, scrappy, fun-to-catch spotted bass.
Facilities at Your Disposal
Since Lake Martin is so heavily populated with not only summer homes but many year-round dwellings, numerous marinas and boat storage facilities are to be found along its entire 39,000 acres. Some that come to mind are Chuck’s Marine at Blue Creek, Wind Creek State Park in the upper reaches of the lake, Russell Marine, and Kowaliga Marine. They remain open year-round and make it convenient for gas and supplies.
Lake Martin is located in Tallapoosa, Coosa, and Elmore Counties. It has nearly 750 miles of shoreline and continues to be the playground for the upper middle class of Auburn, Montgomery, Birmingham, and Atlanta.
It’s one of Alabama’s most beautiful and scenic bodies of water. However, in the cold winter months, when the recreational hordes stay home, Lake Martin emerges as Alabama’s top bass fishery. Remember, the fishing gets hot when the weather gets cold.