Lake Guntersville Fishing for Spring Bass
Lake Guntersville is still kicking out monster-sized bass, and anglers all across the country travel there to fish. My longtime friend and guide, Phillip Criss of Scottsboro, Alabama, who fishes about 300 days a year, caught a 9-1/2-pounder in the spring of 2017. Here are Criss’s secrets to early spring bass fishing on Lake Guntersville.
Guntersville Lake can be really tough for a newcomer to fish successfully. It homes plenty of new grass and new lily pads. Just about everywhere you look, you’ll expect to find bass. The regions where I want to concentrate my fishing in the spring will be the spots that have new-growth grass and lily pads with 3 feet or less of water above the vegetation. I’m fishing those places because the bass in Guntersville are moving up to those shallow-water flats to spawn in mid-March through mid-April.
Fish the Middle of the Week
The first secret for catching big springtime bass at Guntersville is don’t schedule your fishing trip for the weekend. Some weekends Guntersville may have eight major bass tournaments. In late March and early April, the bass are either shallow, or they’re moving to the shallows, getting ready for the spawn. Even with cold fronts, the bass in 2-3 feet deep water won’t swim a mile or two away from the shallow water when cold fronts hit. They’ll usually move to the first drop-offs, often only 1- to 1-1/2-feet deep, from the flats to hold until the water temperature warms up enough for them to move shallow again.
Fish Chatterbaits and the Equipment to Use
Our number-one bait for spring Lake Guntersville fishing is the chatterbait that has a blade on the front of a jig that causes the jig to make noise as it swims through the water on the surface. If the lake has had a cold front, we’ll still fish the chatterbait, just slower. At first light, the bass may be somewhat reluctant to take the chatterbait. But once the sun warms-up the shallow springtime water, the bass will bite more aggressively – often from 10:00 am until 2:00 pm.
* My favorite chatterbait is the Z-Man chatterbait in a crawfish or a bluegill color or a shad pattern on 65-pound test PowerPro braided line. I work that chatterbait as close to the root ball of the lily pad stems as possible. If a big bass takes the bait and wraps you up in the lily-pad stems, this line is strong.
* I put my braided line on a Boyd Duckett heavy-action rod that’s 7’3″ to 7’6″ long and use a wide-spool baitcasting reel since braided line tends to work better on that. You also can cast your chatterbait farther and slower and still have plenty of line left on the reel.
Hire a Guide
Some people are reluctant to hire guides because they believe they can have early spring bass fishing success on their own. But no one knows a lake better than a guide, who probably spends 200+ days on the water. These guides know where the bass should be under certain water and weather conditions and which lures to fish.
I had two dads fishing mid-lake with me in the spring of 2017, whose sons were pre-fishing for a high-school tournament. The early-morning bite was slow. But once the sun came up, and the wind blew, we started fishing the pockets that had the most wind hitting them, which pushed the baitfish into the lily-pad stems. Every pocket where the wind was blowing the hardest, the water temperature there was 1 to 2 degrees warmer than the rest of the lake.
The wind was pushing our boat fairly fast, and I had a bass miss the chatterbait. I handed my rod to one of the Dads and said, “Cast this bait to that pocket.” On the Dad’s very first cast, he hooked and landed a 7-pound largemouth from the middle of the lily pad stems. The bass rolled, jumped and put on a show. The angler who’d caught the bass asked, “How many people do you take out fishing catch the biggest bass they’ve ever caught in their lives fishing with you?” About 75 percent of the people I take out as Lake Guntersville fishing guide catch their personal best bass.
Fish the Lily Pad Stems
Once lily pads appear on the surface of Guntersville’s water, they create shade, and shade prevents grass from growing on the bottom. The lily pads usually grow on hard bottom, and the hard bottom is where bass on Lake Guntersville prefer to spawn. In late March, the bass will move into those stems, preparing their beds and waiting for the water temperature to get right for the spawn.
When the water temperature stays 62 to 64 degrees for several days, the bass will spawn. The bass will search for spawning flats protected from a north wind that generally are 2-3 degrees warmer than the rest of the lake. Traditionally, we see bedding bass here at Guntersville by the third week of March until the first week of April, if we don’t have any snow or cold fronts move onto the lake during this time.
Keep a Lake Guntersville Fishing Logbook
One of the tools I use to know where the bass should be every day I fish is a logbook. Each day when I come off the water from fishing, I log the conditions for that day: where I’ve found bass holding; what lures we’ve used to catch those bass; where I’ve fished and the number and the size of bass I’ve caught; what time of day the bass bite best; where they’ve seemed to be on their spawning cycle; how many strikes I’ve had; what number of bass we’ve had on our lines and lost; and what number of bass we’ve actually gotten to the boat, taken pictures of and released.
My logbook will tell me about 75-80 percent of the time where we’ll find bass, which lures we need to catch the bass, and what time of day we’ll probably catch bass. Remember, on the days I’m not guiding customers, I’m out on the lake fishing places I’ve never fished before and using lures that I rarely if ever fish with, or that I’ve never fished with previously. I also enter that information into my logbook.
Fish with Other Baits for Spring Bass
When you are on Lake Guntersville fishing for bass, be sure to try many different baits. One of the most exciting moments we had on a guide trip last spring was when one of my customers was throwing a Rat-L-Trap crankbait and had a strike that almost knocked him out of the boat. The fish took off, taking almost all the line off the reel. I turned the trolling motor on, and we chased the fish. I told my customer, “I don’t know what you’ve hooked into, but I know it’s not a bass. A bass would come up and try to throw that Rat-L-Trap.”
Finally, we caught up to the fish, and his Rat-L-Trap had hooked a 30-pound carp in the tail.
My customer laughed and announced, “I don’t care what kind of fish it is. I haven’t had this much fun fighting a fish in a long time.”
* Weedless Soft-Plastic Swimbaits, Spinner Baits, and Buzzbaits – Besides the chatterbait, I’ll be using weedless soft-plastic swimbaits and spinner baits. Spinner baits once were the number-one bait to catch big bass here at Guntersville, and you could catch bass all day long on them. However, new and better techniques and new baits have caused many bass fishermen to quit using the productive spinner bait. I’ll fish the buzzbait in the afternoon around the primrose grass (water primrose).
* Crankbaits – Occasionally, the square-bill crankbait will produce some good bass. Although I guess one of the all-time favorites that works really well on Guntersville at this time of year is the Rat-L-Trap, you can’t just throw the Rat-L-Trap out, reel it in and expect to catch bass. You must swim the Rat-L-Trap slowly over the top of the grass, let it drop down and rip it out of the grass to catch the top part of the grass. Then no grass will hang on your hook. To fish the Rat-L-Trap effectively, the fisherman must stay in touch with his Rat-L-Trap and know what that bait is doing from the time it hits the water until he reels it into the boat. If the Rat-L-Trap quits vibrating, you’ll know it’s picked-up grass.
* Flukes, Frogs and Jigs – When the grass at Guntersville tops-out, I’ll fish a fluke on the edge of the grass, a plastic frog on top of the grass or a jig in holes in the grass. I don’t think Guntersville’s grass will top-out until about mid-April. I like the Stanley Ribbit Frog.
When the bass won’t take the chatterbait, I’ll often cast a swim jig and swim it just under the water.
Don’t Fish for Bedding Bass
I’m often asked, “Can you see the bass on the bed on Guntersville before and after the grass comes up?” Although I’m sure you can see some of them, I don’t fish for bedding fish. I think catching bedding bass in tournaments is one of the reasons that Guntersville’s bass population is in question.
There is more bass fishing pressure on Guntersville Lake too now than there ever has been, especially on weekends. I believe that the bass have wised-up to fishing pressure and moved to areas where anglers don’t fish. Last spring a winning stringer of five bass that weighed 40 pounds, 11 ounces won a one-day tournament here at Guntersville. Nine pounds, 9 ounces was the biggest bass in that five-fish limit. Also a high school tournament last spring had a winning five-fish limit that weighed 32 pounds.
When I guide customers on early spring bass-fishing trips during April, we’re not looking for or targeting bedded bass, but I’m sure we’ll catch some. We’ll bring them to the boat, hold them up and make a couple of pictures before releasing them. This is just my opinion, and there are probably a lot of bass fishermen who will disagree with me.
Try New Places to Catch Bass
Every Lake Guntersville fishing trip you make, fish new places that you’ve never fished. If you go to the same spots where you’ve always caught bass, and fish most of the same lures that you’ve caught bass on in those places, you’ve probably done a good job of educating the bass on what lures not to take. I also watch where most people are fishing, especially on the weekends. They’ll go to those spots because they know that bass are there. But when I take customers, I’ll always fish one or two areas I’ve never fished before to see if bass may be there.
Any day I don’t have a guide trip, I’m searching for regions to fish that I’ve never fished previously that I think may be holding bass. I’ll find a little pocket or a cove that I’ve never fished, go to that spot and fish it with a wide variety of baits to learn whether any bass are there, or to find a new place to take my customers to fish. I’ve located numbers of productive places that hold bass by fishing new sites when I don’t have trips.
I’ll also fish what’s known as a community spot, areas on the lake that everyone knows usually produce big bass. At a community spot, I’ve learned that something’s on the bottom – structure or current – that causes that place to concentrate baitfish that attract bass to move in and out of the spot to feed. I’ve caught some really nice bass fishing community spots during the week. Bass show-up at the community holes because the food’s there.
Improve Your Bass Fishing
Two years ago I spent most of the winter putting out 400-brush shelters. Today some of them hold bass, and some of them don’t. But anytime I’m close to any of these brush shelters, I’ll check them with my side-scanning depth finder to see if they’re holding bass. Often on days when the fishing is really tough, I can go to some of these spots and catch some good bass.
More Info on Early Spring Bass Fishing
For more info on fishing for spring bass, check out John E. Phillips’ books, available in Kindle and some also in print and Audible (http://johninthewild.com/books#bass).
This article first appeared in the April 2018 print issue of Great Days Outdoors Magazine. For more great hunting and fishing content for the deep South, subscribe to Great Days Outdoors print and digital editions or click the image to download this issue.