Word on the Water: Talk to the Locals

Canoe fishing on lake
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It’s high time you knew the truth. You just think you know how to fish, what to throw, and where to go. But have you talked to the locals on your area lakes lately? Let me be clear: I fish nine lakes in my bass clubs annually. After angling nearly all my fifty-seven years, a fellow or gal might think I’d learned everything about conquering freshwater brutes. Think again.

I talk to the people who inhabit these lakefronts and surrounding neighborhoods, y’all. Trust me; they know stuff. When locals tell you fish are hitting a pink spinnerbait, you better go buy that very lure. Once, a local approached me: “You going to Logan Martin? They’re hitting a pink spinnerbait.”

They were hitting that skirt, indeed. When I asked if he lived on Logan Martin, he said, “Well, I actually own the marina.” You better believe the folks near lakes understand their lakes. Even if they aren’t fishing every day, they’re hearing and passing along the word on the water.

Man at marina

Who, what, when, and where

You’ll notice lakeside dwellers, especially in late September and early- to mid-October when those fall temps first hit the Southland. The hot and humid weather breaks, and the water cools off. People aren’t really skiing or joyriding with school in session and the heat departing. But you will find them getting their docks and property winterized. Many of them may be heading out for the holiday season and cold months, but they’re around for a bit, closing up shop.

You’ll see both full and part-time lake residents raking leaves; some will be gathering all the broken limbs from the Gulf’s tropical storm season. There will be a good bit of activity, but you’re looking for true locals, the ones who hunker down in every season, even for the freeze. Yes, the ones you really want to talk to are those who truly live on the water.

So, days before your tournament, take time to practice and visit with strangers. Some of you may have to step out of your comfort zones. Meaning no disrespect to any age or gender, I especially watch for the older guy, the white-haired river sage draped in the wisdom of water. He’s probably fishing by himself or maybe with a war buddy.
I don’t care if they’re crappie fishing. I still talk to them. All you have to say is, “ Hey, what y’all doing to catch some bass in these parts?” Fishermen and fisherwomen love to talk. Ask, listen, follow, and catch.

Countless chats, but here’s a few

1. Lake Mitchell, Alabama

Ah, Lake Mitchell—the Middle Lake. It’s nestled between Jordan and Lay. Like a middle child, it doesn’t get much attention. You don’t find anglers here often because it’s only ten miles from dam to dam.

I’d only fished this lake once in my life the day I pulled up to a guy in a boat and said, “Hey, you fish Mitchell much? They’re not biting, are they?” He said, “Yeah, I live on this lake. I fish it all the time. And you’re right. They’re not biting. That’s why I’m here in thirty feet throwing a Texas rig with a Zoom Junebug Trick Worm. It’s all I can get them to hit.”

I made a mental note: thirty feet, Texas rig, Junebug. I thought, if it works for this local, perhaps it’ll work for me. I tied on the worm, Texas-rig style. Sure enough, I started catching fish. I had to stay deep; it was steamy weather.

I remembered this advice later when I went back to Lake Mitchell for a tournament, and I found myself in the money. I didn’t win that tourney, but I wouldn’t have finished with cash if I hadn’t stopped to talk with that man that day. Thankfully, he was showing the “middle child” some love, and I was there to ask and learn something from him.

2. Lay Lake, Alabama

This past year, I happen to be on Lay Lake, and I only had three fish with about two hours left in a tournament. I stopped my boat and decided to tie on a Texas rig and Junebug trick worm. I knew I wasn’t on Lake Mitchell, but I was on the same river—the Coosa chain. I thought, “If it’ll work on Mitchell, I’m only one dam below it. Certainly, I can catch them on this worm.”

I pulled up on my first river ledge, made two casts, and caught two spots that weighed nearly three pounds apiece. And I won that tournament right then and there, I’d later come to find out. That Junebug and those two spots had gotten me enough to win it on yet another steamy day. So, it was thanks again to the Mitchell angler.

3. Lake Wedowee, Alabama

I pulled up to Jack’s Family Restaurant after fishing one day, and a guy I’d seen at the ramp pulled in behind me. I asked how many he’d caught, and he told me sixty or seventy. Shocked, I asked, “How many largemouths you have?” He replied, “All of them were largemouths.” Y’all, I’ve been fishing Lake Wedowee for ten years. I haven’t caught seventy largemouths in that entire span.

He explained he didn’t throw anything but a Zoom 6” Green Pumpkin Lizard on a Texas rig. I commented, “Obviously, it ain’t what you’re throwing, it’s where you’re throwing.” But he wouldn’t tell me where he was throwing. I never forgot the lizard, though. I still throw it on Wedowee. Someday I’m going to hit my seventy-largemouth jackpot.

More recently, my buddy Dewayne and I were fishing, and I decided to stop and let him catch some fish. I had five pretty good ones already. Dewayne threw that lizard on a Texas rig, caught a five and a half-pounder, and ended up beating me in the tourney! He finished second, and I finished third that day. I was just going to help him out, pull over and let him hook a little spot. He chucked that lizard out, though, and the lake had different plans for him.

4. Logan Martin Lake, Alabama

This past summer, I had a string of tournaments on Logan Martin, and boy, does the bite get tough in the dog days. A while back, I had made a couple of phone calls and asked for some advice. My friend told me where to go and encouraged me to keep throwing my beloved Yamamoto Senkos and frogs.

So I took off from the boat ramp, went right where my friend suggested—all the way back into a recreational area in very shallow water and grass. I had to put my trolling motor down probably a hundred yards offshore. It was odd because you normally aren’t fishing shallow during the summer. But this was May, so the lake wasn’t boiling yet.

I eased over toward that grass sticking up a good foot. I went down the bank, and a bass sucked my frog up pretty quickly. I put a four-pounder in the boat. I had my partner, Baker, with me that day, and he was throwing a frog as well. It was a lure we’d been advised to throw, after all.

But I was having a tough time with my frog in all that grass. I picked up my Senko and started throwing it right in front of the weeds. Boom: I had a five-pounder. The Senko allowed me to get closer to the honey hole my friend had mentioned, navigate around the grass, and tempt a bass out of the vegetation.

And I’ve gone back to that spot the last two years when I found myself on Logan Martin in early to late summertime. I’ve caught good largemouths on a lake noted for some extremely large spotted bass. I’m so grateful for yet another local: this guy is seventy and fishes that lake three or four times a week. He knew where to go, and he shared it with me.

Sunrise over lake

5. Lake Harding, Alabama

When I first started fishing, I needed help learning the ropes. I’d go into local bait shops and chat. I’d stop in at Ace Hardware and talk a little fishing, get a few tips. Well, I went in there one evening and told the boys I had a night tournament on Lake Harding. I’d never fished it at night before.

A man said, “Hey, get yourself a red hook and a Black Culprit Worm. So I bought some red hooks and Culprits. I tied them on Texas rigs, fished my night tourney, and caught fish. Again, I was a newbie on Harding, literally and figuratively in the dark. One of my fellow local’s ideas worked for me. I’ve used that technique ever since.

6. Lake Jordan, Alabama

I even talked with a preacher before, over near Lake Jordan. I asked, “What they hitting, Pastor Carl?” He said, “Don’t throw it too deep, and don’t throw it too shallow. Don’t wind it too fast, and don’t wind it too slow. Cast out a crankbait that’s not too big and not too small.” I still wondered about color. He nodded and replied, “Make sure you’ve got something purple.”

Sounded like some kind of parable mystery, but I took his message to heart. After all, he was a preacher and surely had a connection with the Maker of these stubborn beasts. I tied on a purple Bandit, and if Baker and I didn’t start catching fish on those crankbaits, I’m not writing to you now. We were culling three-pounders.

I bet we caught twenty bass on our first hole! Baker and I still talk about it. That preacher didn’t fish. But he knew the word on the water, or maybe he knew some other Word. Anyway, with that particular gospel in hand, we had fifteen pounds right off and ended the day with nineteen, putting us in second place.

7. Lake Eufaula, Alabama

Another time on Lake Eufaula, I rounded a hillside of azaleas, and a man sat in a wheelchair. A nurse had brought him down to sit on the dock. He hollered, “How’s it going?” I explained I’d just caught a nice three and a half-pounder right before I’d floated to his point.
He told me to go on down about two more docks and stay to the right. He said there were fish on that dock. I listened to him and caught three. He hadn’t been fishing for some time, but he still knew where the bass were.

Stranger things

Sometimes strangers tell you to do strange things. I love throwing a shaky head and throwing it light. This guy I met on Logan Martin does, too. But he never lets his shaky head with a Zoom Magnum Trick Worm go to the bottom. He fishes it just like a jerk bait. He winds and yanks, winds and yanks.
Lake Martin. So, he takes the tactic to different lakes.

Couple at fishing hole

Okay, somebody better start talking

Want to locate the fish? Talk to the locals at restaurants, bait and repair shops, hardware stores, and marinas. Talk to people on docks. You can even ask preachers, whether they fish or not. I talk fishing everywhere I go if I can.

One time a boy told me he was catching fish on Lay Lake at the dam, and he was doing it with a pink buzz bait on a Carolina rig. I’ve yet to try it. But the only reason I haven’t is I’ve actually never come across a pink buzz bait.

Lake residents have signs in their yards that read, “We love our lake!” And I’d add the phrase “and know a lot about it, too!” They’ve got advice you’ll want to hear.