This article was originally published on April 15, 2009, following a successful spring season for Dearal Rodgers on Lake Wateree. That same year Dearal went on to be the 2009 FLW Co-Angler of the Year last year, but of more importance to Lake Wateree fishermen he had just won two straight CATT tournaments on Lake Wateree, including the Spring Final. In my interview we focused mainly on the patterns he had fished to win those events. We did not spend much time talking about the transition period between winter and spring, or about fishing with topwater lures. Dearal says that this article is still an accurate reflection of his approach to fishing Lake Wateree in the spring.
In the transition period between winter and spring, when water temperatures are between 48 and 52 degrees, Dearal likes to fish a chrome-colored Rattle Trap. When water temperatures hit 50-55 degrees he frequently throws a red, crawdad colored Rattle Trap. This bait excels when there is cold front, and the rattle and wobble will often trigger inactive fish to feed. For the first tournaments of the spring season (really late winter) it is good choice.
As far as spring topwater fishing, on Lake Wateree that usually means buzzbait fishing for Dearal. A general rule is that when water temperatures reach about 60 degrees Dearal will begin to throw a buzzbait, but he says the trend is just as important if not more so than the absolute temperature. If the water temperature has risen from 55 to 60 in a few days it will often be a good time to throw a buzzbait, but if it has dropped from 65 down to 60 fish are less likely to be hitting on top. Dearal says that, just like a person who is ready to get outside when it starts to warm up, a bass is more likely to come to the top to feed during a warming trend. Conversely, after a drop in temperature people are prone to stay inside, and bass are less likely to aggressively crash the surface to feed.
Buzzbaits have an important place in Dearal’s arsenal in large part because they are big fish lures. Once water temperatures pass 58 degrees he will certainly have one tied on and will usually throw it early in the day. If he gets bit he will continue to throw it all day, and if not he will lay it to one side and then throw it around cover and other likely spots. On cloudy, low pressure days he is likely to throw a buzzbait all day.
Dearal exclusively fishes Buckeye Lures double-bladed buzzbaits, and when choosing a particular model his goal is to is to have a bait that the fish can see and hear, but not that they can see too clearly – in which case the fact that it is an artificial lure is apparent, or hear too loudly – in which case it appears unnatural.
In calm, clear water (or targeting pressured fish) Dearal will usually throw a ¼ ounce bait with double nickel blades and a Shad head/ Blue Glimmer skirt, or a ¼ ounce bait with double silver blades, black head and a black skirt with a white trailer. In calm, stained water Dearal wants the surface disturbance of the smaller bait, but be looks for more visibility than black or Blue Glimmer offer. He still uses a ¼ ounce bait but chooses double gold blades (which are more visible than silver ones), a Chartreuse/ White head and a Chartreuse/ White skirt.
The ¼ ounce baits are good for calmer, open water conditions, but when Dearal is fishing in choppy water, in rain, or bringing the bait through grass, he turns to the 3/8 ounce size. The color choices remain the same, but whenever he is fishing a 3/8 ounce bait he pairs it with silver blades. All of the Buckeye Lures baits that Dearal recommends are available through the South Carolina Fishing Tackle Store, including Mop Jigs, Spinnerbaits and Buzzbaits.
My thanks to Dearal for continuing to keep us informed on Lake Wateree bass fishing.
Spring Bass Fishing on Lake Wateree with Dearal Rodgers – first published April 15, 2009
When Dearal Rodgers and partner Trent McLaughlin beat out 48 other boats to win the March 28 Carolina Anglers Team Trail (CATT) Lake Wateree tournament it was a solid tournament win, but when they beat out 63 other boats to win the April 11 CATT Lake Wateree Spring Final they proved beyond a doubt that their earlier success was more than good fortune. Instead, the team’s big sack was the result of a thorough understanding of the Lake Wateree bass fishery and a well executed game plan. I was grateful when Dearal Rodgers was good enough to talk to me after the April 11 tournament and share some of his wisdom about catching Lake Wateree bass in the spring.
Dearal grew up in Cassatt, South Carolina and has been fishing Lake Wateree since he was ten years old. He considers himself very lucky to have had two uncles who were gifted tournament bass fishermen willing to impart some of their wisdom on him. His uncles were Joe Horton and David Stines, names anglers who fished for Wateree bass in the 1980s and 90s will likely recognize – among numerous other successes both of these men won the Red Fox, the largest tournament on Lake Wateree, on separate occasions. From these men and his own experiences Dearal has begun to draw some conclusions about the behavior of Lake Wateree bass after the winter.
In late winter Dearal believes that Lake Wateree bass are mainly concentrated in the main lake. They will move shallow at times to feed, but generally they are holding in the main channel and are not up the creeks. As water temperatures rise into the mid 50s the bass start to move towards the creeks, however, and then as water temperatures hit approximately 60 degrees the largemouth begin to move towards their spring spawning areas.
To reach their spawning areas bass follow certain migration routes that are generally related to structure. When Dearal refers to structure he is not talking about rocks, sticks, brush, grass, or docks – those are examples of different types of cover. Instead, structure refers to features that are part of the lake’s topography; for example, points, humps, and ditches. Cover can be found on top of structure, as when there is a brushpile on an underwater hump, but the two are different from each other. One of the key migration routes that Dearal looks for and targets in spring is underwater ditches leading to spawning areas.
Bass will choose a variety of different areas to spawn, but there are some common features that the fish will look for. One of these is protection from the wind, and protected pockets in the backs of coves are ideal locations. Another feature fish look for is a hard bottom, such as sand or pea gravel. Additionally, bass like to spawn near some cover, be it a rock, a dock post, brush, or a tree. By spawning near cover, bass can protect at least one side of the bed, and instead of worrying about attack from all sides can focus on repelling invaders from less directions. Generally, the male will prepare the beds and the female fish will lay her eggs at about 63 degrees, and spawning activity usually peaks around both full and new moons when bigger waves of fish do their business.
While certain creeks or coves may hold better concentrations of bass at a given time, generally fish are pretty evenly spread out around the lake. Dearal has caught bass from Clearwater Cove up to Singleton Creek this year, and tournament fishermen have caught fish over the entire lake this season. In the CATT Final April 11 boats were spread out across the whole lake.
For targeting Wateree bass Dearal’s go-to lures are spinnerbaits and jigs. The quality of competition is so good on Lake Wateree that he reasons that he needs to bring in a sack of heavy fish to have a chance of winning. To get that quality bag of fish that average about four pounds or more he wants a lure that gets quality bites, and spinnerbaits and jigs fit that description for Dearal. His spinnerbait of choice is made by Buckeye Lures, and because of the stained water he likes to throw a lure with big blades that creates a lot of flash. White and chartreuse are always good colors on Wateree, and if fish are heavily pressured he like. To read more about Dearal’s spinnerbait selections visit here.
While this spring spinnerbaits have been his most important lure, perhaps because of the extra stain in the water, historically jigs have been Dearal’s go-to lure for quality fish on Lake Wateree. Most of the time he throws the Buckeye Lures Mop Jig, which has a living rubber skirt. He prefers the green pumpkin color. Dearal does not often throw soft plastics on Lake Wateree in the spring, although he will use them during the summer and fishes them frequently on other lakes.
Interestingly, although the pattern that Dearal fishes on Lake Wateree revolves around the bass’ movement towards the spawn, he does not usually target spawning fish on Lake Wateree during tournaments. He will cast at them, usually with a lizard, if he sees bedding fish, but he will not usually waste much time on them. Wateree fishes so small that a bedding bass has usually been seen and targeted by numerous other anglers, and he reasons that if they haven’t been able to catch it despite persistent efforts then he doesn’t want to spend a lot of time trying to do the same.
After the bass have finished their shallow water business in mid to late spring Dearal likes to target bass that are keying on spawning shad. Years of time spent on the lake have taught him to find the spawning shad, but there are some rules of thumb. Shad spawn in open water and follow the plankton, and they will usually be found around grass and rocks. Another good post-spawn bite on Lake Wateree can be going after bass that are feeding on bream which are hanging in the shade around docks. There is also some fishing for bass keying on bream beds, but that is a better bite on Lake Wylie. For now there are no blueback herring on Lake Wateree and Dearal hopes the lake stays that way; on lakes with significant blueback populations the bass start to follow the bait schools instead of traditional deeper water structure.
Preparing to put all this theory into practice on tournament day, Dearal had the chance to pre-fish briefly on Friday and gained some important insight into what the bass were doing. He kept several bass that he caught and prepared them for the table, taking care to look at their stomachs and see what the fish were eating. Only one fish had anything at all in its stomach, and that was a solitary shad. He learned that the fish were not feeding heavily, perhaps because they were so totally focused on spawning. He realized that he was going to have to work his big lures slowly, make them as appealing as possible, and really tantalize the bass into biting if he wanted to win. Fishing pressure affects bass like frontal conditions, and it is not uncommon for fishing to be easy on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday and then much more difficult on Saturday and Sunday. If the bite was already tough on Friday, Saturday would only be tougher.
There was the April full moon on Thursday, April 9, and the daytime surface water temperature on Saturday was up to about 65 degrees, and so by all accounts the fish should have been very shallow on the bank and on the beds. However, on tournament Saturday Dearal found that the bass had not moved super shallow yet, but in fact seemed to be in five feet or less following their migration routes to move from staging areas into the spawning pockets. They were in open areas not related to cover and seemed to actually be on the move. At one point he caught a female at the deeper part of the migration route and shortly afterwards the corresponding male at a shallower part of it. While Dearal does a majority of his fishing around docks, and frequently catches bass off the brushpiles and other cover around them, the bass were not around very shallow structure tournament Saturday. This was confirmed by the final results; the truly shallow water fishermen did not bring in heavy sacks at the Final.
In addition to fishing local tournaments Dearal is making a splash on the national tournament scene. Currently he is in fifth place of the co-anglers on the FLW tournament trail, and he will be fishing the National Guard Open on Lake Norman this weekend with the chance to move up even further. His goal is to be the co-angler of the year for 2009. Dearal is proud to be sponsored by AnglersChannel.com, Ranger Boats, Evinrude E-TEC, Marshall’s Marine, and CutmakerLures.com.
For more photos and information visit http://www.DearalRodgers.com.