I get to fish many of America’s great bass waters, and there are three that come to mind when someone asks me about my favorite: Sam Rayburn, the St. John’s River in Florida and Lake Murray in South Carolina. Each is different, yet all produce big bass.
Sam Rayburn. There may not be a better fishery during February and March than this east Texas impoundment. Since Florida-strain bass were stocked, bass weighing more than 10 pounds are caught each spring. Most years, Rayburn’s water temperature gets into the high 50s by mid-February, and rises into the 60s by March. That’s about the time fish move into the flooded willow trees that border the creek channels. You can find 5-feet of water over those willows, a situation you don’t find in many other lakes and it makes for great fishing.
When that happens, my favorite technique is to flip a jig-and-pig on 20-pound line, or dance a spinnerbait over the tops. As the water warms, the fish get on grasslines off points, and a slow-rolled spinnerbait or swimming jig catches them.
St. John’s River. The St. John’s is more than a river; it includes Rodman, Lake George, Little Lake George and other small lakes. Prime time is late January and early February, when big bass start moving to areas where springs bubble up from the bottom. Work your way into the clear, shallow areas with a push pole and you’ll see lots of big fish on beds.
The locals fish the beds with bullhead minnows, but I like pitching a tube. Another trick is to ease around the St. John’s River during low tide and locate beds in the eel grass. When the tide rises, fish those spots with a spinnerbait. You also can go into the little backwater ponds off the river and catch big fish on buzzbaits. Start your search for spawning bass in the south end of the system.
Lake Murray. This 50,000-acre impoundment has abundant flats covered with button bushes and buck brush in the larger creeks. It’s a lake that can get muddy during the early season, making for great flipping or spinnerbait fishing.
I catch big fish on the east side of the lake by slow-rolling a spinnerbait around the flats adjacent to deep water. When the water is high into the sweetgum trees, you can’t go wrong flipping a jig or running a spinnerbait around the roots and trunks.