Bass fishermen use diverse tactics, from scouring wooded banks where fish lie in a foot or less of water to tossing their lures in seemingly open water, searching for fish congregated more than 20 feet below the surface. The habitat in the lake where they are fishing often dictates the tactics anglers use.
Joey Nania believes anglers need a full bag of tricks when they take on Logan Martin Lake near Pell City.
“One thing I like about fishing this lake is that you can catch them doing a number of things,” says Nania, a professional angler and guide, as he casts a creature bait with a football jig head into the deep water. “This is a very versatile lake. On any given day you have fish living shallow and fish living deep.”
If you don’t think the bass fishing is good in Alabama, Nania would argue to the contrary. At 19, he moved from Washington state to the Pell City area for one reason – bass fishing.
Now 25 with his own television show, “Sweetwater,” sandwiched between Roland Martin and Jimmy Houston on NBC Sports Network and the Sportsman Channel, Nania couldn’t think of a better place to fish for a living. He fished the Bassmaster Open Series, finishing 16th in the standings last year and 11th this year. The Top 5 in the Open Series qualify to fish at the highest level in the Elite Series.
A good ‘teaching lake’
Nania fishes the entire Coosa River chain of hydroelectric power generating lakes, as well as other waters around the state. But he has a special love for Logan Martin Lake. It’s the perfect place for him to pass on to his guide service clients the lessons he’s learned over the years.
“I can take someone shallow, throwing top water a little every morning,” Nania says. “Then I can take them to deep water and fish offshore structure. I can show them how to (fish near) boat docks if they want to do that. And I can take them to grass and show them how to fish shallow grass.”
Nania’s default tactic in the dog days of summer is to head for deep offshore structure. He goes to the mouth of a creek, slows the engine on his Nitro bass boat and starts watching his depth finder/GPS unit. When the structure he’s looking for pops up on the screen, he tosses out a marker buoy, cuts the engine and lowers his trolling motor.
“When the water gets hot, fish want to be deep,” Nania says. “That’s where the oxygen is and where the bait fish go.”
But there also must be current. There isn’t much current on lakes with hydroelectric generating plants unless the plant is actually generating electricity. In the summer, hydroelectric generation releases are limited, so it’s important to know the generating schedule and be on the water when the plant is generating. During the rest of the day, anglers have to look for other sources of current.
The tributary creeks that flow into Logan Martin all produce current. Nania chose this location because it’s at the mouth of a creek. A submerged point tails away from a nearby island, providing fish with structure and cover. Brush piles cover what was once a small ridge tapering away from a hill that is now an island.
“When there’s not much current, fish will pile up in the nearest creek bed,” Nania says. “There’s a natural flow in these creeks. Moving water has more oxygen.”
Nania likes this location because it’s not just a hot weather spot. Some fish live in the creeks and use the spot. There are sand and gravel bars where spotted bass can spawn, and it has shallows that serve as largemouth spawning areas. The topographical feature and submerged vegetation attract baitfish.
“Places that have everything a bass will need are really good,” Nania says. “This has deep water, shallow water, access to a channel nearby. They live here year round.”
Moving with the seasons
Fish move around with changes in the seasons and the rise and fall of water temperatures. In spring, Nania fishes around shallow docks and spawning areas. Beginning in May, he moves to offshore structure in 12-15 feet of water. As it gets hotter in the middle of summer, he moves to even deeper structure.
As the weather cools in fall, Nania looks to shallow points. In winter, he looks for deep water with current.
Knowing fish patterns is the key to catching bass. That’s frequently why Nania’s clients use his guide service.
“The key is understanding the progression throughout the year and where they are moving,” Nania says. “And you really have to learn those patterns from a guy like me. I take people who want to learn on monthly guide trips so that they can see that progression.”
For those who don’t remember what the land looked like before the river was dammed and flooded, maps help. But there’s no substitute for electronic depth-finding devices and GPS units to mark the location of underwater features.
While the submerged point doesn’t produce immediately, Nania is confident that the fish will be there sometime during the day. However, he doesn’t have time to wait for them. If a location doesn’t produce within about 15 minutes, Nania picks up his marker buoy and heads to another location. He has plenty around the lake.
A town full of bass
For his next stop, Nania chooses the holy grail of underwater structure in Logan Martin Lake. It’s the location of a town that was flooded in 1964 after the dam was built. It’s all clearly identifiable on Nania’s depth finder.
“There’s a town under here,” Nania says. “There are brush piles and foundations and a roadbed. Look, there’s an old bridge.”
The roadbed is an excellent location to bass fish. Bass love a hard bottom whether it’s the road or gravelly soils.
“Anywhere you go across the country, you’re looking for places with hard bottoms,” he says.
With a variety of tactics available, Nania can throw his arsenal at the bass on Logan Martin from big top-water plugs like a Zara Spook to deep-running crankbaits to little finesse worms on drop-shot rigs. But he knows that not every fisherman has all the accoutrements or the skill set to fully exploit a tackle box. There’s a simpler answer for them, he says.
His favorite weapon
When he reaches the old town, Nania sets aside the bait-casting reel he’s been using and picks up a spinning rod with what he says is the go-to bait for Logan Martin – the Shaky Head worm. Pioneered by Alabama-based Davis Bait Co., the Shaky Head is the marriage of a floating plastic worm and a lead jig head.
The lead head pulls the lure to the bottom and the worm floats upward and wiggles in the current. Nania says it’s best fished slowly.
“The less you work a Shaky Head, the more fish you catch,” Nania says. “What I mean by that is cast it out, let it sink all the way to the bottom and move it back to you a few inches at a time. Normally when the fish bite the worm, it’s sitting still on the bottom.”
Nania casts down the old roadbed and moves the bait slowly across the bottom. The lead head bumps over rocks and other debris on the bottom.
“Bite,” he says, and reels slack out of the line. Setting the hook sharply, the rod bows, and in a moment, a spotted bass about 14 inches long rockets out the water and shakes its head. Nania plays the fish to the boat and then swings it onboard.
Tossing the bass back in the water, he goes back to the roadbed with the Shaky Head. Two casts later, another bass, slightly larger, comes to the surface. This time it’s a largemouth.
“That’s a perfect example of catching two species in one spot,” he says.
Logan Martin is somewhat unusual in that its bass population is about 75 percent spotted bass and 25 percent largemouth. The rest of the Coosa River chain has populations that are about half and half, Nania says.
The better-known largemouth is more associated with shallower, grassy habitat. Spots don’t reach the size of the biggest largemouths but have a reputation for fighting. They’re usually associated with rocky habitat. Nania believes spawning habitat in Logan Martin favors spots for a variety of reasons.
Nania spends about four to five days a week fishing, mostly on Logan Martin. His house is only about a mile from the boat ramp. He enjoys sharing the knowledge he’s gained through experience.
“For me, it’s really more about teaching than guiding,” he says. “What I enjoy is teaching people to fish and showing them how to put fish in the boat.”
To find out more about Nania’s television fishing show, visit sweetwaterfishingtv.com. To learn more about his guide service, visit joeyfishing.com. To get instant access to lake conditions, lake levels and the best fishing spots, you can download the Shorelines app for your iOS or Android device at apcshorelines.com.