2017 Barrett Lake Preview: 275 Bass for 2

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Garrett Mercer with the largest bass of our day, a nice 5.75 pounder caught on a chatterbait in the morning

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  • Thanks to heavy rainfall this winter, Barrett Lake has come up over 45 vertical feet, going from 6.2% capacity a year ago to a much more fish-friendly 36.5% today. The change in water level will present anglers with both opportunities, and challenges this year when Barrett opens for the 2017 fishing season on May 3rd.

    Anxious to see how the lake and bass have responded to all of the new water, I took advantage of the invitation to fish Barrett on April 25th as a member of the local fishing media. Joining me on the day was my longtime friend and former bass tournament partner Garrett Mercer.

    Several other local media members had already fished Barrett earlier in April (see our Barrett Reports Forum for some of their reports), but I chose a date that was as close to the opener as possible to be able to get you guys the most relevant information I could.

    Barrett will have a lot more room to fish this year with all the new water

    Before I get into the phenomenal fishing we had, I want to stress how important it is to have an electric trolling motor when you fish Barrett. If you don’t own one, you can rent a nice trolling motor and fully charged battery from Lakeside Bait and Tackle for only $35. They only have about 5 sets available, so call ahead to reserve yours before your trip. I rented one from them for this trip, and it worked fantastic! Now, onto the fishing…

    We faced coldfront conditions, with an overnight low of 40° the night before and a daytime high of only 65°, the 2nd lowest of the month. The water was stained with a noticeable copper tint with about 14″ of visibility.

    Upon getting on the water at about 6:30 AM, we headed straight into the Hauser Arm, which jets off eastward from the main lake basin. With no other boats on the water, we could afford to be picky and look for an ideal starting spot – which we found 3/4 of the way down the arm on the south shoreline. Our first spot was a long rocky point with both flooded brush and rock piles, and two coves on either side of the point with freshly flooded trees. This spot not only had a mix of fish holding habitat, but would quickly help us narrow down what types of areas were holding the most fish that day.

    Barrett has tons of flooded trees and bushes like this right now

    With wind coming from the WSW, the cove leading up to the point was windblown while the point protected the other cove. Historically, early season fishing at Barrett is centered around one thing – the shad spawn. Find the shad, and you find the fish. So our bait selection was pretty simple, a variety of baits designed to imitate shad and fish various parts of the water column. Garrett started with a bone colored Rebel Pop-R topwater popper, while I picked up a 1/2 oz white/chartreuse War Eagle Spinnerbait.

    Garrett immediately started landing 12-15″ bass on the popper, essentially on every cast while I started much slower with the spinnerbait. Seeing how much success he was having on top prompted me to start keeping my spinnerbait higher in the water column, instead of trying to nip the tops of the submerged brush I started to do the same to the trees that were still breaching the surface. Immediately that resulted in a higher bite rate, and I started to catch back up to Garrett who just about 20 minutes into the morning was approaching 20 bass. The key with the spinnerbait was running it right over the tops of the partially submerged, but still alive trees – bites were triggered nearly every time the spinnerbait’s blades would flutter after striking the tree leaves.

    Meanwhile Garrett had switched to a 3/8 oz white/chartreuse chatterbait with a 4″ Yamamoto Zako Swimbait in “Sight Flash” color as a trailer. With that bait, he quickly picked up what would end up being our largest fish of the day, a nice healthy 5 pound 12 ounce fish (pictured above).

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  • After fishing the entire spot; the cove leading up to the rocky point, the point itself, and the cove protected from the wind by the rocky point on the other side, we had keyed in on several things that would help us the entire day. The first being the wind was going to be a friend for us, not a foe. The windblown cove held more bait and more bass than the one which was sheltered. The second was that live trees were better than dead trees, and bass were keyed in on what was going on around the green leaves. And last, the actual rock held fewer bass than the trees.

    We continued down the bank toward the shallow east end of Hauser, which was a field of freshly flooded green trees. Too much of a good thing though, with all those trees there was nothing to really key in on, for both us and the bass. And that spot yielded far fewer bites for us than the more sparsely covered spots leading up to the back. So we turned around and headed back out toward the main lake.

    We fished several more good looking spots on the north shoreline of Hauser, and were picking up bass at a quick clip. Garrett established a goal for us before we even got on the water – to each land 100 bass on the day. That’s a reasonable goal at Barrett, but you have to fish efficiently and can’t make too many bad decisions. We had already wasted about 20 minutes by going all the way to the back of Hauser, if we were going to hit 100, we had to stay on them the rest of the day.

    You also can’t fish baits that require too much maintenance, take too long to produce strikes, or take too long to get fish unhooked. Because of that, we had both kind of settled on chatterbaits at this point. If you take a minute to glue the trailer on with Pro’s Soft Bait Glue – they’re an extremely low maintenance bait, and with only a single hook, unhooking fish is quick and easy.

    As we got closer to the “island” in Hauser, I spotted some terns diving on bait in a cut a couple hundred yards in front of the island. Terns are in my opinion the single best bird indicator of active bass and bait because of how active terns are. They hunt from the air, as opposed to herons and egrets which stalk from the shoreline. So terns can cover much larger areas, and hone in what really is the most advantageous feeding opportunity for them on the entire lake. So if you see diving terns, get over there quick!

    Spotting the terns turned out to be the winning move of the day, as it led us to a single spot in which we’d catch well over 100 bass on the day. The spot was essentially a cut with live trees on both sides leading in, with a smaller cut created inside of it by two shallow rocky outcroppings, and the wind was blowing directly into it. The wind blew the bait up against the shoreline, the brush held the bass, and the rocky outcroppings funnelled the bait into an area where they couldn’t easily escape. It was literally a perfect spot.

    Garrett fights another Barrett bass, hooked right off our most productive spot on the day.

    After catching a few dozen bass each on the spot, we tied up to some dead trees outside the cut, and sat there for several hours catching bass after bass out of the various areas within the cut. The only downside to this position was that with each bass we caught, we pulled several other bass out of the cut with it.

    Ideally, we could have got off on shore so that we would pull the other bass back into the prime structure than out of it. That was not an option because of another variable anglers will face this year due to the high water – the entire shoreline is covered in flooded foxtails. It’ll be really challenging to find an area to fish from shore this year where you won’t be dealing with foxtails.

    At some point while fishing this spot I decided to tie on a white Zoom Super Fluke. The spot set up perfect for it, and I wanted to throw something other than a spinnerbait and chatterbait for a little while. The fluke bite was tremendous. I was getting bit on nearly every cast – the only problem being that meant I was going through a lot of flukes, and having to mess with putting on new baits, adjusting the current bait, and regluing the bait often to keep it on the hook. All that bait maintenance was worth it though, because I was catching bass about 3 times as fast as Garrett was with the chatterbait at this point.

    Check out the video at the bottom of this article to see some of the action from this spot…

    After milking this for a couple hours, we were both up to nearly 100 bass. Garrett I think had 98 when we left, and I had 92, after being down a couple dozen bass early to his morning run on the popper. We untied from the tree and went and checked out the Pine Creek Arm.

    This would be our second, and thankfully last mistake of the day. Pine Creek was protected from the wind, held far less bait and had no signs of actively feeding bass or spawning shad. We fished in there a bit, caught a few scattered fish and knew we were wasting our time in there. I wouldn’t rule out Pine Creek, there are fish in there, and because of this report it’ll likely see less pressure on opening day than Hauser – but it had noticeably less positive indicators. Looking back on it, I think you could have really done well in Pine Creek on a watermelon black flake Senko fished right on the shore back there, but our shad imitating baits weren’t the right ticket there.

    The famous water cannon as it sits now in Pine Creek Arm

    We headed back into Hauser, and fished from the island back toward our honey hole. Immediately we started crushing them again, as bait was flickering, terns were diving, and the bass were all over the trees around the island. We settled back in on our spot eventually, fishing it for another hour or so with positive results before heading back toward the dock to check out the main lake spots.

    It was there that we ended our day. At one point we were tied at 130 bass a piece, and I was out of flukes. I picked up a Lucky Craft Pointer 100 jerkbait, which was the closest thing I had to a fluke at that point and picked up 3 quick bass off the rocks near Pig’s Point. The jerkbait was good off the rocks, but wasn’t being touched off the soft bank so I picked up a watermelon Senko to scratch that itch. I caught 8 bass on about 10 casts with the Senko, right off the bank – and then it was time to leave.

    Screenshot from my Apple Watch Clicker App, showing my day’s total catches.

    The final count for me was 141 bass, Garrett totaled 134 and we lost several dozen others. I kept track of my catch totals with the Clicker App on my Apple Watch Series 2 (see screenshot at right), which is extremely convenient as a fishing tool. Ultimately we had very few big fish, Garrett’s 5.75 in the morning was by far our biggest fish. He also had a 4-09 later in the day, and I had a couple in the 3.5 pound range – and lost one that might’ve been 4.

    Most of the fish are the typically skinny Barrett bass, though we did catch a good number of really chunky obviously young bass. So I think the young fish are growing at a pretty good rate right now with all of the extra space from the rise in water level.

    There is a TON of shad around, but not a lot of it spawning yet. Terns will point you in the direction of the spawning shad, and keep an eye on the bank at all times to look for boiling bass. If you can find an area where the shad are spawning around a natural funnel, then you can milk it for several dozen bass. Otherwise the bass breeze down the bank pretty fast and it’s tough to stay on the school.

    If you haven’t yet bought tickets for Barrett – you’re probably out of luck for the first month unless you can find someone who will sell you a spot on theirs for May. Tickets for June go on sale on Tuesday, May 9th via Ticketmaster at 7:00 PM. If you’re not familiar with the way tickets are sold for Barrett, check out the city’s website here.

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    Kellen Ellis

    The owner, editor and administrator of sdfish.com.

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