Lay Lake’s heavyweights

Lay Lake is producing the heaviest catches of all the Coosa River reservoirs, claims Alabama bass ace Mark McCaig.

“Over the last two or three years, it has taken over 20 pounds to win every [one-day] tournament at Lay Lake,” McCaig said. “Largemouth usually win, but there are big spotted bass there, too.”

That’s quite a testament to a heavily fished, 12,000-acre reservoir that was impounded 100 years ago. Part of the reason for Lay Lake’s staying power is the 1.5 million Florida-strain bass fry that have been released into Lay Lake by Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries since 1983. Sampling studies show that 40 to 50 percent of Lay Lake’s largemouth have Florida genes in them.

“There have been three largemouth over 10 pounds weighed in at Lay Lake in the past three years,” McCaig said. “I haven’t seen bass like that in any Coosa River lake in 10 or 15 years.”

Mid-February is a great time to latch onto Lay Lake’s prespawn fatties with an Alabama Rig. McCaig recommends that you cast umbrella rigs around bridges and to creek channel banks on the main lake. This pattern will have you battling hefty largemouth and spotted bass.

BIGMOUTHS IN THE GRASS

Fishing water willows is another strategy that’s sure to put you in touch with heavyweight largemouth at Lay Lake. Water willow is a leafy aquatic vegetation that grows in water 2 to 3 feet deep along shorelines. It stands knee high above the surface and has a thick, tough stem and a purplish flower.

The most prominent patches of water willows typically grow within the first 500 yards of major creeks. The most productive stretches of this grass have deep water nearby. Ideally, your boat should be floating in at least 4 feet of water when you are fishing this vegetation.

“The best largemouth fishing is from Beeswax Creek south to the Lay Lake Dam,” McCaig said. “Beeswax, Cedar, Paint and Spring creeks all have good grass.”

Other Coosa River reservoirs are pulled down during the winter, which hinders the growth of water willows. Lay Lake supports an abundance of this vegetation because it stays at full pool all year, points out McCaig.

Two jigging tactics dupe largemouth for McCaig when he fishes Lay Lake’s water willows. One is to swim a 5/16-ounce All-Terrain Tackle Swim Jig dressed with a NetBait Paca Chunk through the grass.

If the largemouth aren’t aggressive enough to attack his swimming jig, McCaig digs them out by flippin’ a Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver with a 1-ounce weight into the water willows.

SPOTS ON THE ROCKS

"The best largemouth fishing is from Beeswax Creek south to the Lay Lake Dam," says Mark McCaig. "Beeswax, Cedar, Paint and Spring creeks all have good grass."Although most tournament anglers target largemouth bass, Lay Lake also offers exceptional fishing for magnum spotted bass. Ornery Coosa River spots weighing 3 to 4 pounds are common, and it’s not unusual to see five-bass tournament limits of spots that tip the scales at 18 to 20 pounds.

“The best spotted bass fishing is from Beeswax Creek north to the Logan Martin Dam,” McCaig said.

When McCaig goes for Lay Lake’s spotted bass in February, he opts for a 1/2-ounce All-Terrain Tackle Rattling A.T. Jig tipped with a 3-inch twin curly tailed grub. He fishes this jig on 20-pound Berkley 100 Percent Fluorocarbon line.

“I pitch it behind rocks that break the current where the water’s 5 to 6 feet deep,” McCaig said. “That pattern holds up until mid-March.”

ALABAMA BASS TRAIL SOUTHERN FINALE

On June 7, 2014, Lay Lake will host the last of five tournaments in the South Division of the Alabama Bass Trail. There are also five events slated for the North Division.

Each tournament has a $10,000 guaranteed first-place prize and pays 20 places. The winner qualifies for a no-­entry-fee championship with a grand prize of a 2015 fully rigged Phoenix 619 Pro bass boat.

MEET MARK MCCAIG

Alabamian Mark McCaig resides in Oxford, about 35 miles northeast of Lay Lake. McCaig fishes bass tournaments 42 weekends a year.

Most of these events happen on the Coosa River chain of lakes, and half of those are at Lay Lake. McCaig has fished Lay Lake for the past two decades and has won back-to-back Angler of the Year titles in the Alabama North Division of the former Toyota Bassmaster Weekend Series operated by American Bass Anglers.

FYI

Before you visit Lay Lake, go to www.alabamabasstrail.org. Here you’ll find detailed information about fishing locations, productive fishing patterns, local guides, campgrounds, where to stay and current river data. This website also has information about nine Alabama reservoirs and one other major river system.