When Georgian Mike Echols fishes topwater plugs, crankbaits or spinnerbaits, his go-to color is shad. Echols, who competes in CITGO Bassmaster Southern Open tournaments, figures you can't go wrong emulating the bass' No. 1 forage.
"If I fish all day and don't throw a shad-colored bait, I can't say I gave it my best shot," says Echols.
Spring through fall, Echols tunes in to shad movements to stay in touch with feeding bass. Soon after bass spawn on Lanier, Hartwell and other clear water reservoirs near Echols' home in Athens, he targets high spots next to creek and river channels. Here bass feed on suspended shad that roam over sloping bottoms and ledges.
Echols prompts explosive strikes with an Excalibur Super Spook Jr. Most of the bass are spots, but he also takes an occasional largemouth. Echols ties directly to the bait with a loop knot to give the lure more freedom to swap back and forth. Of the five shad patterns available in the Super Spook, he especially likes Bleeding Shad/Black Back.
"I can cast the Super Spook Jr. as far as the larger Zara Spook," says Echols. "I believe the Jr. is closer in size to the shad bass normally eat. It's balanced just right for walking the dog."
On many reservoirs Echols fishes, abundant shoal markers alert boaters to shallow hazards. The markers prevent accidents. They also tell Echols where to cast the Super Spook Jr. Shoals close to channel drops consistently yield bass.
"I generally do better wherever a shoal gradually slopes out to a ledge," says Echols. "I may cast the Jr. way up into water less than 5 feet deep, but my boat could be sitting over a channel 100 feet deep."
Planted brushpiles improve the potential of any shoal. Bass often hold near the cover and dart up to take shad passing overhead. Since the bass are feeding looking up, they readily see Echols' Super Spook Jr. dancing on the surface. They come a long way to nab the bait, even during midday.
"You can bring bass to the surface all day long," says Echols. "It doesn't matter if it's sunny or cloudy. I call them up from water as deep as 20 feet."
Echols keeps the boat moving and walks the Super Spook Jr. continuously, varying the lure's pace to determine what the bass prefer. He quickly combs shoals with long casts. The goal is to pick off one or two aggressive bass at each stop. This pattern also produces well in autumn, when bass school over shoals and pillage shad.
A 6-foot, 6-inch Pflueger graphite baitcasting rod paired with a Pflueger Trion reel rockets Echols' Super Spook Jr. over shoals. He spools the reel with 17-pound Excalibur Silver Thread.
"The Jr. brings on strikes from big bass," says Echols. "You need heavy line to keep them from getting down into brush."
Echols relies on the same rod and reel when he fishes crankbaits, but drops to 12-pound Silver Thread. Though he does most of his cranking in the fall, he ties on a No. 5 Excalibur Fat Free Fry whenever strong winds pound whitecaps into clay banks. He likes the Tennessee Shad color for this application.
Waves churn up mudlines teeming with shad. Bass move up to take advantage of this bonanza, even during the hot months.
"This is a good pattern for big fish," says Echols. "I like to keep the boat in 10 to 12 feet of water, just inside the mud. Then I fish parallel through the edge of the mudline."
Echols claims the outer edge of the mudline clouds only the surface. Bass hold in clear water beneath the mudline and pounce on disoriented shad above them. The Fat Free Fingerling runs 4 to 6 feet deep. It gets below the mudline, yet stays high enough above bottom to intercept bass.
"I don't want to hit bottom in this situation," says Echols. "The bass will be up feeding on the shad. A slow, steady retrieve is all it takes."
Windy banks have also come through for Echols in the spring, as they did once at Alabama's Lake Martin. The water temperature was still in the 50s when blustery weather stirred up mudlines on steep, main lake banks.
Echols cranked the edge of the muddy water with a Bomber Flat A that runs about 3 to 5 feet deep. The result was a heavy limit of spotted bass.
Cordell's Super Spot plays prominently in Echols' shad attack. He dotes on the ¼-ounce size in the chrome, blue-back color. This 2 ½-inch bait produces fast limits of keeper bass for Echols when he fishes flats 6 to 7 feet deep in the fall. It also draws strikes from quality fish.
"I look for clean flats in creeks where I can retrieve the Super Spot slowly over the bottom," says Echols. "It's almost like slow rolling a spinnerbait. I like to tag bottom every now and then. That lets me know the bait is down where it needs to be. The contact can also make bass strike."
Bottom contact is out of the question when Echols targets suspended bass in standing timber. Just before and after the spawn, he takes bass 12 to 15 feet down that hover over bottoms 50 feet deep or deeper. A white 3/8-ounce Riverside Counter Attack Double Willowleaf spinnerbait emulates the shad that also suspend around the trees. Echols favors one nickel and one gold blade.
Due to the timber, Echols goes with 20-pound line to prevent break-offs. He trims the skirt to allow a faster sink rate.
"I do this a lot at Lake Russell," says Echols. "That lake has standing timber in every creek. I concentrate on big cedar trees, especially cedar trees that sit off by themselves."
Echols casts well beyond a cedar tree and lets the spinnerbait flutter down 8 feet or so before he begins the retrieve. He cranks just fast enough to keep the counterrotating blades of the Counter Attack spinnerbait turning. He runs the spinnerbait past both sides of the tree. Then he moves his boat 90 degrees around the tree and fishes both sides of the tree from the new angle.
This pattern came through for Echols last year when he fished a large annual tournament on Lake Russell. Slow rolling the spinnerbait 8 to 10 feet deep next to cedar trees standing in 50 feet of water produced 15 pounds of bass. His catch included the 6 ½-pound Big Bass of the tournament. Echols finished in seventh place.
"There always has to be wind on the water for this pattern to work," says Echols. "If it's flat, you can't get them to bite."
When shad spawn on riprap banks in the spring, Echols downsizes to a ¼-ounce Counter Attack spinnerbait. The wind isn't necessary in this instance. The commotion caused by scads of shad splashing up against the rocks is like a dinner bell for bass. Echols fares best on long stretches of riprap, such as that found on expansive causeways.
"You can catch the fire out of bass when shad spawn on the rocks," says Echols. "All you have to do is cast parallel to the rocks and run the spinnerbait high. You can't beat a white spinnerbait with gold and silver willowleaf blades."
A white ½-ounce buzzbait with a single nickel blade gets the call when Echols fishes riprap early on summer mornings. He favors buzzbaits that have some type of clacker. Before the sun gets up, bass feed on shad that are attracted to algae growing on the rocks. Here again, Echols goes with a parallel presentation tight to the rocks.
"I retrieve the buzzbait just fast enough to keep it on top," says Echols. "Any brush or windfalls along the riprap are key spots in the summertime. Always hit this kind of cover with several casts."
When bass follow shad into feeder creeks in autumn, Echols probes stumps, windfalls and other bank cover with a flippin' rod. He also keeps a crankbait rod handy — with an Excalibur Fat Free Fingerling tied to the line. This bait gets down 8 to 10 feet and effectively combs steep banks often found in creeks, especially steep banks found on outside bends.
"When I come to a stretch of bank that doesn't have good cover, I put down my flippin' rod and fish the crankbait," says Echols. "I love rocky banks, especially when I see shad working the surface near them. I go back to flippin' when I come to more good cover."