It has been more than 10 years since Bassmaster Elite Series standout Aaron Martens migrated from California to Alabama. The move shortened his driving time to most of the Elite Series tournaments and gave Martens ready access to Sweet Home's premier bass reservoirs.
One of those reservoirs is Lewis Smith Lake, which lies an hour north of Birmingham just off I-65. Given Smith Lake's clear, deep water and rocky bass habitat, it has similarities to some of the California lakes that taught Martens how to fish.
“Smith is a great lake for pattern fishing,” Martens points out. “It has over 500 miles of shoreline and lots of creeks and coves.”
This 21,200-acre reservoir is known for its strong spotted bass population. On March 18, 1978, Phillip C. Terry of Decatur caught the 8-pound, 15-ounce Alabama state record spotted bass here.
March continues to be an excellent month for catching chunky spotted bass at Smith Lake. But, don't overlook the largemouths. An electrofishing survey done by Alabama's Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division in April of 2007 captured just as many largemouth as spots.
Thanks to a 13-15 inch slot limit, 16% of the bass in the 2007 survey exceeded 15 inches. That was an improvement from a survey done in 2003. Martens noticed an upgrade when he fished a Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Open at Smith Lake in October 2012.
While practicing for the tournament, Martens accidentally dropped a bass on his boat's deck, causing it to spit up a blueback herring.
“I didn't know bluebacks were in Smith Lake until that moment,” he said. “That's probably why the bass I was catching were so fat and healthy.”
One downside with bluebacks is that bass tend to suspend when they feed on them. This can make fishing more challenging because the bass don't relate as well to bottom structure.
However, you don't need to concern yourself with that in March, Martens claims. March is when Smith's bass are predictable due to prespawn feeding and staging activities.
Prespawn Spotted Bass Patterns
Smith's spotted bass typically stage and spawn close to the main lake, Martens has found. Key staging areas in March are bluff ends and points at the mouths of creeks.
“The lake also has a lot of narrows where the spots can spawn right off the main river channel,” Martens says.
Depending on the water conditions and how close the bass are to spawning, they could be from 3 to 14 feet deep. Since Martens typically fishes with a dozen or more rods on his boat's deck, he temps bites with a variety of lures.