A turn for the better

Target turns in creek channels to load the boat

David Hunter Jones

Like the cool kids clustering in the corner of a coffee shop or some trendy café, bass also like their little nooks and notches. Well familiar with the ways of largemouth, Bassmaster Elite Series pro Terry Scroggins knows that targeting channel turns is always a good bet for finding fish in the food mood.

“To me, channel turns are just like bluff ends — they’re something different,” he said. “Anytime you get a turn or an end, it’s something irregular that the fish just like.

“My favorite (scenarios) are the last channel swings in the backs of the creeks. During the prespawn, those fish will position themselves on those last swings before they pull up and go into the backs of those feeder creeks and spawn.”

Fellow Elite pro Keith Combs adds this: “A channel turn is usually the most prevalent feature. You may have a channel that winds along for a long ways, but those real hard turns usually have your deepest water and they’re usually the steepest spot.

“Generally, whatever made that channel turn right there had to be hard bottom — a lot of times rock. So when that channel was cutting into the bottom, it probably came to a rocky spot and turned away.”

Combs said that river systems tend to gather logs and debris in their channel bends, thereby presenting more fish-holding structure. That’s less of a factor when he’s fishing channel bends several miles offshore in lakes like Toledo Bend or Sam Rayburn, but here the bends present those key points of variance amid long stretches of boring sameness.

Particularly promising for Combs is a channel turn with isolated stumps. This is classic current-break stuff and a guaranteed fish magnet.

Go with the flow

In a river system, the strongest current will position bass most predictably in the turns. Lighter flow may scatter the fish, but when the water’s rolling, they’ll usually tuck firmly into those current seams.

“If you have current in that particular channel, when that current hits that hard bend it’s going to create some kind of an eddy,” Combs said. “That gathers bait and it’s a great ambush point.”

Combs notes that a hearty current swinging through a channel turn brings its swiftness right to the shore and leaves only a narrow band of slack water right on the bank. As the current slows, bass will follow the receding seam progressively farther off the bank. Savvy anglers who walk out with the seam will stay on top of these channel turn fish.

“I try to fish a channel turn during peak current times, but if I couldn’t, instead of casting directly at the bank, I’d make a cast to the bank but present it at a 45-degree angle to cover some fish that maybe were sitting off the current a little bit,” Combs said.

Combs found this scenario during last year’s Bassmaster Elite Series event on the Alabama River, when stronger current early in the week had the fish hugging the bank and gobbling passing meals. Flipping a jig to the bank was nearly a call-your-shot kinda deal, but when the water slowed later in the week, Combs found the fish a good 6 feet off the bank – a move matching the repositioned current seam.

“They’re going to want to stay as close to that hard flow as they can, but not in it,” he said.

Best baits

Scroggins has a particular scenario that blends channel contours with submerged vegetation. Essentially, when he finds a channel turn with a healthy bank of hydrilla spilling over the edge, he knows he could find fish up on the adjacent flats, buried in the grass or suspended off the edge. Here, a jerkbait is his choice — a Rattling Rogue for the channel edge, or a shallow-diving Bomber Long A for the flats.

“What you have is suspended fish in the river channel and you also have fish buried up in the hydrilla on the walls of the river channel,” he said. “So you’re targeting two different patterns there at once.”

“What you want to do is jerk your jerkbait down whenever you get over that sharp break and let it pause there on that break. The fish will actually come off that ledge and out of the grass and eat your bait.”

In most scenarios, Combs favors a Strike King 5XD for channel turn duties. Crankbaits, he said, offer enticing presentations that cover lots of water to find the active fish.

“Whatever their food source is you can imitate it with a crankbait, but you also get that reaction type bite,” Combs said. “If the fish will let me, I want to use the fastest retrieve I can and keep banging into whatever's down there.”

Once he finds a sweet spot in the turn, Combs likes to pick it apart with a Strike King Denny Brauer Structure Jig. This hybrid jighead design blending the traits of flipping and football heads allows him to cast, flip or drag the jig, as the situation dictates. For most of the year, his jig sports a Rage Craw trailer.

If he suspects that his channel turn fish are suspended, Combs will slow roll a 3/4-ounce spinnerbait through the area.

On the spot

Generally, Combs wants to sit in deep water and cast shallow, but depth is not the only consideration. In spot-specific channel turn scenarios, dialing in specific casts are paramount.

“When I catch a fish on a channel turn where there’s current and it’s hard to position, the first thing I do is reach down on my Humminbird and drop a waypoint,” Combs said. “I want to get right back on that waypoint and remember what I had cast to. Is there a bush there, or a rock there?

“It’s critical to (get back on that spot) because if there’s just one stump blocking the current, or if that’s the only feature that’s there to hold them, like in a lake situation, it may be a one-cast deal between getting bit or not getting bit.”

Often, a simple triangulation of shoreline points and boat positioning will do the trick. Make the right cast to the right spot and your day may take a turn for the better.

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