Photo by Dan Cook Rick McFerrin of Woodbury with smallmouth caught at Tims Ford Reservoir.
WINCHESTER, Tenn. — When Rick McFerrin cast a Prowler soft shad bait close to a dock on Tims Ford Lake, he saw several smallmouth bass immediately chasing it.
The scene was often repeated, he said.
McFerrin, the owner of Tennessee Bass Guides, LLC, of Woodbury, believes it will be even more frequent as the 10,800-acre reservoir fed by the Elk River cools.
He reeled a 3-pound-plus smallmouth with the water at 70 degrees. The fish action will increase, he said, when it gets to the low 60s and 50s.
A number of other factors will help determine an angler’s success rate, however. Two of the most important are learning where to look for the bass and how to cast for them.
Adding a substance to the Prowler bait is working well now.
“These Prowler baits come and they’re just pearl (colored),” McFerrin said. “I take a product called JJ’s Magic and I dip the tail of the bait into it.”
JJ’s Magic, made in Atlanta, comes in clear, chartreuse, red and blue colors.
“They like that chartreuse a lot of the time on this particular bait, for some reason,” McFerrin said.
A whiff of the treatment reveals a strong garlic smell. Apparently that adds to its attractiveness.
The Prowler, combined with the dip, can lead to some great Tims Ford catches, McFerrin said.
Knowing where to fish includes paying attention to the wind.
“On this lake, if it’s normal, you want to stay with the windiest banks you can find,” he explained. “The reason is the clarity of the water: It’s so clear, anything that helps break up the rays of light (helps). And, of course, the wind will push the plankton and bait fish into the banks.
“What happens is that as the water temperature falls, these shad begin to come back into these bays. They will get out of the channels. They don’t go anywhere in the summer when the temperature is high. What they do then is try to find those thermoclines. There’ll be some shad (still in the coves), but most will be out in the middle of the channels.”
The lake has always been deficient in oxygen, McFerrin said, but an aerator placed in the dam seems to be increasing it.
“It has to have helped,” he said, “because the oxygen content was so low. We’ve been in an extreme drought here, like other places, over the past several years. Without that aerator it would be a whole lot worse.”
Winter is his favorite time to fish Tims Ford, McFerrin said. The largest smallmouth he caught there — one weighing 6 pounds, 2 ounces — was in one of the colder months.
One of his cool-weather techniques is casting a four-inch plastic worm with an exposed hook, instead of being rigged Texas style with the hook tip hidden, upon a dock and allowing it to slip gently into the water on the retrieve.
There was one stretch a few years ago, shortly before spawning time, when he and his clients were catching smallmouths on just about every cast with that trick — around several docks.
“Within a week, we caught more than 100 bass there,” he said. “They were suspended underneath those docks. And, of course, you’ve got to understand that all docks aren’t created equally. Some docks have more algae on the bottom than others. Some are in more shaded areas.”
Determining which docks attract the most bass is particularly helpful when fishing Tims Ford, McFerrin said.
Some owners of shoreline homes have placed fish attractors such as the Porcupine underneath their docks. Invented by Kentuckian Larry Harper and marketed now by Bill Dance, the Porcupine has poles plugged into slots in a globe-like center, making it look something like the animal for which it is named. Fish are attracted as algae collects on it, and the way it’s made minimizes bait getting hung in it.
That’s just another bit if knowledge McFerrin brings to his business.