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Yates Bream Fishing

Bream Fishing in Lake Yates

By Jon Hornsby, former Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division Biologist

The water level in Lake Yates is very unstable; under extreme conditions, the lake level can fluctuate as much as 3.5 feet in a day. This instability can work for, or against, the angler. Generally, fishing is best when the lake is stable or rising, and worst when the lake is falling and bubbles are rising from the bottom. The lake is normally stable or rising when generation is occurring at Martin Dam, so I make it a point to call the 1-800-LAKES-11 number provided by Alabama Power Company to determine when generation will occur at Martin Dam.

Bluegill, redbreast sunfish and redear sunfish (shellcracker) are the primary species of bream caught in Lake Yates. For a main stream impoundment, Yates produces unusually large bream. On average, the weight of an angler-caught bream from Lake Yates is 1.5-1.7 times greater than that of a bream caught from nearby reservoirs located on the Chattahoochee, Alabama, and Coosa rivers.  Roughly one out of every 19 redear sunfish caught in Lake Yates weighs a pound or more – 5.4% may not sound like much, but it is a very high percentage, making Yates one of the better shellcracker lakes in the state. Simply put, Yates Reservoir is an exceptionally good bream fishing lake.

Bream catch at Yates Lake with a spotted bass added.Fishing for bream can be particularly difficult when the lake is dropping, especially in the hot summer months. When the weather is hot, bluegills will be shallow early in the morning, but they will move to deeper water around 9 or 10 a.m., as the shadows along the shoreline recede. Late in the day, they normally move back into the shallows where they are relatively easy to catch, or they may begin feeding on surface insects hundreds of feet out from the banks. If the bluegills are feeding on midges, it can be quite a challenge to catch them on a fly rod, but if they are feeding on a wide variety of insects, then the fly fishing can be phenomenal as dusk approaches.

The water in Lake Yates is unusually cold from spring through fall because the water discharged from Martin Dam is drawn from a depth of 60-90 feet. This cold water prolongs the spawning period of bream and other fish found in the lake. The best months for bream fishing are April, May, and June, although big shellcrackers are caught as early as February by knowledgeable anglers using wigglers or crickets for bait. I normally fish for bream with ultralight spinning gear or a fly rod, so my observations and experiences may differ somewhat from those of a dedicated bait fisherman. Without a doubt, more bream can be caught per hour on natural bait than artificials; however, bluegills and redbreast sunfish are readily caught on small lures using an ultralight spinning outfit spooled with 1- to 4-lb. line. In marked contrast, shellcrackers are only occasionally caught on lures or bream poppers, unless they are bedding or about to bed.

When shellcrackers are spawning, many of the better fishermen swear that the best time to catch them is around the time of the full moon, which may well be the case. Drop a wiggler or cricket into every likely looking treetop, log, or bit of structure you come across and don’t expect to find them exclusively on visible beds in shallow water. They may be 6 feet deep. Under the right conditions, big shellcrackers can be caught on small in-line spinners (a 1/16 oz. Roostertail, for example), tiny jigs, micro crankbaits, 2-inch worms rigged Texas style to make them weedless, or best of all on flies or popping bugs fished in and around cover. These are the same lures that I use to catch bluegills and yellow perch. A 4-weight fly rod is a pleasure to cast, but it takes a fair amount of skill to cast a wind resistant popping bug in a stiff breeze.

In Yates, I routinely catch big bluegills and redbreast sunfish on 1- to 1.5-inch crankbaits (Rebel minnows, Scatbacks, sinking Rapalas, Norman MG1s, small Rattletraps), small wobblers (Super Dupers), 1.5- to 2-inch plastic worms and tube lures, small spinners (Beetlespins, 1/32 to 1/8 oz. Roostertails, etc.), and even tiny ice fishing lures. Bluegills and redbreast sunfish are suckers for a tiny lure and put up a heck of a fight on light line. Frequently, a stop-and-go retrieve is more effective than a steady retrieve, not only for bream, but for the yellow perch in Lake Yates, as well. 

Locating bluegill beds is not as difficult as finding shellcracker beds, because (a) bluegill beds are more abundant and (b) they are normally in shallow water 1-2 feet deep and easy to see. Once a bed is found, it is very easy to catch the males guarding the eggs on a fly rod, on ultra-light lures, or live bait. Bluegills and redbreast are relatively easy to catch even when they’re not bedding, since they spend so much time in shallow water. Catching big bream is loads of fun, but can also be very challenging. Bluegills can be as selective as trout at times, and when they are keyed in on tiny midges or some other species of insect, they can be almost impossible to catch. “Matching the hatch” can be extremely frustrating under such conditions.

The upper fourth of Yates Lake is very cold from spring to fall due to the cold water releases from Lake Martin. The frigid water can either turn the fish on, or turn them off. Although this cold water is “unnatural,” it does greatly prolong the spawning season for bream and bass, but generally not for crappie. Further down the lake, the cold water sinks to a depth of 12 feet to 20 or 25 feet. In the hot summer and fall months, bream move away from the banks into deeper, cooler water, where they can be caught at depths of 10 to 15 feet from mid morning to late afternoon. Underwater drops, submerged islands, and long points can be productive when the bream are deep. If your lure won’t get down to the fish, remember that a slowly trolled crankbait will run twice as deep as it would if cast and retrieved in normal fashion.

In the winter when the water temperature is uniform from top to bottom, schools of suspended bluegills can be located in or near the mouths of coves, and sometimes vertical jigging can be effective. The major tributaries of Lake Yates (Sougahatchee, Channahatchee, and Coon creeks) are 6.4 times more productive than the main lake, in terms of pounds of fish per acre. There are many more bream per acre of water in the tributaries, but that does not necessarily mean that it is easier to catch them in the creeks. Frequently, more bream can be caught in the main lake – one simply has to experiment to find the pattern on any given day. In that respect, bream fishing is like bass fishing. Find where they are and what they want, then give it to them and hope they are in a biting mood. Yates Lake bream fishing is a little different than many lakes, but the effort to determine what is effective can produce high quality bream found in few other reservoirs.


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