Ryan McMurtury of Abbeville knows as much about Lake Russell as almost anyone who pilots a bass boat these days. Growing up, he stomped around what is now the lake's bottom with his wife's grandfather, long before the lake was impounded in the early 1980s.

He knows places that aren't even marked on maps.

And the lessons he taught himself about catching spotted bass and largemouth bass on Russell - a Savannah River chain reservoir that's downstream from Lake Hartwell and upstream from Clarks Hill (Thurmond) - have paid off.

McMurtury qualified for the 2011 Bassmasters Classic by winning the Bassmaster Weekend Series national championship on Alabama's Lake Guntersville in the fall of 2010. Where's the Russell connection to the $100,000 winner's check? He caught most of his fish at Guntersville fishing a rig and a pattern that's one of his favorites on Russell this month: a double-fluke rig.

McMurtury does most of his bass catching in June with flukes and frogs. He'll occasionally pull a bass out of deep water with a Carolina rig or a crankbait but, day-in and day-out, a plastic frog and a Zoom Fluke - a slender, soft-plastic minnow imitation - are his two most-lethal weapons.

Here's how he fishes them:

McMurtury runs his frog pattern in the lake's feeder creeks - Allen Creek, Dry Fork Creek, Coldwater Creek and Pickens Creek on the Savannah River arm, and Speed Creek and Latimer Creek on the Rocky River arm - around flooded bank grass, first thing each morning.

He fishes a 7-foot, 3-inch medium-heavy Carrot Stix baitcasting rod with a Abu Garcia Revo SX high-speed reel spooled with 65-pound Spiderwire Stealth braid. He said the heavy line will produce a slower fall, and it's is needed to get the fish out of the dense cover.

"Fishing back in the creeks will not get a lot of bites, but it will get you a big bite," said McMurtury, adding that most bass are coming off the spawn by the first of June but an occasional fish will be still on the bed because of cool water being drawn through Hartwell Dam and into Lake Russell.

He pays particular attention to the flooded grass and is almost sight-fishing,cruising down the banks, looking for movement or any other signs that a bass is holed-up in the duck weed.

One sign of a nearby bass is what McMurtury calls a "smoke ball" - bass stirring up the bottom in shallow water, moving about under the grass. Another is stalks of grass moving around.

When McMurtury suspects there's a bass home in the grass, he flips his frog into the cover in much the same way a fisherman might flip in a jig or Texas-rigged worm.

"If a lure comes over, they will attack," he said.

McMurtury flips with his left hand, rocking the frog back and forth to hit his target not more than 10 to 15 feet from the boat.

After flipping the frog out, McMurtury engages the reel before the frog hits the water so that the lure immediately starts swimming.

The secret, he said is to get the frog back on top of the water quickly. He does that by pointing the rod to the frog and following the bait down until it hits the water. Then, he starts reeling fairly fast; the frog will splash across the water, and hopefully, a "good 'un" will pounce on it.

"Frog fishing in June is a one-time swing at these fish. If you miss him, he is gone." McMurtury said. "The fish are constantly roaming."

McMurtury uses only a green, Zoom Horny Toad frog.

Despite the thick cover in the backs of creeks, McMurtury doesn't use a leader, opting to tie a 5/0 Gamakatsu EWG Monster hook directly to the braid using a Uni Knot. When finished, the hook sticks out on top out of the frog's eyes.

McMurtury then bends the hook up so that it barely fits in the under the skin.

Later in the morning, around 9:30, McMurtury puts away the frog and picks up the fluke.

Spotted bass, which have pretty much taken over Lake Russsell, are still back in the creeks; the key is to try and target the bigger spots that are on the flats in back of the creeks.

McMurtury switches over to a fluke when he sees shad ball up and move across the flats, but conditions have to be right.

"The bass have to be in a feeding mode" for things to work out," he said.

McMurtury's tandem fluke rig consists of 30-pound braid attached to a swivel and 20-pound fluorocarbon leader, with straight-shanked 5/0 Gamakatsu hooks on the business end.

He likes Zoom's Salty Super Fluke in white pearl, and leaves the hooks exposed.

One fluke will be on a 2-foot leader and the other on a 1-foot trailer.

McMurtury fan-casts the backs of flats or target areas where shad are active.

Sometimes he wants the flukes to dance across the surface, but he will vary his retrieve, often working the bait after letting it fall several inches.

Catching doubles is not unusual.

However, McMurtury said not to leave the rest of your tackle at home. Because of the Russell's ever-changing character, what works one day won't draw a sniff the next.

The lake is controlled by flow through Russell Dam, and because of back pumping, as the water levels start to change, the fishing can change several times a day.

"You can get on a pattern, and it will change," McMurtury said. "Fishing on Lake Russell can be on one day and ugly the next."

"In June, the water level is usually up, and the fish are going to the shallows, always. But if the water starts dropping, you have got a problem because of the current. The lower the water and the hotter the weather, the better the fishing is.

"Current affects the fish more than anything."

When the fishing changes, McMurtury will leave the backs of the creeks. He likes to fish trees, laydowns and humps with crankbaits like a Yo-Zuri Vibe or Norman Deep Little N in green/orange or chartreuese/blue.

There are days when he'll spend the entire day fishing humps in 15 to 70 feet of water with a deep-diving crankbait or pig and jig.

Since there are so many small fish in the lake (generally spotted bass), McMurtury said you are not going to catch many over 2 pounds.

That means that, if you catch five keepers, usually anything over 10 pounds will get an angler a check on any tournament on the lake.

For the weekend angler who is just getting started on Russell, McMurtury recommends following the channel markers and fishing around them

At the red or green poles on the points, he suggests fishing a Carolina rig with a green finesse worm or a shakey head rig with a watermelon trick worm around the standing timber.

 

DESTINATION INFORMATION

WHERE TO GO/HOW TO GET THERE: Richard B. Russell Lake covers 26,650 acres along the South Carolina/Georgia border on the Savannah River, downstream from Lake Hartwell and upstream from Clarks Hill (Thurmond) Lake. Besides the Savannah, Russell impounds the Rocky River on the South Carolina side and Beaver Dam River on the Georgia side. The closest major town is Calhoun Falls at the junction of SC 81 and SC 72 - the latter crosses the lake just downstream from the confluence of the three rivers. Public boat ramp are scattered across the entire lake; the Elbert Ramp on GA 72 on the west side of the lake is among the most popular and is centrally located. Calhoun Falls State Recreation Area just upstream from the SC 72 bridge has public boat-launching facilities, as does Lake Russell State Park on the Georgia side.

TACKLE/TECHNIQUES: Plastic frog baits and soft-plastic Zoom Flukes are very popular fished in the backs of creeks around flats and bank grass. Flukes can be fished in tandem or by themselves, on flutter hooks, jigheads or weightless on worm hooks. Heavy tackle and line is required when fishing frog baits around heavy cover.

GUIDES/FISHING INFO: Wendell Wilson, Elberton, Ga., 705-283-3336; 72 Marine, Elberton, 706-283-7800; Sportsman's 1 Stop, Iva, (864) 348-2840. See also GUIDES & CHARTERS in Classifieds.

ACCOMMODATIONS: Camping and RV hookups are available at Calhoun Falls State Park, (864) 447-8267; Calhoun Falls Chamber of Commerce, (864) 418-8672; Greater Abbeville Chamber of Commerce, (864) 366-4600 or www.visitabbevillesc.com

MAPS: Kingfisher Maps, Clemson, (800) 326-0257 or www.kfmaps.com.