Let’s be honest: Fishing Lake Martin in the summer can be a challenge. This is the peak of the recreational season on the lake, and there are factors at play that have to be considered. First of all is safety. There are more boats and watercraft on the lake now than ever. It’s a great thing when you think about it. We have a truly public waterbody that all people can enjoy, whatever their water sport of preference.
First, we have to be aware that although a boating license is required to get behind the wheel of a powerboat, the qualifications are not as strict as those for operating cars. In recent years, more people have gotten into boating and water sports, and accidents have become more frequent. We’ve seen the growth in the fishing industry, as well, and boat sales in general have exploded across the board. Bass boats, pontoon boats, wake boats, center consoles … the list goes on. Kayaks and paddle boards are getting more popular as well, adding another dynamic. The best advice for this time of year would be for anyone that’s out on the water to be aware of what’s going on around them at all times.
I get excited every time I drop my boat in the water. It’s been like that since the first time I was able to push my Jon boat off the bank and paddle out into our slough as a kid. There is something exhilarating about being out in open water supported by a small hull of fiberglass, aluminum, plastic or wood.
The lake is a place to enjoy time with friends and family. There is so much to do and talk about that it’s easy to forget there are many others out there. Just recently, I had a close call with someone staring at a cell phone with a boat load of people on board. Had I not been watching, it could have been bad.
“No Wake” zones, in my opinion, are in the right places. Common sense is the best virtue when boating, and watching out for others can make all the difference. By making the effort to be considerate of others on the water, accidents could be kept to a minimum, so everyone can enjoy the lake experience.
Here are a few things we can do as anglers (and all boaters in general) to help:
Don’t get in a hurry
I can’t believe I put this at the top of my list, but there it is. I like to run hard, cover water, jump down and hit the next spot as much as anyone, but this time of year there are more folks out there, and it pays to be aware at all times.
One mistake in a high-speed bass boat could damage equipment and potentially throw an angler in the water. Slow down; let the boat ride out the waves from the boat traffic to make it to the next stop in one piece. It may take a few minutes longer, but that’s just the nature of the game at this time of year.
Be aware of your wake
I’m glad “No Wake” buoys aren’t littered all over the lake. The best advice is to know the potential of the boat wake. Relatively speaking, bass boats don’t create near the wake as that of other larger, deep hulled boats. Keep in mind that a bass boat creates the most wake at about one quarter to one half throttle. Take a look around in the vicinity of the boat and its path out to see if the wake could cause any damage. Look around for a boat that’s loosely tied off, a kayak or paddle board or someone swimming. Once again, common sense will go a long way and help avoid the designation of more “No Wake” zones, and yes, speed limits like I’ve seen in other states.
Running boat wakes
Anybody that’s tried to fish Lake Martin in the summer knows it can be like running in a giant washing machine. Most bass boats these days are built to take some pounding, especially if driving skills can soften the blows.
No. 1 again: Take your time. Boat hulls are designed to cut the wave as it hits the front of the boat; and then, shed the water to the side. Running too fast takes the keel of the boat out of the water and doesn’t allow it to cut the wave and soften the blow. The back pad of the boat is flatter, and when the back pad is the first thing to hit, it can shock the spine and destroy equipment; not to mention sending the bow directly into the next wave, making the boat a giant shallow-diving crankbait.
Let the bow of the boat run as low as possible, and trim just enough to keep it from spearing a wave. Run waves at a 20- to 30-degree angle when possible, and the boat will run between them while crossing.
For really big wakes, set the boat down nearly off plane and let the back of the boat plow while keeping the bow high in the water. This will keep huge waves from breaking over the bow and spearing a wave. For reference, in my boat, I only run about 14 miles per hour when I have to resort to this move. These generally come from cabin cruisers that think they are still running the Gulf of Mexico.
Usually, looking ahead at boats that have passed near the path will help to judge the potential wake that may have to be negotiated. Wakeboard boats, as the name implies, can make some bone-jarring wakes. Cabin cruisers are the others to be aware of since their hulls sit deep in the water and displace large amounts of water as they cruise. If you see these ahead or in the area, slow down to prepare. Hopefully, they will see other watercraft around them and give those boaters a break on the wake, but there are always some that don’t know or don’t care.
Wakes can start small and hitting the first ripples can be deceiving. They will generally get larger as you get close to the boat’s center travel line.
Light it up
Night fishing is very good on Lake Martin in the summer. It’s not too hot, and there’s less boat traffic. There are more people out cruising at night than there used to be. Unfortunately, this is when the worst accidents happen.
Alcohol is a major factor with boating accidents. Don’t be fooled into thinking people aren’t out there enjoying a few drinks. There aren’t enough State Troopers/Marine Police to cover every inch of the lake every hour. First and foremost, don’t drink and drive – not in a car and not in a boat. It’s not worth it.
There are more houses on the lake now, and more areas of the lake are lit at night with landscape lighting, etc. These can be a distraction, and boat lights blend with the background lighting on the bank. Make sure that the boat is lit properly with red and green bow colors in the proper locations with the anchor light at the stern set at a proper height. Additional lighting along the rubrail of the boat also could be a plus.
Once again, I’ve found that I have to really slow down at night to give my eyes time to adjust to the surroundings and changing light scattered around the lake. Running too fast can make another boat’s lights blend even more with background lights on the bank and lead to catastrophic collisions. Once again, it’s not worth it. Call me old fashioned, but when fishing busy lakes in daytime or at night, it’s best to take my time and keep my head on a swivel.
All this being considered, I still really enjoy fishing Lake Martin in the summer. Some people choose not to fish this time of year because of the traffic, but it’s important to keep fishing. The lake is a multi-use lake, and anglers need to continue to have a presence. The fish have adapted to the boat traffic and actually use the disturbance as an opportunity to feed on baitfish that have been disoriented. The fishing is actually really good offshore.
As with any time on the water, watch out for others, and hopefully, others will watch out as well. Then we can all enjoy this incredible body of water we call Lake Martin year round.
Greg Vinson is a full-time professional angler on the Major League Fishing Bass Pro Tour. He lives in Wetumpka and grew up fishing on Lake Martin.