A Power Fishing Pattern For Chatuge Bass
Throw the finesse stigma out the window. One angler is catching fish burning huge California-style swimbaits on this mountain lake.
Nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains you’ll find a little piece of heaven on earth. Sounds like the intro line to some brochure doesn’t it? Well it is as true a statement as I have ever made. Although the winding roads that snake through the mountains of north Georgia seem to be leading to nowhere, there’s an obvious destination as soon as you back the boat into Lake Chatuge.
I set out with good friend and Young Harris fishing team all-star Brad Rutherford to try and catch a glimpse of something I had only heard about in recent years. Brad is known for throwing large swimbaits, no matter the lake or season. With personal-best sacks on the baits topping the 35-lb. mark and wins in the College Fishing and BFL ranks falling to his technique, I was anxious to see exactly what these baits were all about.
Although large blueback herring are the primary diet of a bass in these waters, it’s still a bit of a shock for a threadfin imitator like myself to see an 8-inch Triple Trout as Brad’s primary bait of choice, especially on a mountain lake like Chatuge, where most tackleboxes are likely loaded with 4-inch finesse worms and drop-shot tackle.
“That’s a big bait,” I remarked as he lobbed it out over a tapering point first thing that morning.
He let me know this was a baby, and that the big one was in the rod locker, which I opened to find the 12-inch version of the Triple Trout tied to a rod and reel capable of taming most saltwater fish.
The sight of him burning the massive bait was excitement enough to begin with, but it became apparent after a while that the morning wasn’t heating up all that fast.
“They’ll usually come up schooling over these ditches,” he grunted as he fired the swimbait across the pocket, temporarily abandoning the shoreline brush that he had been working.
With nothing to show for a few casts, he turned back around and worked his way to a point.
“The rocks are good early,” Brad said. “The wood and docks get better later.”
I fired a Jackall Bowstick over the point, attempting to match the larger hatch with a larger topwater bait. I worked it with a slow but steady side-to-side walk accompanied with the occasional pause.
“These fish like a fast-moving bait,” Brad coached. “The herring swim fast, so the bass are used to chasing. You really have to work it fast along the surface so they don’t get a good look at it.”
I proceed to give the bait a more erratic and feverous retrieve, with little to no cadence. He approved with a nod, but the fish refused to accept either of our offerings. We opted to relocate. Brad told me how he had been catching good bags on some offshore brush about two weeks prior, but the lake had turned over, and the fish had been shallower since. However, with the lack of activity shallow thus far, he made a hopeful stop.
“There’s a brushpile off that point in about 15 feet of water,” Brad said while pointing his 8-foot rod in the direction I should cast. I watched as he flung the jointed Triple Trout to the area where he believed the brush to be. After three or four casts, his rod ticked and he set the hook hard, pulling the stretch out of the 60 feet of monofilament between he and the fish.
As he reeled he complained, “This is a baby.” Swinging the 2-lb. spot in the boat, the disappointment on his face was evident. He wanted to catch one of the 6- to 8-lb. class he is used to catching on these baits. I, on the other hand, was excited about this catch. The bait hanging out of the fish’s mouth was half as long as the fish itself and an amazing sight for one not accustomed to fishing with large swimbaits. I, along with many others I’m sure, assumed such a large bait would yield only a few giant bites at best. However, Brad reassured me that he typically gets at least 10 to 15 bites a day of all sizes.
This activity did give him confidence in the offshore bite, however, so we moved to another area where he had been catching some big fish. Though we were fishing in 15 to 25 feet of water, his bait rarely swam more than 2 feet below the surface.
“These fish are accustomed to looking up because of the herring,” he explained.
For this reason, fish will relate to the deeper brush but attack a bait that is along or just below the surface.
With no more deeper bites after a few more stops, we moved back to a shaded pocket. As Brad made his way to the front deck, he shook off the cold from the run and said, “This feels like a Huddleston morning.” He reached to the deck and unstrapped another favorite of the swimbait world, the 8-inch Huddleston.
He went on to explain how the more subtle Huddleston can tempt more lethargic bass into the boat. This bait is best in low-wind and cold-water conditions since the only part that kicks is the paddle tail. The action of this bait is far less intimidating than the wider wobble of the Triple Trout, which works better in windy conditions and when bass are actively chasing. Though Brad always attempts to find the clearest water for both baits, he admits the Triple Trout is the better option if the water is slightly dingy, since the wider wobble makes it easier for the fish to find.
A few calm pockets with no production from the Huddleston told Brad it was time to look for the more windswept banks. We moved to an area where he had fished the week before. As soon as we got there, his demeanor changed.
“This water looks good,” Brad said. “This was the dingiest water on the lake last week, and now it’s the cleanest.”
The turnover had come and gone in this area, and that had Brad feeling better about our chances. He handed me a Fish Head Spin to throw with the recommendation that this was one of his best producers when the fish wouldn’t commit to the bigger swimbaits.
About five casts in, I felt a tick as I let the bait freefall down a rocky point. I almost jerked but waited. Another tick, and I half pumped but realized the fish didn’t have it. I dropped my rod again and felt the fish hammer it. I set the hook hard and pulled it about 3 feet before it came off.
Seeing my obvious frustration, Brad offered the consolation that it happens sometimes, and the best approach is just reeling into the fish when they hit that particular bait instead of snatching so hard since that will often pull the bait away from the fish.
While I tried to ready myself not to set the hook on the next bite, Brad made a few final casts with the Triple Trout, admitting he was about to change up and just try to catch some fish. Then came a monstrous boil, and the battle was on. Out of nowhere, Brad had a beautiful and feisty 5-lb. largemouth hair lipped with one of the treble hooks on his Triple Trout. And of course no net to be found. After a joint effort, we finally pulled the rambunctious bass in the boat, and Brad had his picture fish that he had made so many heartfelt long lobs of the swimbait for.
A few quick pics and we returned her to the water, but there was little time to discuss what had happened. After a full morning of little to no action, Brad made a few more casts and had another 4- to 5-lb. fish swipe at his bait three times within sight of the boat.
Another cast, and the same fish made a second attempt, this time pulling his bait down by the tail. He let her sink with it and set the hook to no avail. He pulled the tail out of her mouth on the hook-set, and she swam off, not to emerge again.
We moved down the bank another 50 feet, and he had a monster blow up. Brad paused the bait, and the fish boiled again. A few more feet, and another boil. We were on the fish but couldn’t get them to commit. I fired the Fish Head Spin, hoping one of the bass would engulf the lesser bait. Though I knew the fish were there, they wouldn’t even consider the smaller offering.
“Once they get their mind on eating bigger bait they won’t hit anything else,” Brad explained.
Another 50 yards of bank yielded nothing, so we idled back around to make the same pass. While on the move, I took Brad’s advice on the bigger baits and tied on a large wake bait, the Jackall Mikey. We picked up where we had started before, and within a few casts Brad hooked up. “It’s a big one!” he exclaimed, but no sooner did he get the words out then his rod went limp.
A few more casts, and three spots in the 3-lb. range followed his bait all the way back to the boat. Frustration began to set in, but Brad continued and was shortly rewarded for his persistence. At the end of a long cast, there was a boil on his swimbait and he hooked up. This one, a nice 3-lb. largemouth, put up a fight but was eventually swung into the boat.
I continued to burn my Mikey just beneath the surface and finally had a good fish T-bone the bait. Though it excited both Brad and me, that was all it did and wouldn’t show itself again. The bank ran out, and we made another pass that yielded a small follower.
Brad had one more place he wanted to check where he had caught four fish a week earlier. As he dropped the trolling motor he said, “This water doesn’t look good at all.” We fished on in vain and left there headed for the ramp.
With a few good fish to show for the day and the opportunity at a limit heavier than 20 pounds, my eyes had been officially opened to swimbait fishing. Although the smaller, 5-inch soft plastic may produce more bites, the larger baits certainly have more merit than I thought they would in the south.
“It’s a get rich or die trying,” technique in the words of Brad Rutherford.
But I’ll say this for the style of fishing: If I am fun fishing and not in a tournament situation, I would rather have a few bites on a big swimbait than I would a hundred on a slow bite like a jig or shaky head. The excitement of seeing a bass attack a bait half the size of itself is pretty cool. And the edge-of-your-seat thrill of the mere possibility of catching a giant bass on a 8- to 12-inch bait is hard to describe. I guess you could say it’s like swinging for the fences for eight hours… and then finally connecting.
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