Adapt For Allatoona April Spotted Bass

Mike Bucca says this is a great month for numbers and the chance at a big spot on Allatoona, but you have to be versatile as bass move in and out for the spawn.

Jim Hakala | April 1, 2008

Mike Bucca with a giant 6.3-lb. spotted bass caught on a swimbait last year. He was fishing the big lure off the end of a tree felled for a shoreline tree-cutting project initiated by the corps and Georgia DNR, with volunteer work done by local anglers.

Allatoona Reservoir is nearly 12,000 acres of some of the hardest- fished waters in the Southeast, ranking typically in the top five most-visited U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects nationally. Putting bass in the boat with regularity at a lake merely 30 miles from metro Atlanta is, more often than not, a close-kept secret of persistent local anglers.

“Triton” Mike Bucca, an Acworth resident with more than a quarter century of bass-fishing experience, guides part time (Spot Country Guide Service) on Allatoona and is more than willing to share information about catching Allatoona black bass with his clients. I had to laugh at Mike’s self-proclaimed “part-time” guide status, as he consistently pushes a whopping 150 to 200 days on Allatoona annually! I guess what he meant was he spends “part of his time” at his full-time job when not guiding.

Mike specializes in roping spotted bass, and not because they’re rare to Allatoona, but because they are Allatoona black bass fishing. Spots make up 80 to 90 percent of the “green” bass population, with the other 10 to 20 percent being largemouth bass. They’re a different beast from the more widely pursued largemouth. An aggressive, sometimes bullish member of the black- bass family that is there one day and gone the next, spotted bass require bass anglers to alter tactics… often!

Mike and I headed out from Red Top Mountain boat ramp under improving conditions following an early morning soaking. Unfortunately, a water temperature of 49 degrees was well below what would be expected for the April tactics we were going to employ.

“If this were a March how-to article, we would almost exclusively drop shot or spoon the deep bluff walls, which is a good winter pattern for Allatoona anyway,” Mike said. “We’ll probably drop shot later today, but that is my last tactic for catching spotted bass in April.”

Mike likes the more aggressive techniques for spots in April’s warming waters, but if a cold snap pushes them deep, he goes back to the finesse drop shot or spoon to get down to them.

On the way over to our first stop, I eyed the rod, reel and arsenal of baits we would be using. Strapped to the deck was an array of Dobyns rods paired with Ardent XS 1000 Series or Shimano Calcutta reels. With the exception of his swimbait rig, most of his lures were reigned-in with 12- to 15-lb. Triple Fish fluorocarbon. Mike prefers fluorocarbon over braid as it is less visible and stretches less than mono lines, allowing for quicker strike detection. One common thread of Mike’s rigs was his preference for 7- foot or longer casting sticks.

“Allatoona has fairly clear water, so I like to make long casts with my baits,” Mike said. “It gives bass following my bait a bit more time to commit to the strike before the bait gets too close to the boat and they spook. If they routinely appear behind my bait close to the boat, then I back-off the bank to make my casts.”

By doing this, the fish are picking up the bait well before it gets close to you and the boat. This can be the difference between putting that fish in the boat and watching it dive back into the depths at the site of your silhouette.

In April, when the water temperature closes in on 60 degrees, Mike starts most days casting swimbaits in search of the “biggest of the big” from Allatoona, and that is just how we started our day.

“My all-time favorite swimbait is the new custom 8-inch Hampton Shad, which mimics the abundant gizzard shad forage in Allatoona,” Mike said.

He beefs up his line to 25-lb. Triple Fish X-rated line for these baits.

“You may think 25 pounds is overrated, but I haven’t lost a swimbait yet,” Mike said. Smiling, he added, “unless you’re in the business of being silly, you don’t want one of these magnum baits to break off on a long cast or snag, and you certainly don’t want any problems fighting the pig big enough to slam it.”

He slings these baits 40 to 50 yards on a cast, maximizing water coverage. At the same time Mike keeps the trolling motor running.

Mikeʼs April arsenal for Allatoona: (clockwise from bottom left) 9 1/2-inch Triple Trout, 6-inch Hamp- ton Gizzard Shad, Lucky Craft LVR7, Lucky Craft Staysee 90 for suspended fish, drop-shot rig, spoon, Lucky Craft DR crankbait, 8-inch Hampton Giz- zard Shad and 8-inch Huddleston Deluxe Trout.

There are only so many of these big fish in the lake, he said, so it’s important to cover water rapidly in search of those looking for a big meal that day. Mike feels that since these fish don’t often see such large baits, if they’re committed to eating big, they often nail it on the first pass. If not, move on.

If there is any muddy water to be found, like on a clay bank churned-up up by wind or waves, Mike likes to hit those areas with all his baits, especially the gizzard- shad swimbait. Big gizzards naturally concentrate in these muddy-water areas to feed, as do their predators.

Mike casts these monster baits well past the cover he wishes to target.

“The splash from a bait this big will spook a fish if it drops right overhead,” Mike said.

I would tend to agree since a piece of “split lumber” hitting my home would certainly be startling. Instead, cast the bait on the other side of a likely big-bass hideout, then with a “consistent, medium-speed retrieve,” bring the bait over the cover — and hold on. Big swimbaits are definitely not a technique for catching large numbers of fish.

“You are strictly trophy hunting with these baits,” Mike said.

Some of his favorite locations to target big bass with swimbaits are the new shoreline tree-cutting project areas in Allatoona. A project initiated by the corps the Georgia DNR, and largely carried out by well-organized local angler volunteers, trees posing shore- line erosion problems are being toppled into the lake for a second life as fish condos.

“By cutting these trees before they topple into the lake, we are keeping the root ball and surrounding soil on the shoreline and out of the lake, which reduces sedimentation to the lake,” said Allatoona Corps Park Ranger, Terrell Stoves. “Smaller trees establish them- selves around the old stump and root system, providing new bank stabilization as the old root system rots away.”

Of course the trunk and canopy provide beneficial fish habitat in a lake known for its lack of visible cover. In addition to a few 5-lb.-plus largemouth, Mike landed an impressive 6.3-lb. swimbait spotted bass off one of the project trees last year.

Despite covering some good-looking water with the swimbait, we had no takers in the now “warming” 49.5 degree water. The swimbait requires the fish to be active, Mike said, but the water temperature was obviously not cooperating — time for the next tactical lesson.

Mike employs suspending jerkbaits when he’s trying to cover some serious water looking for actively feeding spring fish.

“April is prime time power fishing, and the fish are active,” Mike said.

Again, with the trolling motor on high, he likes throwing Lucky Craft’s  Flash Minnow Series baits, Pointers and the Staysee 90s. Suspending baits allow you to get the baits down on the same plane as the fish and keep it there. By casting perpendicular to the bank, these baits follow the natural down- ward contour of the bank, then level out as they are pulled away from the bank. This presents an inviting opportunity to spotted bass suspended just off the bank. We dabbled with this a short time, but the water was too cold for much action with these baits.

If a mild cold snap sends the spot- ted bass a little deeper, especially in early April, and the jerkbaits aren’t producing, Mike switches over to a Lucky Craft Flat Mini DR crankbait in a shad pattern.

“I want to keep the bait at the fish’s depth and maximize the bait’s time in the strike zone,” Mike said.

To do this, he uses the trolling motor to travel parallel and tight along the bank. His casts are directly in front of him, and he retrieves the bait parallel to the bank as opposed to a traditional perpendicular cast and retrieve.

“I like to start with a shallower- running crankbait, targeting the most- active fish first,” he said.

If there are no takers, Mike slides the boat a few feet farther from the bank and tosses a deeper-diving crankbait. Mike prefers a Lucky Craft Flat CB DR in Tennessee shad or black-and-white shad colors. The key is to make sure the crankbait is occasionally bumping the bottom.

“Get over water too deep, and your bait is cruising way above the fish you are targeting,” Mike said.

We fished the bluff rock walls across from navigation marker 11E with the deep-diving crankbaits. I stepped out onto the bank to get some photos of this parallel fishing technique, and low and behold Mike scores a decent spot casting right in front of me!

Allatoona guide Mike Bucca keeps his options open when it comes to finding and catching spotted bass in April. One of his patterns is to get close to bluff banks and parallel cast with a jerkbait.

Beating the banks a little while longer with crankbaits and little action, Mike announced we would have to employ the drop shot to get to the fish. Again, this is Mike’s last resort during April, but it’s a finesse technique that will produce when nothing else does, like after persistent or strong cold fronts have pushed the fish deeper than effectively reached with a crankbait. We stuck to the drop shot and didn’t spoon, as Mike’s graph was in the shop, but spooning would be just as effective in this situation, he said.

“I’m good at drop shot, but it’s not my favorite technique in the pursuit of spots,” Mike says. “It will get you a limit of spots, but hook-ups with magnum spots are far less common.”

A drop shot and spooning are techniques that rely most heavily on electronics.

“What I am looking for is plenty of bait along with the presence of bigger fish. Once I find them, I visually fish for them by watching the drop shot on my sonar,” Mike said.

Mike again recommends a longer rod to get good action with the bait, and a baitcaster or spinning reel strung with 6- to 8-lb. test fluorocarbon line. This line allows for greater ability to “feel” the bottom and strikes better than other line types.

The drop shot weight Mike prefers is a 1/2- to 3/4-oz. tear drop with two swivel points.

“Most drop shot weights have a single swivel. By having two, you greatly reduce line twist caused by the weight spinning on retrieve,” Mike said.

He’s found the tear drop keeps the heaviest portion of the weight in con- tact with the bottom, as opposed to cylindrical drop weights more that are prone to moving while working the bait. Mike keeps to natural-colored drop-shot plastics 4 to 6 inches in length, hooked through the head or shoulders and about 10 inches up from the weight.

“If cold water has the fish pushed deep, you want the bait just off the bot- tom and in their face,” he said.

Preferring to drop shot on bluff walls, Mike covers a range of depths by casting to the bank and working the rig down the bluff wall.

“The spots rarely pound the bait, but instead latch on and start to run with it. You can feel your rod load-up, and then you just reel and lift,” Mike said.

During the course of the day, I asked what shoreline cover he keyed in on with his April arsenal of baits and techniques.

“It varies from day to day. Sometimes it’s wood, sometimes it’s rock. You have to look at the broader picture though. April is the spring divide and can be broken into three parts — prespawn, spawn, which both typically occur in April at Allatoona, and a postspawn period,” he said.

To link stage of the spawn to location in the lake, Mike divides the major creeks and coves the spotted bass will move into to spawn into three sections. The first areas are the creek or cove mouths opening to the main-lake body. Second, is the mid-section of the cove, and lastly the shallows in the very backs of the coves.

“Prespawn spotted bass, coming from their deep, main-lake winter refuge, stage on the main-lake points formed by these creek mouths,” Mike said.

Later in the prespawn period, the fish migrate farther into the coves.

“Then I concentrate my effort in the mid-section of the cove,” Mike said.

This is the last stage of prespawn before full-on spawn when you start seeing fish roaming the shallow backs of the coves making beds.

The postspawn period is usually in late April into May.

“Both postspawn and prespawn to me signal main-lake and secondary- point fishing,” Mike said.

You can’t simply key on all the woody debris you see and have success every day. It has to be in the right location, a location often dependent upon the spawning stage. Mike said he tries to “decipher what the fish like each day,” and true to spotted-bass fishing, it will be different in a day.

“If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll catch what you have always caught,” said Mike, stating certainly an appropriate quote on his approach to fishing Allatoona.

He says, “If you’re only good at one technique, chances are you’re very strong at certain times of the year and very weak at others. Be versatile, learn each technique’s strengths and when to use them, and you’ll be better able to adapt to the seasonal movements of Allatoona’s spotted bass.”

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