Carters February Bass Blast

Crankbaits, worms, jigs and spoons will catch spotted bass on Carters this month.

Roy Kellett | February 7, 2006

It was a Friday in January that felt for all the world like a Friday in April. However, in just a few hours, a bad-looking storm that had barrelled through the Great Plains was supposed to rip across Georgia, bringing heavy rains, cold temperatures, gale-force winds and a chance of snow with it.

This is the kind of day you want to be on the lake, I thought as Buddy Callahan and I started across Carters Lake from the Doll Mountain boat ramp. Buddy and I were on Carters in search of spotted bass, and if we played our cards right, we could put a few in the boat before the weather turned nasty.

Buddy, who runs Bart’s Bait & Tackle on Highway 136, told me February can be an up-and-down month for anglers on Carters. He ought to know. He’s been running the store for more than a decade and fishes Carters several times a week.

Buddy, a serious proponent of catch-and-release fishing, places a healthy spotted bass back into Carters at the end of a day of fishing.

“February is a good month to catch a big fish,” Buddy said. “It’s normally not good for numbers. There are days that everything’s just right and you’ll be able to catch a lot of spots, but most days are tough.”

Usually when you think bass fishing in February, the two tactics that come to mind are jigging a spoon and drop shotting. And both those techniques are good in the deep, clear waters at Carters. The great thing about fishing the lake this time of year, however, is there are so many ways to catch bass there. On windy days, a crankbait will work, while on cold, cloudless days, you’ll need to slow down with a jig or worm. If you just want to catch some fish for fun, and possibly hook up with a big Carters striper, you can pull live bait.

Buddy said one key to catching fish in February is to watch the weather and present baits accordingly.

“It’s hard to get a perfect day,” he said. “The drastic shifts in the weather we get this time of year seem to turn fish on and off faster than at other times of the year.”

One example Buddy gave is when the weather is warm for several days and then a front comes through and drops temperatures considerably.
“You can be catching fish and all of the sudden the weather changes and you can’t catch them anymore,” Buddy said.

This time of year, the crankbait bite can be strong on Carters on the right kind of days. Throwing a crankbait on a still day is probably not going to catch a ton of fish. However, if you are on the lake on days when the wind is moving the water, or during times when power is being generated, the right plug can draw plenty of strikes.

Typically a small, tight-running crankbait is going to be your best bet. However, a little experimentation never hurts. The day Buddy and I fished, I was alternating between a 3/16-oz. green pumpkin jig, a chrome/blue 1/4-oz. Rat-L-Trap and a lavender-shad Norman’s Deep Little N crankbait.

You should be prepared to fish at different depths for Carters spots, which for a few days before our trip had been caught in great numbers right up on clay banks. You are just as likely to catch fish close to the bank as you are in 35 feet of water this time of year.

Buddy said extended periods of warm weather get the bass on big flats and ledges. The spots will usually be where they can move to and from deep water, but the warm flats will draw bait, which in turn draws bass.
“When the weather stays warm for a few days these spots want to get up on big flats and feed,” Buddy said.

During these periods, stay parallel to the bank and throw your crankbait parallel to the bank so you can keep it in the strike zone longer. Your electronics will tell you what you need to know about depth. For instance, if you are marking fish at 20 feet, try to cover that depth. If the fish are in eight feet of water, use a bait that will be effective in that range.

To Buddy, one key to catching spotted bass in February is covering water until you find fish that are feeding.

“You can find bait and find fish on the graph, but that doesn’t mean the bass are feeding,” Buddy said. “You have to keep looking until you get into a school of feeding fish and stay with them.”

As we ran up into the mouth of the Coosawattee River, we thought we were about to find just that. Shad dimpled the water all around us, indicating bigger fish chasing from below. I stood on the back deck of Buddy’s Bullet boat and watched wide-eyed as the water’s surface looked like it was about to explode into an acre of jumping shad.

Though we had some bait in the livewell, Buddy and I shot each other a look and began casting in different directions around the boat. I was hoping my Rat-L-Trap would draw a strike from a hungry fish, but it wasn’t to be, so pretty soon, we were making like striper fishermen, putting live trout on planer boards, downlines, and a flatline with a balloon attached several feet above the hook.

“I know this is not how some people prefer to bass fish,” Buddy said, “But sometimes I guide for people who just want to catch a few fish and this is a fun and easy way to do it.”

As Buddy worked the boat along, bumping the trolling motor from time to time, we kept talking about fishing in February, but our conversation was soon interrupted. I had made a cast toward the bank with a jig and kept looking down at the spread of rods behind me while holding my rod tip high to detect any strikes on my jig. Buddy was in the middle of a sentence when he said, “Watch that left downline. Something’s about to get it.”

Before he got the words out of his mouth, the rod bowed and I picked it up and set the hook. The few spotted bass I had caught to date had been fairly small, but one thing you quickly learn about spots is while they don’t provide the aerial acrobatics of largemouths, they have a lot of fight.

I could tell by the way the fish surged that it was no small one, and when Buddy slipped the net under the bass and lifted it on board, the guessing game about the weight began.

“What do you think?” he asked.

“Two and a half. Maybe three,” I answered.

Buddy guessed the fish was closer to four pounds. When we put the spotted bass on a small, hand-held scale later, it weighed in right at four pounds.

The only question at that point was would the next bite come on a live bait on top, a crankbait deep or a drop shot.

“As you can see the fish are at two different levels,” Buddy noted. “That spot was at 25-feet deep, and there have been fish breaking on top all morning too.”

As we continued to work over the same stretch of water where we caught our first fish, Buddy said slow presentations can be deadly on Carters during the winter months. Buddy and I have fished together several times, and I know he loves to throw a drop-shot rigged worm. I’m more of a jig or Texas-rig man myself, but any of the three tactics can pay off this month, especially during cold snaps.

“When it gets clear and cold, the bass want to hold tight to structure,”

Buddy said as I kept working my jig along a stretch of clay bank where only minutes earlier, a bass had been chasing bait. I would throw the jig, let it lay for a few seconds, and slowly jiggle it back toward the deep water where the boat was stationed.

“The drop-shot deal is something that a lot of people are doing because it works,” Buddy said.

While most people drop-shot with four-inch, finesse-type worms, Buddy uses a RoboWorm Alive Shad threaded on a 1/0 offset shank hook. He rigs with a 1/4-oz. weight if he’s fishing down to 30 feet. Below that, he’ll switch up to a 3/8- or 1/2-oz. weight.

“You can catch spotted bass out here in 60 feet of water,” Buddy said. “But you have to really slow down the presentation and you need good electronics on your boat.”

Buddy said what you’ll see on your depthfinder over 60 feet of water is much different than what you’re used to in typical bass-fishing situations.

“You have to realize the area you can see on your graph is a lot wider
when the water is that deep,” Buddy said. “Turn up the resolution a little bit, and you can stay over the fish better.

Buddy casts his drop shots toward rocky points and drags them slowly back toward deep water, almost like you fish a Carolina rig. Two days before Christmas we had been fishing drop-shot rigs on a stretch of rocky bank, and I was having a hard time detecting a strike. Buddy explained something that is going to hold up as long as water temperatures remain cold.

“A fish will feel just like you are hung on something,” Buddy had told me right before he set the hook on a bass. “See? If you give a little pull and it feels like it pulls back, set the hook.”

Another good tactic for catching February spots on Carters is the jigging spoon. As boring as it might sound, a good jigging-spoon bite can keep you warm from just reeling in fish.

Buddy likes to look for deep structure, especially in the mouths of pockets and coves, and drop a white spoon down. He’ll let the spoon flutter all the way to the bottom of the lake and reel it up a couple of turns before he starts jigging.

Buddy holds his rod parallel to the water, picks up on the tip a few inches and carefully watches his line as the spoon sinks back to deep water.
Often fish will strike the spoon as it flutters down, so any noticeable move in your line could indicate a bite.

A Texas-rigged worm can work in February in brushpiles. Years ago, Buddy hated to fish with a worm until he went on a trip to Lanier with a friend.

“I hated to fish with a worm, but I watched him sit there and catch 30 fish on one color of worm while I was hardly catching anything,” Buddy laughed. “After that, I started fishing a worm a pretty good bit too.”

Pretty soon, the clouds that had been threatening rain all day were finally starting to produce, so Buddy cranked the big motor and we headed back to Doll Mountain just in case we had to make a hasty retreat.

As often happens, the sprinkle of rain had stopped by the time we reached the boat ramp, so we fished a shoal nearby. The wind had picked up considerably in the past hour, so I began casting my Deep Little N around the hump, trying to fool a bass that might be waiting to catch a baitfish that washed over the rocks. After about 10 casts, a fish was intrigued enough to take a bite of my crankbait. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a solid hookset, and after a few seconds, I felt the line loosen up.

Buddy was already standing by with the net.

“You can put that down,” I said to him as the fish swam away, probably laughing at my inability to appropriately fish a crankbait.

As we worked our way back in the pocket to the left of the Doll Mountain ramp, I started throwing my jig again while Buddy pulled his drop-shot rig.
The sun had been peeking in and out of the clouds, so Buddy decided to run down the lake to some structure near the dam to see if we could locate some fish there. From the time we pulled on top of where the structure was, we were marking fish.

A couple of passes over it, and Buddy picked up another spot on a downlined small, live trout. I was working over a blowdown with a jig, trying as hard as I could to get a bite.

“I see what you’re doing,” Buddy said. “You are trying to redeem yourself after that fish you lost before Christmas.”

My stomach turned a flip thinking about it. I had hooked the fish on a jig in shallow water and Buddy and I saw the fish at the same time and simultaneously exclaimed, “Good fish!”

When the bass turned, I had tried to hammer it with a second hookset just to make sure I wouldn’t lose it, got a little slack in the line, and watched helplessly as the fish swam away. Losing fish is just part of the deal, especially when the bites are so light.

Buddy said Feburary can be a wonderful time on Carters if you catch the conditions just right.

“The best time of all is when it’s cloudy,” Buddy told me. “The bite is going to be a little more subtle, but it will last all day long. When it’s sunny and warm, the fish will bite more aggressively, but they turn on for a little while and then shut down again.”

Remember to watch the weather before you head to the lake this month. If it stays warm for several days and you get a little wind, throw a crankbait. When the wind stops and the temperatures drop, tie on a jig and work every piece of cover you can find as thoroughly as possible. Also, don’t forget to try a drop-shot rigged worm or a spoon.

One important thing to remember on Carters this month is to experiment with different baits and even different presentations of the same bait. The fish can shut down or start biting quickly this month. Besides, versatility can help you catch fish even when other people are having a hard time.
As we fished that day, Buddy explained it like this: “Today it’s cloudy, a little windy, it has been warm and we’re about to have a huge front. That is a textbook day for catching bass,” Buddy said. “Problem is, these fish don’t know how to read that book.”

If you have rod holders for your boat, try live baiting for spotted bass this month. It might not be the way your favorite tournament pro does it, but it is a fun way to fish.

One bonus is that stripers and spotted bass will be holding at the same depths in many places, so where you hook a bass, you are likely to lay into a good striper as well.

If you just want to have a good time catching fish, Buddy does guide on the lake, and he’ll be glad to take you out. You might need to call ahead to check his schedule, but he’ll take you because he loves to fish. You can reach him at Bart’s Bait & Tackle.

Fish as much as you can this month. It can be a struggle, but you never know when it’s going to turn on.

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