Carters Lake Magnum Winter Spotted Bass

This mountain lake just north of Atlanta is a trophy spotted bass lake, and who better than guide Louie Bartenfield to mark our map and reveal the best January pattern?

Ronnie Garrison | January 1, 2011

Christmas is over, but the weather outside is still frightful. Forget the delightful fire, you have a place to go. The spotted bass in Carters Lake are huge, and they seem to bite better the colder it gets. You can catch some big spots on Carters right now.

Located between I-75 and I-575 near Ellijay, Carters has a reputation for bragging-sized spotted bass, and Louie Bartenfield knows how to find and catch them. Louie started guiding on Carters in 2004, and he knows the lake well.

Spots suspend on bluff banks and around standing timber this time of year. They hold near baitfish and feed deep. It is difficult to fish the right depth and keep your bait where they are, but a couple of methods will work. A jerkbait will catch bass in the clear water, and so will a jig swimming at the depth the bass are holding. Drop-shot rigs and jigging spoons are good if you can get right on top of the bass. “Sight fish” for them using your electronics by dropping the bait to the depth they are holding and putting the bait right in front of their face. But the best method to use is a float-’n-fly.

“When the weather gets really cold in December and the water gets colder than 50 degrees, the spots here get on a float-’n-fly pattern real good,” Louie said.

This method of fishing was developed in Tennessee for winter smallmouth bass, and it works great on Carters and similar lakes for spotted bass. The float-’n-fly is a simple method of fishing a small hair-and-feather jig under a cork on steep bluff banks. The leader below the cork is 10 to 14 feet long, so you need a long rod to cast it. And you also need a special float made for this kind of fishing to indicate bites and when your fly is in the right position.

Louie uses Red Rooster Tackle Company flies and corks. The flies are tied on quality hooks big enough to hold a large spot, and they make good colors, including a Carters Lake Special designed by Louie. Flies in 1/16- to 1/32-oz. are best, and Louie uses the Carters Lake Special he designed, as well as bluegill and other similar colors.

Guide Louie Bartenfield with an example of the big spotted bass that Carters Lake is known for producing.

The cork is round and unweighted, which is important. When you cast to the bluff bank and let the fly settle, the cork will roll over and stand up. If it stays on its side, your fly is on the bottom and you need to move it a little. The cork also indicates bites. The cork going under is a pretty good indication a fish has hit, but sometimes the cork will suddenly lay on its side, and that means a bass has taken the fly and moved up. Louie calls this a “lift bite.” Set the hook in either case!

An 8-foot St. Croix float-’n-fly rod works well, and Louie teams it with a big spinning reel with a good drag. The reel is spooled with bright 20-lb. test braid line, and the leader is 6- or 8-lb. Sunline fluorocarbon. With the light leader you need the light-action rod and good drag to fight a big spot.

A Spro three-way swivel is the final component of the float-’n-fly rig. Tie your main line to one eye of the swivel, your leader to another, and then clip the cork in the third eye. The swivel is key to making the cork work correctly, and it eliminates the need to tie light fluorocarbon to braid.

The long leader for a float-’n-fly rig is a problem when you’re not using the rod. Louie reels the cork near the rod tip, loops the leader around the reel base then back up to hook in a rod eye. That keeps the leader out of the way.

On his drop-shot rig, Louie uses flies made by Red Rooster for drop shotting in the same colors as he uses for the float-’n-fly, and he prefers a 1/2-oz. drop-shot weight. He likes a 3/16-oz. jig head with a natural-shad colored swimming plastic grub. His jigging spoons are 1/2-oz. War Eagle silver spoons. When he throws a jerkbait, it’s a Lucky Craft.

The following 10 spots are all similar, and all hold big spots this time of year. Check them out to see the kinds of spots Louie fishes in January.

No. 1: N 34º 36.539 – W 84º 39.526 — Put in at the ramp at the dam, and you don’t have to go far. The point between the cove and the main lake holds good bass this time of year. Start at the point, and fish up the bank to where it flattens out.

Louie caught a couple of good spots here on the float-’n-fly the day we fished. Throw your fly within a few feet of the bank, and watch your cork. If it turns upright, you know your fly is hanging right. Let it sit, and then twitch your rod tip, making the cork bobble and the fly wiggle in one place. Move it a few inches, and repeat.

Louie will fish this process slowly, moving his cork about 3 or 4 feet before reeling in and casting again. If you cast right, your bait will be right on the rocks when it settles, within inches of the bottom. By the time you move it out several feet, the bottom has dropped off very deep, and the fly is nowhere near the bottom.

No. 2: N 34º 36.710 – W 84º 39.813 — Go toward the dam, and you will see a small patch of standing timber just off the bank on a point that goes back into a small cut on your left. Start just upstream of the timber, and work toward the dam, around the cut and a short distance past it.

Bass hold in the timber. You should fish it, but realize you will get hung up. You can often straighten the hook on the Red Rooster fly with a tough, strong line like Sunline even in 6-lb. test, so don’t hesitate to throw into the timber.

Louie said bass will sometimes be in the laydowns on the banks, but you will get hung up a lot in them. He will usually fish the very end, keeping his fly above the wood. With the exposed hook, the fly will snag on limbs if you try to drag it across them.

No. 3: N 34º 37.049 – W 84º 39.964 — Run across the lake, and stop on the big point upstream of the pocket above the canal at the dam. This big, round point starts on the downstream end with rock, and then there is a patch of clay bank, then rock again. Any transition like this, from solid rock to chunk rock or rock to clay, is good.  Start on the point, and work upstream.

This point is right in front of the canal, and current moves across it both ways. If power is being generated, it flows downstream, and if water is being pumped back, it goes upstream. Bass feed here when current is moving in either direction, and Louie said he won a tournament here last January when the water was flowing. There are two good current breaks as you work up this bank. Watch for two small points off the main point, and fish around them thoroughly when the current is moving. Bass will hold in the slack water behind a break and watch for baitfish being washed to them, so fish your baits accordingly.

No. 4: N 34º 37.056 – W 84º 37.750 — Run up to the big, long point between Crump Creek and the river. Start on the upstream side of the point, and work into the creek, fishing down the bluff bank on your right going in. For a change from the float-’n-fly, try a jig-head grub. Louie likes a smoke or pearl curly tail grub with the tail dipped in chartreuse dye. He casts it near the bluff bank, and he will let it sink for three to four seconds before reeling it in very slowly. He throws it on 8-lb. Sunline fluorocarbon and a 7-foot medium action St. Croix rod.   

No. 5: N 34º 37.223 – W 84º 37.113 — Go upstream from the point above, and watch for a bluff bank on your right where the lake necks down into the river run. This is typical of an outside bend of a river or creek channel Louie likes to fish. Start at the point, and fish upstream to the small pocket above it. Watch for baitfish under the boat. When Louie sees baitfish and bass under them, he will drop his spoon or drop-shot rig down. He calls this “sight fishing” since he is watching the fish and his bait on his Humminbird depthfinder.

No. 6: N 34º 38.057 – W 84º 36.621 — Farther up the river, the channel makes a horseshoe bend, and there is an island on the inside of the bend. This sharp drop is very good, and some of it stays in the shade most of the day during the winter. Shade is a key, and Louie likes to cast his baits into the shade and work them back toward the sun. Fish all your baits here. You can try a jerkbait like the Lucky Craft Staysee, but Louie says work it slowly.  The float-’n-fly will usually be your best bait followed by the grub. Use the drop shot and spoon for vertical “sight fishing” with your electronics.

No. 7: N 34º 38.086 – W 84º 37.049 — Just upstream of the island on the left side is another good channel swing. Start just above the island on the left, and fish around the bend, working the bluff bank. Wind blowing in on or across these spots helps. It can make boat control difficult, but the moving water makes the bass more likely to bite. If you can let your boat drift with the wind, make fairly long casts ahead  so the line won’t drag and move your float-’n-fly too much.

No. 8: N 34º 38.439 – W 84º 36.776 — Upstream of hole 7 there are two small pockets on the same side on your left. Just above them the river swings back to the right and makes a bluff bank on the left. You can fish all your baits here. Start at the beginning of the steep bluff, and work upstream until it flattens out. Louie said low-light conditions are best, so early morning and late afternoon are good, and that is also why it is good to find shade on the water during bright days.

No. 9: N 34º 38.651 – W 84º 36.848 — Across from hole 8, the river makes an outside bend. This is a vertical bluff on a major channel bank that is very deep, a good combination. Start on the point on the downstream side of this bluff wall, and fish upstream all the way to where the channel swings out from the bluff wall on the upstream side. Louie said there is usually a load of baitfish here, an important key. The cold weather will kill a lot of shad, and fish have been feeding on them and other baitfish all year long, so numbers are low in January. It is important to find bait. If you are fishing a good bluff bank and not getting bites, Louie said it is probably because there are no baitfish in the area.

No. 10: N 34º 38.817 – W 84º 36.479 — Go into Ridgeway Creek up to the “S” bend downstream of Ridgeway Recreation Area. Bluff banks on both sides are good here. The creek makes bends in both directions. Start on the lower end of the first bluff bank on your left, and work upstream, jumping from side to side to say on the bluffs. Fish all the way to the area across from the boat ramp. Ridgeway Creek is the last major creek going upstream and its 60-foot deep water is deep enough to hold winter spots. Spots want to be near very deep water this time of year.

Check out these 10 spots, and you might catch the biggest spot of your life. Even if you have to settle for “little” 4-lb. spots, you will have a ball. Call Louie at (706) 218-6609 for a guide trip and visit his website at You can find Red Rooster tackle at The Dugout. They carry a good supply of the flies, corks and also line and swivels you will need for float- n-fly fishing.


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