Carters Lake Spotted Bass Staging On Breaks

Bill Payne marks a map with 10 locations for April spots.

Ronnie Garrison | April 3, 2017

Bill Payne with a beautiful spotted bass caught last month during a trip to Carters Lake with the author to mark a map with 10 April locations.

Carters Lake has been a not-so-well-kept secret lake for big spotted bass for years. In April, it is not hard to catch 4-lb. spots at Carters. These magnum spotted bass will be in shallow water from main-lake humps and points to blowdowns in the backs of creeks, and a variety of baits will work.

Located about 25 miles east of I-75 on Georgia Highway 136, Carters is one of the prettiest lakes you will fish. Shoreline development is very restricted so the only thing to interfere with the view of trees changing to rocks going into clear water on steep hillsides are a few boat ramps, a campground and one marina.

The lake is small at only 3,200 acres. but it has 60 miles of shoreline, and it all looks “fishy.” It is very deep, up to 450 feet deep at the dam, and the spots love the standing timber in the lake. They feed on shad and alewives and grow very fat. The only time they leave the very deep water is right now, to spawn. The rest of the year you will be fishing up to 100 feet deep for magnum spots, but in April you can catch them less than 15 feet deep most days.

Bill Payne lives in Calhoun and has been fishing Carters pretty much since it filled up. He was a well-known tournament fisherman in the area when health problems made him retire a few years ago. He continues to fish, and he guides on Carters and Allatoona with Louie Bartenfield and Carters Lake Guide Service (

“Everyone talks about transition months, but it really means something in April on Carters,” Bill said.

This time of year, the spotted bass on Carters make major transitions, moving from very deep water to the shallow spawning areas. Although we had a very warm winter, Carters is still a mountain lake. The second week in March, Bill was catching fish up to 75 feet deep. Some bass were also already back in the ditches, especially the smaller fish.

By now the bigger spots will have moved up to near the spawning places. They will hold and feed on break points as they move in, and then they stop on the same break points moving back out.

Bill’s choice of baits changes during this transition, but it is not a hard-line cutoff—every change blends into the next.

“Early in April, I am usually fishing a Strike King KVD (clear AYU colored) two- or three-hook jerkbait,” Bill said.

That jerkbait action blends into fishing mostly plastics like shaky-head jigs and a Strike King Shim-E-Stick, a Senko-style worm.

The next change is to a KVD Sexy Dawg topwater plug. Although he may have a jerkbait and a soft plastic out at the same time, or a soft plastic and a topwater, it would be unusual to have jerkbaits and topwater ready to fish at the same time, as those are on opposite ends of the transition periods.

Topwater is more of a May pattern, but it does start in late April, so toward the end of the month have one ready. Bill lets the bass tell him which stage they are in and which baits they want each day. All his baits are fished on St. Croix Avid rods, and he likes fluorocarbon on his sinking baits.

Bill took me to Carters to show me the April pattern and the following locations the second week of March. As stated, big fish were still very deep. His best five that day weighed about 20 pounds, with the biggest weighing 5 pounds. All came from deep main-lake water. We did catch some keeper spots back in the ditches. Those small bass had just moved back, and the bigger bass had not yet started moving up.

No. 1: N 34º 36.455 – W 84º 38.521 — Going upstream from the dam, the lake makes a sweeping turn to the left around a long, narrow upstream point at the Woodring Branch Recreation Area. The end of this point turns downstream and has a few small trees on it way out from the main bank on a hump. It has danger markers on it.

The end of this point is rock and clay, and it is an excellent place all during April, since bass hold on it before running into Woodring Branch to spawn, and the bass return to it postspawn. Keep your boat out in 30 feet of water, and early in the month, cast a jerkbait up close to the bank in 2 to 3 feet of water. Work it back to the boat. Sometimes bass will suspend off the point and will come up to smash it.

Later in the month, work a jig-head worm on the rocks here. At the end of the month, fish it with a topwater plug. Work all around the end from the trees out and back around to the other side, but concentrate on the very end of the point. Remember how far it runs out from the trees when the water is up. You have to keep your boat a long way from them.

No. 2: N 34º 36.690 – W 84º 38.273 — Go into Woodring Branch behind hole No. 1. When you get near the back, you will go around a point on your right where the creek makes its last right turn. There is a big cove at the point, then some smaller coves on your right. Stop at the mouth of the second one. The right bank is sloping sand, and the left side has a clay bank that drops off faster.

In the back, a blowdown tree runs off the left bank. There are Christmas trees attached to it all along its length. Bill says the corps is putting out cover like this in many coves, and it is excellent cover to fish in April. Keep your boat well back from the blowdown, and make a long cast with a weightless Shim-E-Stick. Let it sink into the brush, and then slowly move it through it, working it a few feet out from the brush, too.

“It would be hard to throw a soft stick bait into that and not get bit in April,” Bill said.

He also says bass will often hold a few feet out from the shallow brush in a little deeper water and then move into the brush to feed, so fish your soft stick bait out from it several feet along the bottom.

No. 3: N 34º 36.395 – W 84º 37.707 — The upstream point of Camp Branch runs way out between Camp Branch and Harris Branch. The end of the point has three danger marker poles on it. Bill says they call this the “Three Pole Hole.” The middle pole sits in a dip that is a little deeper than the depths at the other poles.

This point is the type of rock and clay you want to fish in April for prespawn and postspawn spotted bass. Start at the dip on the downstream side of the point—Bill says the dip is a key area. Fish around it to the same area on the upstream side. Stay out in 30-plus feet, and cast to 2 feet of water. Early in the month, use a jerkbait, and then transition to a jig-head worm, then topwater toward the end of April.

Bill likes a 1/8-oz. SpotSticker jig head with a green-pumpkin finesse worm on it. He says the lighter head is harder to fish, especially in the wind, but it gets hung less often, and he gets more bites than with a heavier head. Work it out to 20 feet deep in April.

No. 4: N 34º 36.220 – W 84º 37.018 — Go back into Harris Branch to where a long point off the left bank makes Harris Branch narrow way down. Just before you get to that point, on your left is a round clay-and-rock point between two small coves. This point is a prespawn and postspawn staging area where bass feed.

The key area on this point is where there is a transition of the bottom from rock to clay. You can see it when the water is down. There are also some stumps on the point—cast to any dark spots you see.

Fish all of this point, from the upstream side out around the downstream side. Bill says the downstream side is better, since it has the rock-to-clay change. Work your jig-head worm on it, since it is back in the creek and usually better a little later in the month.

No. 5: N 34º 36.735 – W 84º 37.643 — Go out of Harris Branch past the point on the downstream side between it and Camp Creek. The upstream point of Harris Branch runs much farther out and is a main-lake point where the river is bending back north. Out even with the downstream point is a narrow point. A big bay is past this narrow point, and the point between Harris Branch and Crump Creek continues past the bay.

In the middle of the bay, a point runs out that has good stumps and rocks on it for prespawn and postspawn fish. When the lake is up above full pool, the bank is clay and drops straight down several feet, and then it starts a more gentle slope on out to very deep water. On the right side of the point there is a blowdown.

Keep your boat in 40 feet of water, and work all the way around the point. This place is better later in the month, so Bill will fish a shaky head and topwater on it. Cast the shaky head to 3 feet of water, and slide and hop it along the bottom out to 15 feet deep. Fish your topwater over the same depths later in the month.

No. 6. N 34º 36. 710 – W 84º 36.358 – Go back into Crump Creek past the swimming area on your right. The creek makes a final turn to the left around a rounded point. Stop just downstream of the point, and fish all the way around it to the back of the creek. There are about 15 blowdowns along this bank.

This is a good stick-worm area. Stay well off the bank, and cast your weightless worm to the trunks of the trees in 2 to 3 feet of water. Slowly work it back out the entire length of the tree. Raise your rod tip to pull it a few inches off the bottom, and let it float back down. Pull it over any limbs you hit, and let if fall back on a slack line, watching carefully for a tick or sideways movement of your line.

As we idled back in here to look at the back of the creek, Bill showed me bait and bass on his depthfinder on the bottom from the outside of the last point and around it. He said those fish had been a couple of hundred yards farther out in much deeper water just the week before we fished. He caught seven or eight keeper-sized bass on a Fish Head Spin, but they were the first vanguard of fish—the smaller ones, and they had not yet moved all the way back into the trees.

No. 7: N 34º 37.147 – W 84º 37.184 — Coley Creek enters the mouth of Crump Creek on the right just before you get to the river. On the upstream point of Coley, a narrow, rocky point with two danger markers runs out toward the river. It is underwater at full pool. The point has some stumps and rocks on it, and spots hold and feed on it prespawn and postspawn.

Stay out over 40 feet of water, and fish the appropriate baits for the time of the month here. Throw a topwater over 2 to 3 feet of water. Fish it and a shaky head back to 15 to 20 feet of water. Bill fishes his shaky head very slowly. Using a 1/8-oz. helps make him fish slowly. He will drag it a foot or so, then stop it. Sometimes he shakes it a little, but usually it is just a slow drag and stop.

No. 8: N 34º 36.667 – W 84º 38.085 — Going back toward the dam, the long, narrow point running off Woodring Branch Rec Area has a line of picnic tables up on top of it, just past a small cove on the point. That small cove has blowdowns in it, and bass feed and spawn in it.

They also feed in the wood cover and rocks on the point where the picnic tables are up on the bank. Stop out from the tables, and work a topwater plug over the rocks and wood going into the cove. Fish your stick worm through the blowdowns. Since it is weightless, you will have to fish it very slowly, which is the best way to catch a big spot. Raise it, and let it fall as you move it a foot at a time.

No. 9: N 34º 36.679 – W 84º 39.085 — Going toward the dam, a sunken island with three danger markers on it sits off the downstream point of Woodring Branch. It is clay and will be underwater at full pool. It is a staging area prespawn and postspawn. Fish all the way around the point with the appropriate bait for the time of month.

When fishing a Sexy Dawg topwater, Bill “walks the dog” with it. He will vary the cadence from fast to slow until the bass tell him what they want that day. Sometimes they want a bait moving in slow swishes from side to side, and sometimes they want one moving as fast as you can twitch your rod tip. Try all speeds until you find the right one.

No. 10: N 34º 36.885 – W 84º 39.302 — A long clay-and-rock point runs off the upstream side of Fisher Creek. It has one danger marker on it. This is another good staging area as fish move in and out of the creek. Sit out in 20 feet of water, and fish all the way around the end of it. It is best in later April, so stick with jig-head worm and topwater.

All these places are good all month long. Give them a try for some big spots. You can follow Bill Payne on Facebook—he posts pictures of the fish he and his clients catch regularly. For a guide trip, send him a message there or call him at (706) 280-2305.

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