Carters Lake Spring-Run Linesides
After a cold winter, the striped bass and hybrids move up the Coosawattee River a bit later.
With lake records falling last year for striped and hybrid bass, Carters Lake anglers are anxiously awaiting the start of the annual spring run of fish to the upper end of the lake and into the Coosawattee River.
In May 2009, Jake Wheeler set the new lake record for hybrid bass with an 11-lb., 4-oz. fish (update: the Carters hybrid record now stands at 14-lbs., 6-oz., set in 2012 by Hunter Bruce). Then in August last year, Angela Hawes hauled in a new lake-record striper that went 36 pounds on the nose.
Because of this year’s plentiful cold weather, snow and rain, water temperatures on the lake have been cold, remaining in the upper 40s at best. Stripers really like to get moving up the river once the water gets warmer than 50 degrees. As a result, the striper and hybrid run, which typically peaks in March, should be at its peak in April this year.
“I’ve got to assume, with all the rain we’ve had, it’s going to get back to normal in April,” said Carters Lake striper guide Martin Pride. “I can remember lots of trips during the river run when we were literally catching all we could.”
Martin said his personal best striper from Carters Lake weighed right around 30 pounds. As for when the new lake records will be broken, Martin optimistically said he thinks they will fall this year. The average striper on Carters Lake runs between 10 and 15 pounds, and the typical hybrid ranges between 5 and 8 pounds.
A former spotted-bass fisherman, Martin said, “I’d all but quit fishing this lake for bass. Then one day a friend came by with two stripers in the 25-lb. range.”
After digging out the information on how and where his buddy caught those big fish, Martin said, “I went over there the next day and caught a 25-lb. striper and I was sold. I’ve been fishing it ever since.”
It was time to trade in the bass boat for a center console and start chasing linesides. That was during the river run, more than eight years ago.
Martin prefers 20-lb. main line, 20-lb. fluorocarbon leaders and 2/0 octopus hooks. He uses large barrel swivels to separate the main line and the leader. When downlining, Martin recommends using a 1- to 1 1/2-oz. egg sinker above the swivel.
In terms of gear, medium-heavy to heavy baitcasting and spinning rods between 6 and 8 feet long can be found in Martin’s boat.
“Usually, when we’re up-river in the spring, we’ll be casting free-lined live shad up into the current and working it back down,” Martin said.
Fishing live baits in the big bends found in the upper lake and in the river is a good way to find fish as they start their run. Tossing white bucktails and silver spoons into the river is also a proven method of hooking up with running fish.
After the fish arrive at the top of the lake, it’s on to following them as they move farther up into the river. Martin said watching your depthfinder for balls of bait, structure and big arches is always important when targeting moving fish.
Chasing the spring run of fish is all about, “having a plan of action come together, catching two fish at a time and laughing with your friends,” Martin said. “Putting meat in the freezer isn’t a bad thing, but I mainly do it to get out there.”
The area known as Jake’s Landing is the farthest up the Coosawattee River that most boats with normal inboard or outboard motors can reach, and it is a great place to catch prime spring-run fish.
In addition to stripers and hybrids, fishing the spring run can often provide fun accidental catches of other species like white bass and the occasional walleye. In general, the spring run is one of the most fun times to fish, and it is an excellent time to target big fish, Martin said.
The annual spring run of stripers takes place as the fish attempt to spawn. Unfortunately though, the stripers are unsuccessful due to unsuitable habitat and many other issues, and the hybrids are sterile.
After chasing the stripers and hybrids up the lake and into the river for the spring run, “they head all the way back down to the bottom of the lake around the dam,” Martin said.
At that point, striper and hybrid anglers will do best targeting fish around humps and main-lake points with downlines.
“I really like the challenge of finding the fish and the anticipation of knowing where they’ll be,” Martin said.
Then, “the real lake fishing is going to start around the middle of May,” Martin said.
Good areas to try during that time of year include the Woodring area and around the Ridgeway boat docks.
“They’ll usually want little baits on downlines then,” Martin said.
By mid-summer, the fish will be spread out across the main-lake humps.
Carters Lake is only about 3,200 acres, making it relatively small compared to some other impoundments holding stripers in the state. Because of this, it makes finding the scattered fish a little easier.
Downlining a variety of live baits and running baits about 4 to 6 feet behind planer boards are the preferred tactics during the hottest months of the year. One of the neatest things when fishing either tactic, as long as you’ve got a good depthfinder, is watching the fish come up on the screen and being able to call the hit.
The dog-days of summer also make for a great time to keep an eye out for early morning and late-day surface action by looking out for feeding birds and linesides busting bait on the surface. As the heat of summer dies off, the fishing tends of get a little slower on the lake during fall.
As for umbrella rigs, Martin says he doesn’t like to use them much. He said this is mainly because he doesn’t have a lot of success with them on Carters Lake and because it’s easy to lose the expensive lures in the lake’s timber, artificial structures and extreme depth variances.
“I’ll use planer boards when I need to, but mainly it’s downlines and free-lining with live baits,” Martin said.
Using anywhere from three to five rods is ideal, Martin said. “That’s just about the right number to keep things organized.”
As with striper fishing anywhere, finding and fooling linesides on Carters can be hit or miss.
During an off-year, “I swore up and down there weren’t any more stripers left in this lake two years ago,” Martin said. “Then, I said ‘Let’s go fish the box,’ and I’ll be if we didn’t catch a pile of fish.”
Whether fishing for hybrids or striped bass, you’re likely to find them roaming in the same general areas.
“The hybrids come with the stripes,” said Martin.
An important piece of advice offered to any lineside fishermen is to remember that, “all fish don’t fight the same,” Martin said. “The small fish tend to stay down deep, and the big fish come up and thrash around.”
Any time of year, the amount of water pulled from the lake can affect the fishing. Generation information for the reservoir be found by calling the U.S. Army Corps Of Engineers at (706) 334-7906.
Weather also plays a key role in stripers’ feeding patterns. Fishing for them during periods of high pressure tends to be less productive than targeting them just before fronts and during overcast days of low pressure. On the day Martin and I fished for this story, weather was one of the key factors. A few days shy of the next front, we were out fishing in steady high pressure. While it was a beautiful, blue-sky day, it proved fruitless after searching all likely areas for fish.
We marked fish in many locations around the lake but were unable to convince any of them to eat freelined and downlined live trout.
Still though, I couldn’t hold Martin accountable. I’ve seen him catch fish in worse conditions and watched him slay them during the prime periods of the year.
It just goes to show that when you’re fishing for a species that can move around as much and as fast as stripers, it doesn’t always come together no matter how good you are.
Regardless, we enjoyed a gorgeous early spring day on the water. It’s always enjoyable to fish Carters Lake, with the minimal amounts of developed land visible from the surface of the mountain lake.
While catching a boat-load of linesides is always the ultimate goal, there are other reasons Martin said you can find him on the water.
“I just like the camaraderie of being with like-minded people, being in the boat with friends and seeing the different and interesting things that happen,” he said.
And, by the time you read this, the Carters Lake stripers and hybrids should be on their way up and into the river, feeding heavily and making different and very interesting things happen.
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