Catch a Boatload of Drop-Shot Bass on Allatoona This Winter
An extremely low lake level means less water to fish. Allatoona bass are primed for a great winter bite, and here's how two of the lake's hottest anglers load the boat with December bass.
Lake Allatoona, north of Atlanta, has long been known as a tough lake to fish. The deep, clear water is relatively free of natural structure, and you had better know what you are doing and where the planted brush is or you are going to have a long day with limited activity.
But for those who know the lake well, and earn their stripes by fishing it heavily, Allatoona is a productive fishery with consistently one of the highest “fish-per-angler-hour ratios” of any lake in the state.
David Smith of Kennesaw and Tom Kazmierski of Acworth are among the best on Allatoona, especially in the past year. They have been fishing the Allatoona Team Tournament’s Monday-night events for more than five years, and they finished the 2007 regular season in second place in the points and won the Classic. This is quite a feat when you are fishing against 70 to 80 of the best Allatoona anglers each week, some of whom are considered among the state’s best bass anglers.
David and Tom also fish the HD Marine Tournament Trail. Last year they won a boat with a second-place HD finish, and they placed fifth in the season points.
We had the opportunity to fish Allatoona with David and Tom during the second week of November, and they shared their wintertime approach.
We put the big Ranger in at Red Top Mountain State Park and never ventured more than 10 minutes of riding time from it, in any direction. Since the water was still relatively warm, in the low 60s, the fish would not be strong on the winter pattern yet, but David assured me there would be plenty of fish in the same areas they would be fishing in December and January. I met the team mid morning, and they already had a few nice fish in the livewell they caught on spinnerbaits during the first hour or so after the sun came up. Tom and David use two distinct patterns when fishing Allatoona in the winter. First thing in the morning they beat the banks with spinnerbaits and crankbaits, and later in the day they move out to humps and points for some deep-water action.
“All through the winter you will be able to pick up fish right next to the bank first thing in the morning,” said David. “We cast spinnerbaits and crankbaits right against the shoreline and work them back to the boat.”
Tom and David keep the boat well out from the bank and make long casts so as not to spook the fish in the shallow water. One will work the spinnerbait while the other casts the crankbait. The spinnerbait is used to cover a lot of water all down the bank while the crankbait targets stumps or rocks to fish the cover more thoroughly. The spinnerbait of choice is the Davis 1/2-oz. compact spinnerbait. This bait has tandem willowleaf blades (gold in the front and silver in the back) and a small head profile. The chartreuse/white “Allatoona Special” color combination is their first choice. The spinnerbait is fished on a 7-foot G.Loomis 845 rod and a casting reel spooled with 15-lb. test monofilament line.
The crankbait of choice is a crawfish-colored Bandit 300. It is also fished on a 7-foot G.Loomis rod (model 843 or 841) and a casting reel spooled with 8-lb. test mono.
The speed of the retrieve is determined by the water temperature.
“Early in the season, while the water is still warm, we work both the spinnerbait and the crankbait with a relatively fast retrieve,” said Tom. “But as the water drops into the 50s and 40s, everything has to slow down.”
In late December and January the team will slow-roll the spinnerbait, barely making it crawl across the bottom.
“Fish are lethargic in the cold water, and they won’t chase the bait far,” said David.
If there are a few warm days in a row, then you may want to speed up the retrieve a little and then slow down again when the temperature drops with a cold front.
David and Tom say that the shallow-water, spinnerbait-and-crankbait bite is almost always great first thing in the morning with fish holding in as little as a foot of water. On sunny days it helps to fish the shady banks as the fish will hold there longer than on sunny banks. On cloudy, overcast days, the shallow bite can continue all day long, but generally, once the sun comes up, the fish will move to deeper water and so should you.
For deep-water, winter angling on most Georgia lakes, find a deep point, drop down a jigging spoon and fish it vertically and erratically to imitate a dying shad. It is a tried and proven method that has lasted over the years and is the preference of many winter anglers.
David and Tom agree that the spoon is a great way to catch bass in the winter, but they have discovered a method that works even better for them.
The drop-shot rig is relatively new on the angling scene in the South. This method of fishing is designed to attract fish that are spooky or finicky. It was first used in the ultra-clear, deep waters of western lakes, but its popularity has spread rapidly. Drop-shot rigs are now used throughout the country under a variety of conditions.
“We believe that the drop shot is one of the best methods that you can use on Allatoona to boat large numbers of fish,” said Tom. “It is particularly good in the hottest part of the summer and the depths of winter.”
Tom and David fish the drop shot on light, open-faced spinning reels spooled with 4- to 6-lb. monofilament line.
The rig consists of a small No. 1 finesse wide-gap Gamakatzu hook, which is tied to the line with a Palomar knot leaving a long tag end. The knot should be arranged with the hook perpendicular to the line, and the hook point on the top side of the hook. If the hook point is down, run the tag end of the line through the eye again and the hook should turn over, placing the point on top. A 3/8- or 1/2-oz. ball sinker is tied to the tag end of the knot about 18 inches below the hook, finishing out the rig. The drop-shot rig is fished over long points or humps in 20 to 30 feet of water. Electronics are extremely important. This is like sight fishing using the graph.
The lake had just turned over, so the water was still a little murky as we pulled up on a point in Coopers Branch near the dam.
Tom put down the trolling motor and switched on the bow-mounted graph. Within a few seconds we began to see the arches of fish holding close to the bottom. David began to give me instructions on how to fish the rig.
“Drop the rig straight down, and let the weight go to the bottom,” said David. “Once the weight is settled on the bottom, begin to shake the rod tip slightly to give some action to the worm.”
David instructed me not to pull the line up drastically as with the vertical action of a jigging spoon. This is a subtle motion where the weight actually stays in contact with the bottom while the shaking action of the rod imparts a subtle movement into the worm — much like doodling a finesse worm in a brushpile. I had only been shaking the worm for a few seconds when I felt the bait get heavy.
“Do not set the hook,” said David. “Just pull the rod tip up slowly and start reeling.”
Sure enough, with no more action than that, I had a struggling spotted bass on the line. After a brief fight, I landed a fat 12-inch fish.
According to Tom and David, this is one of the most difficult things for novice drop shotters to master. If you have done any worm fishing at all, it is a natural reflex to set the hook when you feel the fish. With the small hook used in the drop-shot rig and the small worm, the fish will generally inhale the worm and the hook. A strong hookset will more often than not pull the bait and hook out of the fish’s mouth and cause a missed strike.
We fished several humps and points in Coopers Branch and caught fish on all of them. Interestingly it seemed that the fish ran in size ranges. If we caught a small 10-inch bass on a hump, then most of the bass we caught in that location were of similar size. The same held true for larger fish in other locations.
Even though our action was pretty good, Tom and Dave told me the fish were not completely into this pattern yet. Within the next couple of weeks, if we have some colder weather, the water temperatures will drop and the fish will stack up on these humps and points. Then the action can be almost constant when you find them.
When the water is relatively warm, still in the 60s, Tom and Dave recommend that you use a softer worm with more action and slightly more movement in the rod tip. As the season progresses and the water gets colder, use a smaller, stiffer worm with less action, and use more subtle movements of the rod tip.
Early in the season David and Tom use a Robo worm. This 4 1/2-inch worm is limber with a lot of action, and it is buoyant so it tends to float away from the line. One of their favorite colors is Morning Dawn, especially if the water is a little cloudy. Later in the season they will opt for shorter, less-buoyant worms in more natural colors as the fish become less aggressive.
In addition to the drop-shot rig, Tom and David will fish a rubber-skirted jig among the rocks and stumps of the deep points and humps. Their favorite jig is a Picasso “football” jig. The oval shape eliminates some of the hang ups that you get with a more traditional jig, according to the team. They fish the 1/2-oz. model in a crawfish color, and they catch some of their bigger bass using this method.
Tom and Dave plan their day by selecting several locations on the map where fish should be holding. If they pull up on a point or hump and don’t mark any fish on the graph, they move on to the next location until they spot fish. If the fish are there, they will usually bite right away, so don’t waste a lot of time on a location without getting strikes. Move on and try the next spot. The fish will turn on and off during the day, so it is a good idea to make a circuit and visit likely spots more than once. If the fish weren’t biting on the first pass, they may well be the second time around.
Tom and Dave recommend Coopers Branch, Stamp Creek and McKaskey Creek as great spots that hold a lot of fish during the winter months. However, they believe their tactics will work well all over the lake in similar depths and conditions.
The drop-shot technique is pretty simple when you get the hang of the hook set. Just drop the rig over the side, let it hit the bottom, jiggle the rod tip lightly and wait for the “heavy” feeling on the end of the line. It is a great way to get the family involved in fishing because the kids will get a lot of strikes and are bound to boat some fish.
Start your search with your electronics in about 20 feet of water, and get ready to load the boat. Allatoona is full of bass, and they are ready to bite.
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