Drop A Spoon For January Carters Lake Bass

For numbers of spotted bass, drop a jigging spoon in January for good Carters Lake action.

Brad Bailey | December 30, 1999

Buddy Callahan says that bass fishing for Carters Lake spotted bass is a “challenge.” A lot of other fishermen who have spent time trying to catch a bass on this lake use much stronger language to describe the fishing.

Buddy Callahan, of Talking Rock, with a Carters Lake spotted bass. In January, jigging a spoon is your best bet for catching spots — and nearly every other kind of fish in the lake.

Bass fishing on this deep, clear-water lake is often cussed — even by the locals. The weekend angler who comes up to take on the challenge of Carters often leaves fishless, shaking his head and wishing he had gone to Lake West Point for the day.

Despite the lake’s reputation, there is a time of year when the fishing at Carters is more forgiving and your chances of boating bass improve, says Buddy. That time is January and the fishing tactic is a sliver of lead with treble hooks called a jigging spoon.

Buddy has fished Carters since just after the 3,220-acre pump-back reservoir was completed in 1977. These days Buddy and his wife Donna help their son Bart run Bart’s Bait & Tackle on Hwy 316 in Talking Rock and when he’s not in the store, Buddy is usually on the lake. On December 14, Buddy took me for a tour of the lake and a preview of the January jigging-spoon fishing.

“The No. 1 pattern for any kind of consistency in January is the jigging spoon,” said Buddy. “When the water temperature drops below about 55 degrees the bait will bunch up in shallower water in the creek runs and the bass will hold with them.”

Carters has plenty of baitfish, but a fluttering spoon, which is designed to imitate a dying baitfish, must look like an easier meal to a spotted bass.

Buddy’s pick for a jigging spoon is a 1/2-oz. Flex-it spoon. These slender white spoons come with a foil strip on the side that helps reflect light. The foil strips come in a variety of colors ranging from red to chartreuse. “I don’t know if the color really matters that much,” said Buddy. “Any white-colored spoon will work, although the chartreuse foil is a popular color.”

The spoon Buddy tied on his rod was white with a white foil strip.

The two keys to catching fish on a spoon are a bright day and bait.

“The ideal day is a bright, bluebird day,” said Buddy. “The bright light penetrates deeper to help the reflective character of the spoon. You are often jigging in 30 to 50 feet of water and bright light helps.

“The second thing you have to have is bait. You need to have good electronics to locate pods of bait in 30 to 50 feet of water. If you can find the bait the bass and other fish will be with them — but you have to have bait.”

Once Buddy has located a cloud of baitfish on his graph he positions his boat over the bait — sometimes using a marker buoy to give him a reference mark — and he drops his spoon.

Buddy recommends a baitcaster so that you have a constant feel for the lure as it drops. Occasionally the lure doesn’t make it to the bottom before a fish hits. A sensitive rod and line helps you feel the lure, says Buddy. He uses Stren Sensor in 10- to 14-lb. test on a graphite worming rod.

Once the spoon hits the bottom, lock down the spool and then raise and drop your rod tip to make the jig jump off the bottom and then flutter back down. The idea is to make the spoon look like an injured or dying baitfish. Carters has plenty of baitfish, so much bait that you wonder why a bass would hit any artificial lure, but the fluttering spoon must look like a much easier meal to the bass.

To work a spoon, Buddy quickly raises his rod tip two or three feet then lowers the rod tip to follow the line back down and maintain the “feel” of the lure.

“Nine times out of 10 the fish will hit when the lure is falling,” he said. “If you feel any kind of a bump, set the hook. A lot of times you won’t know that there is a fish on until you raise the rod tip again.”

Bring a collection of spoons with you and don’t get too attached to any one spoon. Often you will be jigging over clear, rock bottom and the spoon won’t hang, but Carters also has a forest of submerged timber and you can expect regular hookups. When Buddy snags brush he “doodles” the spoon — shaking it and letting slack in the line hoping the weight of the lure will cause the hooks to pull loose. Using Buddy’s “doodling,” we didn’t lose a spoon during our trip.

If you can find bait at the right depth, you can expect to catch a variety of fish.

Last January on Carters Lake, Buddy and Bart caught 45 fish in 2 1/2 hours while fishing jigging spoons. Their catch included spotted bass, white bass, yellow bass, and crappie. Part of the beauty of spoon fishing is that the dying-minnow imitation will catch just about anything in the lake — including stripers, bream, walleye and catfish.

Buddy prefers to find bait in water that is around 30 feet deep, but he has caught fish as deep as 52 feet. While we were on the lake in mid December we tried jigging in more than 70 feet of water, but the increased resistance on the line blurs your “feel” for the lure.

Buddy doesn’t fish main-lake points or humps in January. Most of the bait will be back in the creeks, he says. “Any long narrow creek run is a good place to check for bait,” he said. “But one of the best places to jig a spoon doesn’t have a creek feeding into it, and it holds a lot of bait.”

That “best place,” where Buddy and Bart caught 45 fish in 2 1/2 hours last January is the long, narrow cove on the south side of the Doll Mountain ramp.

Crump Creek, which is the cove on the north side of the Doll Mountain ramp is also a good jigging spoon cove.

As we motored into Crump Creek we met another bass boat coming out. At the wheel was Rick Wright, a mechanic at Blue Ridge Marine.

“If they are coming in January, tell them to use a spoon,” he called across the water. “We caught over 40 jigging last week.”

A third cove to check for bait is the “duck-box cove,” which is the second cove up the lake above Doll Mountain on the east side of the lake. The cove dog-legs to the left as you go in and there is a deep, round indention in front of a duck box that holds fish.

The area in front of the duck box also holds brush and you can catch fish on a spoon around the brush. The brush, however, is a hazard to the exposed treble hooks on a spoon, and if Buddy fishes brush in January he usually opts for doodling a worm.

Harris Creek, between Doll Mountain and Harris Creek recreation areas is another good creek run to check. There is a drop-off and a ledge just off the beach that warrants a close look as you motor in.

Carters remains a tough lake, but a jigging spoon in January is a good way to begin the “challenge” of fishing Carters. For the latest on fishing at Carters Lake, give Buddy a call at Bart’s Bait & Tackle.

The Late 1990s Transition For Carters Spots

Spotted bass fishing in Carters Lake is in the midst of a transition. Once a noted trophy spotted bass lake, the fishery is slowly transforming into a fishery similar to Lake Lanier or Lake Allatoona with more fish, but fewer magnum spots. The reason for the change is shad.

“When it was impounded, Carters was envisioned as a bass and bluegill lake,” said WRD Fisheries biologist Pat Pierce. “The typical result is real good growth rates, but it doesn’t support the numbers of fish because the amount of forage available is limited.

“Then in the late 1980s or early 1990s someone illegally introduced shad to the lake. The spotted bass switched forage, and shad are a whole different ballgame as a forage base than bluegill.

“Shad provide more forage but of lower quality,” said Pat. “The result is better survival of spotted bass, but because there are now more mouths to feed, the growth rates slow.”

Even in Carters’ heyday as a trophy spotted bass lake the number of bass over 5 pounds was a low percentage, said Pat. “Now, with a slightly slower growth rate, it takes longer for a fish to reach that size.”

Fishing pressure has also likely played a part in the decline of the magnum spotted bass fishery. Carters was once a little-known lake fished mostly by local anglers, but with the publicity of the magnum spots fishing pressure increased dramatically.

Between 1993 and 1996, Carters’ magnum spots won four weeks of the GON Fishin’ Contest and a total of nine bass over 6 pounds were entered. Carters became known as a good bet for winning a week of the contest. To alleviate that pressure, GON both increased the target weight for spotted bass in the contest and encouraged anglers to call our office to check on other entries before killing a big spot.

On the good news side, Pat says that the numbers of spotted bass caught during electro-fishing sampling on Carters have been on the increase. The catch rate during spring sampling in 1998 was the third highest ever at 27.4 fish caught per hour. The second highest catch rate was during the 1997 sampling when 27.6 fish per hour were caught. According to Pat, these numbers are up significantly for the five-year period prior to 1996.

The average size of spotted bass has declined slightly over the past five years from about 14 inches to 13 inches today.

For spotted bass fishermen, the trade-off following the introduction of shad at Carters Lake has been more, but slightly smaller fish.

Become a GON subscriber and enjoy full access to ALL of our content.

New monthly payment option available!


Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.