Kip Carter On Crankin’ Oconee
Georgia tournament angler making waves with new lures.
There are few things better than the bass fishing Lake Oconee offers throughout the fall months. Not only are the thousands of summer pleasure boaters a thing of the past, but there’s something special happening at this very moment. As you’re reading this article, millions of shad are making their annual migration to the backs of the creeks. For folks who don’t fish, that probably doesn’t mean much. For both experienced and novice anglers, however, this means Lake Oconee is about to bust wide open.
There’s one Georgia angler who strikes fear into almost every Lake Oconee tournament angler. When two-time BFL All American qualifier Kip Carter’s Toyota Tundra pulls up to the boat ramp on Saturday mornings, you can feel the competitors’ confidence being sucked out of them like a vacuum. Kip has won tens of thousands of dollars in Lake Oconee fishing tournaments (with at least half of those dollars being mine—thanks, Kip). Simply put, the man is a bona fide fishing machine.
I had the opportunity to hop in the boat with Kip in the middle of September to get a taste of how he puts together a fall bass-fishing pattern on Oconee. As I saw his rig pull into Sugar Creek Marina, I’ll admit—I had to battle a few painful flashbacks of all the times I’ve donated money to him in tournaments. Thankfully, there was no money on the line today. Instead, we were joining forces to put the smack down on some fat Oconee bass.
As I climbed into his Skeeter bass boat, it wasn’t hard to figure out his plan for the day. With nothing but hard reaction baits tied to his rods, I knew what we were going to do. The crankbait guru was in his ultimate comfort zone.
It’s All About The Shad
As I mentioned earlier, the shad are in the process of migrating to the backs of creeks on Lake Oconee. There are several theories as to why they make this annual journey, but let’s leave that to the biologists. The important thing is that bass are hard-wired to follow these big bait balls throughout October.
“October on Oconee is the perfect time to hit the water,” Kip said. “Big bass are absolutely feasting on shad this time of year, and it makes them especially gullible to shad-imitation lures. It’s not unusual to catch more than 50 bass in a single day. If you can cast and reel a crankbait, you’re going to catch plenty of bass.”
Needless to say, Kip and I were pretty darn excited when we pulled up to a small point in Sugar Creek and saw shad flickering on the surface. In the beginning of fall when the shad migration begins, primary points are definite fishing hotspots. The majority of shad live in the cooler water of the river channels throughout the summer and slowly make their way into the creek channels toward the middle of September.
“Primary points are a big deal this time of year, because they are perfect ambush spots for predatory bass,” Kip said. “It’s practically a buffet for them. They’ll hide on the edges of these points and wait for big bait balls to pass by and attack them.”
I was a little surprised during our day on the water, however, to see such heavy shad activity. Although this summer hasn’t been terribly hot by Georgia standards, the recent increase in air temperatures were still fairly significant. According to Kip, however, air temperature and water temperature aren’t the deciding factors for the fall shad migration.
“I’m a big believer that the length of days plays more of a role in fish behavior than many people think,” Kip said. “Regardless of the weather conditions, shad will start their fall migration when the days start getting shorter. I also believe that the shorter days spur the bass’ instinct to start keying in on shad for their primary forage. I don’t think it matters whether the temperature is 100 degrees or 70 degrees—it’s still going to happen.”
The Hype Is Well Deserved
With shad breaking the surface all around the boat, Kip reached for his Big Bear crankbait rod. It was adorned with a crankbait—but not any ol’ crankbait.
The lure on the end of his line has been the talk of the Georgia bass-fishing circle for the last several months. It was his handmade and hand-painted balsa wood Bass Hound Crankbait. These special crankbaits have been the secret behind dozens of his tournament wins, but only recently did he begin offering them to the general public.
“I’m a diehard cranker—I don’t think that’s a big secret,” Kip laughs. “I’ve always been a big believer in balsa crankbaits due to their buoyancy and ‘hunting’ tendencies, and I’ve been building my own for years, because I couldn’t find a mass-produced model with the characteristics I wanted. Just recently I figured it was time to let the cat out of the bag.”
Needless to say, I was anxious to see what the hype was all about. I didn’t even make a cast—I simply watched the Crankbait King do his thing. Following a long cast, he got about three turns of the reel handle in before I saw his rod bow. What do you know? Kip Carter had one hooked up on a crankbait. Insert collective “duh!” here.
“This is a pretty good one I think,” Kip said. “Do you see that? There’s two more with him! Cast at ’em, Walker!”
He didn’t have to tell me twice. As he was unhooking a solid 3-pounder, I threw one of his Bass Hound Cosmo Crankbaits at the group of bass, and before I knew it, I had a 2 1/2-lb. bass on the end of my line. It wasn’t a giant, but man—there’s nothing better than a solid crankbait bite.
“You’ll notice the hunting action when you reel that crankbait,” Kip said. “That’s what makes it so special.”
I would have noticed, but we couldn’t make a cast without catching a fish—tough life, huh? Kip had apparently found the mother lode on his first stop, and I wasn’t complaining. We had a 14-lb. limit of bass in a matter of minutes.
After about 10 minutes, the action on the point slowed down considerably. This didn’t worry us, however, because it’s a totally normal occurrence during the fall. When the bass are done feeding, they simply slide back down to the sides of the points and start the waiting game all over again.
“It’s very important to cover a lot of water in the fall,” Kip said. “These little flurries only happen for a few minutes, and you need to be in the right place at the right time. If you catch it right, you can do what we just did and get right in a hurry.”
I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that some of fall fishing is indeed luck. Catching the bass isn’t rocket science once they show themselves, but being within casting distance of an impromptu feeding frenzy is paramount if you’re looking to catch a livewell full of bass.
Killing Two Birds With One Stone
For the rest of the morning, we bounced around all over Sugar Creek and eventually made our way into the popular Lick Creek. We fished several primary points with his Bass Hound Crankbaits and his Bass Hound Main Event Prop Bait and caught plenty of bass, but we couldn’t really duplicate the action from our first stop of the morning.
Throughout my tournament experience, I’ve always found the bass to get shallow in Lick Creek before anywhere else on Lake Oconee. I don’t know why it happens, but apparently I’m not the only one who knows. Right when I thought I knew something Kip didn’t…
“Lick Creek is just chock-full of bass,” Kip said. “I tend to see more early shallow activity here than anywhere else on the lake.”
The breeze had picked up considerably by lunchtime, and I was certain that some funky weather front was about to mess up the fishing. That seems to be about par for the course whenever I’m writing a fishing article.
“A breeze is actually great during the early fall,” Kip said. “That’s what we want. Wind pushes balls of shad into very predictable places, such as shallow flats and points. If you follow the wind this time of year, you’re going to catch ’em.”
He was right on the money. We continued casting crankbaits on windblown main-lake flats and points with a lot of success. We were catching plenty of 2- and 3-pounders, but Kip had his sights on bigger things.
Around 1 p.m., we started working our way into the backs of the creeks. As the sun warms the water in the afternoon, it pulls the shad to the top of the water column and can make for some really fun shallow fishing in the fall. Shad were busting all over a back creek flat, and Kip immediately started casting to them.
What happened next is something I’ve never seen in all my years of fishing.
“There’s a fish,” said Kip as he leaned into a bass. “Man that’s a big one! Wait, no—there’s two! I got two good ones on my crankbait! Stay on, baby!”
As sure as the day is long, Kip had two 3-lb. bass on his crankbait! One was hooked inside the mouth by the front treble, and the other bass was hooked outside its mouth with the back treble. Is this dude a fish whisperer or what?
As he swung the tangled mess of bass and treble hooks into the boat, we couldn’t do anything but laugh and exchange a high-five. That’s something you definitely don’t see every day, and we were grinning like mules eating briars.
“This just goes to show you how insanely competitive these bass are during the fall,” Kip said. “This definitely happens sometimes on Oconee—there are so many healthy bass in this lake. I’m proud of this ol’ crankbait, too! Bass Hound strikes again!”
Looking Forward To October
As October falls on Lake Oconee, look for the water temperatures to be in the 70- to 75-degree range in the beginning of the month. Midway into the month, you can expect water temperatures to be dipping down into the high 60-degree range. If you think our September trip sounded fun, just wait until October.
“Get ready for some amazing Oconee bass fishing in October,” Kip said. “By then, the shad migration will be in full swing, and it will literally look like it’s raining shad in the backs of creeks and pockets.”
Kip suggests starting your October fishing day in the shallow flats in the backs of any creek arms or short pockets. It’s a great time to take your kids or non-angling buddies fishing, because it can be as simple as casting, reeling and setting the hook.
“Throughout October, I’m going to have five primary lures tied on at all times,” Kip said. “I’ll have my Bass Hound Squarebill Crankbait and Cosmo Crankbait, a Bass Hound Main Event Prop Bait, a chrome 1/4-oz. lipless crankbait and a white/chartreuse spinnerbait for the murkier water.”
When the shad are busting in the backs of the creeks, simply throw any of these baits into the bait balls, and hang on. If you’re not seeing surface activity, don’t worry—the bass are still going to be in the backs of the creeks. They’re not going anywhere.
“If it’s really sunny and the bait isn’t active, I’ll flip a 1/2-oz. green-pumpkin-colored jig on 20-lb. Gamma Fluorocarbon around any type of laydowns or dock posts near those shallow flats,” Kip said. “If the jig bite is slow, I’ll switch to a Texas-rigged Zoom Ol’ Monster worm or a small shaky head and finesse worm combination. If you keep your boat in less than 6 feet of water and try these techniques, you’re going to have a blast.”
If you’re a busy angler, like most of us, and need to plan your fishing trips in advance, pay close attention to the weather forecast. Kip suggests planning your trips around windy or cloudy days.
“Wind positions fish very easily and also stirs up more oxygen in the water, resulting in more active fish,” Kip said. “When it’s cloudy, the bass will stay out of the cover more often and are more apt to aggressively feed throughout the entire day.”
The bass fishing on Lake Oconee is going to be lights out this October, and it will set up in a way that anglers of all skill levels can have a memorable day on the water. While many Georgia outdoorsmen will be in the woods searching for big bucks, you’ll have the lake—and the bass—all to yourself.
For more information on Kip Carter’s hand-carved and hand-painted Bass Hound Crankbaits and Prop Baits, e-mail him at [email protected]. You can also find them at Lake Oconee’s Sugar Creek Marina and Lake Sinclair’s Little River Park.
Other Articles You Might Enjoy