Lake Oconee Winter Spoon Fed Bass With Tony Couch

Tony Couch marks a map with some proven wintertime bass locations where a jigging spoon is key to catching Oconee bass.

Tony Couch | December 1, 1994

The air had a brisk bite as I idled through the dense early morning fog toward the nearby creek channel. The fish had been holding in this area for about three weeks, moving only slightly as the water slowly cooled. The sound of screaming gulls, mufHed only by the sound of cars passing over the nearby bridge, told me the fish were feeding on the surface. That familiar tingling of anticipation Outtered inside me.

I watched my flasher; a school of fish appeared on the screen. As I continued toward the channel where the fish had been holding, more and more schools flashed on the display. Thinking at first they were only isolated patches of fish, I now saw they were too thick to ignore. To heck with finding the channel, I thought, I’m fixing to catch some fish!

I dropped my Hopkin’s 3/4-oz. jigging spoon to the bottom. A sharp lift of the rod propelled the spoon three to five feet off the bottom, and I let it Outter back down. The third or fourth lift of the spoon suddenly produced resistance. A strong initial run told me a hybrid had inhaled the spoon. After a brief but valiant fight, I swung a feisty 2-1b. hybrid aboard.

Two hours later the fog grudgingly gave way to the big eye in the sky, and the action slowed, but it had been a great morning. A mixed bag of 34 fish had come aboard. Hybrids, white bass, largemouth bass and two catfish made up the creel. Now, not every morning is this good, but it happens often enough to keep me coming back for more.

The secret to catching Oconee’s spoon fish is twofold: find the fish and be there when they’re feeding. Easier said than done, right? Not necessarily. The quickest and easiest way to locate the fish is to find the gulls. You’ve probably heard that you had to find gulls that were circling and diving into shad. Not so. Circling and diving gulls tell you that there are fish feeding on the surface, and that’s all. If you find a large flock of gulls floating on the water, you can bet the boat that there is a large school of fish close by. Those gulls wouldn’t be there if they didn’t know they were going to get an easy meal. Find the nearest structure and you will find the fish, and many times one strike will start a chain reaction that causes other fish to bite.

Tony Couch, a noted guide and tournament angler, holds a chunky Lake Oconee largemouth fooled by a jigging spoon.

It is not difficult to figure out what time the fish are feeding, either. Early and late in the day normally produce the best feeding activity on most lakes, and this time of year Oconee is no exception. However, the best time to fish is when the power company is generating electricity or pumping back at the dam” Water current, regardless of its direction, is the most important factor in determining feeding times for the fish. If you discover that there is some water current, move to an area where you know there are fish, and start jigging your spoon.

In late November, when the spoon fishing starts getting good, I normally begin searching in 13 to 17 feet of water. I prefer to vertically jig my spoon, but, when the fish are in 15 feet of water or shallower, they tend to be spooky. Under these conditions, I back off and cast into them. As the water temperature drops, however, the fish move slowly out to deeper water, making a vertical jig possible.

Fishing a spoon is relatively easy. When casting with spoon, let it go to the bottom and give a long upward sweep of the rod. This pulls the spoon off the bottom, creating the appearance of a fleeing shad. As it flutters back to the bottom, it resembles an injured shad. When the spoon is falling, take up almost all of the slack, letting your spoon fall on a semi-tight line. If the line is too tight, it will hinder the action of the spoon.

Begin pumping the rod with a sharp upward motion as soon as the spoon hits the bottom. The bass will usually hit the spoon as it flutters back to the bottom, and often the strike will not be felt. Many times when the line goes slack and you think it has hit the bottom it has been intercepted by a bass. The sharp upward motion of the rod will give you a good hook set.

Vertical jigging is basically the same as casting a spoon except you drop the spoon straight down beside the boat and let it fall to the bottom. Most of the time I use a Hopkin’s 3/4-oz. shorty spoon or one of the cheaper imitations, but sometimes when I’m casting the spoon I will switch to a Sidewinder spoon in a 1/2or 3/4-oz., or downsize the Hopkins to a 1/2-oz. Oconee bass can be finicky at times, and the slower descent and wider wobble of the Sidewinder may be the ticket to triggering strikes. Often just down-sizing your Hopkin’s spoon to a 1/2-oz. will work better if the fish are feeding on smaller shad. Other baits that work well when spooning include Mann’s Mann-0-Lure and Bomber’s slab spoon.

I always modify my spoon to suit my needs. If the fish are finicky, you can bend the spoon slightly with your hands and get a different wobble and a slower descent. Sometimes this is all it takes to start catching fish.

The most important modification you can make is to take off the hook that comes on your spoon and replace it with a good sharp No. 2 or 4 treble hook.This is particularly so with the Hopkin’s spoon, because most of them come standard with a galvanized hook for salt water fishing. The Gamakatsu brand hook or Eagle Claw’s lazer hooks are good choices.

The last way that I modify my spoon is by adding a good o-ring if it doesn’t come equipped with one, and I also add a barrel swivel. This will eliminate a lot of line twist caused by the spoon and extend the life of your line. I always use a chrome or black o-ring and barrel swivel, which tend to get me more strikes than the standard brass color.

The equipment I use is standard and simple. I prefer a good level wind reel on a good six-foot graphite rod. I normally use 12- or 15-1b. test line in green or clear color. I tried the new kevlar and spectra type braided lines and found my strike ratio was way down. I thought with the great sensitivity of this new line I could feel the strikes much better, and you can. The problem is you just don’t get as many strikes. Apparently the fish see the line and just don’t strike as readily. I suggest sticking with a good brand of monofilament line.

Probably the most important piece of equipment for spooning is a good dependable depth finder or fish locator. I prefer a good Hasher but the new liquid crystal units will do the same job. Use these to find the right depth you’re looking for and to locate structure on the bottom. If the fish are thick, you will see them as well. Look for fish that are holding on or very near the bottom, and avoid the suspended fish if possible, as these are harder to catch. I prefer to locate the transducer for my unit on my trolling motor, so I can get right over the fish and see exactly where I’m dropping my spoon. With a good unit you can actually see your spoon rise and fall when you raise your rod.

Just in case the gulls don’t visit us this year, I’m going to mark a few places on the map where you should be able to catch some kind of bass this month. Most of the places will consist of a mixed bag of white bass, largemouth and hybrids. Sometimes the largemouths will be by themselves, but if you start catching hybrids or whites there will probably be largemouths mixed in with them.

I will start around Sugar Creek and mark some places from there south to the dam and then north up Richland Creek to Granite Shoals Marina. Some or all of these sites will hold fish sometime this month.

The first place, location No. 1 on the map, is commonly known as the “hay field” by local anglers. It is a long point that runs out from the hay field on the south side of the mouth of Sugar Creek. The fish could be anywhere on or near the point, which runs a long way out into Sugar Creek, almost to the old creek channel. Start on the top of the point in 12 to 15 feet; fish the top and sides of the point. Work your spoon off the side of the point out as deep as 25 feet. The fish will probably be in the 15to 20-foot range but sometimes will be deeper.

Spot No. 2 is straight across from Sugar Creek on the east side of the lake. A large flat just out from.the golf course at Port Armor has produced many fish for a lot of anglers over the years. Look for fish on top of the flat if they’re feeding in 10 to 15 feet of water. If they’re not actively feeding, search out the ledges around the flat where the bottom drops off. Again, most of the fish on the side of the Hat will be in 15 to 20 feet of water. Try to find a school of fish with your depth finder for the fastest action, but if that fails, keep dropping your spoon along the ledge looking for single fish. This approach will also work well at all the other spots.

Spot No. 3 might be the most popular place on the lake. Of course, I’m talking about the pipeline. It’s located south of Brantley’s Marina near one of the holes on the Great Waters golf course. The area of focus is a sharp drop located near and running parallel to the old river channel until it bends away from the shallows. Again, most of these fish will be in 15 to 20 feet of water. This area has probably produced more pounds of fish than any other place on the lake.

Spot No. 4 is where the river channel runs right up to the shoreline then curves away just past horseshoe bend. Start in 15 to 25 feet of water and work your way to the outside of the channel bend. At this spot and the remaining locations, the water is normally a bit more clear than the rest of the lake and the fish tend to be a little deeper.

Spot No. 5 is the long point at the intersection of Double Creek and Richland Creek. Use your locator to find the large boulders submerged just off the point. Most of the rocks will be in 12 to 20 feet of water and will rise 5 to 10 feet off the bottom. The largest boulder is probably 30 yards long and rises to within 8 feet of the surface before dropping off into 25 feet of water almost instantly. It has a little bit of wood structure still left around it and normally has some sizable largemouths located around it. The other rocks are not as large as the biggest one but could still give up more fish than the largest one.

Spot No. 6 is a submerged rock house located just north of Rocky Creek at the point of timber near an osprey’s nest. The roof of the old house lies about 5 feet below the surface and drops off into 25 feet of water. Fish your spoon on and around the old house out to as deep as 30 feet. This spot has always been a bass hangout.

Spot No. 7 is the left side point of the largest cove about halfway between Sandy Creek and Beaverdam Creek on the east side of the lake. This point runs out about halfway across this cove. The Richland Creek side of the point has some wood structure left in 15 to 25 feet of water and is normally the best part of the point to fish. This particular place normally has all types of bass on it.

Spot No. 8 could be the real sleeper of all these locations; it could produce a lot of fish or none at all. It is a rarely fished point just south of the cove at Armor Bridge ramp. The point is not revealed by the shoreline, but you can find it easily with your locator. It runs out at a depth of about 15 feet and then drops off on all sides. A good east wind for several days will push a lot of shad into this cove, therefore, check it out after a low pressure weather system has moved through and the pressure is rising; this is the likeliest time for a steady east wind.

Of course there are other places scattered all over the lake that are as good or better than these that I’ve mentioned. A good locator and a lot of patience will enable you to find many new places around the lake. If you find suspended fish on one of these or any other place during the day, come back to it later or on another day when the fish are located near or on the bottom. Suspended fish are normally inactive and hard to catch.

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