Spoon For Winter Hartwell Bass

Cold water and baitfish bunch up the Lake Hartwell bass in January.

Ronell Smith | January 14, 2005

When you locate a school of bass working a pod of bait, it is not uncommon to catch a several fish from one location. You are also likely to catch hybrids, stripers, crappie — even an occasional walleye on a spoon.

When the weather turns from cool to cold, anglers throughout northeast Georgia tie on their jigging spoons, head to the various lakes in the area and prepare for some of the best action of the year. The cooler temperatures are what spoon fishermen wait months for, as it typically improves the fishing on area lakes, and the fishermen willing to brave the cold usually are not disappointed.

Largemouth and spotted bass that had been scattered throughout most of fall will now be in largely predictable spots: right in amongst balls of shad. And when the fish are indeed there, the fishing can be, and normally is, simply dynamite. Any jigging spoon dropped down into the group of shad and foraging predators will usually be thoroughly slammed before it’s hopped just a few times.

So it was these balls of shad that Hartwell’s Darryl Huntsinger and Acworth’s Bob Haldeman were looking for when they launched from the Poplar Springs boat ramp on Lake Hartwell in late November. With a heavy fog slowly lifting off the water near the ramp, the anglers headed to a point just down the lake. Darryl, who lives on Lake Hartwell, went to the front of the boat and studied the graph for the clouds that would indicate the presence of shad.

“There’s plenty of baitfish here,” he said while grabbing a rod with a jigging spoon attached to the end of the line. But before he even had the sentence complete, Bob had lowered a drop-shot rig featuring a Zoom Finesse worm under the boat. In just minutes, the tip of Bob’s rod loaded up, but he missed the fish.

Even so, their hunch was correct: there were fish present, and they were willing to bite, if only half-heartedly.

“When these fish school up, you can catch five or six fish weighing three or four pounds from one spot,” said Darryl. “Catching a limit is common.”

He should know. His best jigging-spoon bass from Hartwell weighed 10 pounds — yes, 10 pounds — and was caught not far from the Poplar Springs launch ramp.

While both anglers are indeed accomplished jigging-spoon fishermen, Darryl and Bob are really two of those anglers that you’d better make sure your wallet is in your hands when they come around. In other words, they’ll flat out take your money and never look back. Whether it’s summer, spring winter or fall, they’ll fish everything from a buzzbait and a crankbait to a jig, and clobber you with weights up to 20 pounds.

Frequent tournament partners, they’ve won several together, including this year, when they took top honors at the Moby Tournament on Lake Allatoona and the Fishers of Men tournament on Hartwell. In addition to these trails and several others, the anglers also take part in the BFL and Everstart Divisions of FLW Outdoors.

In the winter, Bob and Darryl are just as likely to be fishing together for fun (in other words: reloading for competition next spring), as they were this day.

But as the water cools and the fish get in their predictable locations, they say the fun really takes on a whole new meaning.

The single modification of a jigging spoon that improves the catch rate is to remove the standard treble hooks and replace them with a slightly larger and much sharper treble hook.


When the water temperature slowly edges downward into the 40s, the abundant shad and herring on Hartwell begin to bunch up, often hovering near points and along the edge of river and creek channels in water anywhere from 25 to 60 feet in depth. And as the baitfish bunch tighter and tighter together, schools of largemouth and the ravenous spotted bass begin to bombard these pods of bait mercilessly.

This activity takes place all over the lake, and wherever an angler can find baitfish, he can usually find bass as well. But the first element that must be heeded, they say, is that anglers must find the shad or herring first.

“You find your bait, and the fish are usually under them,” Darryl said. “The bait is the key.”

Fortunately for anglers wanting to get in on this action, the bite remains strong well into February, strengthening as the year progresses, according to Darryl. So for the next two months, experienced jigging-spoon anglers like him will be putting their skills to use.

Bob Haldeman of Acworth with a Lake Hartwell spotted bass. When the water temperature falls into the 40s, the baitfish and the bass will bunch up, and the jigging-spoon bite will turn on.


To begin, he looks for the coolest, clearest water he can find. The thinking here is that the colder the water, the more likely the baitfish are to be bunched up, and the more likely the bass are to be ready to chomp on a jigging spoon. Usually, these colder, more clear sections of water can best be located on the lower end of the lake near the dam, where deep water is predominant.

Any of the large creeks, including Beaver Dam and Gum Log, can turn out to be the honey hole of the day. Knowing this, Darryl prefers to head to the mouth of the creek that he wants to fish, then check his graph for the presence of shad or herring on the screen. If there are none to be seen, he cranks up the big motor and moves on to another creek mouth. But he’s not always so quick to give up on a creek.

Another technique he employs with great success is starting at the back of the creek and working his way out.

“What you do is run to the back of the creek and find the last of the deep water — say 25 feet — then start jigging the spoon as you move back toward the main lake,” said Darryl, who owns the Tugaloo Fishing Hole, a tackle store in Lavonia. “Then I’ll just start zig-zagging back and forth across the creek until I find bait. That’s really the best way to fish for spooning fish.”

On this late fall day, though, Darryl and Bob mainly worked the mouths of several creeks. They said that with the temperatures still relatively mild at the beginning of the month, the fish had not bunched up like they normally do. Further evidence of that was each spot they stopped at there was not the massive balls of shad they’d normally like to see.

“It just hasn’t been cold enough yet,” added Bob.

Their next stop was a set of deep concrete bridge pilings, a good wintertime structure. Here, they fished the pilings with the spoons. But instead of working right up against the cover, they cast the spoons to the pilings and hopped the lures back to the boat. No takers.

With the sun high now, they worked all around the cover, jigging the spoons on the pilings from every angle. When Bob all of a sudden set the hook on something that “felt funny” at the end of the line, it looked as though the morning was about to improve. As luck would have it, though, the object was not piscatorial; rather it was a piece of fishing line. Needless to say, Darryl didn’t let the catch go without notice.

“Bob, looks like you’re catching everything but fish,” he said, before both guys erupted in laughter.

But after 30 minutes of jigging the spoons on the pilings, with only one bite to show for their actions, it was time to go back to fishing in the creeks.


Unlike many anglers who stick strictly to silver or gold spoons, Darryl and Bob switch back and forth between a handful of colors. Mainly they use white, silver or a combination of the two with chartreuse. Darryl said they like to use silver or white with a silver stripe when conditions are sunny. He believes these lures present a better silhouette under such conditions. When the skies are cloudy, they opt for spoons that are white or white with chartreuse stripe.

Spooning hardware: (Left to right) A C.C. Spoon, a Flex-it, a C.C. Spoon with a feathered hook, and a Hopkins Smoothie.

Brand name doesn’t matter to many anglers, but here on Hartwell, Darryl said the Cotton Cordell C.C. Spoon and the Flex-It spoons are the best performers, with the overwhelming majority of anglers here buying these brands. The most popular weights are 1/2- and 3/4-ounce.

“Right now, I’d say 98 percent of what our store is selling is the C.C. Spoon and the Flex-It,” he added.

According to Bob, the C.C. Spoon is so popular with the anglers on Hartwell because, simply put, it catches fish. He said the reason is the bait’s top-heavy design yields an erratic action when it flutters down that works very well for imitating baitfish this time of the year.


Neither angler makes any dramatic alterations to the spoons he fishes. But Darryl said that he would often fish with a red hook or a feathered hook. Under certain conditions, such as when the fish prove especially finicky, both additions can yield more strikes.

Something else many spoon fishermen do is use a black permanent marker to mute some of the flash when the fish appear not to want the shiny spoon. But likely one of the most common alterations entails anglers changing out the hook, going to a slightly larger and much sharper hook than that which comes with the bait.

A few hooks that do particularly well for this are the Excalibur Tx3 trebles, which have a three-sided cutting point, along with the Gamakatsu Round Bend Treble hook and the Mustad Ultra Point Triple Grip.

Since anglers often are not able to get solid hook sets when fishing spoons, a sharp hook aids in penetration, increasing the likelihood that the fish makes it to the boat.


Even for the most uncoordinated fisherman, jigging a spoon is not complicated. All one needs to do is let out enough line that the bait hits the bottom, them reel it up and start jerking violently. Well, not exactly, according to Bob.

He said the best approach is to gauge the mood of the fish first before getting too aggressive with the jerks. He does this by making short hops first; then as he gets strikes he adjusts to either making larger hops or continues the short hopping motion.

“My experience has been that I get more hits with a short hop, hop,” he added while jigging the spoon off a creek-channel ledge where a ball of bait had shown up on the Lowrance.

Much of how the bait is worked is determined by the mood the fish are in. When the shad haven’t bunched up a great deal, the largemouth and spotted bass can seem to have lockjaw. Even if their arches show up on the screen, they often don’t appear all that hungry, preferring to swipe at the lures.

That’s just what happened when Darryl and Bob fished Hartwell in early December. With the shad not bunched up very much yet, it seemed that each time they dropped a spoon down onto a small pod of fish, they just vanished.

Neither angler was surprised at this, however. They both knew that the surface temperatures at Hartwell, which were in the 50s, weren’t yet right for the spooning bite. The jigging-spoon bite is best when the water temperature drops into the 40s. Darryl remarked that in a few weeks, with the temperatures continuing to drop, the fish would be on a jigging-spoon pattern.


When this article is published, the jigging spoon bite on Hartwell should be on fire. Since the first week of December, the bite has gradually strengthened, with anglers catching numerous fish over three pounds each day, said Darryl.

“One guy on Hartwell caught two about six pounds jigging a spoon,” he added.

Just as he expected, the colder temperatures have the shad congregated, and the fish are indeed chowing down. And with the bite slated to stay strong for at least a couple of months, he said it’s fairly easy for anyone to get in on the action.


Even if an angler doesn’t know Hartwell very well, he need only launch at one of the ramps on the lower end of the lake. Then, as the sun comes up, look for balls of bait near the mouths of creeks or along main- lake points and river- and creek-channel ledges. If nothing shows up on the electronics, move to the back of a creek and again look for baitfish. If baitfish is found, zig-zag back and forth across the creek while hopping the spoon just off the bottom or at the depth at which the forage shows up on the depthfinder screen.

If largemouths and/or spots are feeding in the area, it won’t be long before the rod loads up and another chunky fish is heading to the boat.

“During January and February, Hartwell is just dynamite,” said Darryl.

Anglers fishing Hartwell or one of the surrounding lakes should give Tugaloo Fishing Hole a visit. Darryl’s full-service tackle store in Lavonia has everything an angler needs and is specifically designed to fit the needs of tournament fisherman. For more information, call the store at (706) 356-4964.

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