Summer Spooning On Lake Allatoona

Pat Ratanajantra says you can’t beat a jigging spoon for big catches of Allatoona’s summertime white bass, hybrids and stripers.

Brad Bailey | May 1, 2006

Spoons will catch any fish in the lake that eats shad, says Pat. That includes big fish like this striped bass in the 30-lb. range that Pat caught at Allatoona last May.

For about 18 years, Pat Ratanajantra has fished Lake Allatoona. These days, his reputation on the lake is for being an excellent jigging-spoon fisherman for linesides — white bass, hybrids and stripers. And unlike most fishermen, a jigging spoon is Pat’s go-to bait year round.

“Most people associate jigging spoons with wintertime and vertical jigging over deep structure,” said Pat. “They think that’s the only time you can catch fish on a spoon, but that’s a myth. May through October is the peak time for spooning. A lot of days you can catch 100 fish on a spoon.”

I met Pat at the public ramp on Bells Ferry on the Little River arm of Allatoona on April 13 to spend an afternoon spoon fishing. We motored under the Bells Ferry bridge and pulled up to the No-Wake buoy line to start fishing.

“This is an obvious place that nobody fishes,” said Pat. “Usually the wind blows into this area, the bridge funnels fish and bait through here, and there is a good flat with a drop off into the river channel.”

The water depth was about 11 feet, the water temperature about 68 degrees.

Pat makes his own jigging spoons. He started the afternoon fishing with a 3/4-oz. chartreuse spoon, releasing the spool on his Shimano baitcaster and letting the spoon drop to the bottom. Then using his wrist, he raised the rod tip a foot or so to lift the spoon, then let it drop on a slack line.

“The majority of people do this,” he said as he raised the rod tip 3 or 4 feet, lifting his arm as high as his shoulder. “How long can you do this? I just use my wrist, and I can do that all day.”

He pulled the spoon off the bottom maybe three times before the rod tip bent under the weight of a half-pound white bass. It had taken about 30 seconds to catch the first fish. We caught four or five small white bass and one hybrid that weighed about a pound and a half near the No-Wake buoys, before the bite slowed.

Part of the appeal of fishing jigging spoons is that the chunks of lead will catch anything in the lake that eats shad, said Pat. He routinely catches largemouths, spots, hybrids, stripers, white bass, crappie, catfish — even an occasional perch on spoons.

“Nothing beats a spoon in terms of deadliness,” said Pat. “It goes down quickly, and it catches fish quickly. It will catch anything that eats shad. That is what it is to the fish: a shad.”

While Pat spends a good amount of time vertical jigging a spoon just off the bottom directly under his boat, he also fan-casts the spoon around his boat to try to locate fish.

“The fish aren’t always under the boat,” he said. “Conventional jigging with a spoon covers only a small area under the boat. If you do only that, how long will it take you to find fish? This way you are covering a 50- or 60-yard radius of the boat to find fish. Casting increases your odds tremendously. Then once you locate fish, you can concentrate on that area.”

And catch fish. A hundred fish a day is just average, says Pat. On one trip a couple of summers ago, Pat caught 247 fish on a spoon in one day. On an average day the fish can hit so fast that Pat will cut the barbs off his hooks to make releasing the fish easier.

Pat and his partner Allen Brooks, who also enjoys fishing a jigging spoon, are regulars at the Monday night pot tournaments at Allatoona. They fish to win, but that’s certainly not the sole reason for being on the water, says Pat.

“Enjoyment comes first,” he said. “If we find a school of white bass, we will just stop and catch them.”

A joke at the ramp on tournament night, says Pat, is that someone will tell him that they have seen hybrids schooling at so-and-so place.

“They want us to go off and go fishing for hybrids,” he said. “And we will. We like to have fun catching fish.”

The rest of the story, however, is that largemouths and spots often school with the hybrids. If they find fish schooling, they may switch to a drop- shot rig or spot-sticker to target the bass. And a jigging spoon can pay off, too. In 1998, Pat and Allen placed third in the prestigious Champion of Champions tournament at West Point with a 20.42-lb. string of bass anchored with a 7-lb. largemouth that hit a spoon.

Three of the variations of Pat’s homemade jigging spoons. He says color doesn’t matter as long as it is chartreuse or white — colors a fish can see.

Pat expects to catch some big fish on spoons. His best Allatoona striper was in the 30-lb. range. He has also caught a catfish on a spoon that weighed 31 pounds.

The plastic tackle box Pat carries was full of spoons he has made, and they were in two primary colors.

“To my way of thinking color doesn’t matter if the spoon is white or chartreuse,” he says. “It just has to be something the fish can see.”

Being able to feel the spoon through the rod is important. While a 3/4-oz. spoon is usually enough weight, if it is windy, or if he is fishing deeper water, Pat may opt for an ounce or more.

At mid afternoon we motored to the mouth of Little River to the long point on the right as you leave Little River.

“In April, the fish are still scattered,” said Pat. “The hybrids and stripers haven’t made it back from their run up the river, but during the summer they will stack up in here.”

We continued from the mouth of Little River up the Etowah a short run to an area in front of Sweetwater Creek campground, which is a well-known hangout for hybrids and stripers. The river channel cuts almost directly from one side of the lake to the other, and the fish will hold in the deeper water of the channel then move up on the adjacent flats to feet.

“Just before dark during the summer there are usually schooling fish everywhere,” said Pat.

We stopped on a 15-foot flat adjacent to the river channel not far from an osprey nest platform. Pat made a long cast with a 3/4-oz. chartreuse spoon and began to yo-yo it back, raising his rod tip then reeling in the slack as the spoon fell, then: “Whoa, there’s one,” as a fish hit the spoon and took off.

“This one feels pretty good,” he said. “I wonder what it is?”

The fish stayed deep.

“It’s not a spot, or it would come up,” said Pat. “Please don’t come off,” he pleaded, as he patiently played the fish on a light drag. “I only have two hooks on this spoon, and I cut the barbs off.”

Two minutes later, after one more surge straight under the boat, the fish appeared beside the boat: a striped bass that weighed 5.4 pounds.

“If we had been vertical jigging under the boat, we wouldn’t have caught that fish,” said Pat as he torpedoed the fish back into the lake.

“That fish was not on the bottom,” he said. “I usually keep in contact with the bottom, but if you see on the graph that the fish are up chasing bait, you want to bring the spoon back through the middle of the water column.”

Spooning will work all summer from one end of Allatoona to the other, says Pat. Another of his favorite places is the mouth of Kellogg Creek. “The water is a little deeper there, and the fish are a little bigger,” he said.

At Allatoona, the prime spooning depth is usually less than 30 feet, said Pat. If he is looking for fish, he will pull up on a point, hump or ledge and watch his graph for fish. If he is marking bait pods with bigger arches under- neath, he will drop a spoon and bounce it off the bottom a few times to see if the fish will bite.

“Sometimes I don’t even get out of the seat until I see if the fish are going to hit,” he said. “If the fish are there, catching them is easy. The bigger questions in catching fish are where and when. In the summer finding them becomes easier. The schools will be bigger and they will be more predictable.”

Late in the afternoon we were back at the buoy line near the Bells Ferry bridge in Little River. Pat made a long cast — you can cast a jigging spoon nearly out of sight — and began to simply reel the spoon back like a crankbait, until he set the hook on a white bass.

“You can fish a spoon a lot of different ways. In the summer when the fish are schooling on top early and late you can fish it almost like a topwater lure, ripping it right on the surface. You can reel it back like a crankbait, or you can yo-yo it like a fast Texas rig.”

Surprisingly, for the amount of time the treble hooks were in contact with the bottom, we only broke off two spoons. Pat rigs his spoons with Gamakatsu hooks, which he says will bend to pull out of a stump. Accordingly, if he is fishing a lake like West Point with a lot of wood structure, he may opt for 20-lb. test line so he can pull the spoons free. At Allatoona, 12-lb. test is usually sufficient.

For the afternoon, Pat and I caught 35 fish, mostly white bass, but we also caught a hybrid, a striper and a crappie.

“The fish are still a little scattered, and we had to work for them today,” said Pat, “but during the summer you won’t have to work for them. You will catch more hybrids and stripers than white bass, the fish will be bigger, and there will be more of them.”

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