The Dingy Side Of Chatuge Spots

When Dwight Dilbeck heads for Lake Chatuge in March, he will have a Shad Rap tied on and he will be looking for wind, waves and a good mudline to fish.

Brad Bailey | April 26, 2006

At Chatuge in the spring a Shad Rap is likely the No. 1 bait for covering water and catching aggressive bass.

If Dwight Dilbeck could fish on one lure at Chatuge in March, the lure would be a crankbait — and the crankbait would be a Shad Rap.

In March the spotted bass will move up from deep-water brushpiles to chase shad and blueback herring on the banks, and when they do, the Shad Rap becomes the No. 1 lure on Chatuge.

“The crankbait bite will kick in at Lake Chatuge when the water temperature hits 46 or 47 degrees,” said Dwight. “When it hits 48 you better hang on to your rod.”

Dwight, 37, lives in Ducktown, Tenn., and has been fishing Lake Chatuge for 25 years. Over the years he has witnessed the transformation of the lake from a smallmouth fishery to the current predominance of spotted bass.

Like most Chatuge bass anglers, Dwight hits the rocky points, pockets and banks, but he is looking for a combination of wind, waves and muddy, or at least dingy water.

“I like to have wind,” said Dwight. “The wind makes the fish come up shallow. If it is calm and the lake looks like a mirror, you won’t catch that many fish on a crankbait. The wind seems to make them bite. The wind blows the baitfish onto the bank, and you also get a mudline from the waves hitting on the bank. When the sun hits it, that muddy water will warm up quicker. These mountain lakes stay real clear most of the time. A good time to fish is after a real hard, warm rain that will help muddy up the water. Dingy water is one of the real keys to catching bass on a crankbait at Chatuge.”

For the first couple of weeks of March, Dwight will start a fishing day on Lake Chatuge by throwing a fly on rocky, mid-lake points from the Shoney’s bridge to Woods Grove.

A fly is a small hand-tied bucktail jig that Dwight makes from deer-tail hair and hand-poured jigheads. He throws either 1/8- or 1⁄4-oz. jigs.

Early in the month, Dwight likes to stick with points near the river channel. The Fairgrounds boat ramp point is typical of the kinds of places he likes to fish in March. The rocky point drops quickly into both a creek channel and the river channel.

Dwight casts a fly to the bank, lets it sink to the bottom, and works it back on an erratic, but slow, retrieve with the jig often bumping the bottom.

“If there is a spot there that’s willing to bite, it doesn’t usually take long,” said Dwight.

The flies Dwight ties are dyed in four main color patterns: brown, white, perch and brown. The jig swimming and bumping along the bottom imitates a baitfish or crawfish. The small jig looks like an unimpressive, small bite, but it is a popular and deadly bait for spotted bass — and every other fish — on all the mountain lakes.

If the fish won’t take a fly, the next bait into the lake from Dwight’s boat in March is almost always a Shad Rap. If you are going to fish Chatuge in March, don’t leave home without one. Or in Dwight’s case, don’t leave without at least a couple of hundred.

No kidding.

Dwight has a big plastic case jammed with Shad Raps in a rainbow of colors — and that’s just the No. 5s. Another big case holds his collection of No. 7s. Bass Pro Shops must like to see this guy coming.

“Shad Raps don’t come in a bad color,” he said. “I like natural-shad patterns in clear water. Black-and-silver is the old standby. In muddy water you can’t go wrong with chartreuse, fire-tiger, or the clown pattern.”

He also likes the newer holographic patterns because they reflect light extremely well.

In the clear mountain lake, Dwight usually throw a No. 5 or No. 7 Shad Rap on 8-lb. or sometimes 6-lb. line. If he can find that dingy water, however, 8-lb. is fine.

If you’ve got something against Shad Raps, Dwight allowed that a Norman’s Little N works well, too, if the water has a little depth.

“A 1/4-oz. Little N in blue and chrome is good,” he said. “Red is a good color, too.

“In March the spots are moving up on the banks to get some meals ahead of the spawn,” said Dwight. “The spots here have gotten big. We catch a lot of 3- and 4-lb. spots. It used to be that you had to have a kicker largemouth of four or five pounds to go with four spots to win a tournament. Now spots will win it. The spots have gotten big and healthy because of the blueback herring.”

The Chatuge lake record for spotted bass was broken in October, 2003 by a 6-lb., 13.8-oz. spot caught by James Dean of Canton.

There as some bruiser largemouths in the lake, too, and they aren’t above blasting a Shad Rap.

Dwight’s biggest largemouth from Chatuge weighed 9-lbs., 8-ozs. and was caught on a Super Fluke during a late February bass tournament.
Early in the month, Dwight fishes the crankbait slowly, often with a stop-and-go retrieve. The strikes can be subtle in the cold water, and your rod may just load up like you’ve snagged a branch. All that changes as the water warms.

“By the end of March you better be holding on to your rod, because they will try to take it out of your hands,” he says.

Dwight will vary his retrieve, making the lure plow the bottom, or ripping and stopping it. In March he expects to catch fish in less than 10 feet of water on the wobbling crankbait.

“Sometimes they will hit it just after it makes its dive and starts to run. Other times they will follow it out to the boat,” he said. “Usually they will be right on the outside edge of the dingy water.
“When the fish move up, you should catch 20 or 30 bass in a day,” he said. “It’s not all day, you may hit a lull, but then you’ll hit a bank and catch five or six off one bank.”

He said the bass fishing is usually better in the afternoon.

For the first two weeks of March, Dwight does most of his fishing up the lake above the Shoney’s bridge (Hwy 76) where the water warms a little quicker. By mid month, he says you can catch fish on the crankbait anywhere on the lake — and the dingy-water requirement becomes less important in the warmer water.

“Shooting Creek, Woods Grove, Bell Creek, Hog Creek, they all have good water,” said Dwight.

He usually starts fishing on the main-lake points, then hits secondary points going about three-quarters of the way back in a creek.

“The spots don’t usually go all the way to the back of a hollow,” he said. “The spots will like the last point before the back of the hollow.”

By the middle of March the bass will feed more aggressively, and Dwight is likely to put the fly down in favor of throwing the Shad Rap all day long. Too, he will concentrate more on the secondary points rather than mainlake points as the water warms and the fish follow the bait into the creeks.

During a normal spring, the crankbait bite will be under way at Chatuge by the first of March, and it will improve as the month progresses. When you come to the mountains to catch Chatuge’s fat spotted bass, be sure to have a Shad Rap tied on — and bring a spare or two in your tackle box.

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