Those Different Spots Of Carters Lake
Guide Louie Bartenfield says spotted bass are different, but in a very good way. Here's how to catch spots in April.
Spring is finally here! The days are getting longer, and the air is warmer. April is a very popular month for Georgia bass fisherman, and for good reason. For a lot of anglers in middle to north Georgia, April is the easiest month to catch bass consistently. April is a month when bass are in all three stages of the spawn. If they’re prespawn or postspawn, they’re feeding heavily. And if the bass are spawning, that means there’s an abundance of overly aggressive male bass swimming the shorelines protecting fry.
In April, there’s no need for $60,000 boats rigged with $3,000 sonar units on the front and rear. No need for 70 mph runs across the lake, or worrying about someone being on “the spot” before you. How good is the spot fishing on Carters? On March 9, The Outdoor Channel’s Joe Thomas, of Stihl’s Reel in the Outdoors, filmed his fourth TV show in five years with us.
But as predictable as springtime fishing can be, having an understanding of other dynamics that control bass behavior will make you a much better fisherman in April.
I’ve been a full-time-pay-the-mortgage fishing guide since 2009 on Carters Lake in north Georgia. With less than 70 miles of shoreline and 3,200 acres, Carters is a relatively small lake in the scheme of things. Carters is known for big gamefish, most notably its famous Alabama spotted bass, which I target 200-plus days per year in this crystal-clear, very deep mountain water.
Spotted Bass Are Different
The spotted bass itself is a very misunderstood bass. Spots are commonly mistaken as largemouth bass due to their similar “green” coloring. Not only are spots and largemouth different subspecies all together, they act 100 percent differently as well. If you plan on fishing Carters, Allatoona or Lanier in April, understanding the spotted bass will help you catch more fish regardless of what stage they are in.
“Spotted bass are just cool!” Joe Thomas said while we were filming the show at Carters on March 9. “They feature some of the best qualities of smallmouth and largemouth. I’ve fished just about everywhere in North America, and let me tell you Georgia is my absolute favorite state to fish for spotted bass, especially Carters Lake.”
I grew up fishing Carters Lake with my father and have literally been chasing spotted bass since I was old enough to walk. Throughout my years of guiding day-after-day chasing this special fish, I’ve learned the hard way just how “different” spotted bass really are. Spots are built for speed and have tremendous vision—much better eyesight than their bigger and often more lazy cousin, the largemouth. Throughout the summer months, I’ll have spotted bass blitz topwater baits over depths of 40 to 50 feet when they’re suspended 25 to 30 feet below the surface. This kind of extreme sensory power makes spotted bass an apex predator in clear-water environments.
Spots are often referred to as a “finicky” or “finesse” bass, but in reality this is far from the truth. Spotted bass are extremely aggressive. They spend the majority of their lives in schools or large groups of fish where they have to compete for every meal. It’s never a surprise to find spots running with their biggest rival in the lake, stripers. As a fishing guide, my job requires me to fish for other species like stripers, often running live-bait striper trips weekly. Multiple times I’ve had clients reeling in a big striper and get it to the net when a spotted bass comes out of nowhere and “rams” the striper! Running with stripers and competing for food is no characteristic of a “finesse fish.” The extremely good vision of spotted bass coupled with the deep crystal-clear water they typically call home forces anglers to downsize our line, and our gear, at times to catch spots. This is the only finesse feature of the spotted bass game.
Another thing I’ve learned through years of on-the-water trial and error is that spotted bass are extremely stubborn. Spots wrote their own book on bass behavior. They do not often follow the seasonal bass transition routes you read about in Bassmaster Magazine. Spotted bass want to be deep—it’s in their nature. They desire to live deep, even in April. They will stay out in open water with large schools of baitfish even in the spring and fall, when they’re “supposed” to be shallow and on the banks.
Fishing The Baitfish Spawn
At Carters, April is the month when our shad and herring start their spawn. This spawn signals an absolute feast for spotted bass. Herring usually start spawning in late March, and shortly after that threadfin shad start their spawn in early April. Hundreds of thousands of herring and threadfin shad spawn all night long and into the first hour of daybreak. Massive schools of herring and shad push to the banks, points, laydown trees, rip-rap—they’re everywhere if you’re in the right location.
It has long been my belief that the bait spawn is priority No. 1 for spotted bass and is the primary reason the majority of our spots wait as long as possible before they spawn. Thus, the baitfish spawn is my primary focus with clients every morning in April. If you can successfully track the shad spawn from the creeks to the main lake and river, you can have some magical springtime mornings.
Here’s how I attack the bait spawn pattern each morning. I keep my techniques pretty simple during the first couple of hours. I use a fluke-style bait like a Big Bite’s Jerk Minnow in the alewife color rigged on a 1/32-oz. weighted Gamakatsu 1/0 hook, and I cast a Spro McStick 115 hard jerkbait in spooky-shad color. Both of these baits have the long, slender profile of a herring or threadfin shad and can be fished fast to mimic the forage. I use both baits on a St. Croix 6-foot, 10-inch MedXF Legend Tournament Series Casting Rod and 12-lb. Sunline Sniper fluorocarbon.
I target long, flat, rocky banks or points—anywhere you visually see shad close to shore or on top of long flat bars. Most days before I pick up my clients, I’ll idle through an area or two with my Humminbird Side Imaging looking for concentrations of baitfish, particularly on key locations mentioned above. This is a winning pattern you can run all month long on Carters.
Catching Spots After The Morning Shad Spawn
The morning shad spawn is typically over within the first two hours, so let’s talk about what to do after the shad spawn is over each day. We’ve already established bass are in all three phases of the spawn throughout April, so this means bass will be transitioning to and from spawning areas all day long. The most likely places to find spawning bass or male bucks at Carters are flat gravel banks and long skinny pockets. Always keep your eyes open looking for dark or light spots in the water. Make long casts, and work into and out of these areas thoroughly.
Spotted bass will typically spawn a bit deeper than largemouth, usually 8 to 12 feet. They will spawn almost anywhere, too, not just the obvious places I mentioned above. I actually witnessed a fish on bed in between boat lanes at our most trafficked boat ramp last year. The crazy bass was literally feet from where people were launching their boats. I believe this proves the theory that their top priority isn’t always spawning. I believe the majority of times prespawn females move up and do their thing last minute, and up until then it’s all about feeding as much as possible.
Regardless of how they get there and where they spawn, I do not advocate catching fish off bed. But if you fish in April and you’re fishing around the shoreline, you catch more “bedding fish” than you realize. I say put ’em back as fast as you can, and no harm is done.
Here’s the gear I primarily use to target the spawning fish. I believe in keeping it simple in April. Focus on baits that fit the natural feeding environment. I primarily throw three baits when targeting fish in this stage. I cover water with the Big Bite Jerk Minnow in the alewife color. Often I won’t actually catch the fish on this bait; rather they will flash at the Jerk Minnow, or boil it. When this happens, I quickly switch to everyone’s go-to springtime bait, a 3/16-oz. Spotsticker jig head tipped with a Big Bite 6-inch Shaking Squirrel in bold gill/chartreuse color. I also blind cast a drop shot a lot for shoreline fish. Some days the drop shot will boat more fish than anything else. I stick with the Big Bite Shaking Squirrels or Jointed Jerk Minnows on my drop shots with a 1/4-oz. Spotsticker drop-shot weight. I use the St. Croix’s Avid 7-foot medium spinning rod for the jig-head worm and the 6-foot, 9-inch Med LT Avid’s for my drop shots with 5- to 7-lb. Sunline Sniper fluorocarbon.
So we’ve covered the prespawn and spawning fish. How about the postspawn bass? Well, after they spawn, bass waste little time getting back after the baitfish spawn, which most years will last throughout May. The difference being that postspawn bass will typically stay deeper throughout the day. Lots of these bass will start their move out onto the main lake and stage on points and what I call mid-depth bars.
The spawn is very hard on female bass, so they quickly make their way into the temperature change zone, which at Carters is usually the depth zone from 8 to 15 feet. The water temperature there is 6 to 8 degrees cooler than in the upper water column and offers a great place for post-spawners to rest and recover. It’s common to find small schools of these postspawn spots grouped up, and this can make for fast action. I primarily use the Spotsticker Jighead and worm combo and a more bulky tube or football jig depending on where I find the bass. I usually see more postspawn fish in May than in April, but each year is different, so it’s a good idea to keep your eye on this water column, and pay close attention to what shape your fish are in when you catch ’em. If you’re catching fish that are drawn out, thin and bloody, it would be a good idea to check some deeper staging areas like mentioned above. Or, if you’re catching lots of small male bass, the bigger fish are most likely prespawn and are in staging areas.
April is a fantastic month to fish anywhere in Georgia, but remember to come prepared to fish different depth zones and to fish all three phases of the spawn. If you’re fishing a spotted bass fishery, keep in mind the behavior differences between spots and largemouth. Try to use their aggressive nature and their “sight feeding” to your advantage. In the right conditions, their aggression and exceptional vision make them easier to catch. You can get their attention from greater distances. Then take advantage of their aggression by using a fast-moving flashy jerkbait with a pair of treble hooks, and you’ve got one on!
Next time you’re in spot country, rather than breaking out the 6-lb. Sunline and a Spotsticker Jighead, try something that’s moving fast and through the upper water column first. You may be pleasantly surprised!
If you’re interested in learning to catch more spotted bass, or if you or want to bring your family out for a day of catching bass on one of Georgia’s most scenic lakes, give me a call at (706) 218-6609, or visit my website at Carterslakeguideservice.com.
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