Archive | November, 2013

Carter’s Lake – Hot Spot for Cold Weather Fishing

Craig and bass from Carters Lake

As our fall season progresses deeper into cool or even down right cold weather, many of us hang up our warm water gear until the warmth of spring (or shear boredom) ignites our interests to head out onto the waters again. Well I have news for ya’ll, the warm water season never ends, at least south of the Mason – Dixon. If there’s no ice on the lake, there are still fish to be caught without drilling a hole. Making a hole in the ice big enough to fly cast in is just a pain.

Wooded Point at Carters Lake

Certain species and bodies of water just lend themselves to better action at this time of year. One of my favorite cold weather, warm water species is the spotted bass. Here in north Georgia the spots just seem to continue to feed heavily all fall and winter just gorging on shad and turning into footballs. Though many of the fish will be hanging off deep points and timber, thirty to forty feet down, which is still do-able, there are times and places that bring the bait and bass anywhere from twenty feet deep all the way to the surface to feed. One of my favorite lakes for this is Carter’s Lake near Ellijay Georgia.

Carter’s is a 3220 acre Army Corp of Engineers lake on the Coosawatee River in northwest Georgia. Being a Corp lakes means that there is no development (meaning docks) along the 62 miles of shoreline. But the Corp and the state have added an abundance of submerged cover and fish cribs to enhance the fishing. Check the Georgia DNR website for a map of just where they planted all of these. The lake has largemouth, spotted, hybrid, striped and yellow bass, crappie, bluegill, walleyes and catfish in it. But it’s the spotted bass we’re concerned with now. There is one commercial marina and six Corp boat ramps on the lake. There are three campgrounds with sites from completely primitive to those with electricity, laundry and showers. Plus the marina has full housekeeping cabins for rent.

Although being a fairly large and deep body of water, Carter’s has plenty of arms and coves to escape the wind if it chances to blow or you are fishing out of a smaller boat or kayak. But it definitely is boating water with only limited shoreline opportunities.

Depth finder view

If you want to talk about off the deep edge, this is the place. Located in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, Carter’s is about 450 feet deep. This is one of the deepest and steepest lakes in the state and what makes it great for cold weather fishing. I hear the “whats?” already. In cold weather the fish do move slower and less than in the warmer seasons. So traveling long distances from deep water to shallower water to chase bait just isn’t going to happen. The easy route is vertical. No swimming involved, just fill your air bladder and rise in the water column. That’s why steep banks or bluff walls that abound in Carter’s Lake excel in the cold waters.

The absolute best method for fishing this time of year and type of structure is something we all been doing forever, float and fly. Nothing more than an exaggerated indicator/nymph rig. A jig type fly under an indicator is deadly on fish suspended off vertical structure or bait. My favorite patterns to do this with are my M & M’s or Sonic Booms. Both are tied on a 90 degree jig hooks and are balanced to hang horizontally in the water when suspended under an indicator. The smaller size #8 may bring more strikes, often from panfish. It’s the larger #4 or #2 that get the interest of the bigger fish. These are still finesse sized baits perfect for cold water at about 2 1/2′” long each.

M&M

I typically use a fifteen foot leader doing this but lengths of twenty feet are not out of the question. A half to three quarter inch diameter indicator is used to suspend the fly. The fly itself has enough weight to get to those depths relatively quickly. A longer fly rod, say ten foot or more in the six to seven weight range will help in managing fish landings and casting with such lengthy leaders. Though I usually use a cork and tooth pick type indicator, there is a new one called the Plumbobber (www.PinsAndFins.com) that acts like a slip bobber allowing it to slide down the line when trying to land a fish. I see great promise in these when fishing deep. When fishing this technique shallower, a typical tapered leader is just fine but when going for more depth a leader of straight tippet material or one with a much finer taper would be better. Just keep a tight loop when casting or this set up will create quite a mess in a hurry. Over lining by one weight or pre-over weighted lines such as a Clouser, a Rio Grand or a Wulff Ambush line help deliver this rig with the minimum of false casts.

I fished here last week looking to see if the float and fly bite was on yet. With the first real cold front of the year having just pushed through, it did cool the waters some but not yet to the degree that the bass would be stacked on vertical structure. In fact, the spots were still hanging in the backs of creek arms chasing shad. Not a bad thing as I was still able to catch a few on top with a Flypala as they busted on bait. To play chase the bait, you have to move around a lot hoping to be wherever it is that they just happen to pop up next. As with float and fly you find several channel swings or bluff banks and rotate between them looking to catch the bass when they become active. I did manage to find schools of fish suspended twelve feet down in little pockets or “hollers” half way back the creek arms. To my surprise I found them to be channel catfish. Which readily hit flies and they bend a rod pretty well too!

Spotted bass with Flypala

There was a mid-afternoon surprise going on. Along a windswept bluff fish started to make large splashy rises right against the bank. From what I could make out, these were large panfish, bass and carp taking something right off the surface. I threw everything in my box at them without even a passing look from them at it. I figured it was small minnows or young of the year shad. Finally giving up, I moved in right on top of the action to find out what it was they were keying in on to the exclusion of everything else. With Carter’s Lake being so deep and infertile I never suspected there was a midge hatch going on. But here were these fairly large, maybe a size 16 jet black insects being blown against the bluff. Sad story is I was rigged for bear and had not a one insect type pattern on me. Lesson learned!

As the weather cools more, the float and fly fishing on Carter’s Lake should pick up for those of you who still brave the elements and get yourself out there. Use your electronic to find suspended fish and fish very slowly over them. Did I mention you might run into stripers chasing bait too? Some hot fishing in cold waters.

Flypala

The Rise of the Darth Baiter (or I am not your Hairy Fodder)

I am not a black woolly bugger!Da dant da-da dant da-da…don’t you already hear the theme song to Darth Vader just by the title? Maybe I’ve been unknowingly hanging out with members of the Sith to have done something so sinister to move fly fishing closer to the dark side. I’m sure Yoda will not be happy with me. OK, enough dramatics, what in the hay am I talking about?

What else? I’ve got a new fly or at least I call it a fly, the Darth Baiter. Some of you “purists” my have different thoughts about it. But then we all have our own ideas of what is or is not a fly so I will continue on. Ever since moving to the glorious south I have done well catching bass, big bass on flies but even on some of my best days have been humbled by my dark side fishing buddies and their plastic worms. Let me be first in line to say that you just can’t beat those things in their fish catching abilities. So I finally did something about it. I can hear you already, “Oh Craig, what did you go and do now?” No I didn’t go thread a Yum Trick Worm on a wide gap hook and toss it on a fly rod…that truly would be sacrilegious. I just created a PLASTIC fly rod worm fly that looks, acts and feels like something coming straight from the dark side of fishing. But it’s not factory molded, scented, salted or sold in bags of twenty-five. It is hand tied (for the most part) and the majority of the parts are available in fly shops plus with a little help from a larger cousin of the Wee Willie Wiggler (let’s see how up on things you are) I’ve created, probably a monster but the most dang bass catching fly one could ever ask for.

Darth Baiter will lure you to the darkest side of fly fishingMy new creation, which I’m calling Darth Baiter for its proximity to dark side fishing, and its uncanny resemblance to the Overlord, comes with my standard interchangeable weighting system so you can fish this pattern at any depth or speed combination you can think of. Ironically I use more weight when using a floating line to get a jigging action to the fly and no weight at all on a sinking line when scratching the bottom at deeper depths. The stretchy plastic tail is nearly indestructible but is replaceable if it did get damaged. With a double weed guard it is capable of crawling through the thickest of weeds or over logs without hanging up (too much). Tied on a #2/0 or #2 Gamakatsu hook it is streamlined and light, easily casts with a seven weight rod. The smaller version casts well even with a five weight. As with all bass fly fishing, learning to strip strike rather than lifting the rod will get you many times more hook ups.

Choose your Darth Baiter colorFished on a floating line it is more of a jig fly as it sinks to the bottom and any stripping will cause it to hop upwards then dive back down. On a sinking line it crawls across the lake bottom the same way as a standard plastic worm with a slip sinker. Or a Rainy’s Boobie Barbell Eye can be put in place of the weight causing the fly to float and it can be fished on a sinking line much like a Carolina rig or as a top water with a floating line. With any of these methods, always fish it with your rod pointed directly at the fly to keep a straight line connection to aid in strike detection. Strikes can vary from a hard thump to a soft tap-tap or simply the line starts to move off in some direction you didn’t cause it to. Follow any of these with a strong strip strike and the battle will be on.

Just how well does it really work? Let me tell you a fishing story from last season and I’ll try to keep the exaggerating down to a minimum. I got an invite to fish with someone from down state who at the time I only knew from internet fishing sites. He knew of my flies and was relatively new to bass bugging and wanted some pointers. He happens to live on a hunting plantation with several private bass ponds on it so I eagerly jumped at the opportunity. Let me tell you that Southern hospitality still lives for he put me up for the night in their private hunting lodge and invited me to dinner along with his wife, kids and granddad. They had fried up some fresh caught bass fillets (told you I’m no purist) and homemade hushpuppies.

Darth Baiter rules the galaxy...er... the lakeThe next morning we got on the pond only to find the water more than four feet low and most of the shoreline cover sitting high and dry on land. I had planned on trying my Shimmy Fish or my Dixie Wigglers (If you’re a bass bugger you should know these patterns) but quickly it became apparent that this would be an offshore bite. So staying true to my fly fishing background, out came the depth finder, marker buoys and sinking fly lines armed with my Darth Baiter. I spent the first thirty minutes of the day cruising around the lake with the aid of my 3 HP trolling motor scanning with my depth finder to learn the structure layout of the thirty acre pond. After settling on which areas appeared to be most favorable to hold fish, this narrowed down the search. In these areas I proceeded to mark any sunken cover I could find with a buoy then we made milk runs fishing them alternately.

Anchoring a short cast away from these “stumps” we’d cast our sinking lines past them then slowly crawled the fly over them hoping to get a thump. My friend said in the end it was a tough days fishing for this pond due to water conditions but I can only dream of what a good day there must be like. He was disappointed that I only got eight bass between two and five pounds. Personally, I thought it was a great day because he offered me to come back when the fishing was better to make up for it. Want to know the best part? My friend was having a tough time with the sinking line so he went back to his standard casting gear and “real” plastic worms expecting to clean house. He only got two small bass. I feel a disturbance in the force!

I may not be your father but... who's your daddy now

Bluegill Done Right

I guess the best place to start these articles is “in the beginning”. Once upon a time when we all started our fishing careers, it probably was fishing for bluegill. It didn’t matter if our first pole was a cane pole, a spinning rod or a fly rod the target was bream, oops! I mean bluegill. OK, let’s get this out of the way right now. I’m a Yankee living in the south. A damn Yankee at that because I like it here so much that I won’t leave so give me a break if a little southern influence comes out and I switch between bluegill and bream sometimes, all right? Anyway the “B” fish were numerous and easy to catch back then…at least in the spring.

But we all have a fond spot in our hearts for these feisty little fighters. Who among us wouldn’t trade a day away to feel the pulsing of a light rod as a bull bream pulled deep circles against your best effort to get him off the bottom? Then have the thrill of repeating that feeling over and over throughout the day. Of course we all would. But it isn’t spring and even the second spawn in the summer has past, how could we still catch big bluegill?

I’m glad you asked because I know just how to do this. I’ll admit that I’m a bluegill addict. I don’t care what I’m fishing for, if big bream start biting, I’m all in! Sometime early in my addiction I developed a fly and a system that effectively catches bluegill, big ones, all year long. I call it the Wee Willy Wiggler and the Depth Regulating System. Or float and fly fishing for short. Little has changed since I caught my first bream sometime in the last century. A bait under a bobber just kills bream. But how and where you fish it makes a difference.

Gone are the slimy night crawlers, gooey wax worms and even the pieces of hot dogs. These have been replaced with an only slightly more sophisticated type of bait, the Wee Willy Wiggler. These are small, brightly colored (for the most part) worm bodied jig flies. Almost a gummy bear on a hook, I guess. But they have everything to attract a bull bream into biting. First they’re small and bite size as even a big bull has a small mouth.

A selection of Wee Willy Wigglers and different indicators

Second, they sink relatively slowly giving them a good chance to see them, plus they’re colorful and attract attention. How fish perceive these colors and how we do is not necessarily the same, especially in low light or dirty water. Either way bream are a curious beast and lucky for us they don’t have fingers. If they want to test something to see what it is they have to bite it. Then the softness of the plastic body keeps them holding on long enough for us to detect a strike and set the hook. What they could think the flies are ranges from nymphs, blood worms, grass shrimp or plankton to small bait fish or fry. But basically Wee Willy Wigglers draw attention to themselves as something small, edible and helpless, the trifecta in bream baits.

As important as the fly is, the where and how you fish it means even more. Wee Willy Wigglers can be cast and stripped much like a streamer or nymph but I find them much more effective when fished under an indicator, or as I prefer to say, a depth regulator. Aiding in the detection of a strike is a bonus feature for as far as I’m concerned. The corks main purpose is to keep the fly at a specific depth or place for the longest duration possible without hanging up or leaving the strike zone. A cast fly sinks when you stop stripping and will hang up on the bottom unless you continue to strip the fly and then it leaves the strike zone quickly giving the fish only a brief moment to decide to eat it or not. (Which at times can be a trigger for more aggressive fish. That is another story for another day!) Where as a fly suspended under an indicator maintains a controlled depth and will stay in one spot almost indefinitely thus giving the fish a long time to make up his mind to eat it or to just get curious or fed up with the fly and bite it. Remember, bluegills are not an ambush feeder like top line predators, they’re more like grazers. They just slowly wander about seeing what type of food is just floating around for them to eat. So the longer you can keep the fly in front of them, the better chance you have that they will eat it. As the Wee Willie Wiggler hangs horizontal and looking natural under an indicator, any wind and wave action will add just enough life to the fly to make it seem alive without you doing a thing. 

Places to find bigger bluegill starts with deeper water. See I didn’t say deep water but rather the relative term deeper. By deeper I mean deeper than where the little guys are to start. Bluegill typically school by size so if you find a grass flat or weed bed full of small bream in say, in four feet of water you’re close. Small fish and large fish are both looking for the same thing, food and security. Just the bigger you are the more water you need to feel secure. Now start looking for the outer edges of the surface weeds or bottom grass you found the little guys in (you can sometimes visually see weed edges but electronics really help). This usually indicates the end of light penetration or the change in bottom composition. Sometimes deeper is just a depression on that weed flat the little fish are roaming on. The weeds all look the same on the surface but there is a pot hole on the flat that may be just a foot or two deeper. Bigger fish will gravitate towards this. So now you’re getting closer. Add a change in direction in the weed growth. An inside or outside bend in the weeds and you’re really onto something. If you can find this with a log, stump, rock, a dock or other obstruction on it, you’ve hit the jack pot. Put all of this in close proximity to actual deep water and you’re probably sitting on the biggest bluegills in the lake. Remember, the weed edge/bottom transition/cover does not have to be in “deep” water itself, just close to it to be the home of the big boys. They always want to have a quick exit if needed. I guess you could say that the bruisers tend to sit in the back row of the theater. Deep is relative to a lake and or area. In a shallow lake or pond, a two foot drop is huge! Really deep might only be eight feet in some lakes. In truly deep and clear lakes, look for coves with a dirty water creek inflow, heavy cover or fish the windy side of the lake to help draw the fish shallower into more comfortable fly fishing range.

To fish these spots, tie on your Wee Willy Wiggler under a half inch diameter indicator. For me, the starting depth is usually two-thirds the depth of the water (unless I’m trying to suspend over some underwater obstruction that rises off the true bottom. Then set the indicator as near the obstruction without getting hung up). Six feet of water means a four foot leader setting, twelve foot of water means setting the indicator at eight foot and so on. The bigger fish tend to hold lower in the water column. Shellcrackers tend to be right on the bottom so adjust for them. For open water suspended fish, set the indicator for a foot above them. Bream tend to be looking up when not directly on the bottom. I fish this technique down to about fifteen foot. This is a “starting depth” as insect activity or rising plankton later in the day could bring the fish shallower, a cold front or blood worms (midge larva) could put them on the bottom. Play around with depth more than color. Change colors when you’ve been on fish and they suddenly stop hitting or start “nibbling”.

Cast your rig into “the promised land” and wait. Let the fly sink fully under the indicator and just hang there awhile. The Wee Willy Wiggler with suspend horizontally and bob in the current looking alive and vulnerable while you’re doing nothing. Wait maybe ten seconds (sometimes less, sometimes up to a full minute in cold water) before giving the rig a six to twelve inch strip. Repeat this until you believe your fly is out of the strike zone then recast. If you notice that you’re getting most of your strikes before the fly sinks all the way down, you may have your indicator set too deep. If you’re not getting hits, try a little deep before moving to a new spot.

Well, that’s it. I told you its’ simple, bobber fishing minus the messy bait. Yes it’s my fly pattern and I’m partial to it and I sell them but that doesn’t change the fact that they work and well. Also, don’t be surprised with what other species of fish you may end up with while targeting bream with “Wigglers”. Give them a try and I’ll bet you’ll become addicted to this type of fishing too.

Good fishin’!

Wee Willy Wigglers also may attract bass!

Welcome!

Hey ya’ll and welcome to Off the Deep Edge Warm Water Fly Fishing! My name is Craig Riendeau and I’ll be your host for these adventures into fly fishing. Not just any type of fly fishing I may add but specifically warm water fly fishing…all of it. I don’t care if you like bass, bream, crappie, musky, cats or carp or anything else for that matter, you’re welcomed here. If it swims in warm waters we’re going to look for the where and how to catch it and find the flies that do it best. And we’re going to do this mostly in less than exotic locations. We aren’t going to tell you that you need to go to Canada to catch a big musky or that you need to go into the heart of Mexico to have a good day bass fishing. We want to show that warm water fishing, good warm water fly fishing existing in each of our own backyards if we only look around a little and try some techniques you probably haven’t before. We’d also like to show those who are new to the sport that fly fishing doesn’t mean you have to break the bank to catch a decent fish, that it’s not a rich man’s sport. Not that it isn’t fun to or that we won’t ever go somewhere “nice” but show that warm water fly fishing is available to us all in one form or another. So again welcome and follow along with our articles and videos. With the help of a few friends hopefully we all can learn a new wrinkle or two on how to do better in the sport we all so love. Above all else, let’s have some fun trying!