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.
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.
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.
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!
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.