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A Really Crappie Day

March is supposed to come in like a lion and go out like a lamb. But during the last week of the month that lion ambushed me one last time to bite me on my a*# during my latest fishing trip. What was predicted to be a perfect picnic weather early spring day ended up going south (even further south than Georgia where I live) and turned into a day where temps stayed twenty degrees below what I was expecting and offered winds that would dislodge just about every anchor hold I attempted to make.

Casting was also a challenge having to aim a good fifteen feet upwind of your target in hopes of getting anywhere close. Having exchanged my six weight out of my boat the night before for my three at the forecast of good weather, I found myself doing a lot of side arm double haul casting in an attempt to stay below the wind and of reaching my target.

Let me regress a little. Spring was a week old and down here in the south that means everything is biting. I had headed out to High Falls Lake just south of Atlanta, it’s a lake that I had been meaning to try for years. Not knowing what to expect I planned on doing “just a little fishing”. By that I mean I’m rigged for multiple species and whoever wants to bite, I’ll fish for. This particular body of water is noted for larger than average bass and if I had to pick one species they would be my fish of choice. But as fate would have it, as I was launching my boat that morning I kept seeing small rises fifty yards offshore on the lee side of the point the ramp was on. I figure it may be bluegill or maybe even crappie and I’d give them a few minutes before I set out for the bass because hey, whatever they are, they were active.

Being just after sunrise, the wind was only blowing moderately then, still a little disconcerting for this early in the day. As I drifted across the flat where I had seen the rises I blind casted a #8 Sonic Boom fly on a slow sinking line hoping to connect with whatever had been feeding there just ten minutes before but to no avail. It was then I spied several brush piles lining the nearby bank. I thought to myself, “If those were crappie out here, that brush would surely hold more of them.” Moving in close to the brush I dropped anchor a short cast away (and it held, this would be the only time on this trip I could say that). I changed to a floating line with a small ½” strike indicator above the fly to suspend it near the brush piles and whatever lay beneath. Three casts in I had my first fish of the day, a nice foot long crappie. Thinking I was on to something I continued down the brushy bank for forty minutes with only two missed strikes to show for it.

Needing a change I surveyed the bay I was in. I was just off the ramp and hadn’t even turned my outboard on yet. I could see docks lining the opposite bank and more shoreline brush further down the bank the side I was on. But it was the three stumps I saw protruding mid lake that caught my eye. It was still early and maybe the water hadn’t warmed enough yet to bring the crappie to the bank in numbers. I idled out to the stumps and found them surrounded by eight feet of water, nearly the deepest in the bay. It was a perfect holding spot for pre-spawn crappie. By now the wind had picked up some since I started fishing near an hour before. Swinging the boat to the downwind side of the first stump, actually a twenty foot pine lying on its side with only one large branch reaching out of the water, I dropped an anchor within casting distance. By time I stripped out and stretched my fly line the boat was no longer in casting distance as the ten pound anchor failed to find something to hold to against the pressure of the wind. I moved the boat back upwind this time being more even with the tree’s center and off to its side figuring to slowly be blown parallel with it.

Quickly I got out a #8 chartreuse Sonic Boom set four foot under an indicator. Just as fast I was into a beautiful thirteen inch crappie. It pulled hard against my three weight rod and was tough to keep out of the tree branches. With each successive cast two amazing things happened. First I caught another beautiful crappie, some up to fifteen inches and second, the wind would get stronger. By time I put the twentieth crappie in the live well I had repositioned the boat at least six times and it had become almost impossible to hold bottom at this depth, at least in this bay. My casts had become shorter and less frequent with the wind. Whereas I had been making six or eight casts before I was out of position, it now was one and done. It was time to move on.

Seven hours later, with dozens of spots tried some deep on sunken logs or creek channels others shallow near docks or brush but all still in the wind, I had yet to draw another strike. If this were fishing a large flat or expansive weed bed, a sea anchor could have slowed the boat enough to fan cast the area. But here it was fishing “spots”, a log, a dock, a brush pile, you had to get the boat to stop to fish it effectively and that just wasn’t happening.
As the sun neared the tree tops I figured I had one more stop before I’d have to call it a day. That’s when I decided to go back to that brush pile I had caught my very first fish out of. The water temperature had risen four degrees since morning and the wind direction had shifted some giving that little bay a slight respite from the gale. Maybe the fish had moved in. This is when the day got really crappie. Yes I mean crappie, not crappy.

I put two anchors down holding me parallel to the brush pile. It lay in five feet of water with the actual bank twenty feet behind it and lined with water willows. The first five or six casts at the brush pile got nothing. Extending my cast I put the next right against the water willows, not taking the time to reposition the boat to take the brush out of my way. In went a #8 chartreuse Wee Willy Wiggler set two foot under an indicator and back came a fourteen inch slab crappie. Next cast had the same result and so did the next and the next. In the last ninety minutes of day light, thirty more gorgeous slab crappie crossed over my gunnel. None was smaller than twelve inches and the best nudged two pounds. Yes I lost a couple of beauties to that brush pile not moving the boat away from it but it added to the excitement. It turned into the crappiest day of fishing I had in some time. I think earning them made it oh the sweeter.

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