The day on Lake Allatoona was perfectly suited for duck hunting. A storm had dumped two inches of rain across much of the state for the previous day and a half, and the low, slate-gray clouds overhead continued to open intermittently during the trip. The weatherman had predicted temperatures in the 40s, but I must have missed when he said that was going to be the high in Miami, because I didn’t stop shivering for the better part of six hours as gusts of wind turned my soaked hands into numb and clumsy blocks of ice.
During a couple of boat rides it felt like a thousand devilish children were shooting my face with frozen BBs as the spitting rain came down, and upon our return trip to the Galt’s Ferry boat ramp, I got an ice-cream headache just from the arctic freight train of air that was settled right over Bartow, Cherokee and Cobb counties.
Thank God for my rain suit, or I would likely have been discovered post-spawn, still frozen to the bone marrow like a climber on the side of Mt. Everest, the look on my face seeming to shout, “What am I doing out here?” I was learning how to catch bass on Allatoona in January from one of the best bass fishermen on the lake, and a fun fishing partner, too.
“A lot of guys wait all year for days like this,” Jamie Koza said as we worked our way down a stretch of rocky bank casting spinnerbaits.
Like who? Eskimos? I thought as Jamie explained his tactics for catching cold-weather bass on Allatoona.
Jamie knows Lake Allatoona as well as anybody you are likely to encounter, and the winter is one of his favorite times to fish the lake.
In January most anglers are out on the deep-water humps jigging a spoon or fishing a drop-shot rigged worm. Both tactics can produce a lot of bass, but neither is nearly as fun as catching relatively shallow fish on baits thought of as warm-weather producers. During January Jamie can almost always catch a heavy limit of Allatoona bass on spinnerbaits, crankbaits, jerkbaits and jigs.
“Fishing shallow this time of year is fun,” Jamie said. “You can go out there and have a slow day, but you can also catch 18 or 20 fish just as easy.
“It is fishing, though. If it is warm for a few days the fish will really turn on. If it’s cold, they will be slow. Any time the water temperatures drop into the upper 40s, you have to really slow your presentation down.”
I met Jamie at the boat ramp at 6:30 in the morning, and we were casting Rat-L-Traps toward the point at the Atlanta Yacht Club a half hour before daylight. Jamie, who has lived in Marietta his whole life, has been fishing at Lake Allatoona since he was a kid, and has good knowledge of spotted bass and their habits.
“I was studying to be a fisheries biologist, but I decided it wasn’t for me,” Jamie explained. “I knew a guy in Acworth who was a bait-and-tackle wholesaler, and when he wanted to get out of it, I bought him out.”
That was 16 years ago. Jamie has been in the bait-and-tackle business ever since. He and partner Ted Gambrell own The Dugout, the best-known place to get fishing gear around Marietta, and a virtual clearinghouse of fishing knowledge if you want to know how to catch spots on Allatoona, no matter the season.
Jamie took a break from bass fishing for a few years after a scary accident in which he was thrown from a moving boat and his self-inflating life vest failed to work properly. There was a period when Jamie spent his time wading a trout stream with a fly rod in hand. He still enjoys fly fishing, but Jamie couldn’t stay away from the bass.
Jamie explained his philosophy on finding a pattern on Allatoona in January while we fished. Jamie will fish any day he gets the chance, but windy, overcast days — of which there seems no shortage in the winter — are his favorites. Having some current on the water means bass can’t see a bait as well, and they are likely to chase something moving.
“I always start with a spinnerbait,” Jamie said. “Once the sun gets up good, I’ll switch to a crankbait, but if it stays cloudy I’ll throw the blade all day long.”
During the winter, Jamie concentrates his efforts on wind-blown, main-lake points. He says this time of year almost everything bass forage on in Allatoona is concentrated in the mid-lake area, so he won’t burn a lot of gas running too far. Instead, he makes sure his trolling-motor batteries are fully charged, because Jamie says one key to catching spotted bass in January is fishing as much water as you can.
“This isn’t the kind of lake where you can sit in one spot and load the livewell,” Jamie said. “The bass in here move all the time, so you need to cover a lot of water to be successful.”
Shortly after daylight, with the wind picking up and the temperature dropping like a rock, Jamie and I were working around a point at Bartow/Carver when he set the hook on a small spotted bass.
“That fish was in about seven feet of water,” Jamie smiled.
As he released the bass, he pointed out that shad would be pushed up against points on windy days, making hungry bass stack up there as well.
“This time of year the spots are going to hold a little deeper, but they’ll move shallow to feed,” Jamie said. “On a windy day they are likely to be up close to the bank.”
Jamie likes to throw a 1/2-oz. Strike King spinnerbait with tandem willowleaf blades. If the water is stained, he likes some chartreuse in the skirt of the spinnerbait. On the day we fished the water was clear, so Jamie went with his favorite color combo, a glimmer-blue skirt with double white blades. Jamie throws his blades on a G. Loomis SBR 813 rod paired with a Shimano reel and Suffix line. “I like the glimmer blue, but the whites and chartreuses will work too,” Jamie advised.
This time of year, Jamie almost always puts a trailer hook on his spinnerbaits.
“On high-pressure days when the fish are striking short, you can catch them with the trailer hook,” he explained.
When Jamie approaches a point he doesn’t just start chunking a bait into the wind and retrieving it with the current. Instead, he works all the way around the point, fishing with the current, against it and across it until he gets a strike. Any brush or stumps on the point are going to serve as bumpers for the bait, as Jamie bounces a spinnerbait off wood cover, lets it flutter for a second, and starts retrieving again. If Jamie catches a fish he’ll slow down and work the area more thoroughly.
In a few minutes with no more strikes Jamie picked up a rod rigged with a Spro Aruku Shad. The lipless 1/2-oz. crankbait, similar to a Rat-L-Trap, is meant to mimic the look and action of a baitfish. Jamie likes the blue-shiner color, which looks like a tiny bluegill.
“The bass in Allatoona forage on small sunfish probably just as much as crawfish and shad,” Jamie said, explaining why he likes baits that look like bream. Jamie also likes to throw a Shad Rap or a Bomber Flat A. The colors depend largely on water conditions, but Jamie likes to have some chartreuse on his crankbaits. What he is looking for more than anything in January is a bait with a smaller profile and the right action.
“You want crankbaits with a tight wobble this time of year,” Jamie said.
Jamie fishes crankbaits in the same type areas where he throws the spinnerbait, often banging them off stumps and rocks and working them through brushpiles. He likes to parallel the bank with his casts so the crankbait stays in the strike zone longer.
As we worked our way down the lake, I asked Jamie about fishing the long coves.
“This time of year, the bait doesn’t get way back in the long coves, so you can check the mouths of them, but stay pretty much on the main lake,” Jamie said. “If you work from Victoria Landing to Illinois Creek, you can’t go wrong.”
In the short pockets and around the mouths of several coves, Jamie threw a jerkbait. His lure of choice is the Excalibur Twitch Bait, but the Rapala Husky Jerk or the Lucky Craft Pointer in either the 100 or 78 models can work wonders on Allatoona spots in January.
“I love a jerkbait because you can work it slow, and when you stop it, it will suspend right in front of those fish,” Jamie said. “I would probably rather fish a jerkbait than a crankbait.”
As we made a small pass in the mouth of a cove and were working our way out on the upwind side of a point, Jamie made a cast and started working the Twitch Bait back to the boat by alternating between a slow retrieve and a sequence of twitches and pauses. As I tightened the drawstrings around my hood, Jamie hooked into another bass, his third or fourth of the day.
Jamie also worked over plenty of boat slips and brushpiles with a jig. While Jamie prefers to fish faster, he knows a jig can be a killer bait on Allatoona, especially in the wintertime.
“On really clear, still days, a jig in brushpiles is your best bet,” Jamie said.
Jamie throws a 3/8-oz. green pumpkin Booyah jig around main-lake points that have brush on them. He makes a cast just past a brushpile and shakes the jig all the way through it, waiting to sense a strike that can sometimes be very subtle. Around docks and boat slips he downsizes to a 3/16-oz. Booyah Baby Boo Jig. On either bait, Jamie hooks a green pumpkin Paca Chunk.
In the Atlanta Yacht Club cove, Jamie put the tiny jig to work on a spinning rod spooled with light line.
“It’s always handy to have something with 6- or 8-lb. test handy,” Jamie said as he rocketed the jig under a pontoon boat.
He was making sidearm casts, whipping the rod tip as fast as he could, and the jig would go several feet under the boat. After the jig sank, Jamie just moved it along the bottom with short twitches and hops.
As we worked our way around a wave break at a marina I began to question my sanity. The sky back toward Cartersville looked ominous and the refrigerated wind sent shivers down my spine. I love to fish in the rain, but this was getting downright painful. Why did I leave my longhandles packed in a bag at my sister’s house in Woodstock?
Jamie had caught a few keeper-sized spots, but we were looking for something better. He must have sensed I was getting ready to build a bonfire in the bottom of the boat.
“We’ll catch a good fish for a photo and get out of here,” Jamie said.
I missed a couple of fish because I couldn’t sense a strike until it was too late, but as we fished along the backside of a point, a 2-lb. spot hammered my spinnerbait and provided a fun fight before I lifted it from the water. On his next cast, Jamie made a bone-jarring hookset on a bass that tipped the scales at 2-lbs., 12-ozs.
This is a great time to study lake features you don’t get to see when the water level is at full pool. That point you drug a Carolina rig across in August is mostly above water now, and studying might help you for next summer.
Don’t forget to take a tacklebox full of spinnerbaits, crankbaits, jerkbaits and jigs. By following Jamie’s winter pattern you can catch plenty of fun, shallow bass while your buddies are making like ice fishermen, vertically jigging a hunk of metal over some deep hole.
If you want to get the latest information on fishing Allatoona, call the Dugout at (770) 428-7406. The guys there can tell you where and how to catch bass any time.