Carters Lake has long been known for its trophy spotted bass. Spots of five pounds and more are not uncommon on this deep north Georgia reservoir north of Atlanta off I-575. The habitat in Carters is simply perfect for this feisty fish, and the catches over the years are a great indication of that fact. The rocky banks and the hidden cover on the steep shoreline slopes tend to concentrate the fish and can make for some excellent catches if you know where to look.
I had the opportunity to fish Carters with Daniel Davenport of Cherry Log in the middle of May. Daniel fishes Carters in the summer months a minimum of three times a week in the local pot tournaments and has been chasing bass on Carters for about 15 years. I met Daniel at the Doll Mountain Ramp on a Saturday afternoon about 4 p.m. He had been fishing a tournament that day and had already had some success.
“I caught a couple of good largemouth this morning,” said Daniel. “We’ve been catching a few more of the largemouth than we have in the past.”
It isn’t a surprise that the largemouth would be few and far between, WRD Fisheries estimates that spotted bass make up better than 90 percent of the bass population on this lake.
Motoring out from the ramp at Doll Mountain Park, Daniel explained to me how he finds and catches bass on Carters in the summer months.
“I use a Finesse worm almost all the time in the summer,” said Daniel.
Daniel throws the Finesse worms to blowdowns and stumps along the shoreline to tempt the bass. But not just any shoreline will do.
“I’m not sure why, but I find more fish along clay banks than I do rocky ones in the summer time,” said Daniel.
In this cover-rich territory Daniel spools a spinning reel with 15-lb. Berkeley Big Game line. He finds that the heavier, abrasion-resistant line is a must under these conditions.
During the summer months Daniel spends almost all of his time on the lake in the vicinity of Doll Mountain Ramp. The clay banks in the area are isolated between rocky shoreline patches, and the fish tend to concentrate around the cover along those banks. Daniel will almost always start out with a Finesse worm and cast to the banks in two to 10 feet of water. He positions his boat in about 20 feet of water, generally less than 50 feet from the shoreline in this section of the lake. He then casts right up next to the bank near a stump or blowdown and begins a very slow retrieve back to the boat.
“Most people fish Carters too fast,” he said. “Patience is probably one of the most important factors in catching fish on this lake. Move the bait slowly, and don’t be too quick to move on to the next spot.”
Daniel said that sometimes the fish don’t bite right away, but a third or fourth cast to the same spot can aggravate the fish into taking the bait.
The retrieve is just as important as the placement of the cast, according to Daniel. It is extremely important to stay in contact with the bottom.
“On these steep banks, if you lift the bait too far off the bottom, it will travel a long way down the slope before it finds the bottom again,” said Daniel. “By lifting the bait too far off the bottom, you may pull the worm completely out of the cover before it finds the bottom again.”
Watching Daniel work the worm in a piece of structure reminded me of doodling a worm in a brushpile in 35 feet of water on Lake Lanier. He bounced the rod tip very slightly, making small movements of the reel handle to retrieve the bait. It is a very subtle movement which causes the worm to move very slightly as it bounces around in the treetop or among the stumps.
After about a two-minute ride from the ramp, Daniel pulled into a cove that had the characteristics he was looking for.
“Notice that much of the shoreline here is rocky, but there are a few spots that are narrow, red-clay patches,” said Daniel. “Those are the ones we’ll concentrate on.”
On the third cast to a likely location Daniel got a strike and set the hook on a small spotted bass.
“I found the fish in the pockets today,” said Daniel. “They tend to move around a lot in the summer. Sometimes you’ll find them in the pockets or sometimes out on the main-lake points. It just depends on the conditions that day.”
Daniel believes that the Saturday boat traffic tends to drive the fish off the main-lake points and back into the pockets. No matter whether he is fishing the points or in the pockets, the technique is the same. Look for clay banks and fish the wood structure.
Two casts later Daniel got another strike and set the hook. When he lifted the fish into the boat after a short fight, I was surprised to see a walleye of just under a pound on the line.
“We catch a walleye every now and then up here,” he said. “Most are pretty small, but once in a while you can land one weighing a couple of pounds or more.”
The 2003 Fishing Prospectus published by WRD Fisheries shows that 23,000 walleye fingerlings were released into Carters Lake last year. The deep, clear and generally cold water of the lake bodes well for walleye survival, and the fish seem to be doing quite well. Most of those fingerlings will weigh just under a pound by now, but there are some older fish in the lake that are pushing eight or nine pounds or more.
Daniel was fishing a Zoom Finesse Worm in a green-pumpkin color when both of the fish hit. He almost always uses that color and sometimes will opt for the same color with a little red flake added for flash. The worm is rigged Texas style on a 2/0 hook with a 1/4-oz. bullet weight.
Once Daniel finds fish, he sticks with the area.
“If you catch one fish, hang around because you are likely to catch a few more in the same spot,” Daniel said. “I often catch two or three fish off the same piece of structure, so don’t be too quick to move on.”
If the bass wont take the worm, Daniel is not opposed to offering a rubber-skirted jig in the same locations. He generally keeps his jigs small, about 1/4-oz., and the green pumpkin is again the color of choice. He tops his jigs off with a Zoom twin-tail Fat Albert trailer, also in green pumpkin.
Daniel will fish the jig in the same locations and with the same action as he fishes a Finesse worm. He will typically fish the jig on a baitcasting reel spooled with 20-lb. Berkeley Big Game line rather than the lighter spinning rig he uses for the Finesse worm.
“Sometimes the bass just won’t seem to take a worm, so I move up to the chunkier jig,” said Daniel.
Although he doesn’t pull out the jig often, once in a while it is the answer to pulling a nice spot out of a brushpile. If things are really tough, Daniel will resort to a small crankbait to find fish.
“If I can’t raise a bite on a worm of jig, I start searching for fish with a crankbait,” Daniel said.
His choice of crankbait is the Norman’s Deep Little N, and he prefers the Lavender Shad color combination. Placing the boat relatively close to the bank, Daniel makes long casts parallel to the bank, cranks the bait down to the bottom and begins a slow retrieve. He likes to feel the bait banging into stumps and logs on the bottom and will hesitate in the retrieve when he feels the bait hit something. That’s when strikes will often occur. If he gets a strike on the crankbait, he’ll switch to the worm and work the area thoroughly.
“I just catch more fish on the worm than I do anything else, and if I find fish with the crankbait, I generally can catch at least one more on the worm,” he said.
While he makes long casts with the crankbait allowing him to get the bait down to the bottom, Daniel generally tries to keep his casts short when fishing the jig and worm. He feels that it is extremely important to have a strong hookset with the worm and jig, and on long casts the excess line allows too much stretch. That stretch in monofilament can be the difference in a hooked fish and a missed strike. Daniel said that he prefers to make casts of less than 50 feet with the worm.
The water level tends to vary a lot in Carters, and Daniel feels that has a lot to do with the fish moving around as well. The positive side of the frequent generation is that the current tends to turn the fish on and make them bite.
“When they are pulling water the fish seem to be more aggressive,” said Daniel.
One thing is for sure. You will tend to have better luck on Carters during the summer months either early in the morning or late in the evening. The daytime bright sun and high temperatures tend to slow down fishing activity, but an equally important factor is the pleasure-boat traffic. Carters is a relatively narrow lake, and the boat traffic during the day can really chop up the water and cause a lot of wash from wave action on the shore. This causes the water to become stained and reduces visibility for the fish. The bottom line is that early and late are the best times to fish, particularly on the weekends.
We had an extremely good afternoon when I was out with Daniel. We boated four fish, including the walleye and a nice spot, within the first 30 minutes, and we didn’t travel more than half a mile from the Doll Mountain Ramp. We missed four more strikes in the same period of time. In my book that is some pretty quick action on a summer afternoon.
Carters Lake is about 80 miles north of Atlanta between I-75 and I-575 north of Jasper. Although it is small compared to some of our more well-known and talked about reservoirs, Carters is a fine bass lake.
There are good numbers of keeper-sized bass, some trophy spots and even a possible walleye or two. It would be a great choice for some excellent summertime fishing. Just tie on a Finesse worm, find and fish the red-clay banks, work that worm slowly — and hang on.