Cameraman Eric Thornton had just focused the camera on me and Rick Wright as we stood in the front of Rick’s boat on Lake Chatuge to film an opening for the GON-TV segment on jigging spoons for bass. We both held fishing rods, and our spoons dangled 40 feet beneath the boat as I began:
“We are on Lake Chatuge with Rick Wright to try out the..and, durn, missed a fish just then,” as a bass thumped, but missed my jigging spoon.
“Well, no, there he is,” I said to the camera as the fish hit again and hooked up. Standing next to me, Rick also set the hook as our spoons apparently fluttered into a school of bass.
With the camera rolling, we reeled in two spotted bass.
It can be as good as that this month on January when you find the deep-water schools of spotted bass on Chatuge. Spotted bass on their winter pattern are holding in deep water shadowing schools of shad. If you can find the shad, spooning for them is a quick way to catch spots, hybrids — and an occasional walleye.
Rick Wright, 35, of McCaysville is a certified mechanic at North Georgia Marine in Blue Ridge. He has been fishing Lake Chatuge for more than 20 years. For the past seven years he has run a Saturday night pot tournament on the lake from April until October that draws between 30 and 50 boats each week. Rick usually has his finger on the pulse of fishing at Chatuge and this time he says that jigging the spoon is the ticket to catching fish on Chatuge.
On the Sunday before Christmas, Eric and I met Rick for a day of fishing on Chatuge and for Rick to mark a map with some jigging-spoon holes for January bass fishing.
The first stop we made was the cove that leads back to the Fieldstone Inn — No. 1 on the map. Rick had consistently been finding schools of shad here and good numbers of spotted bass, too. We used the trolling motor to follow roughly a 35- to 40-foot contour looking for shad.
The only spoon Rick used during our trip was a white, 6/10-oz. Flex-it with a strip of reflective tape. His tackle box contained six or eight more spoons all of the same color combination. Occasionally, he will fish a white spoon with green reflective tape, but white is his top choice.
For jigging spoons, Rick uses baitcasting gear with 12-lb. test. The line weight is the best compromise between strength and stretch.
For a half hour, we patrolled the cove, looking for, and occasionally finding clouds of shad. We caught only one small spotted bass before picking up and making a run down the lake.
Spoon fishing has been productive through December, said Rick. On December 5, Rick and a friend caught about 40 fish spooning. On December 12, Rick was back on Chatuge and caught eight spots, up to two pounds, 12 hybrids in the 2 1/2- to 3-lb. range, and 12 slab crappie. He was fishing the same holes that are marked in this article.
For our second stop of the morning we rode past the dam to the right-hand side of a double-point in the mouth of Shooting Creek (spot No. 2).
The recent “magic depth” for spooning has been the 35- to 45-foot range. On this long point, that depth is some 100 yards off the bank, and as the point drops on the west side, you’ll mark a ditch in about 42 feet of water (the depths are at winter drawdown). It was here that we found several big clouds of shad and doubled to begin the GON-TV filming.
After doubling on film, we lost track of the shad and eventually moved to 300 yards up the bank to spot No. 3. Here an old road bed comes off the bank and this is the location where Rick had caught a dozen hybrids in the 2 1/2- to 3-lb. range a week earlier. We located the roadbed several times, but could find no shad. If the shad aren’t present, you are wasting your time, so we soon picked up and moved to spot No. 4, the concrete penstock in front of the dam.
A brisk, cold breeze was blowing onto the dam and we hoped it would be stacking shad near the penstock. The bank slopes off to the 45-foot level before dropping sharply. This is often a good place to find hybrids schooled up. We marked some clouds of shad, but found no fish willing to be spoon fed.
Like most spoon fishermen, Rick drops his spoon all the way to the bottom, then reels up so the spoon just clears the bottom. Then he snaps the rod-tip up about two feet before letting it drop. Occasionally, he will double-pump — pausing in the middle of the upstroke, or he will vary the speed of his jigging to entice a fish to hit. The falling spoon flutters like a dying shad, and if there is a bass around, it will usually hit, and hit in a hurry.
“One thing about a spoon,” said Rick. “If there is a fish there, it will usually hit the first few times you jig.”
From the penstock, we crossed the lake to Chatuge Point No. 1 (No. 5 on the map) for a quick look with the depthfinder. From the left side to the right side of this point the sand and gravel switches to big rocks and the transition area is a good place to fish any time of the year. The bank drops quickly to the 35- to 40-foot range we were targeting, but we located no shad and didn’t bother to drop a spoon.
Our next stop, (No. 6) was the right bank just inside the mouth of Woods Creek. On the exposed bank a stretch of rocks and brush extends down the bank to another fast-dropping bank. We again used the trolling motor and the depthfinder to take a look. At the 36-foot depth a dark area that indicated shad billowed up like thunderclouds from the bottom. “What a wad of shad!” Rick said as he released the spool on his baitcaster and the spoon dropped out of sight.
Usually the game fish will hold directly under the shad, sort of like hanging out near the buffet table, but not always. While he likes to have his depthfinder screen painted with clouds of shad, through mid December Rick had been catching fish close to, but not directly under schools of shad.
“As long as you are seeing shad in the area, the bass should be nearby,” he said.
Sometimes, however, the more you want a fish, the harder they are to come by and we couldn’t coax a bite in Woods Creek.
From Woods Creek, we motored up the lake in Rick’s 21-foot Bullet, finally pulling in on Chatuge Point No. 4 (No. 7 on the map). Here a creek channel branches off the river and curves around a small island into Reed Branch. We stopped to say hello to another cold-weather fisherman jigging a spoon on the left-hand point going in. He reported catching two bass on a spinnerbait early and one on a spoon where he sat. He was marking fish, he told us, but wasn’t having much luck getting them to bite. We blamed it on the east wind and cold front blowing in.
The island drops quickly to the creek channel and as at most places Rick picks, there was a outcropping of good-sized rocks on the exposed bank. We stopped here only briefly, found almost no shad and picked up to run farther up the river, still in search of shad.
Spot No. 8 is a popular fishing location on Chatuge: the Hwy 76 bridge. The bridge serves both as a funnel area and as excellent structure.
“About 95 percent of the time you can catch fish on a spoon here,” said Rick. “For someone who hasn’t fished a spoon much, this is a good place to begin. You might catch a crappie, a white bass or a hybrid here, too.”
We must have hit that 5-percent day, for all we could muster was a couple of misses.
Hog Creek Point, (No. 9) as Rick called it, is within sight of the Hwy 76 bridge. Rick calls this a “dangerous” place to use a jigging spoon. This is where he and a friend recently caught 80 fish spooning. The fish were a collection of spots, hybrids and crappie. As you work across this point (keeping off the bank in the 35- to 40-foot contour) toward the back of the creek the exposed bank will make the transition from bare sand and gravel to big rocks, several blowdowns and a lot of brush. The Hog Creek channel swings in right on the bank in front of the rocks and here we marked some shad and quickly spooned up three small spotted bass and a keeper-sized crappie.
The next stop on our spoonin’ spots tour was farther up the river to a long, flat point that hooks upstream (No. 10). The wind was blowing strong straight down the river channel, however, and we stayed only briefly. On a more calm day, follow this point out and all the way around on the 35-foot contour and watch for shad.
We ended our day where we began, in Long Bullet Creek, hoping the shad we had seen early in the morning were still around. We caught one more small spotted bass, but couldn’t locate many shad. For the day, we caught eight spotted bass and one crappie. Rick was disappointed we didn’t catch more fish, but undaunted about the potential of the places he showed us for spooning over the next six weeks.
“You should be able to catch fish on a spoon until the end of February when the fish will begin to move up. If I fish tomorrow, I’ll go back to exactly the same places,” he said. “They will all hold fish.”
For the newcomer to Lake Chatuge, Rick says to do just what we did: try these spots or similar places on the lake. Turn on both the trolling motor and your depthfinder and cruise the 35- to 40-foot range until you mark shad. Then it’s only a matter of dropping your spoon straight down and catching fish.