Loons and Spoons with Rocks and Docks

Around 15-16 years ago a friend and I were fishing a big striper tournament up at Lake Cherokee in northern Tennessee. It was the end of the year Gold Cup Championship and there were 50 of the best striper teams in the south competing for the Gold Cup. Lake Cherokee had a striper kill just before the tournament and about the only stripers left in the lake were below 5lbs. There were also hybrids in the lake that were not affected by the striper kill so a hybrid was probably a bigger and better choice than a striped bass and hybrids were legal to weigh for the tournament. My partner and I fished all day and had a 2 fish striper limit of 6-7lb which would have put us at about a mid-pack finish and time had run out for us. We had just enough time to get back to the ramp, trailer and run 10 minutes to the park where the weigh-in was held. It was over for us and after 4 days of pre-fishing and countless hours of prep we were going to the weigh-in to watch others win some nice new striper boats and collect those checks after a long season.

As we were hurrying to load gear and get to the ramp a small school of hybrids started blowing up within 20-30 yards of the boat. We both were watching and shaking our heads as we put away the last of the rods. My buddy and I just laughed and said: “just our luck”. The action grew and more hybrids joined the schooling so my buddy and I decided to grab our spoon rods and cast into the schooling hybrids in a last second attempt to upgrade our fish. We both made a cast into the schooling action and immediately hooked up with big hybrids. After a short fight we both got our upgrades in and made it to the weigh-in just in time to weigh 2 big hybrids for 14lbs and received a big fat 4th place check. We actually got to sit in a nice new striper boat on stage in first place for most of the weigh in and it was awesome. Had it not been for those little flex-it spoons and perfect timing, we would have been watching someone else up on that stage.

More recently my friend Matt and I won a UGA tournament on Lanier just a few years back and we had a nice sack of 20lbs including a 5.12 and a 5.1 and all were caught casting a spoon. It’s that time of year for me. It’s not only the spoon bite for me but I’ve got a couple of other options that I’ll utilize from now till the early spring.

This week started out with my usual November pattern which consists of a lot of shaky head and ned rigging on rocks and docks. On Monday I was beating the rocks and docks with the shaky head and running across a few nice fish doing that. I call the fish on the rocks “the Meat Eaters” because they are in search of that large high protein meal instead of out in the depths gorging on a menu of small bluebacks and threadfins. One observation I’ve noticed from the week is that the bulk of the creek is turning over so the bait and fish are in locations to avoid the turnover areas. The biggest key right now is to find the bait. That’s where the fish are going to be. Whether it’s the back of a pocket, shallow or deep, find the bait and find the fish. There are fish that have chosen to beat the turnover by hanging out on the shallow rocks and that was Monday’s target area, shallow rocks and rock bluffs in the creek and out on the main lake and my bait was the shaky head. Here are a couple of nice fish from Monday using the worm on the sunny south facing rocks in the afternoon. These are the meat eaters.

Those bigger fish on the rocks and docks are few and far between but a lot of fun if you have the patience and your satisfied with a few big fish instead of a bunch of 1-2lbers. My suggestion is to use a bigger worm on your shaky head. A magnum trick worm in a darker color like green pumpkin is a good choice to start with but sometimes a smaller work like a finesse worm is what the fish are looking for but use your own imagination and find a worm/jig head you can build some confidence in.

On Tuesday I was running a stretch of rock bluff where a creek channel ran against the bluff. Bait was moving through the area in clouds and balls which is usually a combination of shad and bluebacks. On your graph, a school of bluebacks will look like a long random cloud and the threadfins will look more like a ball of bait, whether it’s a big ball or small ball it’s probably threadfin shad. Not long after seeing the first school of bait I started seeing fish around the bait so I picked up the spoon and it was pandemonium for the next few hours. It was just a matter of dropping the spoon down anywhere around a bait school as they drifted by and a bass was going to eat your spoon. It was that simple and I caught a fish on just about every drop. Most of the fish were cookie cutter 2lbers but every once in a while, a bigger fish would come to the boat. There were a few largemouth mixed in and I could tell that these fish were putting on the feed bag with the bait. Some of the fish I caught would be barfing up shad in and around the boat so I knew the bulk of the bait was shad. I’m not sure how many fish I caught but only one was big enough to need fizzing for the release, all of the others swam away just fine after less than an hour in the livewell. I was able to take some pictures of my afternoon fun.

On Wednesday I was back out in the early afternoon and I was checking other areas, trying to find that same scenario with the bait and the deeper water. A few years back I found a big flat spot on the creek channel, across from a point and for some reason stripers, bass and bait show up there every year. It is void of any structure whatsoever and there is very little reason for the fish to be there but they are. I can pull into the area and see nothing but clean flat mud bottom but as soon as I drop the silver War Eagle spoon down the whole bottom will light up with fish within minutes. That’s the beauty of the chrome War Eagle spoon on sunny days, you just drop it down to the bottom and back up a few times and that flashing from the spoon spinning is like a fish call, they all want to know what is flashing and they start gathering around the spoon. As soon as I pulled up, I saw a long cloud of bait, dropped the spoon down to the 45-foot bottom and lifted it, I felt the little tap as the rod unloaded and I was reeling in my first fish of the fall in my secret winter honey hole. I spent the next hour or so moving around and pulling up fish after fish only this time, since the bottom was flat and void of any structure, I started casting the spoon and letting it fall with long pulls and drops. Basically, I cast the spoon just as far as I can and give it a 5-10 count before giving the spoon a long pull and letting it freefall but keeping the slack out of your line. Usually if there is a fish around they will hit it while freefalling and you need to be able to feel the strike when they hit it. For that reason and others I always keep the slack out of my line while spooning. Here’s some pictures from my Wednesday at the honey hole.

On Thursday it was a maintenance day and I worked in the shop all day making baits for some upcoming stuff.

Yesterday, Friday, I went back to the honey holes and both spots were void of both fish and bait. I think the front that passed through on Thursday had moved the bait and I just couldn’t find fish nor bait in the area so I went back to my old trust shaky head on the rocks and docks with some success including my last fish of the week pictured below off a spud pole. Be sure and check those spud poles folks, they hold heat and fish.

If you’re still reading this report and haven’t bailed by now, good for you and you get a special treat for hanging with me. Here’s another little piece of advice that has definitely helped fill my late fall and early winters with excitement and that’s watching the loon’s work with my spoon in hand. Soon the loons with be migrating to lake Lanier where they will spend their winter months gorging on Lanier’s abundant bait supply. The fish love the presence of the loons because it also helps the fish when it comes to feeding time. The loons work together very well to coral bait into balls and then run through the bait eating as they go. Bait will be scattering and skittering everywhere to avoid the loons and the carnage starts to cause a scene as bass and stripers show up if they are in the area. There are also opportunists in the air in the form of gulls’ dive bombing the surface to scam their fair share. It’s a frenzy from above and below and the fish start making runs at the bait from below and it’s all a blast if you can get close enough to make a cast or two with that little silver War Eagle spoon. The loons are pretty smart and can tell the difference between a spoon and a bai fish but I still try to avoid casting right into where loons are working, instead, casting to the outer fringes and letting the spoon freefall just like a wounded or dying bait. Chances are, if there are fish in the area you’re in for a treat and if they are bigger stripers, you’re in for a real treat. That’s all for this week so keep those spoons handy and watch that graph for bait!

The Handshake

It’s only happened a few times in my life but each time it has happened the memory has lasted my lifetime. I can remember the first time I felt that hand and it was my grandfathers hand. It was a hand that was hard and almost unshakable because of the size of the fingers and the hardened blisters that turn the skin to granite. It was a working mans hands. Hands that aren’t afraid of a hard days work and raising a God fearing Christian family. Hands that are full of love and faith.

I only knew James for a short period of my life but the first time I met Mr. Kelly and shook his hand I felt that old familiar feeling in that hand shake. He probably thought I was weird because it took me so long to let go of his hand as we talked but I was savoring every moment and I felt it all. Man, I felt it all. I felt the hard work, the kindness, the understanding, the knowledge and above all else, the faith. James quoted scripture and told me stories from the bible which related to our conversations just about every Sunday morning before church. James used to ask me every week, “How many fish did you catch this week”? After I would give him a number he would take a long pause and nod. It took me a while but I think James pondered if that number of fish could be turned into the number of men I could bring to Christ every week. I honestly think he was thinking that every week when he asked me that question, and he asked me that same question every week. We talked about many things during our short friendship but just having a conversation and a laugh or two with James was one of the many reasons I love our little church and church family.

Loss is a bitter sweet fact of life and we’re all going to miss James Kelly but Jesus has a special place in Heaven for James Kelly and when I get there I’m sure I’ll hear that beautiful voice once again and James and I will be able to catch up with those fish numbers. James was laid to rest in a little meadow behind our little church this past weekend so we can visit with him often.

Etowah Church

Most folks didn’t know this till now but a few years back Lisa and I were contemplating finding a church. We are both Christians and both brought up going to small churches. In our conversations Lisa suggested we both pray on it and we’ll get our answer. Lisa’s daughter Callie and her friends drove by this beautiful little church nestled on a hill along the banks of the Etowah River and they just loved the church surrounded by horse pastures and meadows along the river. Callie was engaged to be married and thought that the little church in the country would be a great place to be married so Lisa contacted the church and we made plans for a spring wedding at the church. When spring came we had the wedding there and it was beautiful. It was a great cermony and we couldn’t have asked for a better backdrop for a wedding.

After the wedding Lisa and I had discussed going to the little church some Sunday for their Sunday service although it was a pretty long drive for us. We never acted on it until late in the year when I got an invite to do a podcast from my friend Danny who was starting up a fishing podcast called “Fish North Georgia” and he and his friend Josh wanted me to come out one evening for an on air interview. I agreed and he gave me the address to the building where they did there podcast on a Thursday evening. When the evening came I wanted Lisa to drive me because it was raining and dark which makes it hard for me to navigate with bad eyes. Lisa agreed and off we went out to the country for the podcast appointment. Lisa was driving and I was navigating as we went. Lisa said, “remember the church where Callie got married”? I said yes and she replied “Well, I think it’s around that area. As we approached the address the rain was really coming down and when the gps lit up it said “You have reached your destination” just as the lights from my truck lit up the whole church. James Kelly had a big metal building behind the church and Danny and Josh were members of the church and had their podcast in James Kelly’s metal building every week. It took me a bit but the odds of landing back at the little church out in the country so far from home twice in a short period of time when Lisa and I were praying for an answer, well, it’s pretty astronomical in my view so Lisa and I had our answer and we have been attending our little church ever since.

On a final note, today is a very special day for me as it was one year ago today I was baptized in the Etowah River right next to our little church. It’s a sweet memory for me and I’m very happy that James Kelly was there. It was his and Linda’s land that led to that little spot on the river where I was baptized.