We are all well fed by now, turkeys are almost gone and firewood is getting used up as I write this. It is tempting to just hang around the fire this time of year, but if you can get your boat to the lake the fish will generally reward you with some great action. Smallmouth in particular are really active and there can be whites, spots and walleye joining the party, invited or not. Our fish will school in 30-80 feet of water, sometimes in large bunches, but often 15-20 fish groups. Most bait will be lying low, slowed by the cold so the predator fish have easy pickings. For this reason you have to generally slow presentations to mimic what’s happening and the colder weather makes live bait effective when artificials don’t seem to work. I still like to throw small jigs and flukes but watching a cork slowly disappear off a rocky bank ain’t too bad either.
You haven’t heard too much about the floating fly lately, but it is still a good option now. If the fish are oriented towards the banks we like to throw right at the waterline and walk it down the slope, all the way under the boat. Often you will need to raise the rod and let out line rather than constantly bringing line in as the jig or bait falls. Unless you mark suspended fish they will generally orient towards the bottom.
Remember the smallmouth are under siege here from the spots so, as they prepare to spawn in a month or so, treat them gently and release them. Keep the spots if you want to eat a few, they are better tasting anyway. Also, this is time of the year, when you may be the only boat on the water be sure to tell someone your plan and where you will be fishing, what time you expect to be back and, at a minimum, wear an inflatable belt or flotation devise. The new belts are really nonintrusive and offer a degree of safety should you slip on icy decks and head overboard.
I like to carry a bic lighter so that if I were to go over and was stuck for some reason, I could start a fire – it gets real cold, real fast, especially if you get wet.
Happy New Year, dress warm and enjoy what God has provided, later, Capt. James.
Capt. James McManus is an expert guide on Lake Fontana and similar lakes in WNC and Upstate SC. He can be reached through his website at 153Charters@gmail.com.