Find the Fish on Fontana

By Capt. James McManus

Every year it’s going to happen, regardless of what’s going on in the world, there comes a time in a guide’s life when the anglers are swarming and the fish aren’t. July kind of epitomizes that combination of events. The phone rings off the hook…”I fished with you last spring and we took a later vacation this year but want to catch those spots like last time, we killed them.” Without a doubt, the springtime bite here is awesome. Fish are on the beds either pre, actual, or post for months and everyone is a hero; you just throw your favorite on the bank and you are hooked up. But then the fish move off, now what do you do?

At Fontana, we start to troll, some people fish at night but I am too old to stay out late, you don’t want to meet me on the road at 2 AM. Most folks, especially south of here, have never trolled for bass and it’s not difficult, just different. There are basically four types of trolling rigs: flat line, leadcore, dipsy divers, and downriggers. Here are the basics top down.

Many of our bass, both spots and smallmouth, cruise open water once they leave the banks. Our lake is 400 feet deep at the dam and at full pool most areas hold between 120 and 220 feet of water. Shad and blue backs cruise open water, filtering food in schools large and small. Early morning finds most close to the surface and that makes locating fish easy with breaking fish visible. I tend to run small minnow imitation lures like shad raps, x-raps and flicker shad. These cover from the surface down to 6 or 8 feet and typically run a couple on spinning gear. To cover more area, I use side planers which carry baits out to the sides. Don’t forget a swivel and bead to keep your planer from going all the way to the bait.

Next step down to leadcore and dipsy diver rigs. There are advantages to both and be aware that both can knit a nest that a squirrel would be proud of. I tend to run leadcore more, while taking some of the fight out, it hits that 15-to-30-foot depth without too much hassle. You can also team these with side planers and eliminate some tangles if you are fishing smaller openings with tighter turns. I run a 10-to-12-foot fluorocarbon leader and the same lures as my surface rigs. You control the depth by letting out line which changes color at 10-yard increments, typically 5 to 7 feet of depth a color. Dipsys to me just take most of the fun out of actual catching, although my buddy Ronnie catches a ton of fish on them. They require stiffer rods and most of our fish are two pounds and under so that’s just me.

My favorite outfits for trolling are downriggers, they are the most precise and let you fight fish with light tackle unencumbered. You will need to monitor your electronics and when fish are marked, simply dial down 5 to 10 feet above them and get ready. As the summer rolls on, fish can move as deep as 100+ feet, we have found that while you can mark them, most won’t feed unless they are in that 35-to-60-foot depth. So, when those bank fish leave, remember, most are way out yonder and there are ways to get to them. Start out simply and with experience, you can add more rigs. Just fished Lake Michigan for salmon and lake trout and we used all of the above for a total of 12 lines at a time. Unless you have a big boat, I don’t recommend that at first, but give me a call if you want to see the basic setups. Thank God for our beautiful lakes and catch you later. Capt, James

Capt. James McManus owns 153 Charters. Give him a call for a great day on the water at (828) 421-8125.