February’s a fine time for Fontana smallmouth

Catching smallies at Fontana this month is all about finding the right rocks, which the fish find attractive for numerous reasons.

Rocks are the key to Fontana smallmouth in February

Capt. James McManus of 153 Charters said the February winter drawdown at Fontana Lake exposes as much as 60 vertical feet of bank revealing a variety of rock.

“Our smallies like rock, some days big rocks, some days cliffs, some days pebbled shorelines,” said McManus (153charters@gmail.com).

This drawdown exposure gives fishermen an excellent idea of where and what to fish.

“They should note what type of rock their first fish comes off of because chances are the fish will prefer the same kind of rock the rest of the day,” said McManus.

Other critical factors include cloud cover and wind, which can determine tactics and choice of baits.

“A rippled surface and a cloudy day is a great time to fish jerkbaits. A calm, bright day dictates fishing deep-diving crankbaits, jigs and plastics,” said McManus. “The fish may be in the same areas on cloudy and clear days. But they’ll be a little deeper on calm, bright days.”

In February, McManus searches for smallies halfway toward the dam since that stretch holds more smallies than spotted bass, though both species can be caught throughout the lake.

Convenient launch sites include Lemmons Branch, Almond Boat Park and Fontana Village Marina.

The veteran guide begins looking for smallies from Point 6 to the dam, an area which contains numerous jutting points with the better ones featuring gravel or scattered rock. McManus scans the points with his electronics expecting to find smallies in 40 feet of water or less.

Use light line

If a point looks promising, he’ll toss a jig  near the bank and walk it slowly down the structure until it reaches 40 feet. If live bait fishing, he sets out several rods, lowering the bait on one rod close to the bottom while throwing another bait close to the bank.

And If the smallmouth are deep, he may resort to slow-trolling.

Whether casting or slow-trolling, McManus favors light spinning gear with reels holding 6- to 10-pound line to counter Fontana’s clear waters.

Later in the month with warmer weather, he moves further and further into the creeks, fishing small secondary points.

“A warming trend can heat up the aggression level of smallies,” said McManus. “Places like the mouths of Hazel Creek or Fortney Creek can be covered with fish.”

A period of cold rain turns the fish off.

“It may take a week for the fishing to return to normal,” said McManus. “However, a small snow event is one of my favorite times. Smallies love snow. Don’t know why. They just do.”

During February, McManus said smallmouth cruise the banks seeking out their future nesting areas. The females have fat bellies, ripening roe and a real attitude, which makes this a great month for hooking big smallies.

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