Jigs Up

By Larry Woody/The Lebanon Democrat

Center Hill Lake is brimming with bass of all species – smallmouth, largemouth and spots – but it’s a big, deep lake and to catch them you first have to find them.
Lebanon guide Jim Duckworth knows where and how.
Jim, who started fishing Center Hill many years ago with renown angler Jimmy Holt, knows every nook, cove and rocky crevice in the lake, as well as the habits of the fish that lurk there. This time of year he says if you can find the schools of bait fish that’s where you’ll find the bass.
That was our strategy one day last week when he headed out in quest of spotted bass and smallmouth. The smallmouth are for fun – we always release the bronze-backed battlers – but the spots go into the live-well for a fish supper.
To cook them you have to catch them, and that’s not always easy on Center Hill time of year. We spent almost as much time hunting as we did fishing – hunting for big schools of shad minnows that hang suspended in depths ranging from 35 to 75 feet.
Jim has one big advantage over the average angler. He has all the latest in technological gadgetry, including a state-of the-art depth finder that can virtually count the scales on a fish’s tummy. (A less-technical strategy: look for diving loons, which hover around the bait fish.)
We cruised around mouths of creeks looking for schools of bait fish on the depth finder. When we’d find a school we’d stop and fish it.
Jim’s favorite lure for this type of fishing is a heavy spoon called a Rattle Snakie that’s lowered down through the school of bait fish and jigged vertically by raising the rod tip up and down. The jigging can be varied from short little dips to upwards sweeps of three or four feet. The spoon darts upwards, then flutters back down, mimicking the action of an injured minnow. The predator fish generally hang below the school of bait fish, picking off strays and wounded.
It took us awhile to catch our first fish, a chucky spotted bass, but once we boated the first one we found a bunch of his buddies in the same cove. We caught nine spots and I landed a good smallie that was released to fight again. I also caught a couple of bluegill that were ambitious (or hungry) enough to grab a spoon almost as big as they were, and Jim caught two big drum.
I snapped a photo of Duckworth and his “drum-bass” to send to our fishing pal Bill Dance as a joke.
You never know what you’ll catch when you jig a spoon beneath a school of baitfish. On an earlier trip Jim caught a big catfish and a good walleye, in addition to 30 smallmouth and spots. Every species of game fish feeds on minnows, which is what the fluttering spoon simulates.
There are photos of the fish along with other information about area angling posted on Duckworth’s website, along with contact numbers if someone is interested in a guided trip. There’s no more enjoyable way to spend a mild late-fall or early-winter day than on the water with Jim. He’s always good company — and the fishing’s not bad either.