Today's lake level: 1,068.95
Your complete online news, information, and recreation guide to Lake Lanier
Sep. 1, 2014
4:59 pm
Humidity: 45
W at 8mph

Fishing Column/Report

  • Lake level: 1070.5 which equates to barely below full pool.
  • Surface Temp: 80 degrees with some warming likely.
  • Clarity: Clear in main lake areas with light color in upper tributaries.

Bass fishing is good. Be prepared for topwater action early and go deep afterward. From daybreak until about an hour or so afterward have a medium size topwater plug or your favorite in line spinner tied on. Look for schooling action over points at creek mouths and over submerged humps. Hint: many of these will have submerged brush piles so check these out when the fish go down or later in the day. If fish are blasting on the surface and you get a surface plug or spinner into the action, be ready to get bit.  During the main part of the day, rely on brush piles on points and humps. Finesse worms rigged on specialty lead heads (a.k.a. shakey head style) will get strikes when presented in or adjacent to cover.  If you need to catch a bunch of bass, harvest spot tail minnows and lower them adjacent to brush piles.  Every minnow equals a strike. You can get a supply of this bass candy over sandy beaches. Chum the spot tails in with bread crumbs and present your tiny number 14 or 16 fly tying hook baited with a tiny dough ball into the feeding frenzy.  Watch closely and jerk fast on the strike to catch spot tails.  

Striper fishing has also been good. Down rods baited with lively herring have been producing most of the action lately. Focus your efforts on points near major creek mouths and main lake points. Get over bottom depths of at least 70 feet and drop baits to the 30 or 35 foot level. Two ounce sinkers rule this time of year. Ensure your leader is several pounds lighter in breaking strength than the main line. When you get snags (will happen) in submerged timber, this will save you time and money in subsequent rigging. There have been no reports at press time of trolling with lead core line. This is a great technique to put a lot of stripers on your line. Conventional lead core trolling calls for big high capacity reels and rods. These days, more user friendly products are available. One can spool up with Micro-core on many conventional freshwater outfits and troll just as effectively without putting money into specialty tackle.

Tackle the basics for success

Over the course of years, I’ve found it common to meet people who would love to pick up the sport of fishing but aren’t sure how to get started when it comes to rods, reels, tackle, and lures. With the wealth of tackle available today, it’s easy to make choices that might not be effective for your angling situations. In this month’s column, I’m going to focus on the basics you’ll need to get the job done for multi-species angling.  While you might fish for bass most of the time, it’s really nice to have the equipment and lures for a bluegill or trout excursion as well.  You really don’t have to spend a fortune to pick up the things you’ll need to have a lot of fun on the water. When getting started, an investment in the right gear will save money in the long run. When it comes to lures, I’m placing emphasis on a handful of “hard to go wrong” choices. If you’re a seasoned angler, you should definitely stock these in your tackle bag as well. A good analogy for rod and reel combinations as well as lures would be a comparison to tools.  Certain tools are made for specialty tasks while others might perform well in a wider range of situations.  Keep in mind that no one rod and reel will do everything. As a kid, I remember learning that you don’t cast a bass spinnerbait (for long) on an ultralight rod with six pound test. Buy the best rod and reel combinations your budget will allow.  Good news is that quality has become readily affordable. One proven method is to select a series of rods and reels you are confident in and buy different sizes within the same family. This way you know what to expect every time you pick one up to make a cast.  Many anglers who make their living fishing the pro circuit take this approach.

Cover the bases with three
If I were to count my stuff, I’m sure that my rod and reel combos would be north of 35. That includes fly fishing if it cuts me any slack. I could probably get by with five rods and have no true need unfulfilled. Truth be known, three outfits should get nearly any freshwater angler in the Southeast started out nicely. One of these should be an ultralight action. This should be a spinning rod. Leave the spincast combos on the tackle store rack. You’re going to use this on trout and panfish outings. Typically, lengths range from four and a half to five and a half feet.  These are very adequate for handling four and six pound test line.  Longer ultralight rods up to seven feet or more are available and provide some pretty interesting options. I actually use a seven foot model on small trout streams with no length issues whatsoever. Pair your ultralight rod with a small reel that easily handles four to six pound test. Avoid the super tiny reels. The small spool cuts casting distance. A decent quality spinning reel comparable in size to the Shimano 1000 series is the way to go. This will solve the distance problem and the weight will balance out the whole package much better. For outfit number two, go with another spinning outfit.  Choose a six and a half foot rod in a medium action. Pair this with a somewhat larger spinning reel comparable in size to the 2500 series by Shimano. You’ll be using this for bass fishing or even bottom fishing for catfish as long as you expect quarry of five pounds or less. This tool that handles eight pound test line is indispensable for fishing lightweight bass lures such as grubs, slip shot rigs, tiny spinnerbaits, and small size crankbaits.  This combination represents the lighter end of bass tackle but it’s spent a lot of time in my casting hand. The third tool in your box should be another six and a half foot rod in a medium heavy action.  A seven footer would not be a bad choice either. This rod can be either spinning or baitcasting. If this one is a spinning outfit, you’ll top out with 12 pound test line. 

When pairing with a reel, select a model about the size of a Shimano 4000 series. At this point you may not believe it but I do not own any Shimano reels or rods. However they have a fine reputation and the sizing is a good yardstick for comparison purposes. If you opt for a for a baitcaster instead of spinning tackle you can easily handle 14, 17, or 20 pound test line which can be handy if you’re fishing in a stained water or heavy cover situation. When it comes to baitcasting reels, size is not a huge issue. Any standard spool model will work well on the rod. The key here is to play with a few in the tackle shop and pick one that feels good in your hand. By this I mean you should ask an associate if you can mount it on a rod and check it out.  Display handles are great but nothing beats holding the real thing in your hand. These days, most anglers opt for the low profile models. Expect to spend about $80 for a good quality baitcast reel (unless you find a hot sale price).

Start with the basics
Whether picking up one of those three outfits to tie on a lure or considering expansion to another combo or two, never forget that the bait you’re fishing predicates the rod and reel choice. For panfish and trout lures which typically weigh in at 1/8th ounce or less, the ultralight gear is the obvious answer. When it comes to bass lures, finesse style plastics, crankbaits, jerkbaits, and smaller topwater plugs will give you best performance on the medium action spinning rod. When it comes to fishing plastic jerkbaits, worms, jigs, large topwater plugs, and spinnerbaits, the medium heavy action outfit will provide the best performance. Today’s array of lures and rigging supplies can cause fishing sensory overload while walking down a long aisle. It’s safe to say you’ll find many favorites on your own along with word of mouth and information sources such as fishing publications and the internet. If you would like a very sound base that will put fish on the end of your line try the following baits. For trout and panfish, small in line spinners are hard to beat.  Pick up a couple of Rooster Tails, Mepps, or Panther Martin Spinners in the 1/16th ounce size. Choose something bright along with something dark and you’ll be in business. Miniature diving plugs such as the Bitsy Pond Minnow by Strike King are killer lures as well. 

Crankbait choices actually cover hundreds of linear feet in your favorite big box retailer but I’m only going to focus on a couple of baits. You should definitely have a couple of Rapala Shad Raps in number five and seven sizes.  You’ll not go wrong with the natural shad color. This lure is legendary in its effectiveness. These will cover the four to six foot depth range and sport a tight swimming motion. For a wider wobble pick up a couple of Bandit 200 series crankbaits. These will run about six or seven feet below the surface.  Also look for a couple of minnow shaped jerkbaits as well. The Lucky Craft jerkbaits and Rattlin’ Rouge are both super choices. Opt for natural baitfish colors. I mentioned in line spinners for trout and panfish. In larger sizes these are deadly on bass. Grab a couple of 3/8th or ? ounce sizes in chrome and white combinations. To round out your wire baits ask for advice on buzz bait and spinnerbait choices in the 3/8th ounce size. Plastic baits are a world unto their own.  To keep things simple start out with a green Zoom Trick Worm. This can be fished with or without weight. For weight let’s forget the separate hook and sinker deal of yesterday and pick up a pack of lead heads designed for “shakey head” fishing. Three sixteenths ounce is a good general choice weight. As far as lures go, you’ll want four inch Tripple Ripple grubs (pumpkin with chartreuse tail) and 1/8th ounce lead heads along with white pearl Zoom Super Flukes and 4/0 offset screwlock hooks for rigging these. If you’re going after striped bass, toss in a couple of white ? ounce bucktail jigs. Lastly, don’t forget to throw in a few small and large topwater plugs in baitfish colors. The Heddon Tiny Torpedo and Super Spook will get the job done when the fish want it on top.
Accessories come in handy
There are many other excellent lure choices out there and believe me I own quite a few of them. I’m sure to have more before all is said and done. But, with this basic tool set you can catch fish north to south from coast to coast. Line is often the most neglected part of an angler’s fishing gear. Many anglers fish line that has aged a year or more. This can be … no, it is a big mistake. While line does hold up under controlled temperature and light conditions, I don’t recommend fishing with anything approaching a year in age. This is especially important if you’re going on a fishing trip to that destination you’ve been planning for a long time. New quality line does not cost much. I personally use Tourney Tough line. I like the way it performs along with the price.  When it comes to color I am convinced that green is the way to go in any daylight situation.  Fluorocarbon is another option to traditional monofilament. It’s clear and close to totally invisible in the water.

However it does sink so it may not be the greatest choice for topwater lures and its somewhat stiff quality can be a hindrance on smaller spinning reels. Super line products bring on a new set of choices altogether. As with lures, there are many great line choices so talk with sales associates who get feedback from lots of customers along with their own experiences. Finally, a few accessories always come in handy. You’re going to need a good storage system for your lures and terminal tackle. While hard tackle boxes are very traditional, do yourself a favor and grab a soft side modular type system. These are very affordable and offer much greater versatility.  You’ll want a couple of accessories as well. The very basics are line clippers for cutting and retying jobs along with needle nose pliers to make easy work of challenging hook extractions. You will find the very best super sharp clippers in the fly fishing section or department.

In closing, you can get by nicely with what I’ve outlined in the “three outfit rule” or go in with more as you’re sure to do as the passion for fishing grows.  Anyhow, these are sound selections to get you started on the right path.  Take care and wear your life jacket while going to and fro!

Tommy Wilkinson is a veteran of the fishing industry and resides in Jefferson, GA. More info:

July 2014 column

Brush piles are key for summer success

It’s no secret that a key to successful summer bass fishing on Lake Lanier is understanding man made brush piles. In our fishery dominated by spotted bass, finding and fishing deep brush is actually a staple technique nearly year round.  This sub species of the black bass family gravitates to deeper water and the presence of good cover can cause large schools to congregate in a relatively small area. Find the right brush pile and the result can be a fishing bonanza that has to be experienced in order to be believed. Brush means different things to different people. One angler I knew spoke frequently about fishing brush piles. It turns out he was talking about blow downs on steep banks. When I showed him what I meant by deep brush piles it changed his fishing habits in a big way. These come in all sizes and shapes. I’ve fished brush piles where good catches were the norm on most outings.  I’ve also fished those that look really good but give up a fish or two without much reliability.

Two themes most hot brush piles have in common are seasonally appropriate water depth and structure adjacency. While good water depth can vary, 25 to 40 feet is a pretty solid range to focus on. During transition periods shallower cover at about 15 feet or so will hold fish but most migrate to deeper water when summer weather establishes a thermocline in the water column.  Typically, the areas where bottom changes are sharper and more pronounced are attractive to gamefish.  This gives easy access from shallow to deep water. If a point or submerged hump has a steeper side, this is area to focus your initial effort on.  Points extending out into the lake will often be used as migration routes. If you’re interested in establishing man made brush piles be sure to contact the Corps of Engineers for rules and regulations. It could be an understatement to say that there are probably hundreds of brush piles in Lanier. If a point looks good the odds are excellent that somewhere on it there’s a brush pile. While these can be good, the very best ones are usually more obscure.  

Conduct map recon for efficiency
Finding the fish magnets on most pieces of structure is fairly easy. The obscure places require a little more research. You’ll need a lake map, a fine point pen that works on the map, a couple of marker buoys, and a depth finder.  High end depth finders are truly remarkable tools but if you’re using simpler technology don’t sweat it. They all detect brush piles; the most important thing is in knowing how to interpret the data your unit is showing. If you have a choice of map brands, always choose the one with the smallest contour interval. This will give you greater detail. A good map reconnaissance will allow you to plan a more efficient search. Atlantic Mapping Incorporated produces a quality product available in this area. When searching for new brush piles, it’s more efficient to idle with the outboard motor so plan on scouting out half a dozen before you return to the first one with fish catching in mind. If you only have one depth finder, mount it on the bow with the transducer attached to the lower unit of the electric motor. You’ll find just as many brush piles but it won’t be quite as fast. Search underwater real estate using a zig-zag pattern.  Drop a marker buoy when the brush pile begins to scroll across the screen. I prefer the “H” shaped buoys to those with round spindles because the wide center allows for a faster wind up of line.

After you mark the spot, shut the outboard down and take a survey using your electric motor. Now you’re looking for details of size and nearby depth changes. If your unit is GPS capable, this is a good time to save the location. If you’re not GPS equipped don’t worry. An old school method called triangulation has been around a long time and it will allow you to quickly get back on a spot even quite a distance off shore.  It relies on two reference points roughly 90 degrees apart and a known depth. Pick two distinct shoreline features; these can be homes, trees, docks, or anything easy to remember along with the depth of the brush pile. By aligning your points and keeping an eye on your sonar, you can quickly return to your hot spot. Notes on your map are helpful for this. I recommend making depth notations as if the lake is at full pool and adjusting when you fish taking the actual lake level into account. A difference of five feet in depth can throw you off target by a significant distance in some places.  

Show them a swim bait
OK, you’ve located half a dozen really good looking brush piles.  Now it’s time to see if anyone is home. Several different approaches will get the job done. This time of year I recommend you resist the urge to start fishing near the brush itself right away. A large lure presented on or near the surface can cause some of the biggest bass present to charge up from the depths for what appears to be an injured baitfish. Stop shy of your target where a long cast will over reach the submerged brush pile by 10 or 15 yards. Have a rod rigged up with your favorite swim bait or topwater plug. Retrieve these over and near the hot zone. Don’t spend a lot of time working these over any one brush pile but do make several casts over each spot prior to approaching. Some guys win tournaments doing this. When you actually fish the brush a vertical presentation is a sound choice. If you’re not glued to a screen with GPS location, drop your marker buoy several yards to the side. 

Straight tail finesse type plastic baits are most commonly used to tempt spotted bass in the brush.  Local favorites are the Finesse Worm by Zoom and the Houdini Worm by Yum. Robo Worms are also sold locally and have a cult like following. Your favorite shade of green will probably work just fine. Pick a color you have confidence in and fish it hard. Rig this “shakey head” style which means “weedless on a specialty lead head.” A lead head weight of 3/16th ounce is a good choice.  Ensure the body is straight with no kinks. Drop the bait all the way to the bottom in and around the brush.  Keeping the slack barely out of the line, impart a subtle shaking motion with the rod tip.  Remember to punctuate the action with pauses and that often less motion is better than more.  Sometimes fish hold just over the top of a brush pile; good sonar units will identify this. When you spot them, reel the worm up and try a presentation at the same level.  I’ve seen this work well when bumping the bottom fails to pay off.  

Get lively with live bait
If just catching a whole bunch of fish sounds like fun that has to be had, break out the live bait.  When using these techniques, remember that catch and release is important to maintain the quality of our fisheries. Dropping a live shad or spot tail shiner down beside a brush pile is sure to draw an immediate strike from any predator fish in the area. You’ll catch bass, small linesides, catfish, and more. While you can buy shad or smaller herring at some bait shops, the quantity you’ll need makes it cost prohibitive. Gathering the bait in numbers is a do it yourself project. Spot tail shiners are the most convenient because they are hardy enough not to require a bait tank for survival.  A live well or larger aerated bait bucket will accommodate a number of spot tails nicely. Look for these baitfish in the shallows near sandy shorelines. Simply beach the boat and toss a handful of bread or cracker crumbs in the water. They typically make their presence known immediately as a school swarms the crumbs. To catch them use very small hooks baited with tiny dough balls. I’ve had the best success with size number 14 hooks used for tying trout flies. Fresh bread will help your catch rate because it holds together better.  Simply drop your dough ball into the swarming school and keep a sharp eye on it. You’ll quickly notice these little guys are lightning fast. When a spot tail grabs the bait, just yank it out of the water. Try to get at least twenty shiners per angler for starters.  You’ll be really surprised how fast you go through these; nearly every one equals a strike.

If you opt for shad, one advantage is that multitudes can be caught with a cast net.  You will need a large capacity bait tank to keep them in good shape however. To find schools of shad, scout the shallows in the very upper reaches of creeks and look for telltale dimples on the surface.  When rigging live baitfish slide a half ounce sinker up the line before tying in a barrel swivel. Attach a two foot leader to the terminal end.  Use a leader that tests at least a couple of pounds less in breaking strength than your main line.  When break offs occur this will save you time and money. To the leader end, tie on a circle style hook in the appropriate size for the bait you’re using. Hook baitfish gently through the nostril cartilage and suspend them two or three feet from the bottom off to the sides of brush piles. When you feel a fish attacking the bait, simply start reeling and the circle hook will usually catch in the corner of the mouth.  

Live bait fishing can be a great way to get the whole family hooked on the sport. It’s worth mentioning that people would be surprised at how many brush piles are located off points in parks all around the lake. If you’re fishing from the bank try casting in these areas. Many brush piles are within reach. Instead of fishing vertically, you’ll be casting a swim bait over the cover or crawling a plastic bait through the cover. Once you identify these, you can even fish live baits over them using a slip bobber rig.  

In closing, it’s no secret that fishing deep brush piles can put a lot of fish on your line especially during the hottest months. They can be real gold mines for bass. I hope you’ll go out there and strike it rich!

June 2014 column

Make family fishing a summer tradition

Although it’s not officially here, we’re unofficially into the summer season. Teachers and kids are glad while many parents enjoy the mixed blessing of summer vacation. One of the biggest challenges in fighting this warm weather version of cabin fever is simply finding something fun to do. After all, you can only go to the park, mall, or pool so many times before entertainment begins to wear thin.   High end venues are fun and readily available but unfortunately these are not friendly to the family budget. This does not even account for the expense of gasoline that can easily be north of $3.50 per gallon.  Have you been to the movie theater lately? Costs a little bit … to say the least. For a change of pace this year, try getting the family into fishing. No two trips are ever the same, and you don’t have to be an expert to have a great outing. A novice armed with a little good advice is well on the way to success. What’s more, this activity is easy on the wallet. If you need to make a small investment in equipment to get started, this is a single expense and subsequent outings can be as dirt cheap as you want to make them while still being loaded with fun. Adventure can be as close as your nearest county or subdivision lake. Visiting a larger reservoir can be productive as well with the added benefit of picnic and camping facilities. By the way, you don’t have to be a dad to pull this off. Fishing is easy and it’s a great way for single moms to get the kids involved in a very healthy lifestyle. There’s something to be said for temporarily ditching the smart phone and television for a return to simpler times. It’s been cited that families who participate in outdoor activities such as fishing and camping tend to exhibit a greater sense of togetherness through the years. And, I can attest, those years pass fast. If you’re a very experienced angler, take note.  Trying to add a level of sophistication to younger kids fishing will typically work against the goals you are trying to achieve.
Local parks are hot spots
I’m sure to repeat this, but the most important thing is keeping it fun. Sometimes adults, who tend to focus on organization and task execution, can potentially lose sight of this. When the experience is exciting and enjoyable, kids will beg you to take them fishing. While catching a lot of fish is always nice, it’s not going to happen every time. Later, I’ll pass on some tips that make the “catching” a bonus to the main event. Youngsters enjoy action. There’s no question about it. Having said this, it’s wise to start with bream instead of bass.  If you’re going for trout in the mountains, forget about teaching the kids to fly fish for wild specimens. That can come eventually with time. Go for stockers with worms or salmon eggs instead. For our widespread and ever present bream, concentrate on the shallows. If you own a boat, consider leaving it at home. Everything will be simpler. Find a good and comfortable place to fish from the shore. The pond at your local county park probably harbors a huge number of bluegill ready to strike a worm baited hook. If you’re an experienced angler, when you take the kids, leave your gear at home.  Fishing is so fun that it’s too easy to become focused on your bite instead of the target audience. If you’ve chosen the right place, you won’t have time to make a cast of your own anyway. You’ll be too busy coaching. Be aware that bream can be chummed into brief feeding frenzies. A handful of finely shredded bread tossed into the water will usually do the trick. Needless to say, do this around your baited hooks or where you plan to suggest an immediate cast.  If you enjoy company, consider taking the children to a kid’s fishing event (sometimes abbreviated as KFE). These are very well organized with experienced volunteers who are great about giving advice on how to get started. These are free and often have some have food along with classes as well.  All you have to do is show up. For a schedule of these visit the Georgia Department of Natural Resources website: Here you can also find heavily stocked trout streams that are designated for kids where able bodied adults supervise the activity while enjoying the memories.  

Don’t forget the bread
If you own a fishing boat, whether a modest aluminum craft or a high end fiberglass bass rig, you may not be able to resist using that as part of creating a fun experience, even though it’s not necessary. As previously stated, I do recommend that you leave your arsenal of lures and rods at home. This will reduce the temptation of casting for bass while the kids are hoping for a bluegill bite. Again, you are looking for action. Find a likely looking cove that’s sheltered and tie up to something within a few feet of the shore. That’s right; don’t put the electric motor in the water. When getting the family involved, bragging size fish don’t matter unless someone lucks into one. It’s all about having something happening to keep the focus of those with short attention spans. On that note, don’t get too hung up on just fishing. If kids want to try something else such as walking the shoreline or skipping rocks, let things take their course. Always remember that as an experienced angler, you have developed patience and appreciation of a skilled search. Youngsters, including many tweens and teens, are not at that stage. But, if you choose a good spot and the fish are biting, the extracurricular activities will probably be ignored in favor of the real excitement experienced when a bobber disappears beneath the surface. If you own a fishing rig of any sort, you probably have a good idea of what to do. What if you’re a dad or mom starting with none of this in-depth fishing knowledge? I have good news. It’s super easy.  Stick to the bare bones basics and you’ll have success from now through the fall. You’ll need to do a little reconnaissance and this can be done in conjunction with fishing. Find a local pond in a public area or visit your favorite park on the lake.  Take along a bit of bread, mentioned earlier, that you can tear into shreds when needed. A “bit” normally equates to one third of a loaf just to be on the safe side. Toss in a small handful when you spot an area that looks right. If the fish are there, you’re going to know in short order as they race to the feeding frenzy. Areas with granite rip rap to prevent erosion or downed trees are prime targets.   

Restrooms are a plus
If you’re starting out with kids who have not been exposed to fishing before or just starting out yourself, spincasting tackle is the way to go. These inexpensive rod and reel combos are very simple to use.  Just hold the button on the reel down, arc the rod gently with a release, and away the bait flies.  Zebco 202 and 404 models have stood the test of time for decades and Shakespeare offers great models as well. OK, what do you put on the end of the line to catch those hordes of fish? In still water, I suggest a weighted bobber to give more casting distance. This is actually not necessary, but kids love to chunk and wind; this makes it easier to have that fun. Below this, tie on a small number eight Aberdeen style hook. The size is very important. A number six, which is larger, will yield fewer hooked ups and a number four (larger yet) will guarantee many strikes but few landed fish. Pinch on a BB sized lead split shot about six inches above the hook and you’re almost ready.  Bait up with a small worm, such as a red wiggler, and you’re in the game. If you can only find larger worms, such as nightcrawlers, pinch them in half or even thirds.  Yes, I am mentioning bread chumming again (three times so far). I try not to write like that but you can probably guess why. It works.  Even if you don’t see a mini feeding feeding frenzy, it certainly does not hurt your chances. Typically it pays to keep baited hooks in the shallows with one or two feet between bobber and hook. Be sure to watch that bobber; when it bobs or travels sideways and then goes under, you know what to do. Some thought can make the outing even more enjoyable.

Consider a shore line picnic, and choosing an area with clean public restrooms.  Remember to bring plenty of hydrating drinks, sun screen, and collapsible chairs for mom and dad. If action is slow, don’t push things. Have a backup plan for another activity close by. It could be as simple as an ad hoc nature hike in your lakeside park or the excitement of everyone pitching in to set up a camp site. I guess that keeping things pretty laid back and fun sums it up.

In closing, if you’re looking for some real family togetherness, take them fishing. No matter what the age, gender, background, or preconceived notions, this is an easy sport that provides fun for all.  

Until next month, be safe and enjoy the lake.

May 2014 column

May is tops for topwater angling

Take a poll among avid anglers and you’ll find that favorite seasons to fish are varied and opinions run strong. Some prefer the immediate pre-spawn period in April while others prefer locating concentrations of fish during the summer and winter months. But, one thing that most anglers will agree on is that the late spring topwater bite is the best time of year to be on the water. Both spotted bass and striped bass are feeding heavily at this time. Aggressive wolf packs of these predators often chase schools of baitfish right up to the surface making for some very exciting opportunities. Few things in nature rival the adrenaline rush of watching a calm surface erupt with the slashes and boils of feeding fish as you’re trying to get your plug into the action. This activity can get pretty dramatic and it’s common to spot surface disruption from long distances when the water is calm.  Look for this bite to begin in early May and go strong through the month. Striper action will typically taper off by early June while spotted bass with continue this activity through the summer months.  Although action can occur at any time, early morning and evening periods tend to be the most productive. As always during the spring, weather factors can have a big influence on the fishing. While it’s a great time to exploit topwater action, a strong frontal system can put the bite down for a day or two.  It’s important to have a back-up plan in case surface action does not materialize. While searching for a surface bite, focus your efforts from the middle sections of creeks out to main lake areas near the creek mouths. Although predators are keying on roaming schools of baitfish, remember that “points point out the fish.” Activity will very often erupt in the vicinity of a prominent point or submerged hump which is typically the underwater extension of a long point.

Tie on a Super Spook
 If you’re parked off the best looking point in your favorite creek and looking for surface activity, blind casting is always a good idea.  Just remember that you should be covering open water with some significant depth and not targeting the shoreline. I’m probably tiresome in repeatedly saying that blind casting a plug can put a lot of extra fish on the end of your line. But, it’s true. What type of topwater plug should you choose? It’s no secret that fishermen are a highly opinioned bunch. While “swear by” lure choices will vary widely, there are a handful of tried and true favorites that you’ll not go wrong with. It’s now been 15 years or so since the Sammy by Lucky Craft hit our local topwater scene. And, it’s still going strong. It’s a pricey choice at $15 or so but the results are hard to argue with. The trademark American shad is a great color if you’re shelling out the bucks for one of these. If you’re looking for a more modest investment, you’ll not go wrong with the old fashioned Zara Spook. This plug has been around for quite a few decades with good reason and still evokes lots of strikes from surface feeders. The classic color for this classic lure is blue shore minnow. It’s a north Georgia favorite.  

While the original Zara Spook is very good, I eventually became a big fan of its younger but bigger brother, the Super Spook. As the name implies, this is a beefed up version and weighs in at nearly an ounce. Long casts can be important when pursuing schoolers and this lure can be fired to impressive distances with the right tackle. It also sports rotating treble hooks that really make a difference in improving the strike to fish on ratio.  Bleeding Shad is the only color I need for the Super Spook.

Another plug to consider is the Redfin by Cotton Cordell. Once again, we’re talking old school.  Technically, this lure is a jerkbait and will run subsurface on a medium to fast retrieve. Savvy anglers use a different approach. They use a slower retrieve and keep it on the surface producing what is known as a “V-wake.” This has a great effect on stripers and will elicit strikes from real bruisers of the spotted bass world. Die hard Redfin fans pick the chrome and blue color and swear that it’s even better when the finish is chipping off exposing the bone colored plastic beneath. There is also a sub-cult following of the Smokey Joe color.

Invest in a Lip Gripper
Lures such as the Sammy, Zara Spook, and Super Spook mentioned in the previous paragraph are often called stick baits because of their basic shape. There’s only one way to present this style of topwater plug. The proper retrieve is referred to as “walking the dog.” Reeling combined with short twitches of the rod tip will cause a stickbait to zig-zag or dart from side to side resembling a fleeing baitfish. It only takes a little practice to master this and some plugs are engineered to walk with a minimum of effort imparted by the angler. When it comes to topwater tackle in May and early June, opt for medium heavy gear. Both casting and spinning set ups are appropriate. Six and a half to seven foot rods will get the job done. Pair these with reels that will handle at least 80 to 100 yards of 12-pound test line as a minimum. If you pick up your favorite shallow spool model that’s in vogue with bass fishermen, you’re playing with fire because stripers are out there waiting to rip every foot of line off your reel. When it comes to line, avoid fluorocarbon products.  While they do a superior job in many applications, they are heavy and will suppress the action of topwater plugs. This is especially true when there is a good bit of distance between you and the lure. Spool up with your favorite traditional monofilament product and you’ll be in good shape. On the subject of tackle, it pays to have two rods rigged and ready on deck.  Backlashes and tangles do happen.  This is good insurance for those times when you’re on top of a school of predators kicking up water as they churn the surface.  Simply drop one rod and pick up another. If you’re downed bait is floating motionless in the attack zone you may want to put one foot on the rod butt or put it in a holder ... just in case. I’ve actually had fish become hooked up when striking a free floating lure attached to a tangled rod on a couple of occasions. It can turn things into a circus, especially if you’re fighting another fish as well.

On another note, it pays to be very cautious when landing fish hooked with large topwater plugs –  or anything with treble hooks for that matter. I highly recommend investing in a good lip gripper type device. These have become very affordable for the average angler and are much cheaper than a trip to the emergency room.  

Feed them a Gummy Minnow
If you’re out for striper action, live bait fishing will often pay off while searching for the topwater bite. When searching an area and making blind casts with your favorite plug, bait up and trail a couple of flat lines about 100 feet behind the boat. Tie a small balloon inflated to golf ball size about 10 feet above one bait and weight the other line with a medium size split shot about six feet up the line for a slightly deeper presentation.  Frisky blue back herring are a fine choice when it comes to live bait.  If one rod hooks up on two consecutive fish, switch the other one to the same style of presentation. If fish are erupting on the surface all around, the live bait flat lines can quickly become more trouble than they are worth. This is especially true if you’re doing a lot of maneuvering with the electric motor.  

This time of year, it really pays off to stay mobile. If conditions are favorable and you’re not seeing signs of life in seven minutes or so, move on to the next spot. For greater efficiency, have a route planned in advance. Although topwater action is the name of the game, choppy water can inhibit the surface bite. However, in these conditions, a good jerkbait can produce well when cast toward the points. As late spring turns into summer, striper action fades but good news is that the spotted bass continue to chase bait at the surface. Windows of opportunity during the summer months are typically early and late in the day for schooling action. Smaller surface plugs tend to become more effective as the season progresses.  Poppers such as the Pop-R by Rebel are good choices along with smaller versions of the earlier mentioned lures. Sometimes bass will key on small baitfish and ignore even these smaller topwater plugs.  One classic trick is to use a saltwater popping cork with a trailing leader. On the end of this leader, tie on a very small shad imitator.  Streamer flies work well in this application along with the  highly realistic Gummy Minnow. You’ll find these stocked in the fly fishing shop.  

In closing, there’s plenty of room for opinion about the best time of the year to go fishing but most will agree that May is hard to beat. If you’re up for the excitement and adrenaline of some serious surface action, this could become your favorite too. Until next month, take care and enjoy the lake!

April 2014 column

Don't bypass the boat docks

While growing up six miles from Lake Blackshear, I spent lots of time at my Uncle Jack’s lakefront place. I kept my jon boat in one of his slips. Entering the enclosed dock was always exciting because a stealthy approach would routinely reveal schools of bream moving around and several bass suspended in or near the shaded areas. When it comes to dependable bass holding cover, boat docks are hard to beat. The waters below these sanctuaries offer both security and food. Bass are ambush predators and gravitate readily to areas of shadow. Typically docks attract small bluegill and other species of forage making them a natural hang out for many gamefish. It’s no surprise that most highly skilled bass anglers are masters at pulling fish from around and under these prime pieces of underwater real estate.  As you might imagine, docks vary widely in the level of productivity.  Some might be close to a sure thing on every outing while others only produce the occasional fish.  The dock itself along with the bottom underneath and around it can provide many clues. Areas with firm bottom compositions tend to be more productive than softer sediment. If the shoreline is rock studded, it’s a pretty good bet the cover extends for a distance underwater as well. Without throwing wild cards (like planted cover or consistent night lighting) into the equation, it’s usually a safe bet that larger docks are more productive than smaller structures. Likewise, older docks that have a very noticeable “patina of age” are often bass magnets. One should always check these out.

Don’t forget suspended fish
Marina boat slips are the mega docks of many lakes. These can be real hot spots harboring the entire food chain from plankton to predator fish. They are normally well lit at night which is a plus for attracting baitfish. Bass are always present at a number of key areas in a complex structure like this. It is important to note that some marinas allow anglers to fish the area and some do not. Be sure to look carefully for any posted signs before fishing these areas. If in doubt, it’s always prudent to ask.  Since I just mentioned the factor of night lighting, it’s worth noting that docks set up for crappie fishing can be sweet indeed. Look for locations sporting light fixtures close to the water and lots of rod holders. They’re usually spiked with man made brush piles sunk along the sides and front.  Locations like this are prime bass hang outs and should be fished thoroughly. Some property owners sink brush and Christmas trees around docks as a disposal method.  This cover is usually not obvious to the eye but a jig or plastic worm can quickly reveal the hidden treasure. When casting around an unfamiliar dock, always make a couple of presentations with a bottom bumping bait for this reason.  Unlike the region where I grew up, nearly all docks in our area are suspended on floats. Catchable fish may be suspended just under the floats, hugging the bottom, or anywhere in between depending on seasonal and daily conditions.  When fishing floating docks, be sure to target the anchor poles holding it in place. Bass often gravitate to these the same way they relate to stumps and other objects.

Practice ‘shooting’ at home
When casting close to private docks, etiquette is important.  Crankbaits and jerkbaits with treble hooks are pretty safe to fish around the outside edges. When casting into slips I prefer single hook weedless lures such as soft plastics or jigs. Mindful casting along with proper lure selection virtually eliminates above surface snags in this scenario. If a boat is in a slip, space may simply be too tight to make a traditional cast. In this situation, a technique known as “shooting” can provide accuracy in presenting lures to bass that receive little to no pressure. Would you like to show a lure to a bass that has not seen an artificial in ages?  Safety should be the primary focus with this technique. Practice in your yard to get started and ensure you are proficient before hitting the water. This method is exclusive to spinning tackle. It’s best suited to plastic grubs, worms, or skirted tubes rigged on lead heads. If fishing the plastic worm, be sure to use a lead head type hook as well. Skirted jigs are also good candidates for this technique. This is a very accurate way to put a lure well back into a tight spot where traditional casting is not an option.  Since targets are low, a kneeling position is standard. To execute the move, open the bail and drop the lure to halfway between the first eyelet and reel seat. Press the index finger on your rod grip hand against the top edge of the spool to prevent further line from playing out. Now load the rod by grasping the hook bend with your non casting hand and pulling it directly toward the butt of the rod. The stop point here varies with rod action.  Often it will be slightly ahead of the reel. Next point the rod directly toward the target and parallel to the water surface. Release the lure and index finger you are pressing against the spool simultaneously.  When done properly the bait will fly exactly to your point of aim. If you need to apply the brakes, simply extend your index finger to the lip on the reel spool. I reiterate that it’s very important to understand how grasp the lure when doing this. Be sure to use the thumb and closest finger to securely hold the hook in the bend area with the point away from your body. Snip the hook point off a jig and practice shooting your baits of choice in the back yard, under the kitchen chairs, and under the pick up truck.  It’s kind of fun really.

Finesse style worm is tops

Another very popular method of presenting lures to fish under boat docks is called skipping. As the name implies, the bait is skipped like a flat stone on the water surface. Some anglers can skip expertly with baitcast reels. For most of us, myself, this always results in the biggest king size backlashes known to man. For a surer and less frustrating approach, reach for the spinning rod. Standing on the bow of the boat, point the rod tip close to the water and snap a cast close and parallel to the surface. It does take a little practice but like shooting, the rewards are worth the effort. Lures lending themselves best to this technique are jigs, spider grubs, and weightless plastics.  When targeting docks remember the fish could be at any depth depending on the conditions and time of year. They may be suspending slightly below the floats.  In this situation, spinnerbaits and shallow running crankbaits can be effective along the outer edges. On the approach be sure to fish the entire front edge as well.  Swimming plastics such as curl tail grubs and fluke type baits on Fish Head Spins are great choices with versatility from just below the floats to the bottom. In much of the country, tubes are the “go to” dock baits. In our area, the king of dock fishing lures is the straight no frills finesse type worm five to six inches in length. Pick your favorite color of green and pair it with a lead head. A 3/16 ounce size is a day in day out favorite. If  you’re taking beginning anglers out try live nightcrawler worms around and under the docks. Use medium spinning tackle and eight pound test. Tie on a number two Aberdeen style hook and crimp a fat split shot about 18 inches up the line.  Thread a fat nightcrawler through the middle to cover the hook shank. Gently lob the worm to likely areas and allow it to settle on the bottom for about a minute. Pick it up and repeat the procedure. Be sure to keep tension in the line once the bait reaches the bottom.  

In closing, good news is that boat docks are everywhere.  They’re great places to check out when the fishing gets tough. If you’re looking for consistent year round bass action, be sure to have docks high on your casting list. Be safe and enjoy the lake!

March 2014 column

Spring fishing is just around the corner

I leave my house early each day.  Over the past few weeks, I’ve noticed that dawn is quickening. I’m see daffodils blooming here and there. That can only mean one thing: Spring is closing in. Although we’re predicted to have another “polar vortex” next week, the weather is getting progressively milder. Before long, grass cutting will be a regular activity. On a more positive note, our lake temperatures are about to increase.  When the temperature starts creeping into the 50s, make sure your tackle is ready because it’s time to go fishing.

March is a month of great opportunity for several species. Spotted bass are feeding heavily and staging in the pre- spawn mode. Striper action can be a lot of fun. Look for linesides well up many creeks as they go through the annual false spawning ritual.  March Crappie fishing is typically the best (or easiest which suits me well). This time of year, one of the hardest decisions can be which species to go after on any given outing. Fickle weather is a fact in early spring. A week of warm weather gets anglers fired up and can make for a great bite. Invariably, storm laden fronts pass through and change fishing patterns. If you stick with the pattern that was hot last week, you can easily strike out. A better tactic is backing off to the closest deep water and slowing down your presentation with a late winter mind set. This is especially true with spotted bass and crappie.

One thing to keep in mind is how much sunshine exposure areas get on a daily basis. This time of year areas in northwestern quadrants tend to warm a little quicker with longer exposure on each sunny day.  Don’t forget that darker surfaces always warm quicker. Stained water will hold more heat. Light to moderate water color can give you an edge. While the temperatures are still relatively cool, areas with really off color water are not as productive.

Slow roll for largemouth
Local outdoor wisdom holds that when the willow trees are turning green, bass are under boat docks. While some bass are nearly always under boat docks, these are staging areas during the pre-spawn period. If you’re looking for bass holding under docks be sure these structures have decent water depth.  Ten- to 25-foot depths are a good rule of thumb. A 3/16th ounce shakey head worm rig is very effective when bass are holding near the bottom. Rubber skirted bass jigs and skirted twin tail grubs will often yield larger fish holding underneath docks. 3/8th ounce is a good choice for these lures. If the weather has been warm and stable, bass may be suspending well above the bottom. If this is the case, jerk baits, crankbaits, or even spinnerbaits can be productive.

A suspending jerkbait is always a good pick in the early spring. Fish these as close to the dock edge as possible with long pauses between jerks.  Deeper divers such as the Lucky Craft DD or Staysee series are more likely to target the correct zone. Other good choices are the Deep Diving Rattlin’ Rogue and the Down Deep Husky Jerk. If you opt for a crankbait, it’s hard to beat the old reliable Shad Rap. The number seven size is tops in natural shad or silver/fluroescent chartreuse colors. This is not a suspending bait; be sure to keep the retrieve slow with very short pauses every so often. Another hot ticket can be the Fish Head Spin rigged with a Super Fluke Junior.  This set up produces well in cooler water conditions and can be slowly retrieved from middle depths all the way to the bottom. While docks are obvious targets, bass will stage in many other areas. Primary and secondary points in creeks are always potential money areas. Any submerged cover such as stumps and rocks makes this type of structure better yet. Try a few casts with your favorite suspending jerkbait first. If this does not produce, crawl worms or jigs along the bottom.

Spinnerbaits are also good lure choices this time of year.  These can be fished at any level in the water column. Slow rolling a model with a single Colorado style blade just off the bottom is a great tactic in upper creeks when the water is significantly warming.  You can tangle with some really nice largemouth bass doing this.   

Mimic baitfish for striper bites
March is a fine time to chase stripers. In fact, it’s a great time to catch a fish of 20 pounds or more. The fishing can be very good and it’s not difficult from the execution standpoint. While striped bass do not successfully spawn in Lake Lanier, they instinctively move up tributaries this time of year. Major creeks that have considerable length seem to draw the most fish.  Lower lake areas worthy of consideration include: Two, Four, and Six Mile creeks along with Flowery Branch. Mid to upper lake areas to check include Flat, Balus, Sardis, and Wahoo creeks. The north end also has numerous long finger coves. Don’t overlook these.  Drifting live bait and casting artificial lures can both be productive this time of year. Stripers will often prowl close to the shoreline. The white and silver flash bucktail jig is a fine producer. Keep the size at 3/8th or 1/4th ounce and dress it with a trailer to mimic a baitfish while slowing the fall. Fluke type plastic baits are also great when the fish are shallow. These can be fished with no weight or rigged on a lighter lead head. Your favorite swim bait is also a good candidate for action. These are likely to tempt many shallow water stripers this spring. While casting toward the shoreline, be sure to put some live bait out behind the boat.

Flat lines baited with trout or herring will all get attention. Try at least one rod baited with a large baitfish.  This can tempt that 20-plus pound striper. Be sure to tie a balloon inflated to golf ball size over your line and position it about 10 feet above the baitfish. Adjust shallower if necessary. This will prevent it from drifting too deep. If you only fish for stripers occasionally, do invest in two heavy duty rod holders for this. The Driftmaster brand is a hands down favorite with serious striper anglers. The Flatliner and Duo models are best for this application. Also, resist the temptation to set the drag at fighting level while waiting for the bite. A light setting will result in more hook ups and can be adjusted to a proper level when removed from the rod holder. There’s actually no need to set the hook. If you want to get live bait closer to the shoreline, use a planer board. These greatly increase the lateral drift.  Remember that planer boards come in port and starboard models.  

Do the Tripple Ripple
It’s no secret that crappie fishing is hot in the early spring. If you only pursue these tasty panfish a few times each year, this is the time to do it. While good catches of crappie are made all over the lake, the upper end seems to hold a definite edge. Areas such as Taylor, Thompson, Toto, Yellow, Limestone, and Wahoo creeks are renowned crappie hot spots. Prior to spawning, crappie gravitate to many boat docks. Some docks can harbor huge schools and make for lots of fast action. The best docks will have 15 to 20 feet of water at the end along with some type of submerged cover. It’s not unusual for fishermen who own docks to sink brush and other objects to attract this species. If the weather has been mild, the period around the full moon in March can really make for some hot crappie fishing.  This year, that falls on March 16th.  I’m betting on cooler weather with serious action kicking near the end of March through the full moon on April 15th.

During the latter part of this period, crappie will invade shallow areas with any type of brush and wood cover or vegetation. Remember that cold fronts will cause these fish to pull back to deeper water for a few days.  Artificial lures and live bait both produce good catches. Smaller lead heads of 1/16th to 1/32nd ounce with two inch curl tail grubs or one and a half inch tube baits work very well. Combination rubber and marabou jigs have an excellent reputation for bringing crappie into the boat. Popular colors include blue and white, black and chartreuse, green and chartreuse, all chartreuse, all white, and pumpkinseed. Hues that people swear by are seemingly endless. Many of these can be fished plain or under a bobber. When you’re going crappie fishing, always take minnows along. They’re cheap and will often save the day if the fish are finicky.  A few bobbers, split shot, and number four gold plated hooks will put you in business for minnows.  Be sure to have a bait bucket at the ready. Lastly, don’t forget the minnow net. This 50 cent investment is worth its weight in gold. You know this if you’ve ever tried to capture minnows with a bare hand (or your ball cap in a live well).

In closing, March can bring fickle weather but it’s also a super month for getting out on the water.  Whether deciding on bass, stripers, crappie, or all three, you’re sure to have a great time. Until next month, take care and enjoy the lake!

February 2014 column

A common sense approach to lure selection

That’s one fine sounding title.  But maybe we should just say, “What to stock.” This month’s column deals with lures to put more bass on the end of your line. Most mentioned in this article deal with black bass species while a few cross over into striped bass territory. Visit a large tackle retailer and you’re greeted with literally tens of thousands of choices at a conservative estimate. Whether or not you live near a major retailer, there have never been better choices at your fingertips or a mouse click away. When faced with scores of plastic worm choices in a dizzying array of colors (at least dozen shades of green alone) consumer choice overload can set in. This explains why wives often think husbands have gone missing when they’re just making “a quick stop” at Bass Pro Shops. My wife brings a book to read on the lobby sofa.  In my personal experience, even seasoned anglers have reason for expanding into categories of lures they have never really tried before.  These have potential in unlocking the gate to different and productive techniques. Often versatility is a key to success on the water. You may be starting with an empty tackle bag or you may own about half of the categories mentioned herein. Perhaps you already have pretty much everything described here. There’s probably some technique specific lure that can improve your on the water game.  It might not even be mentioned here. Of course, the more sizes and colors you have, the more prepared you are. On the opposite end of the spectrum, too many selections can make for a cumbersome tackle bag which results in indecision with every cast. There’s always a happy medium with a little room for the acquisition of that new bait you’ve heard or read about. If you’re just starting out or on a tight budget, I’ll highlight the lure in each category, along with color, to pick if you can only buy one. Prices in certain styles can get hefty. These days it’s possible to pay $20-plus for a hard bait. While I admit to owning a few top end plugs that are worth the asking price, most of the proven killers I have used over the years cost four to six bucks.  And, they still work.

Pick-a-pack of Zoom
If there is such a thing as a “must have” category of artificial lures it’s got to be soft plastics.  This will be one paragraph today although whole articles are justly written on sub-categories of plastics. I’m not even going to try and cover them all. Enter the lizard.  Spring is coming on and this is easily one of the most dependable offerings to toss into the shallows or mid-depths. The most effective way to present this is on a light Carolina rig with the bait separated about 18 inches from the sinker.  Earth tone colors are always a good choice but deep hues such as june bug are tried and true in stained water. If you buy one, pick a pack of five-inch Zoom lizards in green pumpkin with chartreuse tail.  One nearly universal and overlooked plastic is the lowly swimming grub. While often passed over these days, they’re as deadly as ever. Three- to four-inch models work very well. Pair them with lead heads of appropriate size and weight for the depth of water you’ll be fishing. If you buy one grub, go for a four-inch Tripple Ripple and pair it with a 1/8th ounce lead head. When it comes to colors, favorites are pearl, chartreuse, and pumpkin. If you buy only one, go with pearl.

Another really fine choice to stock in your tackle kit is the tub
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