Today's lake level: 1,067.95
Your complete online news, information, and recreation guide to Lake Lanier
Oct. 7, 2015
5:03 pm


Fishing Report/Tips

October Report
  • Lake level: Down about 4.4 feet
  • Clarity: Clear
  • Temperature: High 70s
Bass fishing is good. The water temperatures have dropped several more degrees and all of a sudden we’re all living in a rain forest, at least early this month. But, I will say the fish like it. It’s like somebody flipped a switch and it’s on. We have been starting most mornings by working jerkbaits, Spro Crankbaits, and spinnerbaits around rocky points. The fish seem to have moved to the flatter rock and clay in the morning. Sometimes they are active and will hit the above lures, but some mornings things seem a bit slower. When that happens, work a Davis Shaky Head/Trick Worm combo as well as jigs and drop shots for the best success. The fish often are very shallow, especially in cloudy or rainy conditions. We have been running this pattern most of the mornings. Later in the day, we have been moving to the brush and throwing top water such as Zara Spooks, shallow running jerk baits such as the Spro McStick, as well as a variety of swimbaits for some very good bites. Some of the brush is absolutely loaded now and coughing up some good fish. The classic Lanier fall bite is on.
This bass fishing report is by Jimbo Mathley,

Striper fishing has been ranging from very good to beyond excellent. The fish are showing up in deeper water from Browns Bridge to the dam and just off the creek channels. Six Mile Creek, Four Mile Creek, Flowery Branch, Flat Creek, Shoal Creek and main lake, deep water pockets (Cocktail Cove and the cove between Shady Grove and the mouth of Young Deer are examples) are all good places to start your search. Your Lowrance electronics are critical in locating these deep water fish. Turn your sensitivity up to ensure you can see a fish at 100 plus feet. The stripers are getting very stressed from being hauled up through the hot water layer. Eighty degree water to a striper is like poison. They cannot tolerate this warm water and need to get back down below the thermocline as quickly as possible. When you catch a striper in the summer, get him to the boat and release as quickly as possible. Do not take him out of the water or use a net. Take the hook out with the fish in the water and pick him up and torpedo him head first back into the water. Do not try to revive him by sloshing him around in the hot surface water; you are only adding to the stress. The faster we get the fish released and down into the cold water, the better our chances are of catching him again. Hopefully years from now. All the typical summertime techniques are now working. Down rod fishing with blueback herring 30 to 90 feet deep is a great way to get numbers once you find a big school while trolling. You can run across mega schools like the good old days. Down rods with 2 ounce weights and 6 to 8 foot, 12 pound test fluorocarbon leaders are your best approach. The critical factor with summertime, live bait fishing is lively bait. Bait that is alive and lively bait are not the same thing. We are starting our day with seven to nine dozen blue back herring and changing them every five minutes on a rotating basis. Never “check” the bait, and then drop it back down. If it is time to check the bait, it is time to change it. The act of bringing the herring up through warm water is enough to stress it out and degrade its performance. Never grab a net full from your bait tank. Net a couple, leave the net in water and grab a bait. Don’t knock off the scales of the baits you’re not using. Keep bait tank water temp at 70 or below. If you drop one on the floor, don’t use it. Save your dead baits in a small cooler. Cut them up in very tiny pieces for chum. Buy a pair scissors just for that. Get the most out of your bait. Use these cut baits when over a school to keep the school with your boat, or you can tip a jig with cut bait when trolling or power reeling. Trolling with lead core line eight to nine colors back with a 1 ounce buck tail jig, curly tail or a 4 inch shad body (tipped with a herring) has been very productive. Fish the umbrella rigs with a 3 ounce jig frame and nine, 1 ounce buck tail jigs 150 feet back. One technique to try when the fishing is slow is to power reel. Power reeling is simply an approach used to try to trigger a reaction bite by dropping a bait down past the fish and reeling it up through the fish. An example would be if the fish are at 35 feet, then drop your bait to 50 feet, and reel it up to 20. Vary the speed you reel up from lightning fast to a standard retrieve. If you are using a down rod with a herring to power reel, shorten your leader to no more than two feet to avoid knots in your leader. You can also use a 2 ounce buck tail jig with a herring or shad body for power reeling. The big Ben Parker spoon bite is also picking up.
This Striper fishing report is from Captain Ken West and Captain Mike Maddalena of Big Fish On! Service, 404 561 2564.

Ken Sturdivant produces the statewide Southern Fishing Report and is operator of Southern Fishing Schools.

Call Ken Sturdivant about the “On the Water Schools” for Sonar or the Rods, Reels and Lures for Bass or a full day striper school.
More info: 770 889-2654,

September 2015 fishing tip

Explaining the Drop Shot rig

This is a relatively new rig that started with the West Coast anglers. The lakes out West are deep and very clear and the fish have seen almost everything is the world. From the Texas rig to the Carolina rig to the trick worm, bass –  both spots and largemouth – still see these long tested and true rigs. Now there is a method that is easy to rig and even easier to fish. The drop shot rig is exactly what it sounds like. And the best way to describe it is to call it an upside down Carolina rig. Instead of the lead sinker in the center of the rig as it is with other types of rigs, the sinker is on the bottom. What makes this so easy is that the fish now can see the baits even better. This is a deadly rig for summer fish or any other fish that suspends over the bottom. Many times bass do not feed right off the bottom. While many anglers believe that the Carolina rig has a bait floating up off the bottom, it really does not. The worm or lizard on the Carolina rig simply follows the lead sinker as they both stay dead on the bottom. Start out with 12 pound clear Stren Easy cast line and tie on a worm hook with the Palomar knot. But leave a long tag line to tie on the weight. Now add at least a 1/2 ounce sinker, any style, to the bottom of the line. Now the weight simply crawls over the bottom and the bait can be floated anywhere from 12 inches to four feet above the lead. The strikes are exactly like a Carolina rig but better. Strikes will be easier to feel and hook sets will drive the hook home. Rig up the hook with any soft plastic from a grub to a 10-inch U tail worm or lizard. Spend four hours with three rods rigged with three lengths of leader. One at 12 inches, one at two feet and one at three feet. Rig up a grub, a finesse worm and then a U tail worm on the rigs.

Catfish still biting across the state

Fishing for catfish is a summertime tradition (yes, most of September is still summer) and a great way to put some delicious meals on the table. Whether you are an experienced angler, a newbie or just a casual fisherman, you can find fantastic catfishing opportunities in Georgia, according to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division. “There are places to catfish all over the state of Georgia,” says John Biagi, chief with the Wildlife Resources Division Fisheries Management Section. “They require relatively simple gear and are a great way to introduce someone new to fishing, especially kids, so get out and go fish!” Georgia’s public waterways are home to several species of catfish, including channel, white, blue, flathead and bullheads (consisting of several similar species – yellow, brown, snail, spotted and flat). The larger species, blue catfish and flathead catfish, can grow to exceed 100 pounds.

Here are just a few of the many spots to try your luck:
  • Lake Nottely, near Blairsville – Contains good populations of channel catfish (averaging one pound or less) and fewer, but larger flathead catfish (weighing up to 40 pounds).
  • Chattahoochee River above West Point Lake – in the last few years, the number and size of flathead catfish caught above West Point has increased significantly.
  • Lower Chattahoochee River near GA Hwy. 91 southwest of Donalsonville – Recent surveys conducted during summer months indicate that channel, blue and flathead catfish can be found here in abundance.
  • Lake Walter F. George, near Columbus – Excellent fishing for channel catfish in the main lake and in the upper end (above Florence Marina) for both channel and blue catfish. The state record blue catfish (80 pounds, 4 ounces) was caught in the tailrace of this lake by Ernest Timpson in February 2010.
  • Altamaha River – Great location for several species of catfish, including flathead, channel and an expanding population of blue catfish. The Altamaha boasts two state record fish: flathead (83 pounds) caught by Carl Sawyer in 2006; and channel cat (44 pounds, 12 ounces) caught by Bobby Smithwick in 1972.
  • St. Marys River – Healthy populations of channel and white catfish are available.

As a rule, the species and size of catfish dictate the fishing line used. If targeting channel and white catfish, fisheries biologists recommend eight to 14-pound test line and medium-sized hooks (two to 1/0) under a bobber or fished on the bottom. For anglers trying to land a large flathead, heavy tackle is a must – large spinning or casting tackle with at least 20 to 50-pound test line, large hooks (3/0 to 7/0), and heavy weights to keep bait on the bottom. Best baits for channel, bullheads and white catfish are worms, liver, live minnows, cut bait and stink bait. Recommended flathead baits are live goldfish, bream and shiners.

In general, anglers should target rocky shorelines, rip-rap areas and points. When fishing rivers during the day, anglers should look to deep holes containing rocky or woody cover. During dusk, dawn and at night, anglers should concentrate on shallow sandbars and shoals nearby the deep holes fished during the day, as catfish frequently move shallow to feed during low light conditions. Though most species of catfish are active throughout the day, the best summer fishing is at dusk and during the night, and while catfish can be caught year-round, the peak bite typically is from early spring through the peak of summer.

And of course anglers must possess a current Georgia fishing license to fish in public waters.

More info:

July 2015 fishing tip

Back to basics: The Depth Finder

Fishing without a depth finder is like try to fly without wings, it won't work. The depth finder has come light years since the original Lowrance red metal box changed fishing for all anglers. Now with the liquid crystals units getting better by the year, there are a few basics that will make using a depth finder more successful. Here are the steps.

When you turn the depth finder on, take it out of automatic and place it in the manual setting. If shallow lakes are the fishing locations, set the depth to 20 feet. If the water is deep, set the depth on 30 feet or more. Set the chart speed to maximum. This setting will run the unit at full chart speed. Set the gray line setting to 50 percent. This will allow anglers to separate the bottom from any structure.

Don’t be afraid to turn the power up on the depth finders in deep water. On lakes north of Atlanta, turn the sensitivity up to 87 percent to see the structure and the fish. On lakes south of Atlanta, set the sensitivity to 50 percent and you’ll see the shallow fish and structure very well. The more power in the deeper waters will make the unit put out all the power needed to see the bait fish, the game fish and any structure. Turn the fish ID feature off. The arches on the screen rather than fish symbols are more dependable. The fish ID feature will show schools of bait fish as big fish.

Make sure the transducer has a clear shot at the water. If the transducer is off at an angle or located inside the boat, readings will be poor. Mount the transducer so it is in direct contact with the water. Cone angles are not confusing if you just look at an ice cream cone. Turn it upside down and that’s exactly what the signal looks like. as the cone hits the bottom in 30 feet of water on a 20 degree angle, the signal is 10 feet in diameter on the bottom.

Many anglers use depth finders more than they fish and with good reason. The depth finders eliminate water. When anglers go looking for fish, whether it’s fresh or salt water, the depth finder will find them. Experienced anglers can tell the sizes and even the types of fish they see on the units. A little tuning and practice will help anglers see the fish and the structure better.

June 2015 fishing tip

Deep water bass secrets

All we have to say about this lake is simply “offshore structure.” Most bass anglers cannot fish things that they cannot see. So there are fish in all lakes that have never seen a lure. Several years ago we saw a local lake that had been was lowered to 15 feet below full pool. After spending a week looking at all the creeks and river areas, it was quite apparent that if you are throwing at the bank the fish are under the boat. How many times has this happened? The first place you choose to fish can be any point, cove or bend in the creek or river. The trolling motor goes in the water and there are the fish, right there on the locator. And then, you cast to the bank. After repeating this once again, you are standing on the fish. And they have never been fished.

So how do you avoid this common bass angler problem? It’s real easy but you have to force yourself to make this work. Pull up to that same location, point creek bend or cove or even a dock. Now instead of casting to the same places that every one else does, try this. Pull the boat up the shallow point, cove or docks and now, cast out. All the fish you have been missing are now looking at your bait. And it does not matter what you use. When was the last time you cast a buzz bait out? Now this is an easy test.

Make 10 casts out off the sides of the point and each cast should be at a different area. Fan cast this area and when you get a strike, pay attention to where you got that strike. Now you can make five casts to the same place and possibly land five fish that could weigh 25 pounds. A whopping five pound average. You have all the lures in your boat to experiment with.

If one point has a school of fish on it, chances are that all the rest of the points in the area may even have bigger schools and bigger fish. But do not cast to the bank. That is what everyone else does. Now duplicate success and move on to the next location. 

No March, April  or May 2015 fishing tips

February 2015 fishing tips

Fishing Tips: Use small baits when going for big fish

The full moons during the early spring months draw almost all the game fish shallow to feed and spawn. At this time of the year fish feed on a lot of bait fish. Matching the sizes of the bait fish can make or break a fishing trip at this time. One of the common mistakes anglers make is to use a lure that is too large.

Bait fish are blue back herring, thread fin and gizzard shad. These forage fish spawn on full moons as soon as the water temperatures break the mid 50s. They spawn on sandy banks and around rocks and will stay in the warmest water they can find for several weeks. In many instances anglers over size lures trying to catch that next larger size of fish. This can make for a long day when other anglers are catching limits of fish.

Small live shiners, small all white buck tails, small shad and Shad Raps and even tiny tube baits will catch a lot more fish in a days fishing. And the quality of the fish taken on these tiny baits can be quite surprising. Since the bait fish are small these small baits look and swim exactly like the food they are already feeding on.

Another good bait in the early spring is the spot tail minnow. Many lakes are full of these little fish catchers. But getting this bait can be a challenge because of their body size and shape. Spot tail minnows are too thin and too fast to catch in a cast net. Minnow jars and tiny No. 10 hooks and some bread is the ticket. Spot tail minnows live around docks and ramps anywhere on the lakes. Use small Kahle hooks and 6 pound test line and a small float will take their share of numbers and sizes of fish.

Keep line sizes as small as possible. Line sizes from 4 to 6 pound test will allow the baits to swim freely and the light tackle is quiet when presented to shallow and sometimes spooky fish. One overlooked bait that is deadly all year and especially in the early spring is the all white buck tail jig. Locally Guide Mack Farr makes a Super jig with silver tinsel in the bait. These little baits on light 6 or 8 pound test line on a spinning reel are deadly. Add a trailer and the bait will fall slower and this makes the bait look bigger as well as making it easier to cast. Just cast them to the points and reel them back. Down size baits to up size the fish. Another bonus on small baits will numbers of fish on every trip.

January 2015 fishing tips

Fishing Tips: The spin cast rod and reel

There are hundreds of rods and reels out there to choose from. From spin casting to bait casting sometimes the choices are too much for beginning angler. The spin casting rod and reel is the first one many anglers learn to use. The reason these outfits are popular is that they are easy to use and they can catch almost any game fish. The first outfit that most anglers learn to use is the spin cast rod and reel. These outfits will work for almost any specie and can handle many line sizes. The benefit of this outfit is that it is easy to cast and fish with.

First there is the choice of fish. For pan fish like sunfish, trout and small species, light action outfits will work much easier. If the target is bass, stripers and catfish, medium to heavy action outfits are better. Spin cast outfits come in a variety of sizes and rod actions. If you are after small pan fish, use a light action spin cast outfit and four pound test line. On the other hand if bass, stripers or catfish are the targeted fish, use a heavy action outfit and 12 pound test lines or higher.

The spin cast reel keeps fishing line inside a closed housing. There are some real advantages to this reel. The fishing lines are more easily managed. These spin cast reels keep fishing lines inside the reel and tangled lines are kept to a minimum. There is a simple push button on the back of the reel. Push the button cast the rod and release the button. This action sends the lure off into the water. These reels will not backlash and line management is very easy.

Try and use a spin cast reel that has and interchangeable handle. Put the handle on the side of the reel that works best for the angler and try both the left and right side action. The first spin cast reels were designed for left handed fishermen. Now you can choose which side of the reel the handles are on. The fishing lines that come on these outfits have been on the reel a long time in most cases.

The first thing to do with the reel is put new line on it. Make sure to use a monofilament fishing line that is designed for these reels. Line sizes on light outfits should be no more than six pound test. On larger reels for larger fish use 10 to 12 pound test lines.

December 2014 fishing tips

Fishing Tips: Deadly wintertime bass lures

The cold winter water slows down bass feeding activities. Since the body of the fish takes on the water temperatures, these fish become very sluggish during winter. Casting lures to the banks will not usually find many active fish. But learn to read a high quality Lowrance depth finder and take out some slow moving baits and the fish can still be caught. Bass will retire to deep water and regardless of the extremes in temperatures, bass still have to feed. Lures need to be placed as close to the fish as possible. This is the time of year when fishing vertically will work.

Several lures are deadly for winter time action. Many anglers use spoons all winter. The spoons will work, but there are other lures that will work just as well. Buck tail jigs look like shad to a bass. Using several sizes and colors, dropping these lures straight down to the bass will get a strike. Hop them off the bottom and adding small trailers will work as well.

Worms are the best lures for bass all year. Take a small finesse worm and rig it up on a Texas rig. The secret for winter time worm jigging is to peg the sinker. Drop the bait right to the bottom around points and creek bends.

Jigs are used for cold water bass fishing. There is no reason not to drop this bait vertically and jig it just like the spoon. Use a variety of sizes and colors and add some extra crawfish scent on these baits. Jigging spoons will work all year. But they are especially deadly in the winter. Spoons dropped to the bottom appear to a bass like a dying bait fish. Using different colors and sizes of spoons will work. Fish the spoons into and under schools of bass and bait fish.

Always place the nose of the boat into any wind and make sure the baits are fish straight down under the boat. Drifting over deep points and flats slowly will put fish in the boat. Vertical fishing is an art and it takes practice and patience. Adding this technique to winter time fishing will add hours of great fishing.

December 2014 story

Club holds ‘Kid’s Day Fishing Tournament’

The North Georgia Crappie Anglers recently held a “Kid’s Day Fishing Tournament.” The club took its’ members children and grandchildren out for a fun day on the lake where youngsters were awarded a certificate of appreciation along with trophies for the winners. The next day the kids enjoyed a fish fry with the catch of crappie. Woodie Malone, president of the club, said, “Our kids and grandkids are so wrapped up in their computers these days it was good to get them out on the lake. It made for a great family outing.”

November 2014 note

Lakeside’s longtime fishing columnist Tommy Wilkinson has relocated to Virginia. We’ll miss Tommy’s indepth Lake Lanier fishing reports.

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

October 2014 column

Flexibility is key to fall success

This winter the weather forecast is for a repeat of last year. While that’s on the horizon, change is just around the corner. While October can be warm, it’s definitely getting cooler and much more pleasant to spend a day outdoors. Boat traffic has abated and lots of fishermen who also hunt are spending their time in the woods. I don’t know of any hard core angler who doesn’t appreciate that. In the early summer, the water in Lake Lanier stratifies like many other impoundments. Many fish hold near the thermocline at 25 to 30 feet deep.  While this can be very productive, it’s nice having alternatives to fishing brush piles in 30 feet of water.  By the time this issue hits the streets, the annual thermocline should be breaking up. If you would like to learn more about this, visit the Georgia DNR website.  You’ll find a thorough and understandable explanation of this process.

What does this mean for the fisherman? This change, referred to as lake turnover, will cause fish to scatter in many areas and can disrupt the solid deep water patterns you enjoyed during the summer. It’s a gradual process which progresses with cooling weather. Not all areas of the lake are affected at once. If you hit several very dependable deep water holes for bass and draw a blank, turnover could be having an effect.  If you repeat these results in several different parts of the lake a change of strategy is in order. The key to fall fishing is adapting to change by trying different patterns.  Often there is no single reliable pattern. Flexibility in trying different lures and different zones can be the key to a successful trip.

Presentation trumps color
It pays to have several rods rigged with different bait categories this time of year. Through late November, always have a ready rod on the deck for schooling fish. This can be rigged with your favorite topwater plug, a 3/8th ounce in line spinner, or any shad imitating bait. Stick with natural baitfish colors. Keep the size modest and choose a lure that achieves good casting distance. Depending on the bait of choice, you may want to opt for spinning tackle and eight pound test line. This will increase your casting range. On some days, you may not spot any surfacing fish but in instances when they’re on top and feeding, you’ll have a distinct advantage with a ready rod. Don’t stow this rod in the locker; if you have to dig it out it’s an almost ready rod. It goes without saying that you’ll want to have a spinning outfit with a shakey head plastic worm. Keep the lead head size at 3/16th ounce for all around versatility in both shallow and deep presentations.  Your favorite green color should work just fine. Don’t pass up a blow down or other prominent piece of cover without using this to see if anyone is home. A double willow leaf style spinnerbait can be great during the fall. Smaller profile 3/8th ounce versions are the best choice. Here again, pick colors that imitate shad or herring. I would toss this on baitcasting tackle paired with 10 pound test line but spinning tackle will work as well. One very exciting lure to fish through the fall is the buzzbait. You can’t go wrong with the tried and true Original Lunker Lure.  White and chartreuse is always a sound color choice for buzzbaits but I’ve seen guys getting strikes on black all day long in sunny conditions. The key seems to be putting the lure in the right place.  Presentation trumps color. Crankbaits are classic bass producers this time of year. They’re another great choice for covering a lot of water. Shallow and medium runners would be good choices to experiment with. For the most part, baitfish colors work well although I’ve seen a couple of very odd colors get a lot of attention from the bass.

Try the Comet Minnow
Fish will often move up to shallow or mid depths off points and reefs this time of year. Pockets that get good exposure to breezes can also be productive. One fine technique for a lot of action is to target these areas with the double willow leaf spinnerbait discussed earlier.  Some wind action with a light chop on the water surface can really enhance this bite. In clear water keep the retrieve speed very fast and burn it back to the boat.  Often, baits out of the package have excessive drag and will roll with the speed required. Choose heavier weights with moderate to smaller blade size. Specialty models, such as the Mini-Me are designed with fast retrieves in mind. If the fish are finicky try a 1/4th ounce white Rooster Tail or similar in line spinner. This is a go-to for all but winter conditions.  Cast all the way to the shallows and give the rod tip a short snap to ensure the blade is turning. Having blade rotation is super important for this lure to produce. You may also want to try the Comet Minnow by Mepps. This lure seems to have a hushed and cult like following.  Whatever you opt for, cover lots of water. Medium size swim baits are also excellent choices for fishing point and reef type structures. For this type of bait, a good starting point is a specialty hook weighted at 1/4th ounce. Several companies manufacture these. Some of the hooks can be quite large. You definitely want enough gap to easily penetrate the bait and hook a bass but be sure to keep the hook in balance with the body size. Some people hang a high quality treble hook off the bend as a cure for short strikes. Simply cast this lure out, allowing it to sink to the desired depth and wind it back slowly.

Lure math: 1 equals 6
Early in October, try slowly moving through the shallows in coves and pockets with the electric motor on low without casting a lure. Be sure to wear a pair of polarized sunglasses. In most light conditions copper lenses will give the best color contrast. If the water is calm, you may be really surprised at how many bass are spotted cruising in just two or three feet of water. Some are singles and you’ll often spot groups of two and three fish together. While I am no good at catching visible bass, this exercise tells me that probing the shallows in a methodical manner could be well worth the time spent.   Early and late in the day, the buzzbait rod is a good one to pick up for shallow water situations.  It’s another easy lure to fish. Strikes on this odd bait never fail to get the adrenalin going. Be sure to cast well beyond your target whenever possible. A buzzbait landing nearly on top of a bass in skinny water will send it rocketing away like a torpedo. The other key is deflection. Try to place the cast where you can actually knock against objects during the retrieve. Wood cover and the corners of dock floats are always good targets. If all you see is one lone tiny stick up, try to bump it. For some reason, this tactic really does trigger an aggressive reaction strike.  Also remember that by simply keeping a lure moving steadily, you can bring it through a surprising amount of cover. If you want to give the bass a different look, try a Crazy Crawler. This lure is a real old timer that is still produced under the Heddon brand name. It’s not as weedless as a buzzbait but I’ve heard several reports that it can be a real killer on shallow bass.  As previously mentioned, shallow and medium depth crankbaits are fall staples. Some disciplined anglers stick with a hierarchy of baits from one manufacturer. They believe in a “system” and it works for many. I prefer a hodgepodge of different plugs that seem to work for me. If I could only choose one it would be the original Shad Rap by Rapala in sizes seven and five.  OK. I admit, that’s two plugs. To really stretch my “one plug” theory to the max I would have them in three colors – natural shad, crawdad, and chartreuse back with pearl belly. In my lure math theory 1 equals 6. My second favorite is the Bandit 200 series. If you want to fish a bit shallower, consider a shallow running square billed model. The square bill will deflect better when contacting pieces of cover. If you really want to ply the shallows, tie on a Mann’s One Minus which runs at a foot or less.  This is a classic that you would probably find in the arsenal of many pro anglers. Again, try to bump cover whenever possible.  You will definitely get extra strikes.   

In closing, whether you’re still catching fish deep or having shallow water success, the autumn season is a super time to hit the lake.  The changing leaf colors makes for great scenery to go with great weather. It’s a fine time to take the family out for an on the lake picnic and put some fish on everyone’s line.

September 2014 column

Trolling for success

As I write this, it looks like summer finally arrived at the party.  We had the luxury of near record morning low temperatures several times over the past couple of months and most days were not unbearably hot. During the “dog days” I’ll take this anytime. One dog day myth is that fish are immune to anglers during the heat of the summer. Happily this is simply not true and great catches are out there just waiting to happen.  This month I’m going to cover the lost art of trolling. While it will catch fish much of the year, it is especially effective during the summer. When I was a kid, my family would spend summer weekends camping on the shores of Lake Eufaula on the Georgia and Alabama state line. This lake is legendary for great summertime catches of bass for those who can unlock its secrets. My dad, brother, and I were not on the cutting edge of angling tactics but we caught bass and some pretty good ones too by trolling. When we were on the fish it was downright exciting, but there were often hours of sun baked boredom while our boat putted along at an idle. Structure and pattern fishing were just catching on in that part of the world and we were simply covering water in a hit or miss fashion. Everyone knew the fish were in deep water so we simply trolled over open spaces and the greatest depths we could find. I believe that every so often we would pass over a piece of prominent structure and this is how we got most fish on the line.  Having said all this, trolling with greater knowledge and a game plan can be deadly indeed and put a lot of fish in your boat.  

Beat them with an Ugly Stick
Trolling may not appeal to die hard casters and tournament anglers but truth be told it’s an extremely efficient way to locate deep water hot spots for your next event. While trolling is not legal in bass tournaments, it can be a great advance scouting method. One of the great things about this technique is it does not require high end tackle that can run hundreds of dollars for each outfit. This makes trolling a family friendly adventure. We used to drag crankbaits through the water with simple push button type spin casting equipment.  On this note, no matter what kind of tackle you opt for, there are a couple of considerations. You’ll want a rod that has a combination of flex and back bone. Avoid light and ultra-light gear unless you’re trailing tiny crankbaits or spinners for bream. Inexpensive rods such as the Power Plus or Ugly Stick are perfect for trolling bass plugs. A top shelf rod that’s great for your plastic worm fishing will be too stiff and sometimes tear the lure away from lightly hooked fish.  When I was young, we trolled deep diving Hellbender plugs (the ironclad rule was that they had to have yellow color somewhere on the body) and each person was responsible for holding his or her own rod. These days, I recommend investing in a few good rod holders. Driftmasters are the best and they offer a model called the “Troller” that features an enclosed ring at the lower section which provides great protection to secure the rod in the holder. When it comes to spooling up with line, opt for 10 pound test and ensure your drag is properly set to slip well before the breaking strength.  You’re trying to reach the deep summertime haunts where whole schools of bass congregate and heavier line inhibits plugs from reaching maximum depth. It’s important to know just how deep your lures are reaching. Fifteen to 20 feet is a good target. It pays to experiment shallower and deeper depending on the time of year.  Another good idea is to have rods rigged for different depths to show you what the fish want on a particular day. Tie on plugs that run at different depths keeping the theme on the deep end. If one rod is hot, switch others to the same set up.

Plug Knockers pay off
When it comes to plugs, a number of choices will get the job done well. The old faithful Hellbender is very hard to find these days but many others will put fish in the boat. Good choices abound. Pick something that is designed to run from the 14 to 22 foot range. Most will reach a few feet deeper than advertised when trolled 100 feet behind the boat on 10 pound test line. Here’s a great trick to try.  Attach a two foot leader tied to the rear treble hook of your crankbait.  On the terminal end, tie on a one sixth ounce Rooster Tail or other in line spinner. When bass are finicky you can pick up a lot of fish on this trailer. All our local gamefish will find this rig hard to resist. Some folks are tempted to use heavier line because of the inevitable snags. Stick with 10 pound test and your plugs will run deeper. When you do encounter those hang ups, break out a couple of lure saving devices. A lot of anglers use the telescoping lure retrievers that extend up to 15 feet. Others rely on the heavy weight plug knockers that slide down the line to the snag.   I recommend you keep one of each in the boat. Both will more than pay for themselves in one season whether you troll or cast crankbaits. These days, I don’t think that having yellow in a crankbait color is a magic bullet.  Pick patterns that mimic silvery colored baitfish such as shad or herring and you’ll certainly have the right thing tied on. If you’re looking for another color option, try brighter colors such as chartreuse with a blue or green back or better yet, try a natural shad theme with chartreuse highlights. These can work very well ... OK, so it looks like I’m back on yellow again.  

Know lure depths
The most important part of trolling is to go out there with a game plan. In my early teens, the game plan was “launch the boat.”  Despite this, we caught fish. By applying the wealth of knowledge available today, you can catch a lot of fish. Be sure to pick up a lake map of the waters you’re fishing.  If you’re using GPS equipped sonar, use this to complement your map reconnaissance. This alone can increase your catch many times over. Take a look at the map and target long gradually sloping points near deep water and submerged humps. These are magnets for baitfish and gamefish alike. Another thing we did as a practice was in just letting out a lot of line. You should definitely measure out line on each rod. There are several ways to do this but line counting devices make it efficient and fool proof. I recommend you know just how deep your plugs are diving to achieve optimum success. Hard core trollers (and there are not many out there anymore) have a small kicker engine just for the technique. For our purposes, just idle down your main engine as low as it will go and you’ll be in the zone. Find an area with a clean bottom and start with 75 feet of line out. Keep a watch on the graph while making successively shallower passes until you feel a distinctive bottom bumping. Try this again with longer measures of line to achieve deeper depths. Be sure to record your results as to the lure and line length for future reference. 

When a rod buckles with the distinctive “fish on” arch, be sure to toss a marker buoy over the side or quickly mark the spot with GPS.  You may have discovered a hot spot that can yield a number of fish on successive passes. If you don’t do this, it’s nearly impossible to be on target during a successive pass. Once again, when you strike pay dirt, be sure to record your results by some means. On this note it is worth mentioning that trolling with a game plan on reservoirs means targeting points and submerged humps. You’ll often find the submerged humps as offshore extensions of the sloping points. While trolling during the summer, definitely be prepared for other things that can happen as well. By this, I mean surface schooling activity.  Few things in fishing are more gut wrenching than having to get prepared when a school of predators is pushing baitfish to the surface within casting range – and you have nothing appropriate tied on.  For about six months out of the year it pays to maintain a “ready rod” with your favorite topwater or shallow running baitfish imitation.  Keep it on the deck and prepared for action at a moment’s notice.

In closing, I hope you will give the lost art of trolling the chance it deserves. Done properly, it is one of the most deadly techniques a serious angler is likely to pursue.  When you get dialed in, be sure to take the family out because it’s a great way to get everyone hooked.  Take care, be safe, and enjoy the lake!

August 2014 column

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!

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, yo
Copyright © 2011 Lakeside News. Internet Marketing Company: Full Media