Lake Allatoona Wintertime Lineside Frenzy
Catch stripers and hybrids on Lake Allatoona in January.
Like many Georgians, I have been fishing as long as I can remember. Heck, my grandfather was king of the pay-lake catfishermen as far as I knew. I have been blessed with good friends and an experimental streak of my own, allowing me to discover the joys of catching everything from redbreasts to redfish with any kind of tackle from an ultralight fly rod to heavy saltwater trolling rigs.
With the exception of fishing live shrimp under a Cajun Thunder float for reds or trout on the coast, or trolling for crappie, I have never been a big fan of just pulling bait. If the fish ain’t biting, the monotony of it can be maddening to someone as fidgety as me.
All that changed on an unseasonably warm day in January when I hit Lake Allatoona with two of the best lineside fishermen in that neck of the woods. There wasn’t a whole lot of time for boredom on the boat when the stripers and hybrids went on a feeding frenzy. As soon as we got one fish to hand, another one would make a violent strike. The drags on the reels and Capt. Robert Eidson of First Bite Guide Service seemed to scream in unison, “fish on!”
If you haven’t felt the freight-train pull of a striped bass or hybrid, you are missing something. From a “chunk-and-wind” bass fisherman, I can only say, go. Go as soon as you can.
I had the pleasure of fishing with Robert and his friend Brian Dumas. The pair fish together frequently and both compete on the National Striped Bass Association’s (NSBA) tournament circuit.
We were originally going to take Brian’s boat, but just before the recent NSBA national tournament in Tennessee (which both men qualified for), the boat was stolen from his home. Instead, the three of us climbed aboard Robert’s Sea Pro, a center-console bay boat, and headed out to catch some linesides.
Brian, who builds custom cabinets in homes across north Georgia, first fell in love with striper fishing when he was 14 years old. Brian and a friend were catfishing on Santee-Cooper Reservoir in South Carolina when an old man approached them. He told the two if they would help him catch bait, he would show them how to catch some big fish. “We helped him, and we caught some nice fish, and I was hooked,” Brian said. “I would rather do this than anything else.”
Robert has been guiding fishermen and fishing tournaments on Allatoona, Carters and Lanier for years. When he isn’t taking customers out, Robert can be found fishing for fun. The pair are dedicated striper and hybrid (white fish) fishermen and don’t care about catching largemouths or spots (green fish). Lo and behold, a few minutes into the trip, I set the hook on a fish, which turned out to be a largemouth bass just looking for a tasty snack.
“Don’t let that thing touch my boat,” Robert laughed. “Heck, we use bait that size.”
In truth, we were trolling several rods at once, using gizzard shad hooked through the nostrils. Robert likes to spool his reels with 10- to 12-lb. test line with a barrel swivel at the end. A 15-lb. fluorocarbon leader of eight to 10 feet is tied to the other end of the swivel and a Gamakatsu Octopus hook in size 1, 2, 1/0 or 2/0 is at the business end of the leader.
We fished a spread of baits using downlines, planer boards and flatlines. The downlines were weighted with a 1 1/4-oz., hand-poured lead. We fished those between 15- and 20-feet deep and placed them in the front rod holders.
To get the planers in place, we let out about 70 feet of line, clipped the board on, and let out another 50 feet before placing the rods in the built-in rod holders on the boat’s gunwales. The flatlines were fished inside the planers, about 100 feet behind the boat.
For downlines and planer boards, Robert likes to use rods that are sensitive enough so that fish don’t get spooked when they take the bait, but with enough backbone to fight large fish. For the downlines, he chooses heavy rods with very sensitive tips. The rods Robert uses will bend more than a foot before the fish feels the line tighten up. He likes Church planer boards, but he says any of them will do the trick.
While the spread of baits is important, the bait itself is critical, according to Brian. “Gizzard shad are to a striper fisherman what a good bird dog is to a quail hunter,” he said.
Gizzard shad are hearty and will last for quite some time if they are handled properly. But first you have to get them in the baitwell. It’s important to learn how to properly throw a cast net because after you find the bait using your electronics, you have to catch it.
Both Brian and Robert keep bait tanks at their homes, so when the time comes to wet a hook they don’t have to work at catching bait when they should be catching stripers and hybrids. Brian, who has a 100-gallon tank, hopes to upgrade when his work slows down some. “We spend as much time taking care of bait as we do fishing,” Brian said.
As we idled away from the Galt’s Ferry ramp, there was fish activity all around us. Nervous shad rippled the top of the water as big predators lurked below. We motored around a big point and fished the Bartow-Carver area between Clear and Kellogg creeks. Though the graph showed some baitfish in the area, it was not as concentrated as we hoped. Even though the bite hadn’t turned on, Brian boated the first fish of the day, a nice hybrid. We continued trolling to the mouth of Illinois Creek before Robert decided to reel up the baits and move to another hole.
“If I have baits out for 45 minutes with no success, I’m going to move,” Robert said.
Brian said the ability to pick up your baits and move to another spot is key to successful striper or hybrid fishing. “My number one philosophy is to move until you find the bait,” Brian said. “That is where you will find the fish.”
The move paid off. Shortly, we were so busy catching fish that we couldn’t keep bait in the water. At one point, we had six empty hooks in the boat because the strikes had come so fast that we did not have time to hook new shad and get them out to the right spot.
During this initial feeding frenzy, right after Brian and I boated a double catch of nice, fat hybrids, one of the downlines started singing. Robert, who was close to the rod, picked it up and set the hook with a quick jerk up on the rod tip. He handed it to me, and I started the old pump-the-rod, bow-to-the-fish and reel-like-crazy routine while a striped bass cruised along just under the water’s surface somewhere over near downtown Acworth.
After a few minutes, I lipped my first striper, hoisting it aloft. Though it was a small fish by striper enthusiast standards (about 10 pounds), it was a thrill to catch. I can tell you there wasn’t any quit in the fish when it got closer. It just kept shaking its head and running.
It wasn’t long before other anglers noticed what was going on and started moving in for a closer look. Pretty soon, Robert had coordinated with another fisherman so both boats could keep moving through the bait to catch big, hard-fighting fish.
“You can’t be afraid to get close to other boats when the fish are biting good in one area,” Robert said. “The key is for both boats to work the area together so everybody can catch fish.”
Another boat full of fishermen worked with Robert, circling in the hot area while we hooked fish after fish. Between fish, when the two boats got close enough, little Tyler Worthey hoisted a nice striper from the boat for us to see.
A little while later, the bite had cooled down when Robert noticed a flock of gulls across the lake. Robert said watching activity in the water and keeping an eye on the birds is a good way to find fish when they move. And they can move quick.
“A striper can swim about eight miles an hour,” Brian said. “Pretty much a flick of the tail and they can get across the lake in a hurry.”
Robert echoed that sentiment. He cited research in which tagged fish were found to have moved more than 70 miles in one day.
We were crossing the lake under the power of Robert’s trolling motor when he exclaimed, “Look at the graph!”
About halfway down the water column was a thick, black horizontal stripe signifying a huge school of baitfish. The large arch-shaped spots around the bait told Robert and Brian all they needed to know. There were fish in the area, and they were feeding.
“Get those downlines to 15 feet, and get ready,” Robert said, right before the rod tips on both downlines doubled.
Soon, the downline bite was over because all the fish were feeding on top. In fact, the action got so furious that fish were hitting shad as we let line out. One time, as we were re-baiting hooks, Robert dropped a hooked shad just over the side of the boat and put the rod down. Before he could get the rod he was working on back in its holder, a fish picked up the bait that was laying by the boat and took off.
“Man, when they start biting like that, they are ferocious,” Robert said.
For tried-and-true striper and hybrid tactics that work, Robert says to find baitfish. He compared shad to the things largemouth fishermen look for when trying to locate fish.
“Bass fishermen look for stumps, logs and rock outcroppings that hold fish. Bait is the structure for white fish,” Robert said.
Still, this type of fishing isn’t as easy as just loading up some equipment, buying some shad and putting the boat in the water. Brian says it is complicated to learn.
“The learning curve with live bait and with the fish themselves is so large it’s incredible,” Brian said.
“The best way to learn is to go with a guide a few times.”
He said that while guided trips can be expensive, burning gas, wearing out trolling motor batteries and spending countless hours on the water can be just as costly and not nearly as much fun.
“A good guide can teach you how to catch bait and how to catch fish and that’s what makes it fun,” Brian said.
Another facet of fishing for linesides that Brian deems highly important is using electronics. He said it is absolutely critical to your fish-catching success to learn how to read what that little digital screen tells you.
“You’ve got to know what your graph is capable of doing and what you are seeing when you look at it,” Brian said.
In fact, when Brian was just trying to learn his way around Allatoona, he asked Robert for some advice. The two began fishing together shortly thereafter.
While Allatoona might not be as well known a striper fishery as Lanier or other lakes, it does produce some big fish and good numbers.
According to recent DNR creel surveys, Allatoona is the number two hybrid fishery in the state. Still, Robert is a catch-and-release fisherman. Robert gives customers $50 off of their next trip or hands them a $25 gift certificate to Red Lobster if they agree to release any fish that weighs in at more than 20 pounds.
“I want to see Allatoona continue to improve as a lineside lake, and I take a lot of responsibility for these fish,” Robert said. “People have always called this the ‘Dead Sea’ because they don’t believe there are many fish here, but I can tell you there are.”
If you do plan to keep some Allatoona linesides, the daily limit is 15 fish, only two of which can be 22-inches or longer.
The day Robert, Brian and I went, most of the fish we caught were larger than the 22-inch limit. The majority of the hybrids were in the 3- to 5-lb. range.
Robert said the hybrids stocked in the lake last year are from a strain that crossed a male white bass with a female striper, producing a bigger fish than the original strain, which was a cross between a female white bass and a male striper.
Fish just like this year’s Allatoona stocking were put in Carters Lake last year. Gill-net surveys by DNR fisheries biologists at that reservoir turned up 18-month old fish weighing in at four pounds. “I hope to see the same impressive growth from Allatoona’s hybrids,” Robert said.
Though it is possible to catch linesides all year long, the prime time is when the weather cools off. As the lake turns over in the fall, largemouth and spotted bass tend to move deep and get lethargic. But stripers and hybrids, which thrive in cold, oxygen-rich water, get shallow and start eating.
Often on sunny mornings, it is advisable to look around rocky banks and points at Allatoona for fish. Robert explained that when rocks are heated by the sun, they slightly heat the water around them, increasing schooling activity.
“It’s not uncommon to find them way up in the shallow water when it gets cold,” Robert said.
Robert said spreading baits with downlines, planer boards and flatlines the way he does will produce fish for most of the year. The key is to knowing how deep the baitfish are and getting shad down to them for big fish to eat.
If you get bit but miss the fish or it gets off before you get it to the boat, Robert said a look at your bait is a good way to tell what bit it. When the baits are scaled or bit in half, you are most likely enticing a largemouth or spot. But if your shad comes back without eyes, you have found what you are looking for.
“They will flat blow the eyes out of one they hit it so hard,” Robert said.
“Later in the year, when temperatures turn hot, some of Allatoona’s stripers will run up the Etowah River as far as Dahlonega to find enough oxygen to live,” Robert said. But for now, there are plenty of them and more than enough hybrids to keep a boat full of fishermen occupied.
When the weather is colder, the fishing usually heats up in the creeks and pockets. Be thorough in your search for baitfish, and you’ll likely have some success with the linesides.
Access to good fishing at Allatoona is easy. On January 4, we fished out of Galt’s Ferry, but remember, the fish might move to another area by the time you get to Allatoona. Put your boat in at Galt’s Ferry, Kellogg Creek or any number of other boat ramps around the lake. Then find some gizzard shad and hang on.
To be sure, not every day on the water is like the one we had in January. If they were, we would call it catching instead of fishing. Nonetheless, it is enough for me to recommend a striper fishing trip to all my friends.
If you are looking for some big fish and you don’t want to drive to the ocean to find them, look no farther than Lake Allatoona this winter. You just might get hooked on a whole new type of fishing.
If you decide to book a guided trip to learn the ropes, First Bite is a good place to start. Robert takes clients out for either four- or six-hour trips, but if the fishing gets good, like it was in early January, you can expect an extended stay.
“If the fish are biting, we’ll stay on the water and get after them until dark,” Robert said.
To book a trip on Robert’s boat, click on www.firstbiteguideservice.com for more information.
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