Carters Lake Planer-Board Winter Stripers

Fishing guide Buddy Callihan uses planer boards to pull live bait in front of wintertime striped bass.

Brad Bailey | April 25, 2006

At mid-morning on November 16, Buddy Callihan and I motored halfway back into Worley Creek at the upper end of Carters Lake. As Buddy lowered the trolling motor into the water a striper surged on the surface — twice, chasing shad.

“That is what we want to see,” said Buddy, as he set about rigging live-bait lines. In a few minutes we were easing along with a trout behind a planer board on either side of the boat and another trout under a balloon straight out the back of the boat. Under gray skies and a light rain, I was casting a Zara Spook hoping for a topwater bite while we waited for a strike.

You can often tell what’s hitting the bait by the reaction on the surface, said Buddy. “A big spotted bass will play with it. They will come up and smack the trout and run off. A striper will usually pull the planer backwards. I like to see it go under before I set the hook.”

There was no doubt about what hit our first bait. The 4-inch yellow balloon far behind the boat bounced violently on the surface as the striper took the bait. I grabbed the rod from the rod holder and set the hook, then enjoyed a strong surge as the fish ran, pulling line.

Buddy claims the fish in Carters fight better than the stripers at Lake Lanier, and having caught both in the last month or so, I’d have to agree. The fish made three long, strong, powerful runs, trying to run deep, before coming to thrash on the surface behind the boat. A few minutes later we had an 11-lb. striper in the boat for pictures.

“That is about what you can expect on Carters,” said Buddy. “The fish have been running from about 10 to 14 pounds.”

That’s a good, quality striper — and they pull good.

Buddy Callihan with a typical Carters striped bass. Most fish will run in the 10- to 14-lb. range.

Buddy Callihan guides for stripers and/or spotted bass on Carters. If he isn’t on the lake, you will find him behind the counter helping out his son, Bart, and wife, Donna, at Bart’s Bait & Tackle on Hwy 136. The bulletin board in the store is covered with Polaroids of anglers with Carter’s striped bass.

Buddy’s general plan of attack this time of year is live bait behind a planer board off each side of the boat; live bait under a balloon far behind the boat; and then he will cast topwater lures or a bucktail as the boat wind-drifts or slow-trolls along a bank.

This time of the year, he mostly fishes with live trout. In most cases he uses a 1/0 Kahle hook on 15- to 20-lb. line. The optimum size trout is in the 4- to 6-inch range — but he may use trout up to nine or 10 inches. The bigger trout eliminate the pestering by small spotted bass and the stripers will hammer the bigger baits, too, says Buddy.

Buddy is a believer in planer boards. He attaches the fishing line to the planer eight or so feet above the bait. A planer can be rigged with the line running through a swivel so that the planer remains on the line after a strike, but Buddy prefers to attach the planer without the swivel. On the hookset, the line pops free of the clips on the planer.

“I would rather just fight the fish and then go back and get the board than have to fight the planer and the fish,” said Buddy.

The planer boards separate the baits allowing you to cover a wide swath of water. Too, they allow you to pull baits right up on the bank, while your boat stays in deeper water.

“More than anything, the planers allow you to pull your bait through undisturbed water off to the side of the path of the boat,” said Buddy. “That’s the same reason I run a balloon so far behind the boat.”

Some striper fishermen run two planers out of each side of the boat. For Buddy two planers and one balloon are plenty.

“You can put more bait in the water — you can put out five lines instead of three, but all you are doing there is getting in a sure-enough mess if you get a fish on.”

In the winter, Buddy heads up-lake looking for stripers.

“When the water temperature drops, the bait moves into the creeks and up the river and the stripers follow them,” said Buddy. “As the water temperature drops, they will concentrate even farther back in the creeks and up the river.”

Finding bait is key to finding stripers and we found plenty of clouds of bait. On the points near the Doll Mountain ramp, up the river, and in Worley Creek there was plenty of bait.

The stripers at Carters don’t consistently school on top like they do at Lake Lanier. Usually it’s a single fish at a time — but if you are close enough, they will bust a topwater lure. Early in the day, Buddy will have one of two baits tied on to work the banks as he pulls the trout — a Super Spook Jr. or a Red Fin.

“The 7-inch Red Fin in chrome with a black back, or chrome with a blue back will work on stripers, but I usually prefer a Super Spook Jr. The smaller bait will catch stripers, and it will also catch spotted bass,” said Buddy.

Throwing topwater is a good way to get your rod bent by one of Carter’s magnum spots. On November 11, Ron LaFayette landed a 6.54-lb. spotted bass while casting a Red Fin.

Later in the morning, Buddy opts to cast a white bucktail, either swimming it straight back to the boat, or yo-yoing it back.

Early in the afternoon, with rain gear on, we fished about a mile up the river across a small island. Striper Island, according to Buddy. He maneuvered the boat to make one of the planers veer to within 15 feet of the bank.

“Sometimes they will hit the line out in the middle of the river and the next time they will hit the bait on the bank.” said Buddy. “Maybe in the shallow water the stripers have an easier time cornering the bait.”

A few minutes later, a splash like dropping a cinder block in the water signaled that a striper had run the trout up on the line next to the bank and struck on the surface. Buddy played the fish in — weathering several strong runs from a sleek, silvery fish. This striper was nearly a carbon copy of the first and pulled Buddy’s scales down to 10 1/2 pounds. After taking pictures, the striper went back into the lake. Maybe next time someone catches it, the fish will weigh 20 pounds.

Buddy is an advocate of catch-and-release striper fishing to help the top-end potential for striped bass in the lake. The Carters Lake record striped bass is a 29.58-lb. striper caught by 10-year-old angler Morgan Gluch on July 12, 2000. There are likely bigger stripers in the lake.

Buddy is one of Carter’s biggest advocates. “Carters is a gorgeous lake,” he says. Twice recently he has seen deer swimming the lake, often there are deer or turkeys on the bank, occasionally bald eagles soar overhead — and there is almost no development on the banks.

To book a striper-fishing trip on one of Georgia’s most scenic lakes, you can reach Buddy at (706) 253-2248.

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