Juliette Bass And Striper Topwater Combo In May
You never know whether the next strike will be a hungry largemouth or an explosive striper.
There is no better place to be on a May morning than topwater fishing on a lake full of hungry stripers and largemouth bass. Topwater action in central Georgia is at its best in May. The water is warm and most bass have finished their spawning activities and are concentrating on eating. If a topwater lure knocked out of the water by a hard-headed striper or sucked under by a big largemouth is your idea of fun, then Lake Juliette is a great place to fish in May. Juliette, a 3,600-acre lake on Rum Creek WMA near Macon, is well suited to topwater fishing because of the clear water, numerous long points, humps, steep drop-offs and populations of both stripers and largemouth that make their living chasing shad.
Whether you’re after largemouth or stripers, Juliette always offers the opportunity for a big fish. Last year a new lake record was set for stripers — a 40-lb., 8-oz. monster caught in March. And for those of you largemouth fishermen, Juliette has long been known as a lake for big bass.
Billy Whatley lives close to Lake Juliette, and he fishes there a couple of times a week for stripers. He has located quite a few big-fish hangouts over the past couple of years and recently agreed to share some of these hangouts and techniques for catching big fish with GON readers.
“Nothing beats a Redfin here for big stripers,” said Billy. “It’s just about the only topwater lure I throw out here. You won’t get as many largemouths on the Redfin like you will on a Spook or some of the others, but you’ll always catch more and bigger stripers. Work the Redfin with a slow, steady retrieve, waking it just under the surface, or you can speed it up and let it run three or four inches deep, depending on what the fish want that day.”
If you prefer largemouths over stripers or want to catch both, Zara Spooks and other walking-type lures are hard to beat on Juliette. Both largemouths and stripers will hit a Spook, particularly if the fish are breaking on top. The stripers and largemouths often run together when chasing shad, so on a good day a striper may hit on one cast and a largemouth on the next. In addition to Spooks, Pop-Rs and Chug Bugs will also draw topwater strikes from both species. If the fish aren’t very aggressive and don’t want to hit a bait right on top try a Zoom Super Fluke or a different soft plastic jerk bait fished just under the surface. When the bass are hitting the hard lures but not taking them, or just swirling and missing, a Fluke will often catch them. White, chrome, clear and natural-looking shad colors will work well with either the hard or soft lures.
The topwater bite is typically best in early mornings and late evenings, although with persistence fish can be drawn up from deep water throughout the day since the water is so clear at Juliette. On cloudy or overcast days, the topwater bite can last throughout the day. Early in the morning, it’s a good idea to target the tops of humps or points first and always keep a sharp lookout for breaking fish, shad on the surface, seagull activity or any other indication that bass may be chasing shad. If you see surface activity, approach it quietly with the outboard turned off, or the fish will go down and you may not see them again. As the day progresses and the sun gets higher, fish around the deeper edges of weed beds and out toward the end of the points. Fish will sometimes come up from 15 or 20 feet of water to hit a big topwater lure.
Billy says the best part of the lake for topwater action in May is the middle section, from just downstream of the power plant up to where the thick timber was left standing in the main-lake channel. If you put in at the Dames Ferry boat ramp (just off Highway 23/87) head up the lake toward the smokestacks and cooling towers of Plant Scherer. About 1/4 mile up the lake from the ramp an island sticks out into the main body of the lake on the left. The point extending from the end of this island runs all the way out to the old Rum Creek channel. This is a good place to start casting and looking for topwater activity.
Two hundred yards up the lake on the same side as the island is another good point. This point doesn’t look like much above the water, but it extends well out into the lake all the way to the creek channel. Near the end of this point the water is 14-feet deep on top of the point, and it drops off to 70-feet deep on either side. Spend a little time looking around with the depthfinder and you can find a good hump located between these two points. On the upstream side of the second point, Billy pointed out a small island about 50 yards offshore that is a good place to catch largemouth.
Directly across the lake from these two points is a green field along the shoreline. There are a couple of good points that extend out from this green field and a couple more along the wooded shoreline nearby. Billy likes to target these four points and the area around them for stripers, and he occasionally catches big largemouth while fishing for stripers.
Upstream and around the bend from the green fields is Plant Scherer and another area that provides good topwater action in May. Fish often surface chasing shad in the big cove directly in front of the power plant. One of the best locations here is around the big water intake structure and the riprap directly in front of the power plant. The points on either side of this cove are good locations as well. Directly across the main channel from this cove, about 30 yards offshore, is a small submerged rock island where fish often surface while chasing shad. When the water is low this island sticks up several feet out of the water.
Lake Juliette was built on higher ground than most reservoirs, and because of this there are more points, humps and similar structure than on most other central Georgia lakes. The locations Billy pointed out are just a few that will get you started. Many more points are visible on the lake and a little time spent motoring around watching the depthfinder will reveal other points and humps literally all over the lake. The best points are long ones that come way out into the lake, often all the way to the main creek channel. Humps near deep water, especially those that have weeds on top, are usually the most productive. Because the water is so clear at Juliette, weeds will often grow 15-feet deep. If a hump comes to within 10 or 15 feet of the surface, it will probably have weeds on top in May, which makes it an even better place to fish.
Live-Bait Striped Bass
Since topwater fishing is best in early mornings and late evenings, a good plan for a May trip to Juliette includes fishing topwater during the early morning, then changing over to live bait such as shiners, shad or bream and drift fishing for stripers as the sun gets higher in the sky and sends the fish deeper. If you’re fishing in the afternoons and evenings, simply reverse the pattern and try live bait first, then switch to topwater later in the evening as the sun sinks low.
The same areas mentioned in this article for topwater action are also good places to drift a free-lined live bait in the middle of the day. Drift over the points and humps, but also target the deeper water around the edges or the ends of the points. Billy took me out on the lake in April to point out some of the best locations for May, and we tried drifting shiners. While drifting in front of the green field mentioned in the article, I hooked a big striper that nailed a shiner and headed for the far end of the lake. I watched with dismay as the big fish stripped line off the reel until the bare spool was showing through the last few turns of line. Just as it seemed like he was going to take it all and never slow down, the fish turned and gave a chance to gain some line. Unfortunately, the fight only lasted a few more minutes before the fish wrapped the line around a submerged tree and broke off, but I got an exciting sample of some of the big stripers in Juliette.
Billy uses a simple rig for free-lining live bait. He ties a Gamakatsu No. 1 or 1/0 shiner hook to an 18- to 24-inch leader, then ties that on a barrel swivel on the main line. A couple of small split shot just above the swivel keep the bait below the surface. The swivel keeps the line from twisting as the bait drifts, and the sharp Gamakatsu hooks are critical since stripers have tough mouths. Billy prefers large shiners for bait because they are easier to keep and tougher than shad.
Boudoin’s Grocery carries large shiners when they can get them. Boudoin’s is located a few miles north of Plant Scherer on Hwy. 23/87, at its intersection with Juliette Road. KC’s Bait and Tackle at 5452 Thomaston Road in Macon also carries large shiners if you are coming from that direction. Shiners can be kept alive for a while in a livewell or even a big water cooler if you don’t have a bait tank. Just be sure not to overcrowd them. A good rule of thumb is 10 gallons of water for a dozen shiners if you don’t plan to aerate. This will usually keep the bait alive for most of the day. Keep a fresh bait on, and hang onto your rod or use a good rod holder. When a big striper hits it’s like hooking into a mad bull.
The topwater bite at Juliette should be getting fired up by the time this issue of GON arrives in your mailbox. Billy had heard of a few folks catching fish on top in April during the warm spells, but May is definitely the best month to be there. Stock up on your Spooks and Redfins because the stripers and even the bigger largemouth can tear up some tackle. Billy likes to use 15- or 20-lb. P-Line on his striper rigs, but you may want to go down to 12-lb. test if you’re after largemouth. Line size is not that critical for most topwater baits, but smaller line may result in more strikes when fishing a Fluke or jerk bait.
There’s a few things to remember before you go fishing. Juliette is strictly a fishing lake, and there is a 25 h.p. limit on outboards. There are a lot of humps and points that extend far out into the lake and also a lot of submerged timber, so be careful if you aren’t familiar with the lake. Remember there is a 15-fish limit on stripers, and no more than two may be kept over 22 inches. Many of the stripers you catch at Juliette will be over 22 inches so be sure not to keep more than two, or better yet release the big ones and keep the smaller ones to eat. There is no minimum length limit on largemouth bass at Juliette.
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