Juliette’s Light Switch Stripers

If it's cloudy in March, stay at home. But when the sun comes out, the striper bite turns on like a light switch.

Don Baldwin | February 29, 2012

Woody Grainger, of Covington, holds an average-sized Juliette striper caught last month. Fish from 4 to 12 pounds are common.

Lake Juliette, near Forsyth, is a hot bed of action for striper anglers. While many of Georgia’s striper fishermen overlook this small body of water, due to it’s size and motor horsepower restrictions, it is arguably one of the better striper fisheries in the state. This 3,600-acre body of water is essentially a big holding pond that provides cooling water for the coal-fired Scherer Power Plant. Its only source of freshwater, other than rain water, is from a pumping station that brings in water from the nearby Ocmulgee River.

Most Juliette regulars are jonboat bass anglers fishing for trophy-sized largemouths the lake is generally noted for. It is a regular stop on several of the jonboat tournament trails fished across the state.

But as we experienced firsthand in late February, the lake has a thriving striped bass population, and when the conditions are right, you can wear yourself out pulling in big fish in a short period of time.

I fished Juliette with Woody Grainger and his partner Mike Kendrick, both of Covington, late last month and got a good taste of the action that is available on this small, clear lake.

Woody has been fishing Juliette since it opened for fishing in the early 80s, first for largemouths and now almost exclusively for stripers. Woody began guiding for stripers five years ago, and he spends most of his time on Juliette. He also occasionally guides for stripers on Lake Lanier, Clarks Hill and Santee Cooper in South Carolina. Woody and Mike spend an average of four days per week on the lake, and they stay in pretty close contact with what the fish are doing at any point in time.

I met the pair at Woody’s All Seasons Guide Service Bait & Tackle on Highway 87 at Juliette Road near Forsyth at about 10 a.m. on a recent Saturday morning. Woody has recently opened the tackle shop and runs his guide service out of that facility as well. After a brief tour of the new tackle shop and bait tanks, we headed out to the lake.

We drove the short distance to Dames Ferry Park near the dam and launched a 20-foot pontoon boat equipped with a 25-horsepower outboard.

“The pontoon boat is a great option for fishing for stripers on Juliette,” said Woody. “It provides plenty of room to move around, is very stable, and the 25 horsepower outboard pushes it around nicely.”

Juliette has a 25-horsepower limit for outboard motors. The outboard limitation tends to keep a lot of the bigger rigs off the lake, so there is less pressure on this small body of water than you might think. Also, there are no houses on the lake, and jet skis and water skiing are not allowed. That’s music to the ears of most serious anglers.

Woody had warned me that we would be testing our luck on this trip because the day was to be overcast and rainy with an approaching front driving an east wind. But GON deadlines being what they were, we didn’t have much choice. Once we got aboard, Woody reiterated the point.

“I’m pretty sure we can boat a fish, but cloudy days are tough on this lake,” said Woody. “When clients ask me when is the best time to go, I tell them to look at the 10-day weather forecast and pick the day that is predicted to be the most bright and sunny.”

He said the fish really turn on in the clear water when the sun is bright.

When we launched the big pontoon, the lake looked like a sheet of glass, also not an ideal condition. Woody prefers to have a little chop on the water to break up the fish’s visibility of the boat.

We made a short run across the lower end of the lake to a submerged point near the dam and opposite the ramp.

“The lake level has come up a lot lately,” said Woody. “It was down 18 feet just a couple of weeks ago, but they have been running the pump from the Ocmulgee almost constantly.”

On the day we were out, the lake was only about 4 feet below full pool. While the higher level was good, the cooler river water had dropped the surface temperature significantly, and the fish were unsettled and not completely following the expected pattern for this time of year.

Woody positioned us over the hump in about 40 feet of water and Mike began hooking blueback herring onto four stout boat rods.

“We use relatively heavy tackle because you can get into some good fish, and we want our clients to be able to handle them easily,” said Mike.

The rig consisted of a medium-heavy rod equipped with a stout casting reel with a bait clicker and a line counter. The reel was spooled with 30-lb. test Berkley Big Game monofilament line. The terminal tackle was a 2-oz. trolling sinker with a swivel built in to each end, an 8-foot fluorocarbon leader of 12- to 15-lb. test and a size 1 to 3 circle hook. The test of the leader is dependent on the amount of cover in the area you are fishing, and the circle hook is chosen to match the size of the bait.

Mike said the circle hooks serve two functions. They almost always hook the fish in the corner of the mouth, so there is less injury to the fish (Woody and Mike release many of the fish they bring aboard.) Also, the corner of the mouth hook-set keeps the leader away from the sharp teeth of the striper. The blueback is hooked through the two nostrils.

With the lines set out, we moved over the hump in what I’ll describe as a controlled drift. The rods were in rodholders on the corners of the pontoon boat, and we were moving slowly enough that the lines hung vertically from the rod tips. Woody kept the 25-hp outboard running and would pop it into gear every few seconds to nudge the boat forward at a crawl.

As we moved over the hump, Woody kept a close eye on the console-mounted graph, looking for signs of active stripers. Electronics are extremely important for this type of fishing, and Woody sets up his graph in a special way to maximize his success. With his setup, you don’t see the characteristic “arch” of a stationery fish. You can actually see the fish moving through the cone of the transducer and can even watch them come up to the bait. See the inset on page 33 for the set-up procedure.

Woody uses a Lowrance unit on his boat when fishing for stripers. He makes a few manual adjustments that he says maximizes success. Here’s the few simple changes Woody makes to his depthfinder. • Turn off all the automatic settings. Everything should be in manual mode. • Turn the screen scan speed up to 100 percent, and turn the transducer ping rate to 100 percent. • Turn the sensitivity up to where you get a little static on the screen. This setup will show every movement of the fish if it is in the cone of the transducer. It’s essentially a string of pictures taken is rapid succession. • The result is wavy or “wormy” lines, as Woody calls them, showing the movement of the fish rather than a static characteristic arch showing the presence of the fish. “You can literally see the fish come up and take your bait on the graph,” said Woody. Woody said the method is so effective he can often tell his clients which rod the striper is going to hit before it does.

Once we were set, we covered the hump with our baits spaced about 10 feet above the bottom.

“Stripers generally feed upward,” said Woody. “So we always place the bait a few feet above the depth where we believe they are holding.”

So far, Woody’s cloudy-day prediction was holding true; no movement on the graph and no action on the lines.

We moved up the lake a little to a series of points and didn’t have much better luck. We did manage to land a chunky largemouth but not the big linesides we were looking for.

After a few passes over that area, we moved a little farther up the lake to a submerged point that jutted out from the shore right next to the power plant. We had only had the lines down for a short time when a light breeze came up and there was a break in the clouds. Almost immediately we began to see action on the graph.

“Get ready, this is what we were waiting for,” said Woody.

Within minutes the graph was full of wiggly lines Woody likes to call worms, and three of our four rods were smacked by stripers.

We landed all three fish and caught one more before the cloud cover came back and the action shut off like someone had thrown a switch.

When the rain began, we knew the day was over, so we headed for the ramp. We were thankful for the brief interval of sunshine that had obviously had a big impact on the feeding activity and the success of our trip.

Woody said on clear days the brief action we had can be constant.

“The fish will literally stay right under the boat and eat all the bait you throw at them,” said Woody.

He starts every trip with 8-dozen bluebacks in his aerated bait tank and regularly runs out of bait with the fish under the boat still lighting up the graph.

Most stripers will range between 4 and 12 pounds, but the occasional 20- and 30-pounder is not unusual.

Another technique Woody uses is “drumming.” The day we were out, Woody tapped the bottom of the boat with a small hammer at intervals.

“If the fish are not active, drumming will often cause them to approach the boat and start feeding,” said Woody. He has employed drumming with success on Juliette, Lanier and Clarks Hill. He is a believer it can really make a difference when conditions are tough.

Woody spends almost all of his time fishing the lower end of Juliette where the bottom is mostly void of standing timber. While fish often hang out in the timber, it can be almost impossible to get a big one out of the timber once you have hooked it.

However, the lower end of the lake is clear, and the fish can be line shy. For that reason, Woody uses as small a diameter leader is as possible and keeps the weight well away from the bait.

“If you are seeing fish on the graph and not getting strikes, lengthen your leader, or go to a lower pound test, or both,” said Woody. “A little change like that can make a big difference in your ability to catch fish.”

While bream, trout and shad are good options, blueback herring are by far Woody’s favorite striper bait.

“I like big baits up to about 8 (inches),” said Woody. “Stripers like big baits, and the bluebacks have a flash in the sunlight that really attracts them.”

Woody keeps a good supply of bluebacks on hand in large tanks at the tackle shop. That is a real plus for Juliette anglers, because until recently there were none available in the area, and they had to be brought in from as far away as Lake Lanier.

In addition to the downlines, Woody and Mike always keep a spinning rod rigged with a bucktail jig or surface plug like a Rapala. The stripers will often surface in schools chasing bait, and a well-placed cast can create an immediate hook up.

“If you see diving birds, go investigate,” said Mike. “There is likely a school of feeding stripers under them.”

The striper action will be hot on Juliette this month, so head to the lake. Visit Woody Grainger at All Seasons Guide Service Bait & Tackle, and he’ll set you up with everything you need. He rents boats, including pontoons, Bass Trackers and jonboats, has a full store of tackle, as well as tanks full of bluebacks for your trip.

Visit his website at <www.allsea> and give him a call at (478) 994-8895 to book a trip. He knows the lake and the habits of the fish, and you are likely to catch a boatload of chunky linesides. Oh, by the way, make sure you pick a sunny day.

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