Lake Allatoona Winter Linesides
I loaded into the boat with our crew and departed Galt’s Ferry Landing and into the bends of Lake Allatoona. As the boat skirts across the water on this frigid Tuesday morning, I can feel the chill in the air seeping through my heaviest flannel and long johns, reminding me why we are the sole boat on the waters.
However, shortly after getting settled we start hooking up on striped bass, the excitement quickly warming my hands and feet back to a somewhat normal existence. The ferocity with which striped bass attack the bait always puts a smile on my face. No matter the size that emerges from the water, a striper hit always makes the angler feel like he has the catch of the day on the other end of the line.
When the top executives in the NFL, MLB, etc. are looking to add value and experience to their lineups, they commonly turn to a veteran presence. A guy who has been through the successes, failures, and everything in between that has molded them into a seasoned expert. A guy they can trust to get the job done.
When it comes to locating and catching stripers on Lake Allatoona, Robert Eidson is the guy you call out of the bullpen to close the deal. The guy that sends you home with pictures of big stripes and fat hybrid bass to show off to your buddies. Robert is a vet whose knowledge of the lake has evolved each and every day spent on Allatoona, ever since that very first morning he unloaded his boat at Galt’s Ferry ramp and started chasing Allatoona linesides.
Robert has been manning the helm of the First Bite Guide Service for 22 years. He has seen everything there is to be seen on Allatoona, including the best techniques, reliable tips, and a few tricks for when the cold rolls down the banks and moves the water temps. First Bite is the top guide service on Lake Allatoona, running more trips a year on the lake than any other outfit. I had the pleasure of taking an early morning, frost-bitten cruise around Allatoona with Captain Rob on Dec. 8. I learned, laughed and listened to a true veteran talk about his daily experiences out on the waters he calls home base.
On this frigid Dec. 8 morning, Capt. Robert Eidson, his right-hand man and fellow guide Steve Mark, and longtime friend and fishing partner Don Tedrick set off on the still, morning waters of Lake Allatoona.
As we begin to skirt across the steaming lake, the whip of the wind provides a telling sign that there will be no shedding layers on this trip. The air temperature is hovering just above 30 degrees with the water temp sitting at a cool 54. I listen to Robert speak about the difference in cold-water fishing, stating it takes a dedication and hardiness to spend your sunrises on the water in December. This is affirmed by the fact that we are the only vessel on the lake, which would remain so our entire trip. Trading jabs and stories with Captain Rob is Steve Mark, Robert’s lead guide for First Bite other than himself. The two have known each other for years, which is undeniable watching their jovial competitiveness in action.
Steve was the guide for an Allatoona record blue catfish caught back in October, weighing in at 44 pounds (www.gon.com/fishing/44-lb-blue-catfish-sets-allatoona-record).
That record was short lived as a 52-lb. blue cat was caught in the same waters only a few weeks later (www.gon.com/fishing/52-pounder-sets-lake-allatoona-catfish-record).
This time of year presents some choices on what bait you’re running on the other end of your line. Today, Robert and Steve are running a mix of gizzard shad, shiners and trout in the chilly waters. All of these baits are from the The Dugout Bait and Tackle in Marietta. Robert says that they have the best trout he has seen in 10 years, and I am guessing our man has seen his fair share of bait trout. So on your next trip up 75, be sure to pull over into The Dugout and load your bait tank up with premium baits from premium people.
On this day’s version of the First Bite show, we are utilizing several techniques for chasing Allatoona linesides—and whatever else happened to be biting. A live-bait trip on Allatoona can produce a variety—of course our target species of striped bass and hybrids, but also big spotted bass and flathead or blue catfish.
The first technique we float out behind the boat are downrods and planer boards. For the downrod method, we are running No. 2 hooks, 1 1/2- to 2-oz. sinkers, and a 10- to 12-lb. fluorocarbon line with a fluorocarbon leader of at least 4 to 6 feet. Based on the depth of schooling baitfish that Robert sees on his electronics, we are dropping this rig down to a specified depth to meet them. In the early morning, we were generally running 26 to 30 feet with our downrods, although at times some of the lines were running deeper just above the bottom
We also ran planer boards to widen our swatch of bait swimming behind the boat. If you are unfamiliar with this method, planer boards are surface-running devices that attach to your freeline and “plane” sideways, moving your lure or live bait away from the boat. This enables you to widen your spread of bait while also preventing boat-shy fish from becoming spooked.
Planers are right- and left-handed for using on different sides of the boat, and they utilize a clip for your line on the top. Anglers like to rig the boards so that when a fish strikes, the line pulls out of the clip and the board floats free. This lets the angler fight the fish without the board causing them trouble.
As Captain Rob preaches, “We like to beat the banks with ‘em.”
The flatline method is the third angle of attack we used. On this day we were running No. 2 hooks and 10- to 12-lb. fluorocarbon line off the back of the boat. The flatlines were normally running around 40 to 70 feet back from the boat. This weightless approach allows the bait to remain suspended and free swimming in the water column, which gives us another solid bait presentation for a roaming striper.
Running planer boards can sweep some freelines in toward the shallower water, while leaving plenty of room for two flatlines off the back and two downlines off the front sides to run deep. Rob likes to match the hook size with the bait he is using. Today we are running shad on the planers, looking to tempt with bigger baits in anticipation of a bigger fish. Rob likes to put the baits out 50 to 60 feet from the boat, then clip the planer board to the line and run that another 20 to 30 feet from the boat. We run a couple flatlines and downlines, as Rob calls it “putting out a spread.” With this setup, we are now covering up to 70 feet with our baits. Four planer boards, two downlines, and two flatlines is the standard spread that Captain Rob likes to run.
“However,” he warned, “always be mindful of the number of other boats on the water. If there is traffic on the lake, pull your spreads in tighter.”
In addition to running our militia of live bait, we then started to bounce a spoon on the flats in the mid-lake section of Allatoona. We started at Kellogg Creek and moved our way up to the Delta, progressively working our way north up the lake. Specifically, we were pumping a 1 3/4-inch, 1 1/2-oz. War Eagle jigging spoon. After letting the spoon settle to the bottom, a quick twitch with the wrist will bring the spoon a few feet above the floor before it falls slowly back down. It is in this suspended fall that the majority of strikes are received. Popping the jig along the shelves/plateaus worked great for our group on this day, netting us a slew of striped bass and spotted bass. We even hooked up on a nice Allatoona flathead catfish on the jigging spoon.
Steve threw the Alabama rig behind the boat with a slow retrieve, letting the array of small soft-plastic swimbaits roll through in the cold December water to look like a school of shad.
The A-rig and jig kept us active while our downrods did their work off the front sides of the boat and the flatlines did their work in the back.
The common thread involved in all of these methods of chasing stripers is the “thumping” technique that striper anglers include in their routine. Thumping is the act of tapping on the boat floor with a wooden rod, although Captain Rob highly recommends his approach of using the bottom half of a pool stick. The thumping creates a noise emanating from the hull out into the waters. When the linesides hear or sense this noise, it brings them up in the water column and they migrate toward the noise coming from your vessel. This is an old technique but is tried and true for bringing stripers in closer to your baits.
The nose for where the bait are schooling is the real trick in navigating any lake for striped bass. If you can locate schooling baitfish, your target is normally not too far behind them.
Our day out on Allatoona proved bountiful. We hooked more than 20 fish in total. A casual popping of a jig even landed us that unexpected flathead cat. Our success is testament that the fish are out there even on the wintry December mornings, the only question is are you? These skillful combinations of bait and technique can fill up your livewell throughout the winter.
If you find yourself needing a guiding, veteran hand, remember the First Bite Guide Service headed by Capt. Robert Eidson. Whether it’s 30 degrees and windy, or hot and humid, Captain Rob can put you on the fish just like he has been doing on Allatoona for 22 years.
For more information, visit www.firstbiteguideservice.com, or give them a call at 770.827.6282.
Other Articles You Might Enjoy