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Lake Burton Striped Bass Shocker

Robin Vaughn's 47-lb. striper sets lake record.

Steve Burch | January 5, 1989

It all started about three weeks ago.

A photo from a GON reader came in the mail. According to the note with the picture, this was a 47-lb. striper from Lake Burton.

Forty seven pounds? Lake Burton? Ha!

Occasionally, someone will try to slip one past us, and this looked like one of those tricks. As far as I knew, Lake Burton didn’t have any stripers.

First step. Call and see if this guy exists. Folks pulling pranks on poor, old, unsuspecting journalists usually won’t include their real name, but this guy, Robin Vaughn, of Toccoa, was for real and seemed true blue about his story.

Second step. Call the Fisheries Section of the Game and Fish Division.

“Hey,” we asked, “are there any stripers in Lake Burton?”

“Well,” they said, “there were some stocked back in 1973.”

“How many?”

“The records show we stocked 21,300, but I doubt you could find any in there now.”

The story held up.

On Dec. 2, Robin at last got what he had been after for 18 months. His 47-lb. striper was 46 inches long and topped off a great Thanksgiving week of fishing, which included a 30-lb. and a 38-lb. striper.

As it happened, I had planned to be up in Hiawassee over the Christmas weekend anyway, so I asked Robin to take me fishing on his lake. It was an eye-opening trip.

Robin is 40 years old and works as a machinist near his Toccoa home. He says he can still remember the first horny head he caught when he was 5, and he has been fishing ever since. He was a member of a bass club until a few years ago when he flipped a recreational vehicle, one of those six-wheel-drive buggies, and crushed his right elbow. That accident spelled the end of his casting from daylight until dark.

Now, Robin fishes primarily for bream, hybrids and his real love, stripers.

Robin says he goes at his hobbies full bore, and if how he goes after stripers is any indication, he is right. I ask you, when was the last time you saw a boat with headlights mounted into the bow? Robin’s boat has headlights and more.

Monday afternoon after Christmas, Robin and I launched his 18-foot Star Craft at LaPrade’s Marina and went off to see the lake. Lake Burton is a Georgia Power lake built in 1919 astride the Tallulah River in Rabun County. At full pool, it covers 2,775 acres and last Monday it was down about 8 feet. It is a deep, narrow lake with long finger-like coves running off the main channel. From the dam up to the Highway 76 bridge near the head of the lake is about a 10-minute run. The banks of the lake are lined with cabins and homes, very reminiscent of lakes Sinclair and Jackson.

The water temperature was about 46 degrees. As we rode around the lake, Robin had his flasher running, and we never marked either a fish or a school of baitfish. Robin says he can count on two hands the fish he has graphed on this lake in the past 18 months.

That falls in line with what the fisheries biologists say about this mountain lake. There aren’t lots of fish. The state estimates an average fish population of only 29 pounds of fish per acre. Compare this with Lake Oconee’s estimate of about 298 pounds per acre, more than 10 times as many fish.

Still, Robin is catching some big stripers on a lake that must be termed a “sleeper.” Robin’s technique since he hasn’t been able to find fish or bait with his graph, is to anchor down in a likely spot and let the fish come to him.

When I say “anchor down,” remember Robin goes at it full bore. We pulled into the mouth of Timpson Cove and anchored between the island and the north bank. Robin carries two, large fluked anchors. One has 300 feet of line, and the other had 400 feet. When he anchors, he means to stay put and not swing in the wind.

He idled across the point watching his depthfinder until he found the spot he wanted, about 28 feet deep, and tossed out a marker. He then moved about 40 yards downwind of the marker and dropped the stern anchor. Playing out line as he went, he idled to a spot about 50 yards upwind of the marker and dropped the other anchor. When we tightened the lines back up, we were within 10 feet of the marker and securely anchored for the night.

His striper gear is standard fare for those dedicated to the game; stout, 7-foot rods with Ambassador 6500 reels with clickers spooled with 20-lb. test line. Robin uses 3/0 Eagle Claw hooks. He quickly set four live trout out, fishing directly under the boat, using a 2-oz. sinker to hold the big trout down at depths varying between 20 feet and the bottom.

Then he pulled out his son’s Christmas present, a radio-controlled power boat. He attached a quick release to the back of the toy, and we set out two rods with trout under corks, using the boat to drag the bait away from the boat. It worked great.

But we didn’t catch any fish.

We were rigged and ready for battle by 4 p.m.

As the sun set, Robin got busy again. First, he erected what he calls his dog house.

“I like to be comfortable when I fish these long hours,” he said.

Robin Vaughn’s 47-lb. Lake Burton striper record.

With that, he quickly fashioned what amounts to three-quarters of a dome tent on the front of the boat. Then he set up a pair of platforms that lengthened his front casting platform. Next, he hooked his Mr. Heater propane burner to his propane tank and positioned it in front of the opening in the tent. With a lantern over each side of the boat and a light bulb burning from the top of his center console, we were well lit, had a place out of the wind and a place to stay warm. He them pumped up his one-burner stove, and we had a hot cup of coffee.

With our sleeping bags stretched out on the extended front deck, with the heater knocking the chill off under our tent, with hot coffee to sip and our trout working steadily beneath us, we had done all we could do. Now it was up to the fish.

This is how Robin fishes, and this is how he caught his 47-pounder.

By 5 a.m. Tuesday morning, everything not under the tent had a thick layer of frost, yet I hadn’t even slipped on my snow mobile suit. We had only five strikes where the clicker screamed, but likely none of those were stripers. They were probably largemouth or spotted bass or perhaps walleye. At any rate, they all dropped the trout within 4 or 5 feet of those initial strikes, and we didn’t lose a trout all night.

On the best trip Robin ever had a Burton, he and a friend took four stripers weighing 93 pounds. The most strikes he has ever had on one trip has been six. He usually catches one fish per trip.

Lake Burton does not have a lot of stripers, but it may have some very big fish. It is a hit-or-miss proposition, but you don’t have to worry about being bothered by the little ones. Every striper in Burton is 5 years olds. I don’t know if you’ve checked, but the Lake Burton striper record—Robin’s 47-pounder—is bigger than the largest striper out of Lanier.

And from what I saw, Robin Vaughn worked for it and earned it.

The state has no plans to stock any more stripers into this already predator-heavy lake. However, Robin will keep fishing this and his other striper lakes, Nottely and Hartwell, looking for one bigger than the one he caught a month ago.

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