Lake Lanier Neglected Largemouth

For great March largemouth fishing, head to Georgia's best spotted bass lake.

Don Baldwin | March 1, 2003

What’s this? A bass article on Lake Lanier that focuses on largemouths? Virtually every bit of press having to do with bass fishing on Lanier over the last couple of years has focused on the growing spotted bass population in this famous body of water north of Atlanta, and with good reason.

A number of factors have caused the average size of Lanier’s spotted bass to explode. It isn’t unusual today for a five-fish tournament limit to approach 20 pounds and for all five fish to be butterball spotted bass. That was less likely just three or fours years ago, when the top tournament bags usually had a kicker largemouth or two. Lanier changed big time when blueback herring became established as a primary baitfish in the lake. Spotted bass have grown fat chasing bluebacks, and some fishermen got fat in the wallet catching them on topwater throughout the late spring and summer. Tournament anglers in particular have begun to focus on these big spots, and as a result they generally ignore the largemouth population on Lanier.

Billy Boothe goes against the grain of most Lanier tournament anglers by seeking out largemouth bass. He caught this 5 1/2-pounder on Feb. 13, 2003 while fishing with the author.

The 2001 Georgia Bass Chapter Federation Tournament results, produced by Dr. Carl Quertermus at the State University of West Georgia, show that only 17.5 percent of the bass weighed in at Lanier tournaments that year were largemouths. Of the 18 bodies of water where statistics were kept, only Lake Allatoona had a lower percentage of largemouths weighed in at 14.4 percent. The lower percentages are most likely as much due to the shift in tournament anglers approach to the lake as they are to the improvement in the spotted bass population. There just aren’t as many people fishing for largemouths as there were previously.

That is just fine with Billy Boothe of Cumming, a Lanier tournament regular who still believes in the Lanier largemouth. Billy, just 18 years old, is already well on his way to achieving his dream of becoming a professional tournament fisherman. He has an impressive tournament record and is a member of the Zipper Worm Pro Staff. He spends two to three days a week on Lanier and focuses almost exclusively on largemouths.

“There are still plenty of largemouths in Lanier,” Billy said. “Now that the spotted bass have improved in quality so much, tournament anglers aren’t looking for that ‘anchor’ largemouth like they used to.”

A common previous tournament strategy on Lanier was to catch a limit of spots and head north to cull with the bigger largemouth.

“I think there is much less pressure on the largemouth population, and as a result my largemouth catch rate has been steadily improving,” Billy said.

He added that largemouths of around three pounds are fairly common, and he sees plenty of fish over five pounds.

A secondary point like this that has the added bonus of isolated rip-rap is a perfect “out-of-the-ordinary” March location to find prespawn bass.

It has long been known that to catch a largemouth, go to the upper end of the lake, and that is where Billy spends most of his time.

“I work the lake basically from the immediate area around Browns Bridge north,” said Billy.

One of his favorite areas is up the Chestatee arm where Julian Creek becomes Thompson Creek.

“This area seems to hold a lot of largemouths, particularly in March and April,” he said. “While I can catch largemouths farther down the lake, I find that my larger fish almost always come from the upper end.”

In late February and early March, Billy concentrates his efforts in eight to 12 feet of water.

“In early March the largemouths will start to move into a pre-spawn pattern and stack up in the relatively shallow water,” Billy said.

The best locations will have much deeper water nearby giving the fish easy access to move up and down with changing weather conditions.

“I look for water temperatures of at least 50 degrees, but 55 degrees is best,” adds Billy.

We were on the lake on February 13 and found surface temperatures varying between 41 degrees up the Chestatee to 45 degrees below Browns Bridge. “The Chestatee arm tends to stay cooler than locations closer to the main lake,” Billy said. As the days get warmer and longer, the water temperature should increase sharply and should be about right in early March.

For the early spring, pre-spawn, pattern Billy uses three baits almost exclusively; a 3/8-oz. rubber-skirted Zipper jig with plastic trailer, a Texas-rigged lizard with a 3/8-oz. bullet weight, and a small Bandit 200 series crankbait. Preferred colors for the jig and lizard are pumpkin seed and orange-brown emulating a crawfish. For the crankbait Billy chooses an imitation-crawfish color or a chartreuse-and-white color combination.

Billy attributes some of his success to multiple bait presentation in the same spot. When he approaches a piece of cover, he might throw the crankbait first and follow it up with the jig or lizard, or vice versa.

“I might throw three different baits under a likely boat dock and make a total of 20 casts before I move on,” Billy said. “I often find that I’ll catch a spotted bass right away, and if I keep fishing the area with a slightly different bait, I’ll pick up a nice largemouth out of the same hole.”

Billy feels that the spotted bass are more aggressive and will almost always beat the largemouths to the first offering. His experience shows that patience is often rewarded with a nice largemouth for the livewell. In the cold water of early March, Billy emphasizes that a slow, deliberate presentation is most effective. Largemouths aren’t likely to chase a bait very far under these conditions.

When selecting areas to fish, Billy looks for subtle differences from the surrounding area. In a line of similar boat docks Billy will select the oldest one in the line, or one with stationary poles among floating docks. He also looks for subtle changes in bottom structure under docks that are surrounded by an otherwise flat bottom. Areas where there is a change in bank or bottom composition can also be productive, according to Billy.

“I look for places where a clay bank changes abruptly to sand, or sand to pebbles. A small section of rip-rap on an otherwise smooth bank can also be productive,” Billy said.

One of his favorite tactics is to follow-up other anglers with a slightly different bait. “This time of year I see a lot of fishermen throwing spinnerbaits,” Billy said. “When I see someone working a bank with a spinnerbait, I like to come in behind them and swim a jig slowly through the same area. Often that subtle difference in bait selection and presentation can draw a strike from a bass that ignored the blade.”

As water temperatures continue to rise through late March and early April the largemouths will begin to go on the bed, particularly around the full moon.

“I like to fish the full moon and new moon in late March and early April when the water temperature reaches 60 degrees,” Billy said. “I focus on water that is eight feet or less in depth and often in as little as two feet of water.”

While many anglers go after the bedding largemouths in the backs of shallow coves, Billy again looks for something just a little different to give him an edge.

“When the fish are on the bed, I tend to stay away from the backs of coves because they get so much pressure this time of year,” Billy said. “I look for ‘out of the ordinary’ places that aren’t likely to be hit by someone else.”

Billy concentrates his efforts on hard-to-reach places where fish might be holding — like well back under boat docks or behind an isolated stump in shallow water. For bigger bass he suggests that you look for a protected spot on the main lake like a small pocket on a long main-lake point or a submerged hump close to a protecting island. These not-so-obvious places are less likely to get the pressure and are more likely to produce quality fish. Any shallow spot that is protected from the current and wind can hold bedding bass. They can be especially good if there is much deeper water nearby.

When fishing for bedding fish, Billy selects small, compact baits that can be fished with a slow, deliberate presentation. He prefers highly-visible colors. His favorites include a 4-inch, slim-profile tube jig, fluke-type baits, and a Zipper bait called the “zip zip.” Color selections include white, pink, chartreuse, and green pumpkin. The bright colors are more about angler visibility than fish attraction.

“When fishing for bedding fish, it is important to stay away from the beds and make long casts to the fish,” Billy said. “Bedding fish can be very spooky, and if you move in too close, the fish will swim off and be unlikely to bite. For those long casts it is important to use a lure that you can see well in the clear, shallow water. Strikes can be so subtle that you’ll never feel them, and your only indication of a bite will be when the lure disappears.”

Light line of 6- to 8-lb. test will enhance your catch rate, and light spinning gear on at least a 6 1/2-foot rod will make the long casts easier.

Billy recommends that you keep a couple of the more natural lure colors such as green pumpkin or crawfish in the arsenal for those especially spooky fish that just won’t hit the brightly-colored baits. This type of fishing is more like hunting or stalking, and it is important to be able to see your prey and your bait at all times. A good pair of polarized sunglasses is an important piece of tackle to have aboard. Also, the quieter the day the better. If there is a lot of wind whipping up the surface you might as well head down lake and try to pull a spot or two out of a brushpile. It’s tough to catch bedding fish if you can’t see them.

Another important factor in sight fishing for bedding fish, according to Billy, is to watch the fish’s behavior. “When I spot a fish that is holding in a bedding area, I watch it for a while before I make the first cast,” said Billy. “If the fish is moving in tight circles of about three feet around the bed, it is likely that it can be enticed to strike. If the fish is moving in wide looping circles, it has more than likely been spooked by your approach, or another angler, and generally won’t strike.”

Whether you are fishing for pre-spawn fish early in the month or stalking bedding bass in late March and April, there is some excellent largemouth fishing available on Lanier. Even in the cold water of mid-February Billy landed a healthy 5- to 6-lb. bass on our trip on February 13.

Sure the spotted bass fishing on Lanier is great and seemingly still getting better. But, from all indications, the pressure is down on the largemouth population. Be patient, fish slowly, mix up the baits, and look for subtle differences. Some quality largemouths — caught from Georgia’s best spotted bass lake — could be the result.

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