Lake Lanier Spotted Bass Busting Topwater All Summer Long

Blueback herring have created an unusual, heat-of-the-day topwater bite with bass so aggressive you'll be amazed. And we're talking trophy spots!

Daryl Kirby | July 27, 2001

All those experts who told you topwater is an early-morning-only pattern, they were wrong. So were the guys who said that in the summer once the sun comes out you have to shake a worm in 40 feet of water to tempt bass. Things have changed on Georgia’s best spotted bass lake.
Something started happening at Lake Lanier last summer, and it is continuing this summer.

Call it a phenomenon… Call it a miracle… Call it heaven.

The spotted bass are destroying topwater plugs during the heat of the day — and some of these fish are huge!

Guide Steven Woodall was the first to let me in on Lanier’s topwater summer secret. Last summer it really was a secret, and there was some money won in the Lanier tournaments by anglers who knew about the midday topwater bite.

This summer, the topwater pattern has been even better, and it’s not just that the fish hit even better on bright and sunny days, it’s the quality of the fish that are blowing up on topwater baits that has surprised everyone.

“Almost every time I’ve fished for them since early July we’ve caught a good one… I mean a 4-pounder or better. That’s a bigger spotted bass than most people will ever catch, and those magnums are almost common right now at Lanier,” Steven said.

The fact that you can catch fish of that caliber on top… well, it’s so much fun it should dang near be illegal.

This is a monster spotted bass! Guide Steven Woodall caught and released the magnum spot at 1 p.m. on July 11, 2001 at Lake Lanier. It was 94 degrees, bright and sunny, and the bass destroyed a topwater Sammy, then made one of the prettiest jumps you’ll ever see.

Steven’s problem has been that most of his clients have wanted to fish for stripers because right now is the best time of the year for numbers of Lanier linesides. Meanwhile, Steven sees the spots chasing bluebacks all day long, and he he’s been dying to throw at them.

He didn’t have any trouble at all talking this writer into spending some time on Lanier. There’s nothing like topwater action to get the blood pumping, and I don’t know of a Georgia fish that puts on a better topwater show than a big spotted bass.

“Meet me at nine,” Steven said when we set up the trip. “There’s no need to be out there at daylight. They don’t get started good until 10:30 or so.”

The change at Lanier that has created this summertime, all-day-long topwater bite is the explosion of blueback herring in the lake. Bluebacks, illegally introduced into Lanier several years ago, have become a primary target of spotted bass and stripers.

Now before we go any further, please don’t get any ideas about taking bluebacks to your favorite lake. The herring are predator fish, which means they eat baby bass. The dynamics of Lake Lanier’s spotted-bass fishery might mitigate the blueback’s negative impact, but on other lakes they can decimate a largemouth population.

“Bluebacks don’t act like shad, and the bass and stripers are changing the way they feed because of them,” Steven said. “Shad will ball up in a bunch and a bass will dart in there and pick one off. It’s like a shad’s defense is numbers. They play the odds game. A blueback doesn’t do that. If a bass or striper comes by, a blueback gets the heck out of there, and the bass and stripers have learned to chase them.”

Which helps explain why a Zara Spook or a Lucky Craft Sammy fished as fast as you can work it across the surface will draw a topwater strike over 40 feet of water.

When we fished Lanier on July 11, we actually didn’t get started until a little after 10 a.m.

Steven put his Skeeter in at Six Mile Creek, and we headed toward the main lake. His first stop was toward the mouth of Six Mile at marker 5SM, a pair of small islands sitting off the right bank as you head toward the main lake. Steven started out throwing a Sammy, which is a great “walk-the-dog” style topwater plug, but at $16 it’s an expensive bait. I picked up a Baby Spook and we began making super-long casts, almost randomly — some toward the island and reef markers, to the sides, even behind the boat over 60 feet of water.

“You really never know where they’re going to come up,” Steven said. “It’s not like with shad where you mark the bait and the bass are sitting right under them. The herring move around a lot more in open water, and the bass will suspend in the timber or sit off a drop and wait on them. When they decide to chase them, they go wherever the herring take them.”

We didn’t get a strike after about 10 minutes, but on his graph Steven was marking some bass that were sitting off a point in about 18 feet of water. He quickly picked up a spinning rod with a Finesse worm and dropped it straight down. About three seconds after the worm hit the bottom, Steven set the hook on our first bass of the morning — a 12-inch spotted bass, which isn’t a keeper on Lanier anymore with the current 14-inch length limit on bass.

“That’s probably a bunch of small bass that I’m marking,” Steven said as he released the bass and pulled the trolling motor.

“Let’s ride.”

Steven headed south on the main lake and hit another small island just off the main lake. This time we quickly saw a fish slashing the surface as a herring skittered away, jumping clear of the surface and moving more quickly than you’d think.

I made a quick cast to the boil, but didn’t get a strike — only to see the bass continue the chase 30 yards away.

“That shows you how fast those herring move,” Steven said. “It’s hard to throw to breaking fish and catch one because the herring are getting the heck out of there and taking the bass with them.”

A few minutes later my guide made a long cast toward the island and began a quick walk-the-dog retrieve.

I was watching his bait when …“Smack!” A solid 2-lb. spotted bass exploded on the Sammy. It was 10:30 a.m., not a cloud in the sky, and already showing signs of the brutal heat that was coming for what would turn out to be the hottest day of the summer to that point.

Five minutes later a fish knocked Steven’s plug a foot out of the water. He kept the bait moving, and the fish hit and missed again, then came back and hit for a third time and got a mouthful of treble hooks.

“Anybody who doesn’t love that isn’t alive,” Steven laughed as he fought a jumping, hard-digging 3-lb. spotted bass to the boat.

“Look at the belly on this fish. That’s from the herring. All of these spots, even the little ones, are butterballs,” he said.

Next we headed across the lake to Big Creek, home of Holiday Marina and a fair amount of boat traffic even on a Wednesday. We tried a couple of reef markers without a strike, then hit a few more locations on the main lake without a hit.

“You just have to run-and-gun,” Steven said. “I really can’t tell you certain spots where people can go to catch them because it can changes from day to day. Basically the places I’ve been hitting are reef markers and humps. I’m out here every day, so I’ve been able to keep up with some good schools of bass.”

At our next stop we hit paydirt. Steven’s Sammy disappeared in a flash of water and green shoulders.

“That’s a huge spot! Throw in there, there’s another one with it!”

About that time the fish jumped, completely clearing the water. If you’ve ever seen a spot so big it looks like a really good largemouth, you know how excited we were when Steven lipped the huge bass. That spot weighed every bit of 5 pounds.

I had two highlights during our midday topwater foray. The first occurred when my Baby Spook got hammered with a slashing strike, then instantly I was watching the drag slip as I held on for dear life.

“Definitely a striper,” Steven said. “They’re not hitting on top as good as they were a month ago, but there’s still some up here chasing herring.” After a long and hard fight, I finally got the 14-lb. striper to the boat.

My second highlight came at a hump just north of Brown’s Bridge, the only spot we fished on that side of the bridge. I was working a Sammy with a quick retrieve when the next thing we know there’s a huge spotted bass flying through the air. The bass literally came 4 feet out of the water, did a nice arch, then landed head first with my plug still in his mouth. I had to wait until the bass landed to set the hook, and with that fish’s Michael Jordan hang-time, it seemed like forever. The bass weighed a good 4 pounds, my biggest spotted bass in several years.

We fished just under four hours and our tally was 14 spotted bass caught and released — only two of which were under the 14-inch length limit. We also caught three stripers.

Steven said the topwater bite for spotted bass last year continued through the heat of August and September and on into late November when the water temperatures cooled. He expects it to be the same this year.

In what is a surprise to Steven and a shock to me, very few of Steven’s clients want to take advantage of Lake Lanier’s awesome topwater spotted bass action. Most are interested in going after a big striper.

“Right now we really have the best of both worlds at Lanier,” Steven said. “It’s the best time of the year for numbers of stripers, and after catching some of them we can go out and throw topwater for a while in the middle of the day and catch these big spots.”

If you can afford it, throw one of those $16 Sammys, which seemed to produce better than the Baby Spook or the Super Spook, although all drew strikes. Some days you can’t work the bait too fast, other days they want it slower. Let the bass decide.

About the only days they really don’t hit good are when it’s really cloudy all day, or when there’s no wind at all. If it’s slick, it’s tough to get them to hit on top.

“You can catch them on a Super Fluke too, but you can’t cast it as far, and I just like seeing them hit on top.”

As far as where to go, that’s a tough one because these big spotted bass could be anywhere, and they could move with the herring. Main-lake markers and humps, or those just inside the creeks and pockets off the main lake, are your best bet.

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