Lake Nottely April Striped Bass Bite
Observe and adapt to the changing April bite on this mountain reservoir.
Joe DiPietro | April 2, 2011
Lake Nottely is one of the top lakes in north Georgia when it comes to producing big stripers. When compared with the other mountain lakes, it may be the best.
This month the fish will be on the move from their wintertime patterns into a spawning attempt and back into a transitional period before they head to their summertime haunts. As a result, the fish will be grouped up for much of the month while they move around throughout the lake. This means anglers will require a variety of tactics to stay on the stripers. Within the course of a single day, the pattern could change from schooling activity on top, to shallow trolling, to downlining the creek mouths. Keeping a close eye on your depthfinder, and being ready to adjust locations and tactics will be key to catching linesides on this deep, clear lake in April.
Lineside guide Jeremy Seabolt, of Blairsville, and I met at the boat ramp on the eastern side of the dam early on a mid-March morning. The air was still cool, and cloud cover hung over the entire lake. After launching the boat, we slowly ran across the lake to mouth of Conley Creek.
“Up until about May, just about anywhere you fish in a creek mouth you’re going to catch fish,” Jeremy said.
The secret is to fish lively bait and to present it in the way the fish want it at any given moment. Usually, Jeremy uses big blueback herring or gizzard shad. Trout are employed by some anglers, but Jeremy said he rarely uses them.
“I’ve done just fine using herring or shad,” Jeremy said. “Trout can be tougher to keep alive, and I’ve not had much luck with trout on this lake.”
Catching bait on Nottely can be a hard thing to do. Jeremy recommends anglers buy bait instead of trying to catch it.
“There’s plenty of bait in this lake, but there’s not any one place you can go and catch it every time,” Jeremy said. “The most important thing about bait is that you keep it lively. Stripers want frisky bait.”
In the beginning of April, the shallow-water bite should be in full swing. To target these fish, Jeremy likes to use freelines and planer boards.
“I like fishing planer boards because they get the bait out away from the boat and up onto the banks where those fish are at,” Jeremy said.
Jeremy uses 12-lb. test on his heavy baitcasting rigs for fishing live bait on freelines and with planer boards.
“A lot of people try to use heavier line on Nottely, and I’ve found you can’t get away with that here because the water is too clear,” Jeremy said. “For my leaders, I move down to 10-lb. because of that. You’d be surprised the size of fish you can catch on 12-lb.”
To keep up with his light-line method, Jeremy sets his drag a little lighter so the fish are able to pull line when they want it.
On his freelines and planer-board rigs, Jeremy uses a 4- to 6-foot section of 10-lb. test leader material with a 1/0 or 2/0 hook on it. He sets his planer boards about 20 to 30 feet ahead of the bait. Then he fishes the boards about 40 to 60 feet off the back of his boat.
Good places to look for fish on your graph include areas around steep, rocky banks, shallow points and the lake’s many creek mouths. Conley, Ivylog and Youngcane creeks can be particularly hot in April.
As the fish get ready to spawn, there’ll be a good number of them that head to the dam instead of the lake’s tributary river.
“We don’t get a really good river run on this lake,” Jeremy said. “There’s still a few fish that run up the river, but not enough to really try to catch them up there. I catch just as many down by the dam.”
The handful of islands between points two and six are also a good location to hunt for stripers in April. The river channel cuts deep around the islands and forms good swaths of deep water adjacent to shallow water which holds stripers when they’re feeding. When you start marking fish, let out your freelines and boards.
Jeremy killed the motor in the mouth of Conley Creek, and we put out two lines behind planer boards and set one freeline out behind the boat. To cover all our bases, we dropped a bait on a downline to about 15 feet.
To locate the fish in April, Jeremy likes to work inward from the creek mouth because the fish will be moving back out of the creek throughout the month.
As we made our way around the mouth of the creek, we came over a long, shallow point. We trolled the bait over the point, and there was a big swirl behind one of the planer boards.
“Here it goes,” Jeremy warned.
But the fish had somehow missed the big herring on the line. Just a minute or two later, the other planer board shook violently and popped free. The reel’s drag started to sing as a nice striper tore off with the bait.
Jeremy’s son, Doccoa, picked up the rod and fought the fish for a short while before handing the rod off to his dad to finish the job. We scooped the fish up in the net. It was a nice average fish of about 12 pounds.
Jeremy decided to keep the fish for dinner.
“I don’t keep many fish, but when I do, it’s usually just what I’ll need to eat,” Jeremy said.
The typical lineside on Nottely will run between 8 and 10 pounds, with fish between 20 and 30 pounds being common. Jeremy’s biggest striper to date went 47.5 pounds, and it took a large herring.
“I’ve caught a bunch of stripers in the 30s, but that was the only one I’ve caught that broke 40 pounds,” Jeremy said.
If you’re lucky, you might also get into some schooling activity this month. Look for fish boiling on top early in the morning or in the last hour or two of daylight. Jeremy targets these fish with Pencil Poppers in chrome and blue. Other favorite lures include Redfins in silver and blue or red and white, and shad-pattern Sammys and Chug Bugs.
Jeremy steps up his line to 15-lb. test on his plug rods. All of the lures Jeremy uses are big, in the 5- to 6-inch range.
“Topwater is my favorite way to fish for stripers,” Jeremy said. “There’s nothing else like a striper slamming a big plug on the surface.”
Anglers fishing with topwater plugs need not get in a hurry when retrieving their plugs. Stripers on Nottely prefer a steady retrieve over any sort of violent and fast presentation.
Fish up shallow and on top are a ton of fun, but late in April the downline bite will pick up. It will carry on and become the predominant summertime pattern. Jeremy said he likes to target areas of rocky or hard bottom in 30 to 50 feet for downlining. He’ll typically drop his baits down to about 15 feet over that hard bottom, depending on the depth he marks fish on the graph. When fish or big balls of bait are located, Jeremy said he likes try to drop his baits right on top of them.
“You can also get away with dropping a jig into the bait,” Jeremy said.
Electronics are critical to success when striper fishing because of the fish’s tendency to move and change depths rapidly.
“I’m not gonna say you can’t catch fish without a good bottom finder, but it makes it a lot more easier,” Jeremy said. “The real trick is learning how to read one.”
Jeremy rigs his downlines with 1- to 2-oz. pencil weights with swivels on both ends. Then he ties on a 4- to 6-foot section of leader material to the weight and finishes it up with a 2/0 to 4/0 circle hook.
“I love fishing circle hooks because the fish hook themselves,” Jeremy said. “Some people have a hard time not setting the hook with circle hooks. If you do set the hook, you’re going to pull that hook right out of their mouths. You want to just pick up the rod and start reeling.”
Downlines, freelines and planer boards will be the best tactics to target big fish throughout the month, but if things get desperate, anglers can usually catch pretty good numbers of schoolie hybrids and stripers on umbrella rigs.
“We’ve got an advantage with pulling umbrella rigs on this lake because we don’t have all the timber that there is on other lakes,” Jeremy said.
Trolling three-arm Capt. Mack’s umbrella rigs between 1 to 1.5 miles per hour is a great way to locate fish. Jeremy fishes the umbrella rigs primarily around islands, over main-lake points and humps in places with 10 to 20 feet of water. Umbrella rigs should be pulled about 100 to 115 feet behind the boat.
“They’re really good for catching numbers of fish,” Jeremy said.
White bucktails with chartreuse trailers are tough to beat on umbrella rigs. Imitation gizzard-shad swimbaits work well, too.
“Most of the fish you catch with umbrella rigs will be schoolies between 5 and 10 pounds,” Jeremy said. “You can put a bunch of fish in the boat fishing that way, though.”
Jeremy, Doccoa and I continued trolling Conley Creek for a while longer. Suddenly, behind the planer board that was closest to the bank, a largemouth bass jumped out of the water.
“A bass got it,” Jeremy groaned.
He picked up the rod and cranked in a bass that went a couple of pounds.
“I like the way bass jump, but they’ve got nothing on stripers,” Jeremy said. “I’ve corrupted a bunch of bass fishermen in my days.”
Jeremy and I fished on through the rest of the day in various creek mouths across the lake. Unfortunately, the linesides didn’t agree to any more action. The fish we saw were only on the depthfinder, but those fish should be moving up and feeding heavily this month.
Another reason to try Nottely this spring is the hybrid record is ripe for the picking. The 8-lb., 11.52-oz. lake record will likely fall because the hybrids are growing up, said Jeremy.
“I think the hybrid record will be broken a time or two this year,” he said. “We caught several last year within an ounce of the record.”
And, if you are able to tie in to one of Nottely’s big stripers, you are in for a fight.
“They fight like a freight train,” Jeremy said. “There’s nothing else like them. It’s a real rush when you get into a big one.”
To book a trip with Jeremy, visit Lake Nottely Fishing Charters.
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