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Lake Varner Live-Bait Hybrids ON FIRE!

Wayne Glaze uses a downrod rig and live bream to catch Varner's summertime hybrids.

Brad Bailey | July 1, 2008

There was no warning about what was going to happen. One minute the rod was sitting still in the rodholder — the next instant something slamming the bait had plunged the rod tip violently into the water, twisting the rodholder out of place, peeling line off the reel.

Wayne grabbed the rod with both hands and struggled to pull the bowed-over rod from the rodholder. The fish surged away, still bending the rod.

“This is a good one,” said Wayne, grinning while he enjoyed the fight. After nearly a minute, he gained enough line that the shiny, striped fish was visible swirling 10 feet deep in the clear water of Lake Varner; a hybrid that would go 10 pounds.

Toward the end of summer last year at GON, we heard about Wayne Glaze’s success catching big hybrids by pulling live bait at Lake Varner. The 850-acre Newton County lake has a high-quality fishing reputation built around lunker largemouths and slab crappie, but it also holds some awesome hybrids. Wayne was willing to show us how to catch them in July.

Before you can fish, you have to have bait, so that’s how Wayne and I started our morning on Varner in June: catching bream. At daylight we crossed the lake from the ramp, heading toward the bridge powered by twin 76-lb.-thrust trolling motors on the back of Wayne’s 16 1/2-foot boat. Lake Varner is a trolling-motor-only lake. Like many of the Lake Varner faithful fishermen, Wayne had three trolling motors attached to his boat powered by a row of batteries.

We pulled into a cut on the right bank, and Wayne produced a couple of spinning rods with tiny No. 10 bait hooks, a weighted float and one small split-shot. We baited our hooks with a piece of worm and began casting to the banks. On my first cast, my float disappeared below the surface, and I set the hook on a 3-finger bluegill.

“That’s just the right size,” said Wayne as the bream splashed into the livewell. “But you’d be surprised how big a bream a hybrid can eat. I have seen them take a 4-finger fish.”

Bream make hardy bait, and they don’t require a lot of pampering. Chunk them in the livewell, maybe with a frozen bottle of water to help keep them cool, and they are ready to go fishing.

After 45 minutes we had 15 or so bream swimming in the livewell, and Wayne put the bream rods up. On to the main event. Not that catching bream isn’t fun, but we had bigger fish to catch.

Wayne lives in Covington about 15 minutes from Varner. He has fished the lake for bass, crappie, bream and hybrids since the lake opened in 1992. The toes on one of his feet were crushed when a 30,000-lb. piece of heavy machinery accidentally fell on his foot. While he was recuperating, friends called him up to see if he wanted to go with them to Varner fishing.

“The hybrid fishing is on fire,” they told him. It was, and they got him started fishing for the big, silvery fish with a bulldog attitude.

Wayne pulled his boat into the middle of the channel to rig for hybrids.

“There is a lot of bait over the channel,” he said, watching his depthfinder as he rigged a bait. “I like to see the bait up in the water column, and the hybrids underneath it. Like crappie, hybrids like to feed up.”

The live-bait hybrid fishing at Varner picks up in May and runs through the summer, said Wayne. During that time, the fish school from the junction of the two creeks to the dam. The fish bite best early and late, and the light-sensitive fish are less aggressive during the middle of the day. An overcast day helps the bite.

Fishing has been good this year. Five days before Wayne and I fished he was on the lake fishing alone. He had 15 strikes and boated 10 hybrids that weighed between 6 and 10 pounds each.

“That’s about average this time of year,” he said.

On his best day last year, Wayne caught 20 hybrids that ranged from 4 to 11 pounds.

For catching fish that will weigh up to 10 or 12 pounds, Wayne’s choice of tackle was a bit surprising. He fishes the live bream on a No. 1 red, Gamakatsu circle hook.

“It’s a small hook, but it does a good job of hooking the fish,” he said. “You will lose some, but its partly the way they hit. Sometimes they will hit the bream to kill it, then come back and eat it — or they won’t come back.”

Wayne selected a small bream, hooked it through the nose and let it out on a freeline behind the boat.

“I hook the bream through the nostrils,” he said. “They live longer than if you hook them through the back, and I put the smaller bream out on the freeline. They live longer on the freeline since they don’t have to pull the weight around.”

In the front of the boat he had two Carolina rigs rigged for hybrids. He uses a 3/4-oz. egg sinker above a swivel followed by a 3-foot leader and a No. 1 circle hook. The downrods were on 6 1/2- and 7 1/2-foot heavy-duty rods with Ambassadeur 5500 and 6500 reels. His main line is 17-lb.; the leader is 12-lb.

Wayne fishes his baits close to the boat. The bream on the downrods were placed at 12 or 15 feet over water 18 to 24 feet deep. The freeline was out only 20 feet.

“The fish don’t mind the boat,” he said. “But with only 15 feet of line out, it’s hard to get the rod out of the rodholder. The fish will have the rod bowed up under the boat.”

With three lines out, we began to follow the creek channel back toward the ramp, just bumping the trolling motor to ease along, and watching the graph for bait and bigger arches that mean hybrids.

“Hybrids don’t relate to structure,” he said. “You have to look for them.”

Wayne has found some good ones at Varner. His best-ever hybrid from Varner weighed 12-lbs., 2-ozs. One day last year his best four hybrids weighed 44 pounds. He has also caught a 20-lb. channel cat. But he said he catches very few largemouth bass on bream.

“I have caught maybe five — ever — which is surprising for all the big largemouths in the lake,” he said.

The hybrids — and largemouths — had begun to school on top some, and Wayne had a rod ready with a Rapala Skitter Pop topwater plug tied on and another rod rigged with a pearl-colored fluke ready to cast to breaking fish, although we saw only scattered single fish breaking.

Hybrids are notorious for being hard hitting.

“You’ll know when you get hit,” said Wayne. “You don’t worry about a little bouncing of the rod tip. Sometimes the bream will get nervous, but you wait until the rod loads up — then it’s fun trying to get the rod out of the rodholder. It is an amazing fish because it is that strong. And sometimes a fish will come up from below and hit the bait so hard they knock slack in the line. When the fish are on fire and you find a school, it’s not uncommon to see all your rods go down at once.”

Early on, we had a couple of hits with no hook-up. Our first serious pull-down came near the junction of the two creeks. The tip of one of Wayne’s downlines began to vibrate. Nervous bream. Maybe because something big and hungry was eyeing it.

“That line is fixin’ to get slammed,” said Wayne.

On cue, the rod tip bolted under water. Wayne levered it out of the rodholder and played in a hybrid that weighed about 7 pounds.

Twenty minutes later the end of the freeline I was keeping an eye on took off for the far shore. I had the fish on long enough to enjoy a couple of good surges. The fish headed toward one of Wayne’s downlines — and then it came off. At the same moment, the downline bait was hit like the fish had swapped lines. Wayne played in and netted a hard-fighting 5 1/2-lb. hybrid which he revived and released.

After that, we hit a little lull.

“It goes like that,” said Wayne. “Then you’ll find them again, and your lines take off.”
An hour passed before Wayne boated our biggest, and final fish of the morning, the 10-pounder mentioned earlier.

The hybrids at Lake Varner will be cruising the deeper water from the dam to the area where the creeks split off from now until the end of August. The fishing technique Wayne uses, and that you can use at Varner, is relatively simple — and the fish are big.

Lake Varner is located about 2 miles north of Covington and I-20 off Alcovy Road. If you live in Newton or Walton counties, it’s free to fish. If elsewhere, it costs $5 per vehicle and $5 to launch a boat. From Nov. 1 – March 31 hours are from 7 a.m. until 6 p.m. The hours from April 1 – Oct. 31 are 7 a.m. – 9 p.m.

If you’d like to set up a trip to see how this kind of fishing is done first hand, Wayne is available for guided live-bait hybrid trips on Lake Varner or Black Shoals. You can contact him at (770) 809-4719.

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