Lanier Bass Up The River
Head up the Chattahoochee River for some good bassing action, minus the yachts and their wakes.
Tired of rocking and rolling over boat wakes while probing deep brush as you hope a bass will bite at Lake Lanier? There is an alternative way to fish, one that puts you on smaller water with fewer boats, and it produces quality fish. The Chattahoochee River up near the Lula Bridge is one such haven for fishermen this time of year.
For many years Lanier tournaments were won by fishermen running way up the river to catch largemouths, then the spots on the lower lake exploded, and most tournament fishermen concentrated on them. This year, the topwater bite for the main-lake spotted bass has been… well… spotty. You can still go up the river and catch some quality fish.
The Chattahoochee River from above Clarkʼs Bridge to Lula Bridge offers cover and fishing that looks more like a largemouth lake than the clear, deep, spot habitat you think of when Lanier is mentioned. Steep drops on outside bends, blowdowns in the water and cuts running back are cover and structure most bass fishermen enjoy fishing.
Another benefit of fishing up the river is the limited use by yachts and skiers. Skidoos will still buzz by like crazed mosquitoes at times, but the river is much more peaceful and relaxing than the main lake. You can fish without feeling like you are going to be thrown out of the boat by wakes.
September can be a great month for fishing the river, where the bass follow predictable patterns. Early in the month they are holding on deeper banks, and they run in to feed on cover not far from the main river. As the water cools toward the end of the month, shad will start moving into the pockets and cuts more often, and bass will follow.
Tim Hoskins has been fishing Lake Lanier for 20 years. He lives near the lake and has spent many hours learning its secrets and developing an understanding of bass habits. He works at H.D. Marine part time and is on the Skeeter state team, so he also hears from other fishermen what the bass are doing and is able to keep up with current patterns.
For years Tim fished the Redman/BFL trail and went to BASS tournaments as a no-boater. Last year when BASS started the Pro-Am format in the regionals, Tim entered the Southern Division trail as a boater. He placed sixth overall on that trail, missing an entry into the Bassmaster Classic by only three points and one position in the standings.
Although Tim has fished all parts of Lake Lanier, right now he is concentrating on the river. It offers cover and structure more like what he finds on other lakes on the pro trail, and he has developed ways to find and catch fish there. His methods and patterns will help you do the same.
Starting in early September, Tim will concentrate on wood cover around the mouths of upriver coves and creeks. He will venture into those pockets, but if a bass doesn’t bite fast he will get back on the deeper water. He says bass will hold on the river channel and run in shallow to feed but usually will not stay long.
As the month passes he will spend more time back in the pockets. Tim says it is important to pattern fish up the river. When you catch a fish, note exactly where it was and what kind of cover it was using. You can usually find other bass all over the river in similar places.
Tim also tries to learn the paths bass use up the river. He says bass follow shad along “highways” and stop at key points to ambush them. Learn those highways and ambush points and you can narrow your search down quite a bit in most areas.
First thing each morning all month long Tim will start with a buzzbait. He likes a 3/8-oz. white Lunker Lure since the shad are fairly small early in the month, but he will throw a 1/2-oz. if he sees bigger baitfish. The buzzbait is run around any wood cover he sees and is a good way to get a big kicker bass first thing.
On the deck beside him he will have a Super Fluke Jr. rigged with a split shot a few inches down the line. If a bass misses the buzzbait, he can usually catch it with a follow-up cast with the Fluke. Drop it right on top of where the bass hit the buzzbait and be ready to set the hook.
If the bass arenʼt active enough to hit the buzzbait, Tim will pick up a spinnerbait and fish it in the same places. He likes a Mannʼs spinnerbait and usually throws one with a white skirt and silver blades. If spots seem to be biting up the river, he switches to a chartreuse skirt since spots seem to like that color better.
If the bass donʼt hit the faster-moving baits, Tim goes to his bread-and-butter bait, a 3/8-oz. Berkley Power Jig. He likes a brown or pumpkin jig with a green pumpkin Zoom Chunk on it. If the bass seem to want more action, he will put on a curly twin-tail trailer.
The jig is pitched or flipped into all the cover he can find and worked through it carefully. The jig is also a big-bass bait, so Tim sets the hook fast if there is any indication of a bite. He wants to get the bass out of the cover as fast as possible.
Shimano is one of Timʼs sponsors, and he fishes their “V” series rods teamed with a Chronarch reel. P-Line is spooled on them, and he likes the 15-lb. test for spinnerbaits and buzzbaits but goes to 20-lb. test for flipping jigs into heavy cover.
Tim took me to Lanier in late July to show me 10 of his favorite spots to fish in the river, and I took GPS coordinates to make it easy for GON readers to find them. Check them out and study them, then look for similar bass-holding spots of your own. The river is full of them.
No. 1 on the map: N 34° 22.776 W 83° 45.077 (WGS84) — Run up the river to the first big “S” bend above Clarkʼs Bridge. As you come out of the top of the bend, the river opens up, and there will be five pockets on your left, the outside bend. Tim says this area looks like a hand with five fingers off it. If there is any wind blowing into the pockets it is even better.
Each of these pockets hold bass. All have laydowns and brush at their mouths and back in them. You can spend a lot of time here since there is so much to fish. Start at the mouth of each pocket and fish buzzbaits and spinnerbaits if itʼs early, or throw your jig if the sun is up. Look for any wood cover and notice telltale signs like the rootball on the bank or the barely visible trunk near the bank.
When you see wood cover, fish it carefully. Work any blowdown way out, probing for the end that may be deeper than you think. Bass will hold out on the ends of these trees and then run in shallow to feed. Work on into the pockets, looking for the same kinds of cover — fish all of it.
No. 2: N 34° 22.782 W 83° 44.546 — Above this area is a straight section, and just as the river bends back to your right there will be two small creeks to your left. There are some big rocks on the left side of the upstream one as you enter it. Farther back on the right side you will see a wooden platform up on the bank that was probably used for a tree swing. Both cuts run back and have wood cover in them to fish.
These cuts hold fish on the outside points but are also good places to find the paths, or highways, of the bass and baitfish. The bass will follow the bank going in and stop on blowdowns, rocks and brushpiles to wait on passing shad. Look for those kinds of places on both sides and concentrate your casts to them.
Tim said if you catch a bass about halfway back in a pocket, look for more in the same area. If he confirms this “halfway-back-in-the-pocket” pattern with another bass or two, he will start going from pocket to pocket and starting at the halfway point of the pockets, and he wonʼt fish as much toward the front or back of the pocket.
No. 3: N 34° 22.686 W 83° 44.500 —Straight across from these pockets, where the bend starts, the channel will hit the bank and form a steep drop. There is a green-topped boat dock on this bank down about 100 feet from a pocket, and that is where you want to start. Keep your boat out over about 30 feet of water, which is just a short cast to the bank, and fish all the cover along it.
Just as you get to the little cove you will see an old road bed entering the lake. It turns and runs down the bank, crossing the channel near the green dock. This is good structure for the bass, and the blowdowns along the bank offer excellent cover. There are also some stumps on the edge of the old road that hold bass.
Current moving across this point and the others helps. Tim calls the corps and gets the generating scheduled each day, and plans on the current starting to move up the river 60 to 90 minutes after Buford Dam starts pulling water. Moving water usually makes the bass bite, so Tim will concentrate on outside areas — instead of deep in the pockets — when current is flowing.
No. 4: N 34° 23.330 W 83° 44.062 — A little farther up the river you will pass the signs on both sides warning of shallow water. The one on the right is on a point, and you want to stop at the next point above it. There is a big dead pine in the small cove between the two points. Start right where you see the rocks on the downstream side of this point and work upstream, staying a short cast off the bank and casting right to it. The water drops fast so get your jig in close to the bank.
Tim says this is a good spot because there are several big creeks in the area. He often catches big spots on this point, and has caught large numbers of bass here, too. As you go to the upstream side of this big, round point you will see a lot of big rocks on the bank, and the water drops off fast. This is an excellent place to work a jig down the rock wall, and the current hits it right to make it a prime feeding spot.
No. 5: N 34° 23.326 W 83° 43.566 — Just above the point in No. 4 is a big creek that runs way back, then opens up. There are some powerlines crossing it in the back. Tim goes back into the creek until it narrows down and starts on the left bank. It has a lot of blowdowns along it and can hold large numbers of bass. Later in the fall they will move onto the big flat in the back of this creek.
Fish the opposite bank with its blowdowns, too. The narrow neck before it opens back up has good deep water with rocks under the wood cover, so both spots and largemouths will hold here. Fish it slowly to find all the wood cover.
No. 6: N 34° 24.136 W 83° 43.344 —Run up to the very sharp “S” bend. The channel runs right along the right bank and there is usually a big tree lodged on the flat across from it. Stay to the right — there are a lot of big stumps on this flat, too. You will see the first of the big grassbeds on your left and then on your right as you enter the bend.
Fish the bluff wall before you go into the bend. It drops off into 20 to 25 feet of water, and Tim says this bluff holds some big river-run spots as well as big largemouths. Take your time fishing up this bluff, working your jig down the rocks. If the current is moving good here, you will have to fish very slowly to keep in contact with the bottom. There is usually some current, even if the corps is not generating, so bass are usually active.
No. 7: N 34° 24.224 W 83° 43.207 — The little creek above this steep bank is excellent for fall bass. They move back into the creek following the shad. There is a lot of wood inside it as well as on the upstream side. Since the channel swings right by its mouth, the deepest water in the area is right at it. Tim says this is also a good place to get a big fish.
No. 8: N 34° 24.281 W 83° 43.429 — As you go though the “S” bend and the river goes to your right, there is a steep bluff wall on your left. You will see one big rock under a big oak that leans over the water a little. Fish from the rock all the way down this bank. There are a lot of trees in the water, and you will see where trees falling away from the bank have pulled the dirt away, exposing a bare dirt and rock wall along the shoreline.
Fish here slowly and thoroughly. The current hits this bank, and there is a lot of wood in the water. Tim says you could spend most of a day on this one spot working it right.
No. 9: N 34° 24.932 W 83° 42 956 — As you go up-river you will see big willow flats on both sides, and the channel cuts right through a fairly narrow opening. The cut to your left is shallow and runs behind a big island, joining back up with the main channel above the island. Where that channel cuts off the river on the upstream side of the island is a huge logjam.
Fish both sides of this cut, both the point on the island and the point across from it on the same side of the river. You may need a heavy jig to get down through the mat of trash on top, and you will need heavy line to pull fish out of it. The current runs under the floating wood, carrying food to waiting bass. The upstream point has some rock on it, and there is usually some wood to fish, too. Fish it with the jig, probing for the wood since it is less visible than the wood on the downstream side.
No. 10: N 34° 24.893 W 83° 42.583 — You will see the Lula Bridge when you pass the island at hole No. 9. Fish the piling on the right side. Run a buzzbait between it and the bank, then follow up with a spinnerbait. There is always wood hung up on the bottom here, and sometimes you can see it. Fish the jig, too, since wood on top of rocks is always productive.
All these places are good. Tim does have one warning, though. There is a river curse. It seems that up the river it is often all or nothing. If the bass are turned on, you can catch a bunch of big fish, but if they are not biting you may not catch anything. It is worth the effort to try it, though. And the bass can turn on like a light when the current starts moving.
Check out the Chattahoochee River above Lanier. You may be pleasantly surprised with the number and size of fish it holds.
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