Lanier Spotted Bass Blast Jerkbaits In February
Lamar Moody uses slow-moving jerkbaits to catch Lanier spots.
A few warm days in February can be the finest days in the world on any Georgia reservoir. February can also bring some wicked cold fronts that seem to give all the fish lockjaw and convince you that winter will never end. These two extremes can have drastic effects on fish behavior, location, and activity as well as the tactics that will work to catch them.
February is a time of anticipation in north Georgia. Fishermen are awaiting the awesome fishing of spring and just starting to get a taste of it. The fish, of course, are looking forward to warm temperatures, abundant food, and spawning season. Fish don’t really ‘anticipate’ things the way that we do. Their form of anticipation comes in the changes in behavior that February brings, but the basics of their behavior are always ingrained in the anticipation of spring, also known as staging behavior.
Lake Lanier spotted bass, the fish that have grown to fame and incredible size in the past few years, will begin their staging in February in preparation for the spawn, and if you know how to catch them this could be a February to remember. Lanier spots are truly a sight to behold these days, with four and five-pounders being caught with regularity and lots of tales about state-record-size fish seen chasing lures, bait, and even smaller bass. Catching big spotted bass like that on a suspending jerkbait is about as much fun as you can have in a boat, and the jerkbait bite will begin this month.
Lamar Moody of Villa Rica is a member of the HD Marine Pro Team, and he has been fishing tournaments and cashing checks at Lanier for many years now. Lamar has fished jerkbaits with a passion since they first came on the bass tournament scene in the ’80s, and he has been on the leading edge of jerkbait know-how for two decades. He even spent a year on the BASS tour in the mid-80s, and finished in the top 10 in each tournament he fished on the nation’s top bass-fishing circuit. After that year, and all the time spent on the road, he made the decision to stay closer to home to be with his family and pursue tournament fishing on a more local level. Jerkbaits played a critical role in his success on the BASS tour and in many local tournaments as well, and Lamar agreed to share some of his tactics for Lanier spots with GON this month. Anyone who wants to know more about fishing jerkbaits on Lanier should read closely.
One of the first things I noticed about Lamar’s fishing style was his regular use of spinning outfits. He had four rods on deck when we left Little Hall landing at daylight, and three of them were spinning rods. While most bass fishermen consider spinning outfits something of a specialty rod to be used only in light line and finesse situations, Lamar considers them one of his primary tools for catching bass.
At our first stop of the day, Lamar rigged up a spinning rod for me as well, and as he did he told me, “You can just do things with a spinning rod that you can’t do with a baitcaster. People tend to overwork a lot of baits this time of year, especially jerkbaits, and a spinning outfit will help prevent that. A spinning rod lets me use lighter line, so I can get a better feel for what the bait is doing, and get more natural action with less arm movement. Now don’t you want a spinning rod?”
It didn’t take long at all for Lamar to bring a fat Lanier spot into the boat, and while the jerkbait bite had not started in January, he was still able to illustrate some great jerkbait techniques and land some nice fish. If you haven’t seen a 4-lb. spotted bass lately, take a look at the pictures of the two that we caught that day. Notice how fat their guts are, and imagine what they will look like in another month or so — if that doesn’t get you excited about bass fishing, nothing will.
The first of February generally coincides with the start of the good jerkbait bite on Lanier. The days start getting longer, which means more hours of sunshine, and the air temperatures moderate in between cold fronts. As the water temperature warms up to 50 degrees or so, Lanier spots will respond by making their first move from their winter hangouts toward areas where they will eventually spawn.
“For the first jerkbait bite, your boat needs to be in 20 to 25 feet of water,” said Lamar. “Do not waste your time casting to the bank in early February! The fish are just moving up, and they will move up on long points and gradually work their way back to spawning areas over the next six to eight weeks. This is when you want to use deeper-running jerkbaits, weighted soft jerkbaits (or Flukes), and move the bait slowly. If you’re casting to the bank, chances are the fish are underneath your boat or behind your boat.”
Lamar uses a walk-the-dog-type motion when fishing jerkbaits that is identical to the motion used with topwater plugs like Zara Spooks or Sammys. Using this motion, he can give a jerkbait a lot of side- to-side motion with hardly any forward motion. He demonstrated this technique beside the boat in Lanier’s clear water, and it was truly impressive. The lure makes a 180-degree swing from one side to the other and back while only moving forward an inch or two.
Lighter line and the lighter rods of his spinning outfits improve this action. Lamar uses 10-lb. Berkley Vanish fluorocarbon line almost exclusively at Lanier. He likes the sinking action and practically invisible nature of the line. It allows him to use a 10-lb. test line on clear-water lakes without worrying about line visibility spooking the fish. The low stretch and sensitivity of the fluorocarbon also gives a little bit of an edge when working jerkbaits.
His spinning rods are All-Star rods, six-feet, 10-inches long, with a medium action and a fast tip. When working jerkbaits, he keeps his elbow in tight to his body and uses primarily wrist action to work the bait, and he gives the lure slack line after each twitch, just like walking the dog with a topwater lure. It’s worth mentioning again that one of the most important things this time of year is to avoid overworking the bait. Too much action, too fast, or too much forward motion will turn fish off early in the year. Lamar uses a back-hand type jerking action to avoid overworking the bait early in the year. Later on in the spring, when water temps reach the upper 50s, he will use a forward-hand motion to move the bait faster.
Another trick that Lamar likes in early spring is using a suspending Shad Rap as a jerkbait. He works the lure with the same gear and the same techniques as he uses to work a Lucky Craft Pointer, a Rattlin’ Rogue, or any of his other favorite traditional-style jerkbaits, but the Shad Rap runs a little deeper and gives Lanier fish a different action and a different look. The walk-the-dog motion works great with the suspending Shad Rap, and it basically puts a shad imitation right in front of the fish. Lamar has used this tactic for years, even when he had to modify the original Shad Rap to make it suspend, and he has won a lot of money with it. If traditional jerkbaits aren’t working, don’t hesitate to try a suspending Shad Rap. The Shad Rap works especially well in cool water temperatures from the upper 40s to low 50s.
“Cold fronts present the biggest challenge to most anglers in the spring,” said Lamar. “The jerkbait and suspending Shad Rap can fill that void and help meet that challenge if you learn how and where to use them. The fish don’t abandon their staging patterns when a cold front comes through, they just move out a little deeper and suspend, which sets up perfect for the jerkbait. A suspending jerkbait lets you put the lure right in front of the fish and work it as slowly as needed to provoke a strike.”
Lanier sets up nicely for fishing jerkbaits for a number of reasons, including clear water, aggressive spotted bass, abundant blueback herring, and the topography and layout of the lake. Spotted bass come out of their winter hangouts and move up first on long points or even islands with plenty of deep-water access. Lamar likes the mid-lake area, from Gainesville Marina down to Six Mile Creek, and a good example of an area spotted bass will move up in first is the long points at the mouth of Mud Creek. On the south side of Mud Creek, you will see long points extending well out into the main lake. There are plenty of rocks, humps, and other structure in deep water around the points. Moving farther back into the creek and the pockets along the side of the creek, there are red-clay banks, stumps, rocks, and ditches leading into spawning flats.
This is a classic springtime spotted bass hangout, and the fish can be found somewhere in this area, depending on weather and water temperature. Early in February they will be out near the main lake, often suspended over 20 or 25 feet of water. Water temperatures in the upper 50s (late February) will move them a little closer in to the spawning areas. They still won’t be on the bank but can be found around cover or structure along the 10- to 15-foot break. The long point on the south side of Mud Creek has rock and rip-rap all around it, and picnic tables and a park on the point itself. On the south side of this point is Lanier Sailing Club, and there are some great jerkbait locations here. Watch your depthfinder and look for the ditch that leads back into one of the deeper pockets here, and there will probably be some nice spots around it.
The next long point to the south, where Aqualand Park is located, is another good one to try for February spots. Start looking for the fish around the islands and the main-lake end of the point in early February, and gradually work your way back as the water and weather warm up. Directly across the main lake from Aqualand, check out the islands from Two Mile, to Four Mile, to Six Mile Creek, and also the points and pockets at the mouths of these creeks.
The area of the lake where the Chestatee and the Chattahoochee join together has some great spotted bass habitat and jerkbait locations as well. Two approaches will work for finding the best locations in an area like this: one is to find the best points and offshore, deep-water structure and follow the structure back toward shallow water, and the second is to go back to the shallows and find the best-looking spawning areas, such as red-clay banks, stumps, rocks, and sandy bottoms, and work your way out toward the deeper water.
Regardless of how you approach it, be sure not to fall in the trap of pounding the banks in February. Don’t be afraid to fish in deeper water, because that is where the majority of the fish, and the biggest fish, will be in early spring on Lanier.
Lamar had one last piece of advice, “When you approach a pocket, a ditch, or some other piece of structure like that, the first cast right down the middle can be almost magical. Many times that cast has produced the biggest fish and the most fish for me in a day of fishing.”
Lamar’s tactics can work for you on Lanier, so tie on the jerkbaits and go after some of the biggest spotted bass in the country — they are right here at home in Georgia.
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