Lanier Spotted Bass In May

Topwater will be the hottest thing going for big spots in May, but it’s always a good idea to have a back-up plan.

Scott Robinson | May 1, 2002

Big spotted bass are going to hit topwater at Lake Lanier in May. It’s really just a matter of whether they want it fast or slow, on the surface or a foot or two underneath. Figure that out, and you’re on your way to a healthy sack of fish.

To learn more about this dynamite fishing technique on Lanier, I teamed up with Bill Campbell of H.D. Marine’s Skeeter Fishing Team. Bill was looking forward to the topwater bite, scheduled to heat up in May. Regular GON readers know the topwater action has been outstanding on Lanier for spotted bass and stripers over the past couple years. The recent enactment of a 14-inch minimum size limit for spotted and largemouth bass, along with an explosion in the blueback herring population, has resulted in plenty of chunky spotted bass. Tournament stringers of 18 to 20 pounds of spotted bass are seen on a regular basis, and the average size spotted bass is running about two and a half pounds now. In an H.D. Marine tournament on Sunday, April 14, it took 27 pounds of fish to take first place.

It’s cases like this that are making Lanier one of the best lakes in the country right now for big stringers of spots.

The chunky spots are in Lanier in good numbers, and in May they will be aggressive and ready to bust anything that looks like a herring.

Bill lives just two miles from the lake and has been fishing Lanier for more than 20 years. He has fished on the H.D. Marine Fishing Team for several years, and he thinks the topwater fishing on Lanier was better last year than it ever has been. He also predicts that another great season of topwater spotted-bass action is coming this year, although he warns that the stripers will break some of your favorite bass plugs off if you aren’t careful. Catching stripers on topwater in addition to spotted bass could be fun if you’re not in a tournament, but the fun runs out in a hurry when a big striper breaks off and heads for the other end of the lake with a  $15 Sammy attached to its lip.  That is the reason Bill uses heavy, 14-lb. line when fishing topwater. He also slows his baits down if stripers are in the area, since the spots tend to hit more often with a slower presentation and the stripers hit the fast ones.

According to Bill, the best approach for spotted bass in May is “Get out here early and fish the marker poles from Gainesville Marina to the dam that mark the humps, long points, and barely-submerged islands. Throw a topwater lure like a Sammy or a Zara Spook, and if they don’t want that then try a Fluke or a floating worm a foot or so underneath the surface. If you move the bait too fast, though, you better hang on because you’ll probably catch a striper before a spot ever gets a chance to hit it.”

Bill Campbell said May is a great time to catch a fat, spotted bass on topwater plugs at Lake Lanier. As a back-up plan, he’ll fish a worm on the same humps, points, islands, deep brush and reef markers.

The marker poles are a favorite target of Bill’s because they mark features of the lake such as humps and long points that are also the types of places where the big spots like to hang out. The hazard markers (the white and orange markers) indicate shallow water in unexpected places, which usually means some sort of structure near deep water that will often be associated with a sudden change in depth. These are some of the best markers for finding fish that are actively feeding, because the bass will chase the bluebacks right up on top of a hump, point or shallow rock.

The area we targeted in April, and one of the more productive areas on the lake, is between the Hwy 53 bridge and Brown’s Bridge in the mid-lake area. We fished the islands, points, and marker poles south of Gainesville Marina, and the fish were definitely there. There are plenty of places to fish around these islands, and even on the weekends when lots of boats are on the lake you can always find a place to fish. One interesting factor is the spots won’t bite non-stop in one location, so even if someone else has already fished an area, it may become productive again after the fish have been rested. We hit several of the same points more than once, and they were always most productive for the first 10 or 15 minutes of fishing. After that the bite would slow down in that area, and we would move to another location. Moving frequently and making repeat visits to the good locations is often an effective strategy for spots.

Bill advises that the big spotted bass don’t have to be up in shallow water to strike a topwater lure. Some of the best topwater catches come from over deep brushpiles on points. The fish will hang suspended just over the brush, and they will come up from as far down as 20 feet to hit topwater baits. There are a number of brushpiles planted by locals, lake-property owners, and DNR in the area between the two bridges that can be productive, especially if they are associated with some of the structure around the marker poles. There are several marked fish attractors around Lanier Point Park and also in the cove just east of marker 42. There is brush on the points on either side of the Hwy 53 bridge that can be found fairly easily.

On the day we fished in mid-April, the water and the weather were still a little cool for topwater fishing, so Bill provided a demonstration on how and where to catch spots below the surface. This is good information to have because no matter how good a lake is for topwater fishing, there will always be those times when the fish just will not hit a surface lure.

In May, Bill likes to keep a green pumpkin Finesse worm and a hard jerkbait tied on as follow-up baits for fish that short strike his topwater lure, but on the days when the topwater bite is slow the worm becomes the lure of choice. Bill fishes a Texas-rig because Carolina-rigs get hung up too much in the rocky areas he likes to fish. A 1/4-oz. weight will get the worm deep enough fairly quick and still allow you to feel the bottom, and 8- or 10-lb. test line is best for the clear waters of Lanier. Bill says that shaking your rod tip while retrieving the worm is often the difference between getting bit or not when fishing for spots. He would cast the worm up on a point or near a hump and lightly shake the rod tip throughout the retrieve, similar to the motion made when ‘doodling’ vertically. Judging from the results, the extra effort required to make this presentation pays off in the number of bites it draws.

Bill will rely on two basic methods for catching big spotted bass in May at Lake Lanier. First he’ll start out throwing topwater. One of his favorite baits is a Sammy. If the fish aren’t responsive, he’ll change to a green pumpkin finesse worm.

The same locations that are good for topwater, such as the marker poles, will also be good for worm fishing in May and June. Just cast up on the shallow part of the structure and work the worm back down to the deeper areas. Continue to shake the worm and work it all the way back beneath the boat. Quite often the fish will be out in the deeper water.

Also, keep a close eye on the electronics while fishing these areas. One of the best areas we fished around the islands near Gainesville Marina was a very subtle point that was barely noticeable just by looking at the shoreline features. The fish and the underwater structure showed up well on the depthfinder, and we never would have seen the potential for this point without a depthfinder. This area, marked only by a small rock ridge above the water on the shore, produced several good bass and two broken lines during our visits to it that day.

When worm fishing for spots, it is critical to be ready to set the hook quickly. Bill estimates that you have about one second at most to set the hook when the fish picks it up. His approach is to set the hook if he even thinks a fish might have it. “I used to guide some on the lake,” he said. “I would tell the folks I took out that the fish don’t have hands and they don’t have feet, so if you feel him down there you know where he has it – set the hook!”

In fact, two of the biggest fish Bill caught when I fished with him had just barely picked up the worm, and he described the hits as nothing more than a heavy feeling on the line. I missed a half dozen bites where the fish picked it up and spit it out before I had time to think about it. Spotted bass aren’t always as accommodating as largemouths when it comes to hanging on to something, and they will spit a worm out quickly, so be ready and set the hook in a hurry.

Lanier will be hot in May, and it offers a lot of folks the opportunity for some first class, spot fishing right in their own back yard. In fact, Bill thinks the spot fishing is something just about anyone can do and be successful, particularly in May. It’s not necessary to know a lot of specific locations or special techniques to catch fish this month. Many of the best locations are marked with channel markers and marker poles. The water level is still low in Lanier, but it has come up several feet over the last couple of months, so it is much easier to boat around the lake safely now. The topwater bite will be strong from now until well into the summer, and on those days or times when topwater is not productive the worming plan is a darn good Plan B.

There aren’t many places where you can have a good chance of catching 4- or 5-lb. spotted bass on a regular basis. They fight like a tornado, and a big chunk on topwater is an impressive catch that would not be soon forgotten. This month just might be the best month of the year for catching big fish on top, so don’t miss the opportunity to tangle with a big Lanier spot in May.

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