Lanier Stripers On A Fast Fall Bite
What better way to learn how to hook into big Lake Lanier stripers this month than go fishing with a group of guides who hosted a SEEDS event.
The day was forecasted to be windy, chilly and rainy with a chance of thunderstorms. It wasn’t likely to be very comfortable, but the spirits and excitement ran high on the dock at Lake Lanier’s Van Pugh Park on Saturday morning, Oct. 10. Thirty-one kids, along with parents, grandparents and others lined up before sunrise to pair up with one of 28 volunteer guides and head out in pursuit of big stripers.
This was the third-annual GONetwork SEEDS striped-bass outing, and it looked as though the day was set up to be a huge success (weather permitting). The event has grown through the years, and now club members from three area striper clubs volunteer their time, boats and gear to take kids on the lake for some Lanier fishing action. This year the Lanier Striper Club, Oakwood Striper Club and North Georgia Striper Club were represented at the event.
We were invited to join the outing and document the action. GON Publisher Steve Burch was aboard one boat, and I was on another.
I was paired with avid striper fisherman and guide Bill Carson, and we had the Hall family, from Meanville, aboard. Dad, James, mom, Janice, came along to support their 10-year-old son Colton, and the whole group was very excited. Bill has been fishing for striped bass most of his adult life and is well known in the sport. He has pursued the big linesides in freshwater as well as saltwater locations all along the east coast. He also served as tournament director for the FLW striper tournament series in 2006 and 2007.
We left the ramp at 7 a.m. and headed down the lake toward Lake Lanier Islands. The temperature at the surface was in the low 70s the day we were out. Bill told us to look out for surface activity since the big fish might be feeding on baitfish close to the surface.
Bill planned to start with live bait, and he had a bait tank full of blueback herring and shad.
Once we reached the area Bill planned to fish, he started setting out hefty casting rods equipped with bait-clicker reels. The first two he set up with planer boards and let them out about 50 to 60 feet behind the boat on either side. The terminal tackle consisted of a bead and swivel — to keep the board from going all the way down to the fish during the fight — and about a 4- to 6-foot leader and a circle hook for easy hook sets. He put a fat gizzard shad on one rig and a blueback herring on the other.
“I like the big baits while the water is still relatively warm,” said Bill. “These fish are stocking up for the long winter and will chase big baits while they are still active.”
Later in November when the water cools into the 50s, Bill will size down to small threadfin shad to match what the stripers are likely to be feeding on in the cold water.
Bill selected long points in the mouths of creeks and coves as targets for the live bait. He moved us around on the trolling motor in about 20 to 25 feet of water, always keeping his eye on the graph.
“I look for schools of bait and arches representing big fish,” said Bill. “If I don’t see any activity on the graph, I’ll move on to the next point pretty quickly.”
We dragged the baits around for quite a while, hitting several points without any luck. We did have a few short strikes, but Bill felt those were probably spots. By the sound of the chatter between captains on the cell phones and radio, no one else was having much luck either.
Since we weren’t getting hit on the planer boards and we didn’t see hardly any surface activity, Bill guessed the fish were holding deeper, so he decided to change things up a bit. He pulled out two umbrella rigs and tied them on the big casting outfits. These rigs look a bit like a baby’s mobile that hangs over the crib. But in this case, the dangling strings are leaders tipped with bucktail jigs. The rig gets its name from the aluminum rod arms that stick out in four directions from the center, like an umbrella frame.
Our rigs had two leaders and jigs on each arm and one jig on a slightly longer leader at the center of the rig. So each rig had a total of nine jigs trailing behind the main arm unit. The jigs were 1/2- to 1-oz. white bucktail jigs with curly tail grub trailers. When dragged through the water, the rig looks like a school of shad swimming together.
Bill staggered these rigs behind the boat at 80 feet on one side and 90 feet on the other. The reels were equipped with counters so he could tell precisely how much line he had out. It is important to stagger the rigs, otherwise they are likely to tangle with each other when you make a turn. If that happens, you’ll spend more than a little time untangling the mess.
Bill works his umbrella rigs actively. He starts the troll at about 3 mph. That should make the rigs run at about 18 to 20 feet below the surface. But he doesn’t just run in a straight line over the points. He zig-zags left and right, speeds up and slows down, and will even put the engine in neutral or reverse to cause the rigs to drop suddenly.
“I believe the erratic movement is key in producing strikes,” said Bill. “When the boat turns, the outside rig moves faster, while the inside one falls. Speeding up and slowing down also makes the rigs move up and down in the water column.”
These movements closely resemble the way schools of shad behave in the lake.
As we moved along, Bill watched the graph for signs of bait and fish. Seeing some large fish near the bottom, he slowed the big outboard and let the rigs drop to near the fish’s level. He then sped up to imitate fleeing action. As if on cue, the big lineside struck, and we had a fish on. Colton grabbed the rod and battled the striper back to the boat. It was a great fight and a 10-lb. treat for a happy youngster.
We caught a couple more fish on the U-rigs before we left. Bill had shared with the other captains the U-rigs were working, and several of them had luck as well. When we got in, we found that fish had been caught on flat lines and downlines with live bait as well as the U-rig by several boats. That was consistent with the premise that the fish were in transition and spread throughout the water column.
As we move through November, the pattern will become more consistent. Bait (and fish) will move farther back into coves and even a good distance up river. The surface action will pick up, so keep the topwater baits handy.
When casting to surface-feeding fish, Bill recommends throwing Red Fins, Zara Spooks or Chug Bugs, but anything that causes a commotion on the surface will usually work. He also suggested keeping a bucktail jig and even a spoon like a Flex-it tied on. Often big fish will hang out under the surface activity waiting for bait, wounded or killed on the surface by smaller fish, to come fluttering down. A well-placed jig or spoon can get under the surface school and will often tempt a bigger striper.
“Make a long cast, and let the bait sink a little. Then crank hard for a few turns and stop, letting the lure fall on a relatively loose line,” said Bill. “Then hang on, because the strikes can be vicious.”
When fishing the Flex-it spoon, Bill bends it a little and ties a swivel in front of the spoon a few feet up the line. This helps eliminate line twists.
Bill tells us the umbrella rig will work through November and even throughout the winter. You just need to change the depth and presentation to match what the fish are looking for.
Some time during the month the lake is likely to turnover. When this happens, the detritus from the bottom comes to the surface, and the water looks like coffee. Fishing activity will slow during the turnover but fortunately the lake doesn’t usually all turnover at once. Look for clear water, and you should still be able to get bit.
A word of caution. If you are planning to fish an umbrella rig, get a retriever. These devices are designed with a big pointless treble hook that is weighted and tied to a thin rope. They can be attached to your line and will allow you to pull up the rig from the bottom when it snags. If you don’t get one, you are going to lose a lot of rigs.
No matter if you choose to fish live bait or artificials, November is a great month for stripers on Lanier. Bill recommends you stay on the lower half of the lake at the entrance to creeks and coves. Hit the points in 20 to 25 feet of water, and watch your electronics. The fish will be active, and this is one of the better times of the year to catch them. If you’d like to experience this November Lanier Striper action with someone who knows what he’s doing, give Bill a call on (404) 861-3900 or visit his website at www.nothinbut fish.com. He’ll be glad to set you up with a trip.
The SEEDS striper trip was a rousing success. We appreciate all the efforts put in by the captains and other sponsors. A special thanks goes out to Fred Wammock for organizing and hosting the event again this year. And thanks to the parents for their support in getting their kids interested in fishing.
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