Lanier Stripers Pile Up On The South End

It’s not fishing in a barrel, but two of Lanier’s finest striper anglers agree that 90% of the linesides will be in 10% of the lake this fall.

Mike Bolton | August 31, 2023

Capt. Ron Mullins of The Striper Experience said striper size has increased in recent years, evident by the number of 20- and 30-lb. fish he’s seeing now.

No one has ever described striper fishing on Lake Lanier as easy as shooting fish in a barrel. Chasing stripers on the 38,000-acre Chattahoochee River reservoir is anything but that. But as striper season heads into fall, two of the lake’s top striper guides say conditions are lining up to make catches much easier.

“In the fall, about 90% of the fish in the lake will be in 10% of the water near the dam,” said Capt. Clay Cunningham, who operates Catching Not Fishing Guide Service. “They will be there because the water is colder and more oxygenated.

“Eliminating that much water in the lake where the fish won’t be narrows things down a lot. But there is something else this year. There is a narrow thermocline of cold, oxygenated water in 30 feet of water that only stretches down to 35 feet. There are few stripers above or below that. The stripers are pinched into that thermocline. All we have to do is get them to bite.”

Capt. Ron Mullins of The Striper Experience guide service speculates that 98% of the lake’s fish will be between the dam and Big Creek the next couple months. Even knowing that, novices attempting striper fishing without a guide usually have trouble finding fish, he says.

“Those stripers move around a lot,” he said. “Where they are on Monday is probably not where they will be on Wednesday. We’re out there every day. We know the places where they tend to visit.”

Both guides say that the stripers in that thermocline will be feeding heavily over the next few months to build up fat reserves in anticipation of winter. They’ll find no shortage of forage, either. The lake’s massive blueback herring population finds that same thermocline to their liking. The blueback herring, which have been in the lake for more than two decades now, have been a game changer, both guides say.

“The blueback herring are more nutritious, and their presence has made the stripers fatter,” Capt. Clay said. “The stripers, when they ate shad in the summer months before herring, lost weight because the only time they could eat the shad was early in the morning when they could come up shallow where the shad were. The bulk of each day was spent conserving energy waiting on cooler temperatures.

“Now, the stripers eat all day because the herring can live deeper in the same thermocline where they live. According to the DNR’s recent sampling, the stripers are at one of their fattest levels on record.”

Capt. Ron, who lives in Flowery Branch, agrees that the herring are more a nutritious food.

“The bait now wants to live in the same cold, oxygenated water where the stripers are,” he said. “The shad can’t stand that cold water.”

The introduction of blueback herring into the lake has greatly affected the way people fish for them and made it tougher for novices, Capt. Ron says.

“The nighttime fishing for stripers used to be excellent,” he said. “You could get out there at night in 100 feet of water and pull up on a hump that came up to 25 to 35 feet of water and put out a lantern,” he said. “That would attract the shad and the stripers.

“Night fishing is still doable, just not as effective as in the past and more dangerous with the increased boat traffic over the years,” he said.

The stripers’ increase in weight in recent years has everyone who fishes for them talking. That is welcome news after a major setback starting in 2017 when the lake saw a large die-off of its larger stripers. There was much speculation about what caused that die-off. Fishery biologists say the culprit may have been a parasite, which stressed the larger fish.

The die-off came after the lake showed signs that it might be poised to become one of the South’s big striper hotspots. On April 3, 2010, the quarter-century-old lake striper record of 46 pounds was finally beaten when Michigan angler Ward Schanhals, of Central Lake, Mich., caught a 47-lb., 12-oz. whopper. Sadly, the die-off followed, and the striper population has been playing catch-up since.

Both guides say that thanks to the presence of blueback herring, the lake record could fall again in several years.

“There has definitely been a rebound in size in recent years,” Capt. Ron said. “I believe we are about 90% back to where we were. We’re getting close. We’re getting more 20- and 30-pounders now.”

It is not uncommon for both guide’s clients to catch their biggest fish ever. Both guides say it is seeing that excitement on the faces of those fishing in their boats that makes the long hours worthwhile. And while clients often catch their biggest fish ever, they often get a bonus of catching their biggest bass ever. Spotted bass also chase the blueback herring in the thermocline and are a bonus catch.

“The spotted bass fishing is very good,” Capt. Ron said. “The spotted bass and stripers co-exist in the same water. The bigger spotted bass are definitely herring eaters.”

Those who want to attempt striper fish on their own can purchase blueback herring for bait at several location on the lake’s lower half.

“There are two really great stores that sell blueback herring and other tackle on the lower end of the lake and one at the center of the lake,” Capt. Ron said. “The two on the lower end are Oakwood Bait and Tackle in Oakwood and Hammond’s Fishing Center in Cumming. At the mid-point of the lake, Sherry’s Bait and BBQ is a good spot to purchase herring and other tackle. Sherry’s is located on the corner of Highway 53 and Lyncliff Drive just west of Sardis Road.”

Both guides recommend that anyone who is considering trying striper fishing on their own should go with a guide first to learn the techniques and tackle that are much different than traditional bass fishing.

“I’ll be trolling through the end of September,” Capt. Clay explained. “When I troll, I use a line that has a lead core center that helps get the line down where I want it. This line is color-coded in 3-foot increments, so I can know exactly how far down we are fishing.

“To that line I attach an 8-foot-long, 20-pound-test fluorocarbon leader. I attach a 1- or 2-oz. Berkely Fusion Bucktail Jig on each line. I put two lines out. You are allowed to troll three lines, but I’ve found that if you can’t catch them on two, you aren’t going to catch them on three. Besides. When you get a fish on, you have to get the other lines in and out of the way. That third line is just another one that you have to get out of the way.”

The entire time Capt. Clay is watching his graph looking for fish in the thermocline.

“In the fall, about 90% of the fish in the lake will be in 10% of the water near the dam,” said Capt. Clay Cunningham, who operates Catching, Not Fishing guide service.

Capt. Ron uses pretty much the same technique.

“I’m pulling a lead core line with 1 1/2- to 2-oz. bucktail jigs,” he said. “It’s also possible to fish downlines with live blueback herring. I’ll use a 1 3/4-oz. pencil sinker attached to 10  to 12 feet of 8- to 12-lb. fluorocarbon leader. I use a No. 1 Gamakatsu circle hook.”

When October arrives, the fun really starts, he says. That’s when the biggest schools of schooling stripers appear.

“There will be schools of 50 to 200 stripers some years and schools of 200 to 400 some years,” Capt. Clay said. “The best topwater bait is not really a true topwater bait. I fish a Berkley Magic Swimmer, which is a hard, jointed swimbait that runs about 2 feet below the water surface.”

Capt. Ron agrees that late September and early October when the stripers start schooling the action gets wild.

“Stripers have relatively small mouths so they may come up and knock a lure out of the water four or five times before they finally take it,” he said.

“I like using a Boss Hawg casting spoon or a Sebile Magic Swimmer, a jointed crankbait.”

Travis Greene, of Winder, has been fishing with Capt. Ron for four years. He has fished with him three times this year. Although he owns his own boat, he said it just makes sense to go stripe fishing with Capt. Ron. He has been bringing his two sons along on many of those trips. He also brings clients and sometimes their kids.

“You drive to the dock and hop on the boat,” he said. “It’s nice and simple. It’s kid friendly. My kids love Capt. Ron. He puts us on fish. When you have a 6-year-old along, you better catch fish, or they are going to get bored.

“If you take a kid bass fishing, they are going to get bored quickly. They can’t cast and they can’t set the hook. With Capt. Ron, the rods are in a rod-holder. The kids are eating snacks, playing with the bait, and asking, ‘What does this button do?’

“When a fish bites, Capt. Ron hands them the rod, and when they start reeling with those circle hooks, they hook the fish. They love it. My older clients love it.”

Make some memories this fall and join either Capt. Ron or Capt. Clay on Lake Lanier where you, or your kids, may catch the biggest fish of their lives.

Guided Fishing Trips With GON Contributors

Capt. Clay and Capt. Ron are regular contributors to GON Fishing Reports. We appreciate their continued support of the GON Community.

Capt. Clay Cunningham

Capt. Ron Mullins

GON’s Georgia Lake & River Records

Lake Lanier has an impressive collection of fish on GON’s Georgia Lake & River Records list. This list of records only expands when excited anglers contact GON to be added to the list. When you have a fish for consideration in the list, there’s a few requirements and steps you’ll need to take.

Requirements & Steps For Record Fish

• Fish must be caught legally by rod and reel in a manner consistent with WRD state fish regulations.

• Fish must be weighed on accurate Georgia DOA certified scales. These scales can often be found at WRD Fisheries facilities (region offices, PFAs, etc.) grocery stores, hardware stores, feed stores, post offices and bait & tackle shops.

• Fish must be weighed with at least one witness present, who must be willing to provide their name and phone number so they can be contacted to verify the weighing of the fish. This witness is often the scale owner or an employee at the facility. The witness must be at least 18 years old, and they must not be members of the angler’s immediate family nor have a close personal relationship with the angler.

• Fish must be positively identified by WRD Fisheries personnel, or someone GON deems as qualified to make an assessment on fish species. If the angler is unable to get a positive identification, GON will send photos to WRD Fisheries  staff through email. However, it’s up to the angler to provide GON with multiple, clear images of the fish. In some cases, like with a bream species, photos may not be enough data for a WRD biologists to make a proper assessment of fish species. In this case, it would be up to the angler to meet WRD with the actual fish.

GON’s records are compiled and maintained by GON, to be awarded at GON’s discretion. Additional steps may be required for record consideration.

Largemouth Bass17-lbs., 9-ozs.Emory Dunahoo12/19/65
Spotted Bass8-lbs., 0.5-ozs.Patrick Bankston05/20/85
Striped Bass47-lbs., 12-ozs.Ward Schanhals04/03/10
Hybrid Bass12-lbs.Fred Duncan12/22/92
White Bass5-lbs., 1-oz.*J.M. Hobbins06/16/71
Shoal Bass5-lbs., 5-ozs.Peter T. Thliveros12/01/94
White Crappie3-lbs., 2-ozs.Bill Fretwell04/17/91
Black Crappie3-lbs., 5-ozs.Chris Williams10/06/06
Walleye8-lbs., 9-ozs.Buddy Wade 01/20/13
Bluegill1-lb., 2-ozs.Mrs. Pat Johnson06/03/79
Yellow Perch1-lb., 8-ozs.Jeff Howard02/02/90
Shellcracker1-lb., 9.44-ozs.Michael Madryga12/12/21
Rainbow Trout9-lbs., 6-ozs.Brooke Wheeler03/02/19
Brown Trout6-lbs.Tim Wyatt04/24/04
Flathead Catfish
51-lbs., 10-ozs.
Rodney Stephens
Channel Catfish22-lbs., 8-ozs.Robert Hancock09/28/11
Longnose Gar30-lbs., 13-ozs.Gerald Kennedy09/04/13
Common Carp19-lbs., 9.6-ozs.Charlie White03/17/24
Blue Catfish15-lbs., 8.8-ozs.Matthew Haynes04/09/23


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