Pull Trout For Carters Lake December Stripers
I met Mike Maddalena and Bill Young, both from Cumming, at the Jasper Waffle House at 5:30 a.m. on a recent morning. We were headed to Carters Lake to chase stripers, something the two men have been doing together as part of the North Georgia Striper Club (NGSC) for years.
“The club tournaments are a blind draw, so you get to fish with a lot of different people,” Mike said. “People want to win our tournaments, but it’s more about camaraderie and learning how to catch striped bass from different people.”
Mike, who grew up in New Jersey, started catching saltwater stripers with his grandfather as a youngster. He moved to the Atlanta area 25 years ago and hadn’t thought much about fishing until he read an article in the Atlanta Journal about guide Mack Farr, who was catching plenty of striped bass on Lake Lanier.
“I booked a trip with Mack, went and caught some fish and was hooked all over again,” Mike related.
Bill’s striper fishing started by accident when he was visiting a friend’s lake house on Lanier.
“We were bass fishing from the bank in the back of a cove. I was throwing a bucktail jig when I hooked into something big,” Bill recalled. “It only stayed on for a second before it broke the rod in half, so I walked a half-mile back to the house to get another rod. That was all it took.”
Bill is the longest-running member of the NGSC, having been a dues-paying member for the past 15 years. He is also the club’s chef, regularly whipping up meals for big groups of hungry fishermen. In 2003, he and Tim McKenzie topped the field in an National Striped Bass Association (NSBA) regional event on Hartwell, winning a boat for their efforts.
Mike, who has developed a reputation for catching big striped bass by the bundle, regularly makes the club’s top six and has garnered its angler-of-the-year award six times. He could be on his way again this year, having become the first person to weigh in more than 200 pounds of fish over the course of the sea- son, which isn’t over yet.
They kept me entertained at breakfast with stories of past trips, such as a night-fishing venture when Mike and his partner tied off to a house boat, put rods out, kicked back in chairs and went to sleep.
“Bill and his partner were fishing close to the house boat and they could see both rods get slammed and they started hollering at us because we weren’t moving, but we were asleep and didn’t hear them,” Mike laughed. “When we woke up, both of us had been spooled.”
The fellas had me laughing, and they were about to have me reeling.
We had only been on Carters for a few minutes, launching from the ramp at the dam, while Mike explained what makes Carters so tough for the uninitiated.
“I’ve never seen a lake with this much bait in it,” Mike said. “There is so much bait, it’s hard to pick the right spot to fish.”
Nonetheless, Mike said in December on Carters, pulling big, live trout on planer boards and flatlines close to the bank is the way to start the day. As the sun gets on the water, Mike will concentrate on deeper fish with downlines and floating downlines.
“You definitely want to pull the banks early,” Mike said.
Mike and Bill had an array of rods rigged. Mike said he prefers heavy fishing line because he’s after big fish, and because he fishes in brush-filled rivers, meaning he often has to horse stripers out of cover. Mike uses 25- to 30-lb. Berkley Big Game line. He prefers Gamakatsu Octopus hooks and says the size hooks he uses vary from a No. 4 to an 8/0 whopper, depending on the size of his bait.
When Mike puts out a planer board, he runs out about 25 feet of line, clips the board on, and peels off another 50 feet or so of line, keeping the trout out to the side of the boat. He’ll put the flat lines 50 or more feet behind the boat.
Mike says 60-degree water temperature is optimum and by the beginning of December the water temperature at Carters should be about right. Since stripers will be schooling toward the backs of creeks this time of year, Mike says anglers should idle about halfway back in a creek arm looking for bait on their electronics.
“When you start marking bait, start fishing and work as far back in the creek as possible,” Mike said.
Since Bill has landed a fish just shy of 30 pounds, and Mike has one more than 45 pounds to his credit, I figured I was in good hands. We had only been trolling for a few minutes off the end of an island when the planer board off the back left of Mike’s Carolina Skiff jerked violently toward the boat for a second. Bill picked the rod up, but the fish was gone.
“I wonder why that one didn’t eat,” Bill said quizzically.
No sooner had the words come out of his mouth when we found out why. The down rod in the next rodholder doubled over under the weight of a fish. I was scrambling for my camera to get some action photos when Mike handed me the rod.
“Take it, Roy,” he said as I held the rod and watched, grinning while the reel sung a song, line screaming from the spool.
Every time the fish stopped running, I would gain a little line, and the fish would surge again. In short order, a landing net was under the 14-plus lb. fish, and Mike lifted it aboard.
The action was short lived at the island, so Mike cranked up the big motor and headed up the Coosawattee River to a big bend where the water quickly got shallow. We started re-rig- ging rods, and soon were fishing again. The high-definition screen on Mike’s Lowrance unit, mounted atop the con- sole of the boat, lit up with millions of baitfish, and the tell-tale arches of big fish told us we were in a good spot.
Mike, who hadn’t fished Carters in a few years, had caught a couple of stripers up the river two days prior so we hoped the action would pick up considerably. It wasn’t long before a striped bass took a trout and went on a run. Bill stood on the back deck of the boat hanging on as Mike asked if he had the situation under control.
Looking at the line counter on the reel, Bill laughed and shot back, “He just ripped off 130 feet of line, so right now I’m getting whipped.”
Bill guessed the fish was bigger than the one we had boated earlier as he started turning the striper back toward the boat. However, we would never be able to confirm the fact as the line finally snapped and the fish was gone.
“That was fun while it lasted,” he grinned, turning to re-tie his line and quickly get another trout in the water.
After trolling for awhile with no takers, Mike suggested a move to Doll Mountain. As Bill picked up one of the flatlines and started reeling the trout toward the boat, a striper inhaled the bait and took off. There would be no broken line this time as Bill landed another nice striper in the 10-lb. range.
Mike had put out a floating downline behind the boat when we were up the river, and said during December, the tactic could be instrumental in hooking up on a few extra stripers. The floating downline utilizes a large bobber that is put above the weight on a standard downline. The slip bobber allows an angler to get a bait down 15 or 20 feet in the water column while getting it away from the boat.
“Sometimes the floating downline works because stripers don’t want to come right up under the boat to bite,” Mike said. “The floating downline gets the bait down but back far enough from the boat that the fish will chase it.”
The hump at Doll Mountain didn’t garner a fish, and we tried one more spot, a long point on an outside bend in the river channel. Mike said that to stripers such spots are like having a McDonald’s restaurant at every inter- state exit.
“Stripers will cruise the river channel as they move, and they often pull up on these points at outside bends to see if there’s something to eat,” Mike said.
That point was unproductive, so Mike cranked up and took me back to the boat ramp just after lunch so I could get in my truck for a trip to Savannah. Mike nosed the boat up to the bank and as I stepped off, he reiterated the idea that anglers on Carters should look shallow early and fish downlined bait later in the day for a chance at some big striped bass. It wasn’t long before Mike and Bill were headed away from the ramp. They had all day and figured it was time to check out Wurley Creek to try getting on some more fish.
If you want to find out how to catch stripers, or if you just want to book a trip to get after some big fish, book a trip with Big Fish On, Mike’s guide service. His only goal is to catch trophy-class fish for clients. Though Mike is strictly a catch-and-release fisherman, he says a client can take all the fish’s pertinent measurements and have a replica made. Mike says an eight-hour trip costs $100, and he charges $10 per pound of fish up to 35 pounds.
“If we go and somebody catches a 30-lb. striper and a 15 pounder, they would pay $350 plus the initial $100 for expenses,” Mike explained. “That’s good for an all-day trip, and if we don’t catch fish, all they pay is the $100.”
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