Mix Up Techniques For A December Mixed Bag On Lake Rabun

Whether you prefer live bait or artificials, big largemouths, spots and walleye highlight great winter fishing on this mountain lake.

Shaye Baker | November 23, 2011

Rabun guide Tyler Clore shows off a walleye and a largemouth (inset) he and the author caught using a variety of live-bait techniques at Lake Rabun. You never know what you’ll find on a line baited with a blueback, but you’ll need to specialize to catch a particular species on artificials.

In the northeast corner of the state, just a few miles as the crow flies from both Tennessee and South Carolina, you’ll find a beautiful little lake sitting snug in the mountain tops. With only 25 miles of shoreline and 835 acres dam to dam, Lake Rabun is not a real eye catcher if you are looking at a map and planning a vacation, and it doesn’t get much attention as a fishery. But take my word for it, you need to go there.

With a handful of abundant species and a few rarities mixed in, Rabun is no doubt the most diverse lake for its size that I have ever fished. Both spotted and largemouth bass are accompanied by a plethora of aquatic species including crappie, brown trout, pickerel, perch, striper and a fast emerging walleye population. All of which grow big and grow quickly thanks to the abundant forage fish including the protein-packed blueback herring that inhabit the lake.

Few have spent as much time in recent years on Rabun as Tyler Clore of Georgia Lake Fishing. He frequents Rabun, along with lots of other lakes all over the Georgia and South Carolina, taking clients out for their fill of whatever they’d like to catch. They fish both artificial and live bait for all the different species that inhabit the lake, and Tyler said December is a great month for several species.

No matter your skill level, there is always the option to fish live bait on Rabun. This works great for any species. Tyler will drop shot crappie minnows for perch in the wintertime, using his Lowrance depthfinder to mark the fish first and then position the boat directly over them.

For walleye and bass, there are two main options with the live bait, downlining and freelining. Downlining consists of a nose-hooked blueback with a sinker on light gear. For this technique, they will mark fish on the graph sometimes, too, and use counters to count the bait down to the depth of the fish on the graph. Other times they will just drop multiple baits in an area they expect to hold fish.

Freelining for Tyler is casting, not pulling unweighted lines behind the boat like many lineside fishermen do. Casting weightless, nose-hooked blueback herring on light gear is a fun way to see what’s just a little way from the boat. Spinning gear works well for this technique since it allows you to flip the bail and let the herring swim around on free line.

With both downlines and freelines, there are two things you want to be sure to pay attention to. First, watch your rod tip. If it starts to twitch and jump, it is usually an indication that a predator is near your bait. The twitching is due to the nervousness of the bait. It will make an attempt at escaping and rattle your rod tip for just a moment before impact. So be ready.

The second tip at capitalizing on these two techniques is not to hit the fish hard as soon as you feel a bite like you would with a lot of artificial baits. Since Tyler uses circle hooks for both techniques, the hook set is more subtle. If you are getting bit, reel the slack out of your line and really feel the fish. Then make a sweeping hook set. This will prevent a lot of missed opportunities and wasted bait.

A third live bait technique Tyler uses successfully for many species on Rabun is pulling planer boards. Tyler will use the same setup as the downline and attach a planer board so the baits swing out to the side of the boat while he eases along with the trolling motor. This basically becomes glorified bobber fishing where your attention is placed on the planer board until there is any variation.

A tank full of bluebacks goes fast when you’re downlining, freelining and pulling planer boards for whatever chooses to bite on Rabun.

Once the hook is set, the planer board pops free and the fight is on. Tyler likes a little stiffer rods to sustain the drag of the planer board, so he typically reverts to a heavier action baitcasting setup.

When it comes to artificial baits, there are a few keys to targeting a particular species. Although you will catch the occasional walleye or striper while bass fishing with artificial baits and vice versa, there’s a definite pattern to catching multiples of any species. For largemouth and spotted bass, Tyler has several artificial baits that will do the trick.

“I like to throw jerkbaits and medium diving Bombers,” said Tyler. “Slow-rolling spinnerbaits up on points works well too if the wind gets up.”

His spinnerbait of choice is chartreuse and white with small chrome willowleaf blades. He stresses that, even though the water is cold in the winter time, the bass on Rabun will get right on the banks, so you should fish accordingly. He’ll cast his spinnerbait to banks and points and slow-roll it back to the boat in search of both spots and largemouths.

His jerkbait is a custom-painted jerkbait meant to mimic a blueback herring. Ironically, the back of the bait has a faded green tint to it since that is the actual color of the herring in the lake though their name would suggest otherwise.

The Bomber crankbait is white and thrown, along with the jerkbait, on the sides and tips of points and around whatever wood and timber he can find. For Tyler, his best luck comes around the points, so that’s where his main focus is when bass fishing.

Slow crawling a Fish Head Spin is another great technique for wintertime bass fishing on Rabun. Tyler will throw a Fish Head Spin throughout the year but relies on it heavily in the winter, especially when the bite is tough.

“I like to fish fast, so I don’t throw a jig or Carolina rig much,” said Tyler. “But they will work. If I am going to slow down at all, I’ll typically pick up a shaky head and target fish on docks.”

He recommends if you do choose to throw a jig or Carolina rig, they are most productive on the same points and banks where you might have thrown the moving baits and weren’t able to tempt any bass to bite. These fish will sit and watch the faster herring imitations move by but are unable to resist the slower, subtle bottom baits.

If you are looking to catch walleye on artificial baits, you are in luck. Rabun is possibly the best walleye fishery in the state. Though they aren’t native to the lake, walleye have been able to thrive on Rabun since their introduction a few years ago in large part due to its extensive herring population.

“My typical walleye is between 4 and 8 pounds,” said Tyler. “The walleye this time of year will be up in the shallows early in the mornings, but as the day gets brighter they will move out deeper. I catch most of them in the winter between 25 and 30 feet.”

To lure these fish in artificially, Tyler will employ several tactics that are substantially different from his bass fishing approach. One of which is downrigging. Downrigging consists of a large metal ball clipped to the main line. The ball is attached to a winch which is used to lower the weight and bait off the side of the boat.

This setup allows Tyler to use his outboard motor to troll spoons and shallow-running crankbaits at different depths behind the boat.

“We usually mark fish on the graph and then pull back through them,” said Tyler.

However, they do set the downriggers up and troll through productive areas sometimes without looking for fish on the graph first. When taking this approach, Tyler will set the down rigger ball at about 20 feet while the distance from the ball to the bait varies depending on the bait he uses.

If he is trolling a crankbait behind the downrigger ball, he will only put a few feet of line between the two. There needs to be a little separation vertically between your ball and your bait. This helps prevent fish from flying up and looking at your ball. A lipped crankbait will dive down deeper than the ball with just a short amount of line. However, a non-lipped bait such as a spoon has to have a lot more line in order to sink down.

Imagine reeling a spoon across the surface. If you reel it fast, it is not going to go very deep. Likewise, if your troll fast with the big motor the spoon doesn’t have much time to fall. So the best practice is to leave about 20 feet of line between the ball and spoon so the spoon can fall an additional 2 to 4 feet deeper than the ball.

Tyler unhooks a nice spotted bass that creamed a jerkbait fished on the side of a point. Tyler’s jerkbaits have a custom blueback paint job.

These are proven techniques that Tyler hangs his livelihood on and should help you catch fish of all sorts and sizes out on Rabun. If you decide to target bass or walleye with live bait, just remember that a little patience goes a long way and can convert a day of wasted bait to a lot of nice fish catches.

If live-bait fishing doesn’t present enough of a challenge for you, there is a definite sport to catching these bass and walleye on artificial baits. Crankbaits, jerkbaits and spinnerbaits are Tyler’s baits of choice for bass, but he admits slowing down with a bottom bait or Fish Head Spin can produce really well, too.

An occasional walleye can be picked up on these same baits, especially early near the shore. But as the day wears on, the best way to catch walleye on artificial baits is by trolling crankbaits and spoons out deeper in about 25 to 30 feet of water. Employing downriggers makes this process a lot more productive since there is no other way to get the baits down deep enough to find the larger concentrations of fish.

If you would prefer not to go it alone, you can always call on Tyler or his partner Wes Carlton. Hitting Rabun with an experienced guide can really help your chances of catching some trophy fish. They caught four largemouth bass over 11 pounds this year alone as well as countless other lunkers of all varieties.

To contact Tyler or Wes, visit their website at

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