Mixed Bag Fishing At Beautiful Lake Burton

You'll fall in love with this little mountain jewel of a reservoir, and not just because of the views. The winter fishing is great.

Joe DiPietro | January 3, 2013

Guide Capt. Wes Carlton said January is a great time to catch fish on Burton, especially spotted bass as they go after blueback herring. “Not a lot of people realize the caliber of spots there are in Burton,” said Wes.

It’s always cold on a mountain reservoir in January. But, those who are willing to brave the occasional ice on the deck of the boat or in the eyes of their rods will be in for some prime fishing at Lake Burton.

One of the reasons the fishing tends to pick up in Burton this month, compared to some other bodies of water, is simply that the lake is home to a few non-native gamefish species that prefer or require cool water.

Some of these fish have been supported by the WRD through stocking, like trout and walleye.

While others, like spotted bass, have appeared likely as the result of illegal stocking by private citizens.

However it was the fish got in the lake, the action the spotted bass, brown trout and walleye in Lake Burton offer this month shouldn’t be missed.

Combine the unique situation these cool-water species are in, with the presence of blueback herring, and one thing’s for sure. Whatever eats those herring is going to have a good chance at growing big.

Because bluebacks also prefer cooler water, when the bait gets going in the winter, the spotted bass really fire up, too.

“Not a lot of people realize the caliber of spots there are in Burton,” said Capt. Wes Carlton, of Georgia Lake Fishing Guide Service. “I think they tend to average a little bigger than in most lakes for some reason. Definitely, if you’re hunting big fish, or a bigger average spot, winter is the time to fish Burton.”

When I got the chance to fish Burton recently with Wes, I jumped at it. I knew I was likely in for a good day of fishing.

The fact that it was an ugly, gray winter morning with lots of drizzle did nothing to dash our hopes as we motored off from Murray’s Cove Boat Ramp.

Putting in at Murray’s Cove is often the best choice in January due to low water levels on the lake.

Wes pulled his boat between an exposed hump and a main-lake point and shut down the motor.

“That hump will be underwater in the spring and summer,” Wes said. “Not only is there a good bite this time of year, but being on the water now also helps you learn structures that hold fish when the water is up.”

But when it’s cold, using your electronics to mark fish is crucial, Wes said.

“The fish are going to be deep in January,” Wes said. “This time of year using your electronics is the key to producing fish.”

The fish are going to stay deep but move throughout the day.

“The bass are going to move up into 6 to 9 feet of water to feed on bream, bluebacks or yellow perch, first thing in the morning,” Wes said. “Then, they’re going to move back around brush and rockpiles in about 15 to 20 feet of water by midday.”

Wes likes to work a jig on ledges that drop from about 6 feet of water to about 25 feet. He fishes a jig or swimbait that falls fast.

Using a 1/2- to 3/4-oz. white Fish Head Spin by Sworming Hornet Lures is one of the top ways Wes likes to fish deep-water bass this time of year.

Try threading a white or herring-pattern swimbait body on the jig.

“What I really like to do is use a little Gorilla glue when I put that swimbait on the jig,” Wes said. “It makes that swimbait last longer.”

Wes stood on the bow of his boat and tossed the swimbait toward the point.

“Even though we’re close to the bank, that swimbait is going to drop fast into 18 or 20 feet of water,” Wes said. “What I’m going to do is just let it slowly bounce down the ledge.”

Be ready, though, you may not get the typical smashing hit.

“I like to keep a finger on my line, and as soon as I feel the hit, I set that hook,” Wes said. “It’s going to be a soft bite.”

White bucktail jigs in the 1/8- to 3/16-oz. size range work well for this pattern, too.

After just a handful of casts, Wes hooked into a fish, a nice one. In a few minutes, a 3 1/2-lb. spot boiled the surface. Wes’ friend Matt Whitmire, of Gainesville, assisted with the net, and the fish came aboard for a couple photos before being released.

Matt grabbed a baitcasting rod rigged with a white Spro McStick and began casting.

A second later, we saw the water boil with the tell-tale signs of spotted bass eating herring. Matt threw his plug beyond the boil and began working it back to the boat.

“Topwater action is always something to keep an eye out for,” Wes said.

Matt buttoned up with a bass in short order and fought it to the net.

The stout spotted bass weighed in just shy of 4 pounds.

Whether you plan to fish topwater baits or not, following any sign of bait, like birds crashing the surface and fish feeding, is sure to pay off.

Zara Spooks and shallow-running plugs are Wes’ favorite topwaters for winter bass.

A few more seconds later, the water in front of the boat burst alive as spots tore through a big school of herring.

Wes was on the action this time and delivered a cast beyond the baitfish.

“I like to get my lure past the bait and then retrieve it,” Wes said. “If your lure hits the water too close to the fish, it’s probably going to just spook the fish.”

Then, it was payday. Wes stuck a good fish.

Giving the great fight spots are known for, Wes had several minutes of wrestling the fish to the boat. Coming to the net, we saw a very respectable spot flash in the lake’s clear water.

Upon landing it, Wes weighed the fish in at nearly 5 pounds before he released the fish.

“Not a bad way to start the morning, hey?” Wes asked. “Spots that size are not all that uncommon in this lake. We’ve got some really big fish roaming around this lake.”

We caught a couple more spots around 3 pounds before Wes made the call to move on.

Motoring to a marker that was on an exposed hump, the scene was familiar. This time, though, Wes started fishing a spoon vertically. Matt started fishing a drop-shot rigged Robo Worm.What fishing vertically also does is get the fish moving and often inspires feeding.

“It breaks up the schools into the water column a little more and helps get the fish up off the bottom,” Wes said. “That’s why it’s a good idea to throw a jerkbait around the places you’ve worked with jig.”

Using a 5/10-oz. Flex-it spoon or a drop shot rigged wacky style with a Robo Worm in dark green or other natural color, followed up by a jerkbait in a herring or white patten, is another great combination of baits right now.

Here’s the arsenal that’ll put together a nice mixed bag of fish for Lake Burton in January. (Beginning from bottom left and going clockwise) A Little Ceo spoon, a Flex-it spoon, a Spro McStick, a shallow-runing crankbait and a drop shot rigged wacky style with a Robo Worm in dark green.

However, you want to be fishing vertically right over the school of fish you’re marking on your fishfinder.

“You’ll really be surprised,” Wes said. “In fact, if you have good electronics, you can watch those fish start to move.”

Wes’ rod doubled over, and he hooked another nice spot.

In the midst of the fight, Matt hooked a surprise. Looking into the lake, we saw a big walleye nearing the surface. With thoughts of the succulent fish fry a big walleye can provide, I darted for the net, and we boated the fish. After catching our breath, we weighed Matt’s walleye, and it went just heavier than 8 poounds. In case you’re not aware, that’s a pretty good walleye anywhere they swim from Cananda to the Southeast U.S.

“I love that about this lake, you never know whether the next fish is going to be a bass, a walleye a trout or whatever,” Wes said.

Matt Whitmire, of Gainesville, caught this walleye while fishing with the author and guide Capt. Wes Carlton. Expect to catch walleye in your mixed bag this month. “I love that about this lake, you never know whether the next fish is going to be a bass, a walleye, a trout or whatever,” Wes said.

Moments later, I got a shot at a fish while fishing a drop-shot rig. My fish was another species, one that some love and some hate. It was a big 3-lb. chain pickerel. First thing, never get close to the mouth of a chain pickerel. It’s full of razors.

“They’re a lot of fun to catch, but I also think they eat a lot of stocked trout,” Wes said. “We’ve sure got some big ones, though. They’re great to eat, but they’re bony.”

With water as clear as it is in Lake Burton, Wes uses the lightest lines he can get away with.

“I use 6-lb. test on almost all of my stuff, 8 at the most,” Wes said. “I find that my bite ratio goes way down if I go any bigger than that.”

With that in mind, it’s obvious quality reels with good drags set properly are important when fishing Lake Burton.

Medium-action rods from 6 1/2 to 7 feet work best for casting and vertical jigging.

After catching a few more spots, Wes made the shift to trolling.

“Trolling is what I like to do when I’m looking for big brown trout in January,” Wes said.

Lake Burton is the only place in the state where brown trout live through the summer and grow to good sizes with enough regularity to provide a consistent fishery.

Knowing I’m a trout man, Wes got out his trolling gear to put me on trout.Fishing various plugs, spoons and spinnerbaits is the way to go when hunting browns. When trolling, Wes likes to uses downriggers with 8-lb. balls. He trolls between 10 and 18 feet deep depending on the time of day, starting shallow in the morning and going deeper through the day.

“I like to run across main-lake points, instead of running along them,” Wes said.

Be sure to keep a few small spoons and inline spinnerbaits tied on rods to cast to rising fish while trolling.

“I find a lot of trout in shallow water or near the surface right now,” Wes said. “Don’t try to troll to them, cast a Little Cleo or a Panther Martin that’s heavy enough to cast a good way.”

Use 6 1/2-foot, light spinning outfits spooled with 4- or 6-lb.-test when trolling or casting for trout.

“If you’re looking for a big, mature trout, hunt the edges of the main channel from Murray’s Cove to the dam,” Wes said.

After a good bit of trolling, we had only happened into a few spots, not trout.

But, Wes, wouldn’t be defeated.

We pulled into a shallow cove, filled with grass, where a creek flowed into the lake.

“The younger stocked trout were really nice this year,” Wes said. “They put a bunch in that were more around 14 inches, (instead of) the standard 9-inch stocker.”

Trout up to about 15 inches are likely to be hanging in 2 to 6 feet of water.

The rain had let up, and the sun peeked through the clouds enough where we could sight fish for the schools of trout. Wes got on the bow and operated the trolling motor.

Suddenly, Wes jumped off the bow.

“There’s the school,” he said, grabbing a rod rigged with a gold Blue Fox spinnerbait.

Seconds later he was hooked up with a gorgeous brown trout.

Matt and I followed suit, and we all consistently caught trout for a good while.

“I do occasionally catch a 3-plus-pound trout around the smaller fish, too,” Wes said.

After catching a variety of species, it was satisfying to call it a day and motor back to the ramp.

Yes, it’s cold this month. But with action as hot as it is on Burton, you can make it a half day and still have caught plenty fish on most days.

For more information on booking a trip with Wes, call (770) 318-9777 or visit

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