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Patterns to Beat the Fall Turnover

Lake Lanier Spotted Bass From Top to Bottom

Don Baldwin | April 7, 2006

Lanier’s magnum spotted bass bite just fine in November — in fact this month can produce some great fishing for these hard-fighting, eating machines.

Some Georgia anglers worry that November is difficult time to fish Lake Lanier. This normally gin-clear body of water takes on an almost coffee-colored hue at times during this late fall month, and might have the faint smell of rotten eggs. Why? A phenomenon called turnover.

As the surface temperature cools due to shorter days and crisp air temperatures and reaches between 50 and 55 degrees, the lake goes through an inversion. The cooler, denser water heads for the bottom, driving the bottom water upward along with sediment and decayed matter, thus the coffee color and the sulfur dioxide smell. The conditions can make catching spots a difficult exercise — unless you know some techniques that work even after the fall turnover.

I had the good fortune of fishing Lanier in late October with Ryan Coleman, a professional guide and tournament fisherman who dedicates almost all of his fishing time to Lanier. Ryan has been fishing Lanier for about 15 years and has been a full-time guide for the last three. He spends a minimum of 200 days on the water, and as a result stays in touch with what the fish are doing essentially all of the time.

“In November the fish will be reacting to the turnover and will tend to scatter,” says Coleman. “I’ve experimented a lot during the turnover period and found two distinct patterns that will produce well while the lake is in this time of turmoil.”

The first pattern Ryan likes is associated with action near the surface and takes advantage of the strong winds that tend to blow during the late fall. On extremely windy days Ryan likes to set up along main-lake points that are being buffeted by the wind, and he’ll and cast a small spinnerbait along the edges of the points.

“This time of year the spotted bass will follow the schools of bait and feed on them heavily in preparation for the winter,” says Ryan. “The strong wind tends to stack bait up on those windblown, main-lake points, and the spots are generally not far behind.”

To tempt these fish Ryan relies on a specific kind of spinnerbait, one that he designed himself.

“I like to fish a spinnerbait about a foot or two under the troughs of the waves,” says Ryan. “To do that you need to move the bait quickly, and a bait with a small profile is important.”

Ryan designed a bait he calls the Mini-Me, produced by SOB Fishing Products. The key to the bait is that it has a relatively small head in front of the skirt with an additional “invisible” weight added behind the skirt. This gives a 1/2-oz. bait the head profile of a 1/4-oz. bait. Couple this with small No. 4 and No. 3 1/2 tandem willowleaf blades, and you have a bait that you can cast a long way, without a helicopter effect, and retrieve quickly just below the surface. Ryan offers this morsel on a six-foot, eight-inch St. Croix Avid series spinnerbait rod coupled with a high-speed 6:1 retrieve ratio casting reel spooled with 15-lb. test Berkley Big Game Line.

“Make as long a cast as you can and engage the reel as soon as the bait hits the water,” says Ryan. “Drag the bait back to the boat quickly just under the surface with a steady, quick retrieve.”

As far as locations are concerned, Ryan said that almost any of the main-lake points from Browns Bridge to Flowery Branch will produce fish. The most important factor in this type of fishing is the wind.

“The wind seems to concentrate the fish on these points,” says Ryan. “The harder it is blowing the better. On calm days I don’t even bother fishing a spinnerbait on those main-lake points.”

Ryan says that persistence is important when casting the points. Don’t be too quick to leave a windblown point. There is a good chance that the fish are there, and this pattern often produces some of his bigger spotted bass.

“When fishing the spinnerbait with this pattern, I always add a trailer hook to the bait,” Ryan said.

The bait is moving quickly through the water, and the bass are having to chase it to take a swipe at it. Often they will hit the back of the tail, and you’ll feel the strike but miss the fish. A bare trailer hook without an additional skirt increases the strike-to-hook-up ratio.

Ryan sticks with fairly subtle or natural color combinations. Some of his spinnerbaits even have gray blades. Other productive color combinations for Lanier include glimmer blue and dirty bird.

In any case, when the wind blows hard, hit those main-lake points. Make long casts, be persistent, and hang on because you might just catch the biggest spot of your life.

If the day is calm and sunny or you just don’t want to fight the wind and waves, you can try Ryan’s second November pattern. While the spinnerbait pattern focuses on surface activity, this pattern targets the opposite end of the spectrum.

Most of us have long fished a jigging spoon in the depths of winter with excellent results. You know the drill. Drop the bait to the bottom over some brush or structure, jerk it up sharply and let it flutter back down. Do this a few times and if there are fish around, of just about any species, you’ll soon have a strike.

For November fishing on Lanier Ryan takes the old-fashioned jigging spoon to a new level — often fan-casting it instead of dropping it straight down.

For this method Ryan chooses 1/4- or 1/2-oz. Hopkins spoons in either silver (the Shorty) or white (the Flex-It). He also uses a 1/4-oz. Cicada or 1/2-oz. Silver Buddy.

Ryan starts by locating coves about halfway back in a creek off the main lake. He prefers coves that are protected from the north wind — a lot more comfortable than his main-lake pattern where you fight the most viscous wind you can find.

Ryan fishes the spoons in 40 to 60 feet of water around brush or stumps. He spools 8-lb. test fluorocarbon line on a spinning reel and couples this with a six-foot, medium-action St. Croix Rod.

“I use fluorocarbon line exclusively for this method because it gives me maximum sensitivity in the deep water,” says Ryan.

The most important factor in this style of fishing, other than the type of location discussed earlier, is the presence of bait.

“Bait is the structure this time of year,” says Ryan. “If I pull up on a likely spot and don’t see any bait on the graph, then I’ll move on to the next location. If there isn’t bait in the area you’ll just be wasting your time.”

When moving into an area, pay close attention to your electronics. Sometimes you will spot the fish suspended under the bait and actively feeding on them. This can produce a lot of fish when you locate a school feeding, and you might just get surprised by a cruising striper. That can be a lot of fun on 8-lb. test line.

Ryan starts probing an area by first offering the spoon horizontally. He will fan cast the area around the boat searching for fish. Make a pretty long cast of about 30 yards, and let the bait sink to the bottom. Stay in contact with it as it falls, since aggressive fish may strike on the descent. When the bait hits the bottom, let it rest a second and then twitch it up slightly. Then let it fall to the bottom again, not on a tight line but watch the line closely and stay in contact with the bait. Strikes are often hard to detect in the deep water.

Continue the process until you work the bait back to the boat. Then repeat the cast in another direction. If after about five or six casts you haven’t had a strike, it is time to move on. Unlike the spinnerbait pattern where persistence will often pay off, this pattern usually provides pretty quick action. If the fish are in the area, you are like to get strikes right away. If you get a couple of fish in a general area, move over the area quietly and start a vertical presentation. For this vertical presentation Ryan switches to a heavier spoon.

“I use the 1/2-oz. spoon for vertical presentation because it gets down into the strike zone more quickly,” says Ryan.

This vertical action is just like the common winter method; letting the bait sink vertically to the bottom, jerking it straight up a foot or so, and letting it flutter back down. Since the water temperatures are warmer than in the deep winter months the fish are likely to be more active, and you can get away with a much quicker motion than will be required in December and January.

With the heavier spoons, Ryan switches to 12-lb. test line. In both cases Ryan uses a snap to attach the spoon to the line because he feels that the bait will exhibit a more natural action on the snap than it would if it were tied directly to the line. He also changes out the hooks on his spoons to wide-gap Gamakatsu treble hooks.

“A sharp hook is extremely important when you are spooning,” says Ryan. “When you are fishing in water more than 50-feet deep you need all the advantage you can get, and the extra-sharp hooks can mean the difference between a fish in the livewell and a missed strike.”

Once you locate fish with the horizontal method and move over them for vertical action, keep your eyes on your electronics and follow the bait school. If you see the fish on the graph keep your spoon a foot or two above them for best results. And don’t be surprised at what you catch. The spoons can produce spots, stripers, crappie, the occasional walleye, and even a carp or two. And the fish can come in plentiful numbers.

Ryan said that most all of the creeks south of Browns Bridge are good candidates for spooning in November. Look for coves about halfway back in the creek. Again, the most important factor is the presence of bait. Say on your electronics and move around frequently until you locate the schools. Sunny days are by far the best for spooning, and the coves protected from the north wind usually hold more bait and fish.

This November, as the wind blows, head up to Lanier. Don’t be afraid of the turnover. While the conditions might be difficult for some techniques, Ryan’s patterns will put those big Lanier spots in the boat.

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