Trophy Time For Carters Stripers

Brave the cold weather for a trip to this beautiful little mountain reservoir, and you could be rewarded with the striper of a lifetime.

Joe DiPietro | December 29, 2011

Brent Totten, of Marietta, caught this big striper on a recent trip to Carters Lake with guide Cy Grajcar. The fish, Brent’s first striped bass ever, ate a downlined trout in the middle of the day. The fish was released.

If you’re willing to brave any north Georgia mountain lake in January, you know what you’re in for. It’s going to be cold, and the wind is likely to blow a bit. However, those folks who choose to hunt the beastly striped bass on Carters Lake will be rewarded this month. That is, if they’re willing to put in the work.

Let me start by giving the average angler a few critical pointers. If you’re headed out to Carters Lake on any day in January, wear layer upon layer, waterproof footwear with heavy socks, and be sure to have a good hat/facemask, and gloves. With that aside, you’ll be comfortable enough to spend an entire day searching the endless points and humps of Carters Lake for stripers in the 20- to 30-lb. class.

Don’t worry, once you hook into one and your drag begins to scream, you’ll forget all about the cold.

“One of the great things about Carters is that it’s just point after point,” said Cy Grajcar, owner of Extreme Stripers Guide Service. “So, sometimes it’s not a bad idea to just put out a spread (of at least two planer board lines, two downlines and two freelines) and just head in one direction. It’s not rocket science.”

Because of the stripers’ tendency to move good distances in short periods of time and the chilly temps in January, Cy prefers to target the trophy-size stripers over the school-sized fish.

“Yes, you can come out and catch a bunch of 12- to 14-lb. fish, but if you’re looking for that big boy, you’re going to have to put in the time,” Cy said.

An easy way to target the biggest linesides in Carters in January is to pull big baits. Like they say — big baits equal big fish.

“If someone is looking for 20- to 30-lb. fish, and a shot at a 40-pounder, I can’t think of anywhere better to be in Georgia in January than Carters,” Cy said.

Cy’s idea of a big bait for Carters Lake is a lively rainbow or brown trout between 12 and 15 inches long. Besides that, smaller trout will suffice, but he rarely fishes Carters with anything other than trout longer than 8 inches in January.

“You want to be pulling the biggest, most lively baits you can,” Cy said. “It’s so cold outside it’s nice to know that when a rod doubles over that it’s something really worth reeling in. It’s rare that I catch one under 15 pounds pulling big baits.”

In order to legally fish with trout in Georgia, you must purchase the fish and carry a receipt on you. With the close proximity to Atlanta and many Carters anglers coming from the metro area, Cy said he’s found the largest and most lively trout at The Dugout in Marietta.

“It’s cold enough in January that you don’t have to worry about them dying on the way up,” he said.

When he’s marking fish, particularly schools of hybrids, Cy said he’ll utilize downlines.

When it comes to downlines on Carters Lake, Cy likes to to keep it at about 20 feet deep.

“I find, with the variations of depth being so common and so great in this lake, that 20 feet is a good average feeding range to set downlines at while you’re slow trolling,” Cy said.

Trolling slower than most other guys is a major tactic Cy said many anglers overlook.

“I pull a lot slower than most people, and I think it makes a difference. It really lets that bait do its thing and also it gives those fish a little more time to see the bait,” he said. “You want to troll just fast enough to get the planer boards working.”

Overall, anglers are going to want to concentrate on the main-lake points, shoals, drop-offs, artificial reefs and humps during January to find fish.

“I very rarely fish up the lake in January,” Cy said.

A benefit of targeting stripers in Carters in January is that it’s one of the last lakes in north Georgia to have a shad kill, if one occurs at all. This is mainly due to its extreme depth and small surface area that can keep water at temperatures just at the crucial point for shad survival.

“We’ve had years where there wasn’t even a shad kill on this lake,” Cy said.

Despite that benefit, the colder water does slow down the metabolism of the stripers somewhat, and so slowly trolling your spread is the way to go.

“If you pick about any bank on this lake and just go all day, you’re going to boat a few fish,” Cy said. “It’s usually single fish, and often that’s a big fish because they’re not with the schools.”

If that doesn’t work, you can switch over to fishing right over fish you’re marking on the depthfinder.

Striper guide Cy Grajcar, of Acworth, holds a hefty 21-lb. Carters striper, which ate a live trout. Cy uses big, lively baits for the best chance of catching a trophy fish.

“You’ve gotta be versatile,” Cy said. “If you’ve pulled planers and freelines for a while, it’s time to change to something else.”

The proof is in the pudding. In the few days of fishing in preparation for this story, Cy managed to put three stripers in his boat out of Carters Lake that went between 21 and 31 pounds.

That doesn’t count several fish that either managed to break lines or simply could not be stopped with medium-heavy baitcasting gear drag systems. There were several of those blistering, drag-screaming runs every fisherman lives for. Even when it ends in the typical adrenaline let down of a busted off behemoth, there’s a respect there that you were lucky enough to even spend a few minutes battling a fish that size.

“I know there’s a new lake record striper swimming around in this lake,” Cy said.

The lake record striper is held currently by Angela Hawes, who caught the 36-lb. record fish in 2009.

A tip Cy offered to striper fishermen is to use the smallest possible balloon on freeline-balloon rigs. Cy also prefers to put his largest, most lively trout on that line. No surprise it attracts quite a bit of attention. But, there’s an added bonus to a smaller balloon rig.

“On a little balloon, that fish hitting the trout isn’t going to feel the balloon as much, so he’s really gonna have a good chance to eat it,” Cy said.

Striper anglers still want to be a little cautious when using large baits though.

“That fish isn’t going to be able to set the hook himself every time,” Cy said.

So, be sure to give them just enough time to get the whole trout in their mouth.

If the standard striper fare of pulling planer boars rigs, freelines and downlines doesn’t seem to work after several hours, Cy keeps another very overlooked tool in his winter arsenal — cut bait.

Yep, you heard it. Cut bait on Caters Lake.

Now, Cy, who books trips for Coosa River run stripers throughout the spring, has a jet boat that’s perfect for beaching on a point. He then sets out several lines along a point or hump at varying depths and locations and waits on fish to come to him.

For folks without a jet boat, anchoring close to shore can work just as well. Be careful trying to beach anything other than a jet boat in January, as the cold could make getting a beached outboard free downright dangerous.

“If you’re willing to put in four hours pulling planers and freelines, why not anchor up or beach your boat and build a fire and relax for a few hours,” Cy said. “Personally, I’m a fan of chili dogs as a shore lunch.”

The concept is really not much different than the trolling method — seeking out cruising big fish. Only instead of trying to find them, you can sit back in comfy chairs and warm clothes and wait for the fish to cruise by you.

Choice cut baits are half-trout. Cy said he likes to use the head and a portion of the belly section and a lower body section with guts of a big trout as two baits. For smaller trout, simply cutting the tail end off to expose some guts is good. Cy then uses the tails as chum.

“No guts, no glory, when it comes to cut bait,” Cy joked. “I don’t use little pieces of cut bait.”

Cy sets out his cut-bait rigs on heavy spinning or baitcasting gear with braided line of at least 30-lb. test. If the bait is heavy enough, Cy said he sometimes uses no weight. But, usually a 1-oz. sinker on a Carolina rig is the way to go. Use a 2-foot, 20-lb. test leader, and a 2/0 kahle hook for small baits, and a 4/0 kahle hook for big baits.

“There are a lot of roots and stuff you can get hung on, so you definitely want the strength of braid,” Cy said.

The important thing is to set out your cut baits on the point or hump in a staggered fashion. This way you cover the entire area.

“You may find that one rod keeps getting hit,” Cy said. “Then you have the option of trying to target them right there. Other times one rod will go off and then one on the other side of the point will.”

When fishing cut bait, it’s not a bad idea to actually leave a little bit of slack in your lines and use good solid rod holders, and bait runners or clickers on reels if at all possible.

Warning: You may lose a rod (or two) fishing this way.

“Slack doesn’t hurt,” Cy said. “It’s actually beneficial to let that fish run with that bait before he feels the sting of the hook.”

Cy’s cut-bait method works particularly well during periods of generation.

“It really helps to pull the scent off the points,” he said.

Thanks to the fact that the majority of the land around Carters Lake is open to the public, there are lots of good points accessible to bank fishermen willing to set up cut-bait rigs for winter stripers.

The Doll Mountain area, Ridgeway, the Dam Ramp and many other public access points have accessible points for bank fishermen to target stripes. Remember, the difference in 20 and 60 feet deep in Carters Lake can be a mere 10 feet of surface water distance in some places.

Some of the trail systems along the lake provide further access to bank fishermen, and with the leaves down it’s much easier to find a spot to fish along the trails. The colder the weather gets, the more reliable the cut-bait tactic can get, Cy said.

“As with any fish, the colder it gets, the colder you want your presentation to be,” he said.

When water temps start to hit lows of about 44 degrees, Cy said, “That’s when I’ll really start to go to cut bait. Is it harder then? Absolutely. But will I still catch fish? Oh yeah! And yes, you can catch a 30-lb. fish in 15 feet of water on cut bait at 2 o’clock in the afternoon.”

To book a trip with Cy, give him a call at (770) 815-9579, or visit <>.

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