West Point Lake Striped Bass And Hybrids
Whether the linesides are making the spring run up the river, down the lake or in between, they’re super fun to find and catch.
West Point linesides are on the move, feeding heavily on shad and tearing into blueback herring when they can find them. You can catch both stripers and hybrids right now trolling artificials and live bait, downlining live bait and jigging spoons and bucktails. It is a great time to catch them.
Both species have been stocked sporadically since the lake was built, with a change in the late 1990s from Atlantic to strain striped bass to Gulf strain stripers. Varying numbers of hybrids have been stocked over the years, and hybrid stockings have been on the upswing, producing good numbers of both species right now.
According to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Division, West Point has good numbers of hybrids, and they have good survival and growth rates. Right now, most hybrids are longer than 14 inches and can weigh more than 3 pounds. The lake record is a 14-lb., 12.75-oz. beast caught on March 13, 2009 by Dustin Pate.
The numbers of stripers in West Point has increased the past few years due to higher stock rates, and fish up to 10 pounds are common. Bigger stripers are in the lake, with 20- to 30-pounders caught regularly in the spring. The lake record was caught last March 8 by Mike Bradford, and it weighed 36.17 pounds.
As the records show, March is a great time to catch big hybrid and stripers, so plan a trip now. Use the following techniques from guide Andy Binegar to get on them.
Andy Binegar got hooked on striper fishing a couple of years ago after a trip with Capt. Mack Farr. Before that, he had gone on a few trips, caught some fish and enjoyed them, but catching stripers trolling with Capt. Mack is what lit his fire. He bought a boat, docked it at Highland Marina, got all the equipment needed and started fishing for linesides on West Point almost every day.
“It was frustrating at first, not knowing what I was doing and not being able to get much local information,” Andy said.
But with guidance from Capt. Mack and persistence on the lake, Andy started learning how to follow the fish and catch them every day.
Mack Farr is Andy’s mentor and has really helped him learn what to use, where to fish, speeds to troll and how to adapt to changes. In January 2019, Andy felt confident enough in his ability to consistently catch linesides at West Point that he started guiding for them and has done well.
“Stripers and hybrids have been on the main lake and mouths of major creeks all winter, following the baitfish,” Andy said.
As the days get longer, many of these fish make a “false” spawning run both up the river and to the dam. It is a false run since hybrids can’t reproduce, and stripers don’t have enough flowing water in West Point to have their eggs successfully hatch. But they run up the Chattahoochee River and try anyway.
In late February and early March, Andy will continue to fish around the dam and mouths of creeks, but he will also start checking the river for fish. Trolling is a great way to find them, with baits out to attract them and moving slowly enough to watch your electronics for fish.
Andy rigs Captain Mack’s Okuma Mustard Stick, a rod Mack designed for Okuma when he could not find a rod with exactly the action he wanted for trolling. The rod has an Okuma Line Counter reel on it.
The line counter feature is extremely important, and Okuma makes a quality reel at a reasonable price.
Lead core line is important, too. It allows you to precisely control the depth your baits run when trolled if you know exactly how much line is out. This can be critical. Stripers and hybrids will move up a little to hit a bait going by, but it has to be close to them for a bite on a normal day.
Andy’s go-to bait for trolling this time of year is a Mini Mack Umbrella Rig. It comes complete with jigs and swimbaits, ready to fish. And the label has a chart showing exactly how deep it runs on monofilament line at different line lengths and boat speeds. Lead core will give you even more precise control.
Andy adjusts his fishing depth depending on what his electronic show. If baitfish balls are down 15 to 20 feet deep and fish are holding under them, he lets out more line or slows down his boat speed to get his bait down deeper. If the fish are higher, less line out or a faster trolling speed will make the baits run shallower.
Fast trolling is using your gas motor to troll at 1.5 to 3.0 miles per hour, and artificial baits are usually best at that speed. To slow down, Andy will also troll with his electric motor and fish live bait with a planer board or a light lead to no lead on a flatline behind the boat is best. You can troll from almost a dead stop to 1.5 mph with an electric motor to offer live bait at a slower speed.
If you want to troll artificials slowly, use a light jig head with a swimbait on it or bucktail in the 1/4- to 1/2-oz. size. Length of line out will control the depth even at very slow speeds. However, it’s very hard to troll a Mini Mack Umbrella rig that slowly without a planer board due to total weight.
When you are trolling and you locate a school of fish, a good method to catch them faster is to stop and get on top of them and drop live or artificial bait down to them. Andy catches shad in the mornings and uses whole threadfin or live or cut gizzard shad. If he catches blueback herring, a baitfish that is becoming more and more common on West Point, he uses them both ways, too.
The live bait is usually threadfin shad, and these small baitfish are nose hooked on a Gamakatsu 2/0 circle hook. If fishing big gizzard shad live, he goes with a 3/0 or 4/0 nose hook for them, too.
Cut bait is rigged on a 3/0 or 4/0 circle hook, since Andy expects to catch bigger fish on cut bait, so a bigger hook is better. Both are rigged with a swivel holding a 1-oz. egg sinker 5 to 6 feet from the hook.
After dipping his cut bait in clear JJ’s Magic to give it a strong garlic scent, he drops it down to the fish. The magic depth seems to be 25 to 30 feet deep on the main lake, but 15 to 20 feet deep is a key range in the river during March.
Andy has multiple rod holders on his boat, and he can put out several rods when fishing is slow or he has more fishermen. Multiple rods allow you to try a variety of baits and depths when fishing under the boat, too.
A spoon like the Boss Hawg, Captain Mack’s Super Jig bucktail or soft swimbait on a jig head will also catch fish when jigged under the boat, but Andy says always keep one of them ready to cast to fish schooling on top, too. Birds circling and diving will often point out schooling fish. Go to them, stop a long cast from them and work your jig through them. A white Rooster Tail will catch schooling fish, too.
In March, you may not see a lot of surface splashes, even when big stripers and hybrids are feeding on top. Watch for more subtle swirls, Andy calls it “surface disturbance,” on the surface and cast to them.
Birds can also indicate where to troll. Even if gulls are sitting on the surface or on islands and humps, they will be near baitfish and linesides, just waiting on active feeding to offer them easy meals. You can find the fish by trolling and watching your electronics near them.
Loons will also lead you to baitfish and fish to catch. Watch for loons swimming along the surface. When they start diving to feed, especially if there are groups of them, go to that area and fish.
I met Andy at R Schaffer Heard boat ramp on a cold rainy late January day to catch some fish and see how he fishes. Captain Mack drove down and joined us. The water was very heavily stained, and fishing was tough.
We trolled the whole time, watching Andy’s 16-inch Lowrance unit, and caught a few fish while discussing different methods. There were lots of big fish holding under schools of baitfish everywhere we trolled with the gas motor, but it was tough to get bites.
After the trip the three of us discussed other things that might have worked. As usual on fishing trips, after the trip analysis can often lead to better ways to try next time.
With the heavily stained water, we thought we should have tried live bait or trolling slower with the trolling motor. Stripers and hybrids are visual feeders, and with the stained water, our bait went by the fish quickly, moving out of their feeding range fast. They had little time to hit and did not seem to want to chase it.
Getting on top of them with live bait might have been even a better method. A live shad, or even a spoon or bucktail, kept right in the fish’s face, might have gotten more bites. The water is still stained in some areas of the lake, but in early February clearer water was coming down the Chattahoochee River. Yellowjacket was much more stained from all the rain this winter and stained the lake downstream of it, so keep this in mind when you go fishing this month. Look for clearer water.
We fished some of Andy’s best areas where he had been catching fish, and they are good places to start early in March. In Maple Creek, the mouth of Long Cane Creek, across from Long Cane Access, and the mouth of Maple Creek itself, out from Shaefer Heard Park are two good areas to troll right now. They had a lot of bait and fish a few weeks ago and some fish stay in this area year-round.
Like the rest of the lake, there is a lot of standing timber here. Often the fish are holding right at the top of it and you will get hung trolling around it. When you get hung, sometimes you can reel in your other baits, go back to the other side of the tree and pull your rig free. When it won’t pull free, Andy uses a Jerry Hester Umbrella Rig Retriever, sliding it down his line, hooking his rig and pulling it loose. It will pay for itself quickly in retrieved rigs.
Going up the lake, any of the big creeks can hold schools of linesides now. The mouth of Stroud, Veasey and Wehadkee Creeks, where they all come together, out from State Line Park, had a lot of bait and fish when we trolled it. Also try other creeks like Wilson and Whitewater where big flats are near the mouth of the creeks.
Troll the channel edges going into these creeks. Watch your electronics; if you are not seeing bait and fish, move on to another area. Also watch for birds as you go up the lake and try fishing where you see them.
One of Andy’s productive areas has been the mouth of Half Moon Creek at the mouth of Yellowjacket Creek. As you go into Half Moon, you cross an old pond dam. From it up to the bridge is an excellent place to troll, there is little standing timber to get hung in and fish hold here all winter and into the spring.
As the days get longer, the “photoperiod” increase makes the fish move up the river more. Go up to the pumping stations on your right past the mouth of Yellowjacket Creek. The old river channel runs right in front of them. Troll and watch your electronics on the flat along the edge of the channel out from them. Fish show up here first as they start up the river.
When the fish start showing up at the pumping stations, you can follow them up the river as days get longer and water warms. Some of the biggest stripers in the lake will go as far up the river as they can and try to spawn.
You can still catch fish on the lake all spring, too. Some linesides won’t go up the river, and others will go toward the dam, so you have a lot of options this month.
If you’re interested, you can all Andy Binegar at 770.318.1099 to get him to show you firsthand how he catches stripers and hybrids at West Point. You can find all the gear he uses at www.captmacks.com.
Other Articles You Might Enjoy