Last Sunday Lisa and I were in the backyard taking advantage of the beautiful day we had. While I was working around the yard I caught a glimpse of a few Jonquils coming up through the ground behind my boat shed. Those flowers are a good indicator that the days are getting longer and spring is right around the corner.
I call this time period “the dog days” of winter striper fishing. If there ever was a slow time of year to catch stripers, this is the time. The stripers have slowed down with surface feeding and when they have been eating, they’ve been gorging themselves on the plentiful shad kill. Sometimes we can entice a striper to chase a u-rig or gulp down a quick small bait if it is strategically placed in their strike zone. For the most part, right now the stripers are getting fat and very selective about their eating habits.
In just a few short weeks, things will start to change. We can finally add another pattern to striper fishing on Lake Lanier. As our days continue to get longer, the shores of the lake will begin to warm. The shad kill will be a thing of the past and stripers will start searching the warmer shallow water for food. The baits that survived the kill will move to the warmer shallow shoreline. Stripers will be patrolling those areas in search of an opportunity for a quick meal. This is the time of year I like to get my baits right up in the shallow water. Planer boards are a must for the spring. Stripers will be more in tune with shallow water moving up and down points and waiting in ambush in shallow structure close to the shore. I’m going to be fishing a combination of herring and big trout along the shoreline. That’s where the bigger fish will be.
Keep in mind, when you’re putting out your planer board spread, make sure your planer board closest to the shore is the longest line out. By this I mean when a larger striper hits a bait close to the shore, generally the first thing the striper does is head for the safety of deeper water. If the rest of your planer board spread is out further than the board closest to shore, the striper will gather every other board and bait on his way to deeper water (I hope that makes sense). That will cause a problem when trying to deal with a large striper. I’ve been burned by that mistake before.
In the early spring, stripers have big bellies and big appetites. When they decide to take a bait, it’s usually “game on” with planer boards flying through the air or skimming across the waters surface at break neck speeds. This is a time of year when drags need to be set and leaders need to be in good shape. These fish will be strong and they will test your gear. If there is a warming trend in March, some fish will move up river. One day they will be in the river and the next day they could be miles down lake. With the water warming, larger fish that don’t go up river will be on the move to stake their claim to a point or pocket waiting for an opportunity for an easy meal. Herring will become a popular bait for these fish. Another popular bait will be Gizzards, really big ones as well as BIG trout. Just remember, when fishing with big bait, make sure your gear can handle the kind of fish that eats big bait. You need big leaders. I use a 20lb Vicious flouro leader with 30lb+ Big Game. Sometimes I don’t even use a leader with really big baits. The bottom line is when bait fishing in the spring, be ready for some great pull downs and pull backs.
Using artificials during the early spring can be a lot of fun. Not only during the day but Bomber fishing at night can be an eye opening blast. My first suggestion for artificials is keeping my old standby the bucktail tied and at the ready. My color of choice would be white or off white in a half ounce size. Casting bucktails in shallow water a dawn is an effective way to hook up with a nice striper or two. I like working points with bucktails in the spring. A lot of times when a striper is on a point, he becomes very territorial and will strike a passing bucktail just for trespassing on his turf. The outer edge of grassy areas will often hold an early morning striper waiting for a bait or two to leave the confines of the grass line. I try and cast just into the weed line and work the bucktail back to the boat with a quick but steady retrieve.
Topwater type swimbaits are a good option in the shallows also. Just cast up onto the point with your topwater bait and slowly retrieve creating a “V” wake on the water. I recommend holding your rod very tightly when fishing “V” waked topwater baits. The strikes can be quick and brutal.
I know we’re all pretty burned out on u-rigs, but they will still work well in early spring. Fish will be moving up and down columns of water from 35 feet up to 2-3 of water. U-rigs work well in the deeper staging afternoon areas and the shallow points in late morning. For me, cooler cloudy days are days I generally break out the u-rigs in the spring. A color that will start to work well in the spring is Chartreuse. To me the Chartreuse color is more of a spring and summer color. I’d rather pull small baits in the shallows than pull u-rigs in the spring, but they will definitely work at times.
These are a few of my thoughts as I see signs of spring approaching and I’m looking forward to some great striper fishing!