“The Southern Tackle Box”
The Perfect Storm
The temps were barely clipping 50 degrees yesterday afternoon as I drove over to the lake. It was a cold and windy day in mid February just after a cold front had passed through the day before. I wanted to check a nearby ramp to see if there was enough water to launch my skiff the following week. I could see the lake through the trees as I approached the launch and I could clearly see progress in the rising water levels. The levels had come up a good 5 feet since my last visit to the little ramp. I parked the truck and walk down to the shoreline to have a closer look at the new waterline. I found a lot of floating debris along the shore not yet washed away from the wind and waves. There was something else I saw under the debris and that’s what I was looking for. Grass, yep grass and weeds and plant life from last fall before the rise of the lake levels from our recent rains. I had been checking the lake level trends on LakeLanier and had noticed that the rate of climb in our lake level over the last few months was much more than it had been in previous years. So far we’ve had a mild winter and a lot of shoreline and coves warmed by the winter sun produced vegetation, but only to get covered by rising lake levels. Since we’ve had a mild winter, we’ve not seen the water temperatures dip down to the low 40’s and produce a significant shad kill. Soon the sun will start providing a warm safe haven for bait fish foraging in the newly flooded vegetation along the sun drenched shores. Well, at least the bait fish think it’s a safe haven, but actually it’s the perfect storm for big stripers to feed in our area striper lakes.
For a few of our bigger lake stripers, March means hiding in the shallows and ambushing shallow bait. For me, March means shallow water fishing for big fish with live bait behind planer boards. In order to achieve this I need a good planer board that will tuck my bait right up against the shore but allow me to keep my boat a fair distance away while moving at less than a mile an hour. We’re talking about putting a planer board just feet and inches off the bank. These big stripers position themselves in areas of ambush with just a few inches of water above their dorsal. The shallow water explosion made by these big stripers when they attack their prey is amazing. They really put their backs into it. They have no where to run but out over deeper water and generally in March they tend to stay close to the surface during the fight. There is the occasional big fish that has figured out the ropes of heading for the submerged trees and that’s when good line and good tackle comes in. These big fish are very strong in March. They are in their element of perfect water temps and generally they are healthy and a very worthy adversary. You have to be on your game with good fresh line and a good drag system on your reel. I recommend at least a 25lb mono main line and a good 17-20lb fluorocarbon leader 3-6 feet in length depending on the bait size. Another school of though is to use a heavier leader than main line. During shallow water fishing, a leader can take some punishment along the shallow bottom and there are usually sticks and snags along the shore. If you want to really get tough and you’re running big live bait such as big rainbow trout or big gizzard shad, I’d scrap the leader all together and just go with a big circle or octopus hook tied directly to the main 20-25 lb mono main line. Just remember not to use the pigtail on your planer board if using this method.
My rule of thumb is the bigger the bait, the shallower the water, the shorter the distance between the planer board and the bait. The bigger baits like trout and gizzard shad tend to dig around on the bottom so you want to keep them close to the board to control them. If you’re fishing in 3-5 feet of water, my distance between board and bait is no more than 4-5 feet. If I’m using smaller bait such as a blueback herring, I’ll run the bait 20-30ft behind the board. Bluebacks tend to stay around the surface, right where the big stripers like them. Big stripers are rarely spooked by a planer board, especially if there is live bait in tow that gets their attention. These big stripers have a focus like you wouldn’t believe. They completely ignore their surroundings when attacking live bait. I’ve also witnessed a few stripers that attempted to attack the planer board sending it flying through the air.
There are other ways to target stripers in the month of March. There will be plenty of schooled up fish over deeper water and in the creek channels. The loons and gulls are still around and the loons are starting to group up before leaving the lake for the summer. When the loon groups start chattering and diving from herding bait into a trap, the gulls start coming out of nowhere for the feeding action. Stripers will follow the loon groups and get their digs in when the bait gets trapped in the shallows of a cove or hump. This is a good time to break out the u-rigs. Bait is running everywhere and towing a u-rig through the mix is very tempting to a fired up school of stripers around the feeding frenzy. My best advice is to keep a close eye on birds, both loons and gulls. As always, I’m scanning the surface as far as I can see for any surface activity. The occasional roll or swirl close to shore could be a dead give away for a big fish.
Pitching a long Bomber up in the shallows with a very slow retrieve just after dark can be a very exciting endeavor. I wouldn’t recommend this tactic in times of low water levels but in the spring, just after dark stripers usually lurk the shore in search of wandering shallow bait. Creating a slow wake close to the shoreline with a Bomber type top water lure can produce a nice fish or two in the month of March.
These fish won’t exactly be stacked up along the shore like cord wood but if you have some patience and you do your homework you could be landing the fish of a lifetime in March. Keep it shallow and keep it safe this spring!