“The Southern Tackle Box”
The Changing of the Season
Several years back I moved to the Atlanta area, coming from New Orleans and the Gulf Coast area. When we moved it was the middle of summer and we got to experience those “Hotlanta” days of summer first hand. The humidity was a bit lower than the gulf coast but for a while we thought we had went from the fire to the frying pan. Then came fall. The first thing I started to notice around the lake was the changing colors of the lakes surrounding trees. It seemed so surreal to see the lake glassed over in the early morning or evening and the reflection of the colors across the lake. When I think of fall I think of baseball play-offs, the Nascar chase, football and big stripers in cooler water. As October approaches we start seeing signs of a lake turnover in the form of bubbles streaking from the bottom up and the stratification that has occurred over the summer is erased by the sinking cooler water from shorter days and cooler surface water temps. This year is going to be unique on Lake Lanier because of the cooler water temperatures throughout the summer and the lack of a defined thermocline.
As I write this column the water temperatures have lowered into the upper 70’s and I’m starting to feel hints of fall in the air and I’m starting to see the same on the water. We have been seeing groups of threadfins on the surface being chased by stripers and bass from the backs of the creeks to the mouth. There are also schools of stripers around the main lake chasing bluebacks to the surface in large numbers and if you’re lucky enough to be within casting distance of these school, the rewards can be great. Topwater baits are a sure bet with these surface feeding fish and you can even sneak a bucktail into the mix with some success. Octobers cooler river water temps can beckon the bigger stripers up river to avoid the unstable waters of the turnover. You can bet I’ll be making a trip up river in October to search for big hungry stripers. If you can get some rainbow trout or a few medium to large gizzard shad and find some 60-65 degree water you may find a good sized striper or two. The trick is to find the good water in October. If you are using trout for bait in October, the fish are going to be a bit reluctant to inhale the bait and short strikes will be common. Stingers are a good option for bigger baits in October. October is time to break out the planer boards and hit the upper end of the lake along the river channel or main lake creek points with live bait and keep a topwater or bucktail handy for the surfacing fish. There are numerous schools of stripers moving around the lake right now, like a big feeding machine and seeing them on the surface will not be uncommon in October so get out and enjoy the fall colors and the awesome fall fishing!
“The Southern Tackle Box”
More Hot Action in August
This season is going to be one for the books. It’s been a few years since we’ve seen our area lakes at or above full pool. I strain to remember fishing during the summer with the lake levels this high. I try and think back to successful areas and patterns I may have used during the summer months. One thing that I have established is that the fish are harder to find with more water filled acreage to search. So far it’s gone well this year and we’ve been fortunate in finding fish. I’m seeing more and more fish suspending over deep water and the groups of fish are getting larger as the water continues to warm. Trolling for stripers is in full swing on Lake Lanier and finding the fish is the biggest obstacle right now. A lot of fish are moving around and finding fish for any length of time can be another obstacle. I have been finding the majority of my fish scattered across deep water, and suspended from 30 feet to the bottom. I haven’t really targeted a few specific areas but I’ve been doing some driving around to find a good bunch of fish to target.
Stripers are like Nomads on the south end of the lake right now. They move and drift through deeper areas and when the dinner bell rings they seem to appear from everywhere in numbers. Early in the morning I’ve been able to see several stripers deep in the standing timber below the surface. As the sun rises and the day progresses, the stripers are slowly rising from the underwater forest. By midday they are above most of the tree tops and starting to target the massive schools of bait drifting through the top of the thermocline. When these stripers go into a feeding mode, the action under the surface can be pandemonium with frenzied baits running everywhere. That scenario is why single bait deep water trolling works so well. The 3 mph artificial bait looks like a fleeing bait to a striper and there is a quick reaction to that bait. I’ve been using heavier jigs in order to target the deeper fish. For the past 2 weeks we have been using 1.5 ounce and 2 ounce jig heads with big shad bodies on leadcore line and running 8-9 colors or 240 feet to 270 feet behind the boat. I’ve also been using my downrigger with minimal success.
One other tactic I found useful in August is power reeling inactive fish. By August the groups of stripers can become rather large but sometimes getting a big school of striper to eat can be a task. Sometimes you can running your live bait over a school of stripers and never get a sniff. This is a time when I try and make my own luck by power reeling fish into hitting a bait. The term “Power Reeling” by definition means dropping your bait below the school of fish and then swiftly reeling the bait through the school. I like to make frequent stops with my bait while reeling it through and above the school. Sometimes that’s all it takes to coax a striper into hitting a bait. This tactic works with live bait and artificials. I use this tactic with 2 ounce bucktails and a good paddle tail shad body. The weather is hot in August but fishing for stripers couldn’t be better whether you’re using live bait or artificials. If you find a school and loose them on the graph, give the general area a good look, sometimes they leave but they don’t go far. Good luck in August!
“The Southern Tackle Box”
Fishing the Striper Highways in July
As I write this piece, it is mid June and overcast. The water on the lake has back tracked in temperature and the lake is still above full pool. I know that the stripers will be moving south soon but with lake levels above full pool the process has slowed. I suspect the majority of the fish are still enjoying well oxygenated water due to all the vegetation along the shores, our wet weather and the cooler water temps. Still, the fish are called to the south end of the lake as the water temps rise and targeting fish along their travel routes are a good way to find success when fishing for stripers. Over the years I’ve enjoyed catching some of my best stripers in July. The fish are moving and there is plenty of bait moving with them. The schools of Blueback Herring migrate to the south to enjoy the cool oxygen rich thermocline in the deeper trenches of the lake. They bask in the cool water in clouds that are 20-40 thick and can run the length of a football field. There is also a mix of threadfin shad in smaller groups floating around the deeper water that are a favorite target of the smaller, quicker fish.
In July, the stripers are grouping up in full force to work together gorging themselves on the huge schools of bait within the thermocline. As they move south, waves of smaller schools of stripers are using the river channel and creek channels as their traveling routes to get down south. These traveling routes of the migrating stripers are a great place to pick off a few while trolling. The fish that are in the creeks generally use the creek channel to move towards the main river channel and the deeper trenches of the south end. Every year one of my favorite areas to target moving stripers is the intersections where creeks meet the river channels. These areas seem like a loitering area for stripers. It’s like they are hanging out on the street corner looking for trouble. Actually, they are ambushing bait as it travels along the same routes as the stripers. One of my favorite tactics for July is trolling along the edge of the river channel, moving from deep to the upper edges of the channel and back down into the channel. I use this pattern to work the intersections, and if you are patient, you can generally find a few in these areas. If I am working the river channel exclusively, I generally drop my downrigger bait deep in the treeless bottom of the channel and target a bigger fish. Generally the bigger fish travel below the smaller stripers so running downrigger baits deeper in the river channel can yield a bigger fish. As far as my tackle selection, I’m generally running baits that are 4-7 inches in length and a couple of my favorite successful colors for July are a Blueback pattern, chartreuse over white and a pearl white color. Jig weights are generally 1-3 ounces and usually my target depth is 25-35 feet.
I know there is an increase in boat traffic on Lanier during July, but it’s been my experience that the suspended stripers are rarely bothered by the traffic. They are 30 feet below the traffic a they usually go about their business oblivious to the boats above. Leadcore and downriggers with artificials are a great way to target summer stripers on Lanier and checking those striper highways and intersections are a great way to find a few good fish in July. Stay cool this summer and enjoy the hot striper action.
“The Southern Tackle Box”
Moving out in May
On our area lakes, May is a time when I start thinking of moving fish. The water is warming quickly and the fish are starting to relate to areas closer to deeper water. The stripers are starting to migrate to the mouths of the creeks and as we get further into May you should find a few on main lake humps and points. Exact locations will vary from year to year but generally speaking the patterns are usually the same. If I’m looking for stripers, the first place I’m going to start looking is the bays and coves from mid creeks to the mouths of the creeks. During this period the stripers are schooled up and moving fast. A lot of times you can find them on the first pass and then they are gone. One thing I’ve learned about stripers in May is that they sometimes move from one landmark to another and then back. By this I mean that they may work from one secondary creek point to another and then move right back. They may go back and forth patrolling an area for moving bait several times a day.
Bait will be slowly migrating out to the mouths of our creeks and the stripers are patrolling in wait for these bait schools to move through. If you are lucky enough to run across one of these striper schools, it’s best to stay in the area even if the fish disappear, most times they will be back. Later in the month of May, you’ll find school sized stripers frequenting main lake humps in search of bait foraging on these humps. U-rigs are a great choice for these fish, especially if the wind is blowing across the lake, making it hard to keep live bait over these fish. Generally, if the fish are on these humps, they are there to eat and pulling a u-rig over these fish is a no brainer. A nice chop on the surface of the lake provides a great backdrop for upward feeding fish and pulling a u-rig is a great way to fool the hungry stripers waiting below. I’ve found that these fish don’t react to single moving artificial baits as well as multiple baits such as a u-rig.
If you are out early in the morning, topwater action is always a possibility over these same humps. Blueback Herring love swimming close to the surface at times and they are an easy meal for a striper waiting below. Sammy’s, Redfin’s, Jerkbait’s and my personal favorite, a bone colored Super Spook Jr. I can walk it or wake it, I feel confident when I’m using little Spook with my medium spinning gear spooled up with a good fluorocarbon line. As a bonus, if the stripers aren’t in these areas, there’s usually a hungry bass that will take a swipe at a topwater offering.
Every year on Memorial Day weekend my wife and get together with our friends and neighbors to have a fish fry and we usually have a few bass and stripers on the menu. Every year I use the same tactic to procure the fish we need for the tasty filets. I free line and use planer boards with Blueback Herring as bait over main lake humps and primary lake points very early in the morning. Sometimes you’ll need to put a little split shot a few feet up the line and that will keep your bait slightly below the surface. I also like to keep my trolling motor speed at .5 to .8 mph. It’s a great way to catch a few fish and especially if you have little ones, it’s a great tactic for making a few memories. In May our lakes are starting to get a little busy with fishermen and recreational boater, so be safe and be courteous out there and enjoy the month of May!