Gone in a Flash

….summer, that is. It seems like it came and went in a flash, and speaking of flash, that’s pretty much the main reason I’ve caught a lot of fish this summer. I’m still totally baffled by the lack of interest in the translucent baits this year. It’s the first year in 6-7 years that the emerald popper wasn’t a big hit and usually I would be hammering them on the popper by now. Another very successful translucent bait that they have been turning their noses up to is the Azuma Z-dog walking bait in the Casper Shad pattern. It’s a translucent of mine but they just don’t want it. I’m not saying that it’s the gospel and no one else is catching them on the translucent baits but I can only speak for my own experiences, good or bad.

After having an awesome week last week, I started out this week feeling like I was playing on house money. I kinda already knew the deal, it was just a matter of letting it play out again. It’s pretty much been the same with these fish for the past few weeks now, and the bluebacks controls the whole deal. It’s not totally a blueback deal right now because one of the fish I caught this week spit out an orange crawfish on the way to the boat. That tells me that either that crawfish was an oddity or there are some crawfish molting right now. If there are crawfish molting, now would be an excellent time to throw a crankbait or jig around some rock…….Maybe drag a worm?? Heck no!!! My focus has been on 100% topwater this week and it’s my big Kahoona right now, the reason I’m getting in as much fishing as I can before it all comes to a screeching halt for my knee surgery. Hopefully it will only be another month or so and I can finally get some relief.

The topwater this week has been pretty good, and timing is the main thing with the active fish right now. I’ve found that there are very few herring feeders schooling well in the early morning hours but as the sun gets high up in the sky the bluebacks rise to the surface in big numbers and the bass start the topwater routine. Every year is different and this year it’s been about the chrome and the flash.

If you read my report last week, I caught my fish on a chug bug that Jeff Nail had graciously given me right after I lost my last chug bug on a breakoff. I had tied on Jeff’s loaner and was back to catching fish. I liked the little chugger so well I just rolled with it this week and it’s all I used. It was a little slow in the morning hours but around lunchtime the bite was starting to fire up and the bass were committing to the bait. It always started the same way for me. At 9-10am the fish would roll and swirl on the little chugger, but they wouldn’t really commit till after lunch. The fish were very cautious in the mornings, but they turned into full on predators by midafternoon. The main reason for the predatory behavior was these guys below, the mature blueback herring.

The walking bait is a 4-inch Azuma z-dog, and the herring is close to 6 inches. That big ole herring could be seen floating on the surface from a long way away because it kept flashing in the sun. Those floating dead herring we’re seeing out there on the lake in the areas your fishing didn’t die of natural causes or some disease, those herring died while being terrorized by bass and stripers. The flash from those floating bluebacks has told me a lot about what the fish want, and I just rolled with the chrome chugger once again for success. I just moved around in the heat of the day, which btw was hot this week. If you could stand the heat of the day the topwater action out on the main lake was on fire. I sit in a steam sauna 4-5 times a week, so the heat isn’t something that bothers me but the key is to stay covered and cool down with icewater.

The bass were full on chasing bluebacks out on main lake humps and most of the bluebacks were in the 4–6-inch size. It was just a matter of throwing the bait around where the fish were coming up and most times they would come back up after popping the chugger a few times. It was the back-and-forth motion of the little chugger that made it flash and the flash and splash called the fish up. On an afternoon I was hitting 20+ different areas and only spending a few minutes in an area. If the fish were there and wanted to eat it would generally happen on the first few casts and most of the time the biggest in the pack ate first or was the most aggressive. After that initial catch I didn’t hang around much longer. At some places I was able to spot lock in the wind and fan cast for a few more fish but most of the time the biggest fish came up pretty quick out of the brush or in a wolfpack.

Most guys are pretty good about this, but I tend to forget from time to time, and that’s checking your line periodically. Especially when using what I call “flex baits”. If you’re using a bait like a walking, chugging or popping bait, you’re putting a lot of flex at the knot. A lot of fluorocarbon line is very rigid and after a while of flexing at the knot, the flex point becomes weak, and it is the weakest link in the chain. I found that the best knot for flex type baits is a Palomar knot hands down. Much fewer breakoffs at the knot.

I fished on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, a couple hours on Thursday and a few hours yesterday. Here’s a few memorable fish from my week with most coming off the chug bug and a couple on a Rapala Skitter Walk. Water temps are probably in the upper seventies this morning and the Corps is generating a few hours on the weekdays. The lake is almost 3 feet below full pool and dropping right now.

Things Are Looking Up

…and so are the fish. Once again, we’re approaching my favorite time of year. Crisp cool mornings and the smell of campfires drifting across the water from the parks and campgrounds along the shores of the Lake Lanier. On a cool fall morning when I leave the confines of the marina in the back of the creek I can look up towards the mouth of the creek and if the surface is flat, I can usually see surfacing fish presenting me with an idea of where to start. We’re just about there and this week was a good indicator that the topwater bite is about to break loose.

This week was a stellar week for me in terms of larger fish firing up my adrenaline glands. It all started the first thing Monday morning when I hit the water fairly early. A front had just come through the day before and the temps were finally in the mid to lower 60’s again with lower humidity. I actually had to break out my orange fleece shirt early in the morning which always indicates the beginning of Autumn. Don’t get me wrong, I know that we are in store for some hot days before it actually starts cooling down for good, but this little stint of cooler weather is just an early reminder that fall is on the horizon. One little piece of tackle that’s been working for me early in the morning before the topwater action starts is the little War Eagle spoon. A few weeks back I talked about the fish feeding on small baits early in the morning when the threadfin pods are on the surface. Every once in a while, a bass would surface chasing a little one-to-two-inch bait, but the fish would return to the depths very quickly with no interest in a topwater offering. For that reason, I’ve been using a small spoon early to get a few bites. I’ve been a fan of the little War Eagle spoons for a few years, and I had one at the ready. More specifically the place I like to throw the spoon is out on the ends of clean points where the bass are cruising and feeding on the threadfin pods that are drifting over their territory. With the spoon I’ve been making long casts and letting it flutter down to the bottom with an occasional pull up to give the bait some action. If there are feeding fish present, usually one will slam it on the first cast and then it’s a “one and done” effort. One Monday at my first stop and on my first cast with the spoon my week started with a bang. This big joker below hammered my spoon right before it landed on the bottom, and I was feeling pretty good.

After that fish I moved a few times, and I may have caught another smaller fish or two on the spoon before breaking out my little chrome Z-dog to test the topwater bite. Last week I had pretty good luck with the little chrome walking bait, so I broke it out again. I’m using a little different technique with the walking bait to get my bites, and it seems to work a little better than the old classic back and forth of walking the dog. I’m using a more aggressive approach with the bait, making a lot of surface disruption and trying to convince the fish to come up. If I just walked the dog slowly the fish had very little interest in the bait but if it looked very erratic, it was enough to fool the occasional fish in the mid-morning hours. It’s usually been starting out with some blow-ups, swirls and missed fish and as the day progresses the fish get much more aggressive. My first topwater fish on Monday wasn’t a real good one but it was a start.

Location has been the key this week and I’ve gotten my bites through the process of illimitation. For weeks I’ve been running out to the main lake first thing in the morning and fishing humps and points for my bites, but that’s changing rapidly. The bait is starting to make the fall migration to the creeks which means the fish aren’t for behind. The offshore bite has been slowly dwindling for me and during the course of the week I’ve given up on it as it has not been very productive for bigger fish at all. After ruling out the offshore bite, I started concentrating on the creeks more and more. Once in the creek it was a matter of the location of active and bigger fish and a matter of how I was going to get the bigger fish to bite. The little chrome z-dog had been doing the trick last week and I was down to my last one, so I was making extra sure I checked my line every so often to avoid breakoffs. The first topwater fish of the week was this one and it was on the little z-dog.

The thing about the topwater is that it gets better as the day progresses. Reason being is that the bluebacks get closer to the surface as the sun gets higher. The fish know this, and they usually don’t start focusing on the surface and cruising for bluebacks till the sun gets high in the sky and the warmest part of the day. Around noon I was over in another creek and a striper tore off with my little z-dog and when I tightened my drag a bit to keep him out of the trees the line broke and my z-dog was gone. I waited a few minutes in the area but the fish never shook the z-dog out. Now I was bummed but I remember a buddy telling me that he had caught a few good ones on a little chug bug the week before and so I looked down at my gut pile and found a little chugger, one of my favorites for this time of year. By the way, here’s a picture of my gut pile right now and the brunt of my friends jokes about the cleanliness of my boat. You can see a little chug bug in the pile, and I tied it on.

It wasn’t long before I found what I was looking for with the little chugger and I figured out the way to work it with success after a few blowups and near misses. My next fish….

Not long after I caught this one, I went back to my creek and ran into my buddy Jimmy S, and I chatted with him a while. I had loaned Jimmy one of my little chrome z-dogs last week and he told me I could have it back because he made a trip to Hammonds a stocked up on topwater. I was elated that I was reunited with another chrome z-dog, and I removed the little chugger and went back to work with the little z-dog. This was my next fish….

After that I caught a couple smaller fish, but I just couldn’t finish off that nice sack and ended the day feeling a little incomplete.

On Tuesday it was a bit cooler early in the morning and I was back out. It was pretty much the same thing as the day before, the spoon early and then I went to work on the topwater. The little chrome z-dog walking bait was getting it done again but I could tell that the fish were getting used to it as I cycled through the places in the creek where I had been getting bit. Later in the day I got a text from a friend who said they had done pretty good with the little chugger, so I tied it back on and caught a few more before ending the day. Here’s my bag on Tuesday.

On Wednesday I was back at it and starting to put it all together. I found that if I moved the little chugger to fast the fish didn’t want it, best case scenario, they would blow up on it or swirl on it, but the hookup rate was low. I found that if I just barely popped it and moved it slowly, that’s how they wanted it and I put another better sack in the boat using nothing but the little chugger on Wednesday. Here’s a picture of the bigger fish on Wednesday. I was really dialing it in, and I knew I was locked into bigger fish. Here’s Wednesday’s sack.

Yesterday I had to pack up and ship a big load of plow blades, but I really wasn’t interested in getting out on the lake early as the bigger fish bite wasn’t getting going till around noon. When I finally hit the lake around lunchtime, I was back at it with the chugger and feeling like I was going to have a good trip. Shortly after starting my fishing, I saw a large fish surface near me, so I threw the little chugger in the area and the fish immediately exploded on the bait. I felt the fish grab the bait and I rotated my body to put pressure on the fish when the rod loaded up. About halfway through my rotation I felt the line give and my little chugger as well as the fish was gone. I figured that there was a possibility the fish would shake it out, so I stayed in the area watching the surface for the little chugger pop back up to surface. I had the little z-dog lying in the gut pile, so I started tying it back on. As I was tying it on, I heard a large fish thrashing on the surface in the same area I just lost my last little chugger, so I finished tying very quickly, turned around and made a cast right into the area the big fish was thrashing and immediately the fish slammed my z-dog. I put pressure on the fish and realized right away that it was large. I was hoping it had a little chug bug dangling from its lip, but it wasn’t the case, but it was still an upper 3lber and my first keeper of the day. I thanked the Lord for the successful catch and went back to throwing the z-dog without another sniff in the area and without my little chugger popping back up to the surface. The chugger was gone but I still had the little chrome z-dog to work with.

I went over to Shoal and hit a little area where I had found a nice fish the day before. Soon after arriving in the area, I saw a large fish chasing a bait very shallow in the rocks and I quickly got close enough to make a good cast. I threw the little z-dog into about 3 feet of water, and it was immediately smashed by a big fish. I got it to the boat without incident and I had another nice fish within an hour of leaving the house. I thanked the Lord again for the nice fish and then moved on without another sniff on the z-dog.

I hit another creek and found Jimmy, Jeff and Tom in the creek, so we all had a little pow wow while Jeff looked for a bandage for an injury I sustained from a fall. Jeff had one of the biggest first aid kits I’ve ever seen, and he got me fixed up. He also had a brand spanking new chugger he gave me after I told him I broke my old one off. I was stoked because I really wanted to get back to chugging, so I tied the new chugger on and went back to BR where I saw Jimmy fishing a point very near where I was fishing. On one of my first casts with the shiny new chugger another very large fish hammered it, and I was praying that I could get the fish to the boat without incident. My prayers were answered, and I boated my 3rd big fish, a nice 4lber. I started thinking that if I could get 2 more like that, I might have one of my best sacks on Lanier. I went over to the point Jimmy was fishing and chatted with him a few minutes. I could see that all he was throwing was the jerk shad and he really wasn’t focusing on the topwater so as soon as he left, I started working the point. I popped the chugger over one brush pile without any takers, so I tied the little z-dog back on and just as I got it tied, the fish started schooling. I threw the z-dog into the fray of schooler and a big one jumped the z-dog. My heart was racing as the fish came boatside and into the net and at that point I realized that it was going to happen. The fish was a little over 4 and I just chuckled because I knew it was over and I was about to catch my biggest sack. I settled in and started fan casting the point. I was totally calm, and I said, “just one more Jesus”. No sooner that the words left my mouth a big fish exploded on the z-dog with some fantastic acrobatics. The fish jumped a good 2-3 feet in the air and came back down to the surface with a thud. The fish jumped again and again coming to the boat, but the z-dog held firm and I slid the net under the fish. I was done. I let out a big exhaled and laughed out loud as I knew my prayers had been answered for a good day. At that point I just drove around the creek for a little while and spent very little time fishing before going home for the day. I was totally satisfied for the week. Here’s my only 5 fish yesterday in just a few hours and more than likely my biggest sack of spots on Lanier to date.

I might get out in a while today, but I seriously doubt I’ll get very serious about fishing today because yesterday pretty much made my week. I only used 3 baits this week, the small War Eagle spoon, the little chrome Azuma Z-dog and the little chug bug. It’s all I needed for a great week.

The lake temps are in the low eighties and the lake level is around 2.5 feet below full pool. The corps is moving water in the heat of the afternoon and evenings right now. Looks like summer and warmer temps are returning for an encore visit next week but we’re getting close to fall and cooler temps.

Flash and Splash (It’s a Blueback Thing)

For the last 20 years or so, Labor Day weekend has always been the litmus test for me to gauge fall and the topwater bite. I know, last year we had topwater all summer and into the fall, but this year is more of a normal year as far as fishing goes. Labor Day has always been the gateway to topwater and it’s always about 2-3 weeks after the holiday when we receive our first stronger cold front, and the fish celebrate by hammering bait on the surface.

Technically speaking, the days are getting shorter, and the lake is usually cooling down slowly by Labor Day. If we have a strong thermocline it takes a strong cold front with wind and rain on the lake to start the saturation process and the mixing of cooler water and oxygen at the surface. When this happens, it’s generally the start of topwater. There is no restrictions and the fish feed from bottom to top at that point. Bait will be more oriented to the surface and seeking the warmth of the sun on the sunny afternoons and the fish are more than happy to feed on the surface without the necessity to quickly dart back down to the thermocline after chasing a bait. Fish will stay nearer the surface, and you’ll notice on your graph that the fish are going to be suspended in the top half of the water column vice the bottom half like we’ve been seeing for the past few months. This week was the transition week and it’s only going to get better from here.

This week I made a lot of observations and I had to cycle through a lot of baits to find out just what the fish wanted. One observation I’ve been making for the past few weeks is the presence of dead bluebacks on the surface. It’s usually in the areas of active fish and the bluebacks were generally fresh. The biggest and most important observation I made was the fact that those dead bluebacks were flashing on the surface in the sun. A few almost fooled me into thinking the dead blueback was some kind of shiny topwater floating on the surface the way thy would gleam in the sun. For that reason and the process of elimination, I used the chrome again this week with success. Just to be clear, I have been trying the ghost pattern topwater baits, but the chrome has worked much much better.

Monday seems like a distant memory to me now, but it was a slow start to the week and my frustration level was building rapidly. I’ve been trying to force the topwater bite this week and the only other baits I’ve picked up besides topwater was the spybait, fluke and underspin. If there was wind, I was using the topwater and if it was slack, I was trying different suspended baits to create a reaction below the surface. Spot lock was used heavily this week and just about everywhere I went in the wind, I was utilizing spot lock up wind to fan cast around the target area. By Tuesday afternoon I was starting to put a pattern together and figure it out. The topwater was very very slow in the morning but I could generally get one or two to come to the surface if I worked hard enough. By mid-morning it was the same all week. The fish would start chasing the topwater a little and they would show a mild interest in the bait on the surface. Generally speaking, if it was before 11am the fish were just coming up and slowly slurping the bait in or they would just follow it and nip at it. They would rarely commit before 11am. Why? These fish know the bluebacks habits and they know that the bluebacks shouldn’t be there until the sun gets up high in the sky. It was like clockwork every day this week but by 1pm it was on and the fish though my chrome Sexy Dawg was the real deal. By 1pm the fish were coming up and some were just exploding on the chrome offering. That pattern tells me we are very close to a good all day topwater bite, but we just need a strong front to flush out the warmer stagnate water on the surface and mix in some cooler, more oxygenated water. When this happens in mid to late September, the topwater bite starts to hit its stride. On Wednesday this week I had it figured out and I had built the pattern I wanted to put a good sack in the boat.

The key to the topwater pattern this week was the flashing and splashing of that shiny chrome Sexy Dawg. If I walked the Sexy Dawn on a normal retrieve the fish didn’t like it and would rarely commit, but if I worked the bait erratically, splashing and skipping the bait back to the boat, the bigger fish would run it down and attack it. Some would choke it, and some would nip at the back and just get one hook in them. Generally, the ones with a one barb hooking would pull off before getting to the boat and that was very frustration as I probably had 4 or 5 times the misses than I did connections to the net. As a matter of fact, this week I’ve lost at least 10 very nice bass that pulled off close to the boat and finally, after losing a very nice bass boatside on Wednesday, I threw my rod down on the deck in frustration and seriously contemplated taking up pickle ball for a new hobby before heading back to the house.

Yesterday, I put it all together to try and boat a nice sack on the sexy dawg and it worked. On Tuesday afternoon, after I came off the water, I made a quick trip to Hammonds to see if they had another Sexy dawg because my old one was losing its luster quickly. They had one and I used the new Sexy Dawg for 2 days and caught a few nice ones in the afternoon on it, but I broke it off on a big one yesterday due to my neglect of checking my line frequently. I still had my old junkie chrome Sexy Dawg and tied it back on to finish my day yesterday. It accounted for some nice fish including the one pictured above, a very feisty 4.7 to end my week and complete a nice sack of spots on nothing but the chrome Sexy Dawg yesterday.

My guess is that by this time next week the topwater pattern will be even better than yesterday and we’ll be seeing some dryer and cooler weather. Water temps are in the low to mid-eighties right now and the corps is generating off and on in the afternoons. The lake came up a bit this week before going back down and we are 2.3 feet below full pool. We should see a different lake very soon so get those topwater baits on the deck! Here’s a few memories from my week. Good luck and try and stay dry if you’re out this weekend, the wet stuff is coming up from the gulf as we speak.

Grinding into September

This week I ended up using a whole smorgasbord of baits, some that I remember having success on in years past and some new baits that I haven’t used this time of year with success ever before. Basically, until a good topwater pattern kicks in I’m just junk fishing and biding my time.

Last weekend was the annual 2-day MLF/BFL tournament on Lanier and a couple of my friends fishing in the tournament had some success on small spoons while pre-fishing for the tournament. It only made sense because a lot of the bait the fish are feeding on right now are small 1-inch baits in small pods out on the main lake and in the creeks. The small spoons are a good imitation of a dying bait and something we use in the dead of winter to catch fish in the ditches feeding on the same size baits. For those reasons I tied on a small War Eagle spoon the first thing early Monday morning and I set out in the creek to see if I could catch one early on the spoon.

On my first cast at my first stop my little spoon I was bouncing it off the bottom back to the boat and I caught a nice 2lber. I followed that up with another 2lber a few cast later. I was feeling pretty confident about the spoon and move to my next stop. The spoon didn’t work there so I moved further towards the mouth of the creek and on my first cast at my 3rd stop a big bass popped my spoon on the drop. My cast was out on the end of a flat that dropped off into the creek channel in about 30 feet of water and the bass turned out to be a very nice 3.5-ounce fish. I put the fish in the livewell and moved a little shallower on the point and a few casts later a bigger bass hit the spoon on the drop, and I netted a 4.1-ounce stud. I took a quick pic of the fish before I released them and moved on to the next point. Here’s a picture of my 2 biggest casting the spoon Monday.

After I caught those 2, I never caught another fish on the spoon for the rest of the day, but I did catch a few on the topwater Choppo, a chrome Sexy Dawg and the American Shad Duo Realis G-fix spybait.

Tuesday and Wednesday I fish from about 8 am till lunch and it was when the grind started. After a initial early morning bite it slowed considerably on both days, but I did manage a few fish here and there with the chrome Choppo, Azuma Z-Dog in a Casper Shad pattern and the spybait, both American Shad and Ghost Minnow. Here’s a few fish from the 2-day period.

On Thursday morning Jeff Nail jumped in the boat with me and we found a few schoolers here and there. I mainly threw the topwater stuff and Jeff was throwing a Jerk shad from Lanier baits or the Trixster Baits 4.25 in Tricky Shad. I think we had 6 fish total and most were caught on the jerk shad while I had 1 topwater fish on an Azuma Casper Shad walking bait. Here’s a nice fish that Jeff caught on a Jerk Shad on a hump we were fishing.

Today I made a lap around the creek around late morning and stayed out a few hours. It was very hard to call a fish up, but I was just swinging for the fences with the Choppo and throwing the spybait to end another grind for the week. Better days are coming and hopefully this little cool down we’re going to have next week yields some better surface action. Here’s a couple fish from this afternoon dodging rain showers. The chrome Choppo and the American Shad spybait accounted for these 2.

The lake is down about 2.5 feet below full pool, and the corps is generating for a few hours in the evening. The water temps in the creek are anywhere from mid to low 80’s. Hopefully we’ll see some water temps in the 70’s and a little better surface action very soon.