The Spotted Roaches of Lake Lanier

I figured it was time to put this down on the internet before someone else steals my term for all these spotted bass on our awesome lake. A few years back, right after the release of Garmin’s forward-facing sonar, a friend of mine who fished in the Bassmaster Elite series, Jesse Tacoronte, stayed at Cast Away Cove and I got to witness forward-facing sonar on Jesse’s boat not long after the release. He showed me how it rotated in sync with the trolling motor, and I was amazed at the clarity of forward-facing, real-time sonar. I’ll never forget what Jesse said to me while showing me his Garmin, he said “if you aren’t using it on Lanier within the next year, you’re going to be behind the power curve”. He was correct, speaking from a competitive or business sense but if you’re retired and mainly fish for fun is it worth the investment? Well, I guess it depends on what you consider success and reward. On one hand, I feel like there is a lot to be said for the challenge of reading my 2D and mapping to find fish, whether in a deep ditch or around a shallow hidden rock pile. On the other hand, I’m never too old to learn new things and I’m looking forward to learning forward-facing sonar in the near future.

You’re probably wondering about the “roach” reference in the title and if you know me pretty well you’ve probably already heard me refer to our spotted bass on Lake Lanier as roaches. I first used the term a few years ago at a Jimbo seminar when I was speaking to a larger crowd. I explained that the first few times I was on a boat that had forward facing sonar and I got to see first-hand, all the bass that were crawling along the bottom in random places we would stop. A while back my partner and I had a couple hours left in a tournament and were scanning areas around bridge pilings with heavy structure using the Garmin. We couldn’t go 20 yards without marking fish glued to the bottom. If I looked close enough it was like the bottom was alive with little bumps popping up from the bottom and swimming back down. I could see that it was groups of bass just crawling and moving around the bottom like roaches. I was just amazed at the volume of fish just in one area alone, but we saw this in multiple areas throughout the afternoon. After that day I referred to the bass as roaches, especially this time of year when they are more oriented to the bottom.

This week I fished almost every day and bounced between the ditches and the rocks. My docks haven’t made much of a showing lately so it’s down to the ditches and the rocks this week. On Monday I spent the better part of the day looking for productive ditches and I had a pretty good day. On Monday just about every fish I caught was hanging out in 40+ feet of water going into a ditch or bay, and I caught them all with a Lanier Baits 1/4-ounce Damiki head with either a Cast Co. 3″ Prodigy or a 2.8 Keitech. I’d say that 90% of the fish were caught while casting and dragging my bait very slowly on the bottom. Other times I like to hop the Damiki on the bottom. I keep my rod tip up if I’m hopping the bait and rod tip down near the water if I’m dragging it. Here’s a video I made a couple years ago while fishing the Damiki in the ditches. This gives you an idea of how slow I’m working the Damiki on the bottom.

Although I didn’t use the spoon much this week, it’s always a good bet this time of year. If the fish are finicky with the Damiki, definitely give the spoon a try. I made this video a few years back and it kind of explains a little more about ditches and spooning this time of year.

The biggest thing about fishing ditches is DON’T overthink it looking for ditches. A ditch can be the center or deepest part of a bay or cove, or it can be a narrower defined drainage area, but the main ingredient for fish is the presence of bait. When I was out yesterday morning, I saw some gulls diving in the center of a cove further back in the bay I was fishing. Some of the gulls were circling and diving on the water, plus I could see some loons diving in the center of the cove. I idled over to the area and eased up on the cove with the trolling motor. The loons were diving in less than 10 feet of water and the gulls were also diving at bait on the surface. I made a cast to the center of the cove where the loons were working, and I felt a little tap on my Damiki right after it hit the bottom. I was hoping it wasn’t one of the loons, but I knew better because the loons rarely mistake my bait for the real thing. Sure enough, it was a nice spot in less than 10 feet of water to start my morning. Five minutes later I caught my second fish after following the loons out of the cove and into the deeper water. I actually think some of the bass were trailing the loons and feeding on the same bait balls the loons were chasing around and feeding from. It’s always a good idea to keep an eye on the birds, especially early in the morning around pockets and coves. Take your time and watch your graph closely from 50 feet all the way back to the back of a cove. Just as soon as I start marking fish under the boat, I start fan casting the Damiki or I drop the War Eagle spoon straight down.

The second pattern I’m having success with is the shaky head on the south and west facing rocky shoreline in the sunny afternoons, especially if there is wind and chop on the shoreline. If there is a sunny rocky point facing the southwest and there is wind blowing right onto the point, it’s pretty much a lock that at least one fish is going to be cruising the point for a meal. I’ve been keeping the boat out in 25-30 feet of water and making long casts towards the bank, fan casting with Spot lock on. The biggest key is working the worm slowly; the fish are there but moving the bait too fast has been counter-productive for me this week and slowing the worm down to a slow stop and go crawl has been the key. Sometimes I’ve really been soaking it to get my bites, but it seems like the fish were a little bigger on the rocks this week so maybe the staging bass are going to get with it soon. I did notice that the bite got better once the moon was up and visible this afternoon.

I’d almost bet a crankbait or jig would work under the same conditions, but I like the shaky head and I have the most confidence in it right now. Keep in mind that these fish on the rocks are feeding and not particular about what they eat so a variety of baits should work with these fish.

The lake is back up to full pool and the corps is generating 4-5 hours a day now. Water temps were around 49 in the creek and it’s dropped a degree or two this week. Fishing isn’t the best right now overall and it’s definitely cold out there, but ditches or rocks are two good options. Here’s a few of those roaches from this week.

Rockin in the Wind

Patience! Maybe it was something that was taught to me on our little farm on the outskirts of my hometown when I was very young. Maybe patience was born during an evening of fishing on a pond dam back in 66-67 or was it the rocky shore of Grand Lake camping in the 60’s. Maybe it was out at our little river cabin in 70-72 where I learned to set trotlines and limblines. Maybe it was with our Britney dogs on point, waiting for that covey of quail to burst from the ground in a thunderous explosion and just maybe it was staring out across the deep blue pacific from the open doors of the aircraft carrier’s hangar bay, just waiting to come back home.

This week was all about patience and it wasn’t much different than last week in terms of what I did for my bites. I started out on Monday swearing that I was going to spend some time in the ditches but after a couple of hours of driving and looking, followed by casting and dropping I had two pale 2lbers and one 3lber, all on a Cast Co. Prodigy swimbait. Don’t get me wrong here I enjoy a good ditch bite, but I just couldn’t hang with it, and I have decided to let Jeff Nail give me a refresher in ditch fishing because my confidence is lacking. Hopefully next week Jeff and I can get it straightened out.

I’m like a dog rolling on a deer carcass right now when it comes to the shaky head on the rocks. I really can’t help myself and if it wasn’t for my gift of patience, I’d probably be doing something else; but because of that patience I sit with my back to the cold wind with my spot lock on, fan casting and dragging the worm down the hill. If you have been diagnosed with ADD or some other disorder that makes it hard for you to watch paint dry, this isn’t a pattern for you, but if you like the occasional dull thump of a fish sucking in that worm, I think it’s worth it.

The screen shot below explains my position on the secondary points in the creek pockets. If you can imagine that underwater rocky area where I’m sitting with the point facing the west in full sun and the wind blowing right into it; that’s my target area right now. I took this picture because that’s exactly where the fish pictured above came from. I was making casts with the shaky head worm up onto the shallow rocks and the fish was in less than 10 feet of water. Basically, I’m just shopping rocky areas in the sun and looking for rocky outcroppings, ideally, with sun and wind on them. There are places like this all over the creeks on our lake and the options are endless using this pattern alone. The bites aren’t usually fast and furious but moving around and finding the little areas that produce fish are probably going to produce fish again and maybe again day after day. This, meaning that most of the places I caught fish this week provided me fish just about every day I fished it. One of the biggest problems with this pattern, this week was the size. I usually expect the fish to be over 3lbs when I catch them using this pattern but this week, I had a lot of frustration due to the lack of larger fish. The 4’s and 5’s just didn’t turn out this week like I expected. Sometimes it’s like that during the winter running this pattern but soon mother nature takes over and the larger females will find their way to the rocks. Fan casting is the deal on the rocky points for me right now. Whether there is wind or no wind, sun or clouds, just spend a few minutes fan casting the point and move on, win or lose. The fish that are on the rocky points aren’t there for sightseeing or to visit the local sunken lounge chair, they are there to eat and they aren’t really picky eaters. Definitely a crankbait, swimbait, underspin, a-rig or chatterbait could work on these fish but I like dragging the worm down the hill or ledge.

If you look at the background in some of the pictures below, some were cloudy and some were sunny backgrounds. I think there was more activity on the rocks during the sunny/windy post front days at the latter part of this week but there were fish cruising the points in the afternoons whether the sun was out or not. Some of the points I checked in the mornings were barren of fish but a return in the afternoon produced fish. If you’re looking for an addition to the ditch bite right now this pattern is a definite option.

Right now, the lake level is falling again after a heavy generation from the corps yesterday and the level is about a foot below full pool. Water temps are around 50 in the creek and there is still a good stain in the back of our creek. Here’s a few pictures from my week. I will say that there were quite a few smaller fish up on the rocks that didn’t make the picture cut this week.

Looking for them Early Stagers

I woke up at 4am listening to the subtle whining sounds of a cat wanting my attention at the side of the bed. No doubt she wanted to be the first to tell me that during the night 3 local cats, 2 deer and a scary looking possum had tripped the outdoor light sensor and she had also barfed up a juicy hairball because I didn’t empty the litter pan before bed. With all the commotion going on the dog woke up and wanted out for his morning leak. When I stepped outside at 4:15 to let the dog out the north wind hit me right in the face and I was instantly reminded that it was the back side of a front, and it was blowing cold air right through my pajamas. I watched the big pines across the street swaying back and forth in the howling wind and I was happy to go back inside, thinking I just may stay at the dock today.

This week I stayed away from the deeper stuff and ran my early stager milk run, focusing mainly on the creek. I’m still staying close to the house until I get a few more hours on the new motor but it’s hard because a lot of the water is stained around the back of the creek, and this is the time of year I like to fish the backs of the creeks in cleaner water circumstances. It’s not like there is an official staging effort going on with the fish right now and at best, it’s totally random, but there are some fish cruising the usual staging areas for the spawn. Secondary points of the underwater variety have been my target of interest this week and my thoughts are that there should be some big girls showing up around these areas very soon. When I go through my history from previous years, January has always produced some giants pre-staging on the rocky areas close to spawning areas. The fish pictured above was caught on some deeper rocks alongside of a sunny point and the fish had harked up a small dead bream as well as pieces of crawfish around its gullet. It wasn’t the usual 1–2-inch shad so many fish are feeding on right now, but these fish are the meat-eaters, and they are up on the rocks finding the bigger ticket items to chow down on. The good thing about these fish that are feeding up on the rocks is that they aren’t really particular about what they eat. For years we used a crankbait to catch these rock dwelling fish, but more recently I’ve switched to using a worm fished slowly to target these fish. I think that either bait can get the job done right now but I like the slower presentation rather than power fishing the crankbait. I found that the fish are starting to slow a bit and soaking a worm may have the same effect as running a crankbait over a point but it’s less wear and tear on my shoulder if I’m dragging a worm at the speed of a three toed sloth. The way I look at these staging fish is that I can either be proactive or reactive when it comes to the fish. The fish are going to be staging soon, especially on the sunny/windy days and when the bigger fish decide to stage, I want to be there to greet them, rather than find that I’m late for the party.

Right now, I have the mapping coloration on my graphs set up for red-0-5 feet, white is 6-20 feet and green is 21-35 feet. I’m keeping the boat out at 30 feet and casting around and up onto the shallow secondary points. Sometime the fish will be very shallow along the side of a point and sometimes the fish will be cruising out in 25 feet of water on the end of a point. By keeping the boat out deeper I’m covering more of the deeper areas where the fish may be cruising around as I’ve caught fish this week in 5 feet of water and out in 25 feet of water on secondary points. It’s as simple as dragging your worm down the ledge very slowly, and if there is wind on the point, I like to Spot Lock in 30 feet of water up wind and fan cast sunny points, dragging the worms very slowly on the bottom and stopping the worm from time to time. I’m using a 1/4-ounce ball head and a 5-inch Senko in a Junebug or Green pumpkin color and occasionally dipping the tails in a little chartreuse garlic. I gotta say that it’s pretty rewarding as well as addicting when these bass pop the worm on the bottom and you load up on a nice fish.

That’s about all I have to report this week. It’s been a pretty simple week for me just throwing the worm around the rocks and a few docks here and there. The docks did account for a few fish this week but nothing real significant around the docks and nothing worth focusing on yet. The lake is continuing to rise and is now less than a foot below full pool with the corps moving water a couple hours a day. The water temps are right around 50 on my graphs and the further you go back in the creek, the worse the water clarity gets. Here’s a few pics from this week. Size was down from what I expected but better days are coming.

2023 and Back in the Saddle

After a long two months since my knee replacement, I’m finally back on the water and fishing again. This has been a tough one in terms of endurance and recovery. When it comes to knee replacement, everyone handles it differently and some replacements are smoother than others. I’ve had friends that recovered very quickly with minimal pain and others that didn’t fare so well. For me, it was as much mental as it was physical recovery. Physically, the discomfort continues but it’s getting better, but mentally it’s been a struggle. I’ve had several surgeries and a few broken bones over the years, but this was definitely the most debilitating event I’ve ever endured. It was the fact that I couldn’t use my dominate leg for things I’ve used it for my whole life. The anxiety from sitting around waiting for my leg to heal was mentally challenging for me. As far as the physical stuff goes, the best way to describe it is as if my knee went to sleep and I can’t wake it up. It also feels like there is a tight painful band around the upper part of my knee. That is more than likely from cutting or loosening the muscles around the femur and then reattaching them, as it can be painful at times. It is also still painful to step up or step down using my knee. The surgeon says it could take up to a year for that to heal but he seems to think it will be way shorter in my case because my healing has gone much better than he expected. The good part is that the bone-on-bone pain I was feeling before the surgery is gone and that was the ultimate relief for me.

During my time without fishing my boat got a new powerhead after the old one blew right before my surgery. Timing couldn’t have been better because my boat and I both needed a rest. I had been fishing just about every day for months and the boat motor as well as my knee turned out to be the weakest link in my fishing efforts. The guys at C&S Marine got me fixed up with a new powerhead in record time and had I not been recovering from surgery; I would have been back on the water in less than a week. Chris and the guys at C&S know their stuff when it comes to motors and had the powerhead swapped out in 2 days.

Now for the fishing. Monday Lisa and I made a trip out and after breaking in the motor we started hitting ditches. Lisa tied on a little jig head with a 3″ Prodigy from Cast Co. I was using a little silver War Eagle spoon and the little swimbait did all the damage in the ditches for us. Lisa caught a few smaller fish casting the little swimbait in 40 feet of water and bouncing it on the bottom and then she caught the fish below just before we headed home. Every winter I enjoy catching a lot of fish on the Damiki rig and the new Cast Co. 3-inch Prodigy swimbaits are a great option for these fish feeding on small baits in the ditches. Be sure and give them a try this winter on Lanier.

It was overcast and the fish in the ditches we hit were very scattered and not too many were interested in eating in the afternoon. On Tuesday I was back out but only caught 3 in the ditches. On Wednesday I had enough of perch jerking a bunch of 2 pounders in the ditches and I went looking for the meat eaters on the rocks and docks. I wanted to try the little emerald ned rig again since I had good luck with it around this time last year. I pounded a few docks and rocks with it, and it produced a few but I felt like I could do better, so I tied on the green pumpkin shaky head and went to work on the rocks. This time of year, I focus on the sunny rocks for the most part. There are some big fish around the shady/deep rock bluffs, but they are few and far between right now. Same with the docks in the creek, I just couldn’t get bit on the docks successfully this week so by yesterday my primary focus was sunny rocks facing the south and west. With the west wind blowing, most of the west facing rocky points had sun and wind blowing right into the point and the fish were cruising the rocks. With the stained water getting worse in the creek and pushing out towards the main lake, I mainly concentrated on clean water around the mouths of the south end creeks and rocks on the main lake where the water was the cleanest. I had my best day today and I had to leave them biting. With the weather getting more stable the fish seemed to respond well today and they were really getting up on the secondary points and staging areas early this afternoon. I wished I could have stayed longer but I think I put 9-10 in the boat today before heading to the house. This week the best pattern for me was the shaky head on sunny rocks with wind and chop. It’s been slow, partly because of the full moon this week but also because the water temps are getting down into the 40’s now. When the water first hits the 40’s, the fish really slow it down for a bit but they get used to it and they’ll get going with the pre-spawn soon. Most of my fish were caught in less than 20 feet of water this week and the warmer/shallow fish were very strong fighters, unlike the lethargic ditch fish. Water temps were around 50 today and the lake is a little over a foot below full pool. The corps is only generating for an hour or two each day so not a lot of water is moving right now. Here’s a few of the memorable fish this week including my 2023 PB of 4.01pictured above and caught yesterday.