What’s All the Chatter About

For the month of March I have a rolodex of baits and patterns I like to use, so when I hit the creek about mid morning this morning I started factoring the conditions and going through the rolodex of baits and options for a beautiful sunny afternoon with a little breeze. Luckily, this morning, every once in a while we had a gust of stronger wind and I was able to find some wind on a point right away. It wasn’t a lot of wind but the surface had a pretty good chop which meant I had options. One bait I’ve had on the deck for the past week or so has been the chatterbait. It’s been on my deck recently because of this gut feeling I get every year about this time so I’ve been throwing it a little bit each day. One sure thing about the catterbait this time of year is it’s unpredictability of success. One day it will work great and on other days it won’t get a sniff but there are ways you can better your chances, kinda like today. When I saw the wind blowing on the point I thought about my old friend, the chatterbait. I hadn’t caught a fish on it yet in 2021 but it wasn’t for a lack of trying and I felt good about it today. It was Friday and the wind was blowing on the point, a perfect combo to break out the chatterbait and let it fly. I think it was my 2nd cast and the fish pictured above hammered the chatterbait in less than 15 feet of water. That made me feel good and it gave me something to build on. All it took was that one fish to get me going. At that point I started running points and looking for as much wind as I could find on every point I could find and every once in a while I would get a little reward for my efforts. It’s not like the chatterbait bite is on fire or anything right now but the way the fish bite it makes it somewhat addicting. Most times when a fish hits the chatterbait the rod just unloads for a second or two and the quicker you reel down on the slack, the better chance you have of hooking the fish before the fish shakes the bait out. The reason the rod unloads is because the fish hits the chatterbait and usually swims towards the boat with it for a second or two so I’ve learned to reel down quickly and then apply a little hook set. Here’s another chatterbait fish from the afternoon.

Yesterday and the day before were a couple of those early spring days with the temps in the upper 60’s and a little wind out on the lake. Normally I’d be out there slinging a crankbait around because it’s certainly crankbait season but I have yet to find a decent crankbait bite. The crankbait is working well right now and from the reports I’m getting, it sounds like it’s a good choice to have on the deck. Here’s a picture that my neighbors David and Ann sent me a few days ago. Ann caught a nice bass Thursday afternoon cranking a point in the creek with my 1.5 Shad crank.

Earlier this week, before I got on the chatterbait run I was mixing it up with the ned rig on the docks and the little swimbait around the ditches and also on some flats. My little Damiki rig with the 2.8 or 3.3 keitech is still working for me so if I mark a few fish on a 20 foot flat, I back off a casting distance away and throw back into the area, letting the swimbait sink to the bottom and then slowly dragging it through the fish. Here’s a nice fish I caught earlier in the week with the Damiki rig on a flat near brush.

Another bait I’ve been starting to throw each time I got out is the little keitech on the underspin. If you check out my YouTube page and go back to spring of last year I made some videos featuring the little swimbait pattern. So far this spring they are still a little reluctant to get after the underspin for me but that bite is coming very soon and if this warming trend continues and shallow bite will be very good. Here’s a picture of a few underspin fish from earlier in the week. That crappie smashed the underspin in less than 5 feet of water.

More to follow but to recap a few baits in my March rolodex, first would have to be the chatterbait for me right now. Second would be keeping that crankbait handy. Third for me is the little swimbait or underspin and lastly is the little ned rig on docks. If you want one more option for windy points in march I would have to say the a-rig would be a good bet if you like slinging the a-rig in the spring. Water temps are anywhere from 54+ in the backs of the creeks and 51-53 out on the big water. Lake level is rocking on 2 feet low.

Slinging the Rig in Early Spring

It’s been about 10 years now since I first picked up an Alabama rig. Years ago when the a-rig first came on the scene I was making and selling a lot of striper tackle so making the transition to bass tackle wasn’t that hard, especially since an a-rig was just a sized down design of the u-rigs I made for stripers. At the time I was making a lot of u-rigs for the striper guys so it was just a matter of taking a Dremel tool and modifying one of my smaller lead head molds to accommodate smaller wire diameters. Once I finished the design we started manufacturing a-rigs for another label and they were sold at Sportsman’s Warehouse’s across the south. Back then my now son-in-law Levi was still in high school and worked in my shop after school helping me make the a-rigs to sell. Now it’s some 9 years later and he married my step-daughter and now they have a son, my grandson Dawson Hogan. Here’s a video from 9 years ago featuring the castable Georgia rig we designed and manufactured.

There were times when I would throw the a-rig but I always thought it to be a lot of work and in a way, cheating a bit, offering an array of baits instead of just one lure. Nonetheless, it is a good way to target fish and if you learn the technique it can be a lot of fun. The thing about the a-rig is that it mimics a school of bait and that little wired up bait ball can be used in a lot of different places as well as covering a lot of ground quickly. There are two ways that I use the a-rig in early spring and one of the two is around the docks, I really like moving down a row of docks with the rig and there are specific areas of the dock that I focus on. The first is making casts in front of a dock. That’s the first cast I make. Secondly is casting parallel to the sides of the dock and getting the rig as close to the dock as possible. I don’t really let the rig sink that much and I try and focus on keeping it around 5-6 feet in depth during the retrieve. When you let the rig go deeper around docks you take the chance of hanging cables or someone’s brush piles they dropped off their dock so I’m very careful around docks. Another area of the docks I like to throw the rig is the shady side or the shady areas around the dock as well as inside an empty slip (provided they don’t have a hidden lift). Usually in the afternoon bass will be very close to the shady areas and react to objects that pass through the shady patches.

The second area I like to throw my a-rig is just random points and shoals in the wind. Let’s face it, these fish put on the feed bag when the wind is blowing on these early spring rocky points and shoals so throwing an a-rig in these places is generally a lock on warm sunny days.

When I say “wind”, I don’t mean some mild breeze creating a pretty little choppy chop on the surface, I’m talking about a beefy wave event that can push the bait and your boat up onto the shoals or points. I know it’s uncomfortable to fish in the wind and waves but I learned a long time ago that comfort and big fish are rarely used in the same sentence. Big waves distort the fishes view and causes the fish to make bad reactional decisions. You need to get on that trolling motor and get out there in them big waves because those big bass are banking on your fear for not being there….

Such was the case this week when I got to fish. I only went out two times this week as it was a boat maintenance week for me. I fished the day I trailered my boat and I fished yesterday when I put it back in the water. On Tuesday I trailered my boat but before I did I wanted to make a lap around the creek. It was warm and windy on Tuesday and I took advantage of the wind that was blowing waves onto some rocky points that big females like to hang out on in early spring. They are stagers and they are generally looking to eat on those wind blown shallower rocky areas so that’s the areas I targeted plus with the Spot Lock function on the Minn Kota I was just setting the boat in deeper water and fan casting points in the waves. Here’s a few more I caught using this pattern in addition to the bass pictured above.

As far as gear goes, I’m using a pretty basic setup. The rod is a 7’6″ MH baitcaster with a good Shimano reel loaded with 14lb flouro. Here’s a picture of a pretty basic a-rig setup.

In addition to starting with the basic rigs I suggest finding a good plug knocker or rig retriever because you’re probably going to get it hung a few times during the learning process.

A-rigs are a lot of fun and you can cover a lot of ground throwing it. If you commit to throwing it all day, it will definitely work out your core and work a few back muscles that probably haven’t been awake for a while. Water temps are back into the lower 50’s and I’m beginning to see signs of life in the creek.

The Ned Rig on Deep Docks

This past week I didn’t really get to fish a lot and only went out for a few hours on 2 different days. I mainly stayed inside and battled a stomach bug and recovered from the BFL last weekend. I did want to highlight one of the patterns I’ve been having fun with for the past 2 weeks and that’s the ned rig around deep docks. Last Monday I went out for a few hours and I noticed that I was getting more short strikes on my shaky head than usual so I sized it down to a 2.75 Z-Man TRD Finesse worm on a 1/5 NedlockZ jighead and that did the trick. I focused on docks that were 30 feet or deeper and I just skipped or pitched the worm all around the docks including just dropping it right in the front of the dock and letting it fall to the bottom and dead sticking it or just bouncing it very slow. Slow is the key for the deep dock fish right now but the rewards are a few bigger fish in the 4-5lb range. Right now we are getting ready for a big push from the bass as they start their pre-spawn staging and feeding for the spawn but until we see a rise in surface temps above 50 we may still be dealing with slower fish due to their metabolic condition. That’s why I’m still fishing slow bottom stuff like worms and jigs deep. Water temps are still below 50 and the back of the creek is very stained right now with lake levels about a foot below full pool and dropping slowly. If you’re looking for a fun little pattern and you have a lot of patience give the little Ned rig a shot on some deep docks right now and you might get a good one. Here’s a few pics from last week. The biggest one I caught this week pictured above was caught on the ned rig was when I was using a Canada Craw on a deep dock and the others were caught on a Green Pumpkin Goby pattern.

Fishing and Trend Analysis

Every winter is different”….repeat after me, “Every winter is different”. Sometimes I tend to forget that and so right now I’m looking at a giant pile of brand new shaky head worms that I have invested my winter budget in and I can’t find a fish that will bite a worm to save my butt. For the last 3 years the shaky head has been my go to bait through the month of Feb. and I have amassed some giants over those 3 years on the shaky head but this year I had to change it up and I think I know why.

Back when I was in the Navy working on fighter aircraft, one of the many programs our squadron was required to maintain was the “Trend Analysis” program. The Trend Analysis program was a complexed study of every facet of each of our 12 aircraft and their many systems over a period of time in an attempt to find any trend in discrepancies that could later lead to catastrophic failures. I maintained the program for a few years and the attention to detail required in aircraft Trend Analysis is something that I try and transfer to our lake and fish habits. I’ve gotta be honest, tracking trends in fighter aircraft is far less complexed than tracking trends in fish habits. There are a lot of variables to fishing and the fish is a moving target. For the past few years I’ve flourished in the winter and shined like a diamond in a goats kulu when it came to Feb. and my shaky head pattern but this year it’s shaping up differently. It’s pretty much right in front of my face every day when I throw the worm and get snagged way more than I should and have little fish to show for it. It took me a minute but if you look at the water level data for the past 3 years you’ll see that the lake is trending downward and has been for a while. If you look at the past 3 years in data you’ll see that the lake rose sharply in each of those years and as the lake levels rose my worm bite took off. More than likely the bass were foraging the new shoreline from the sharp rise in lake levels where as so far this year there is nothing new for the bass to forage. Crawfish holes are drying up and submerged rocks are now dry. That leaves less options for the bass so it’s back to scrounging food in other places, with worms and crawfish out of the picture it’s most notably where the bluebacks and shad are hanging out.

The above hypothesis is why I have decided to drag swimbaits around endlessly to get my bites as I just needed to make the adjustment from worm to tiny swimbait. Basically, for the past 2 weeks my goal was to locate fish and drag a small swimbait slowly on the bottom to mimic the food source they are looking for. Here’s what I know; every morning when the sun comes up the bluebacks leave the shallows of the backs of the pockets and other shallow places and they move out to deeper water. The bass live in the lake and do this for a living so they tend to congregate in areas like shallow to deep drop offs and across flats in an attempt to ambush the bluebacks as they return to deeper water when the sun rises and warms the surface. This is important to remember, I’ll capitalize it for you: BLUEBACKS LIKE AND CRAVE SUNLIGHT and spotted bass like and crave bluebacks. My biggest suggestion is to find an area, whether it’s the back of a creek or the back of a pocket in a creek, if there is bait present in shallow areas and you see sporadic fish scattered on the graph, back off to deeper water, say maybe 25-30 feet and cast a little swimbait rig up into the shallows, dragging it down the slope or ledge very slowly. This week, I found a school of hundreds of fish and all that the bass were doing was feeding on bluebacks as they made their escape from shallow to deeper water chasing the sun as it broke the tree line. The key is to work the bait slowly, stopping every once in a while to see if dead sticking the bait will trigger a bite. I know it’s like watching paint dry but the rewards can be good. Here’s a picture of my setup this week and the bait I used to catch over 70 bass.

If we have a cloudy day, which we have a lot of right now, the bluebacks tend to scatter more so another trend I’ve been tracking is the striped bass trend. Striped bass on Lanier are very elusive in the winter but at the same time they are more predictable. During this time of year the gulls and loons can give away the location of the stripers and one cloudy day this week I chased the birds with a small spoon and caught a few nice stripers for a friend and his family to eat. If you’d like to learn more about the striper technique I’m using right now check out my bog posts about loons and gulls last month.

Water temps are mainly in the upper 40’s right now and here’s a few random pictures from my week:

My thoughts on the winter shaky head pattern

For the past few winters I’ve spent more and more time throwing the shaky head worm rather than fishing the deep stuff. The more time that passes the more I’m convinced that there is a population of larger fish that cruise the shallows all winter in search of bigger ticket meals such as crawfish, bream and larger gizzard shad rather than the millions of threadfin shad and blueback herring that are stacked in the deep ditches. I have yet to figure out why these bigger fish would want to leave the “sure thing” but if they are like me, maybe they just get bored with the same old seafood diet and go searching for the meat and potatoes. I’ve found that these bigger fish cruising the shallows generally hark up a array of regurgitated chow from crawfish pieces to decomposed bream. I can tell they are in the shallows for bigger meals judging from what they’ve been eating. Since I’ve established the pattern of bigger fish cruising the shallows in the winter, it’s just a matter of finding and catching them.

Years ago I was all about the crankbait all winter. My thought has always been that the fish, like me, enjoy the warmth of the winter sun and I would always gravitate towards the sunny rocky shorelines with my crankbait. I would tie on my crankbait, beat the banks with reckless abandonment and usually run across a few fish by days end. That was my strategy back in my cranking days but for the past few years I’ve decided to slow it down and learn more finesse with less power. Probably the most frequently asked question I get is “what worm do you use“. That seems to be the key to success with the shaky head but you need to be able to define success. My definition of success with the shaky head may differ from yours. I think back to a few years ago when I was fishing as a boater in a BFL tournament on Lanier. I had been on a great crankbait bite and spent most of the day cranking with little to show for it. With a little less than an hour left till weigh in my back seater tied on a little green pumpkin finesse worm on a little screw lock ball head and put 5 keepers in the boat to cash a check. I didn’t make the switch quick enough and I didn’t cash a check. On another occasion I was on a guided trip and my guest absolutely smoked them on the same little setup of a green pumpkin finesse worm on a ball head. One thing to note was that most of the fish were smaller keepers in both instances but nonetheless it was fish and it was success for those cases.

For me, success has a different definition now. Primarily because I live on the lake and I can fish several days a week but for the past few years I’ve grown tired of numbers in favor of quality. With the shaky head it’s hard to rule out quantity at times because it’s just a good bait for Lanier. It’s bailed thousands of tournament anglers out of a bad day and helped cash a lot of checks I promise you. Lake Lanier offers a lot of rocky shoreline plus shoreline structure such as docks and those two areas are perfect for the shaky head tactic. With my knowledge of where the bigger fish may be in the winter it was just a matter of the right offering. A few years back I went through my jig phase and enjoyed the thump of a big ole spot pounding my jig. That will get your heart racing but I wanted to slow it down to light tackle finesse with big fish in mind. That’s when I found the 5 inch senko type baits on a shaky head. The 5 inch stick baits are fat, beefy and heavy. They sink quick and the smaller fish tend to leave it alone. The 5 inch bait on a 1/4 ounce ball shaky head out performed all the other worms I’ve used including the good ole 6 inch trick worm for big fish just about every time. Another thing I like about the senko type rig is that I can throwing it a mile, control it and I can feel everything with my light tackle spinning gear.

Speaking of gear, a lot of times in the winter months with the shaky head the bite can be subtle, For that reason I switch my gear to a more visible line such as hi-vis braid with a flouro leader. I want to be able to see my line at all times so I usually tie on about 30 feet of 7-8lb good fluorocarbon to a load of 12lb green flouro braid. I use a modified Alberto knot, appropriately named the “Jimberto” knot for the flouro to braid and I like a good Shimano spinning reel such as the 250 Ci4. I’m using a 7′ 6″ MH rod with a lot of backbone so I can make a good hook set on these bigger fish and that boney mouth.

Location is a big part of the process and probably the second most asked question I get. In the creek, it’s just a matter of me going back to places I’ve caught big fish in the past. Some of my favorites are the deep dark rocky bluffs. Those deep dark areas are a place that big bass like to wait in the shadows and ambush a unsuspecting meal. Probably the absolute best area is a dark rocky bluff very near a dock and very very near deep water. There are strings of docks in the creek as well as all over the lake that offer this setting. My second favorite area is secondary points in the creek. These points will load up with bigger fish as we get closer to the spawn. I’ve found that the bigger fish spawn the earliest in the creek so usually they are in a post spawn feeding mode and staged up on points going back to spawning areas as early as late Jan. On a sunny day these staging areas are a magnet to bigger bass as well as foraging food moving around the warmer water. As the fish warms in these sun soaked areas, there color gets richer and their metabolism speeds up a bite. The fish are much more aggressive and much stronger than the cold slow fish in a ditch and that’s why I like to target them. I’ve gotten to the point of accepting less bites for better quality so if you ask me how I catch the bigger fish in the winter, there’s a few tips that may help this winter.

The Winter Blueback 110 Jerkbait

This has been one of my favorite winter jerkbaits for bass and stripers for a few years now. For the bass, it’s a favorite of mine for fishing over ditches when I see suspended fish or I’m searching shoreline structure for bass. It comes in 2 versions, clear and holographic and either one will work for suspending fish and hungry stripers. This jerkbait suspends and is a deadly bait in February for suspended fish over deeper water and shallow shoreline fish. Here’s some pics and a recent video of catching a few stripers with the jerkbait.

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The “Go To 2” Crankbait

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This is another old favorite of mine that has been a big success on Lanier. It’s a little deeper diving than the original “Go To” and it has a hole in the bill to create a little more turbulence and add to a little different wobble. It’s been successful in the winter as well as summer and fall. Anytime the fish are a ittle deeper I use the “Go To 2”. Here are a few pictures of the Go To 2 in action.
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My “Go To” Crankbait

imag1051For the past few years there is one crankbait that I’ve always been able to rely on during the winter months on Lake Lanier. That crankbait is called my Go To” crankbait. I believe that the shape of the bill on this crankbait provides a different swimming action and with the color pattern plus rattles it really get’s the attraction of the bass. It’s a favorite of mine if I’m cranking the rocks and it always produces results. Here’s a few “Go To” pictures and videos of the bait in action.

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My “Popping the Top” Popper Challenge Coming This Fall

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It’s been a long hot summer this year and I know I’m not the only one ready for fall. Once again we’ve endured the heat of summer to get to the cooler, dryer air of autumn. We are quickly approaching a time of year when the bait rises from the cooler depths of the thermocline and I’m already seeing numerous pods of small threadfin scattered throughout the creek on the surface. It won’t be long now till the 1st and second year bluebacks follow suit along with the threadfin and seek the warm sun near the surface. Inherently, groups of bluebacks in Lake Lanier rise to the surface in October basking in the remaining warm surface water as the lake begins it’s winter cool-down and bass as well as stripers start feeding up for the winter gorging themselves on the surface offerings. Our summer stripers have been hanging around the deep waters of the main lake chasing massive schools of bluebacks but in the fall the stripers start making their way back into the creeks where the new batch of first year threadfin are piled up and waiting. The threadfin are just an addition to the menu for our stripers and bass and they provide some excellent topwater opportunities for us anglers. When I think back to October over the past few years, one thing that always comes to mind is our fall topwater bite. More specifically, for the past few years the stripers and bass have fallen prey to my Emerald Popper in the fall and the way things are shaping up, this fall should be no different.

This fall I’m going to do something a little different and make an interesting offer to ya’ll. As some of you know I fished my first FLW Bulldog series tournament as a Pro earlier this year on Lake Lanier and I really enjoyed the tournament and the tournament atmosphere in the FLW. I’ve always been a competitor and the level of competition in the Bulldog trail was a challenge that I couldn’t resist. I managed to finish in the money in my first tournament as a Pro and I’ve set a goal for myself of fishing the full Bulldog series trail next year. With that being said, as you can guess it isn’t going to be a cheap endeavor. I need to offset some of the cost and I’m going to offer a few things to help with that. First off, as some of you know I have a military background and in the military one of the things we used to do was award challenge coins to our over achievers. It was always a big honor to be given a challenge coin and I’ve collected a few over the years. I’ve designed a Cast Away Baits challenge coin for my Emerald Popper topwater bait and it will come complete with a inset notched bottle opener with my old cast away fishermen under a palm on the front of the coin and the words “I popped the top with Cast Away Baits” inscribed on the back. I should be receiving 100 of the custom challenge coins in the near future and I’m going to offer these coins to anyone who wants to jump in my boat with me this fall and take a shot at catching a fish or two on the popper for a few hours of fishing plus you’ll get to keep your own popper. I’ll even throw in a Cast Away decal to sweeten the deal even more. That a total of learning to use the popper on a topwater fishing trip with me, a custom Cast Away “Popping the Top” challenge coin, one of my Emerald Poppers and a decal to commemorate the trip.

*If you’re not local and would like to drop in for a weekend, be sure and ask about availability of our 3 bedroom private fish camp on Lake Lanier. I can offer a weekend getaway package that includes a day of fishing with me and if you bring your own boat, we have a single slip covered dock to park your boat for the weekend.

I don’t consider myself a guide and we have some very knowledgeable, talented bass guides on Lanier so I’m not going to charge a guides fees for the trip but I do need to earn some money to offset the cost of the trail fees. I’d also like to invest in a wrap for my boat for the trail next year and represent some local businesses as well as some bigger tackle names in fishing. I will be spending the fall and early winter soliciting some sponsors in exchange for advertising on my wrap and on my videos so if you are interested in a trip out this fall or you have an interest in some sponsorship just drop me a line or give me a shout for more information. Keep an eye out here on my blog for a topwater start date and a picture of the Cast Away Challenge coin very soon.

Here’s a few videos from some awesome fall topwater fishing over the past two years to get you in the mood…