“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”
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!
Well guys, We’re pretty deep into the trolling season and I’ve had a blast so far. I’ve been able to get on the water more this summer than summers in the past. The stripers on the south end of the lake have been around in big numbers and I’ve learned a lot from all of these fishing trips. Here are a few observations that have made this summer more productive for me:
1. The use of flourocarbon for my leaders have made a big difference. More specifically, I’ve been using Bass Pro XPS flourocarbon in 17lb and 20lb. I use the 17lb on the downrigger rigs and 20lb on the leadcore rigs. I’ve compared my 20lb Big Game to the flouro several times this year and the flouro out produced the mono by more than 3 to 1. A good 30-40 foot flouro leader makes all the difference, but it’s more costly than mono.
2. Tackle selections have been very important. I’ve been running several different jigs and trying to outsmart these fish when they get leary of the leadcore and a certain jig. I’ve had good luck with a 6 inch pearl w/blue highlights shad body on a 2 ounce shad head in the same pearl w/blue highlights. That combination has become my go to bait for these summer stripers. I’m convinced that this profile resembles a large Blueback Herring and that’s what the bigger stripers are keying on. It’s a no brainer with this jig, everytime we’ve put it on we’ve caught fish. When the fish get weary of the shad bait, I put on a 2 ounce bucktail troller to give them something different and it usually fools them for another hook up or two.
3. Getting the baits to the right area to get bit. It changes from year to year but this year the 30-35 range has been the most productive this year. I’ve been using 2 ounce and heavier jig heads to get the bait lower. Another tactic that has been successful is loading my Diawa 57lc with 12 colors of leadcore. Cortland sells a 200 yd spool of 27lb leadcore and my 57’s will hold 12 colors so I’ve been able to work the baits deeper running more colors. There are good fish to be caught trolling your baits deeper but it comes with a cost. There are a lot of trees in Lanier so I’ve been working the river channel and some deep flats with the longer leadcore to keep from hanging it in the trees.
4. In my opinion you have to train yourself to think 100 yards behind the boat to be a successful troller. If you can’t get your baits over or through the fish it’s probably not going to work well. I can’t stress enough how important it is to keep your baits in line with the fish you mark and know where your baits are in relation to your graph. On my graph it’s pretty easy. When I’m trolling over water 100 ft deep or deeper the range of my screen on my graph is around 100 yards from right to left when scrolling. That means when the fish get to the end of the scrolling screen on my graph, my baits should be close to running through or over the fish I marked. If I keep my boat in a straight line, I can just about call when a fish is going to hit the jig. To me that is pretty cool to be able to anticipate a strike.
Those are a few tips and crib notes to help with your trolling this summer. Here are a few videos of some recent trips: