End of Summer Stripers on Lake Lanier
As another striped bass emerged from the depths of Lake Lanier after a well-fought tug-of-war, I soon realized what I'd been missing not making a trip to seek these big fish before. After only spending a half-day on the water with striper guide Shane Watson of Cumming, I knew I'd have to come back soon for more rod-bending, hard-fighting action.
That morning as we approached our first location on the south end of the lake in Shane's 27-foot Carolina Skiff, Shane explained to me there are multiple ways to catch summertime striped bass, or stripers as they are widely known. Since stripers are continually moving and feeding, they are sometimes hard to find. But the great part about summertime fishing is the 38,000-acre lake is always low in the hot months, reducing the number of places for stripers to hide to almost half as many as during the winter months.
The method we began using the morning of my trip with Shane was the sit-and-wait method.
"If you go to a high-percentage area where you've caught them before, they will probably show up again if you stay long enough," he said.
"If you pick up and move to another spot too soon, you could be missing them at both places."
Shane left the big motor running when we got to our location, but it wasn't because we would be moving soon.
"On some lakes people tap on the bottom of the boat to arouse the hybrids' curiosity. On Lanier we leave the motor running. It gives the stripers a reason to come up from 90 feet of water to investigate," he said.
Shane said the fish were a little tardy the morning of our trip, but within the first 20 minutes, one rod was already bent to the water's surface from the rod holder telling us the fight was on.
The blueback herring was our primary bait of the day, but it hasn't always been legal to fish with them in Lake Lanier. Blueback herring were illegally introduced to the lake in the 90s, and it was feared the predatory habits of the herring would reduce the numbers of native gamefish on Lanier. But in 2000 the blueback was legalized as a commercial baitfish, and Shane feels like they have been one of the best things to ever happen to Lake Lanier.
"The stripers here are healthier than probably any other striper lake in the country, and 5- and 6-lb. spotted bass are common, all because of the introduction of bluebacks," said Shane.
We were downlining, or fishing multiple lines directly under the boat, when the first striper was caught. The live bluebacks we used for bait were purchased from Hammond's Fishing Center, the location where all of Shane's guided trips begin.
Shane's method of downlining doesn't allow for the muscling in of fish some anglers like to do. His down-line outfits consist of 7 1/2-foot Shimano Tilaro medium-light action rods and Offshore Angler Ocean Master baitcasting reels from Bass Pro Shops. Shane likes the lighter-action rods because they are flexible and more forgiving with the light leaders he uses. We fished a 15-lb. monofilament main-line, with a 5- to 6-foot, 12-lb. fluorocarbon leader because of Lake Lanier's very clear water. The fluorocarbon leader is less visible in the water, producing twice as many strikes as monofilament alone, according to Shane.
A 2-oz. sinker was attached above the swivel, and a 2/0 circle hook was knotted to the business end of the downline rig. Shane explained that he uses circle hooks because they are less likely to gut-hook a fish. He hooks the bluebacks through the mouth and out of the top of the head, which has worked best for him over the years. Circle hooks are designed to almost exit the mouth of the striper before they catch the fish right in the corner of the jaw. The injury-free catch allows Shane to release the vast majority of the stripers he catches without worrying about a deep, gut-hooked striper not surviving.
Shane said he discontinued the fish-cleaning part of his guide service to cut down on the number of fish kept. People are a lot less likely to keep fish if they know they've got to clean them afterward. He has now reduced the number of fish kept to less than 10 percent.
When fish are caught on Shane's boats, they are quickly released head-first back into the water so they are already well on their way back to the cooler, deep depths from which they've come from. Shane said you shouldn't try to help the stripers breathe on the surface by pushing them back and forth in the water. The rush of warm surface water would most likely put the fish into shock and kill it.
Our fishing location was over 90 feet of water near the mouth of a creek. We varied our bait depths from 40 to 60 feet deep because Shane said that the fish constantly move up and down, but they will rarely move up into the warmer water from 30 feet to the surface.
"You'll usually be able to see them on the graph and get your baits in their depth vicinity to produce more bites," he said.
Shane said this time of the year the areas most productive for larger stripers are almost always south of Brown's Bridge and have the same characteristics of our location — 90 feet deep, near the mouths of creeks. He said you can go to the north end of the lake and just plain get tired of catching small fish, but that's not the type of fish we were looking for on our trip. Shane and I were in search of 20-lb. plus fish, and he had already boated several that week on trips before mine.
Although Shane knows Lanier very well, he said it takes experience to find the fish.
"You've got to do a lot of riding and scouting with electronics," he said.
Shane's boat is equipped with Lowrance sonar and GPS with the lake-depth contour map installed. He said the map will really help first-timers find the river channels and other locations to help target stripers, but anglers should keep log books to better pattern striper activity.
Shane said he's lived near Lanier all his life and used to be a largemouth angler.
"I caught my first striper in '79, and I figured out that's what I needed to do," he said.
It was almost 10 years later before he took his first paid guide trip in 1988 and now, almost 20 years since his start, he owns his own guide service on Lake Lanier consisting of seven boats. That makes more than 1,000 guide trips a year. This type of fishing experience gives Shane a big advantage over the average fisherman. At any given time he has guides at different locations all over the lake, allowing his guide team to find fish more quickly and produce consistently successful striper trips.
Shane said another method for summertime stripers on Lanier is the lead-core trolling bite. The hot weather conditions won't change much for the next month or so and allow this option until early October. But lead-core trolling is a little different than just throwing a line out behind the boat and hoping something eats your bait. Lead-core fishing line is a weighted line which really pulls the baits down in the water to the depths that stripers frequent during the summer months. Because of the large amount of force exerted when the stripers hit a moving bait, the rod-and-reel combos are a little more heavy-duty for trolling. Shane uses Penn 330 reels on sturdier rods than the downline rigs, but you still have the fluorocarbon leaders, so you still can't just horse the fish in.
The lead-core line is split into different color sections so you can measure the distance of line you've let out. Shane fishes his rigs nine colors, or 270 feet out. We used a 27-lb. lead-core main line with a 20-foot, 15-lb. fluorocarbon leader to reduce visibility. The lines were tied with a Capt. Mack's white bucktail jig tipped with either a white grub or a live blueback. The jigs were pulled at 3 mph, which placed the baits about 30 feet deep. Shane said the best places to troll were over 80- to 120-foot deep bottoms just off the main river channels.
Although he'll fish jigs with curly-tail trailers, Shane prefers to tip the jigs with a live blueback herring.
"The grub stays consistently at one speed in the water as the striper approaches it," said Shane. "But as the striper gets close to the blueback, it will zig-zag in the water and usually excite the striper into a bite."
Shane said lead-core trolling is not only a good way to catch multiple stripers, but also a great way to locate fish. If you're going to be riding around looking for fish on the sonar, you might as well be practical about it and have some baits in the water to catch them, too. Although the lead-core bite was good on our trip, Shane said it will only get better in September if the hot weather persists.
He said the lead-core bite is also a great way to get kids involved in fishing. It's not as much of the sit-and-wait as the down-line bite is.
"If you get bit 270 feet out, that's a lot of reeling and fighting to do. If you hook a 25-lb. striper that far out, you get a lot more bang for your buck than downlining," he said.
Shane and I only fished a half-day trip and caught multiple fish heavier 10 pounds and even one that was more than 15 pounds. Even though we didn't catch the 20-lb. plus fish we were looking for, it was a great introduction and how-to on striper fishing for a first-timer. The methods Shane and I used on our trip to Lanier should work until October.
When the water cools in October, Shane said the topwater schooling will kick-off, allowing for some awesome topwater bait explosions.
To learn more about striped bass fishing book a trip with Shane by calling (770) 889-5549 or visit his Web site at :www.lakelanierstripers.com.
Originally published in the September 2007 issue of GON.