Water conditions: 2014 has arrived and lake water temperatures are all over the place this week. There is still some ice melting in the back of the coves on out to mid-40s on main lake. Lake Lanier’s water level is 0.25 feet below full at 1,070.75 feet but more rain is projected and the CORPs continues to pull a lot of water to get Lanier down to prepare for the spring rains. The lake is clear on main lake and in the mouths of the creeks and stained and the backs of the creeks and rivers are stained. The Chattahoochee River is clear below Buford Dam. Check generation schedules before heading out to the river at 770-945-1466.
Bass: Many hard core anglers may have considered buying an ice auger and an enclosed ice fishing shanty like they do up north this past week but the warming weather and rain inflow will knock out any ice that is left on the surface soon. The type of cold we had this past week rarely happens and even I stayed home during the single digits but the engine got warmed up yesterday and the fishing has changed again.
When we get a cold spell like this the fish a lot of fish will move deep and kind of huttle up kind of like us humans to stay warm but a few other variables happen as the weather warms. Some fish will always remain shallow but the majority move out deep where water temperatures are more stable.
First, the frigid cold will often cause a shad kill and when this happens bass can just hand out deep on the bottom and lazily eat shad as the decend from the surface. This scenario sets up the perfect storm for fishing a jigging spoon. Use your electronics to find the shad schools out over 30 to as much as 60 feet deep. Drop a Hopkins or other model spoon down to the bottom and jerk it up and let it fall where you mark bass and shad. Try to vary the speed and let your strikes be the indicator of what works best. You can also use a SPRO Buck Tail Jig or a standard jig n’ pig in this same scenario.
The second pattern that many anglers ignore is to use live bait and vary your set up with flat lines (with no weight) or down lines (with weight) and see what the bass prefer. Many anglers catch bass when using live bait when fishing for stripers. Target areas that have slightly warmer water with deep and shallow water close by. Use a Gamakatsu Circle hook if you plan to release your catch. When bass eat live bait the same fish will often strike artificial lures like crank baits, buck tails or other shad imitators.
There is a third pattern that can appear when the rain comes. Target areas that receive the warmer rain inflow and fish a finesse worm on a Gamakatsu Alien Head or other jig head in the ditches where the rain flows into the lake. This rain runoff water will be warmer that the lake water, it will be high in oxygen and it often brings food like earth worms or insect along with it. Bass will eat terrestrials but so will the prey fish that they target so they will have plenty of reasons to hang out around these warmer rain inflows.
Stripers: This past week’s brutal cold spell may have pushed some stripers a little deeper to eat shad but the voracious spot fish are used to the cold. In summers stripers actually seek the coldest water so 45 degree surface temperatures are no problem for them and they are still feeding close to the surface in many areas.
Live bait is usually the choice of striper anglers. Store bought trout or shiners are easy to keep alive and healthy in the winter. A regular boat’s aerators’ live well or even a 5 gallon bucket with a small batter powered aerators is all that is needed to get your bait to that awesome honey hole on Lake Lanier. I fished for stripers almost exclusively in the 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s and these store bought baits were a staple. In 2014 they still work very well. Blue back herring were introduced illegally in the late 90’s and they require a little more effort to keep alive in a tank but they survive best during the winter. A larger circular live well with an air stone and salt or chemical additives are best for keeping these striper candy lively and most local tackle stores offer many options and great advice on your set up.
The above baits and also native gizzard and threadfin shad are working well this week both on flat lines, planner boards, balloon floats and weighted down lines. Use your Humminbird Electronics and watch the gulls, loons and other aquatic birds to locate the best areas.
Some guides are really starting to pull umbrella rigs and I have seen this tactic out perform live bait many times. Use a 3, 4 or 5 arm umbrella rig equipped with buck tail or swim baits and troll them around 1.5 to 2 miles per hour at the depth where the fish appear on your electronics.
Crappie: Crappie fishing is slow. They can be caught but you may need to slow down your presentation and even use live crappie minors or shad. The trick will be to work your slowly baits in front of the schools of fish that should be grouped up around deeper brush.
Trout: Trout fishing is just OK on the Chattahoochee River but I saw an 8 pound rainbow that was caught up on in the mountains this past week. Trout are definitely a cold water fish and they thrive in the winter. Use wet flies, small crank baits or in line spinners and work them above, in and below rocky rapids.
Bank fishing: Bank anglers will do well in winter using live bait as discussed in my striper report above but there is a new option available for anglers without a boat- The Alabama Rig. An Alabama Rig is just a small, cast able version of an umbrella rig. The biggest concern will be losing on every now and then but the good news is that the market is flooded with the rigs and they can be purchased very inexpensively. Just add several of your favorite buck tails or swim baits, use a heavy action rod and heavy line and cast it around any gulls you see diving close to the bank. It may wear your arm out casting one but you may also be rewarded with a real workout when a big striper strikes!
Eric Aldrich is an outdoor writer, marketing specialist and bass angler. Reports are based on personal experience and permission from a close network of friends. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or aldrichfishing.com.