Water conditions: Lake temperatures are in the lower 50s. Lake Lanier’s water level is above full fool at 1,071.47 feet which is 0.47 above a full pool of 1,071. The lake is clear and the creeks and rivers are clear to stained. The Chattahoochee River is clear to slightly stained below Buford Dam. Check generation schedules before heading out to the river at 770-945-1466.
Bass: Winter is one of the most peaceful times to be on Lake Lanier and even the Chattahoochee River. Despite what many people think, fishing during winter can be extremely productive. Larger Cabin Cruisers, Ski Boats and personal watercraft traffic is greatly reduced which often allows anglers to have much of the lake all to themselves. If you don’t mind the cold then you owe it to yourself to take advantage of what is one of my favorite seasons to fish. Plus there are several holidays anglers can take off from work to take full advantage of the great fishing.
There are many misconceptions about cold water fishing. One of the biggest myths is that all of the fish move deep during cold weather. This is one of the instances where fish don’t follow perceived wisdom. There are always some fish shallow even in the coldest months. We caught plenty of bass this past month that have been relating to rock and docks in under 15 foot of water. These rocks and docks contain hiding places that conceal shad, crayfish and other forage that bass feed on and as long as the forage is present and the water temperature are over 50 degrees there is really is no reason for bass to move deeper.
We have caught bass this past week in water shallower than five feet deep as well as water deeper than 50 feet, so you have an almost endless option for areas to target. Many anglers are intimidated by deep water fishing, and they can catch some good fish around rocky banks with and without docks. Some anglers prefer to have a bank to cast to instead of targeting harder to find areas like deep ledges or sunken brush piles where knowledge of electronics and GPS are required. Prime shallow areas in winter will be rocky banks that are close to deep water drop-offs. Bass prefer banks where they can move from shallow and deep water with very little effort. Steep banks that drop off quickly offer fish the easiest route because they can move up and down by swimming a very short distance. Gentle tapering drop-offs require bass to cover long distances to accomplish the same depth changes, so these tend to not be as productive. Rocky banks and docks with black floats also hold heat which in turn attracts fish, forage and even the plankton that baitfish feed on. You will often find bass directly below these black floats in sunny weather and casting jerk bait or skipping a shaky head worm up around them will trigger bass into feeding as these offerings come close to their strike zone. Cold water fish will be more liable to strike lures and bait that requires very little effort.
When the water gets colder many bass do indeed move out deep for several reasons. The water temperatures are more stable out deep, baitfish schools may be more protected and sometimes there are just larger concentrations of bait that provide bass a consistent buffet to feed upon. Anglers can follow ditch and creek channels and depressions off shore to where the timber lines are located. These deeper fish can be caught with a jigging spoon, Jig n Pig, Fish Head Spin or even a drop shot. Many times the best presentation is to drop lures directly down to bass you see below directly below the transducer on your electronics. Sometimes it can be easier to make a regular long cast, let your lure sink down and fish it through the areas where you marked fish on your electronics Even in cold weather it is not uncommon for moving lures like a Jerk bait oven a Red Fin V-waked on the surface to draw bass from the depths up to strike what these fish interoperate to be a larger easy meal. I have seen bass explode on a surface lure even when water temperatures were under the 50 degree mark – crazy!
Stripers: Striper fishing remains very good this year and the striper population in 2013 is very healthy and shows no sign of declining at all for a long while. This year’s catches have been very good and most anglers have been able to locate feeding fish but catching them has been easy some days and more challenging on others. The biggest problem for most anglers is finding lures of live bait that will coax the line sides into biting because they have a lot of natural forage to compete with. Sometimes downsizing has been the best thing to do since a lot of stripers are targeting tiny threadfin shad but on other days using a larger lure of live bait have worked better as they will stand out amongst the huge schools of small shad. There are two schools of wisdom-Most fly anglers think that matching the hatch with small streamers and closer minnow flies is the best course of action while others have felt that a live trout or herring will stand out and offer stripers more food for less efforts. Both ideas have merit but can vary from day to day and even from different schools of stripers. A good rule of thumb is that stripers feeding out on main lake that move around quickly are more often targeting blue back herring and, because of this are more liable to eat live herring or medium sized trout on a flat or down line. Herring move quickly so you can bet if the stripers are not staying put then this is the food source they are chasing.
Stripers in the pockets and towards the back of the creeks tend to be keying in on the smaller threadfin shad especially if they are staying in an area for long periods of time. Threadfin shad’s best defensive is their sheer numbers and they rely on the fact that there are just so many that they simply cannot all be eaten at once. These shad swim in the same direction and the same speed and any shad that are wounded or separated from the larger schools are the ones that make the easiest target. If you can get a lure that is close in size but that moves with an erratic action then it will usually get noticed quicker and will increase your odds of standing out and getting struck by a hungry striper. Small Spoons, Rooster Tails or even umbrella rigged SPRO Buck Tails may be your best bet for these tiny shad eaters. Continue to look for gulls and loons and your electronics for the best locations and the best depth to set your lines to.
Crappie: The fish both up and down lake are on and around docks and shoreline lay downs from 10-20 foot feet deep. Shoot small crappie jigs up under pontoon boats and around any brush piles around docks or trees lying down on steep banks. Use light ling and place a hook and minnow two feet above a jig tipped with a live minnow and cast or drop this double rig down around brush and wood. Sometimes beaver will get up under docks and while they can be a nuisance for dock owners the wood they collect can be a magnet for schools of crappie. Work jigs and live minnows around beaver dams to catch a limit of slabs for dinner!
Trout: Trout fishing is a little slower this week but it has still been very good compared to past drought years. Year round trout streams and rivers still have plenty of lay over trout that can be caught on spinning gear, fly fishing and live bait (where permitted by law) like live earth worms fished on a weighted line below the rapids.
Bank fishing: Striper fishing is the most popular bank fishing activity in winter and live bait is the most widely used method. Try casting a modified Carolina Rig with a jumbo shiner out and let it settle on the bottom and secure your rod with a quality rod holder. This bottom rig may coax some big stripers into biting. If you don’t have live shad then no worries. Freeze your used bait and use a large cut shad, trout or several dead cut blue back herring on his same bottom rig. Cut bait will attract some of the largest stripers that you can catch.
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. I would love to hear from our readers so please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit my website at aldrichfishing.com.