Water conditions: Lake Lanier’s water level is slightly above full pool at 1,071.27 feet or 0.27 feet above a full pool of 1,071 feet and they continue to pull a lot of water through Buford Dam. Lake temperatures remain cold in the mid-40s. The lake is clear on main lake and in the mouths of the creeks and stained in the backs of the creeks and up in the rivers. The Chattahoochee River is clear to slightly stained below Buford Dam. Check generation schedules before heading out on the river at 770-945-1466.
Bass: This past few week’s bass fishing on Lake Lanier has been slow. Some anglers site the cold water temperatures while others indicate that there has been a shad die off but either way it has been slow for sure. With the snow and cold temperatures this week not many anglers have reported anything but good news is in the forecast for next week. As temperatures creep up into the 50s and 60s during the days we will see better fishing.
When the sun comes out and the temperatures rise after a cold spell be ready for bass to react. There are a few patterns to look for in late winter and one of the best happens around black dock floats. Of course most people know the color black absorbs heat. I have witnessed many times over the years when spotted and largemouth bass huddle under or next to these black dock floats to get warm in the afternoon. Because bass are cold blooded they become more active as the weather warms up.
Work lures like jerk baits, shallow running crank baits and even jigs or finesse worms on a shaky head. Cast your lures parallel to the dock floats. I like to remove the center hook from a SPRO McStick 110 to get it to run shallower around 2-feet deep or just at the level of the bottom of the floats. Either cast and retrieve your jerk baits with a slow and steady or a jerk and pause retrieve. One trick I like to do is to cast down the side of a dock next to these black floats then run the boat around the front of the dock while placing my rod tip under water. Then retrieve your jerk bait or shallow running crank bait so that it runs under the heated floats. Hold on because many of your strikes will occur just beside, under or right as a lure comes past the floats.
Another great lure for late winter is a standard half-ounce jig with a crawfish type trailer. I use a variety of brands but a half-ounce Strike King Pro Model Jig with rattles and a Big Bites YoDaddy trailer is a good choice as it mimics the early season crawfish that start to move around as early spring draws near. Seasoned anglers will even tip over rocks around launch ramps to see what color the crawfish are. Then match your jigs and trailers to the same color as the local crawfish. A good standard on Lake Lanier is a dark green jig and trailer with blue highlights. I like to dip my trailer in blue JJ’s Magic to match the color of the tips of the crawfish’s claws and also to add some fish attracting scent. Work your jigs around rocky banks or banks with rock and clay. Use a slow, dragging retrieve as opposed to hopping your jig for better results.
Stripers: Stripers fishing has been up and down but stripers bite better than almost any other fish in the winter and you can bet they have been eating well all through the snow storm. I have witnessed stripers schooling around dying shad in single digit temperatures on Lake Lanier, so cold weather doesn’t affect them too much and there are always some stripers schooling in winter.
There has been a decent bite in the backs of the creeks down lake and also in the upper creeks and rivers. Right now look for the warmest water you can find that is not too stained. Stripers shy away from muddy water but stained water holds heat better and also provides more plankton to feed the bait fish that stripers are targeting. Water temperature variables of even one degree can make the difference. Of course gulls, loons, kingfishers and even heron are all good signs to look for. Your best tools are always your electronics. Trust your instruments when they show schools of baitfish and the tell tail arcs and lines that indicate stripers.
Two patterns have prevailed recently – shallow- to mid-depth live bait fishing and trolling umbrella rigs. Use your electronics and watch the birds to locate the best areas to fish. Set out a combination of flat and down lines and let your electronics and fish strikes indicate the best depths to target. If you see fish schooling on the surface then flat lines, baits on a balloon float or planner boards will probably be your best method. If the fish show up on your graph deeper than 15-20 feet deep then switch over to weighted down lines and set your baits slightly above where you mark fish. Just a reminder that stripers will often rise up but seldom swim down to strike a bait.
For live bait fishing either purchase some herring, trout or shiners from your local tackle store or get out early with your cast net. As long as you know where the bait is located you can net your own threadfin shad, gizzard shad or even blue back herring. Many anglers believe, and I concur, that fresh caught bait can work very well. There are some pluses or minuses to netting your own bait. By netting your own bait you can be assured you are catching the exact bait that the stripers are eating and that it will be fresh and lively. On the other hand successful cast netting requires knowledge of the right areas and skill with throwing a cast net. It can be a little messy for your boat and you will want to wear your rain gear to keep from getting wet and cold. Also, if you do not find bait soon you may spend more time fishing for bait then fishing for stripers. Purchasing your bait at a local tackle shop ensures that you will be ready to fish as soon as you get to the lake.
Trolling umbrella rigs has been working well for some anglers this past couple of weeks. Troll a 4-arm Macs Rig outfitted with SPRO or Captain Macs Buck Tails. Use smaller bucktails with small to medium trailers to match the smaller shad that the stripers have been targeting this week. Threadfin shad move slowly in schools so troll your umbrella rigs as slow as possible while keeping them at the correct depths. As mentioned above, stripers move up more often than down to eat. When you mark shad at 20 feet try to run your umbrella rigs just at or slightly above this depth to trigger more bites. When you catch a fish make sure to go back over the same area several times as the stripers have been staying in the same areas for a while eating on the slow moving schools of shad.
I did see one report of successful night fishing this past week, but I still think the water temperatures need to get into the lower 50s before this action takes off. If you are a diehard night angler then get your Bombers and McSticks ready for this action. I have switched over from a SPRO McStick 110 to the newer, larger McStick 115 because the 115 has a wider wobble more like the traditional Bomber Long As.
Crappie: We have started to see some local guides reporting very good crappie fishing. Some of the reports show 100-plus days of crappie with many 30-fish limits. You are allowed to keep 30 crappie per angler on Lake Lanier so now is the time to fill up your freezer!
There are two essential things required for successful crappie fishing right now. First, you must locate the schools of fish, and second, you must fish slow and deep. This type of fishing is not for the novice, so if you need help hire a reputable guide to quickly increase the learning curve. Quality electronics are essential for locating the large schools of crappie that are occurring during February.
Many of the schools of crappie are around 15-25 feet deep right now. You will need to use small jigs or live minnows on very light lines. Allow your offerings to drop as deep as the fish you mark on your electronics. Remember that the lighter the line the quicker the lure will sink. Even with very light line a 30-second ounce jig will only fall about a 1/2 foot a second, so it will take a while for your lure to reach the key depth. At these depths you may not feel the bite, so instead watch your line closely for a "tick" or if the lure stops falling. Set the hook anytime you sense something different.
Trout: Trout fishing remains just fair at Buford Dam but is better up in the mountains. Cast live worms where live bait is permitted by law, small minnow lures, inline spinners or wet flies with a strike indicator if you fly fish.
The deeper pools will hold trout in the winter. Make sure these deeper pools have rapids or white water feeding into them. Trout will set up behind current breaks like large rocks, small holes or depressions or even trees that lay in the water. Trout have a hierarchy so the bigger trout will occupy the best current breaks. Larger trout will be hanging just below the best rocks near moving water as they look for insects, minnow or worms that are washed downstream by the current.
Bank fishing: Trout fishing in winter can be a lot of fun. On mild days venture out to the river or your favorite mountain stream with your fly rod or a light spinning outfit and pick your favorite lures or bait. Unlike the warmer months there is no reason to get up too early. The best bite often occurs on warmer afternoons in the winter.
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.