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Lake Lanier Fishing Report: Bass biting in shallow and deeper water
Eric Aldrich
Local bass angler Eric Aldrich poses with a fish he caught. - photo by For The Times

Lake Lanier is almost at full pool, but you should expect that the Corps is doing their best to draw it down in expectation anticipation of the spring rainy season.

Presently, Lake Lanier is around 1,071.67 feet or just 1/3 of a foot below a full pool of 1,071.

Parts of the main lake are clear, but some of the pockets are stained to muddy from both rain inflow and wind stirring up the waters.

We have a lot of stained water midway back into the creeks and up lake where the muddy or stained rain inflow meets the clearer main lake waters.

The backs of the creeks and up the rivers remain muddy.

Water temperatures are in the high 40’s, but continues to turn cloudy to very stained the further from the frequent rains.

The Chattahoochee River is slightly stained, but will get very stained to muddy on down river any tine it rains.

Check generation schedules before heading out to the river at 770-945-1466.

Bass fishing has ranged from very good to average.

The bass are being caught both shallow and deep.

We can always find bass both in the deeper water and ditches, as well as shallow fish on docks.

Pick a style you prefer to fish and stick with it.

If you don’t catch fish, then try either moving or try fishing with something new. It may just end up being your new go-to lure in winter.

Almost all of our efforts this past week involve fishing water in 25-55 feet deep.

Even though we are fishing ‘deep’ we are usually only a cast or three away from the banks.

I love to fish bluff walls in the winter.

These steep, vertical banks, comprised of mostly rock with some clay thrown in for good measure, are great places to target.

I find that a lot of anglers are more comfortable fishing these steep banks because they have something to look at, as well as an obvious place to cast.

You can visualize what is under the water because it’s just a continuation of what you see above the surface.

We have been starting our days pretty shallow, launching the boat before dawn to be in our best fishing areas right before sunrise. 

There is a good reason to be out early.

Bass and other predator fish usually go through a peak feeding frenzy in low-light hours.

These ‘early bird’ fish are active, so moving lures are usually the most effective when casting to feeding fish.

My go-to lure now and most of the time in winter is a SPRO McStick 110.

I cast this lure around the backs of the pockets and shallow in the ditches.

Start with a slow-steady retrieve and alternate to a jerk-and-pause retrieve and let the fish tell me the best cadence.

Pausing your jerk baits for a long pause will often tempt a big fish into biting.

I have seen anglers stop working their jerk baits to take a sip of coffee or to scratch an itch only to have the rod almost jerked out of their hands by a fish that bit their lure sitting still for over 10 seconds.

Other baits are effective for these early-morning feeders.

Cast smaller versions of your favorite swim baits.

Use a Lanier Baits Little Swimmer or 3 ½-inch Kietec Swim bait and rig them on a 1/8 Gamakatsu Superline Swim Bait Jighead.

These jig heads have Gamakatsu’s top-of-the-line hooks with an ultra-life like head design that looks like a fish head, plus a great spring-type holder so your baits don’t slide down during the retrieve.

Cast these small swim baits to ditches and bluff walls. Keep your boat out in the middle of the ditches or position your boat just a half a cast away on bluff wall banks and work your lures either in the middle of the ditch or parallel to the banks when your fishing bluff walls.

Pay close attention to the depth that fish appear on your finder or when you get bites. Then make a cast and count your lure down to those depths about a foot a second before starting your retrieve for the best results.

Some of the areas we have fished seem to show a thermocline on our electronics.

What I have been seeing is a congregation of baitfish hovering at around 25-feet deep with larger predator fish hovering under them.

That tells me my best depth to fish is at that depth (25-feet or deeper).

Every time I have seen this in the past week, we were in areas where there was stained water close to where the water flow was muddy from rain inflow.

I believe what is happening is that the water in these areas has color changes from rain inflow that occurring in layers under water. 

Plus, it is about time the winter thermocline is setting up too.

We should expect that the deeper fishing will only get better as winter continues to cool the surface layers.

Other methods that have worked successfully include casting a SPRO Little John DD.

Reel these lures down to the bottom and allow it to dig up rock in 15-20 feet of water.

Lanier’s’ big spotted and largemouth feast on crawfish and big gizzard shad so use crank baits in either shad colors or crayfish colors and let the fish that bite tell you which color they prefer.

We have also saved the day by fishing with a Lanier Baits Finesse worm on a Gamakatsu Alien Jig Head around rocky, steep banks or deeper docks with planted brush piles around them.

Always dip your worms in an attractant like JJ’s Magic to add color to your worms as well as a garlic sent that bass seem to love.

I haven’t seen many reports on night fishing, but if you get out after dark in winter, you will have the whole lake to yourself.

Remember that studies show that the biggest bass turn nocturnal and revert to feeding only in low light or after dark.

Lures like Georgia Blade Premium Night Time Spinner Bait or a SPRO Little John DD in crawfish patterns will produce big fish after dark in the winter.

Cast these lures and allow them to come in contact with the bottom, then crank them slowly, just fast enough to feel a wobble.

Striper fishing is very good for anglers who can locate large numbers or schools of striped bass that are feeding on shad and herring.

If you are not catching fish, then search around until you locate them.

These hungry predators are often pelagic, which basically means the fish do not relate to any one given area, but instead follow the baitfish that they feed upon.

Even anglers who fish daily can’t always rely on where they caught fish previously.

Uplake creeks and in the areas of the lake where the water is stained but not muddy have had better success.

Areas that are flowing mud or deep-clear water down lake haven’t held the stripers as well as in the stained water.

There are still plenty of fish being caught below Browns Bridge, but many are way in the backs of the lower lake creeks.

Start your days searching out water color transition areas or areas where clearer or stained water meet either clear or muddier water.

Also use the gulls and loons and confirm with your electronics before deploying your live baits.

Just remember that the anglers who fish where the fish are located are the anglers that catch more fish.

I would rather spend a 3 of the 4 hours on a guided-fishing trip driving around for three hours and then catch fish after fish for an hour than spend all four hours sitting in the same areas and fishing without success.

I fish that way too.

We will often keep moving while we watch our electronics until we find fish.

It’s something you have to get used to successfully target these pelagic nomad schools of stripers on Lake Lanier.

The gulls and loons, as well as my Lowrance Electronics have been showing fish grouped up in the middle of the creek coves as well as narrow creek entrances and long ditches that have running water feeding into them.

Water entering the lake washes food and plankton that baitfish eat into our lake.

Sure, the striper schools can also be found on the main lake, but knowing that the baitfish are grouped up in areas where fresh water is entering the lake will give anglers who only fish on the weekends a place to start.

Once you locate a large school of fish, then it is time to deploy you down lines.

Because the majority of fish are deep, down lines have been working best.

Set your down lines at around 25 feet and experiment with the depth and pay attention to which baits and what depth they are when these fish bite.

Then place the other lines at the same depth to repeat this success.

The best live baits have been downlines rigged with medium-to-large minnows purchased from your local tackle store.

Herring continue to work, but a lot of stripers as well as bass are clued in on smaller shad schools.

Use minnows around 2-3 inches long to match the size of these shad perfectly

Trolling smaller umbrella rigs has worked well while you’re searching for and even once your locate active fish.

We refer to these castable multi lures as an A-Rig.

I use either a Yum Flash Mob A-Rig or a Captain Macks Mini Umbrella Rig rigged with Little Swimmers.

These multi-lure rigs have small willow leaf blades.

When you see how these rigs look and come alive in the water, you will understand why they work so well.

They look exactly like a school of minnows that these fish swim through to eat.

The stripers are being caught both in clear and very-stained water.  

The fish seem to be grouped up well in large schools.  

If you find the bait, the stripers should be around somewhere close by.

Don’t get too married to an area where they might have been previously.

Instead, use your electronics to show you what the fish are doing right now.

The fish have been schooled up well in the creeks and in the rivers.

Target areas where the clear water meets stained water or also where the stained water meets the muddy water.

Gulls and loons continue to hang around the same areas where the baitfish and stripers.

Hopefully between seeing birds, fishing water-color transition zones and in the areas your electronics confirm the fish are, you can’t go wrong.

Several baits will work but you can’t go wrong starting out with medium-to-large shiners and blueback herring.

Anglers who are targeting larger fish can step up to a larger gizzard shad or live trout to provoke bigger stripers.

Both flat lines, planner boards and down lines will work.

Start out by fishing your baits a little above where you mark fish, then adjust deeper until you get a strike.

Unlike my conventional wisdom, the deeper fish may be easier to fool.

There have been some massive schools hanging over a 60-foot bottom that show up from top to bottom on the screen,

Remember that the water may be stained on the surface and actually clearer below.

In this case, fishing deeper may produce better results.

Crappie fishing is actually pretty good.

I got the chance to witness one angler who uses forward-scanning sonar to locate and catch fish.

He positioned his boat along docks and scanned forward under them to see fish that showed up on his screen.

We saw fish on his finder under a dock in 30-feet of water.

The school of crappie showed up from 10-feet on down to the bottom.

It was very effective as he could watch fish on the screen as the image shown is in real time.

Because forward-scan technology shows fish moving around in real time, it’s like watching a television set.

You could even see the fish as they bite and were reeled up to the boat. I was trained on this technology when Garmin first created it and regularly fish with friends and clients boats that have it.

Now several manufacturers offer forward-scan technology and I will be getting it very soon.

The crappie have been both shallow (less than 25-feet) and deep (up to 50-feet).  

Once you locate them, it is hard for these fish to ignore live crappie minnows or freshly netted threadfin shad.

Hook a live minnow through the lips or under the back dorsal fin.

He also had success with a small crappie jig.

Tip your jigs with a live crappie minnow to increase your odds for success.

Drop your lures or live baits into the school and you will get a bite.

These fish on the bottom would eat a lure better than the fish that were suspended. Remember when you catch one crappie, there will probably be a school of 25, or more, fish in the same spot.

You can email Eric Aldrich at esaldrich@yahoo.com with comments or questions.

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