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Lake Lanier fishing report: Colder temperatures leading to more success in deeper waters
Eric Aldrich
Local bass angler Eric Aldrich poses with a fish he caught. - photo by For The Times

Water Conditions:  Lake Lanier’s water level is just barely under full pool at 1,070.83 feet, which is .17 feet below the full pool of 1,071. Water temperatures have fallen from last week into the upper 40s. The main lake and creek mouths are clear to slightly stained, and the creeks and rivers are slightly to very stained from recent rains. The Chattahoochee River below Buford Dam is mostly clear. Check generation schedules before heading out to the river by calling 770-945-1466.

Bass fishing has been a little tougher with the colder weather that blew in last week. The water temperatures fell into the upper 40s after the cold fronts blew in. The shallow water fishing really slowed down a lot but the deeper bite should really turn on. Since the water temperatures fell into the 40s, most of the fish we have boated have come from water in 25 to 55 feet deep.

We have been concentrating on the bluff walls and deep ditches where rock and wood are present. Bottom bumping lures like jigs, drop shots or just a plain crawdad imitator on a heavy stand up jig head have all been scoring a few fish. My go to lure this past week has been a Big Bites Yo Momma or Fighting Frog on a 1/4th-ounce Big Bites Fintwist stand up jig head. 

Cast these bottom bumping lures out and stair step them down the drops. Keep a drop shot ready to pick off any fish that appear on your electronics. Target steep transition areas where clay meets rock or where small rocks and pebbles meet larger bedrock. Pay close attention to the depth and location where you catch your fish. In the winter, bass tend to congregate in schools around deep drops. Make repeated casts to productive areas.

To be successful at fishing deep, it is imperative to employ the tools that we modern anglers are fortunate enough to have at our disposal. The large 12 and 16-inch screens on my Lowrance Electronics allow me to see both bass and bait fish. I can concentrate on high percentage areas and ignore the other 90% of locations that seem to be devoid of fish in winter.

Once you locate the bass, it pays to use the most sensitive rod and line available. I fish a Shimano or Abu Garcia Baitcast reel spooled with Sunline Fluorocarbon line along with a super sensitive Kissel Krafts Custom Rod. I can slow down and almost count the rocks as my lure descends down the drops. Most of the bites in winter will be very soft and all you will feel is pressure. An old fishing adage says hook sets are free, so when in doubt, set the hook! 

In winter, the moving fronts and air temperatures will be up and down, so keep an open mind. On sunny days, the rocks and dock floats will warm the water around them and bass may gravitate to these areas on warm afternoons. Keep an assortment of crank baits, jerk baits, spoons or small swimbaits or even a spy bait on deck. Testing different techniques will often allow you to catch bass on something the fish are not “supposed to be doing” in cold water.

Stripers fishing has been a little sketchy this past week, with the cold fronts we have encountered. Winter fishing can be feast or famine. When the wind blows, it can affect your fishing or just make it tough on anglers because it’s so darn cold! Add to that the rain inflow on the north end and in the backs of some main lake creeks have the water pretty stained from recent rain inflow.  

The good news is that these conditions often concentrate stripers and the bait they are feeding upon. Set up your Structure Scan and idle productive areas. Check areas where shallow ditches meet deeper creek or river channels. Check in the mouths of the pockets and midway back into the creeks. Visually scan the water and look for areas where stained inflow water meets the clearer lake water. The photo qualities I see on my Lowrance Units can often key me the type of fish that are down there. Don’t stop until you locate the bait and stripers!

With lake temperatures falling quickly as they have this past week, the shad and herring will slow down and some will even die off. These conditions allow stripers prime opportunities for an easy meal. Determine the depth where you are marking fish and use down lines or flat lines depending on where the fish are positioned in the water column. Live herring and small trout have been the best baits to use, but don’t be afraid to search for a big bite with a large trout or gizzard shad set under a balloon. 

Don’t give up the trolling bite. Stripers will strike umbrella rigs any time of the year, and winter can be the most productive time to pull them. With the moving fronts, stripers often move around from shallow to deep water and migrate from one area to another. Trolling allows you to fish while covering water. 

Crappie fishing should be picking up soon but fishing has been hit and miss. Varying water conditions have the crappie moving around a little in search of bait fish. That being said, docks that were holding fish last week may still be holding fish this week. 

Target docks in the creeks where the water is stained but not muddy. The crappie will move a little shallower in stained water, and you can usually locate fish around docks with brush from 10 to 25 feet around brush piles.

Cast or shoot small 1/32nd-ounce marabou jigs around the docks or try a small crappie minnow or shad rigged a foot below a light split shot sinker on light line and get it down into the brush on the bottom.

Bank Fishing: The Chattahoochee River below Buford Dam is an awesome resource located right in our backyards. If you like to fly fish, then winter is a great time to be on the water. The river is much less crowded in winter, and when it runs clear in you can bet the trout will be biting. Don’t be in too much of a hurry to get out early, as the fish will often bite better on warmer afternoons. You can work upstream and look for any trout “rising” on small insect hatches. Both dry flies and wet flies can work but try to match the hatch. Make up river casts to eddies located behind current breaks. Rocks, boulders and even logs in the water provide prime areas where the fish will hang out and ambush prey as it washes down the river. 

Spinning anglers will not be left out. On the coldest days in the winter, shad will die off and get washed through the dam. These small, silver shad provide an easy meal for trout below the dam race. One method I have had success with is to cast a small silver Countdown Rapala up stream and work it with a jerk and pause retrieve back down stream. You will be very surprised at how hard a trout will hit these tiny jerk baits. Fishing with a 1/8th-ounce silver and white Rooster Tail is also hard to beat. Retrieve these inline spinners just fast enough to keep the blades spinning.

Eric Aldrich is an outdoor writer, marketing specialist, guide and bass angler. He is currently booking teaching trips for Lake Lanier’s spotted and largemouth bass. Reports are based on personal experience and permission from a close network of friends. He would love to hear from his readers, so please e-mail him at esaldrich@yahoo.com. Remember to take a kid fishing! 

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