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Lake Lanier Fishing Report: Colder weather brings opportunities to find catfish
Eric Aldrich
Local bass angler Eric Aldrich poses with a fish he caught. - photo by For The Times

Lake Lanier’s water level is holding very steady and is at 1,065.95, or 5.05 feet below our normal full pool of 1,071. Main lake surface temperatures have been in the upper 40s with pockets of much colder water located in some coves and also up lake.

The main lake and creeks mouths are mostly clear. The creeks, pockets and rivers are slightly stained. The Chattahoochee River is clear. Check generation schedules before heading out to the river by calling 770-945-1466. 

Bass Fishing: Water temperatures in the 40s mean we anglers need to slow down and fish as slowly and deeply as possible, right? Not necessarily! 

We have been scoring some big fish working jerk baits, crank baits and swim baits on under-spins along steep bluff walls, beside deeper docks and sea walls all over the lake.

The weapon of choice for me is no surprise. Casting a SPRO McStick 110 has worked for the biggest fish of the week in my Nitro Z8. Other brands will work too, but I just have the most confidence in that McStick. Cast your jerk baits parallel to bluff wall and docks and work them with a jerk-jerk-pause retrieve.

The cadence of how long you pause your lures depends entirely on what the fish prefer at any given time. During less active feeding times, a longer pause may work better. Make sure to watch your line because most of your hits will occur when the lure is paused. 

With my Kissel Kraft Custom Rod rigged with 12-pound Sunline Fluorocarbon, I can actually feel the bite even on slack line.

Bass relate to steep banks in the coldest months in winter. It’s not unusual to catch a bass from six feet deep located in water deeper than 40 feet around a steep bluff wall, drop-offs or deeper docks. Bass will suspend along the deeper drop-offs because they can move shallow to deep quickly while expending very little effort. They also like to suspend around black dock floats because these warm the water around them.

The jig has been another great lure to work in the ditches and also along deeper drop-offs like the areas mentioned above. You can use the standard jig-and-trailer combo like a ½-ounce Strike King Pro Model rigged with a Big Bites Yo Mama trailer. 

I also like throwing bigger jig heads like a ¼-ounce Gamakatsu Alien Head rigged with a Flying Squirrel trailer of a Big Bites ¼-ounce Fin Twist Screw Jig Head with a Fighting Frog Trailer. I dip all my jig trailers in red JJ’s Magic to match the red tips of the crawfish on Lake Lanier in winter.

Work the drop-offs from 20 to 45 feet deep around ditch channels, creeks and bluff walls. Just drag your jig and don’t impart any extra action. Crawfish just crawl slowly along the bottom unless they are threatened. If you get a bite but miss, just drop your rod back down — the same fish may come back and give you a second chance.

Striper fishing has rated from great to tough depending on whom you speak with and how and where they are fishing. 

Remember that for the most part stripers are pelagic. This means they don’t hang around any specific areas but instead relate to bait fish and also to other factors like the best water temperatures and water oxygen levels.

So an area that was alive with activity may be devoid of life within the next day. Anglers must be willing to search for fish instead of relying on yesterday’s or last week’s locations. It’s pretty basic: Find the bait fish, and the stripers should be close by.

Continue to watch your Humminbird Depth Finders and keep an eye out for birds and even surfacing fish. I was running up the lake recently and could see stripers swirling and blowing up on bait in the back of a cove a few hundred yards away. 

These shallow fish were suckers for a ½-ounce SPRO Bucktail with a small Cane Stick trailer. There were no birds, and these fish were located in less than 15 feet of water, so seeing them was the only way I would have ever found them. Always keep an eye peeled for fish.

For the most part, live bait rigged on flat- and down-lines continues to be the most consistent method for catching stripers this time of year. Keep an open mind and trust your electronics. 

I use my Humminbird’s Side Imaging set to 120 feet to view a 240-foot wide path. I spilt the screen and use both Side Imaging and Down Imaging. With this technology, I can see both bait fish and stripers, so it’s a fantastic tool for locating fish. 

Pay close attention when you see readings that look like balls because this can often be an indicator that stripers are corralling bait. You can set a waypoint so you can steer your boat directly over where you mark fish.

Once you locate feeding fish, drop flat- or down-lines depending on the depth you mark fish. Herring, medium shiners, trout and even gizzard shad have all been working well. Smaller baits seem to be working better, but always set out a big bait fish to trigger those bigger fish into biting. Trolling Captain Mack’s umbrella rigs is a time-tested way to both locate and catch fish on Lake Lanier.

Crappie Fishing: Not many reports are coming out for crappie fishing this week. 

With the extreme cold temperatures, crappie can be very finicky. That being said, you can bet there are some dedicated “perch jerkers” that are catching them in the deeper brush and by shooting small jigs under docks.

Trout fishing has been up-and-down, but they will bite in the coldest days in winter. Fish with live red wigglers or worms you catch in your own backyard fished on a bottom-rig. Use a ¼-ounce split shot a foot or two above your worm and hook, and use light 4–to-6-pound test. 

As always, make sure live bait is legal where you are fishing. Corn or Berkley Power Nuggets will also work for live-bait fishing,

Wet flies fished along the bottom below the runs and rapids are fooling some trout this week. Also try casting a small minnow plug upstream and work them with a jerk-and-pause retrieve just like a jerk bait.

Bank Fishing: With the colder weather, it’s a great time to fish for catfish. Catfish will hang around in deeper holes in the channels or on smaller lakes.

Get some chicken livers or cut bait and rig them on a Carolina Rig, a 1-ounce weight with a swivel on the main line and a 3-foot leader and hook below it. With this style of rig, you can make long casts out deeper.

Look for steep banks because this will often be the closest to drop-offs in the lake of rivers you fish. Secure your rods with a PVC pipe rod holder and wait. Catfish are smell-feeders, and they will find your bait within an hour. If you don’t get a bite in an hour, pack up and move to the next productive area.

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. He would love to hear from his readers, so please email him at esaldrich@yahoo.com Remember to take a kid fishing.

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