The new year has arrived and lake water temperatures are all over the place this week. There is still some ice melting in the back of the coves, with the main lake sitting around the mid 40s.
Lake Lanier’s water level is Ú-foot below full pool at 1,070.75 feet, but more rain is projected and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers continues to pull a lot of water to get Lanier down low enough ahead of the spring rains. The lake is clear on main lake and in the mouths of the creeks and stained in the backs of the creeks.
The rivers are stained. The Chattahoochee River is clear below Buford Dam. Check generation schedules before heading out to the river by calling 770-945-1466.
Bass: Many hardcore anglers may have considered buying an ice auger and an enclosed ice fishing shanty like they do up north this past week, but the warming weather and rain inflow will soon knock out any ice that is left on the surface.
The type of cold we had this past week rarely happens and I even stayed home during the single digits.
But, the engine got warmed up yesterday and the fishing has changed again.
When we get a cold spell like this, a lot of fish will move deep and kind of huddle together, like us humans, to stay warm. Some fish will always remain shallow, but the majority move into deeper water where the temperatures are more stable.
First, the frigid cold will often cause a shad kill, and when this happens bass can just hang out deep on the bottom and eat shad as they decend from the surface. This scenario sets up the perfect storm for fishing a jigging spoon.
Use your electronics to find the shad schools more than 30 to as much as 60 feet deep.
Drop a Hopkins or other model spoon down to the bottom, jerk it up and let it fall where you mark bass and shad.
Try to vary the speed and let your strikes be the indicator of what works best. You can also use a SPRO Buck Tail Jig or a standard jig n’ pig in this same scenario.
The second pattern that many anglers ignore is to use live bait and vary your setup with flat lines (with no weight) or down lines (with weight) and see what the bass prefer. Many anglers catch bass when using live bait while fishing for stripers.
Use a Gamakatsu Circle hook if you plan to release your catch. When bass eat live bait, the same fish will often strike artificial lures like crank baits, buck tails or other shad imitators.
There is a third pattern that can appear when the rain comes. Target areas that receive the warmer rain inflow and fish a finesse worm on a Gamakatsu Alien Head or other jig head in the ditches, where the rain flows into the lake.
This rain runoff water will be warmer than the lake water, and it will be high in oxygen, often bringing food like earth worms or insect along with it.
Bass will eat terrestrials but so will the prey fish that they target, so they will have plenty of reasons to hang out around these warmer rain inflows.
Stripers: This past week’s brutal cold spell may have pushed some stripers a little deeper to eat shad, but the voracious spot fish are used to the cold.
In summer, stripers actually seek the coldest water, so 45 degree surface temperatures are no problem for them and they are still feeding close to the surface in many areas.
Live bait is usually the choice of striper anglers. Store-bought trout or shiners are easy to keep alive and healthy in the winter.
A regular boat’s aerators’ live well or even a five-gallon bucket with small battery-powered aerators is all that is needed to get your bait to that awesome honey hole on Lake Lanier.
I fished for striper almost exclusively in the 1970s, 80s and early ‘90s, and store bought bait was a staple.
In 2014, the bait still works very well. Blueback herring were introduced illegally in the late 90’s and will require a little more effort to keep alive in a tank, but they survive best during the winter.
A larger circular live well with an air stone and salt or chemical additives are best for keeping these striper lively, and most local tackle stores offer many options and great advice on your setup.
The above baits and also native gizzard and threadfin shad are working well this week, including on flat lines, planner boards, balloon floats and weighted down lines.
Use your Humminbird Electronics and watch the gulls, loons and other aquatic birds to locate the best areas.
Some guides are really starting to pull umbrella rigs, and I have seen this tactic outperform live bait many times.
Use a 3-, 4- or 5-arm umbrella rig equipped with buck tail or swim baits and troll them around 1 « to 2 miles per hour at the depth where the fish appear on your electronics.
Crappie fishing is slow. They can be caught, but you may need to slow down your presentation and even use live crappie minors or shad. The trick will be to work your baits slowly in front of the schools of fish that should be grouped up around deeper brush.
Trout fishing is just OK on the Chattahoochee River, but I saw an 8-pound rainbow that was caught up on in the mountains this past week.
Trout are definitely a cold water fish and they thrive in the winter. Use wet flies, small crank baits or in line spinners and work them above, in and below rocky rapids.
Bank Fishing: Bank anglers will do well in winter using live bait as discussed in my striper report, but there is a new option available for anglers without a boat — the Alabama Rig.
An Alabama Rig is just a small, cast able version of an umbrella rig. The biggest concern will be losing every now and then but the good news is that the market is flooded with the rigs and they can be purchased very inexpensively.
Just add several of your favorite buck tails or swim baits, use a heavy action rod and heavy line and cast it around any gulls you see diving close to the bank.
It may wear your arm out casting one but you may also be rewarded with a real workout when a big striper strikes.
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 visit his website at aldrichfishing.com.