Water temperatures are about 10 degrees below normal for this time of year and remain around 50 degrees. The lake level is looking very good at 1,069.5 or 1 1/2 feet below full pool. We are only one hard rain away from being completely full. The main lake water is clear down lake and stained up lake. The lower lake creeks are clear in the mouths and stained in the backs, and the upper lake creeks and rivers are stained. The Chattahoochee River below Buford dam is clear.
Bass: The much colder than normal weather and cold water temperatures are keeping the majority of Lake Lanier’s bass population from moving shallow. That being said, bass are like all of God’s other creatures and they are ready for spring. We all feel the longer days and see signs that spring and it is around the corner.
The first wave of smaller males is starting to move up to the flats and around shallow docks this week. We have started to catch pretty good numbers of keeper bass in shallower water. Most of the fish are in the 1-3 pound range. This is the time of year to get out your finesse fishing rods and hit the docks. These shallow fish are relating to docks, but they will roam between them during the day.
I have concentrated on three methods for catching these pre-spawn bass: A shaky head and finesse worm combination, a jerk bait and a medium-diving, small-crank bait. Cast the shaky heads around the docks and work them back to the boat or bank, while keeping them in contact with the bottom. A lot of your strikes will occur on the initial fall, so watch you line closely and set the hook if anything feels funny. I like to use a 1/8-ounce head for a slower fall. I have been casting a SPRO McStick jerk bait along the sides and also in between the docks and have alternated between a slow-and-steady or a jerk-and-pause retrieve. My small crank bait choices are a Bandit 300 or SPRO Little John MD. Try to make your crank baits to dig in to the bottom for the best results.
The larger females have been harder to catch. We have caught some of the bigger spotted bass out on main lake points and down deeper in the ditches leading into the spawning coves. The jerk bait has been and excellent choice to cast on windy points. Use a jerk and pause retrieve and hold on because these fish tent to be bigger in the 2-5 pound range. A Fish Head Spin, drop shot rig or a football head jig will work well for the females that are holding out deeper. Your electronics are key tools for finding them and my Humminbird 998c with side imaging narrows down the time it takes to search for the right areas. Once I locate a good looking area, I can switch over to the traditional two-dimensional screen and scan for actual fish.
The night time crank bait and spinner bait bite for bass is hit and miss, but we have caught some big spotted and largemouth bass while casting McSticks for stripers. Please wear your life jackets while fishing after dark.
Striper fishing has been very consistent and patterns have not really changed during the day. The mornings have started with stripers up shallow, but an adjustment may need to happen when the sun gets high. If it is overcast, you may be able to stay shallow all day long.
While a lot of the stripers are shallow in the water column, they are out roaming over deeper water in the creek and ditch channels and in the mouths of the coves. Continue to use flat lines and planner boards in the mornings and throughout the day. Watch your electronics and be willing to put some baits down deeper. Herring have continued to be the better baits. Trout, large shiners and live and cut gizzard shad will work too. Other methods are also producing striped bass. Trolling an umbrella rig or casting an Alabama Rig, casting buck tail jigs and the old reliable Bomber Long A will work day and night.
Keep an eye on the birds. Gulls, loons, heron and king fishers are the real professional anglers, and they have to catch fish to survive. If these birds are active in the areas you are fishing, then you are in the right place. Keep a close eye on your Humminbird graphs, too.
The night bite is on fire right now and I expect it to continue until water temperatures hit 60 degrees. While many anglers rely on jerk baits like the Bomber Long A, McStick or Smethwick Rogues other lures like buck tails, swim baits and even a large Rooster Tail will often out produce the traditional lures, especially in high-pressure areas like the Dam or Flat Creek. Please remember to practice smart boating and keep your lights and life preservers on. The life you save may be your own.
Crappie fishing is very good and there are some decent schools of fat, pre-spawn crappie in the coves. Hopefully you have practiced your casting and shooting as many of the tasty fish are around the docks. Shoot 1/16-to 1/32-ounce marabou or Hal Fly jigs around docks that have brush around them. Here is an old secret my buddy taught me: Many of Lake Lanier’s older docks have not had their floats updated to the black encased ones that are required by law. Very often beavers will eat into these old white Styrofoam floats and you can often see fresh cut and older twigs that make up a beaver hutch. These are crappie hot spots. I have caught many fish around them since he shared that information.
Trolling or lake raking has been producing numbers of fish. Look for coves where the water has some stain and troll in front of the docks and out over the flats. Pay attention. If you catch a couple of crappie quickly and make sure to go back over those same areas. Crappie are schooling fish and where there is one there are probably a hundred more in that same school.
Trout season officially starts Saturday and fishing is very good. A large majority of trout waters are legally fishable year round, but some are only open during the official season that ends late in September. This season is an important time because the Department of Natural Resources stocks all trout waters — year-round and seasonal ones — heavily in spring.
These newly stocked trout are dumb and hungry, which makes them much easier to catch. Live baits like worms, corn or power nuggets are all good choices, just make sure the waters you are fishing are not restricted to artificial lures only. Take a worm or other natural bait and thread it on a small hook and add a 1/4-ounce split shot about a foot above the hook. Cast these rigs downstream and hold on to your fishing pole and wait for a bite. There are many other methods to use for a successful trout fishing trip, so try your favorite method and adjust it as needed.
Bank Fishing: Trout fishing from the banks is a great way to spend the day. When I was a teenager, I would walk the banks of the Chattahoochee and fish for trout. Back then we could only fish during the open season. On opening day, anglers would be elbow to elbow on the banks. We usually caught our limit quickly because the trout had just been stocked and were easier to catch. Now that the Chattahoochee below Buford Dam is a year round fishery, you can find a secluded bank to fish from, even on opening day.
Areas that have rapids with a deep pool below them are great places to target. You can fish worms in the pools or cast a 1/8-ounce Rooster Tail through the rapids and in the deeper pools. Yo Suri Pins Minnows, Rapala Count Down Minnows and other small crank baits work very well for trout. Make sure you only use one rod per person and that you keep a hold of it. Fishing with multiple rods or using a twig or fishing pole holder, instead of a hand-held rod, is against state fishing regulations.
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.