For a fun fishing trip in April, remember Hollis Q. Lathem — or Lathem Reservoir as the local fishermen know it. The Cherokee County water-supply lake is full of fishing structure and bass, and no one knows that better than Jeff Southern of Kennesaw. Since the lake opened in 2002, Jeff has fished it weekly. On March 15, I was on the water with Jeff for a fishing tour of the 334-acre lake on the Cherokee/Dawson county line. We started fishing just past the dock at the ramp, working the wide, rounded point in front of the reservoir office.
“A lot of people go right past this place because it doesn’t look like much,” said Jeff. “But I have caught a lot of fish off of it, including a couple of four-pounders. The bank slopes off then drops into deeper water and there is some brush on it.”
Jeff loaned me a crankbait that is his favorite on Lathem, a Bandit 100 Series.
“When the bass are finicky, the Bandit will out-catch everything else,” he said. “But when the fish are hitting, a plastic worm is the thing to cast.”
Our first bass of the day hit the plug on this point. The fish was about 9-inches long — typical of most Lathem bass.
On my next cast to the same spot, I hooked up with another bass, a carbon copy of the first. We moved on to the base of the concrete catwalk out to the water-control tower and another short bass jumped the Bandit just off the bank.
Jeff says the area in front of the dam usually holds fish.
“If you have a kid to take fishing, this is a good spot to troll a crankbait,” he said.
As you cross the spillway, the first point has a few trees standing on it.
“This is usually a good spot,” said Jeff. “There is timber all over the lake, but if you can find isolated trees there will usually be bass on them.”
The first bay past the dam is an oddity. The wide cove, an emergency overflow area, is only about three- or four-feet deep from front to back, and the bottom is thick with grass and moss.
“Bass will bed in here like crazy, but it is hard to fish,” said Jeff. “Floating worms or Flukes are about all you can fish. Even a spinnerbait will get gummed up.”
The shallow flat drops abruptly into 20 feet of water, and that drop is a good place to find fish, says Jeff.
The banks to the north of the dam are steep, and we crossed the lake to find more shallow water. The backs of nearly every cove and cut are lined with timber. The tall, aging trees are so thick in many places that you can’t get a boat back in them. Generally Jeff fishes the edges. The trees can be a danger, too.
“I pulled a guy back to the ramp who had a tree break off and go through the bottom of his boat,” said Jeff.
On another windy day, he watched a tree topple over on the point he was fishing.
Lathem is a trolling-motor only lake. No gas engines are allowed. Jeff fishes from a 17-foot Bass Cat Phelix that he has rigged especially for trolling-motor-only fishing lakes. His “big” motor is a Briggs & Stratten E-tek 48-volt electric motor that will push the boat at 6 mph. For trolling-motor power, that’s blinding speed. Complete details about the boat and how he rigged it are available on Jeff’s website at <bassfishingnetwork.com>.
While small fish are the rule, there have been some big bass caught at Lathem. We fished a tree-lined point where Jeff’s partner caught an 8-pounder. The lake-record largemouth is a 10 1/2-pounder. Jeff and Lathem Reservoir Manager Ron Banks weighed the fish.
We moved on down the bank casting to trees and brush. Every spot looks like it should hold fish, and according to Jeff they usually do.
“In April, you can come up here and just about pick a place and catch fish,” he said. Twenty- to 40-fish days are the rule. On his best day, Jeff and his partner boated 80 bass.
The average bass, however, will be small. According to WRD Fisheries Biologist Kevin Dallmier, the granite substrate makes Lathem a relatively infertile lake that is unlikely to produce large numbers of big bass. There are plenty of small bass, however, and they are often eager to bite — and the best spots can sometimes be predictable.
“There is a place up here that I’ll give you first shot at,” said Jeff, as he reeled his plastic worm in. “There is a small cut with some exposed rock. It almost always has a fish on it.”
The cut was only four- or five-feet wide. I made a cast that plopped the Bandit down just past the rock. I turned the reel handle about three times and the line loaded up with the weight of a 10-inch bass.
“There is so little rock, that if you find some, you will almost always find fish,” said Jeff.
By mid morning we arrived at the waterfall pouring into the upper end of the lake.
“This is one of the best places on the lake,” said Jeff. “The fish like the moving water, and in the summer it is usually a degree or two cooler than the main lake,” said Jeff.
On my third or fourth cast into the whitewater, I hooked another small bass — No. 5 on the Bandit, and I was up five bass to nothing.
“I guess I am going to have to switch to the crankbait,” said Jeff.
Maybe. But he wasn’t getting the one he loaned me. The Bandit 100 I was throwing, a chartreuse back, pearl sides and an orange belly, is a shallow-running plug that is Jeff”s go-to bait if the fish are finicky. Deep-running plugs won’t work on most banks because of the collar of downed trees and brush that line the bank.
“If you throw a Shad Rap, you will be hung up all the time,” he said.
As we left the waterfall and rounded the first point to the right past the powerline, I missed a fish on another small patch of rock. Jeff threw a green-pumpkin worm in and pulled out a small bass. A cast or two later, he set the hook on another aggressive bass.
“That is usually the way it works,” he said. “If you catch one fish, there will be two or three.”
Plastic worms are Jeff’s primary bait at Lathem. Green pumpkin is a good color, he said. The No. 2 color at Lathem may be chartreuse pepper. The spotted bass seem to prefer it, he says. He fishes Zoom Finesse worms on a 1/0 hook. The main thing is to think small, he says.
“Most of the fish are small. I throw mostly smaller stuff because it catches more fish.”
We stopped at another point with a handful of rock showing at the waterline and a downed tree laying in the water. On six or seven casts with a Carolina-rigged, 4-inch Dead Ringer worm, in green pumpkin, Jeff landed four bass. Jeff had six bass, to my five — but who’s counting?
Jeff was fishing his Carolina rig with a two-foot leader of 12-lb. test line. His main line is 14-lb.
“There is so much brush that you need to keep your leader short or you will stay hung up,” he said. “The lighter leader lets me get my weight and swivel back some of the time.”
We turned right into the next cove and fished the right-hand bank, one of Jeff’s favorite banks for a bigger fish.
“When the water temperature gets over 60, I like to come down this bank with a Fluke and hit every bit of brush and wood,” he said.
The water temperature the day we fished ranged from 49 to 53 degrees. We caught three bass on the bank, all on Carolina rigs, but none of the bass were longer than 10 or 11 inches.
We did not catch a fish in the back of the cove, where a boat culvert leads to another section of the lake. Immediately in front of the culvert is a flat between the bank and an island that is reportedly an excellent place to catch big, bedding bream. The island would have been the end of a point, but the saddle was bulldozed. An old road bed that holds bass also crosses here.
Back out on the main lake, Jeff caught our 16th bass on a Carolina rig on what looks like a nondescript point. Beneath the surface, however, are a couple of ditches that hold fish.
We fished timber in a pocket on the main lake with no result, then motored down the lake. The open water in front of the dam is where the bass will school on top nearly every evening in the summer chasing shad, says Jeff. If you can get to them, they will hit a Fluke. Jeff usually pinches on a split-shot ahead of his Fluke to get it down in the clear water.
We ended our day on the point across from the boat ramp. We missed several bites on Carolina rigs before Jeff boated our 17th and final fish.
State fishing regulations apply on the lake, which means a bass must be 12-inches to be a keeper. We didn’t have one, but a 17-fish day is fun fishing even if the fish are small.
The fee to fish Lathem is $5 per vehicle. The lake is currently open from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m., but between Memorial Day and Labor Day, the lake will be open from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. For information, call the office at (770) 894-3356