The summer of 2006 is turning out to be extremely hot and unusually dry…. not exactly the kind of weather conditions that one dreams about for trout fishing. But, the hotter the air temperature, the better trout fishing becomes on north Georgia’s Lake Burton. In fact, because trout fishing can really heat up on Lake Burton during the “dog days” of summer, I changed the title from the “dog days” of summer to the “trout days” of summer, at least on Lake Burton.
Lake Burton is a 2,785-acre reservoir located between Clayton and Hiawassee, and it supports Georgia’s only large-reservoir trout fishery. The mountain streams flowing into the lake provide a continuous supply of cool, well-oxygenated water that allows the lake to support trout year round. Toss in a bountiful food supply in the form of energy-rich blueback herring, then add 20,000 or 30,000 brown trout each year that are graciously stocked by DNR, and you have all the ingredients to make a great reservoir trout fishery.
One of the best anglers that I know at catching brown trout on Lake Burton is Larry Brewer of Lakemont. Larry is an avid local angler who fishes for a wide variety of species on the mountain lakes, but his specialty is trout. BIG trout! Over the last few years, Larry has earned a number of bragging rights. His most recent claim to fame is that he holds the current lake record for brown trout on Lake Burton, which weighed 11-lbs., 2-ozs. He also caught three 10-lb. trout in one day on Lake Burton, which is a feat unequaled. Last but not least, his fishing log book contains an impressive his- tory of daily catch rates that average well over one fish per hour, which the bass boys can only dream about. Anybody with those achievements certainly earned the right to be called a trout-fishing expert on Lake Burton. Larry’s on a mission to catch a brown trout in Lake Burton over 14 pounds, and he is convinced there are several of that size and larger roaming the lake.
I was able to catch up with Larry a couple of weeks ago while he was fishing for brown trout. A day with him on the lake proved to me that a pontoon boat has more uses than just sunset cruises with your sweetie and pulling the grandkids across the lake on an inner-tube. As we motored down the lake toward the dam at 7:30 a.m., the first tropical storm of the season was spitting rain and blowing wind across the mountains. Larry had observed schools of small blueback herring around the face of the dam earlier in the week. Knowing that brown trout track blueback herring like a beagle on a hot rabbit trail, he thought the dam would be a good place to do some downlining. Although the surface temperature was 78 degrees, which is way too warm for trout, the presence of blueback herring in the area was an encouraging sign.
Larry’s No. 1 bait is a large, freshly caught blueback herring. Unfortunately, large bluebacks have been very hard to find andcatch this year, so Larry has switched to medium-sized golden shiners. The tackle we used for downlining was a medium-action spin- ning rod and matching reel. The reel was spooled with 8-lb. test florocarbon line. The terminal tackle consisted of a three-inch sliding barrel float with glass beads above and below it, and a couple of split shots crimped on the line below the float about 18 inches above the hook. Larry’s choice of hooks was a No. 6 Owner straight- shanked worm hook. Larry was sold on the Owner brand because its extra- sharp point ensured a good hook set.
Although the rigging is simple, the skill comes in knowing where to fish and what depth to fish. On this day, we fished a variety of depths ranging from 20 to 35 feet. To achieve the proper depth, Larry pulled off the desired length of line and tied a rubber band onto it at that spot. In the water, the knotted rubber band would stop the barrel float from threading farther up the line and allow the live bait to sus- pend in the water column at the target depth. As we would learn throughout our morning, 25 feet would prove to be the magic depth.
Larry hooked a lively shiner through the nose and tossed it about 30 feet away from the boat toward the face of the dam. Larry felt that it was also critical to keep the downlines away from the boat since brown trout have a notorious reputation for being boat shy. The winds from Tropical Storm Alberto were gusting about 15 mph, so Larry used the trolling motor to keep us from drifting too fast. We crept along very slowly down the face of the dam, then out to the buoy line and back to the dam again. On a couple of occasions, the shiner danced around nervously, but after 30 minutes and no strikes, Larry was ready to move on.
Because trout swim in small schools all around the open waters of Lake Burton, it often takes a lot of moving around to find some fish that are willing to take the bait.
Although I had high hopes for our live-bait tactics, the gusty winds made it difficult to move at the snail’s pace that Larry desired. So, we reeled in the lines and implemented Plan B—trolling with spoons.
Having spent my life fishing farm ponds for bass, bream, and catfish, trolling with spoons was a new experience for me. My first glance at the small arsenal of stamped out pieces of thin metal with hooks lying in Larry’s plastic tackle tray made me think that my chances of winning the lottery were better than my odds of catching a fish with one of those things. Larry assured me that it would work, and he was confident we would catch fish.
Larry tied on a No. 4 Krocodile Spoon in a mackerel-blue color pattern to his two, thick-butted trolling rods. The mackerel-blue pattern closely matched the natural appearance and size of the blueback herring in Lake Burton. Krocodile Spoons are a type of flutter spoon made by Luhr-Jensen Co. that is designed to wobble from side- to-side when trolled at slow speeds. It’s hard to believe that dragging a three- inch long piece of wobbling blue metal through open water could catch a trout, but the next three hours would make me a believer.
For trolling, Larry used Ambassadeur 5500 C baitcasting reel spooled with 14-lb. test monofilament and tipped with a 6-foot long, 8-lb. test florocarbon leader. Larry felt that the florocarbon leader was a very important part of his rigging. We peeled off about 70 feet of line then attached the monofilament to the downrigger ball with a light-duty rubber band that was snugged tightly to the line and then looped onto the downrigger clip. I appreciated this cheap and idiot-proof trick. Larry had used many types of downrigger releases over the years until he stumbled across this rubber-band technique. Now, all those fancy releases just collect dust in the bottom of his tackle box. Larry told me that the rubber band usually breaks when the fish strikes.
We lowered one downrigger ball to 30 feet and the other to 20 feet. Larry eased the throttle forward to engage the motor at idle speed, which maintained a velocity of 3 mph. Larry pointed the bow of the boat upstream and maintained a position in the open waters over the river channel where the bottom depths ranged from 80 to 100 feet deep.
At 9:00 a.m., we had just trolled past Murray Cove when the rod tip on the port side twitched a few times, indicating a strike. I quickly took the rod from its holder and set the hook. After several cranks on the reel, the fish surfaced about 50 feet away from the boat trying to shake the treble hook embedded in its jaw. One minute later, an 18-inch brown trout weighing about two pounds was in the boat.
Over the next three hours, we idled from Billy Goat Island to the mouth of Moccasin Cove and caught several more fish in the 12- to 16-inch range. Almost every time, the rubber band would snap or the rod tip would twitch to indicate a strike. We experimented with different depths until we zeroed in on 25 feet as the magic depth. Based on the depthfinder readings, schools of herring were suspended at about 21 feet, and the trout were hovering just a few feet below the herring.
Larry gauged our success as a little slower than average, but I was pleased that we caught eight fish. As summer pro- gresses, Larry reassured me that the fishing would get better.
Let’s recap the key points that can make your trout fishing trip to Lake Burton this summer more successful.
• Tip No. 1 –
Bait Selection. In Lake Burton, brown trout feed almost exclusively on blue- back herring, so use baits that mimic blueback herring. First, try castnetting for bluebacks at night around the dam or the mouth of a feeder stream. If that does not work, try using a Sabiki bait-catching jig. This small jig is designed for catching herring. Tie three or four Sabiki jigs onto ultralight tackle and vertically jig near the dam at night between the surface and 25 feet. When you hook one fish, keep jigging with the fish on because it will entice others to take the jigs. Catching herring with jigs can be a blast, especially when there are three or four fish on at the same time. Sabiki jigs can be found and pur- chased over the internet by searching on Sabiki jigs. If you are still deter- mined to use live bait and cannot find bluebacks, then medium-shiners are your best alternative.
Larry’s Plan B was to use a No. 4 Krocodile Spoon in a blue mackerel color pattern. These spoons are sold through Cabelas stores, catalogs, and websites. Plan B turned out to be a good choice for us. Trolling at speeds of 2- to 3-mph allowed the fluttering action of the spoon to draw several strikes throughout the morning. Larry admits that other spoons like a Sutton Spoon or Doctor Spoon are equally effective at certain times.
• Tip No. 2 – Proper Depth. Depth control is critical. Having the right bait is useless unless it is presented at the correct depth. Trout prefer cold water, ranging from 55 to 65 degrees. In most summers on Lake Burton, trout usually find their preferred temperature between 20 and 30 feet deep. The best way to ensure proper depth control is with a downrigger. It is worth the investment of time and money to learn to use this simple and useful device. Also, observing where baitfish are located on the fishfinder can help you zero in on the magic depth. Browns will suspend just a few feet below the schooling bait.
• Tip No. 3 – Keep Moving. It is important to keep moving and cover a lot of territory because trout in Lake Burton are schooling in open water at the middle depths as they prowl around for blueback herring to fill their hungry bellies. From July through September, the browns are squeezed into a relatively narrow band of water from Murray Cove and Billy Goat Island to the dam. This band contains the necessary cold water and dissolved oxygen that are essential for trout to survive the summer in this reservoir. With trout hemmed up in a relatively small area, the odds of hooking one increase greatly.
Experimenting with these reservoir trout-fishing tips will get you down the road to becoming an expert trout angler on Lake Burton. While you’re out there, look for Larry in his pontoon boat. He’ll be the guy with the downriggers trolling for that elusive 14-lb. brown. Maybe this will
be the summer, Larry.