“December is my favorite month to fish Sinclair,” Benny Lanning said as he threw a chrome-and-blue Rat-L-Trap toward a secondary point. “And when it’s drawn down, it is the hottest fishery you’ll ever find.”
The good news for anglers ready to hit the middle Georgia reservoir this month is the lake will be drawn down four feet starting December 1 for property owners to repair docks. The bad news is, access is severely limited. The ramp at Sinclair Marina will be open, and you might be able to launch at a couple of others when Georgia Power isn’t generating. If there is any way to get your boat in the water, go to Sinclair this month for the fishing action like most folks only dream about.
“When the lake is pulled down, the fish school up in the main lake, and you can catch bass until you are tired of catching them,” Benny told me on a trip in mid November.
I met Benny at Little River Park on Hwy 441 at about 7 a.m. one day to catch some bass and talk about tactics for filling the livewell on Sinclair in December.
Benny, who lives in Covington, has been fishing Sinclair for three decades, so he knows how to catch bass there any time of the year. In fact, his knowledge of the lake helped propel him to a second-place finish at a BFL tournament on the lake last year. Benny fishes BFL and B.A.S.S. events when he finds the time. He and partner Rick Hollingsworth are tied for seventh on GON’s Team Power Rankings with 32 overall points. Benny is tied for 15th on the Individual Power Rankings.
“I fished my first tournament on Lake Hartwell when I was 17 years old,” Benny recalled. “I reckon I’ve been fishing them ever since.”
He used to be on the water five days a week, especially after he retired. But Benny came out of retirement, opened his own concrete business, and now fishes a couple of days a week.
“I can’t stand to go at anything halfway, so I stay real busy,” Benny laughed.
He doesn’t go at his fishing halfway either. The day Benny had me in his boat, we stayed on the water eight and a half hours chasing large, acrobatic schools of shad back in pockets, and flipping worms and jigs under who-knows-how-many docks.
The morning began on the main lake not far from the Little River Park boat ramp. When we arrived at a short point with a seawall around it, Benny picked up a rod and started throwing his Rat-L-Trap toward the point, letting it sink a little and then burning it back to the boat. He got a couple of strikes quickly but none from a fish aggressive enough to get itself hooked.
As we fished, Benny explained why he likes December on Sinclair so much.
“When you find fish in December, you’ll find a lot of fish,” Benny said. “You are subject to catch a big fish in December or January.”
After a few minutes Benny pointed toward the bank as we rounded another little point.
“There’s a little ditch out there that’s six- to eight-feet deep in the middle,” Benny said. “We’re going to catch one right here.”
On his next cast, Benny’s lipless crankbait was about halfway back to the boat when he set the hook on a feisty largemouth. A couple of jumps by the fish and Benny grasped the bass by its lip and lifted it aboard the boat as he explained the patterns he has found great December success with.
“Now is the best time to throw a crankbait or a spinnerbait,” Benny said. “The water temperature will be between 54 and 62 degrees, prime time for crankbait fishing. I’ll stick with it almost exclusively through March.”
For crankbaits, spinnerbaits, or for flipping, Benny uses rods custom built for him on G. Loomis and St. Croix blanks. Though he uses several different types of reels, Benny especially likes Daiwa reels spooled with Stren Clear-Blue line.
The crankbait pattern would be effective during a normal December anyway. This won’t be a normal December. When the lake level is drawn down, the crankbait bite will turn on like nothing you have ever seen.
Bass, which would be schooling this time of year, will migrate to the main lake when the water level drops. If you can locate small brushpiles in four to six feet of water, you could wear out a needle-sharp set of treble hooks in a day of fishing.
Benny won’t have to worry about dull hooks, because he’ll just tie on another bait and keep on catching fish in December. Once during our trip he told me to grab a spool of line out of one of the dry storage areas on the rear deck of his boat. When I opened the hatch I had to move three or four clear-plastic tackle boxes jammed full of plugs of a variety of colors, shapes and sizes out of the way.
“You need to buy some crankbaits, Benny,” I cracked.
“I know,” he shot back, laughing.
Benny uses a variety of crankbaits. His favorites include the Thunder Shad 306 from Awesome Bait Co. in Eufaula, Ala., Suddeth’s Little Earl, Norman’s Baby N, the Rapala Fat Rap, Bandits and the Rat-L-Trap.
Benny gets many of his baits shipped directly to him, and he paints them himself. When it comes to choosing colors, Benny’s method is simple. When the water is muddy he uses crankbaits with a lot of brown and chartreuse. When the water is clear, the mainstay colors are white and chartreuse.
Benny pointed out that crankbaits are the perfect bass catcher on Sinclair this time of year because largemouths are keying on small shad. He looks for baitfish in pockets and targets those areas.
“If shad are in the pockets the bass will be there too,” Benny said.
The way Benny talked about the largemouth fishing on Sinclair’s drawdown sounded like somebody describing catching schooling hybrids.
“You can catch 20 fish in one spot and just as fast as they start biting, they stop,” Benny said. “You can go to some other places and fish, come back an hour later, and start catching them again.”
Benny will hit every point — especially the short ones — to catch bass during the drawdown, and he says many anglers skip some of the best fishing on the lake when the water level has dropped.
“Everybody is looking at long, major points,” Benny said. “Don’t overlook the secondary points because they don’t get as much pressure, but they’ll hold just as many fish.”
Benny is a shallow-water fisherman. He likes catching bass close to the bank, and he’ll key on shallow water when other anglers are parked over deep channels. Even when the fish aren’t right against seawalls, Benny will position his boat over 10 to 12 feet of water and cast into six feet or less to catch fish. That means when Sinclair is down, find your favorite points that are usually under 15 to 20 feet of water and you’ll start finding the right kind of areas to catch good numbers of fish.
Benny eliminates variables in his fishing methodically until he finds what the fish want. For example, when he arrives at his first fishing hole, Benny will start the bass off with small crankbaits burned back to the boat. He’ll slow his presentation down and try different-sized baits until he finds what the fish are keying on.
If Benny is in an area that is holding baitfish and the bass ignore his offerings, he’ll often switch to a Carolina-rigged finesse worm. Though Benny said he has never caught a lot of big fish on the worm, he knows he can catch some fish on it.
One thing is certain, Benny won’t pick up the worm unless he has to.
“A lot of people start slow and the natural tendency is to speed up when things aren’t working,” Benny said. “The best way is to do it the other way around.”
While Benny knows the benefits of slow fishing, he warned that slow presentations can sometimes make anglers miss out on productive areas and techniques.
“You can fish too slow and not cover enough water,” Benny cautioned.
Whatever you do, let the fish set the pattern for you. If bass are smashing a small-profile bait burned back to the boat, stick with it. If they are rolling on slow, big baits after they bang off of wood, keep bouncing your crankbait off of every piece of wood you can find.
Brushpiles are not a necessity for catching drawdown bass on Sinclair. Sometimes the fish will be stacked around submerged brush and sometimes they won’t. Benny likes to look for small, isolated clumps of brush rather than large piles of it for two reasons.
“It’s easier to find fish around isolated brushpiles, and you don’t hang up near as much,” Benny grinned.
Don’t go to Lake Sinclair while the lake level is down and expect to run all over the lake in a search for fish. Benny said many times during drawdown conditions he has never had his motor much above idle speed as he fished one small area within sight of Plant Branch.
“I don’t go any farther up Little River than the Hwy 441 Bridge, and I don’t go up the Oconee River more than two miles,” Benny said.
During December cold mornings are the norm, and Benny said fishing on Sinclair, for him anyway, has always seemed like it picked up later in the morning.
“It seems like on this lake, the fish have to wake up a little bit,” Benny said.
f he launches at Sinclair Marina as he will during the drawdown, Benny likes to hit the left side of the lake early in the morning because that’s where the sun will hit the water first. As the morning progresses, Benny will look for sunny spots.
Fishing the drawdown on Lake Sinclair is still fishing, so there’s no guarantee about any of it. Rest assured though, if the fish are ready to eat, you’ll have a great time catching them.
“If they are ready to eat, I don’t think you can take it away from them,” Benny had said as we fished dock after dock in November. “If they aren’t, I don’t think you can force feed them.
After the sun gets high overhead in December, Benny is likely to break out a 7 1/2-foot flipping stick and a Daiwa Fuego low-profile baitcaster spooled with 25-lb. test line to flip a large Texas-rigged Zoom Ol Monster worm or one of his own jigs. During the middle part of the day, especially when nights are frigid, bass will move close to aluminum, concrete or rock structure, and that’s when accurate casting can put a few extra fish in the boat when everybody else on the lake has given up.
My second foray into dock flipping was going considerably better than my first, which is to say, I looked like a rank novice. However, with one of Benny’s long flipping rods, I started to get the hang of it and could put a worm a good way under a dock every few tries.
We were getting carpal tunnel syndrome from the over and over motion of flicking the wrist to sail baits under a dock when Benny saw his line jump sideways, set the hook, and jerked the fish from between two crossmembers on the dock.
“I was beginning to wonder,” Benny joked as he unhooked the fish and threw it back into the lake.
The lake had just turned over, and fishing was slow.
“I knew it would be tough today, but I didn’t think it would be this tough,” Benny said as we headed back to the boat ramp. “But it surely wasn’t from a lack of effort,”
Come December, the fishing will improve drastically because the weather should be more stable and the lake will be drawn down. If you have a chance to fish Sinclair during the drawdown, get the boat in the water and go.
“I have never been to a fishery in my life that’s as hot as this one is when the lake is drawn down,” Benny said.
Benny has been making his own spinnerbaits and jigs for more than 20 years. If you want to give them a try, check at Miller’s Sporting Goods in Watkinsville or several other stores around the area. Benny will make you some of your very own spinnerbaits if you call him at (678) 283-7255.
During the drawdown on Sinclair, it might be easier to find Benny sitting off some point you might not have dreamed of fishing. He’ll be the one catching bass.