There are five things this article is going to do for you. And improving on an increasing trend here at GON, this article will be enhanced with supporting video.
This article is about catching stripers on Lake Lanier in March. Much of what you find here applies in one way or another to stripers in all Georgia lakes, and to some extent in all months.
The Friday before Valentine’s Day, Terry and Steve Bailey, a father and son team from Hull, met me and guide Ron Mullins at Old Federal ramp on Lake Lanier.
Terry and Steve and their families came to the Outdoor Blast sportsmen’s show at the Gwinnett Center last July and entered to win a Go With GON trip with one of the exhibitors during the three-day show—Lanier Striper Experience.
There is always a way to catch a striper at Lanier, but there is not a better time of the year to catch a striper at Lanier than the month of March. Ron Mullins has been running his guide serve—The Lanier Striper Experience —for the past eight years. March is his favorite month, but he is even more specific. When asked to divide March into thirds and pick the best and worst thirds, he didn’t pause, think or stutter.
“All other things being equal, the last 10 days of March are better than the middle 10 days, and the middle days are better than the first 10 days of March,” he said.
Then he quickly added that any day in March was better than most days in most other months. His message was clear—March is a good time to go striper fishing at Lanier.
So why were we there on the ides of February, instead of March?
It is the bane of how we do these articles to come out when the fishing is best that we are almost always too early fishing for an article.
However, sometimes the sun of good fortune shines on us in a particularly warm way. That sun was so warm on our trip that we all were just beaming.
So, now we know to go in March, with every new March day likely being better than the day before, all things being equal.
Next question is where to go.
The best bad answer is that there will be stripers caught from the dam all the way to Lula up the Chattahoochee and up the Chestatee. In other words… in the lake. Bad answer. Good answers are:
- Flat and Balus creeks—we fished from the “No Skiing” buoy into the backs of both creeks to the point that the downrods were bouncing at 12 feet deep. These two creeks are sort of like the Walmart and Home Depot of Lanier striper fishing. There is always some decent fishing there, and you can learn much about what stripers around the lake are likely doing simply by watching these fish.
- The red river marker pole No. 30 just upstream from Browns Bridge is one of many points on Lanier where deep water comes shallow fast. Good points are near a major channel, in this case, the Chattahoochee River channel.
- The flats off main channels up both the Chattahoochee and Chestatee rivers are good in March.
Many Lanier stripers are going to run up the rivers in March and April, and fishermen are going up there after them. Fishermen can get crowded in those tighter waters up the rivers. River current sweeping lines and boats adds to the opportunity for fishermen to run afoul of one another. Ron said he tends to stay out of that potential springtime fracas up the rivers as much as he can.
Now that you know where to go, the third thing to learn is what to do when you get there?
There are basically four types of good fishing techniques that will work well in March. They are:
- Cut bait on the bottom works, but almost no one uses this technique. If you use cut bait, take a piece of cut bait and put it on what amounts to a Carolina rig, and let it sit on a river channel shoulder in about 20 to 30 feet of water. And wait. You will catch catfish, the occasional walleye and stripers. As the water temp warms, cut bait becomes less of a good idea, but it is a good technique the first of March. Because this type of sit-and-wait fishing makes for a less exciting guide trip, Ron never fishes cut bait.
- Casting artificials at breaking fish, or casting live bait to likely looking points both work well in March at Lanier. The best lures are spin-head jigs dressed with a swim body, bucktail jigs and surface lures like a Zara Spook. This is a great way to get bit when fish are breaking, and you can immediately throw your lure into the splash ring they make.
- Trolling umbrella rigs along likely points and channel edges works well. Try trolling U-rigs in Balus and Flat creeks. This fishing takes specialized equipment. Rigged with four-to-nine jigs and hooks, plus the center weight, wires, swivels and snaps, a U-rig can weigh upward of a pound when ready to splash. At Lanier, U-rigs are usually fished on either 50-lb. test mono (that is what Ron uses), or 135-lb. braid. Beefy rods, reels and rod holders are required to drag these rigs at 2.5 to 3 mph. The strikes can be very hard. Be ready.
Those techniques work, but the best way to catch a striper is to feed live bait to it. There are two basic ways to present live bait to stripers. They are pitching and slow trolling. Both techniques demand that you be able to keep fragile baitfish alive and fresh. Ron’s livewell is about the size of one of those walk-in tubs you see advertised on TV for old folks who can’t hike a leg into the tub any more. The live bait you want is one of three species, though carrying a mix is always a good idea because a striper’s preference may vary by the day.
The three baits are blueback herring, gizzard shad and trout. If the water stays cold and fresh, trout can be relatively hardy. Bluebacks can be quite tender. Gizzards are good baits when they don’t have a red nose. Make sure you are buying fresh bait in good shape and keep them in a livewell that is more or less round. Ron carries all three flavors of striper bait, and if he can get gizzards longer than 10 inches, that is his best bait for a large striper.
The hooks he uses for live bait are No. 1 Gamakatsu Octopus hook or a No. 1 Gamakatsu Octopus circle hook, and he prefers the circle. He snells them onto a 12-lb. test flourocarbon leader and attaches the leader to 20-lb. test braid. Commonly, he fishes these baits on a spinning reel.
If you have live bait, you are going to slow-troll it or pitch it.
Day in and day out, pitching is the least productive—but most fun way to catch these stripers. When it works, pitching can be awesome!
A great place to learn how to pitch live bait is at the red No. 30 pole marker just upstream of Browns Bridge. The point marked by this pole has deep water on three sides. Position the boat upwind of the point with the boat sitting in 30-plus feet of water, toss the bait into 8 to 12 feet of water, and let the bait swim. Hold on. If there be stripers in them waters, they will eat your bait, and a struggle will ensue! Now that you know how to pitch, go find some of the other 100-plus points like just like No. 30, and also find lighted docks in deep water. Quite good places, those lighted docks at night!
Tried and true slow-trolling is the best way to get a little striper slime in the boat. Same hooks, same line, and Ron recommends opting for baitcasting if planer boards are used. Otherwise spinning gear is fine.
A typical slow-trolling spread is six lines consisting of two planer boards per side and two flatlines out the back. The baits are normally positioned 40 to 60 feet behind the boat or the planer boards. Sometimes a large split shot is added ahead of the hook a bit to encourage the bait to get a bit deeper. All baits are nose-hooked.
One extra trick Ron uses is to add a seventh rod sporting a large cork positioned well behind the boat and the other baits. Boat-shy fish may take that rod when they won’t hit anything else. The three stripers we boated that Friday weighed 6, 14, and 38 pounds—a total of 60 pounds of stripers in a morning that was far from ideal conditions or timing.
If you would like to experience the Lanier Striper Experience, Ron would like to hear from you. His number is (678) 300-4865. If anything you read here, helps you, thank Ron Mullins.
If you would like to see Steve Bailey catch his second-ever striper, go to www.gon.com and click on the link to this article.
Finally, join us at the Outdoor Blast this July, and perhaps I will be writing about you soon in a future Go With GON article.