On a Friday evening in late August, pleasure boats were buzzing in all directions over the bumpy surface of Lake Lanier. Apparently lots of folks had left work early and were squeezing in as much outdoor time as possible before things began to settle down for the winter.
Tully Youngblood and I were perched on the deck of a bass boat near the mouth of Shoal Creek and were looking to land a few bass before dark. Tully, an Auburn, Ga. resident, local tournament fisherman and Lanier regular, had been fishing much of the day before I met him, and he had already been pretty successful. Tully has been fishing Lanier virtually all of his adult life, and he knows the water and the habits of the fish better than most of the anglers that frequent this deep, clear reservoir.
The wakes from the constant boat traffic made it difficult to stand on the deck, so catching fish seemed a doubtful proposition at best. But the electronics showed plenty of fish holding around the structure on a hump, and occasionally a feeding bass broke the surface chasing bait.
“Even though the water is rough we should be able to pick up a few bass on top,” said Tully. “They must be used to the boat traffic because it doesn’t seem to effect them much and they continue to feed.”
Tully was throwing a Zara Spook, and I had on a Zoom Super Fluke, and we were fan casting the hump over submerged brush. After just a few casts a nice spotted bass slapped the Spook, and Tully set the hook. The 12-inch spot fought hard, but Tully soon had it in the boat and released it over the side. We caught several spots on both the Spook and Fluke before moving on to the next location.
“Most of the main-lake humps on Lanier hold spotted bass year round,” said Tully. “The key is to find brush in about 15 to 25 feet of water and work the area around it.”
There is plenty of brush on the humps and points on Lanier; in fact, too much in some places. When there is a lot of brush in a location the fish tend to scatter, and finding them is a much more iffy proposition. It is best if you can find isolated brush on top of underwater structure such as a hump because more fish will tend to congregate around the isolated cover and be easier to catch.
While the fish are almost always around this cover, the methods that are successful will vary with the time of year and water temperature. Earlier in the year, say during May and June, a Texas-rigged finesse worm offered on light line and jiggled right in the deep brush is a very effective method. And while you can still tempt spots to bite that way in the later summer and early fall months, Tully said this is the time of year for hot topwater action.
Even though we were fishing the lower end of the lake on this August afternoon, Tully will typically spend most of his time in late August through September above Browns Bridge.
“Late in the summer I catch bigger fish up the lake than I do on the lower end,” said Tully.
Tully typically starts out in the morning in the vicinity of Laurel Park just after daybreak. He starts by throwing a buzzbait or 3/8-oz. spinnerbait near reef markers or on points at the mouths of the creeks.
“Any color will do… as long as it is white,” said Tully. “Actually I use a white bait almost all of the time, but if the water is a little dingy I’ll switch to a chartreuse or other bright color.”
Since the buzzbait primarily generates a reaction strike, the noise and vibration are typically more important than the color of the skirt.
Tully says that he throws the buzzbait for up to the first hour or so until the sun starts to get up, and then he switches to a Spook or Fluke and hits the humps around the brush. If the day is heavily overcast, the buzzbait pattern may last later into the morning.
“Usually when I get to about Gainesville Marine, I put the buzzbait away and start working the humps with topwater baits,” said Tully. “Topwater action in September will usually last for most of the day. The brighter the day the better.”
Tully says that he believes the blueback herring, which were introduced illegally to Lanier several years ago, have changed the feeding habits of the spotted bass.
“The bluebacks tend to stay active on the surface almost all of the time, so the spots feed for longer periods,” he said.
Tully generally pulls his boat up on to a hump in about 50 to 60 feet of water and casts his bait into water that is about 15- to 25-feet deep. One error that he sees many anglers on Lanier make is that they pull their boat up much too close to the reef markers and their boat is sitting right about where they should be fishing.
“I always start out from the reef marker and work my way in,” says Tully. “Most of the time I’ll find fish above brush 25 or so feet deep, not in the shallow water on top of the reef.”
Tully uses his electronics constantly this time of year. The LCD graph doesn’t only serve to show the depth of the water beneath the boat, but also helps locate the brush that is essential to finding fish. There is one other aspect of using your electronics that can be extremely helpful.
“If I mark a lot of fish on the graph under the boat but don’t get any strikes after several casts, I move on to the next location,” he said.
If fish are feeding, they will usually rise to the bait pretty quickly, and if Tully doesn’t get a strike pretty soon, he assumes that the fish are inactive and not likely to strike.
There are so many good locations to fish that moving to the next one generally doesn’t take very long and helps keep your bait in productive water.
Tully said that the topwater action will be at its best when the surface temperature reaches the low 80s or high 70s and should continue to produce well into the fall. Right now at Lanier it’s at about 84 degrees.
Baits of choice include a white Fluke rigged with no weight and a 5/0 hook, and a Zara Super Spook in a Bleeding Shad Color. If you want to experiment, most jerkbaits will produce, particularly if they have a white belly. Tully tells us that the bass seem to prefer the bait to be fished very actively with a constant thrashing motion. And, as you’ll find out right away, the strikes can be explosive.
If the topwater baits are not producing, Tully has found that a white 3/8- or 1/2-oz. Horse Head Jig tipped with a white Fluke trailer can be a great alternative.
“Throw the jig out near the brush in the same location that you would the topwater baits, and let it sink until it is near or on the bottom,” says Tully. “Then slow roll the bait back to the boat much the same way that you would slow roll a spinnerbait.”
As a result the bait will swim back to the boat at about the eight- to 12-foot level and will often turn on inactive fish. Tully fishes the jighead Fluke on a casting rod spooled with 10-lb. test line. The lighter line keeps the bait at the best depth and is adequate to land the fish in the relatively open water.
As the month of September moves on and the water temperature cools, Tully keeps an eye on the water around docks, looking for small bait on the surface.
“When these small fry about 1/2-inch length show up, I start fishing jigs around the docks,” says Tully.
He isn’t sure what the connection between the small bait and the jig pattern is, but it works. Tully likes to fish isolated docks, particularly those that are on relatively flat banks. His favorite jig for this dock action is a 3/8-oz. Hornet Jig in a brown/root beer color combination with a green/root beer trailer or a brown Super Chunk trailer. He fishes the jig on 15- to 17-lb. test line because he needs the extra strength to pull a hooked fish out from under the dock. This can be no small feat if you have a 4- or 5-lb. spot on the line and on Lanier that is a distinct possibility.
Tully pitches or skips the jig as far under the dock as possible and lets it sink to the bottom, watching the line carefully. Strikes will often come on the fall, and you need to pay particular attention to the fall of the line and set the hook at any unusual movement. The line may jump, move off to the side, or simply pause in its descent. In any case, set the hook quickly because the fish will spit the bait if they feel any tension.
Tully likes docks that are low to the water because they offer more cover for the fish and are more difficult for most anglers to fish properly.
Mastering this technique requires some practice. The best tackle to use is a medium-action spinning reel. Casting reels are very difficult to control when skipping a bait up under a dock. Most of the time the reel will over-spin when the bait first hits the water on the skip and cause a nasty backlash. With a spinning reel, the line follows the motion of the bait much more closely and plays out only the amount of line necessary. It is difficult enough to get the bait to skip properly in between boats and docks or through tight openings without having to worry about a tangled mess of line at the end of the cast.
Once the bait has been successfully cast under the dock and allowed to sink to the bottom, Tully brings the jig back to the boat slowly with a shaking motion. This is much the same action as shaking a worm in a brushpile.
“You don’t want to lift the jig off the bottom, but merely shake it along staying in contact with the bottom while moving along under the dock,” says Tully.
Of course if there is brush under or around the dock the chances of finding fish greatly increase. If you feel your bait contact a piece of brush, slow down and shake the jig in the brush. A jig in a piece of brush is generally in the strike zone, so let it stay there as long as possible.
Late in the day, just before sunset, Tully will usually head back up the lake and work the points at the mouths of creeks with the buzzbait, completing the cycle.
“I often find bass feeding on the points just before dark,” Tully said. “Sometimes you will see them busting bait on the surface, and a buzzbait will often draw strikes from a few aggressive fish on the way back to the ramp.”
This month is a great time to go out to Lanier and try for some spotted bass. The fish have been growing with the additional forage provided by the bluebacks, and there are plenty of quality fish available for the taking. Spots in the 4- to 5-lb. class are not unusual on this excellent fishery. Take Tully’s advice and work the main-lake humps on top or pitch a jig to a likely looking dock. In either case, you have a great chance of catching some excellent spots on one of the nation’s premier spotted bass lakes.