Stone Mountain Park, east of Atlanta, is Georgia’s most visited tourist attraction. More than 4 million people pass through the gates each year to enjoy the beauty of this 3,300-acre natural marvel and all that goes with it. Train rides, laser shows, and excellent golf courses and campgrounds add up to a great experience with a wide variety of attractions to please family members of all ages.
There is one element of Stone Mountain Park, however, that is often overlooked. The 370-acre lake on the property provides some fine fishing opportunities. In fact, many of the area jonboat clubs make the lake at Stone Mountain a regular stop on their bass-fishing tournament trails. One such group, Southern Jon Boat Anglers, held its Top 6 championship on the lake this year, and Derek Snider, of Locust Grove, and his partner Mike Meason, came out on top. Derek holds the current jonboat-tournament lake record for Stone Mountain with a bass weighing in at 9.1 pounds that he caught on the lake during competition a few years back.
I had the pleasure of fishing the lake with Derek in early November, and he showed me how he would go about catching bass on Stone Mountain in December.
“Early in the month before the water drops below 50 degrees you can usually find fish on the rip-rap that borders sections of the shoreline,” said Derek. “Jigs and small crankbaits fished close to the rocks are usually a good bet.”
The fish should be right up next to the bank in five to eight feet of water; especially on bright sunny days when the rocks are warm.
Derek will usually start with the crankbait first to pick up the more active fish. When fishing that bait, he can stay on the move and cover a lot of water. He sets up with his boat right up next to the bank and makes long casts parallel to the shore line. Cranking the bait down quickly he bumps it into rocks and stumps along the bottom trying to drive an active fish to strike. When the bait hits a rock, he hesitates the retrieve briefly letting the bait suspend momentarily before moving it again. Often the bass will strike on that hesitation or just as the bait starts moving again. The No. 5 or No. 7 Shad Rap is a good choice of bait in either the natural shad or crawfish color. Both shad and crawfish are plentiful in the lake. Derek prefers to fish the Shad Rap on a spinning rod spooled with 10-lb. test Berkley Big Game line.
On the day we were out we also fished a Rat-L-Trap around the rocks and had good luck with it. In fact the two fish we caught were on these lipless crankbaits, and one of the fish was four pounds.
The chrome 1/2-oz. model with a black or blue back is hard to beat, especially when the water temperatures rise a little on consecutive sunny days.
Derek’s jig of choice is a 1/2-oz. Berkley Power Jig in brown with a green pumpkin Zoom Big Salty Chunk Trailer. Derek fishes the jig on a medium-heavy casting outfit spooled with 20-lb. test Berkley Big Game line. If the water is extremely clear he’ll drop back to 15-lb. test to reduce line visibility.
“I work the jig slowly along the bank pitching it right up next to the rocks,” said Derek.
The colder the water temperatures the slower the bait should be worked.
“Throw the jig to the rocks, and let it sink to the bottom,” says Derek. “Then lift the jig off the bottom with the rod tip, and work it down the bank toward deeper water.”
Derek recommends that you watch the line carefully because strikes are often pretty subtle.
“You may just see a twitch or slight hesitation in the fall of the line,” says Derek. “Set the hook quickly because the bass will drop the jig if they feel any pressure.”
The locations to fish the jig and crankbait are fairly obvious on the small lake. Visible rocks on the shoreline are a pretty good clue. But the two best locations in Derek’s book are the two coves along the golf course. Both of these coves are consistent producers of good bass, and Derek depends on them to come through when other places don’t. The rip-rap on the dam is also a good spot, Derek tells us, especially after a cold front has come through.
But the rock pattern is really just an interim step until the real action begins when the water temperature drops below 50 degrees.
“Once the water temperature drops below 50 some of the shad start to die off, and bass school up and feed heavily on them,” says Derek.
The shad tend to congregate on humps with deep water nearby, and the bass aren’t far behind. Under these conditions Derek’s bait of choice is a jigging spoon. While he prefers the Flex-it spoon, the bait has a pretty simple action and there are several on the market that will do the trick. Jigging spoons are flat pieces of shiny metal that rely on flash to look like a dying shad to a hungry bass. Derek fishes the spoon on a casting rod spooled with 12-lb. test line. A snap barrel swivel hooked to the spoon will eliminate line twists and give the spoon a little more freedom to flutter on the fall.
The most important factor in spooning is finding where the fish are holding because the presentation is vertical. It all starts with understanding the topography of the lake and looking in areas that are likely to hold schools of bait in the chilly water. On Stone Mountain Lake the choice is pretty straightforward.
“By far the best spooning area on the lake is where the old Hwy 78 road bed crosses,” says Derek.
The roadbed is easy to locate. It is just down lake (away from the dam) from the boat ramp near the pump house on the left side of the lake. There is a seawall and column on the other side of the lake right across from the pump house.
“The surrounding water is around 25-feet deep, and the road bed tops out at about 17 feet,” said Derek.
This is ideal jigging-spoon territory. Derek said there are often big schools of bait on or near the road bed in mid to late December and through January. Once you are in the right area, electronics take over. For spooning to be effective you need to locate schools of shad on the graph and stay on top of them. It isn’t necessary to see the bass on the graph. You can be pretty certain they are there.
“When you locate the shad, drop a spoon overboard and let it flutter to the bottom,” says Derek. “It is important to keep a relatively tight line and stay in contact with the bait. Strikes most often come on the fall.”
When the bait hits the bottom, jerk it up a foot or so and let it fall again watching the line for strikes. That’s about all there is to it. Fishing a spoon is a simple repetitive jerk-and-drop method that doesn’t require a great deal of skill. If the fish are in the area you’ll get strikes and get them quickly. It is a great way to introduce a novice or kid to fishing. The action can be constant and even the beginner is likely to catch a lot of fish when the conditions are right.
Derek feels that “less is more” with the spoon. He believes that a gentle snap of the rod tip is more effective than big sweeping motions. But you can try several different techniques to see what the fish prefer. The preference can change from time to time, and a slight difference in motion may be all it takes to entice a strike.
Often when the shad move close to the surface, schools of bass will come up with them and create a commotion. Derek keeps a 1/2-oz. Fish Head Spin fitted with a smoke-colored Fluke Junior ready for those occasions.
“You have to have a rod ready when the bass come up because they generally don’t stay up for long,” says Derek. “But when they come up it can be wild for a few minutes.”
On days when the spoon won’t produce, Derek recommends that you try the shoreline rocks with a finesse worm on a 1/8- to 3/16-oz. lead-head jig. This combo can be especially productive in the middle of winter when there have been several warm sunny days in a row. Bass will move onto rocks, and the subtle presentation of the finesse worm can be effective.
No matter which of the methods you choose, Stone Mountain Lake can provide some excellent fishing activity throughout the winter months. The activity in the park is down during the cold weather, and you may just have the lake to yourself; particularly on weekdays. The lake and surrounding area is so scenic that catching a few bass can feel like a bonus to a very enjoyable outing. About the only concerns you’ll have to be aware of is to watch for the occasional golf ball and stay out of the path of the big paddle wheeler as it makes its rounds.
Stone Mountain Park is located on Hwy 78 East of Atlanta. Entrance to the park requires an $8 parking pass per vehicle; annual passes are available for the frequent visitor.
From October 1-April 30, private boats are allowed to use the lake each day of the week during daylight hours. In other months access is limited on weekends and holidays. For those hours go to <www.stonemountainpark.com>.
Boats must be launched from the public boat ramp located near the Evergreen Pavilion. Outboard motors in excess of 10 hp are not allowed on the lake.