Finally, the sun hits the water.
That’s not something you hear often from fishermen… but now Ricky Layton can get down to business.
Usually the end of the morning bite is a let-down, maybe even time to — heaven forbid — drag a worm. But it’s April. On Juliette.
Each time you slide into a little pocket, it could be the one… the temporary home to a monster bass. First you have to see her. You get to hunt before you can fish. Then you have to catch her, a one-on-one battle that could be over quickly; or she could be one of those pigs that wear you down, taking up too much of your valued fishing time, but so big you can’t leave her, you can’t quit.
Sight fishing in itself is a unique challenge. Part of the appeal is that it occurs during such a narrow window of time. Now is that time. And few bodies of public water in Georgia offer as perfect sight-fishing conditions as are found on Lake Juliette just north of Macon.
Juliette is relatively small at only 3,600 acres, and DNR prohibits the use of outboard motors greater than 25 hp on the lake. Boats with larger outboards may be launched on Juliette, but the outboard cannot be cranked even for putting the boat back on the trailer. This regulation keeps pleasure boaters off the lake, and it also cuts down on the fishing pressure.
Juliette is very unique among Georgia reservoirs in other ways. First, the bottom of the lake is covered with a dense bank of weeds that forms a bed of dark-green, fish-holding habitat that rises several feet off the lake floor. There are no patches of weedbeds — the grass is everywhere. Juliette also has lots of standing timber. The entire upper third of the lake is covered in standing timber, and so are several of the creeks in the middle section the lake. In the deepest part of the main lake, the timber was cut off but remains along the Rum Creek channel all the way to the dam.
So you have weeds like no other lake in middle or north Georgia, add in lots of standing timber, and mix it all together with water so clear that it leaves Lake Lanier feeling dirty.
From a biological standpoint, because of that clear water, Juliette is less-fertile than other middle Georgia lakes like nearby Sinclair, but that doesn’t correspond with the awesome catches that come in during the local pot tournaments on Juliette.
Ricky Layton and his partner Rob Johnson won the once-a-month Sunday tournament two months ago with a five-fish limit that weighed more than 18 pounds. Last month it took almost 24 pounds to win.
“Pretty much this time of year, 20 pounds is the average winning weight,” Ricky said. “Last month somebody brought in 19 pounds and didn’t get a check.”
Juliette has a reputation for producing some monster bass as well. The lake record weighed 15-lbs., 6-ozs., and Ricky’s best bass from Juliette weighed just over 10 pounds. You’ll never guess how he caught that fish. Here’s a clue… it was April. Yep, he saw her in the back of a pocket and got her to bite.
“I love Juliette because it’s a great lake to learn about deep, clear lakes that have grass and timber,” Ricky said. “It’s a fun lake year-round, but I look forward to this time of year more than anything. You’d have to travel to Clarks Hill or Russell to be able to have same chance of seeing fish as easy, and Juliette is right here near Macon.”
There are several keys for successful sight fishing at Juliette. First on Ricky’s list is a quality pair of polarized sunglasses that cut through the glare on the surface of the water. That you can control, just spend the money for a good pair. The other keys depend on Mother Nature, like good sunlight that helps you see the fish. A cloudy day makes sight fishing tough, and too much wind will cause a chop that makes it difficult to see fish. A calm, sunny day in early April is ideal.
“This year the bass didn’t come into the pockets at all in March. Usually you find some up there even in March. I can assure you there will be some up there right now. The biggest wave will be around the full moon April 5.”
In the clear water of Juliette, Ricky said being quiet and using some stealth will help as you hunt for fish.
“A lot of times the bass won’t be right up on the bank, especially the big ones. They’ll be out on the shallow flats in the pockets. I’ll put on my polarized glasses let the boat drift across a flat. Look for movement. If you see a light spot, look hard. The biggest thing that tips me off is that stripe on their tail. If I see one, I usually let the boat drift over them. That bothers them a lot less than hitting the trolling motor,” he said.
Ricky said each bass is an individual, which means they can all act differently on a bed. If a bass spooks off the bed but comes right back or makes tight little circles around the bed, that’s a catchable bas. A bass that moves way off or takes its time moving back may not be worth the time it will take to get the fish locked back on the bed and in the mood to hit.
Ricky recommends many of the typical things you’ll hear about sight fishing — wear light or blue-colored clothing, keep the sun to your back, don’t let your shadow fall across the bed.
His first choice when trying to get a bedding bass to hit is a white tube.
“I like the bigger tubes, but I’m not real particular on certain brands. I use the G3 tubes, and I have some of the Strike Kings. I use the white because I want to see it, I want to see the fish hit, but I’ll also have another rod rigged with a green pumpkin or watermelon in case a fish is picky.”
He prefers to rig the tube on a 1/8-oz. lead-head with the hook exposed. If it is real weedy around the bed, he’ll try a 2/0 or 3/0 Gamakatzu hook Texas-rigged with a stopper or peg.
“When the fish noses down on it, pop it real quick right up against his chin. He’ll usually flare on it and take it,” Ricky said.
Before the sun gets up so he can see the fish, Ricky likes to go after the bass that are in the spawning pockets with a variety of baits. First on the list is a white Trick Worm. He’ll also throw a 3/8-oz. white/chartreuse or chartreuse spinnerbait.
“I like a War Eagle on Juliette,” Ricky said. “Most people probably think they need to throw white because of the clear water, but the bass on Juliette like a chartreuse or yellow. It’s the same with crankbaits. They like the bright colors instead of the natural colors. I think it’s because they spend so much time buried up in the grass.”
He said there’s also a chance for some topwater fish first thing in the morning, especially in the short pockets off the main body of the lake.
“People don’t think of topwater until after the spawn, but if you use a Pop R or something that will sit over them a little longer, they’ll nail it,” he said.
If he’s not seeing many fish in the spawning pockets, Ricky will back out just a bit on the flats and throw a crankbait.
“A No. 5 Shad Rap is awesome this time of year, or a small Bandit. Just tick the top of the grass in about five feet of water.”
If it’s real windy, he says to find a wind-blown pocket and rip a Husky Jerk or a Lucky Craft pointer through the middle of the pockets.
“A lot of times if they’ve backed off in five to eight feet of water, a jerkbait will draw them up out of the grass.”
Ricky marked a few spots on the map on page 57 that are good spawning pockets, but he said the lake is full of them. He prefers the lower end away from the timber because it’s easier to sight-fish.
“In the timber they’ll get up against those trees and spawn, and it can be hard to find them,” Ricky said.
This month, it’s a hunting game. Just ease through the pockets looking for bass, and if they’re not there, try some of the other techniques he mentioned. Find a small boat with a 25 hp or smaller kicker, or take your bass boat and just stay on the trolling motor. April on Juliette offers a unique opportunity for sight fishing in middle Georgia.