The classic outdoor writer Havilah Babcock from South Carolina wrote a book entitled, “My Health Is Better In November,” lauding the extra spring that every outdoorsman feels under foot when the cool, crisp days of autumn make us happy to be in the woods, fields and streams in pursuit of fish and game.
But I think Babcock was a little late on the trigger, because I, like many of you, get those outdoor yearnings in early September when dove season kicks in, closely followed by the deer archery season. November may be the high-water mark for the pursuit of game, but let’s not rush through September and October, for every day healthy and alive spent outside is to be cherished!
September always comes in hot, but by mid-month, just like clockwork, a cool front will pass through, and summer will be over. Thank goodness!
Although hunting is on many minds in September, the cooler temperatures also bring some of the best fishing of the year. The cooling water stimulates the fish to actively start feeding again, and those midday temperatures in the 70s and low 80s again make it possible to spend the entire day on the water without getting burned up by the sun, heat and humidity.
One of the best fishing opportunities for mid-state anglers is to target the abundant stripers of Lake Juliette, says Donnie Lee, a fishing guide on Juliette for All Seasons Guide Service, which also runs a bait and tackle shop in the town of Juliette.
Lake Juliette is the best place to tie into a striper in middle Georgia, and maybe even a trophy-sized fish. Fish in the 35-lb. range are occasionally pulled in, and GON has the lake record listed as 40-lbs., 8-ozs. caught by Tim Adrien on March 23, 2000.
Lakes in south Georgia do not usually contain deep-water areas that can keep the stripers alive and thriving in the summertime, but Juliette is different. Located near Forsyth just above the fall line, the lake has abundant deep-water areas that are up to 85 feet deep. The water is at least partially oxygenated by the pumps that bring in the lake’s main source of water from the Ocmulgee River. There is also some water discharge from Georgia Power’s Plant Scherer. Rum Creek, although a small creek, also feeds Lake Juliette.
Donnie, of Covington, said that stripers on north Georgia lakes tend to hit best on cloudy, cold days, but on Juliette, the stripers hit year-round, and the warm water does not seem to stop the bite. That’s probably because the lake is smaller at 3,600 acres, the lake is well stocked with stripers, and there are abundant shad for them to eat.
During August, I had the chance to take two trips with Donnie, and both trips were successful outings. Early in the month, I teamed up with J.C. Walker, an attorney in Warner Robins, and Art Christie, the retired administrator for the Houston County Hospital.
At sun up, we met Donnie at the Dames Ferry boat ramp near the dam off Highway 23/87. We climbed aboard his 20-foot pontoon boat and headed out to some deep water in the mid-lake area just south of Persons Point, where he has had good success in the past. Using a slow-drift method, we put seven nice stripers in the boat before the heat and sun turned them off.
In September and October, the slow-drifting method with downlines will continue to be the method Donnie employs. Simply downline shad and slow drift through schools of stripers that you have identified on your depthfinder in main-lake areas. This time of year stripers are deep and suspended and rarely break the surface, like they will in the springtime. However, as the water cools through the fall, you can start to find these big linesides in a little shallower water, so keep a close watch on your depthfinder.
Donnie uses Okuma medium-heavy Classic Pro rods—designed for salmon and striper fishing—and Diawa AccuDepth Plus Model 27LC reels with the built-in line distance counters. These counters allow Donnie to troll the correct distance with planer boards in the spring and allows for the proper bait drop when fishing downlines, like we did in August. You can drift with the wind, so keep the motor on a very slow idle speed in gear, so you are moving not more than about 1 mph.
Donnie slides a 2-oz. weight onto 30-lb. Seaguar monofilament line and uses a 10-foot leader of 15-lb. test and a No. 2 circle hook. The hook is run through both nostrils of a shad, which helps keep it lively while fishing. The shad are kept in a round aerated bait tank. Anglers can buy the shad at the All Seasons store or try to catch their own shad for bait. The shad are best to use, but bream will work in a pinch if you want to supply your own bait.
For artificial baits, deep-diving, shad-colored crankbaits, Bass Pro Lazer spoons or bucktail jigs will sometimes work, but try to find fish on the depthfinder first, or you will waste a lot of time in empty water, said Donnie.
During September, anglers can expect the lake level to be lower than normal because lower water levels in the Ocmulgee River restricts the amount of water that can be withdrawn and pumped into the lake. This stratifies the lake water more than usual, and the fish won’t be as deep when they are not pumping water because of lower oxygen levels in deeper water.
In August, Donnie said the most consistent depth he found suspended stripers was 22 feet down while fishing over about a 30-foot bottom. Oxygen levels were sufficient at the 22-foot level but degraded deeper than that.
I took my second trip with Donnie on Aug. 13. Joining me was my brother Grady Trussell, who works as the drinking water treatment supervisor for Houston County. We found the early morning bite to be good, but it quickly faded. We put three 6- to 7-lb. stripers in the boat while slow drifting in the lake about 300 yards south of Persons Point. Then we got a call from Jeff Mooney, another guide with All Seasons who was fishing with a different group. He said the stripers were hitting strong about 200 yards off of Georgia Power’s Campers Point. To find this area, look for the green metal roof on the picnic building.
We pulled up and headed in that direction, but by the time we got there, the action was all over. The anglers—Justin Brooks, Tim Hartman, Mathew Petty and James Edan, all from the Gwinnett County area—put 28 stripers in the boat in just 45 minutes. The linesides ranged from 2 to 7 pounds.
With stripers, it can be feast or famine, and it can happen quick. We all continued to fish and caught a couple more stripers, but Donnie said the bite this time of year occurs at the crack of dawn and during the last two hours of daylight. In September and October when the water cools, you can begin to catch some stripers during the middle of the day, too.
Donnie recommends the four areas listed below for September and October stripers. One great thing about these areas is that you don’t have to travel very far.
1) From the Dames Ferry boat ramp, go out into the main lake and slow drift 200 yards out from the main camping areas. You’ll be only a few hundred yards from the boat ramp.
2) Just north of the camping area, fish about 100 yards out from the first main-lake point you see. This point has about eight large, bucket-sized rocks on it near the shoreline.
3) Find Persons Point on your lake map, and fish about 200-300 yards south of it. This is a main-lake area with a submerged high ridge that runs through the location. The hangout for stripers will generally be 22 feet down.
4) The freshwater river discharge pipe, located about a half mile south of the Dames Ferry Boat Ramp near Highway 87, is prime for stripers when water is pumping. Look for the 4-by-4-foot green sign, which sits right above the pipe on the bank.
Georgia WRD Fisheries Biologist Keith Weaver said Juliette has provided a good and stable middle Georgia striper fishery. Although the average striper is around 5 pounds, some stripers in the 40-plus range are in the lake. Hybrids have not been stocked in recent years, but stripers have been stocked at a strong rate of 10 to 15 per acre, said Keith.
Be aware that in order to fish from a boat, anglers may use any size boat they wish, but operated motors can’t exceed 25 horsepower. An extra trolling battery is a good idea, and a 25 horsepower or lesser motor can be used as a kicker motor on your big boat to get around.
To book a fishing trip with All Seasons Guide Service, contact Donnie at (478) 994-8895.
September through October are great months to fish for Juliette stripers, and they will put a big bend in your rod.