Northeast Georgia’s Lake Lanier is one of the premier lakes for striped bass fishing in the Southeast, and June is a great month to catch your limit of these hard-fighting fish. June is a transition month for striped bass as they move from their late-spring shallow-water pattern to their summer deep-water pattern.
Typically, June starts with the fish scattered in the creeks from Little River to Browns Bridge. As June progresses and the water continues to warm, the stripers will migrate to their cold-water refuge on the south end of the lake from Browns Bridge to the dam. This transition requires the striper angler to remain flexible in terms of which technique to use and where to find these nomadic fish that can travel 3 miles per day.
June starts with two primary techniques. The first is blueback herring fished on both unweighted and weighted (one or two spit-shots) freelines set at 80 to 100 feet behind the boat and 30 to 50 feet behind the planer boards. A 6 1/2- to 8-foot medium to medium-heavy rod with a decent line counter spooled with 15- or 20-lb. test line is used. Tie a swivel and a red bead to a 5- to 7-foot leader with 12- to 15-lb. test fluorocarbon and a Gamakatsu Octopus No. 1 or 1/0 hook, depending on the size of the herring.
A typical freeline deployment is 2 planer boards on each side of the boat with three freelines out the back of the boat for a total of seven freelines deployed. In addition to the freelines, deploy a couple of downrods over the side of the boat, and vary your depth depending on the bottom. A downline is nothing more than a freeline with a 2-oz. slip sinker. The slip sinker is installed above the red bead which is used to protect the knot on your swivel from the slip sinker. The red bead is also used on the freeline to “catch” the planner board as it releases and runs down the line. In addition to freelines and downlines, put someone on the front deck casting a Capt. Mack’s bucktail jig. You now have a spread of bait with horizontal coverage as well as vertical coverage in the water column. Vary your trolling motor speed from 0.7 to 1.0 mph.
The live bait of choice for the month of June is the blueback herring. Stripers love to chase their bait, and it is critical that you change your bluebacks every 15 to 20 minutes. There is a significant difference between live bait and lively bait. Experienced anglers may want to deploy additional boards and downrods.
The second technique for early June is trolling an umbrella rig. Run your umbrella rigs shallow by downsizing the weight of your jigs or decreasing the distance behind the boat. Maintain a bait target depth for your umbrella rigs of 15 to 20 feet. Pull these shallow-running rigs at 2.7 to 3.0 mph over a 30-foot bottom. We will discuss umbrella rigs in greater detail later in this article. Focus on points, flats and clay banks in the creeks and the lake river channel from Little River to Browns Bridge.
The following are some locations you may want to consider for early June: the river channel from 1LR to Holly Park, the west side of Gainesville Creek from the mouth to the powerlines, the bay in front of Gainesville Marina, the mouth of the Chestatee River, the bank from main lake marker 30 to 36 and the north bank of Chestatee Bay.
Once the water temperature hits the low 80s and the thermocline begins to set up, the stripers will begin their migration to their cold-water refuge. The striper cold-water refuge for Lake Lanier is on the southern end of the lake, and the stripers can be found from 30 to 100-plus feet deep. This is the time when your Lowrance Structure Scan pays for itself by locating these deep-water fish. Summertime fishing is as much of a hunting trip using your electronics to find the fish as it is fishing with baits in the water.
Now is time to put up your freelines and move to a downlines only. When you locate the fish, drop your herring to just above the depth you marked the fish with your electronics. Stripers feed up. As the stripers complete their migration to the southern end of the lake, they tend to school more because you have 99 percent of the stripers in 30 percent of the lake. It is not unusual to have all four of your downrods get hit at the same time when you pass over a school. When you have four stripers on at the same time and the drags are screaming, it is pure adrenaline.
One question we often get when we are sitting on fish and they won’t bite is, “What can we do?” The answer is: something different!
One technique is to “power reel.” Power reeling is simply an approach used to try to trigger a reaction bite by dropping a bait down past the fish and reeling it up through the fish. An example would be if the fish are at 35 feet, drop your bait to 50 feet and reel it up to 20. Vary the speed you reel up from lighting fast to a standard retrieve. If you are using a downrod with a herring to power reel, shorten your leader to no more than 2 feet to avoid knots in your leader.
You can also use a 2-oz. Capt. Mack’s bucktail jig with a herring for power reeling. Try ripping a heavy spoon through the school and letting it fall back through the school. There are a number of other approaches we have used to make stripers bite with varying degrees of success. These techniques include playing country music. Stripers love country music! Tapping on the bottom of the boat with a pool cue or having the young ’uns go swimming are approaches we have also seen work. Stripers are curious and come to investigate the sounds.
Because we tend to spend considerable time hunting for fish in the summer, the ideal situation would be to catch fish while you hunt for fish. The umbrella rig allows us to do just that. It is an excellent search tool as well as a technique that will allow you to get a reaction bite when the fish are not active and refuse to eat. The umbrella rig is a bait that is designed to emulate a school of baitfish.
When pulled at 3.0 mph, the umbrella rig triggers a reaction bite. The key to trolling with an umbrella rig in Lanier is knowing how deep your rigs are running. When Lanier was built, the trees were not cleared but were topped at 30 feet below full pool, so keeping your rigs out of the trees can be a challenge.
There are four primary factors that determine the depth of your rig: the weight of the rig, how far back the rigs are deployed, the amount of drag (caused by line diameter and what size and type of trailers you have on your jigs) and the speed of your boat. There is no end to the number of configurations which you can use when building your rigs.
We use nine, 1-oz. Capt. Mack’s bucktail jigs with 4-inch shad bodies on a 3-oz. frame and crimp the jigs to the frame with 50-lb. mono line for our summertime rigs. We use two primary colors of shad bodies—pearl and chartreuse—and set our speed at 3.0 mph.
To change the depth, we simply increase or decrease our boat speed. If you are new to umbrella rig trolling, we suggest you purchase a pre-configured Capt. Mack’s Umbrella Rig, which includes a guide that gives you an indication of the depth.
Umbrella rigs are heavy and require a heavy-weight rod and reel that can handle the stress. Common reel options are a Penn 330 or an Accudepth ADP57LC. There are many heavy-action boat rods to choose from. We prefer Ugly Stick Tiger Rods.
You have two options for line. You can use 50-lb. test monofilament line, or you can use 150-lb. test braided line. The key difference is how you want to retrieve your rigs when you get them hung in the trees. If you are pulling umbrella rigs correctly, you will get them hung up on the bottom or in the trees. The fish often hold tight to the lake bottom or the top of the timber. When you are using braid and get hung up, tie the line to a cleat and rip the umbrella rig out of the trees. If you use monofilament, you back up and use an umbrella rig retriever to pull the rig free. To use the umbrella rig retriever, back up and position boat directly over the hung umbrella rig. Attach the retriever to your line, drop it to down to the rig and pull the rig free.
We use 50-lb. test mono and carry an umbrella rig retriever on a 100-foot rope to free the rig from the trees. Some areas you may want to try in late June are: FC1 to main-lake marker 20, water in front of Vanns Tavern and Shady Grove Park, pockets surrounding Lake Lanier Islands and the mouths of Baldridge, Shoal and Flowery Branch creeks.
The very best approach for catching stripers in June is not to worry about lines, weights, bait, water temperature, which technique to use, where to find fish, etc. and let Capt. Ken and Capt. Mike handle all of those items. To book your striper fishing trip on Lake Lanier, call Big Fish On Guide Service at (404) 561-2564 or visit or our website. We post weekly striper fishing reports at www.bigfishonguide.com. We also have some instructional videos on downrod fishing, power reeling and u-rigs on our YouTube channel www.youtube.com/user/BIGFISHONGUIDE.