There’s no mistaking it when a hybrid bass or striper hits a live bait. We caught several spotted bass on the live bluebacks we were fishing on downlines and freelines, and the spots seem to like to play with their food. The rod tip might bounce a few times before the indecisive spot really eats. Not with a hybrid. The first thing you know about a hybrid checking your bait is when the rod tip gets jerked straight down nearly under the boat.
In early June I was on Lake Nottely with hybrid and striped bass fishing guide Jeremy Seabolt at the beginning of the summer linesides fishing. Fish were just beginning to stack up on main-lake points, and the first schooling of the summer was beginning.
Jeremy, 27, grew up in the Blairsville area, and he has been fishing Lake Nottely ever since he can remember, and he loves it.
“If I could figure out a way to fish seven days a week, I’d do it,” he said.
He especially likes to see a rod tip get slammed into the water when a big hybrid or striped bass hits the bait below. He has been fishing for the big, silvery fish pretty much full-time for five years and guiding for two.
“I never bass fish any more,” he said. “I like the hard-tugging hybrids and stripers. The green fish just don’t put up the same fight.”
I met Jeremy at Hughes Outdoors on Hwy 129 north of Blairsville, then we trailered his 16-foot center-console to the ramp at the east end of the dam. While the morning fog still lay over the lake, we puttered out to the first point on the left.
“This is the place that got me addicted to catching stripers and hybrids,” said Jeremy. “I have caught a lot of fish here.”
Jeremy netted fresh blueback herring from his bait tank and put out two baits on downlines about 15 feet deep. He then put two freelines out, the herring trailing the boat by about 20 yards. We then began to ease along the bank at a slow-trolling pace.
Standing prominently in a rod holder on the center-console was a baitcaster with a blue/silver Pencil Popper topwater plug. The slender bait was on the ready to be cast to any breaking fish.
The deep, cool water at Lake Nottely has produced some huge stripers. The current lake record stands at 53-lbs., 12-ozs. Jeremy said he recently had a fish in the 40-lb. range up to his boat, but the hook pulled out as he was reaching for the fish. His best striper that made it into the boat weighed 33 pounds.
Our first hit of the day came 15 minutes into the trip. One of the downlines slammed downward, but then instantly straightened back out. Somehow the fish had taken the bait but missed the hook.
We did not see a lot of surface activity the day we fished, and Jeremy says that the topwater fishing typically gets better as the summer goes on.
“There have been some hybrids schooling around Point 3,” he said. “They have been in good, concentrated schools and they have been coming up for as long as 30 minutes at a time. The back of Conley Creek is another good place to find hybrids schooling on top during the summer. Usually the topwater is better in August and September.”
When he is fishing topwater, the Pencil Popper or an unweighted pearl-colored fluke are great baits.
Topwater activity for striped bass has changed on Nottely since bluebacks were established. Many anglers have noted the lack of surface activity by stripers in the summer, and the explanation seems to be that during the summer bluebacks move into deeper water with the stripers. Since the bait and the stripers hold in the same depth, stripers have less need to come up to chase shad on the surface. The spin on that is that live bait dropped down to the fish works very well.
Jeremy fishes live bait on 12-lb. test line, which seems undergunned when you might catch a 30- or 40-lb. fish.
“The lighter line catches more fish in the clear water,” he says.
He prefers Gamakatsu 2/0 circle hooks because the extremely sharp hook ensures good hookups. His downlines are held down by a 1 1/2-oz. weight, and the hook is fished on a three- or four-foot leader.
When Jeremy needs bait, he catches his own. He throws a cast net at night under lights to catch bait, then keeps it in two 750-gallon tanks and one 1,000-gallon tank at his home.
Lively, fresh bait matters, he says. For hybrids he likes a four- to six-inch blueback, but when he is targeting big stripers he may move up to a six- to nine-inch gizzard shad.
Our second stop was a long, tapering point across the mouth of Conley Creek from the ramp. After the live bait went into the water, Jeremy began throwing a Pencil Popper, and I cast a pearl-colored Zoom Super Fluke on a leadhead. The linesides left our live bait alone, but we had a little spotted-bass excitement. On one retrieve with a Pencil Popper, a spot slashed at the bait five times but somehow evaded all the treble hooks and did not hook up.
Our third stop was the string of small islands leading up to Point 3. Immediately a live bait was hit, and I reeled in a small striper that weighed about two pounds. The river channel horseshoes around both sides of these islands providing deep water nearby, and the linesides easily move up from deep water to feed here. It is a popular and productive place for hybrids and stripers.
Hybrids were first stocked in Nottely in 1999, and they have done well in the lake. According to WRD Fisheries Biologist Reggie Weaver, the fish were introduced both to help control and make use of a large blueback-herring population and to provide hybrid fishing in a mountain lake. Most of the hybrids in the lake are in the 3-lb. to 8-lb. range, but there are some bigger fish. During electrofishing sampling of the lake this year, Reggie netted a couple of fish in the 10-lb. range, and saw another bigger fish that he estimated at 12 or 13 pounds.
GON’s current lake record for Nottely hybrids is an 8-lb., 10.4-oz fish caught in March of this year by James Beize. UPDATE: The Lake Nottely hybrid record is now a 9-lb., 10.56-oz. fish caught by Ray Hartley on March 16, 2015.
To Jeremy’s surprise, we did not catch a hybrid or striper in the hour or so we fished around Point 3.
“Let’s move,” he said.
We picked up our baits and motored to the back of Conley Creek.
“There is almost always bait and hybrids back here,” said Jeremy, as he hooked a blueback through the nostrils.
The water was shallow, less than 15 feet, but we put out two downlines and two freelines and started toward the back of the cove. In the very back of the cove a fenceline runs into the lake from the left and corners along the old creek channel. As we approached we repeatedly saw herring being run completely out of the water near the fence. Jeremy was encouraged.
“The hybrids will stay in here about halfway through the summer, and I have caught a lot of 15- to 20-lb. stripers here, too.”
The rod tip of the rod at his feet suddenly plowed straight down into into the water — the way that hybrids hit. Jeremy picked up the rod as the fish made its first run. Shortly he had the fish at the boat, a hybrid that weighed 4-lbs., 1-oz.
A few minutes later, another downline rod tip was slapped down, and hybrid No. 2 was played to the boat. We were downlining in only 10 feet of water.
“It looks like it is going to be downlines today,” said Jeremy. “Usually I fish two of each until I see what the fish want, then I switch all the lines over. Doesn’t seem like you ought to be able to downline in water this shallow,” said Jeremy, as he unhooked and released his fish. “But the fish don’t seem to mind the boat.”
I lofted a Fluke into the lake near the corner of the flooded fence into water three or four feet deep, and the lure was hit immediately. My fish was another hybrid in the 3- to 4-lb. range.
While we caught a few hybrids in Conley Creek, other than one small fish, the stripers eluded us the day we fished. The fishing for striped bass should be improving by the day as the fish move to summertime structure. When we fished, the water temperature was 76 degrees. As the surface temperature climbs into the 80s, the stripers and then the hybrids will congregate on the usual summertime structure at Nottely: main-lake points and humps. Downlined bluebacks will become the primary fish-catching method, but Jeremy’s Pencil Popper will be on standby for anything breaking on top.
For more info on Jeremy Seabolt’s guide service on Nottely, go to http://www.lakenottelyfishingcharter.com/.