When the blueback herring took off in Lake Lanier and created a midday, heat-of-the-summer topwater bite for magnum spotted bass, I imagine there was a young angler all by himself, not another boat or a single jetski in sight, grinning like a possum eating persimmons.
On the south end of Lanier, they are calling up spotted bass from obscene depths, but he is power fishing — cranking and flipping. His box is full of fat Lake Lanier largemouths, and that summer topwater bite for spotted bass down the lake only makes it less likely he’ll see any competition. On Lanier in June, he’s usually all alone way up the lake catching summertime largemouths.
Billy Boothe of Gainesville is only 20 years old, but he’s living a life to make hard-core bass fishermen drool. He lives in the back of Sardis Creek on Lanier, and he fishes full-time, mostly as a tournament angler but also as a guide for bass fishermen.
Billy already has numerous top-10s on his resume. When he was 17 and a junior in high school, Billy won a boat in an HD Marine tournament at Lake Keowee, and two weeks later he was featured in a GON article.
“I was more pumped about that article than winning the boat,” Billy said. “My friends loved it.”
The Keowee win was significant not just because it put enough money in the bank to allow Billy to go after his dream of competing in the top levels of pro bass fishing, but he won it on the largemouth pattern that he figured out on the upper reaches of Lake Lanier.
Billy’s pattern begins with topwater early. Then once the sun gets on the water, he fishes a jig on blowdowns, logjams and docks, and he cranks main river-channel ledges and long points that extend out near the channel.
“I was pretty young when my dad and grandpa and me were fishing in the back of a creek. It was super hot day, in the middle of the summer,” Billy said. “We were really just messing around, but I saw some pretty good bass just hanging there in a blowdown, and I started thinking about how to catch fish like that.”
Mostly, Billy’s summertime pattern produces largemouths, and because of that he concentrates north of Thompson Bridge up the Chattahoochee River.
“You know, you can do these same things down the lake in the backs of the creeks, but there are just not as many largemouths down there as there are on the upper end. I pretty much stay on the north end.”
Billy said his approach to an area up the river or in the very back of a creek is similar to how you’d go about fishing a farm pond.
“I just know there are fish in the area. They don’t really go anywhere all year. Normally, when they’re done spawning, usually after the full moon in May, they make a big push and get on this summertime stuff. By the first week in June, people should be able to go out there and duplicate this pattern pretty easily. Once those fish pull out there, they stay there until September. There’s so much current, you don’t have to worry about the thermocline up there.”
For the first hour or so, the bass are mostly scattered on flats, so Billy fishes fairly fast, trying to pick up some bass that are up feeding on the flats.
“I start in the morning throwing topwater on flats or in the backs of the creeks. Mostly the flats are near channel swings or they are flats right on the main river channel,” Billy said.
He typically throws a buzzbait and a Pop-R.
“Probably the biggest mistake people make when they come up to this end of the lake is they’re still fishing like they do down the lake where it’s bluebacks. Up here, it’s threadfins and gizzard shad. People get up here and burn a Sammy or throw a Pointer jerkbait, but up here the shad will be relating to the bottom or a blowdown or brushpile.
“I usually fish topwater the first hour of daylight, then I go the channel swings and ledges near those same flats. I catch those same fish when they move out off the flats.”
The topwater, while fun, is just a warmup to the meat of Billy’s summertime pattern.
“The hotter the better. I like a high sun. Those are the perfect days, the kind of day when it’s miserable to be on the lake. The fish relate to the ledges and blowdowns so much better.”
Something that will mess up Billy’s pattern is rain or lots of cloud cover.
“That scatters the bass out on the flats and makes them harder to pinpoint,” he said. “If it’s cloudy, you’re probably better off staying on the shallow flats. Throw a buzzbait or a Mann’s 1-Minus crankbait. Those fish seem to roam the flats and feed on shad unless the sun is out.”
On a typical summer day with a high, hot sun, Billy’s No. 1 bait for fishing up the river on Lanier is a Mann’s 15+ crankbait.
“I’m cranking the main river ledges and long points that come out to the channels. It seems like the key depth is that 12- to 15-foot range, and the Mann’s 15+ gets down there and deflects off the bottom.”
Billy said a basic shad color is good, and he also likes a chartreuse white or a custom color he had done that is similar to chartreuse shad.
Although he’ll fish other ledges and long points, Billy said the best ones are always going to be on channel swings.
If the ledge or point is a little deeper, Billy uses the Mann’s 20+ crankbait, and he’ll also try a shallow-running Mann’s 1-Minus. He likes a grey ghost crystaglow color for the shallow-running crankbait.
“Sometimes those shad get right on top. If those fish are in 11 inches of water, you want something in their face, not something that’s going to go under them.”
Something that has made a big difference in his success while fishing a crankbait is switching to a fiberglass rod made by American Rodsmiths.
“My strike-to-catch ratio has gone up 2 to 1,” Billy said. “I like a rod with a real slow (noodle tip) action. If a fish jumps, the hooks won’t pull out. Another thing, with a graphite rod, if a fish breathes on your plug you can feel it. With graphite I was setting the hook before it was completely in the fish’s mouth, so for me the fiberglass is forgiving in that way, too. When you feel a fish, you just sweep the rod tip and you got him. It doesn’t matter how many times he jumps.”
Billy said having confidence that there are quality largemouths in the areas he is fishing is a key to his success, because it’s not typically a pattern that is going to produce big numbers of bass. With a tournament mentality, he’s fishing for five or six bites, but he knows they are going to be quality bites.
“I’ll work down a point or a channel swing, and if I don’t catch them on the crankbait, I turn right back around and work it with a Carolina-rig,” Billy said. “Those fish are there. It’s just a matter of what or when they want to eat.”
When fishing the Carolina rig on the ledges and points up the lake at Lanier, Billy likes a six-inch Mann’s Hardnose finesse worm.
“I always throw kudzu up there. I don’t know what it is, but they really like that color up there,” he said.
Another of Billy’s primary techniques is fishing a jig in the thick cover of blowdowns, logjams, and under docks. He uses a green pumpkin, 3/8-oz. Mann’s Stone Jig, usually with a twin-tail grub trailer that is also in the popular green pumpkin color.
“That Stone Jig has a pretty unique design. The flat bottom on the head makes it stand up straight. It looks just like a crawfish,” Billy said.
The head design also features ridges that are molded into the sides of the jig head for more water displacement and a different vibration, and it tapers to a point so it slides over rocks and brush a little better.
Like most of his locations for his summertime pattern on Lanier, Billy said the best spots to flips are structure that is on channel bends. Some of the those channel bends will have a bank or small pocket that is loaded up with logs. These log jams in the channel bends are excellent for flipping a jig.
“I’m a firm believer that the first pitch you make is the important one. Nine times out of 10 that’s your best chance to catch a big fish,” Billy said. “I take my jig and put it in the thickest, nastiest part of a laydown first.”
Billy said if you fish the edges first, you might catch a small bass, and that could mess up your chances of catching a bigger bass that is laying in the heart of the laydown.
You probably noticed that every bait mentioned by Billy is made by Mann’s and have probably assumed he is just pumping a sponsor. But Billy isn’t sponsored by Mann’s, he just likes their baits.
“About four years ago my dad was fishing a Rat-L-Trap, and I had bought a 1-Minus and was trying that, and I started outfishing him 2-1. Then I started trying their other crankbaits, then their soft plastics. I’ve just done real well with them.”
I have a feeling Billy is going to be doing real well for a real long time to come. He has a big tournament coming up — the Citgo Bassmaster Southern Tour is coming to Lake Lanier… in September.
How awesome would it be to see 20-year-old Billy Boothe use his summertime pattern and bring a sack full of largemouths to the BASS scales?
Maybe we’ll get a string of those sunny, 90-degree September days, and the largemouths up the river will be sitting on their summertime ledges and blowdowns…