Mike Meason and I had been throwing spinnerbaits and jigs on Lake Varner for a few hours and hadn’t had a bite.
“There’s no harder time to do an article for y’all than in February,” said Mike. “March is unbelievable out here, but February can be tough.”
As is the case with so many GON fishing articles, we have to fish a month before the fishing gets good in order to get pictures and to see what kind of patterns will be working the following month.
However, despite an empty livewell we both knew that throwing a lure into Varner on any given day can get your arm broke.
I’ve said this before in the pages of GON, and I’ll say it again: In my opinion, Lake Varner is the No. 1 public-fishing spot in north Georgia.
Restricted to boats with electric-motors only, Lake Varner has an incredible reputation for above-average numbers of largemouths over eight pounds, and each spring and summer you hear about several lunkers in the 10- to 12-lb. range. A few of those giants have already begun to show their big heads.
At the High Voltage Bass Anglers tournament on February 12, the winning team had five Varner fish that weighed 34.43 pounds. Second place weighed 25.20 pounds, which included a 10.05-pounder. Mike and his partner’s limit went 14.25 pounds, a weight that usually gets you a fat check in a major-reservoir tournament. Even though Mike didn’t finish in the money, he has left these jonboat tournaments plenty of times with a first-place finish. He says March is his time to catch monsters at Varner. His best tournament at Varner was last March when he and his partner weighed in 30.8 pounds. Second place for that tournament was 30.2 pounds.
“In Varner tournaments, 30 pounds has been broken four times, once in February, twice in March and once in April,” said Mike. “There have been uncountable sacks over 25 pounds, and it usually takes 20 pounds to win. This proves that Varner outshines every lake north of Dodge County PFA.”
Mike has caught countless 8-lb. bass out of Varner, and his biggest from a tournament was a 9.86-pounder caught in March on a spinnerbait. His largest-ever Varner bass was a giant over 12 pounds. Mike helps out with the Johnboat Bass Association trail, but he fishes several other jonboat trails.
Mike and I weren’t fishing a tournament, but I could tell the pressure with me in the boat was about as stressful to him. To prove Varner’s reputation, he really wanted a big fish in the boat while one of GON’s cameras was along for the day.
We spent the first few hours fishing up the right fork of the lake above the island. There’s an old roadbed up there where Mike had been catching some wintertime fish. After the uneventful morning, we agreed to look for a shallow bite. From the roadbed, we headed up the lake and into the first cut on the left. We were in five feet of water when I decided to put down my heavy spinnerbait and pick up a spinning rod with a small crankbait attached. The Suddeth-looking plug is made by Farley baits, and it’s called the Trash Man. Known for it’s wide wobble, it’s a big-fish bait.
On my third cast with the shallow runner, it splashed two feet to the right of a brushpile. Two turns of the reel handle and the 8-lb. test line loaded up.
“I don’t know how big it is yet — it’s running at the boat,” I told Mike.
When the fish got its first look at the side of the boat, line began stripping from my reel. Twenty feet behind the boat, she surfaced.
I shot a look at Mike that said, “GET THE NET!”
After some careful steering around the back of the Mike’s Ray electric motor, he was able to scoop her in the net.
“I told you this lake is incredible,” said Mike.
We put her on the scales, and she weighed 8-lbs., 2-ozs. It was kind of surprising to see her in skinny water, but we figured the unusually warm weather had pushed her up shallow. I was tickled to put her in the livewell for some pictures later. The pressure was off. For me, it was time to start picking Mike’s brain about consistently catching big sows on Varner in March.
Mike said March is the prespawn month at Varner and is an excellent time to find big females schooled together. He’ll use power-fishing techniques to catch them.
“There’s such a big population of big fish that you can afford to go out there and specifically target trophy largemouths,” said Mike. “There’s a fairly high percentage of big fish that will see that big bait. When you go to Stone Mountain Lake, you might run a big spinnerbait past 20 1-pounders that may shy away from a big bait before a bigger fish will ever see your bait.”
Mike said that his power-fishing methods produced the 31-lb. Varner sack last March.
“We were slow-rolling spinnerbaits on staging flats off the edge of the channel,” said Mike. “Slow is such a huge key with the spinnerbait in six to 12 feet of water once March rolls around. Throw that spinnerbait out there, let it sink to the bottom, rip it up off the bottom to get the blade turning and just slow-roll it. In early March, the water is just hitting 50 degrees, and the largemouths aren’t going to chase something down. Plus, you’ll have to slow-roll it just to keep the bait down. I’m running an Ol Nellie, 1/2-oz.
white/chartreuse bait with a big, tandem Colorado blade. I like gold, especially on the trailing blade.”
The High Voltage tournament was won last month when the first-place team found a school of big fish on a deep staging area. When Mike is searching for a school of big fish, he’ll use a big spinnerbait as a locator bait.
“Later in March you will find the big females spread out — you can just run the banks and find them,” said Mike. “In early March when those fish first pull out of the channel, you’ll often find them schooled together.
“It’s all about efficiently covering water and catching big fish. The spinnerbait is the ultimate big-fish, cover-water, high-percent-landing bait out there. Yo-yoing a 3/4-oz. Rat-L-Trap is good for covering water, but you’ll lose a higher percentage of fish.”
This month Mike will concentrate on staging flats up the right fork of the lake between the island and the bridge. The channel in this stretch of water is 20-feet deep. When you leave the channel, it’s a gradual slope toward the spawning coves.
“There are not many drops in that part of the lake,” said Mike. “But on both sides of the lake in that stretch there are cuts. Some of those cuts will have points coming off, but most of them don’t. I work the mouths of the cuts and both sides going in. If I’m not finding fish, I’ll pull back into the six- to 12-foot range.”
Early March can be tough to locate a consistent bite because the fish are schooled together. However, when you get a bite, Mike said there’s a chance you’ve found a school of big sows. He’ll work the area thoroughly.
“Those fish are there to eat,” said Mike. “The days are getting longer, and the fish know it’s time to start eating a lot. You don’t have to worry about throwing the wrong bait. You should catch at least one of them, even if it’s not the bait they want to see. You may be able to fine-tune your presentation once you find the fish.
“When you find them, you may throw a jig or even a Carolina rig. Don’t ever assume because you caught a fish that it was fluke. That’s when you have to bear down and figure out what’s going on there.”
The jig ’n pig and a jerkbait are two other baits to throw this month.
“The Rat-L-Trap and the jig are universal,” said Mike. “In stained water, I’m throwing a spinnerbait. If the conditions are more on the clear side, my favorite bait is the jerkbait.
“I specifically like a Pointer 100 jerkbait, especially in early March when the water is just barely over 50 degrees,” said Mike. “I think fish can be turned off by too much action in a bait. Pausing 10 seconds isn’t too long. I’ve caught more fish by watching the line and seeing it move.”
There are several long, tapering points in this section of the lake, and Mike said they’re good places to catch fish during the prespawn. When you troll up the right side of the lake there’s a cove on the left just before you get to the island. There’s a pontoon boat in it. At the mouth of that cut, you’ll find two obvious points at the mouth that are good places to fish before the spawn. When bass go on the bed, that cut will hold some fish.
Once you pass the island, there’s a long rip-rap point on the right.
“This is a great place to slow-roll a spinnerbait or fish a jerkbait,” said Mike. “From the tip of that point, you can make a long cast and be in the middle of the channel. Bass have their travel routes from the channel to their spawning ground, and if you can find where a long point nearly touches the channel, that’s where a lot of bass will move up to spawn.”
From this point up, Mike will work the mouths of the cuts and the sides going in during the first few weeks of March. If you’re not getting bit, back off until you find the fish. The farther you go up the lake, the more likely the water will have some color to it, which Mike said makes for a good spinnerbait bite.
In late March, as water temperatures approach 60 degrees, Mike will begin to throw floating worms, Senkos and Trick Worms, along with the jig, Rat-L-Trap and jerkbait.
Mike caught a 4-pounder later that day at the mouth of a cut using a big spinnerbait. Overall, Mike said the fishing was slow, but two fish going 12 pounds is a fun way to spend a day.
Take Mike’s fishing advice — he’s as good as they come in March. Begin to poke around, and what bites your lure may just surprise you.
If you live in Newton or Walton counties, it’s free to fish Varner. If you live outside these counties, it’s $5 per vehicle and $5 per boat. From November 1 – March 31 hours are from 7 a.m. until 6 p.m. The hours from April 1 – October 31 are 7 a.m. – 9 p.m.
To get to Varner, take I-20 east of Atlanta to Alcovy Road. Drive north for 2.2 miles, and the entrance is on your left.