Yes, Lake Lanier is down to the lowest level in its 50-year history, more than 20 feet below full pool. But there is still water more than 100 feet deep in lots of places. The bad news for fisher- men is there are few ramps open, and it is very hard to find a place to launch a boat. The good news is there is still plenty of water to fish, the lake is not crowded and the spotted bass are big and hungry. Also, there are efforts to extend boat ramps, so access to Lanier could be improving.
The lack of rain through mid- December has made the water very clear at Lanier. Extremely low levels have also affected the normal patterns of the bass on the lake. Most winters, the best way to catch spots is to fish very deep for them, but the bass seem to be much more shallow this winter.
Ryan Coleman guides on Lanier, and he’s one of the lake’s best tournament anglers. Ryan won the BASS Southern Tour event on Lanier in 2006. He fishes the Boating Atlanta tournaments on the lake and has won five, including the Classic. On Dec. 2, he won a Boating Atlanta tourney with five spotted bass weighing 19.47 pounds.
Ryan’s best tournament catch from Lanier was five spots weighing 23-lbs., 5-ozs. His best spot from Lanier was a 7-lb., 2-oz. monster caught the first week of February a few years ago, and his best largemouth is a 10-lb., 4-oz. giant caught last January. It is no wonder Ryan says winter is his favorite time of year to fish Lanier.
Ryan is on Lanier about 275 days a year, so he keeps up with the bass, especially the big spots, on a daily basis. Ryan has learned many tricks to catch big spotted bass consistently.
In mid-December, Ryan took me out on Lanier to talk about the changes to the winter patterns this year. We put in at Shoal Creek and fished from there to Brown’s Bridge. Most of the times I looked at the depthfinder while we were running it showed water 90 to 100 feet deep.
We had what Ryan called a slow day — putting more than 20 spots and one striper in the boat. The biggest spot weighed more than 4 pounds, and two more were better than 3 pounds each. Ryan’s best five would have weighed about 15 pounds.
The normal pattern Ryan fishes in the winter is jigging spoons, drop-shot rigs and skirted jigs in deep water. But this year Ryan says the pattern is different, and he expects it to stay differ- ent as long as the water is low. The bass are not going into the creeks as far as usual, and they are not as deep as usual, either.
Bass at Lanier relate to the surface, not the bottom of the lake. When Ryan says bass are 20 feet deep, he means they are 20 feet below the surface. They might be in tree tops at that depth with 50 feet of water under them. Trees and brush are the keys to catching Lanier spots.
With the lake 20 feet low, many trees come up near the surface, and Ryan says the whole lake fishes like one huge brushpile. He is catching fish over these trees in the creeks and on the main lake. A good depthfinder is critical to finding the trees and to locating baitfish and bass.
A variety of baits catch bass at Lanier right now, and Ryan will have several tied on and ready. He fishes a Pointer 100 jerkbait, a Triple Trout swimbait, a Spotsticker jighead with a worm, a jig with a skirted twin-tail trailer, a Fish Head Spin and a spoon. All are fished on St. Croix rods and flu- orocarbon line. The jerkbait and swimbait are fished on baitcasting equipment and the others on spinning equipment.
Ryan always watches his depthfinder and can read it extremely well. There were several times on our trip when he showed me fish moving in reaction to his bait, and he called several hits in advance. He says it is very important to watch your depthfinder while fishing to know what the fish are doing and what you should do.
Fish were already on most of the following spots, and baitfish had moved in as well. They will get even better as the water cools more. You should be able to catch fish all month by following Ryan’s methods on these locations. All depths noted are with the water about 20 feet below full pool. The lake is projected to be at about 23 feet low, at 1047, by mid-January.
No.1: N 34° 15.423–W 83° 55.091 — Go back in Flat Creek past the high bank where it joins Balus Creek, and watch for the first creek to your right. The right bank is very steep coming off a high hill, and there are rocks and wood all along it. Back where the creek narrows down, there are docks that hold fish, and standing timber lines the middle of the creek.
Wind is often a problem while trying to fish in January, and this location offers protection from the wind as well as two options for catching bass. Fish a Spotsticker jig-head worm or a jig with a skirted twin-tail trailer (like a Creepy Crawler). Fish along this bank from the point to the first dock on the right. Fish fairly slowly, working your baits down the steep drop from 5 to 20 feet deep. Ryan fishes both baits on 8-lb. test fluorocarbon line and uses a St. Croix 6- foot Avid spinning rod for both. He says the spinning rod gives him better feel and the ability to set the hook as the bait comes down the bank, and it lets the bait drop more vertically.
After working the steep bank, go out to the middle of the cove, and you will see timber down 18 to 20 feet deep over 30 to 40 feet of water. Fish a jerk- bait or swimbait over these trees, and the spots holding in them will come up to hit the bait. Watch for bass and bait- fish on your depthfinder — fish an area thoroughly when you see them.
Ryan says the colder it gets, the better this location gets. Since it is protected but has good deep water, even with the lake down, it is an excellent place to fish on cold, windy days. And since the creek is a good spawning area, the bass stay here up until it is time to move back to the bedding spots.
No.2: N 34° 14.509–W 83° 55.466 — Go into Balus Creek, and head toward the right bank up from the ramp on your left. Don’t go through the narrow gap toward the back of the creek, but stay to the right, going into the smaller creek there. There are big flats and a long point running out to your right as you go into the creek.
There is standing timber all along this smaller creek channel that holds bass this month. Start fishing about even with the danger marker on the right, and work in as you keep your boat in the middle of the creek. Make casts down the center of the creek, working a jerkbait and a swimbait back over the trees.
Trees come within 10 feet of the surface all along here, and some limbs come almost to the surface. You want to fish the middle of the creek, and Ryan prefers to make casts up and down the creek channel rather than across it. He will often idle in watching his depthfinder for trees, bass and bait- fish until he reaches the end of the timber in the back of the creek. He will then fish back out.
While throwing a jerkbait or a swimbait, watch your depthfinder. You should see lines indicating bass coming up out of the timber and following your bait. Ryan will not stay long in an area unless he is seeing these active fish on his depthfinder. He is an expert at reading depthfinders, and Ryan spends a lot of time on his guide trips explaining how to read them.
No.3: N 34° 13.634–W 83° 59.749 — Run across the lake to Two Mile Creek, and go behind the island that separates it from the main lake. You could still cut through the gap near Bethel Park when we were there, but be careful if you try to go through gaps now. Go into the creek at Two Mile Creek Access behind the 9 TM channel marker, and stay to the right side. This side narrows down to a neck then opens back up behind it, and there is a creek channel coming in here.
If you hit this spot first thing in the morning, work a Fish Head Spin on the bottom on the right side where it nar- rows down. Make a long cast across the point, and let it sink to the bottom, then crawl it along right on the bottom. Bump it along like a dying shad, and bass that have moved into contact with the bottom will hit it.
If it’s later in the morning, move out to the middle of the creek and fish it with your swimbait and jerkbait. You can also swim a Fish Head Spin right on top of the trees here and in other locations. Fish the channel, working to where the timber ends. You will see one limb sticking out of the water along this channel, but there is much more wood below the surface, and it holds the bass.
No. 4: N 34° 13.840 – W 84° 00.905 — Run up Four Mile Creek, and watch for the 3 FM marker on your left. Across from it on your right is a pocket, and upstream of that pocket is a very steep, outside channel bank. This rocky bank drops straight off into the channel, and bass hold along it and around the docks there.
This spot is a good example of another kind of pattern Ryan fishes in January. Start at the triangular-shaped marker with one green side, and fish upstream. There is also a wood-duck box near that marker, and the bottom drops off fast upstream of that spot.
Slowly crawl your jig-head worm or skirted jig down the steep bank. Ryan pours his own 1/4-oz. jigs with a wire weed guard, and he puts a skirted twin-tail trailer on it. He fishes a 4-inch Yum or Zoom worm on his Spotsticker jig head. He works both baits slowly down the drop, staying in contact with the bottom. You can also hop or swim a Fish Head Spin down this bank.
Be sure to cast down the sides of the docks here. There are five docks along this bank, and you should fish them all as well as the bank between them.
No. 5: N 34° 14.489 – W 84° 01.712 — Head up Six Mile Creek past the point on your left with the 9 SM marker on it, and look to your right. Across the creek heading upstream there is a big pocket that you should fish. Stop near the mouth of it, and start into the right pocket. There is an old pond dam across this pocket, and it holds baitfish and bass in the winter.
There is 35 to 40 feet of water near the old pond dam, but it is so shallow you can’t idle across it right now. You will see a PVC brushpile to the left and a wood brushpile to the right that are both right on top of the dam. Fish all the way across the dam, crawling a Fish Head Spin, jig-head worm or skirted twin-tail down the slope of the old dam.
Bright sun helps this spot and others. Ryan says the sun makes the bait- fish more active, and the bass respond. Cloudy days are not as good as sunny days on Lanier. The blueback herring seem to like bright light better than most baitfish, and the spots on Lanier love the bluebacks!
No. 6: N 34° 14.157 – W 84° 02.876 — As you come out of the pocket at hole No. 5, head upstream and marker 10 SM will be on your right. Across the creek and upstream, a smaller creek comes in, and it is an excellent January hole. There is lots of timber in the middle of the creek and more brush on the banks in shallow water. You can see some of it now.
Ryan starts near the point on the left — it has a big, brown-brick house. Follow the well-defined channel toward the back. Ryan fishes the left- side bank with his skirted jig, probing for brush. This creek is also well protected and a good place to fish on windy days.
The outer third of this creek has good standing timber, and Ryan will work it with a swimbait and a jerkbait, making long casts down the middle of the creek. Remember to watch your depthfinder for activity as you fish.
No.7: N 34° 12.801–W 84° 02.112 — Out in the mouth of the creek there is a small creek to your right just before you get to the 3 SM marker. Go in behind this marker to the back of the creek where it narrows down. There are two docks on the left going in, and both have decks on top. One has a blue-and- white paddle boat under it.
Fish the steep bank on your left going in with a skirted jig or jig-head worm. Then get out in the middle, and throw your jerkbait and swimbait over the trees here. This place is also protected and a good wintertime spot.
Watch for swirls and baitfish jumping on top. Ryan got one of his biggest spots of the day by casting his skirted jig to a swirl, and I got a 12-lb. striper on a jerkbait when casting to another. You never know what is making the swirl, but it’s worth a cast.
No.8: N 34° 11.309–W 84° 04.360 — Running up Bald Ridge Creek, channel marker 3 BR will be on your left. To your right you will see a steep, rocky bank that is the outside bend of the creek. The sun hits this bank all day. The channel here is 60 to 70 feet deep, and there is timber just 15 feet off this bank. There are good rocks and stumps all along this bank, and the docks offer more cover to hold bass. The steep banks help protect the bank from the wind.
Start fishing at the first dock on your right, working down the rocks with a Spotsticker jig head, a skirted jig and a Fish Head Spin. Fish beside the docks, too. Between the second and third docks a rocky point is worth several casts with each of your baits.
No. 9: N 34° 09.275 – W 84° 01.746 — Heading up Shoal Creek, go past the island on your right, then go into the second cove past it — the one just downstream of the cove where Lanier Harbor Marina was and where they are now building condos. Stop and idle in, watching for timber under the water.
Ryan says the timber is thick in this cove and stands in 30 to 40 feet of water. Stay in the middle of the cove, and fish over the timber with swimbaits and jerkbaits. Ryan does not fish the docks here this time of year. He stays out in the middle of the cove. Ryan says the bass will be here if the baitfish are present.
No. 10: N 34o 10.229 – W 84o 00.556 — Go across the creek and around the point at Shoal Creek Campground. On your left you will see a pocket that runs in to the road leading to Lake Lanier Islands, and the bath- room house sits on the road at the very back of the cove. This is an excellent place to find baitfish and bass, especially late in the afternoon since the sun shines on it and any wind blows right into it.
The cove has a big, flat bottom and is 40 feet deep. It has timber, too. Ryan says bass stack up in this spot, and you should fish skirted jigs and jig-head worms on the points. Then fish swim- baits and jerkbaits over the trees. If you are here early, go all the way to the back of the pocket and throw a jerkbait very shallow.
All these locations hold spots right now. Fish them and see the kinds of places Ryan looks for in the winter. Remember, there is fishable timber all over the lake, and you can find many more places like these to fish.
To get more information on Ryan or to set up a guide trip with him, visit his website at lanierspots.com or call him at (770) 356-4136. The Triple Trout swimbait Ryan uses is available at Lake Lanier Fishing and Outdoors, but be warned — it costs about $60. They carry all the other baits he uses, too.