It wouldn’t be difficult to make a compelling argument for Lake Lanier being the most dynamic fishery in this great state. Although the 38,000-acre reservoir enjoys national attention for its gargantuan striped bass, it also offers outstanding spotted and largemouth bass fishing for both novice and seasoned anglers alike.
I had the opportunity to experience Lanier’s diversity when I hopped into the boat with Eric Aldrich—a 40-year Lake Lanier veteran, fellow outdoor writer and standout tournament angler. As I climbed into his immaculate Nitro Z-8 bass boat, I was greeted with a friendly handshake, a welcoming smile and a rare combination of confidence and humility. The man has fished this lake longer than I’ve been alive, so to say the least, I was chomping at the bit to get started.
Unless you’ve been indoors for the past 12 months, you’re aware of the brutal winter we recently endured. With ridiculously cold temperatures and near-record precipitation, all of Georgia’s fisheries—Lanier included—have been challenging puzzles to solve. As we idled out of the marina, Eric explained the conundrum when he noticed a 61-degree water temperature reading on his Humminbird electronics.
“It’s been hit-or-miss recently,” he said. “Usually, most of the bass would be postspawn by now, but I don’t think they’ve even cranked up yet. In years past, May water temperatures generally hover at the 70-degree mark, so we’re going to primarily target prespawn bass today.”
We started our big-bass quest on secondary points in the Lake Lanier Islands area. Due to a staunch wind and bluebird skies, Eric opted for a SPRO McStick 110 jerkbait in clear chartreuse. I’ve seen plenty of anglers use jerkbaits on Lanier, but his retrieval method was much different than I was used to. Instead of a traditional “jerk, jerk, pause” cadence, he reeled the McStick as you’d normally retrieve a crankbait—just a slow, steady wind. My cynical expression and not-so-obvious raised eyebrow quickly gave my skepticism away, so with a grin on his face, Eric happily shared the method behind his madness.
“I call this technique ‘stupid fishing’,” he laughed. “We’re looking to mimic blueback herring with this retrieve. They’re spawning this time of year and move very fast through the water—they almost glide. Erratic movement isn’t characteristic of spawning bluebacks, so simply reeling a SPRO McStick is a killer way to catch big spots.”
Well, now I felt a little stupid because his explanation made perfect sense. Matching the behavior and appearance of a bass’ forage is imperative, making “stupid fishing” a totally sensible technique for the current conditions. A couple casts later, Eric got the goose egg out of the boat with a beautiful 2-lb. spotted bass.
“It felt just like a crankbait bite,” he explained. “This breeze is pushing bluebacks against the side of the secondary point, creating an easy meal for the bass. Sometimes when you catch the first one, it will start a miniature feeding frenzy.”
He hit the nail on the head. Sure enough, we were seeing spots racing around the point, annihilating bluebacks. Following some short strikes and a couple of unbuttoned fish, Eric decided to fish some of Lanier’s abundant floating docks. Our trip fell right after a small weather front, so the high barometric pressure and abundant sun was making the schooling spotted bass a bit wary of our baits.
Although we were having some trouble keeping the fish hooked up, Eric cautioned against putting away the reaction baits on high-pressure days.
“Bluebacks constantly move, and big schools of spots are apt to show themselves at any given time, regardless of the conditions,” Eric said. “Always keep a few reaction baits within reach to capitalize on schooling activity.”
As we approached our first stretch of docks in the back-half of Bald Ridge Creek, Eric concentrated heavily on the deeper docks close to channel swings—areas where the creek channel comes close to the bank. During the prespawn period, both spotted bass and largemouth will use creek channels as highways en route to their eventual spawning flats. While using these natural pathways, they will use docks as staging points to rest and feed.
According to Eric, it’s tough to beat a Gamakatsu Skip Gap Shaky Head and finesse-worm combination when fishing these docks. Although the small profile will likely draw strikes from non-keeper bass, nearby giants won’t hesitate to inhale one if the opportunity presents itself.
Every dock we fished was dissected by Eric with surgical precision—dock floats, tie-down cables, boat lifts, jet-ski lifts, pontoon boats and deployed ladders were all fair game. Every so often I’d hear the screech of his spinning reel drag as he set the hook on another 2-pounder. I felt like I was fishing behind a vacuum cleaner.
“I’m a huge believer in JJ’s Magic soft plastic dye,” Eric said. “These spotted bass are known chartreuse lovers and dipping just an inch of your worm’s tail makes an amazing difference. I also feel like the garlic scent helps me get more bites.”
As we worked our way down the stretch of docks, I needed to change something up. I wasn’t going to catch bass doing the same thing as Eric, so he recommended I switch to a Big Bite Baits Jerk Shad. I began working the soft jerkbait between docks, concentrating on isolated shoreline cover such as flooded grass and laydowns. The results were almost immediate, as I finally landed a few mean Lanier spots. The locations in which I caught my fish made perfect sense to Eric.
“Lanier has a ton of flooded cover this year, which we’re not really accustomed to due to the past droughts,” he explained. “Those flooded areas are outstanding areas for spawning bass and bluebacks because it gives them more cover to hide in. Not to mention, as it decays, it also serves as a great food source for both shad and bluebacks.”
Still in search of giant bass, Eric also looked for bedding bass. Although the water temperature was a bit cool for it, he still managed to find a few nice ones on bed. Their attitudes and behavior, however, were a dead giveaway that they had just moved up and weren’t yet committed to protecting their beds.
We continued our search of bedding bass on several sandy flats in the backs of creeks, including the Mary Alice boat ramp and campground area. We were seeing a lot of glowing, white spots—indicative of bass beds—but they simply weren’t ready to be fooled with. Every time we’d get a visual on a bed, the bass would wander away, not to return. Eric caught a couple of the skittish bass, but we were having a hard time finding one of Lanier’s giants.
During the previous week, Eric found a large school of chunky spotted bass on a submerged rockpile in the mouth of Bald Ridge Creek, so as the day wrapped up, we made a few casts in the area. It turned out to be a good decision on his part, as he caught even more bass with the SPRO McStick 110 and Gamakatsu Skip Gap Shaky Head. I caught a few on the Jerk Shad and a 3/4-oz. football jig, but the magnum spots were being a bit camera shy.
Our day on Lanier was filled with plenty of fish which Eric located in a multitude of different areas. Whether he took us sight, dock, school or offshore fishing, he put us on fish all day. Given the challenging conditions and transitioning bass after one of our worst winters in recent memory, I couldn’t have asked for a better fishing day on a challenging Georgia lake—this veteran knew his stuff.
What To Look For In June
In June, expect water temperatures to fluctuate between the upper 70s and lower 80-degree range. The rise in water temperature and increased weather stability will only strengthen the patterns that Eric and I fished during our early May trip.
As our fishing day proved, creek channels and channel-swing banks are an overlooked, yet very important element to late spring and early summer fishing on Lanier. Throughout early June, look for these areas to be loaded with hungry postspawn bass.
“I always preach about ‘bass highways’,” Eric said. “They’re so important in June. Always follow indentations, ditches and channel swings. Any of those areas that have a laydown, rock or brushpile nearby are money.”
When the bass finally wrap up their spawning rituals, it’s always a safe bet to concentrate your efforts on main-lake points and humps. Even if there are a few bass still spawning in early June, don’t let that scare you away from these honey holes.
“In June, I catch really big fish close to deep water,” Eric said. “Big spotted bass love to spawn on deeper points and humps. To make it even better, after bass spawn, bluebacks will spawn on sandy saddles and humps, which makes the bass hang around to feed and recover from their rigorous spawning activity.”
You’re not going to find Eric throwing many finesse baits in June, either. Instead, you can expect him to utilize power-fishing techniques, such as deep crankbaits, big topwater plugs and larger hard jerkbaits.
His favorite way to catch big Lanier bass in June is with topwater plugs. Before the introduction of blueback herring into Lake Lanier 15 years ago, anglers used to struggle throughout the summer. These days, however, it’s a totally different story.
“Contrary to popular belief, lowlight periods aren’t the best time to throw June topwaters on Lanier—it actually gets better throughout the day,” Eric said. “I still target brushpiles in the 20- to 25-foot range like I did before the bluebacks, but now I target the more aggressive, schooling fish.”
When he approaches a deep brushpile, Eric first pinpoints its location on his Humminbird electronics. After locating the submerged cover, he backs away and casts bulky reaction lures such as Heddon Super Spooks, Cotton Cordell Red Fins and SPRO BBZ-1 Swimbaits in rainbow-trout color. If he doesn’t convince a fish to bite within 10 casts, he’ll move directly above the brush and fish vertically with a Big Bite Baits Shaking Squirrel rigged on a drop shot.
“Don’t spend more than 10 minutes in an area,” Eric advises. “I’ll hit up to 60 areas in a single fishing day because big spotted bass will let you know if they’re there—it’s a numbers game in June. Bluebacks are the key, and they move around a lot, forcing anglers to move, too. When you find them, however, you can get healthy in a hurry!”
If he still doesn’t draw a strike while fishing vertically, he brings the reaction baits to the fish. He’ll actually idle his Mercury 250 on top of his brushpiles to stir up big schools of bluebacks. A SPRO Little John DD and a Sworming Hornet Fish Head Spin are perfect choices to take advantage of these stirred-up schools.
“The Little John DD runs a true 17 feet on 12-lb. Sunline fluorocarbon line,” Eric said. “Not only do I target deep brush with this bait, but I’ll also fish rocky bluff walls with it. This type of vertical cover allows you to cover water efficiently and get a feel for the current depth of the fish.”
For all you largemouth gurus reading this, don’t be discouraged. We didn’t forget about you—there’s still hope. Lanier’s high water levels have brought big largemouth back into the equation.
“Go into the shallower flats in the early mornings and late afternoons and cover water with a buzzbait to catch largemouth,” Eric said. “This June, you can probably bust a few 5- to 8-lb. largemouth if you cover enough water—you can actually win a tournament on largemouth now. During full moons when bream are bedding, focus on largemouth all day. In addition to buzzbaits, throw SPRO Little Johns on sandy flats and prop baits around bream beds. That will get you some huge bites this June.”
Don’t let the sheer size and crowds of Lake Lanier scare you away this June. Although it’s an outstanding fishery throughout the entire year, this month will give way to some of the best fishing Georgia has to offer. June’s Lanier bass behavior can change daily, but if you keep an open mind and stay versatile, you’ll be impressed by the results.
For more information on Lake Lanier’s fishing activity, visit Eric’s website at www.lakelanierfishing.info.