Striper fishing on Lake Lanier has grown in popularity over the years to the point where it now rivals Lanier’s famous spotted-bass fishery. For those who do not have the opportunity to be on the water frequently, striped bass can be an elusive quarry and very difficult to catch. I spent a day with striper guide Capt. Mike Maddalena who showed me the ropes for locating stripers on Lanier in September and his techniques for enticing them to bite a hook. Mike’s tips have proven effective in his business, BigFish On Guide Service, and the testimonies of scores of satisfied anglers are a tribute to his time-tested skills. Mike’s techniques can be condensed into three essential ingredients: (1) location, (2) depth control and (3) lure selection. During my fishing trip with Capt. Mike, I learned how these key pieces of the striper-fishing puzzle would fit together and produce positive results. These tips will help improve your success, too.
I met Capt. Mike in the pre-dawn hours at the Charleston Park boat ramp, located on the lower end of the lake just a few miles east of Georgia Hwy 400. Charleston Park is one of a handful of boat ramps that still provides access to the lake during this year of historically low lake levels. As the twilight of dawn emerged over the horizon, I watched a steady stream of striper guides launch their boats. Like me, their eager customers were looking forward to catching Lanier linesides.
Capt. Mike motored his fully out- fitted Carolina Skiff to our first destination located a short distance away at the junction of Six-Mile and Two-Mile Creeks (N 34° 12.261 – W 84° 01.731). Using the GPS unit on his Lowrance LCX-IIIc depthfinder, Capt. Mike pin- pointed several locations where stripers had recently been located in this area. He said, “Stripers were suspending at depths from 30 to 45 feet over a 70- to 100-foot bottom.” Our initial search pattern would focus on a broad flat at the base of a long sloping point at the confluence of these two creek arms.
While searching for a school of stripers, Capt. Mike deployed two of his favorite trolling lures. On the port side, he lowered a 6-inch chartreuse Calcutta Flashfoil Swimbait into the water and on the starboard side, he fished a 2-oz. Capt. Mack’s Chipmunk Jig. Both lures were dropped behind the boat and down to the magic depth of 32 feet using lead-core line. Capt. Mike bragged on the Capt. Mack Jig saying that, “It out trolls every other jig on Lanier.” Both baits are available at local bait shops around Lake Lanier. By 6:40 a.m., we were on the hunt for Lanier stripers.
If you are not familiar with lead- core line, it is the hot-weather method of choice among Lanier striper guides. Having personally used downriggers for trolling, I found that using lead-core line was much easier than the cumbersome cannonballs and quick-releases associated with downriggers. The weighted lead-core line is color-coded in 30-foot-long segments. At our trolling speed of 3 mph, the lead-core line would sink about 4 feet for each color segment. For most of the day, we let out eight colors or 240 feet of lead- core line behind the boat. Mike tipped the lead-core line with a 40-foot leader of 20-lb. test P-Line fluorocarbon line. Because of the underwater forest of standing timber that rises from Lanier’s bottom, hanging into one of these snags can be a frequent occurrence. The long fluorocarbon leader allows all of the pricier lead-core line to be retrieved intact when the lure hooks a limb or tree trunk. Capt. Mike prefers a Palomar knot for tying on his lures rather than the traditional clinch knot.
Because location is such an important key to successful striper fishing, Mike recommended that anglers only work an area for 10 or 15 minutes, if they cannot locate fish.
“Just keep moving until you find fish,” Mike said.
By 7:20 a.m., we had jumped around to three different spots. During this time, Mike was communicating with the other guide boats on the water via two-way radio. This was a frequent occurrence throughout the day as guides worked cooperatively to help narrow the search for schooling stripers. If you don’t have the luxury of two-way radio communication on your boat, Mike suggested contacting the local bait shops around Lanier.
“For the weekend or novice striper angler, the bait-and-tackle shops around Lanier are a great source of information about striper locations and current lure selections,” said Mike.
After trolling through a narrow cut that took us out of Two Mile Creek into the main channel of the lake, the lake opened into a large embayment where we observed a small flotilla of boats about 400 yards straight
“There they are!” said Mike. “If you are a weekend warrior, look for the crowd. There are a bunch of boats in one area for a good reason.”
We joined the other 30 boats drifting on the surface over the main- lake channel in an area located between the mouth of Orr Creek and Vann’s Tavern landing (N 34o 13.739 – W 83o 58.347). One look at the chart recorder revealed the reason for all this activity as the graph lit up will the familiar arches of striped bass.
In this area, the chart recorder marked fish 30 to 40 feet deep near the centerline of the river channel that was about 100 feet beneath the boat.
“This is what we are looking for,” Mike said, and we reeled in our trolling gear and switched over to downlines. “This is my favorite way of fishing,” Mike said, “because the action can be fast and furious.”
Mike had 7-foot, medium-heavy Ugly Stik rods with Daiwa 27 or 47 reels. The downline rods were spooled with 15-lb. test Big Game monofilament. A 2-oz. egg sinker was threaded onto the line above a barrel swivel and an 8-foot leader was below the swivel. A 2/0 Gamakatzu Octopus hook was used to impale a lively blueback her- ring through the roof of the mouth so the point emerged between the eyes. Mike set out a downline rod on each corner of the boat, and we waited for a hook-up.
We observed one or two hook- ups among the boats near the center of the flotilla, but based on the chatter over the two-way radio, the fish had not really turned on. To encourage the stripers to take the bait, Mike utilized a new technique for me, which he called, “power reeling.”
“When fish are bunched up like this, you can drop a Capt. Mack’s jig tipped with a herring down and slowly retrieve the bait to within 20 feet or so of the surface. They usually can’t stand it.”
As I started power reeling, Mike’s only advice to me was, “Hang on!” Apparently, some of the other guides were also power reeling while they waited for the downline bite to heat up. Over the next 30 minutes, most of the fish that were caught were on the power-reeling technique. Unfortunately, we were not among the lucky few.
By 9 a.m., the stripers appeared to leave the area and the flotilla dispersed. We reeled in the downlines and motored over to the mouth of Orr Creek where we found a few lingering stripers. Mike let out eight colors of lead-core line and started trolling jigs. Because subtle differences in presentation can sometimes trigger a strike, Mike decided to tip one of the jigs with a herring. Capt. Mike’s ability to adapt to changing conditions would soon pay off for us.
Good fortune was on our side as we soon relocated the larger school of stripers that had vacated the other area. Mike’s guiding partner, Ken West, was a couple of hundred yards downstream from us, and he had quickly hooked four fish in the 6- to 10-lb. range. As we trolled through the fast-moving school, Mike hooked our first fish of the day at 9:52 a.m. on the jig and herring combination.
“Maybe this is the presentation they are looking for today,” Mike pro- claimed, as he reeled in a scrappy 6-lb. striper.
Shortly after putting a herring onto my jig and getting it into magic depth zone, I hooked my first fish of the day, a plump 4-lb. striper. After about 30 minutes, the school disappeared once again. By the time we lost the school, we were near the mouth of Flowery Branch and Three Sisters Islands (N 34° 11.940’ – W 83° 59.773’).
Adhering to Mike’s first rule of moving frequently when you are not charting fish, we picked up again and headed downstream to Shoal Creek (N 34o 09.676’ – W 84o 01.650’), which is within sight of the dam. Mike had marked some fish in this area a few days earlier and hoped he could find them again. About one-third of the way back into the cove, Mike’s graph marked a small school of stripers. It was 10:45 a.m. when we set out four downlines into the school. Using the trolling motor, Mike slowly moved across the cove at speeds between 0.5 and 1 mph. The baits were staggered at different depths ranging from 30 to 60 feet deep over an 80-foot bottom. Like before, the school was located near the centerline of the channel and a few fish were scattered in the standing timber.
Mike also tossed out his power reeling jig tipped with a herring. Within a couple of minutes, the biggest fish of the day took off with the jig-and-her- ring combo. With the rod tip doubled over and the drag screaming, Mike hollered his favorite slogan, “Big fish on!” But as he began to gain a little line back onto the Daiwa reel, the fish suddenly pulled loose.
“That’s fishing,” Mike said. “It’s just part of the game.”
We lost the school by 11:15 a.m., so we switched over to trolling lead core with herring-tipped jigs once again. We made several laps around the cove, marking a few pods of fish here and there. During one lap, the rod tip nearest me doubled over under the tugging of another striper. I set the hook and began to reel in the 250 feet of lead core-line plus the leader. The fish made a couple of strong bursts, but he quickly succumbed to the pressure of the thick-butted Ugly-Stik rod. Mike gripped our largest fish of the day that touched the scales around 8 pounds. Before we left Shoal Creek around noon, we had one more brief hook up, but we lost that fish, too. Our day’s total was three fish boated and two fish pulled off. Our catch total was fairly decent based on the radio chatter I heard among the guides, many of whom zeroed out for the day.
So, let’s review the tips that Capt. Mike shared on this outing. The first tip is location. Locating schools of stripers is essential to catching fish.
Mike said, “A good electronic- chart recorder is critical to locating stripers in Lake Lanier. Without good electronics, you will be fishing blind and have nothing but luck on your side to help you catch fish.”
To help narrow your search, Mike suggested the following areas for starters: The mouth of Six Mile and Two Mile creeks, the area between the confluence of Six Mile and Two Mile creeks and the Three Sisters Islands, the mouth of Orr Creek, and the mouth of Flowery Branch.
“You should fish these high-percentage areas first,” said Mike. “Most of the stripers are in this lower third of the lake in late summer. Toward the end of summer, they will migrate closer to the dam.”
Because this has been a relatively good water quality year due to the drought, Mike said the fish are still fairly scattered.
“Because of these conditions,” he said, “you’ve got to explore a lot of territory with your trolling jigs and swim baits. But by summer’s end, most of the action will occur in front of the dam.”
Capt. Mike’s second tip for anglers is to use lead-core line for trolling jigs and swimbaits in deep water.
“Right now, fish are suspended at 30 to 40 feet deep over treetops and near the river channel,” he said.
All the fish we marked during our outing met those criteria.
“Once you have located a few fish, you can let out about eight colors of lead-core line and hopefully get a couple of hook ups,” he said. “The Capt. Mack jig is the hottest thing going right now.”
The jig certainly worked for us, especially when it was tipped with a lively blueback herring.
Mike’s third tip was to use the “power-reeling” technique.
“If you locate a school of stripers, lower a jig through the school and then slowly retrieve it up toward the surface,” he said. “The movement of that jig through a school will sometimes trigger a striper to hit the lure hard, so hang on.”
Most of the stripers that were caught in the one large school of fish that we found among the large flotilla of boats were hooked using the power-reeling technique.
Finally, as summer winds down, the stripers will move closer to the dam and become more bunched up. If you mark a large school of stripers on your graph, Mike advises you to lower her- ring on downlines right into the school.
“When the bite is on,” he said, “you can expect multiple hook ups in a short period of time. It’s a lot of fun!”
If you are out on Lanier and hear someone holler, “Big Fish On!” look around for a robust man in a center- console Carolina Skiff with gray Bimini top because I’ll bet you’ll find Capt. Mike Maddalena doing battle with another Lanier striper.
For more information about the latest movement patterns and hottest lures for Lanier stripers, Capt. Mike recommends two websites: <www.lake lanierguide.com> and GON’s webpage at <www.forum.gon.com>.
Capt. Mike Maddalena can be reached at (770) 598-5195. His website address is www.BIGFISHONGUIDE.com.
You can catch Capt. Mike’s next striper seminar at the Bass Pro Shop located on Sugar Loaf Parkway on Sept. 19 at 1 p.m.