When summer heat drives the bass toward the bottom, picking the right lake to fish can be important. Here are three options in North Georgia you do not want to miss this month.
Photo by Ron Sinfelt
By Ronell Smith
From late February through early June, when largemouth and spotted bass are largely shallow, just about anyone capable of opening the bail on a spinning rod can catch fish with regularity. The fish, which initially come shallow to spawn, hang out around just about any piece of cover or structure as they take advantage of the plentiful shad and bream still spawning along the shoreline.
But when the weather turns scorching hot, usually in August, the fish return to their deep-water haunts, and the bank-beaters can pack it up and go home. With the exception of the early mornings and late evenings, the fish won't be anywhere near the shoreline. Those targeting the banks may get nary a bite all day.
Usually during this time of the year, largemouth and spotted bass suspend over structure such as points, humps or channel ledges, or along cover such as brushpiles or docks.
Catching them now is, indeed, a challenge, requiring both good equipment and a great feel for the slightest sensation being telegraphed through the tip of the rod. For the legion of bank-beaters, this can be more work than fun.
But on deep, clear Southern lakes such as Lanier, Russell and Allatoona, fishing deep is a requirement during the summer months.
One of the key difficulties in targeting these fish, however, is successfully getting a bait or lure down to them. The offering needs to be heavy enough to sink fast, but it also needs to be light enough so that you can impart enough action to draw a strike. Thus the lures most used by anglers targeting bass in this deep water are jigging spoons, spider grubs, lead-headed worms, large spinnerbaits, deep-diving crankbaits and drop-shot soft plastics.
Usually known as the "dead sea" for the lack of structure on the lake, Allatoona is an excellent place for anglers to target spotted bass and largemouths in deep water. Though the lake lacks cover such as standing timber, it has plenty of docks, points and brushpiles, all of which attract baitfish and invite bass to take refuge during the long, hot summer.
The lake also has plenty of humps and ditches, which is where Woodstock angler David Millsaps does most of his fishing in late summer.
Armed with a big deep-diving crankbait and a large spinnerbait, Millsaps looks for humps of ditches in water roughly 15 to 25 feet in depth. Once he finds structure in this depth range, he then situates his boat so that he can place his bait in high-percentage locations. In the case of a hump, he puts his boat to the side of the structure and then throws his crankbait past the hump. The crankbait, which has been weighted so that it sinks, goes straight to the bottom, he explained. After it hits bottom, Millsaps begins to reel, allowing the lure to deflect off any cover along the bottom as the bait approaches the hump.
"That's the real key to catching them," he said. "You've got to stay in contact with the bottom."
Millsaps, who uses a white crankbait in clear water and a blue-back/chartreuse crankbait in dingy water, mainly targets largemouth using this technique, but has caught spotted bass as well.
When fishing the ditches on Allatoona, he looks for areas in the same depth range as the humps, but instead of situating his boat off to the side of the structure, he gets right over it.
Often his bait of choice in this situation is a 1/2-ounce white spinnerbait with a single Colorado or willow blade.
A single blade provides less lift than a double-bladed lure, allowing him to fish deeper and slower. With his boat in water about 25 feet deep, he casts to where the water is 10 feet over the ditch; then he allows the bait to hit the bottom. Engaging the reel, he slowly retrieves the bait, allowing it to knick the bottom.
This technique requires a very sensitive feel and a fast-tipped rod, as the bites won't be the typical jarring strikes felt when a bass strikes in shallow water. Instead, Millsaps often won't feel anything at all when a fish strikes, but he sees the line jump. Other times, however, the hits are more like a thump at the tip of the rod.
"It's like someone grabs the tip of your rod and pulls down," he said. "When you feel that, you've got to jerk. A lot of times it won't be a fish, but a lot of times it will."
Using the spinnerbait and the crankbait, he has caught some absolute hogs from Allatoona in the summer months. Millsaps said he's caught numerous 6- and 7-pound largemouths, along with several in the 8- and 9-pound range, using these baits in deep water.
An angler known for his prowess at catching fish in myriad ways, Millsaps finds that the keys to catching fish in deep water on Allatoona are to find the cover or structure in the 15- to 25-foot range and then use baits that draw reaction strikes.
Asked what he likes about catching fish in deep water during the summer months, Millsaps answers quickly.
"That's where they are," he said matter-of-factly. "You can't catch them if they aren't there."
Anglers can enjoy some excellent deepwater spotted bass activity this month as well on Allatoona. For spots, try the main-lake points and docks on the lower end of the lake, near the dam. Here the water will be clear and the spots can be caught in water anywhere from 9 to 40 feet deep. Although Carolina rigs with small finesse worms are the staple baits, try using 1/4- and 3/8-ounce jigs tipped with single- or twin-tailed grubs.
This provides excellent fishing in late summer, as the spotted bass often are found hovering over points or along brushpiles situated in deep water. Cast the jig out, and then after it hits bottom, begin hopping it back to the boat. It's not uncommon to catch 20 or 30 spots on a good day, with many of them taking the lure in water 35 to 40 feet deep.
If there was ever a lake for taking advantage of some excellent deep-water bass fishing, Lake Lanier has to be it. This deep, clear body of water located a half-hour from Atlanta has become one of the best lakes in the country for catching spotted bass. Over the last few years, with the appearance of the blueback herring, these fish have grown to enormous proportions, with many in the 5-plus-pound ra
nge taken every year.
Lanier is famous for its early-morning topwater bite during the summer, a period when spotted bass light up the surface in pursuit of buzzbaits or jerkbaits and even spinnerbaits waked under the surface.
Yet there is a period, usually in late summer of each year when the bite becomes especially tough in the daytime hours. This is when savvy anglers target the large spots around brushpiles and standing timber in water 35 to 50 feet deep.
Since spotted bass now outnumber their largemouth cousins roughly 9-to-1 in the lake, it's easy to target them just about anywhere on Lanier. For the best success, put in at Balus Creek, which is about mid-lake, and then look for humps or main-lake points that run close to the river channel. This area is loaded with humps, many of which drop into water 35 to 50 feet deep on either side.
One of the best ways to target the fish in this area is to look for baitfish on a graph-type depthfinder and then try presenting a jigging spoon right off the bottom. A 1/2 to 3/4-ounce spoon allows you to get the bait quickly down to the bottom, where it can be jerked erratically to draw strikes. Another option is to use a drop-shot rig featuring a plastic worm or other soft-plastic offering.
It is no secret that drop-shots take a good many fish on Lanier each year in water 30 to 50 feet deep. It's an excellent way to catch good numbers of aggressive spots.
Another way to catch these deep-water spots is to look for brushpiles located at the end of main-lake points and then drop down a worm on a 3/16- to 1/4-ounce leadhead. Paul Hanley, a Hull resident who used to guide on the lake, has taken numerous spots from Lanier using this technique.
Hanley said he lowers the bait right down to where the fish are holding, and if the spots are hungry it's not long before the rod begins to load.
"Spots love that worm,'' Hanley stated.
One of the biggest complaints with fishing deep is that it's often hard to feel the bite. Unlike the typical "tap...tap...tap" felt when a spot takes a plastic worm in shallow water, these deep-water bites feel similar to the placing of a wet napkin on the end of the line to create a dead weight.
To confront this situation, many anglers just snatch at any hint of a strike. But at least there is another way to gain an edge. Placing a stinger hook in the tail of the worm, attached to the main hook by a wire, can be the answer. Then if a fish just "mouths" the bait, he also gets a hook.
This is especially important on Lanier, as there is a period during the late summer during which spotted bass can be taken from 60 to 70 feet of water, depths at which there will definitely be little sensation when they take the lure.
Another option for Lanier's deep-water spots is a spider grub. This rig, consisting of a jig with a football-shaped head matched with a twin-tailed grub, works well for crawling the bait along the lake's plentiful rocky points.
Think of Lake Richard B. Russell in the summer, and the impoundment's many points, humps and ditches have to come to mind. When the water gets hot, the largemouth and spots stack up on these structures, providing a haven for anglers skilled with fishing deep-water Carolina rigs, deep-diving crankbaits and slow-rolled spinnerbaits. But also do not forget the lake's plentiful stands of timber, where largemouths frequently hover in the summer, nor the bridge pilings on the upper end of the lake - a place where spots can be taken over water more than 100 feet deep!
A big advantage Russell has over other lakes is that it doesn't receive the amount of recreational boat traffic that most lakes its size get, owing to the impoundment not having any residential development along its edges.
But what Russell lacks in recreational activity, it more than makes up for with great deepwater fishing.
For largemouths, anglers do well to stay on the upper end of the lake and fish the stands of timber on the main lake, off the Savannah River. In several locations, the main-river channel swings right in against the large expanses of cover, providing an excellent location for presenting a deep-diving crankbait or 3/4-ounce spinnerbait. The key here is to get the bait down 15 feet or more and then allow it to knick the wood. Often the largemouths are holding tight to the wood, especially during sunny days, and they can just about jerk the rod from an angler's hands when hitting the bait. Other lures to try here include heavy jigs and tubes, both of which sink fast and likely draw a reaction strike.
If the standing-timber bite doesn't come to fruition, you can fish some of the large flats or points just off the channel, using Carolina rigs. This is an excellent way to catch numbers of fish on Russell. Situate the boat in 35 to 40 feet of water and then start dragging the bait across the flat or along the point. Great baits for this are watermelon seed or green pumpkin plastic worms.
Russell has numerous channel markers dotting its surface. These posts also give away the location of numerous brushpiles. Often these brushpiles won't be located right next to the markers, however. Most times, anglers use the marker post along with another landmark to line up with, and then they drop this cover into the water. Try approaching the marker from the deepest water, all the while keeping an eye on the depthfinder. Usually, there is a telltale manmade hump that appears on the screen in water 15 to 40 feet deep. Once this cover is found, it's time to pull out a Texas-rigged worm or a crankbait.
Using a spinning rig loaded with 8- to 10-pound-test line, toss a 4-inch finesse worm to the brushpile on a 2/0 hook and 1/8-ounce sinker. After the rig lands on the cover, start quickly shaking the rod tip, which imparts a quivering action to the bait. Any largemouth or spotted bas in the area won't be able to stand it.
If that doesn't work, tie on a crankbait that dives 15 to 18 feet. Throw the lure past the brushpile and then pull it right through the debris, allowing it to deflect off any branches. Many times, the water is too deep to allow the bait to hit the cover. In that case, burn the crankbait back to the boat with a fast retrieve over the cover, and as it gets right above it, jerk the rod hard several times. This action of the rod causes the bait to act erratically - which can often pull fish up out of the cover.
In the last several years, spotted bass have become mainstays on Georgia's lakes. To anglers preferring their larger cousins, this occurrence is a lamentable fact. But a big advantage of having spotted bass in a lake is that it provides some dynamite action year 'round, since spotted bass are not as temperature-sensitive as largemouths. What it has also done is provide some top-shelf deepwater fishing. Russell is no exception. For some of the best spotted bass action, fish the bridge pilings at the State Route 72 bridge, on the lower end of the lake. The water here is usually over 100 fe
et in depth, but the spotted bass are suspended 25 to 50 feet below the surface.
For years now, anglers have been throwing finesse worms on a leadhead right up against the pilings and then counting it down 35 feet or so to catch the fish. But an equally successful technique is to use a deep-diving jerkbait. Cast the bait past one of the pilings and then jerk it down to its maximum depth. As it's twitched past the piling, make the lure bump the cover. When it deflects off, there's a good bet a spotted bass will be there to gobble it up.
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