Whether hybrid, striped or white bass, lakes Allatoona and Lanier provide some springtime action for these fish. Here's a look at the fisheries and how to take advantage of them. (April 2009)
There are some sleek, swift fish swimming in waters near Atlanta that will stretch your string like no other freshwater fish. Striped, white and hybrid bass fight harder than other fish you can hook in Allatoona and Lanier, and this time of year is a great time to catch them.
The author tossed a jerkbait into a surface-feeding melee on Lake Lanier and hooked this striped bass. Photo courtesy of Ronnie Garrison.
These three species are all closely related and are in the Morone family of fish. They are true bass, unlike black bass that are actually in the sunfish family. White bass are a freshwater species, stripers are saltwater fish that spawn in fresh water and hybrids are a manmade cross between the two.
White bass are not native to Georgia waters, but have been stocked here since Allatoona and Lanier filled. They can reproduce naturally in both lakes, so they are no longer stocked. The average size is about a pound, but they get much bigger. The state-record white bass weighed 5 pounds, 1 ounce and was caught at Lake Lanier by J. M. Hobbins on Jun. 16, 1971. They fight hard on light tackle and are good to eat.
Striped bass run up Georgia rivers to spawn from both the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. They can live in freshwater year 'round and have been stocked in many of our lakes, including Lanier and Allatoona. They can't reproduce naturally in either lake, so all stripers in these waters are stocked fish. Lanier and Allatoona get two to three stripers per acre each year.
Stripers get big. The record striped bass for Georgia weighted 63 pounds and was caught in the Oconee River on May 30, 1967, by Kelly A. Ward. They are extremely hard fighters and will test your tackle with long, strong runs.
Hybrids are a cross between a white bass and a striped bass. At Georgia fish hatcheries eggs are taken from stripers and mixed with sperm from white bass. The fry are grown to a few inches long, then released into our lakes, usually in larger numbers that the stripers. They can't reproduce naturally. Hybrids are not stocked in Lanier.
The state record for hybrid bass is 25 pounds, 8 ounces. That fish was taken on May 1, 1995, by David Hobby on a fishing trip at Lake Chatuge.
The daily limit on white bass, stripers and hybrids at both Allatoona and Lanier is 15 fish in any combination. Only two of the 15 may be longer than 22 inches. There is no minimum size limit, and that upper limit was set to protect bigger stripers.
White bass are the easiest of the three species to catch and stripers are the most difficult. Although hybrids are sterile and can't reproduce, and stripers don't have enough moving water upstream of Allatoona or Lanier to spawn successfully, all three species make spawning runs up the rivers and creeks. That provides an excellent time to catch them.
Lanier and Allatoona are similar in some ways and tactics for catching linesides will work on both, but there are some differences, too. Try the following to catch these fish now.
Allatoona Lake is an 11,860-acre U.S. Army Corps of Engineers impoundment on the Etowah River about 30 miles north of Atlanta. It gets heavy boat traffic, but spring is a good time to fish it. Since it has all three species of linesides, you can concentrate on one or try for the trio during a single fishing trip.
White bass are plentiful and can be caught in a variety of ways. Although the population suffered from the low water levels in the past few years, they seem to be making a strong comeback. Spawning runs up both the Etowah and Little River arms of the lake should be good this year.
In March and April, the whites make runs up the rivers feeding the lake and the fishing is fast. Early in the spring, try trolling small jigs and spinners around points where the rivers start to narrow down. Troll at different speeds and depths, using a variety of colors to see what the fish want.
As the water warms, move farther up the rivers. White bass often go as far up the streams as they can, so you can find them stacked up in deeper holes, particularly just below barrier shoals. Cast small jigs like Hal Flies, inline spinners like Rooster Tails or small crankbaits and work them with the current. Try to cast to shallow water and work back to deeper areas. Vary your speed to make the lures work at different depths.
Use light tackle. It is easier to throw the small jigs and spinners that white bass prefer and the fish will give you a better fight. Keep your drag set light, so if you happen to hook a hybrid or stripers you can let it run and play it, giving you a chance to land a big fish on light line.
Stripers also move into the rivers in the spring and you can catch them in similar places. Use bigger baits for bigger fish, switching to a bucktail or curlytail grub that is 3 or 4 inches long for trolling or casting. An even better bet for stripers is live bait. Catch some threadfin or gizzard shad in a cast net and slow-troll them along point drops or outside bends in the river.
When trolling, always watch your depthfinder. You will often see balls of baitfish that will let you know you are in the right areas, and you can spot the bigger fish hanging under them. Seeing the stripers under the baitfish also tells you how deep to fish.
The low water levels over the past few years have reduced the numbers of bigger stripers, but increased stocking means there are more 3- to 5-pound fish available. The Georgia WRD has been stocking stripers at a 2.5 fish per acre rate to bring the numbers.
The same tactics that catch stripers work for hybrids and they will take big baits like the stripers. Another good area to look for all three species is near the dam. For some reason, these fish stack up near that structure in the spring. It seems they move toward the current there.
Hybrids are especially attracted to water just off deep points immediately upstream of the dam, where they can be caught on live bait or jigs.
An effective way to catch hybrids is to tie a 3/0 hook 18 inches below a swivel. Above the swivel have a 1-ounce sinker on your line. Hook on a live shad or big shiner and drop the bait straight down. Slow-troll the bait along the river channel and bear long main-lake points, moving so slowly the line stays straight down. Put several rods out in holders and cover different depths. When you hit a sc
hool of hybrids, the action can keep you hopping from rod to rod.
Increased stocking of hybrids has brought the numbers of them up and the Georgia Wildlife Resources division says Allatoona should be one of the best hybrid lakes in the state now. Most fish will be 2 to 3 pounds this year, but there are also good numbers of 5- to 8-pound fish you can catch.
One of the most exciting ways to catch Allatoona hybrids, stripers and white bass is to fish the "jumps." That is when the fish are chasing baitfish on top. You can often follow gulls as they wheel and dive to pick up injured bait from the surface. On calm days, you can ride and watch for splashes as the linesides tear into bait on the surface.
Keep different sizes of jigs and spoons rigged for this action. When you spot a school on top, you won't know which species it is until you catch some, but you want to throw smaller baits to the white bass. Sometimes a hybrid or striper also prefers a smaller bait.
Start out with a big spoon, jig or topwater lure, since you can cast it farther and stay well back from the school. Then work in closer and try smaller baits if you are not getting hits. Don't get right in the middle of the school, since that will put them down. Try to see which way the school is moving and stay out from them keeping up as they move along.
As we advance into the summer, warmer weather means it is more comfortable to fish at night. At this time of year you can tie up under a bridge or anchor on a main-lake point near the river channel, hang a lantern over the side and drop live bait down to different depths. As the fish move up the rivers on the spawning run and then back down, then you can catch a lot of fish when a school moves by.
Bridges are good because they form a "squeeze" point to force the fish into a smaller area. Long points on narrow sections of the lake do the same. Watch your depthfinder for the level the fish are at, but try baits at different depths until the fish tell you where they are and what they want.
Lake Lanier is a 38,000-acre Corps of Engineers lake on the Chattahoochee River about 40 miles northeast of Atlanta. Boat traffic makes it almost unfishable on the main lake on weekends and it gets worse as the weather warms. But you can still catch stripers and white bass there if you can put up with the crowds.
The white bass run up the Chattahoochee River have traditionally been legendary at Lanier. But low water has hurt the run during the past few years and the presence of blueback herring has devastated the spawn. The fish have less successful spawns when the river is very low and most of the eggs have been eaten by blueback herring in recent years.
Light tackle is the way to take advantage of these hard-fighting but smaller fish. Unfortunately, with the numbers of bluebacks, the downward spiral in the white bass population is likely to get worse.
Head up the river until it gets very shallow. For years, anglers ran up above the Lula Bridge on Georgia Highway 52 in northeast Hall County, but now you will find shallows far downstream of it. Work deeper holes near shallow bars and points, tossing small baits. Keep moving until you find fish. Watch for any activity in the water that tells you white bass are present.
If you fish often enough, you can find the schools of white bass and follow them as they move up the river then back down. Or if you find a productive point up the river, you can stick with it and rely on new schools of fish coming up and restocking the area. A small boat helps get to places that are inaccessible by bigger boats, but which hold large numbers of fish.
Lanier is known for its big stripers and 30-pound-plus fish are caught every year. The WRD says there are an abundance of 2- to 10-pound stripers and a good supply of 10- to 15-pound fish in the lake. The introduction of blueback herring has made this baitfish the choice of stripers and striper fishermen. You can buy live bluebacks or net them yourself.
Slow troll or drift a 7-inch blueback on a tight line below a sinker and swivel and use a 3/0 hook. Locate the schools of stripers under balls of baitfish and drop your bait down just below the school of bait. Make it look like an injured herring that is separated from the school and an easy target.
Look for the stripers above Browns Bridge on GA 369 this time of year. They make a false spawning run up the river and then back toward the main lake in the spring. You can drift live bait or troll big plugs and bucktails for them over main-lake points near the channel to find the schools of fish.
Fishing the jumps at Lanier often produces big stripers, as well. Watch for birds and surface feeding action and cast to the fish breaking the surface, staying well back from the activity. A jerkbait or bucktail should work, but try a double bait rig, too. Tie a small bait like a Front Runner from War Eagle Custom Lures or small topwater plug on your main line, then run a 3-foot leader to a big plug like a Zara Spook.
Working the double bait rig looks like a fish chasing a smaller minnow and drives the stripers crazy. You can sometimes get a double hookup, too.
A popping cork with a fly behind it also casts a long way and works well. For added excitement, add two flies on separate leaders behind the cork. If you hook one fish, you often see others chasing it trying to get the bait from it. With a trailing fly on the double bait rig, a second fish may hit. You may be able to land two at a time!
Sometimes white bass are schooling alone or with the stripers and the smaller bait is more likely to catch them. Also, when the schooling activity stops on the surface, you often can catch more fish by easing around watching your depthfinder in the area where the fish were on top.
The stripers and whites go down and hold in the tops of standing timber or on nearby points. When you spot them on your depthfinder, get over them and drop a live bait or bucktail down. If they are suspended, count your bait down to the depth they are holding and fish it there. If the fish are near the bottom, drop your bait down and hop it in one place.
If the fish don't hit, try downsizing your bait. Sometimes a big striper will eat a 1/8-ounce jig after ignoring a bucktail or big spoon when they are not real active. They always have a hard time ignoring a live herring, no matter what mood they are in.
Night fishing under all the bridges on the Chattahoochee River arm of the lake can be very good this time of year, too. The bridges often look like a small city from a distance with all the lights under them, so arrive early to get a good spot.
Tie up, put your lantern and baits over the side and relax until a school of fish gives you all the action you can handle. Good rod holders are a must, and a reel with a clicker on it allows you time to get to the rod and get it out of the holder before setting the hook. A big striper can hook itself and put
so much pressure on the rod it is hard to get out of the holder.
For lineside action this spring, either Allatoona or Lanier are good choices. A lot of different tactics work and the mixture of species makes for some varied action.