SOCIAL CIRCLE — Anglers hungry for a challenge should visit Georgia’s major reservoirs now for cold weather striped bass action. This time of year, five to 15-pounders are common, with the occasional thrill of a 30-pound or bigger catch.
Striped bass are abundant in many reservoirs across the state thanks to the stocking efforts of the fisheries management section of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division.
Stripers prefer water temperatures colder than 75 degrees and tend to concentrate over river channels and around submerged islands where threadfin shad and blueback herring are abundant.
Wildlife Resources Division biologists recommend medium to heavy 6- to 7-foot rods equipped with 12- to 18-pound test line. Some common striper lures are 3/8-ounce white bucktail jigs, soft plastic jerk baits and large minnow bait. Anglers should cast to the shoreline or try trolling these artificial lures.
For more consistent results, live bait is recommended. Try 4- to 6-inch minnows or shad and blueback herring where legal (available at many local bait and tackle shops).
Biologists recommend fishing live bait shallow, less than 10 feet, with a large bobber and no weight attached (free-lining), or fishing vertically (down-lining) with a 1-ounce sinker weight at greater depths of 10-30 feet. A size 2-4 hook is recommended for fishing these larger live baits and landing big stripers.
• Lake Lanier: Lanier is a popular striped bass fishing destination for metro Atlanta area anglers. The upper half of the reservoir and creek arms scattered around the entire lake are best bets for action. Prime late winter hot spots are creeks with muddy water on the north end of the lake. These creeks offer slightly warmer water temperatures, which help trigger striped bass feeding activity on shad and blueback herring.
• Clarks Hill Lake: This lake, part of the Savannah River system northeast of Augusta, is another top pick. Annually stocked, Clarks Hill has an abundant baitfish population, including threadfin shad, gizzard shad and blueback herring. One of the best areas to target is below Richard B. Russell Dam, especially when power is being generated, which creates a current and stimulates a feeding response. Anglers can also target the lake’s Little River arm.
• Lake Oconee: The Wildlife Resources Division began a striped-bass stocking program on Lake Oconee during the spring of 2005, resulting in a current healthy population of fish. Recent sampling found 5- to 8-pound fish in good condition, thanks in part to an abundant baitfish population consisting of threadfin and gizzard shad. Biologists recommend targeting major creek arms, such as Lick, Sugar and Richland creeks, as well as deeper water near Wallace Dam.
• Lake Richard B. Russell: While this lake does not have many stripers, those present are big as Terry McConnell can attest. Last April, he tied the current state record striper with a 63-pound fish. Anglers should target large creek arms, such as Beaverdam Creek, the upper reaches of the Savannah River and the deeper water around the dam, which provides excellent habitat for stripers this time of year.
• Bartlett’s Ferry Lake:Located on the Georgia-Alabama border in Harris County, striped bass have been annually stocked in this lake since 1992 to support the Gulf-race recovery in the Apalachicola River System. Observations indicate that most striped bass are exceeding lengths measured for hybrids and are more abundant, and experienced anglers currently are taking a few stripers weighing up to 25 pounds or heavier. Anglers should target the dam during winter and during periods of power generation at West Point Lake, Riverview and Crow Hop Dams. Favorite baits include spoons, bucktail jigs and popping corks with trailing jigs.
• West Point Lake: Located on the Georgia-Alabama border in Troup County, striped bass stocked over the last five years have greatly increased the chance of catching these top predators. The 2004 stocking are now in the 20-plus inch range and could weigh around 5 pounds. Fishing with live shad is the most effective way to catch linesides. Also, jigs and spoons work well. Striped bass like to hang around the dam area and deep channels during the cool months.
• Lake Juliette: Just north of Macon, Lake Juliette is a popular striped bass fishing destination year-round. Many anglers concentrate their efforts near the pump discharge located just above the dam. Successful methods include trolling creek channels during the cooler months, and drifting or fishing on the bottom with live or cut shad. Several bass heavier than 35 pounds have been caught in recent years despite average catch weights of around 8 pounds.
• Chattahoochee and Flint rivers (Early, Dougherty and Worth counties): Anglers can test their luck on the Chattahoochee River just below Columbia Dam in Early County and on the Flint River below Lake Worth near Albany and Lake Blackshear where fish tend to be more active during hydroelectric operations from Warwick Dam.
For more information about striper fishing in Georgia, go to www.gofishgeorgia.com.