Winter Lake Living: A year-round endeavor
Clay Keller is no professional angler, but his experience fishing the lakes of North Georgia — and places farther north like Canada — might as well qualify him as one.
Keller was secretary of the Appalachian Striper Club for 15 years and the Hartwell Largemouth Club for 18. He has the experience of a lifetime of fishing on Hartwell and other North Georgia lakes like Russell, Chatuge, Lanier and others.
“I’ve stirred up the water a little bit,” Keller quipped.
In that time, he has learned one universal truth: fishing in North Georgia is a year-round endeavor.
But enticing the fish to bite is a little different in winter than summer.
“Water temperature is as important as anything is,” Keller said of fishing at any time of the year.
That is something Nathan Noblet of C&J Outfitters in Hiawasee is well aware of.
Noblet’s store is on Lake Chatuge, but he knows that most of the lakes in North Georgia are equally ripe for winter angling.
The colder weather makes for a top-water opportunity to fish for bass as they escape the chilly water temperatures for warmer spots. This makes shallow flats where the sun heats the water good spots when the weather is coldest.
“Top water will last until the water temperature gets down to 50 degrees,” Noblet said.
Hard swim baits, buzz baits, wake baits and walking baits are all good options to entice bass to bite in the winter months.
There are plenty of spotted bass in Chatuge as well, which are smaller than largemouth, but are aggressive and tend to fight hard. Luckily, methods are similar to catch either species, Noblet said. Both fish like rocky points and brush and are chasing schooling shad and herring in North Georgia lakes in the winter.
But fishing top water is not a must.
Rattle trap baits like Red-Eyed Shad from Strike King and the Lucky Craft LV 500 mimic a shad swimming and have BBs in them to make noise that attracts fish. There are plenty of options available to fit your specific needs, Noblet said.
“You can fish pretty much all depths with them,” he said.
Soft swimbaits are good options as well. Noblet said the Strike King Rage Swimmer, Keitech swimbaits and Zoom shad present well to winter bass.
Plastic worms are still an option in the winter as well, Noblet said.
“They’ll bite the worm pretty much anytime,” he said.
But it has to be presented in a way that makes the fish want to bite, and in the right place.
In addition to the flats, fish in the winter still like to be near some sort of structure. Noblet said rocks, other hard structures in the water and floating docks generally make for good spots to drop a line, much like at other times of the year.
There are plenty of spotted bass in Chatuge and the North Georgia lakes as well.
But big fish such as stripers like cold water. In the summer, they will dive to as far as 60 feet deep. In the winter, however, Keller said they move north to the headwaters in late winter, especially on Hartwell, and make for some of the best fishing of the year.
“Winter months are better than the summer months here,” Keller said.
The early winter is also particularly bountiful for top water striper fishing as they move north toward the headwaters, he said. Whether it’s a Striper Swiper, chug or a lure that runs in about a foot of water, stripers and hybrid bass will chase them in the winter months.
But spinner bait like a one-ounce shyster — a normally small and popular crappie bait — goes a little deeper and is successful as well, Keller said.
“It’s a chunk of iron, but you can toss it a mile,” Keller said.
Crappie are also catchable in North Georgia lakes in the winter. Methods for lugging a few in are not much different than anglers use other times of the year for the popular pan fish, Keller said. Crappie, regardless of the season, like underwater structures, such as standing timber and break lines and edges where the topography drops to deeper water. But crappie, like all fish, move more slowly in the winter, so taking your time is key, Keller said.
He has even pulled in a few walleyes using live bait like minnows or lures like a crappie jig in North Georgia lakes.