The New Flyrod-sized SwirleybirdsCold, misty mornings at Lake Lanier can make one see strange things, so when I spotted what seemed to be tiny sparks flickering across the surface of the water nearly a quarter of a mile away, I became instantly attentive. Since I’ve been a fishing guide on this reservoir for more than 35 years, I knew in an instant that those distant flashes were caused by a school of stripers that were in hot pursuit of shad trying desperately to escape. My adrenaline began pumping wildly!
I quickly aimed the big bass boat at the feeding fish, and told my clients to get their flyrods ready. Even before the boat came to a complete stop, both of my clients were stripping line and casting their new, Flyrod-sized Swirleybirds into the churning water. Instantly, both anglers had big stripers hooked, and their rods were bent almost to the breaking point.
It probably seems strange to many fishermen to try and catch a huge striped bass on a tiny “buggy whip” of a rod, but one must remember that a thirty pound striper only has a mouth the size of a five or six pound largemouth bass and they often dine on very small baitfish. Therefore, the really big baits and heavy tackle are not always needed. One can easily catch huge stripers using an 8 to 10 weight flyrod, proper fish-playing skills, and lots of backing on the reel. Also, the lighter gear and smaller opening of the striper’s mouth allows one’s bait size to be reduced. Many of the strikes that are missed with larger lures are easily hooked with the smaller ones.
Probably the most popular and productive method for locating stripers during the winter and spring at Lake Lanier is to follow the birds. Over the past ten years, we have experienced an annual “coming of the birds”. This migration generally begins when the water becomes very cold in late November, and the combination of mostly seagulls and loons remains until the water warms considerably in late April.
Since the reason for the birds being here is to feast on the millions of shad and blueback herring that become weak and slow from the cold water, they act like pointers to a quail hunter. An angler can easily spot the hundreds of white seagulls circling frantically and diving into the water to capture the fleeing baitfish.
The reason so many minnows are close to the surface, however, is the schools of striped bass. They often start feeding on the tiny fish in deeper water, but the shad bluebacks usually end up being herded to the surface where their luck runs out. These larger schools of trapped baitfish become the main course meal for the stripers and loons from below and the seagulls from above.
The great part of this wild feeding frenzy for anglers is that, because of the seagulls, this action can be seen from a great distance across the lake. Therefore, at times, all fishermen have to do is ride and look to locate schools of stripers.
Since the fish and birds are usually preoccupied with their eating, it is often easy to get within casting distance before spooking them. The actual catching then is fairly simple.
Though topwater lures will work and are fun to use, we have developed a lure that is far more productive. Flyrod-Sized Swirleybirds only weigh about 1/32nd of an ounce, have plenty of flash to be noticed, but are light enough that they cast easily with fly tackle and sinking lines. These unique lures are available at www.georgiafishing.com .
Just cast these lures into the churning water among the feeding birds and fish. Always let the lure fall a little before stripping it slowly and steadily back to the boat. Often a striper will inhale the offering immediately, but it’s possible to make a hundred casts into these feeding fish and not get a hit. One must always keep in mind that as many as a million real, live minnows can be in the middle of one of these feeding sprees. Therefore, persistence is the key, but remember to move the lure slower than the real baitfish move, which makes our offering easier for the stripers to find.
Even with knowledge and the proper lures and equipment, one must often make hundreds of casts to be successful in Lake Lanier. However, the catch of a lifetime may be only one cast away. I have hooked as many as thirty stripers over twenty pounds on a single outing with a flyrod and the new Swirleybird, and it only takes one big, linesided fish to make a trip worthwhile.
Few fishing experiences can match the total chaos of casting with a flyrod into a school of huge stripers that are wildly chasing millions of frantically fleeing shad. Muscles will strain and hearts will pound, but one will not soon forget the exciting adventure of this piscatorial madness!