I should not have made fun of the weather guessers. Camping last week at Don Carter State Park on Lake Lanier was interesting. Fishing during the day was cold but not miserable but grilling and eating outside was not comfortable.
I came in Saturday afternoon and got the grill out at about 5:30 to cook a steak. That is my traditional dinner before a tournament, a grilled porterhouse with baked potato, steamed onion and salad.
As I set up the grill something falling caught my eye. When I looked close across the campsite, I could see tiny white flakes. It quickly got harder and I put the grill up. I was very glad I had brought leftover BBQ, potato salad and string beans just in case.
By the time I heated it up and ate under a big beach umbrella set up over the picnic table, the leaves and grass around the campsite were turning white. At dark I walked through slush up the bathhouse to shower and get ready for bed.
At about 2:00 AM I woke and looked outside. The back of my boat had over an inch of the white stuff covering it, and I could not tell where the campground roads were. I was afraid I would not be able to get out of the campsite when time to go to the tournament.
At 5:00 AM I got dressed and went out to slush on the pavement but a light rain was melting it some. Getting out of the campground at 6:15 was nerve racking but I never felt my tires slip even though there was slush all over the roads. The main road between the campground and Clarks Bridge is very curvy and I drove about 30 MPH. Past the bridge out to I-985 the road had a little snow in the middle but 985 was clear.
By the time I got to Balus Creek ramp there was no slush on the road or parking lot at all, and less on the grass and leaves.
I was not real thrilled about fishing. There is a good “ditch bite” at Lanier in the winter. Big spotted bass hold deep around old timber and feed on herring and shad that move in and out of the ditches. I have done some magazine articles with some very good fishermen on Lanier on how to find and catch these fish, but it never seems to work for me.
Friday I headed out determined to figure something out. I rode ditches, looking for balls of baitfish and deep bass under them. I saw lots of what looked like bass down in timber 40 to 75 feet deep but could not get a bite.
Saturday morning I decided to try to see if I could get a bite shallow. The back end of Balus looked perfect. The water was slightly stained and the channel in the very back was full of shad from 5 to 10 feet deep. I never got a bite.
I decided to try deep again, and as I idled around one area I saw some gulls diving to the water back in a ditch. A ditch is basically any valley going back from the main lake and this one was about 100 yards deep. The water in the mouth of it was 90 feet deep but the gulls were about halfway back over about 40 feet of water. As I eased in I saw three loons also diving for baitfish. Loons and gulls are a good sign bass may be in the same area since they eat the same food.
As I idled in I saw an old tree that had fallen after the lake was built. It lay on its side in 54 feet of water and I could see every limb on my downscan sonar, and it looked like dots of fish in the limbs. I put a waypoint on it and circled back to fish it.
I dropped a small swim bait on a quarter ounce jig head straight down and moved it very slowly, trying to avoid handing a limb. My line got “heavy” and when I raised my rod tip I felt a fish fighting, but it came off.
A couple minutes later I got the same feeling but this time landed a fat four pound spotted bass. It fought hard until I got it near the surface, but its swim bladder swelled so much from the change of pressure it did not fight much after I got it within ten feet of the surface.
I left hoping those fish would stay there and found three other similar ditches nearby that gave me hope for the tournament.
In the Flint River Bass Club February tournament only four of us showed up. After eight hours of fishing, Brent Drake brough one 1.1-pound spotted bass to the scales. That was it – he got first and big fish and there was no second, third or fourth!
That morning I went straight to the ditches and fished them for four hours, but although I could see the fish on my electronics, I could not get them to bite. I spent the next three hours fishing crankbaits, jig, spinnerbait, swimbait and shaky head around shallow cover but never got a bite.
Hoping the time of day would make a difference, I want back to the ditches for the last hour, but no joy.
So much for figuring out the ditch bite.