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The May striper and hybrid bite will wear you out before 10 a.m.
By Joe DiPietro
Originally published in the May 2012 issue of GON
Any lineside fisherman looking to experience what might be some of the most consistent and exciting action available in the state right now needs to look no further than Lake Allatoona.
Just north of Atlanta, the beautiful lake is a wonderful pick for a day full of tough-fighting stripers and hybrids.
“The action this time of year is hot and furious,” said veteran striper guide Robert Eidson, owner of First Bite Guide Service. “Allatoona is better than any other lake in Georgia as far as the action goes. You’re not going to come out and catch a 20-pounder, but you can have 15- to 50-fish days almost anytime.”
There’s perhaps no striper fisherman on Allatoona who knows the lake and the lineside fishery better than Robert. He’s caught the first fish of his life from the lake 48 years ago, while fishing with his grandpa.
Considering the current state of affairs on Lake Allatoona, it’s very hard to imagine the lake was once nicknamed “The Dead Sea,” by local anglers, Robert said. Years later, Allatoona is now fast becoming known for its stellar lineside action.
“You still hear ‘The Dead Sea,’ sometimes,” Robert said. “But, it’s really the furthest thing from it.”
One of the aspects of Allatoona that makes it such a great place to chase linesides is its enormous population of hybrid bass.
“The stripers will be mixed in around the big schools of hybrids,” Robert said. “I think we had a lot more bigger stripers before the major drought event several years ago.”
Most of the hybrids in the lake run between 3 and 5 pounds, but fish of 6 pounds are not too terribly uncommon either. This size range makes the lake an ideal spot for family outings.
“For the guy who wants to catch a bunch of fish and have fun with his family, there’s no better place than Allatoona,” Robert said. “A 4-lb. fish is big enough to make most kids strain. Besides, they’re all 10 pounds by the time the kids get home anyway. I love fishing with kids on board.”
The plentiful hybrids also make for a great place for beginner lineside fishermen.
“Hybrids aren’t as prone to being affected by moon phases and cold fronts like stripers,” Robert said. “Hybrids will pretty much eat for you once you find them.”
Robert and I set out from the Red Top Mountain Boat Ramp on a cool spring morning. After making a short run down the lake to the Iron Hill area, Robert slowed down his center console and we got ready to start fishing. Robert already had a tank full of gizzard shad when I arrived at the boat ramp; however, he had been unable to get many threadfin shad.
Luckily, after getting a couple planer boards and flatlines out behind the boat, we noticed balls of bait being busted by hybrids. The threadfin shad shot skyward as they tried to avoid the mouths of all the hungry hybrids.
“Threads are the best bait,” Robert said. “Mostly, because we are a hybrid lake, we try to use a bait to accommodate the fish, and threads tend to be smaller than gizzard shad. Some people say big bait—big fish. I say big baits weed out the smaller fish.”
However, if threads are totally unavailable, gizzard shad and shiners will work. Be sure the bait is as lively as possible. Also, while live shad is available at some area bait shops, Robert said it’s best to catch your own bait from the lake before each trip. Robert started trolling toward the point the hybrids were working in order to throw the cast net to get a few threadfin shad.
We were barely able to get a hundred yards toward the point before one of the planer-board rigs got smashed. Unfortunately, neither of us was quick enough to the rod holder and the fish came unbuttoned.
“Well, that first hit sure took a long time,” Robert joked. “That’s how it is here. It’s just non-stop action some days.”
After another short strike from a fish, we finally made it to the point with all the bait and the largest group of hybrids working bait on the surface.
“When the fish are up on top like this, you really don’t ever need to look at your fishfinder,” Robert said. “They’re too high in the water column for most transducers to pick up.”
Robert unraveled his cast net and whipped it out over the school of threadfin shad. After letting it sink, he retrieved all the threadfin shad we could possibly use.
We quickly switched out the baits and set out the planer boards and flatlines and started to troll again. “I like to troll between .6 to .8 miles per hour,” Robert said.
There are a few subtle things Robert does with his rigs that he said helps catch more fish. He uses leaders longer than 7 feet and keeps his baits at least 30 to 40 feet out behind the planer-board rigs.
“I also don’t clip my planer-board rigs to my line,” Robert said. “It’s because I want them to come completely off so I can feel that fish.”
Once again, it was just a matter of minutes before one of the flatlines took off screaming. Robert grabbed the rod and quickly worked a nice hybrid of about 4 pounds into the boat.
“The pattern for May looks like it’s going to be flatlines and planer boards until about 9, 9:30 (a.m.),” Robert said. “After that, it’ll be time to change over to downlines and fish a little deeper off points and around humps.”
The fish will likely be between 24 to 35 feet deep, in anywhere from 24 to 60 feet of water.
“You want to be looking for them on the fishfinder,” Robert said.
When trolling early in the day, time will be best spent focusing on chokes between the islands, long points and flats. As the transition between fishing the topwater column to fishing downlines, Robert likes to follow shade on the lake from the trees on the bank.
“Chasing shade is a trick to finding fish on top as the sun rises and especially when the bite slows down,” he said.
The preferred line choice for Allatoona is to go as light as you can and still be able to land fish.
“The lighter you go the more hits you’re going to get,” Robert said. “The guys who are not worried about getting the fish into the boat are actually going to catch the most.”
One of the biggest stumbling blocks Robert said he sees novice lineside fishermen make is oversizing their gear.
“Just because you’re fishing for big fish doesn’t mean you have to use big gear,” he said. “As long as you have a good drag system, and it’s set right, you’re not going to lose a fish.”
Robert continued to troll the boat around the point, and we hooked up with another hybrid, which was a little bigger. Just a few minutes later, one of the rods took off and started singing with the sound of drag only a striper can make. After a few minutes of a fight, the fish rolled on the line and was gone.
The more-than-consistent hybrid bite made up for the loss of the bigger fish, though.
The next hybrid we hooked was mine, and I was impressed with how tough the 5-lb. fish was. After boating the first several fish, Robert made the call to troll across the lake and fish a large bend in the river channel and a point. We barely got into our journey before it was interrupted by another hybrid.
“Most of the fish will be back from the river run by the beginning of May,” Robert said. “Start looking for those fish around the mouth of the Etowah River and Little River, Victoria Landing and Kellogg Creek.”
This month, fishermen can concentrate the majority of their efforts in the uppermost and lower end of the lake, Robert said.
Robert and I continued trolling along a shoal off the main channel of the lake and caught countless hybrids up to about 7 pounds. Suddenly, one of the rods doubled over and the fish started running. I pulled the rod out of the holder and went to work on the fish. It ran and dug hard, fighting harder than I expected a hybrid to. After a very hard fight, I found out why it was fighting so hard, a nearly 9-lb. striper came alongside the boat and Robert netted it for a couple quick photos before releasing it.
Other than fishing downlines during the sunny part of the day, Robert also likes to troll umbrella rigs.
“I’ll be pulling live bait most of May until the sun sits straight up and the live-bait bite stops,” he said. “When I start seeing fish below 15 feet, I’ll go to U-rigs.”
Robert likes a nine-bait, four-arm umbrella rigged with 1/2-oz. jigs.
“It’s hard to beat chartreuse for color,” Robert said. “When the water is muddy, I go to pink.”
The best speeds to troll U-rigs is between 2.4 and 3 miles per hour. Try keeping the U-rig running at about 18 feet, approximately 100 feet behind the boat.
“That way, if you see fish deeper, you can slow down and let it sink,” Robert said.
Line size matters less with U-rigs, and Robert likes to go with straight 30-lb. test monofilament.
“You want to try to troll U-rigs in deeper water, clip the ends of points, clip flats and the edge of the river channel,” Robert said.
Once Robert and I had boated several more hybrids, we trolled across the channel to work the opposite side. Sure enough, we were back into hybrids, but at about 10 a.m. the bite started to slow a bit. We had caught more fish than we could keep track of, which is a sure sign of an excellent day of fishing.
“You can pretty well hang it up by 10 if you get here early enough to catch that hot morning bite,” Robert said.
Truthfully, if you can get to the water early for the great morning action, your arms will probably be so sore by 10 a.m. that you’ll be ready to quit. Feeling more than satisfied with the morning’s catch, we made the decision to call it a day and headed to the ramp. As we came under the bridge by the ramp, Robert asked me if I had a few more minutes to fish one last spot.
Naturally, if it’s “work-related,” then my wife won’t mind a bit if I’m a little bit late, I thought. I couldn’t pass it up. Little did I know Robert was about to show me just how well he knew his beloved lake.
“There’s fish out in front of a lot of the beaches and sandy points chasing bait,” Robert said. “Let’s make a couple passes through here with the planer boards and flatlines and see if we don’t find a couple more fish. I think there should be a few here.”
Looking toward the beach, Robert offered a safety tip and explained that Allatoona is the busiest of the Army Corps Of Engineer Lakes, and a number of unfortunate drownings occur each year.
“There’s not many drownings I’ve heard of that couldn’t have been prevented by a lifejacket,” he said.
We set out our flatlines and started pulling the baits slowly. It took a couple minutes for a rod on my side of the boat to double over, and the drag started screaming. I picked the rod up and worked the big fish as best as I could, clearly a big striper—the second of the morning.
After several minutes, the fish went for another blistering run and sadly snapped the line. I was disappointed not to see how big it was but totally content with the fight. I felt fortunate to even hook a big fish. After all, I would’ve released the fish anyway, and we had caught tons of fish that morning.
Because stripers have lower overall numbers, Robert said it’s best for folks to keep hybrids if they want something for the table. A couple more hybrids were willing to pop our baits before we made our way back to the ramp.
Over the course of the day, it became clear to me that Robert has not only learned to catch linesides but also how to help manage and promote the sport and the fishery. He has helped with numerous charity events and causes over the years and continues to do so.
Robert has also helped Georgia DNR fisheries biologists and law enforcement at times and arranged donations to the department.
“This lake is a very special place to me,” Robert said. “I’ve spent all my life on it, and I love it. It’s home.”
Now 50, Robert said he’s hoping to guide full-time for 5 more years before retiring.
“I’ve got to have a few years there to catch fish, too,” he said with a smile.
Regardless of whether Robert guides for 5 or 20 more years, the positive impacts he’s had on the lake, younger guides and the lineside fishery will likely long outlive his tenure as a guide.
Visit Robert’s Website at <www.firstbiteguideservice.com> or call him at (770) 827-6282. He’ll be happy to take you out, and let you experience a little “April Madness” of your own.