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Pulling Bait for a "White Fish" Mixed Bag of Striper and Hybrids
By Daryl Kirby
Originally published in the May 2004 issue of GON
Have you seen The Perfect Storm? I did. Not the movie, the real thing. It hit the Allatoona Creek arm of Lake Allatoona on April 14.
The irony of the weather that day was almost as surprising as the sustained winds and how low the temperatures got. It was about as bad a January day as you can get on the water — and it was mid April.
My partner in pain that day was guide and striper tournament pro Robert Eidson, who had the line of the day when he said, “If I could have gotten one of my rods to bend like the trees were, we’d have a new lake record!”
It’s a shame the weather was so horrible because Robert and I had been planning this trip for months. I’d been looking forward to fishing with Robert since he begin helping GON with our Allatoona lineside reports... you may have noticed how specific and good the information has been lately... and he kept telling me about the nice-sized stripers and numbers of hybrids he was catching.
“Allatoona has a great fishery,” Robert said. “It doesn’t get near the attention that Lanier does, but for our home lake right here, this fishing is great.”
Robert grew up in the Marietta area and now lives in Paulding County. His first fish was a bream caught from the banks of Kellogg Creek when he was three years old. Robert grew up with a love of fishing and had a bass boat when he was in his 20s.
“Yeah I had a bass boat. I was a ‘green’ fisherman. My striper buddies will get all over me, but I admit it, I enjoyed catching those green fish,” he said.
Green fish is what white fishermen call largemouth or spotted bass — white fish is what they call stripers or hybrids. I learned pretty quickly that Robert has a good time — in a good-natured way — poking fun at green fishermen like me.
Robert’s transformation from a bass chaser to a bait puller came quite by accident.
“I was bass fishing over at Galts Ferry. I was throwing a Rat-L-Trap on a spinning reel, and about a 9-lb. striper slammed that thing. Line was stripping off the reel, the drag was going off. I had a ball. It was so much fun, I decided to try fishing for stripers with live bait. The next day I was out there with some big shiners, and I was using line and hooks three times too big.”
For about a week Robert stuck with his new venture, but he never had a single run.
“One day we were out there, and Gary Sosebee had been seeing me and my nephew out, and he knew we weren’t catching anything,” Robert said.
Gary held the Allatoona striper lake record for years, and he knew long before most how to catch these fish using the live-bait methods that most successful striper anglers use today.
“Gary pulled up next to us — we didn’t know each other or anything — and said something like, ‘You want to catch a striper? Hand me your rod.’ And he almost threw it in the lake. He stripped my big, heavy line off right there and threw me a pack of 12-lb. line. He gave me a small hook. Then he dipped about a dozen gizzard shad out of his tank and gave them to me.
“That’s what got me started doing it the right way. I had my old Procraft lined with rod holders, got a bait tank. Probably the biggest thing was buying a cast net and learning how to throw it. That was the key, learning how to get good bait. Once you learn the basics, there’s not a whole lot to this. The guys with good bait are the ones who go out and catch these fish consistently.”
Once he started catching stripers on Allatoona, Robert parked the Procraft bass boat and bought a Sea Pro center-console, and he lined it with Driftmaster rod holders. His suburban home now doubles as a shad storage facility, with various-sized bait tanks always holding good bait.
Robert is a contractor by trade, but has been guiding for stripers about five years, and the past couple of years he’s gotten into the striper-tournament game. He won the February 28 National Striped Bass Association (NSBA) tournament on Allatoona with a two-fish limit that totalled 39.14 pounds, and his catch included the Big Fish of the tournament, a 24.78-lb. striper.
“That was the second-largest creel weight for an NSBA tournament that month,” Robert said. “Allatoona holds big stripers.”
Robert will fish for stripers on any lake where they’re biting — including frequent trips to the Tennessee tailraces where 40-lb. stripers and 15-lb. hybrids are not uncommon. But Lake Allatoona is his home lake. Over the years Robert has learned to follow the fish as they move up and down the lake as the seasons change.
“April is usually the time when they make their run up the rivers trying to spawn,” he said. “I think it’s more the time of year than the water temperature that gets them moving up. Usually when it hits 60 to 65 degrees they’re up there. For someone without electronics or a temperature gauge, it’s about the time the dogwoods start blooming. That’s true on almost every reservoir.”
The upper reaches of the Etowah River are a hotspot for river-run stripers and hybrids in April, but it’s treacherous and better left for the jet-boaters or those very experienced with running the channel above Knox Bridge.
When we fished on April 14, Robert decided to stay in the Allatoona Creek area of the lake.
“Not all of the fish run up the rivers,” Robert said. “There will always be fish that stay south. The Allatoona Creek arm holds a ton of fish. The Iron Hill area will have fish year round. Some of the other creeks will have fish — Stamp Creek usually does.
“Last year they made such a huge river run. We were 13 inches over on the rain. This year there hasn’t been any rain. The creeks have as much current as the rivers do.”
Robert said there will always be stripers and hybrids that don’t make any move up the rivers or creeks.
“If you bass fish, if you ever throw the beaches this time of year, you’re going to catch stripes. I don’t know if it’s because of the sand or what, but they’re always on the swimming beaches. If you have a big boat and can’t run the rivers, you can absolutely win a striper tournament on the beaches in April.”
The beaches are closed this time of year, so you don’t have to worry about swimmers spooking the fish. Robert said you can get around the no-boat buoy line by pulling planer boards.
“I can run three of them on the one side, and I can bust those planers 70 feet outside the boat and the keep boat outside the buoy line,” he said.
By the first of this month, even most of the fish that went up the river this spring are back down or on their way, and May can be a great time to catch some fish with feeding on their minds.
“The fish coming back down are ready to feed,” Robert said. “The fish up the river don’t have good food up there. They are ready to come down and eat.”
There are three primary techniques for catching stripers and hybrids on Allatoona during the month of May. The first, and the easiest for the average fisherman who hasn’t mastered the art of getting and keeping shad, is casting topwater plugs and Flukes at hybrids and stripers busting bait on top.
“The difference between fishing topwater for spotted bass and fishing topwater for stripers... there’s absolutely no difference. It’s early and late. They’ll push bait up on a flat and school, and you can throw anything at them. Chug Bugs are really good. A 3/4-oz. Rooster Tail, the saltwater version, is probably the best hybrid bait to throw at them. I personally like to throw a Fluke.”
Robert said the linesides could come up and school anywhere on the lake, but there are some spots that are traditionally good, like the humps at the mouth of Galts Ferry.
“That whole section of the lake from where the mouth of the Etowah turns up, from there back down the lake to Galts — all in through there can good for topwater.”
Also, don’t pass up the chance to check any of the tire barriers at the marinas for shad spawning.
Robert said about 30 minutes after the sun hits the water, he’s going looking for pods of shad where he can get drop of his own shad in the water. Fishing shad on downlines and flatlines are the other two methods Robert will be using on Allatoona this month.
“No doubt, the bigger fish come on live bait,” he said. “This time of year a 4 1/2-inch gizzard shad is perfect. You need healthy bait. You want it to be really light-colored. Light bait is good bait, dark bait is bad bait. I add rock salt to my tanks — just regular ice cream salt — and a little bit of one of the bait-saver products.
“I go out to main-lake points, like the mouth of Illinois Creek is one other best downline points, or the E3 marker at the mouth of Stamp. Good electronics are the key, something where you can see the difference between a school of crappie and a school of bait. Look for bait. Striper fishermen don’t need to look for fish. Look for bait. If you find baitfish, you just chummed. You’re using that bait to bring stripers to your bait.”
Often this time of year you’ll need a downline to get your shad to the right depth. Robert said a good, basic downline rig is a 2-oz. egg sinker above a barrel swivel, a seven-foot P-Line leader, and a 1/0 red Octopus hook.
Robert said limber rods are important for downlines, and he uses the Shakespeare striper rods. You want it so limber that the 2-oz. weight will bend it. Your fishing these out of rod-holders, and when a fish hits, it will pull the rod tip all the way into the water. That limber rod doesn’t offer enough resistance that the fish will spit the bait out until it’s too late and the fish hooks itself. Your job, then, is to simply lift the rod out of the holder and get the fish to the boat. (A 20-pounder won’t be that easy.)
If the bait is spread out in the depth column, or if clouds move in and the bait pulls up toward the surface, Robert will start pulling some flatlines. A flatline is basically the 1/0 hook and a seven-foot leader with a small No. 5 barrel swivel — and no weight.
If the stripers start acting like they want the baits on top instead of the downlines, Robert can will pull a big spread of flatlines by using Oregon planer boards to spread out the baits and prevent the lines from tangling.
If you want to get serious about striper fishing, your first investment should probably be a cast net. Robert said you can catch shad up Little River at Rose and Blanket creeks, or in the backs of other creeks throughout the lake on the shallow, muddier points.
We’ve talked a lot about stripers, but the hybrids fishery at Allatoona is even better.
“Our hybrid fishery is going to be outstanding this year,” Robert said. “Right now we’re catching good 4- and 5-lb. hybrids.”
I wish Robert Eidson had better weather for his day to show off his Allatoona stripers with GON, but it wasn’t to be. I will say that despite absolutely brutal conditions and fish to speak of, I had a good time. Robert has what all good guides need in addition to the ability to catch fish — a good attitude and an even better personality.
Of my little catch on the day we fished, he said, “I was afraid a green fish was going to come up and eat your striper.”
Robert can be reached at (770) 827-6282 or (678) 363-6260, or through his website: www.firstbiteguideservice.com