How to Catch a $10,000 Striped Bass Bounty

By Capt. Clay Cunningham:

For those who fish for striped bass in reservoirs, early spring awakens big fish fever. In case you haven’t heard, the Greater Atlanta Area edition of The Angler Magazine has placed a $10,000 bounty on a 50-pound striper caught from Georgia’s Lake Lanier. And the big-fish bite is on at this 59-square-mile impoundment of the Chattahoochee River north of Atlanta.

With longer days and rising water temperatures, stripers are beginning to feel the urge to spawn. The next eight weeks are the peak of the year to catch the biggest striped bass in the lake. The last few years, several people have come very close to claiming the bounty. It is only a matter of time before it happens.

The spawn increases a striper’s metabolism. They eat more frequently and are not as selective. This leads to big fish gobbling herring with a hooks hanging from their heads. Fish will also be very shallow in water that warms faster and draws baitfish. This weeds out a lot of water an angler must search and reduces the potential for break-offs in Lanier’s deep timber.

Two primary baits will be used to catch big stripers, live herring and gizzard shad. Both should be pulled shallow on a freeline. A freeline is nothing more than a line with a hook pulled behind the boat. The hook should always be matched to the size of the bait rather than the fish you hope to catch.

Rig a 7 ½-foot Shakespeare medium light striper rod with 15-pound Trilene Big Game on a Penn Squall 20LC Linecounter Reel. Tie in an 80-pound Spro Power Swivel and a 5- to 8-foot leader of 15-pound Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon. Use a Gamakatsu 1/0 to 3/0 Octopus hook depending on the size of the herring. For gizzard shad, step it up to a 5/0 hook, and add a stinger rig to the mongo gizzards. Talk to the guys at local shops like Hammond’s and Oakwood Bait & Tackle about the stinger setup. It is a discussion in itself.

The most productive area for trolling herring is over open water. Mid-lake is reliable, and if you can see the local landmark Browns Bridge, you are in a good spot. Pull baits about 1 mph on the trolling motor, and cover as much water as possible. About the time you get distracted thinking nothing will happen, a rod will get hammered.

Shallow flats are prime targets for pulling gizzards. Any shallow flat can hold big fish in spring. The 50-pounder you’re looking for will be hanging on the deep edge of the flat waiting for you to drag a gizzard off the drop. Soon as she sees the shad, a torpedo will explode under your bait. The bites are so ferocious you will think a bowling ball has fallen from the sky.

Who will catch the 50-pound striper? I am curious to see.

Capt. Clay Cunningham operates Catching Not Fishing Guide Service and is a full-time striper guide on Lake Lanier. Contact him at (770)-630-2673 or at

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