Lake Lanier is well known as a productive fishing lake. Many species of fish thrive in the lake. The lake has approximately 39,000 surface acres of water at its full level. Although there is little natural cover in the top 1/3 of the lake due to tree clearing during construction, there are trees left standing in the lower portions of the lake as well as brush piles, drop-offs, submerged humps, and rock outcroppings in shallower areas. A navigation map will be helpful for finding these spots and is available in the map room.
The Corps of Engineers, in conjunction with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources actively manages fish habitat on Lake Lanier. Each year volunteers help build and maintain fish attractors around the lake. Information about fish attractor structures may be obtained the map room.
Trout fishing below Buford Dam is also popular. The cold waters released from the bottom of the lake support rainbow, brown and brook trout that are stocked in the river by the GA DNR. Fishing is permitted year-round. However, fishermen must use extreme caution when fishing below the dam and abide by special safety regulations.
Bass Family Moronidae
The temperate bass family includes four species in North America, 3 that are native to Georgia and two are found in Lake Lanier. One species, striped bass, are anadromous (live in fresh and salt water) and occur in the coastal area. This fish will travel up estuaries to spawn. With the building of dams some of these fish have become landlocked in large impoundments. Due to the large size and fighting ability of the striped bass they have become a major sport fish, which has been stocked into many areas that are not in its native range. The family consists of moderate to large fish that are popular game species. A deep body with two separate dorsal fins, one spiny and one with 1 spine and 11 to 14 soft rays, 3 anal spines, and thoracic pelvic fins characterize this family.
Striped Bass (Morone saxatilus)
The striped bass is a large open water predatory fish that can often be found in schools. These fish are anadramous and spend most of their life in salt water. During the spawning season they travel far up rivers to spawn. Some of these fish became landlocked due to the damming of rivers, which resulted in them becoming completely freshwater. Their success in the freshwater environment has led to their stocking in many impoundments across the country. Stripers are strong fish and are known for their fighting ability and are a favorite game fish for many.
Striped bass are large fish that can reach a maximum length of 79 inches and weigh more than 50 lbs. The Georgia state record striped bass is 63 lbs; Lake Lanier’s record is currently 46 lbs. They have anywhere from 6-9 dark gray unbroken stripes on silvery white sides, which is distinctive from its relative the white bass that has broken stripes. The dorsal fins are completely separate, and it has 3 anal spines with the second noticeably shorter than the third. The fins are usually clear to gray-green, but large adults have a white pelvic fin and the anal fin has a white edge.
Where you will find these fish in Lake Lanier will depend on a few factors. One is the food source. One of the main preys of these fish is the shad species that are found in the lake. If you locate a school of shad it is likely that larger predatory fish will be nearby. Another factor is the water temperature. In very cold water they will stay a little deeper where the temperature will fluctuate less. As the water warms into the mid fifties through the seventies they can be caught in shallower areas and on the surface. In late summer when the water temp reaches its highest level the fish will stay deep usually just above the thermocline, which is about 35 feet deep. A variation on the summer pattern will be on overcast days, early morning, or late evening when they may be found in shallower water. These fish do not generally relate to structure so the best key is finding the food source. Lures should be chosen that imitate shad or other baitfish such as; crankbaits, large spinners, bucktails, large topwaters, and large 6” to 8” stickbaits. These baits then need to be chosen for the specific situation and depth that the fish are holding at.
White Bass (Morone chrysops)
The white bass is a moderately sized fish that is popular as a food source. They can generally be found in lakes and in pools of medium to large rivers. They exhibit similar behavior to their cousin the striped bass by running up the rivers during the spawning season. This will usually occur in the spring as the water begins to warm. It is not uncommon to find these fish in schools were large numbers can be caught in the same area. Due to their popularity as a game and food fish they have been stocked into many waterways and lakes across the country.
White bass can reach a length of up to 18 inches and weigh over 5lbs., although most are generally 1 to 2 pounds. The Georgia state record white bass came from Lake Lanier and weighed 5lbs. 1oz. These fish share a lot of the characteristics of the striped bass, but can easily be distinguished by the broken stripes on its sides, yellow eyes, and the strong arch of the body behind the head.
White bass are very common in Lake Lanier and can be caught on a variety of minnow imitating lures or live bait. Some good choices would be; medium sized in-line spinners, ¼ oz crankbaits or rat-l-traps, 2 to 3 in. minnow baits, or other smaller flashy lures. Spring is a good time to find them in the upper reaches of the lake and in the river channels. These fish do not generally relate to cover, but when the water temperature increases in the summer they can be found after dark around bridge pilings.