Topwater Dog-Days Bass & Stripers

Georgia’s Lake Sidney Lanier

On The Fly South

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August 2023

Article and featured photo by Jimmy Jacobs.

The dead heat of summertime is not a period when you usually think about bass fishing being as hot as the weather. That’s especially true for topwater action – and how about it taking place in spots were the water is 20-feet deep. But that’s the time and places that Henry Cowen is targeting Alabama and striped bass with topwater flies on Georgia’s Lake Sidney Lanier.  

Cowen has been pursuing and guiding other folks on Lanier with fly rods for more than three decades. In that period, he has learned a lot about the 38,000-acre reservoir and its fish. Indeed, he is the guru of “sodium-free” (land-locked freshwater) striper fishing on the lake. Before we get into how and what he is doing, we need to talk a bit about Lake Lanier’s fish.  

For years, Lanier has been known as the Peach State’s top water for catching northern (or Kentucky) spotted bass. To conserve that fishery, the lake has a 14-inch minimum harvest size for the species.  

Henry Cowen with a Lanier Alabama bass. Photo courtesy of Henry Cowen.

The new twist is that through genetic studies, Georgia Department of Natural Resources biologists determined there are no spotted bass in Lanier. The fish turned out to be Alabama bass. Alabama bass were for decades considered to be a southern strain of spotted bass. Then in 2008 it was declared a new and separate species of black bass. Still, most folks continue to call the fish spots on Lanier.  

As to the stripers in Lanier, a stocking program has been on-going in the reservoir for years. Despite ups and downs in the fishery, targeting them has remained popular with most of the fish being less than 10 pounds. On the other hand, brutes of up to 30-plus-pounds have been taken.  

Striped bass are the most targeted fly-rod fish on Lanier. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.

Now, back to Henry Cowen and the angling.   As the crew from On The Fly South headed out in Cowen’s boat, he explained the current summertime fishing that lasts from June through the dog days and into September. “In August the bass and stripers hang out over humps and points in 20 to 30 feet,” Henry explained. “If the spot has a brush pile, it is even better. Twenty feet with brush is the ideal place. Fish will come to the top for flies, even from that depth.”  

Those facts get Cowen some strange looks from other anglers, as he positions his boat in seemingly open water, far from any visible points of reference and begins tossing topwater flies. However, at this time of year that is the ticket for finding the fish.   Most of the time when you spot fish churning the surface while feeding during the summer months, these are the places it is occurring. The baitfish the bass are after are blueback herring, which also tend to congregate on the humps and points.  

Henry constantly watches his electronics when cruising the lake, looking for such situations. Lanier is on the northern edge of  the suburbs of Atlanta and is the most heavily visited Army Corps of Engineers reservoir in the nation. As a result, locating such unrecognized hotspots is often the ticket for separating oneself from the herd.  

You might wonder why Cowen would give up his secret for finding the fish in summer. He is probably Lanier’s top cheerleader for the fishery and all about sharing the lake with other anglers. While he may not provide you with the GPS locations, he’ll gladly offer information that helps you find them on your own.  

On The Fly South’s Polly Dean targeting the breakwater. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.

Another set up that works for both stripers and Alabama bass in the summer on Lanier revolves around the breakwaters and docks at the marinas that dotted the lake’s shore. Both species tend to feed around these, because the structures also attract the herring.   The fish can be anywhere from right against the breakwater or dock, out for about 30 feet from them. For whatever reason, the bait and bass also seem to have an affinity for the corners of these structures. Casting all along these, with special attention to the corners, can be productive.  

Once you find the fish, the next concern is the gear and tactics you need to employ. Henry suggests rods and reels in the 8- to 9-weight range. After all, the next fish that strikes could be striper of 12 to 15 pounds or more. You also can stick with a floating line, since this is topwater action.  

The Pole Dancer. Photo by Polly Dean.

The fly that is Cowen’s go-to is the Pole Dancer. This pattern was created by West Coast fly designer Charlie Bisharat for targeting stripers. It does, however, appeal to the Alabama bass as well.   The fly has a conical, molded foam head that builds water pressure on the sides as it is stripped with a sharp retrieving motion. This creates a “walk-the-dog” action as the fly veers left to right and back again. The result can be some explosive takes on the surface.  

For more information on Henry Cowen and targeting bass and stripers on Lake Sidney Lanier, visit his website.          

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