top of page

Georgia Big Sticks: Wintertime tips for Lanier and 2024 goals

Now that the New Year is officially here, north Georgia anglers begin to turn their attention to tournament fishing and maybe catching their personal best (PB) this winter. Many are now out- of-the-woods and back on the water, hoping to catch a hot bite on these cold, frosty mornings.

We thought we'd ask a few big sticks as to their plans for the upcoming year--and a few tips on the winter bite, this time focusing mostly on Lake Lanier. We've contacted a small sampling of anglers that regularly fish Lanier, including one of the hottest anglers in the state, a few of north Georgia's top spotted bass guides, a well-known Lanier blogger who has just started a great new YouTube podcast, a young angler who has some ambitious "international" goals, a former high school stick, the state's most well-known outdoor writer, and others (not necessarily tournament fishermen, but big sticks nonetheless!) whose names might be familiar to those of us on Facebook and various fishing sites and blogs.

Jim Farmer: The Mayor of Baldridge

Jim Farmer is an original. He is a retired Navy vet who came to north Georgia in 1997 while still in the Navy. Jim, a former marathoner and Kansas farm boy, spent most of his career "working in Navy fighter and fighter/attack squadrons." Jim wrote in his extraordinary blog that "it was always fast-paced hard work with a little danger and a lot of travel thrown in." That blog,, is full of great writing about Jim, his family, his military career and a lot about fishing. He's a Renaissance man who now chases little green fish around Lake Lanier--and loves sharing his experiences with others.

Jim has fished all over the world only to retire and eventually build his dream home on the banks of Lanier's Baldridge Creek. He's a frequent contributor to Facebook (he and pal Jimmy Sanders often joke that anyone who enters Baldridge Creek has to pay them a "toll" to fish the hot spots!).

In addition, Jim's Castaway Cove Friday Night Fish Fry has become, in only the first three episodes, a popular YouTube podcast hosted. The program, set in Jim's impressive, man-cave basement, includes two other Georgia Big Sticks, the super guide Jeff Nail and the colorful Jimmy Sanders, both of whom share some of their Lanier experiences in this blog.

Jim Farmer is a spiritual man with a distinctive voice (think Bob Ross, but with a spinning rod instead of a paint brush). Jim, whose whisper-like voice could be used in spa or relaxation podcasts, is an out-of-the box thinker with a keen intellect. His posts at are among the most thoughtful I have ever read. He is on the water nearly every day, sometimes with his fish-catching wife, Lisa (another Big Stick in the Farmer household). Jim is kind enough to share on FB (and in his posts) his techniques on how he catches these Lanier spots (with that unique voice, Jim could easily be called "the spot whisperer"--and you know, if you've leaned in to hear his whisper-on-the-water Facebook commentary as he's holding up a ditch donkey, he usually finds the ones we're all looking for).

Jim also is a lure designer, and his Emerald Popper has become a favorite among many of Lanier's topwater anglers.

Jim told Georgia Big Sticks, "My main goals for 2024 are to continue serving others using Gods gifts that I’ve been given. I would also like to grow our podcast into something very successful and informative for the outdoor folks just like us. We would like to have a live version of the podcast and interact with our viewers this spring if our podcast continues to grow."

Jim Farmer, (at right) shown at his Castaway Cove Friday Fish Fry on YouTube. Farmer is one of Lanier's great assets, both on the water and off.

Jim's cold-weather tip:  "My biggest winter fish have been caught in areas where deeper water is very nearby. Whether it’s a steep rock bluff or out on the end of a rocky point, if there is 40+ feet of water very nearby, the bigger fish seem to frequent these areas throughout the winter."

Checkout Jim at his terrific blog: or visit him on Facebook.

Ronnie Garrison: Journalist, club champion, & Georgia Big Stick

Ronnie Garrison, the state's most prolific outdoor writer and multiple-times club champion in three different bass clubs, is perhaps best known for his Map of the Month articles in Georgia Outdoor News ( rich tradition for more than 35 years. Ronnie says his 2024 goals will begin with his club tournaments:

"My main goal for 2024 is to fish every tournament in each of my three clubs without missing one. At my age that is not a sure thing!! A part of that is trying to win AOY point standings in all three, for the third year in a row. I also hope to get great information and write informative articles for my Map of the Month articles in GON."

Ronnie, who grew in Thompson, Ga and regularly fished Clarks Hill, now lives in Griffin, where he has written for the Griffin Daily News since 1987.  But it's his club tournaments that drive him. "Bass Clubs have been an important part of my life for almost 50 years," wrote Ronnie in his Griffin Daily News column last week, where he encouraged others to find a club to join. He's showing a couple of nice keepers from a Sinclair tournament last fall.

Ronnie has won numerous awards for his writing over the years, including four in just one year from the Georgia Outdoor Writers Association.

His wife, Linda, is also a writer, and was formerly the travel editor for a well-known web site.

That means Ronnie has had the opportunity to travel to many different locations, and had the opportunity to catch both fresh and saltwater fish in a variety of conditions. These two fish below did not come from Potato Creek or Yellow Jacket or Two Mile or Richland or Spring. They were also not caught in shallow water on shaky heads. As for the other one, he put up quite a fight on that light setup!

Ronnie told Georgia Big Sticks that he "...doesn't remember missing a club tournament in the past 10 years." 

Ronnie has fished with many of the Georgia Big Sticks mentioned in this blog, and is encyclopedic in his knowledge about Georgia's lakes. Check out his outdoors column on-line at: You can also reach Ronnie at his email address:

Jeremiah Giles--Worldwide"King of Anglers"

One thing you can say about Jeremiah Giles, he aims high! This personable young angler from Atlanta is determined to add to his already impressive record of catching fish in four states and five countries in 2023. Jeremiah is active on Facebook and You Tube--posting his catches and even sharing with fans details of his trip to Mexico and the Cayman Islands.

So how does this angler-fanatic have the time to do this (I mean, it's every angler's dream to travel the world and fish, right?). Here's what Jeremiah told Georgia Big Sticks: "The really just pre-planning and saving. When I took my first trip to chase Roosterfish in Mexico last year, I didn't go until June but I started prepping for it in February or March. This year I'll be traveling to other places and my big trips will be in the summer and fall this year. I have things pre booked now and it's still first week of January. Hopefully, (I'll be) scratching at least 10 more species off the bucket list this year."

When we asked him if he had any plans to fish tournaments in 2024, his answer was thoughtful and candid: "I haven't really participated in any tournaments because I'm a non-boater and I don't like being at the mercy of the boater," said Jeremiah. "I do believe I'd be successful though because when just fun fishing with others, I've inadvertently discovered tournament winning patterns where they went out to fish the club tourneys the following weekend or something and won doing the pattern I figured out."

If you want to reach out to one of the more interesting Big Sticks, you can find him on Facebook, YouTube (his YouTube site is called King.Of.Anglers and you can check him out at Instagram at King.Of.Anglers.Jeremiah. Says Jeremiah, "I'll be both fishing and teaching." 

The man behind Blue Lily and Sweet Rosey: Jim "LJ" Harmon

Have you ever heard of the Blue Lily? How about Sweet Rosey? How about the Jerk Shad? If you're a finesse fishermen in northeast Georgia, you know those names, just as you probably know the dynamic guide and entrepanuer who introduced them: Jim "LJ" Harmon. Lanier Jim is the man behind these wildly popular (and colorful) Lanier Baits (

Jim's been a part of Lake Lanier long enough (nearly 40 years) to adopt it as part of his name. He's known locally as the "Drop Shot Jedi"--describing a technique that most anglers have heard about but few ever master. Jim will take you out and show you how to fish the drop-shot--but it's a technique that will take some time to really learn. LJ has guided everyone from beginners to big-time pros on the secrets of finesse fishing on Lake Lanier.

Besides designing and selling his worms from his website (, he's also built a growing business installing electronics on bass boats (Hummingbird, Lowrance, Garmin--he does it all).

Jim's buddies describe him as highly entertaining on the water and he is always willing to share his secrets (check out LJ's website for his guiding business and it's full of helpful videos). In fact, his electronics installation business has been so good that he recently had to move to a larger building near Thompson Creek in Dawson County.

So, what does LJ see as his priorities in 2024?

 "To handle the new 100-125 boat increase from the program with Advantage Boat Center. We average in sales/installs about 80 boats a year - this pushes us over the 200 mark. At Lanier Baits - we hope to bring our new line of plastics to the market."

Jim "LJ" Harmon's Lanier Baits are shipped

all over the country--and these "Fruity Worms"

are outstanding for both spots and largemouths. By the way, those blue and pink ones are really hard to get--so if you order, get plenty when you do.

Jimbo on Lanier--The Dean of Lanier's Spotted Bass Guides

There are many great fishermen named Jim on Lake Lanier. In fact, you're meeting a few of them today on this blog. But there is only one Jimbo.

Legally known as Jim Mathley, "Jimbo" is arguably the longest-running spotted bass guide on Lanier and the clearly the most well-known. Part of that is because besides being a terrific guide, Jimbo also hosts seminars and EXPOS (click here to read more about tomorrow's EXPO in Cumming-it will be great fun for all the anglers in your family--both young and old!), classes, videos, and other opportunities that make him perhaps the highest profile guide in the state.

Jimbo, who grew up fishing with his Dad in central Indiana, is a Perdue graduate and a self-described former corporate "ladder climber." Jim "Jimbo" Mathley gave up on that corporate chaos after his company moved him South, only to be bought out by another company, eliminating much of Jim's organization.  

Jim's excellent website ( provides the details of his transition from the corporate ladder to the front deck--and he gives credit to his wife Agenna for helping to make that happen."After many hours of prayer and sleepless nights, she had seen the reward Christ had in mind for me.  She saw it gleaming like the noonday sun.  She believed.  And her faith made me believe.  From that point, together with God, we never looked back. Jimbo’s was born. I now spend over 300 days a year "in my office" on the lake."

Jimbo doesn't just guides clients who want to learn how to catch these Lanier spots. He actually has a program where you can learn to be a fishing guide.

That's right, the Dean of Guides also trains anglers who want to learn how to be a successful guide (this on-line course is available at It takes a pretty confident (and unselfish) pro to be able to train people who may one day be competitors.


We asked Jimbo what tips he can share and how he approaches the winter bite on Lanier: "I usually start deep in the mornings - in ditches, drains, or roadbeds. I look for groups of fish that are actively feeding around groups of bait in these locations. We will fish

these areas with small swimbaits like a Keitech or dropping baits like a spoon or Damiki rig. We usually stay with this approach until that bite dies, noting the time at which this happens varies with lake and weather conditions. Then we often start looking either in deeper pockets or steep rock type places and probing them with a shaky head or jig. We don’t ignore the ditches, however that is not our main focus. We run places that have the presence of rock and close proximity to deep water. "

And what about his goals for the upcoming year: "I seek to become a better guide, role model, and ambassador for the Lake Lanier Fishing community through my efforts as a guide, video producer, and expo host. We see ourselves at JIMBO’s as beacons of support and cohesion - a glue of sorts for the Lake Lanier Fishing Community. We support, assist, and give all we can to make our lake, and it’s anglers, better and more successful. We create positive learning and socializing environments to help the anglers of Lake Lanier thrive."

Check out Jimbo on Lanier at

Matt O'Connell--A Year to Remember (with a surprise ending!)

Peachtree City's Matt O'Connell is one of the rising stars on the national bass tournament scene. He described his success the last two years as "...a bit of a whirlwind." Rarely has someone come on the Georgia (and national) tournament scene in such dramatic fashion (except for perhaps Harold Grizzle's historic co-angler run several years ago).

Here are the facts: Matt won the prestigious Berry's Tournament Trail in 2022 (with his partner Mark Denney). Berry's is generally regarded as the state's most competitive tournament trail--and has been around for 33 years at Lake Jackson for 20 years at Sinclair and Jackson. You have many BFL winners and All American qualifiers that have fished the Berry's trail--and it alone arguably attracts the largest number of Georgia Big Sticks (although the Ameris Bank Mortgage/Hammonds tournament trail on Lanier, run by Georgia Big Stick Scott Barnes, is similarly stacked). Said Matt, "The Berry's Angler of year title in 2022 showed me I can consistently compete with the best in an area I'm also not local to."

Matt said the same thing about Lanier. "I don't get nearly as much time out on Lanier as a lot of locals being 90 minutes away but I've just figured out a few consistent approaches that give me success." Winning the Berry's Trail was just one of the great things about 2022--as Matt finished second in the Major League Fishing's BFL Bulldog Division, winning over $5,000. But he wasn't done there--he came back and won the Bulldog Division in 2023, winning more than $6,000 in what many consider the toughest division in the country.

Less than 7 months ago, Matt just narrowly missed winning one of the nation's most prestigious and oldest tournaments, the All American. Finishing just 21 ounces behind Marietta's Emil Wagner, Matt earned $35,000 for finishing second in the 2023 All American at Lake Hartwell. But the heartache at Hartwell had some payback, as just five months after losing the All American to Wagner, Matt came back and won the BFL Super Tournament in October, winning $14,448 on the two day tournament (Wagner finished a very respectable third that event).

Matt has one win and 21 Top 10's in the BFL's, and since he went back to the boater side in 2020, he's fished in 25 Bulldog tournaments with the big win at Hartwell and four other top 10 finishes--pushing him into the upper echelon of great Bulldog Division anglers. If that wasn't enough, Matt & his partner Tony O'Connell won the big Americus Mortgage/Hammonds tournament on Lanier on December 30th.

Matt takes his success in stride, saying "I am just a guy who has put more than a decade into learning first how to fish tournaments. My dad is a golfer and former college soccer player so I played sports as a kid and golfed with him a lot. I never really thought about [fishing] tournaments until I was around 22-23, I'm now 35 and I had a lot of learning to catch up on in my 20's compared to a lot of the new up and comers in the sport."

So what are Matt's goals for 2024? "Current plans are to fish the Toyota Series Central Division, BFL All American in May at Cherokee, other local BFLs, the Skeeter Boating Atlanta trail, Berry's Team Trail and whichever tournaments fit where they can. I'd really like to get a 9 lb or better largemouth and still looking for that elusive 6 lb spot."

Matt's best wintertime tip: "My 3 keys to winter fishing are bait, rock and weather. On the cloudier days I like to focus more on a bait oriented approach, (find the bait, find the fish) but on sunny days rock becomes a big player in the late winter and pre spawn time. Docks, and more specifically black dock floats on the north GA lakes can also be treated like rock in that regard. I do fish slower in the winter but I'm always running and gunning wherever I'm fishing to a certain extent."

And then.....a year-end surprise! As if 2023 was not excitement enough, Matt ended the year by popping the question to his two-year steady (and, Samantha's answer was "yes"!).

Matt admits that he will have to be a "little more picky" about the tournaments he fishes in 2024 due to the engagement. But, you can bet this great wedding will probably be scheduled between tournaments--and you can rest assured that Matt understands the penalty for being 'late' for the "weigh-in"! Clearly, this is Matt's greatest catch--a lifetime PB!

Jeff Nail: Airborne Ranger & Spot Slayer

Jeff Nail has quickly become one of hottest guides on Lake Lanier by almost any standard. While many have been around longer, Nail's growing list of clients will tell you he's quickly becoming the new go-to standard for finding Lanier's hungry spots. In fact, he recently led two well-known industry leaders to the spotted bass promised land. Bassmaster Magazine Executive Editor Bryan Brasher and CAST Fishing's Ryan Hanks were in Jeff's boat on a cold December morning--and the photo below shows you what they found, with Brasher posting "...everything you've heard about Lanier being one of the nation's elite spotted bass fisheries is true....just an awesome December day." That's high praise from a savvy angler/editor who has fished all over the country.

You will learn a lot from Jeff Nail just by spending a day (or half day) on the water with him. He's generous with his fishing tips, including taking time to show you some electronic images you might have missed. Unlike some guides, you'll also be using the same top flight gear he uses (St. Croix Rods and Shimano reels) so there's no blaming the equipment if you can't land that big one! Mostly, Jeff clearly has a vested interest in teaching the rest of us how to learn the complexities of fishing for wintertime (and anytime) spots in this great lake!

Nail, who grew up fishing in Georgia and Florida, retired from the U.S. Army after serving as an Airborne Infantry/Ranger. While Jeff is humble about his decorated military career (four deployments between Iraq and Afghanistan) he's enthusiastic when it comes to the subject of Lanier's giant spots and the contagious winter bite. His plans for 2024 include spending time at another nearby lake, often overlooked when it comes to spotted bass.

"I'll be spending more time this winter and spring on Lake Allatoona, learning those bites. I think Altoona has potential to produce some big spotted bass, as 3 to 4 pounders are already showing up. The biggest difference in the lack of standing timber in deep water and the lack of brush compared to Lanier. That being said, there is a huge amount of bait in Allatoona, too, which is another big plus.

"I'll also plan to fish Lake Chickamauga at least six times and improve my ledge and grass fishing. I'm also going to continue dial in FFS specific techniques on Lanier."

Jeff's best winter time tip for Lanier spots: "When you think you are fishing slow enough, cut that speed in half and then maybe it will be slow enough."

Jimmy Sanders, King of the Jerk Shad

Jimmy Sanders, another Big Stick from (primarily) Lanier's South end, slays many of his giant spots with Lanier Baits' popular Jerk Shad (move over Zoom Fluke, this bait is a constant competitor). Jimmy has his own unique way of rigging the Jerk Shad, and he's a master at working the bait year round.

A Tennessee native who came to Georgia 36 years ago, Jimmy Sanders is another guy you will find more often than not putting some of those wintertime/anytime spots in his classy, 2023 Triton 19 TRX Patriot, which he euphemistically refers to as his "sled". Jimmy, as you can see from this photo, is die-hard University of Tennessee fan, and enjoyed their 35-0 thumping of Iowa.

Jimmy retired in 2008 and has "...been fishing on the pond three to five days a week since." His best tip is one we hear often at Lanier (and elsewhere this time of year), "...slow down, and if you think you're fishing slow, slow down more." Jimmy knows what he's talking about--take a look at the photo below--he's not signaling that's his fifth fish, he's signaling its weight!

His 2024 goals include the sharing of more information (Jimmy is an unselfish as they come when he is posting about his trips on the lake). He told us, "I'd like to be on the water three to four days a week and continue to give informative reports that will help those who read may reports catch more fish. I also want to try and learn something new everyday I'm on the pond. Mostly, I want to continue to promote my love for fishing in a way that will benefit others, young and old, and do everything I can to help keep Lake Lanier the great fishery it is today."

Here's one Jimmy caught today, which he described as "cold and miserable, but here's the first tank of 2024!"

Way to tough it out Jimmy! These Lanier big sticks know that sometimes the worst weather days result in the biggest bites (and the reason they are Georgia Big Sticks is that they know you have go out on those times when everyone else is either in the woods or on the sofa).

Of course, Jimmy can't make it out there every day, but most days he finds a way. Jimmy lives on the South end of Lanier, not far from Buford Dam, and when he's not working around the house, he's out chasing magnum spots. But on some of these cold mornings (clearly not this morning, though!), it's just nice to have a couple of 'good dogs' to keep you warm. His dogs Gunner (getting his back scratched) and Sassy (warming on the blanket) are always ready to snuggle up, even on those days when the fish aren't biting!

Jake Wohlers: Next Generation Guide?

Two things that strike you about this talented young pro: he does not lack confidence and he finds the giants. Woodstock's Jake Wohlers is a former high school fisherman (at The Kings Academy) who is making a name for himself around Lake Lanier. A graduate of The King's Academy, who later pitched for Berry College's baseball team, Jake is looking forward to the new year and hopefully a new PB for these Lanier spots. Jake is 20-years-old and has a 2003 Stratos 201 Pro XL equipped with all Lowrance electronics and a Minn-kota Ultrex.

He's currently working on his real estate license--and he hopes to be a part of the professional fishing community. As for fishing Lanier, he says he has no real preference. " I do not prefer deep or shallow. Lanier in particular has me fishing various depths year round. I compete in Scott Barnes’ [Ameris Bank Mortgage Services/Hammonds Fishing Center] tournaments on Lanier. I won one a few years back in November, but have not won recently."

What's ahead for Jake? "I am considering starting guiding, but not sure yet. I definitely want to grow within the sport and compete more. I have yet to break the 6 lb spotted bass mark. Hopefully 2024 holds that for me. I want to also give back more. I competed as a high schooler and would love to support the young guys coming up."

You can reach Jake Wohlers through his Facebook page.


Thanks for reading...we'll be back soon with another post highlighting more Big Sticks and the people who make Georgia bass fishing great! Be safe on the water and tight lines!

Dave Altman


bottom of page