It is common knowledge that September brings “on-paper” fall to our calendars. However, Georgians for the most part find it difficult to get themselves into a traditional autumn mindset.
Here in the Peach State, it is still summertime. Despite a hint here and a hint there that fall may indeed be just around the proverbial corner, anglers must not quite yet turn their thoughts completely to the methods and techniques of fall fishing. As the unseasonably hot weather in Georgia makes its “last stand,” late-summer angling continues to hold sway.
Fortunately, in spite of the stubborn heat, the fish on many of our waterways are still biting. Here is a brief look at some prime Georgia fishing destinations from the mountains to the coastal plain where we can experience some quality on-the-water time during our sultry “Indian Summer” period.
One of the best target waterways for Georgia’s diehard late-summer anglers is Lake Burton, a 2,775-acre mountain reservoir located near Clayton and managed by the Georgia Power Company. Burton is arguably the state’s premier spotted bass fishery. Brown trout can also provide very decent action and the panfishing — for yellow perch in particular — on the lake is worth consideration as well. The lake gave up the current state record spotted bass weighing 8 pounds, 2 ounces in 2005.
In September, look for above-average numbers of spots in deeper water, where they will likely be feeding on yellow perch, a favorite prey item this time of year. Seek out points and humps in 20 to 30 feet of water along the main lake channel.
Early and late in the day, topwater offerings may work well. In broad daylight, finesse worms fished deep on rocky points are good producers, particularly on the lower half of the lake.
Lake Burton has a sizable chain pickerel population that includes a number of trophy-class fish. September finds pickerel in the latter stages of their prime activity period, during which they will readily attack crankbaits, jerkbaits and spinnerbaits.
Fish for them in visible shallow-water structure along shallow flats near creek channels. The backs of coves are prime target areas. The pickerel is an exciting, acrobatically hard-fighting species that is largely overlooked and well worth an angler’s time and effort.
Burton is unique in that it supports Georgia’s only large-reservoir trout fishery. The lake is annually stocked in the fall with approximately 20,000 brown trout that grow quickly to 20 inches and reach a weight of nearly 2 pounds by their second spring. The lake record is presently 11 pounds, 3 ounces.
September is a good month for Burton’s browns that are, as a rule, concentrated in a narrow band of water on the lower end of the lake at depths of 30 to 60 feet. By now most of them are close to the dam and anglers should troll or down-line live blueback herring at depths of 35 feet and deeper in that vicinity.
Yellow perch are common in the lake and the proper angling approach can yield good catches of these fine panfish this month. During late summer, perch congregate on rocky bottoms adjacent to the main-lake channel in about 30 feet of water. Use a reliable depthfinder to locate the schools and bounce a small minnow or nightcrawler fragment on a 1/0 or slightly smaller hook along the bottom and directly through the concentrations of fish.
ROCKY MOUNTAIN PUBLIC FISHING AREA
Located in northwest Georgia’s Floyd County near Rome, Rocky Mountain Public Fishing Area lies on 5000 acres of land owned by the Oglethorpe Power Corporation. The PFA includes two recreational lakes —Heath Lake and Antioch Lake — totaling 559 acres in area.
Largemouth bass, sunfish and crappies are the most common game fish species here and all may be taken in September, with largemouths and bluegills making up the bulk of this month’s catch.
As a bonus, numerous wildlife species frequent the area, providing an opportunity to observe wildlife in a natural setting. The lakes, with a backdrop of forested ridgelines, offer visiting anglers a scenic and relaxed setting in which to enjoy a day’s fishing.
Standing timber provides excellent habitat in both lakes for crappies and bass. Crappie may also be found holding near rock piles and riprap along the fishing jetties. Fishing minnows or jigs around natural structures or the manmade fish attractors off the corners of the jetties is a good technique for crappie. Though September is not a particularly prime month for papermouths in the lakes, they do go through occasional minor activity periods this time of year.
Rocky Mountain PFA largemouths habitually suspend in the thicker cover as they lie in ambush for passing prey. During early morning hours, topwater lures fished around the edges of thick brush or downed timber may fool hungry bass, which are often actively feeding this month. Later in the day, try medium- or deep-diving crankbaits around the edges of the thicker timber. Another good technique is pitching or flipping a Texas-rigged plastic worm, jig or other weedless bait directly into the thick brush or similar cover.
Bluegill and redear sunfish (shellcrackers) will often feed early and late this time of year in locations where they are apt to spawn in the spring and early summer. Try fishing crickets or earthworms near or directly on the bottom in sandy areas with clean, hard bottoms devoid of an abundance of cover. For bluegills during this non-spawning period, it is a good time to try casting tiny spoons, spinners or similar artificials around the shallow edges on ultralight tackle. Fly-fishing can also be a good late-summer option.
Rocky Mountain PFA is open seven days a week from sunrise to sunset. Please note that this area, like all Georgia PFAs, have special regulations, which are posted on site as well as in the Georgia Sport Fishing Regulations.
At this time, Heath Lake is open only during the first 10 days of each month and there is a largemouth bass slot limit in place there. Bass between 14 and 20 inches must be released and only one bass over 20 inches may be kept.
Middle Georgia’s Lake Sinclair, north of Milledgeville, covers more than 14,750 acres in Baldwin, Hancock and Putnam Counties. The reservoir is owned by the Georgia Power Company and the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division manages the fishery. Largemouth bass, striped bass, catfish and crappie are the most sought after species in September.
Sinclair contains a very good population of harvestable-size largemouths. According to WRD reports, the large 2007 and 2008 year-classes should produce quality bass fishing over the next several years. Spinnerbaits, crankbaits, jigs, soft-plastic baits and topwater lures are all effective offerings in September.
Try fishing drop-offs, brush piles and lighted docks at night this time of year. Weed-bed edges early in the morning and late in the afternoon are also good target locations. The best fishing generally occurs during Wallace Dam’s generation periods.
Striped bass here are reported as “good” during the late-summer period and Sinclair’s stripers are represented by some worthy individual fish. A number of 14-plus-pound fish show up annually in anglers’ catches.
During September, stripers may be located and caught by trolling deep-diving crankbaits over main-lake points or near flats featuring channel drop-offs near their edges. Also look for stripers following schooling baitfish on the surface.
Sinclair catfish are described as “abundant and popular.” Both channel and blue cats are available, with white catfish and bullheads also common. Expect to see a few flatheads thrown in for good measure.
Effective September catfish baits are live and cut fish, worms and dough balls fished on spinning tackle. Look for cats around cover, near old creek channels in deeper water during the day and on shallow flats at night. Catfish may also be found around docks with brush nearby. Larger individual fish typically can be found below Wallace Dam during generation phases.
Crappie action is good on Sinclair this time of year. They may be taken with live minnows, crappie jigs, or small crankbaits. Now is the time to target deeper submerged treetops and brushy areas around docks. Other good options are fishing with lights at night under bridges, near lighted deep-water docks, in deep brush in coves and around hard deep-water structure.
Bream are also willing biters on Sinclair this month. However, the bluegill, shellcracker and redbreast population here is generally made up of smaller fish.
WEST POINT LAKE
West Point Lake, a 25,900-acre reservoir operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, lies on the Chattahoochee River along the Georgia/Alabama border near LaGrange. The lake contains an excellent overall fish population and fishing is good for a variety of species this month.
Largemouth bass fishing here is consistently good. This time of year, deep-diving crankbaits, plastic worms and jigs work particularly well. Concentrate on deeper creek and river-channel structure. Also try fishing beneath the tree canopies near the upper ends of major feeder creeks. Blown down trees are popular September largemouth hideaways as well.
Spotted bass are on the increase in West Point and now make up the bulk of the black bass population. Because of their abundance and a no length-limit regulation, anglers are encouraged to harvest their catches. Jigs, worms, crankbaits and spinnerbaits work well for spots, as do live baits like nightcrawlers, crayfish and minnows.
In late summer, look for spotted bass in structure around channels and rocky points. Blow-downs are also good target areas.
West Point is one of the most productive catfish lakes in Middle Georgia. Channel catfish are abundant and many 15- to 24-inch fish in the 2- to 3-pound range are readily available.
Classic catfish baits and rigs work well here. Stinkbaits and cut bait are good, as are nightcrawlers and other earthworms. During warmer months, night fishing around bridges and other structure provides excellent catfishing.
In addition to channel cats, increasing numbers of flatheads are now being taken from the Chattahoochee and the upper end of the lake. For these, use live fish as bait offerings.
Crappie are described as “good” this time of year on West Point, though they are not as active as they will be farther into fall. Bream are abundant, but, as on Sinclair, show up primarily in small sizes.
The striped bass stocking program has greatly increased chances of success on this species and the 2005 year class is now in the 20-plus-inch range with individuals weighing 5 pounds or better. Target them with live shad and fish near the dam.
Hybrid bass have not been stocked here since 2006, but good-sized fish are still plentiful. Any caught likely will be keepers. The lake’s remaining hybrids show good survival and growth rates, and most will be greater than 15 inches and weigh 3 pounds or more.
The Altamaha River begins at the confluence of the Ocmulgee and Oconee Rivers and is the largest free-flowing river in Georgia. Good fishing and the natural beauty of this wide, meandering stream make it a primary destination for late-summer angling in southeast Georgia.
Where largemouth bass are concerned, expect the Altamaha to yield mainly small to medium-size bass of 10 to 16 inches. These fish are most often taken with crankbaits, spinnerbaits and soft-plastic baits such as worms and lizards.
In September, fish in the main flow and concentrate on eddy pockets, downstream ends of sandbars and heavy cover along banks. Present the bait of choice as closely as possible to the cover being targeted.
The Altamaha reigns as a prime Georgia catfishing destination. Both channel cats and flatheads are thriving in the stream and the river remains one of the premier flathead rivers in the Southeast. Fishing for flatheads peaks during the hot summer months, making this September a good time for one of these heavy blue-collar battlers. Use at least 30-pound-test line, live bait only and target deep holes located along outside bends of the river.
Redbreasts, bluegills and shellcrackers remain abundant and the Altamaha is still an outstanding bream fishery. Higher water levels have enhanced species numbers and fishing should be good. Live crickets and earthworms or artificials pay off for all three bream species and all may be taken using similar tactics. Target water with current for redbreasts and seek bluegills and shellcrackers in still-water areas.
In southwest Georgia, look to 37,500-acre Lake Seminole as a September destination. Located at the junction of the Flint and Chattahoochee rivers near Bainbridge, this popular Corps of Engineers reservoir lures anglers from all over the state and beyond.
Late summer is not a prime time for largemouth bass on Seminole, but there are plenty of fish available and angling pressure is relatively light. Lipless crankbaits, plastic worms, spinnerbaits and topwater offerings produce well along the edges of the lake’s abundant aquatic plant patches. Grass lines are especially productive this time of year.
Channel catfish are very cooperative and consistent on Seminole, with average fish weighing between 2 and 3 pounds. Blue catfish appear in smaller numbers, but generally in larger sizes.
Stinkbait scents applied to small plastic worms are favorite offerings of many Seminole catfishermen, especially for channel cats. Blues bite well on cut shad or bream.
Channel catfish are best sought on shallow flats off river and creek channels or on channel ledges. Blue cats are primarily found on the Chattahoochee River arm of the reservoir.
Lake Seminole can produce some spectacular bream fishing, even during the hot months. Small red wigglers usually work best for shellcrackers and crickets do well for bluegills. There is wonderful fly-rod panfishing on the lake whenever the bream are feeding on the surface, usually early and late in the day. Bream of all species may be caught throughout the lake in late summer. Target primarily the weed line edges, weed pockets and sandy flats.
Seminole gives up some good crappie catches every year and it is a little surprising that the lake is not known for its crappie fishing. It is a particularly good destination for larger “slabs.”
This time of year, use live minnows along grass lines and areas with some sort of cover adjacent to 8- to 20-foot deep river channels. Old channel areas in both the Flint and Chattahoochee arms can be productive.
SUMMING IT UP
The month of September does not have to be a period of fishing doldrums for Georgia anglers. Nor does it have to be a time to park the boat, stand the rod in the corner and just get ready for hunting season.
There are many waterways dotting the length and breadth of the state that provide fast and steady angling action during these last long days of summer, as they slowly transition into fall. Some of these destinations, on a species-by-species basis, feature fishing that can rival even the best action of spring and early summer. The half-dozen Georgia waters covered here are but a few of these, albeit they indeed rank among the best.
Go ahead, get out and do some late-summer fishing this month.
Like Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”