Middle Georgia February Bassin'

Before cabin fever finishes you off, hit the waters of the midstate region -- these three venues in particular -- for some serious bigmouth action. (February 2007)

Photo by Tom Evans

With the midmorning sun finally beginning to warm the icy late-winter air, the boat slows as it nears the point. The man in back cuts the engine, and all's quiet again -- except for the thud of the trolling motor being lowered into the water by the fellow in front.

The boat moves deliberately on toward the point, finally getting too close for the geese sunning there. Squawking in complaint, half of them swim off to the left -- but the others take flight to the right, only to circle back and land near the rear of the cove into which the boat's now turning.

As the geese splash down and begin paddling around, the big mama bass that lives in the cove grows even more irritable. She's fat, swollen with eggs growing inside her for the coming spawn. In a few days, when it's a little bit warmer, she'll move to the rocky point on which the geese had been sunning and set to reproducing her kind. But for now, quietly settled in her protected sanctuary between the dock posts and old stumps on the lakebed, she just wants to rest.

She's not even hungry this morning, thanks to the pleasant surprise of the big supper that she made of a wounded crappie just at sunset the day. Though good eating, crappie are usually too hard to catch. But the stunned fish suddenly splashed into the water right in front of her, just as one of those boats that will sometimes invade her cove moved past. She didn't know that an angler had caught it but decided to throw it back; she just knew that it was a meal too good to pass up.

Having rested all night and through the early morning, she'll be quite content to carry on lazing in the water -- if only those pesky geese will go away and stop splashing.

There they go, taking flight again. Good; they usually swim around longer than that. Now here comes another boat, that little whirling thing thrumming in the water.

There's a splash; something's sinking down nearby. Maybe it's food? Here it comes, right in front of her. Though not hungry, she reflexively sucks it in just to get rid of it.

Sudden pressure sends the mama bass struggling to get under the nearby dock. But instead, she's quickly headed for the surface.

"Hey, Charlie! That's a good one! Let me get the net. That is a nice bass!"

* * *

February's great for bass fishing in Middle Georgia. The worst of winter's past, the days are warming, and the largemouths are getting ready to spawn. With a little luck, your experience may match that of the anglers in our opening fantasy!

Three wonderful options are to be found less than an hour's drive away from most Middle Georgians to try to land such a lunker: lakes Tobesofkee, Juliette and High Falls. Let's take a look at each.

LAKE TOBESOFKEE

Owned and operated by Bibb County, this 1,750-acre impoundment on Tobesofkee Creek southwest of downtown Macon lies between U.S. Highway 80 and State Route 74 just west of where they cross Interstate 475.

Opened in 1969, Tobesofkee is an urban lake with a lot of shoreline homes and public parks, so boat traffic clogs the water during the warmer months, making fishing tough. But in cooler weather, before the personal watercraft and pleasure boaters begin to churn up the water, sufficient tranquility reigns to allow for some wonderful fishing.

And the angler here can choose among an assortment of game fishes. Apart from largemouth bass, Tobesofkee also offers crappie, hybrid bass, bream and catfish. But late February and early March is the prime time for largemouth bass.

Les Ager, for years the head of the Wildlife Resources Division's fisheries office in Fort Valley, from which west-central Georgia's resource is managed, reported that the relatively small and shallow Tobesofkee is full of promise for late-winter/early-spring bass fishing, as warming trends turn on almost all of its bass at the same time -- a situation very different from that in lakes characterized by a wide array of depths and water temperatures.

"Bass populations tend to move more as a unit on small lakes, anyway," Ager explained. "At Tobesofkee, you have a lake where the environment varies very little from one end to the other. Also, the average depth at Tobesofkee is only 22 to 24 feet deep. There is very little water more than 25 feet deep, so the conditions are basically the same all over the lake."

So how do you catch Tobesofkee's bass during February and early March? Veteran midstate anglers have a few notions about that.

In early February, before many warm days have come along, concentrate on dropoffs and deep banks and structure. Deep-running crankbaits, jig-and-pigs or small plastic worms of less than 6 inches are the baits of choice. Fish slowly, because the cold water will still be keeping the bass sluggish.

As the water warms, the bass begin to move in a little more shallow. After a couple of warmer days in a row, try spinnerbaits in white or chartreuse-and-white colors in the coves, or around brush and stumps near the shoreline. Adding a plastic grub trailer to a spinnerbait makes it more buoyant, and allows you to fish it slower -- a sensible move when the fish are still a bit lethargic.

If by the last week or two in February the weather has continued to warm, the bass begin feeling the urge to spawn, so move in shallow on hard rocky or red clay points. Depending on water temps, they could be anywhere from 2 to 7 feet deep.

Medium-depth crankbaits such as Model A Bombers and Shad Raps in crawdad colors work serviceably, as do blue chrome or black chrome Rat-L-Traps. If you like plastic worms, switch now to slightly bigger ones, 6 to 8 inches long; jig-and-pigs too continue effective. If it's especially warm, spinnerbaits in the grassbeds in the backs of the coves on the upper end of the lake can tease out some considerable bass.

February fishing can be frustrating, with cold snaps slowing the migration to the spawning grounds. But even that doesn't have to end your fishing success: Simply revert to some of the tactics and locations that figured in your fishing earlier in the month.

Another trick to use on Tobesofkee bass in the first few days after a cold snap: Use a Slider head with a small worm on 6-pound line. The bass are balky, but put

this small bait right in front of their noses, and they can't resist. The strikes will be gentle, though, so the smaller line is needed in order to feel the take of the bait.

Whether the next thing up's a warming trend or a cold snap, another thing to look for that can improve your chances at Tobesofkee is water stained slightly more than that in the main lake.

LAKE JULIETTE

About 15 minutes north of Macon in Monroe County on U.S. 23, this 3,600-acre lake built by the Georgia Power Company opened in 1981, its purpose being to provide water for the cooling towers at the Plant Scherer coal-burning electric plant. But it's also a marvelously placid fishing haven, because other than the power plant, no development is present; instead, the Rum Creek Wildlife Management Area surrounds the lake.

Though only a few miles from Lake Tobesofkee, Lake Juliette is completely different in terms of its nature as a fishing venue. Personal watercraft are prohibited, and a horsepower limit on boat motors is in effect, so anglers don't have to worry about speeding boats or skiers. But as the lake was built by impounding tiny Rum Creek, not nearly as much food is carried into it, and, Les Ager noted, its overall fish population is two or three times less dense than Tobesofkee's.

But that doesn't mean that no worthwhile fishing is to be had. In addition to its snappy action for largemouths, Juliette also offers striped bass, bream and catfish angling. On the other hand, the terrain around the lake is rugged and rolling, so much more variation in depths is seen, which can suggest that the effect of warming trends is slower to be seen here than at Tobesofkee.

If it's really cold in early February, try jigging spoons 30 to 50 feet deep in the creek channels or dropoffs; be on the lookout for spots with some structure.

Once the weather warms a little, the bass move to points falling off into deeper water. Fish 15 to 20 feet deep with deep-diving crankbaits such as a Poe 400. Chartreuse is usually one of the most favored colors.

As the water begins to warm more toward the end of the month, the bass move up the points to depths of 10 or 15 feet. Switch then to spinnerbaits in chartreuse, white or a combination of the two, and fish them as slowly as you can and still keep the blades spinning.

If the weather's really heated up, move on up the points a bit more and either use spinnerbaits or start trying to use some plastic worms. Red and grape-colored worms generally perform most effectively.

As February ends and March begins, some bass also begin to move to the weedbeds on the flats. This would be the time to break out some topwater baits such as a Zara Spook or Tiny Torpedo in chartreuse shades. You won't catch as many fish, but the method ups the odds of your bringing in one that's 5 pounds or better.

One thing to remember at Juliette is that the water is generally very clear, so you must be careful not to spook the fish, even at depths of 10 to 15 feet. Hold your boat well away from the spot at which you want to fish and make longer casts, and you should be all right.

HIGH FALLS LAKE

Another, smaller impoundment north of Forsyth at the three-way juncture of Monroe, Lamar and Butts counties, this 650-acre impoundment lies at the point at which Buck Creek and Brushy Creek feed into Towaliga River. Just off I-75, it's one and eight-tenths miles east on High Falls Road.

The lake is part of High Falls State Park, but only about 10 percent of the shoreline -- mostly on the southern end of the lake -- is part of the park. The rest is privately owned and is dotted heavily with homes and cabins. Many were originally of the fish-shack variety, but recent years a have seen a housing boom resulting in some of those being replaced by new, much larger buildings.

A horsepower limit is in force at High Falls Lake, so you don't have to be worried about being run over by speeding boaters.

Reputed to be a topnotch crappie lake, High Falls can also boast a very creditable if sometimes overlooked bass fishery. According to WRD biologist Scott Robinson, the lake has a healthy population of largemouths that, thanks to the plenteous complement of forage species in the lake, are overall larger than the state average.

Those who do fish for bass there agree that the upper end of the lake is usually the most productive are. The action back up in the creek arms or in the river itself surpasses that in the open lake.

Before the water warms up, fish the vicinity of dropoffs, boat docks and submerged stumps with deep crankbaits or plastic worms. If the water's clear, red or shad-colored worms work best; if it's muddy, shift to green or chartreuse.

Because the bass feed greedily on the threadfin and gizzard shad abounding in High Falls, live bait's an entirely reasonable option. Find the largest minnows you can if you want to tempt a nice-sized bass.

As the water warms, you can fish the same areas, but go a bit shallower with medium crankbaits and spinnerbaits. Chartreuse is usually a go-to color, but white will also work from time to time.

Late in February and in early March, using crankbaits or spinnerbaits on the points and around brush is a smart tactic.

If the water gets muddy after it warms up, rattling jigs and other outsized, racket-producing baits can help you land better bass, some of the biggest of which seem to come from Buck Creek and Brown's Bottom.

BOTTOM LINE?

Whichever of the three lakes you choose, February bassin' in Middle Georgia is sure to be profitable and thrilling. Just remember to adjust your fishing tactics to fit the weather during this pre-spawn month, as changes in temperature play a huge role in the bass' choice of area to hang out in and offerings to bite.

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