Bassin' In Georgia

The Peach State continues to be one of the best places in the country to catch black bass. Here's a look at some of the best destinations for the fish this year. (March 2006)

Georgia waters produced the world- record largemouth bass. No other state can make that claim. But beyond the world record, Georgia is the most diverse state for bass fishing. From shallow swamps and oxbows in the south containing huge largemouths, to lakes in the mountains that have populations of smallmouths, we have it all. You can fish ponds, lakes, streams, rivers and even brackish tidal waters for bass.

In the Peach State, you can fish for largemouth, smallmouth, Suwannee, redeye, shoal, and spotted bass -- six of the seven recognized kinds of black bass. No other state has that many different species of black bass. But there is even a new bass here, found on the Broad River at Clarks Hill Lake and tentatively called the Bartrams bass. That fish may soon be recognized as yet another new black bass species.

Bass fishing in Georgia is amazingly consistent over the years. After each tournament, each Georgia Bass Chapter Federation club in the state sends in a Creel Census Report to Dr. Carl Quertermus at the State University of West Georgia, and he keeps records on a variety of information. These records go back 27 years and show that the catch rate during tournaments has changed very little over all that time.

That's not to say that fisheries managers in the state are resting on their laurels. Over the past few years, more efforts have been made to tailor creel and size limits to specific bodies of water. Some have worked well, like the 14-inch minimum size limit on all bass at Lake Lanier. In that reservoir, the population of spotted bass has responded by growing fast and fat on the blueback herring in the impoundment.

At Lake Oconee, a slot limit has not really paid off because anglers don't follow it. On that lake, anglers are encouraged to keep bass from 6 to 11 inches long, to reduce the numbers of small fish. Very few keep those small bass, so a regulation that would help the lake isn't effective because it is ignored.

At Rocky Mount Public Fishing Area, a slot limit on Heath Lake requiring fishermen to release all bass from 14 to 21 inches long, combined with keeping the lake closed except the first ten days of each month, has created a trophy-bass lake. Heath is probably one of your best bets for catching a lunker on any PFA.

Over the years, bass anglers have become savvier about their resources. For a long time, fishermen would put out brush piles to concentrate fish and make them easier to catch. Recently, bass fishermen -- especially club members -- have worked with the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division fisheries biologists to improve habitat on lakes. These long-term efforts don't pay immediate results in bigger catches, but help the bass population.

Rather than concentrating on brushpiles, efforts are being made on many of our bigger lakes to improve shoreline cover for bass fry, thus increasing the numbers that survive. Deeper cover is also added, but put out to give the bass more ambush points and places to hide, rather than just attracting them to a hook.

Some of the "management" also involves taking no action! Most bass fishermen think stocking bass in big lakes would help, but it generally makes no difference. One pair of bass can spawn more little bass each year than would be stocked in any given area, so stocking usually just wastes time and money.

In some specific cases, stocking bass does make a difference. For example, in the Flint River below the Blackshear Dam, water level changes during the spawn means that shoal bass don't reproduce very successfully. For about 20 years, the WRD has been stocking fingerling shoalies in that area. For the past five years, stocked bass have been marked with a dye that puts an indicator on their bones so that biologists can track them. Now that those marked bass have reached legal size, they make up 30 to 50 percent of the catch on that part of the Flint River.

Water-level fluctuation, as well as colder temperatures on the Chattahoochee River below Buford Dam, also decimated the natural population of shoal bass in that stream. A stocking effort is currently underway to restore shoal bass to the river and may offer another species of fish for Atlanta-area anglers to catch.

At Lake Nottely in North Georgia, the introduction of blueback herring has created a problem for largemouth bass. The herring eat the same food that bass fry need in the spring, thus keeping them from surviving and growing. But there's also some indication that herring actually eat the young bass. To remedy this situation, the WRD is stocking largemouths in that reservoir.

"Midnight stocking" of non-native species by fishermen is a continuing problem in Georgia lakes and rivers. Blueback herring may have offered a temporary boost to the size of bass in affected lakes, but long-term they create severe problems. Similarly, putting spotted bass in a lake may result in more bass to catch, but it usually causes the population of largemouth to decrease and has practically wiped out smallmouths in some North Georgia reservoirs.

Still, there are many good places to bass fish in Georgia. Below are several that should produce excellent results for you this year.

Allatoona Lake

In the past, Allatoona Lake has been called "The Dead Sea" when it comes to bass fishing, but that perception is changing. Last year, the Creel Census Report showed that this impoundment ties with Lake Russell for the highest bass catch rate per man/hour of any lake fished by clubs. The lake is full of spotted bass, but most are relatively small.

Allatoona is one of the impoundments where the WRD is working with local groups and fishermen to add cover to the lake. One reason why Allatoona has been so hard to fish is its lack of underwater structure. Man-made fish attractors are now providing the cover and offering places for anglers to fish.

In early spring, spotted bass can be found on most rocky main-lake points and steep banks. You can catch them on small jig-and-pigs, jighead worms and crankbaits. Green pumpkin is an excellent color choice for worms and jigs. Fish the steep rocky areas slowly, keeping contact with the bottom.

For largemouths, head up the Etowah River to the Little River area and fish any cover you see. Also watch your depthfinder for brushpiles in coves and on points. Fish them with crankbaits, a jig-and-pig, or a Texas-rigged worm.

During the summer, try fishing the man-made PVC "brush" piles with Texas-rigged worms. Most of this cover was placed in 25 to 30 feet of water, and you can get a map from the WRD showing th

eir locations.

Lake Hartwell

At more than 58,000 acres, Lake Hartwell is one of our bigger reservoirs and produces largemouth, spotted and redeye bass. The average size of bass is good, and the CCR shows this impoundment having the third-highest average winning weight in club tournaments. It also had the sixth-highest bass per angler/hour of any reported tournament sites.

In the spring, bass move into creeks and pockets on the main lake, getting ready to spawn. Try spinnerbaits and crankbaits around shoreline cover, from halfway back to the very ends of protected areas. As the water warms, throw a Trick worm in those same areas.

During the summer, a fantastic topwater pattern develops on Hartwell. Go to any main-lake shoal -- shallow water near deep water, often identified with a danger marker -- and throw stickbaits, soft-plastic jerk baits or other topwater lures. Largemouth, spotted and redeye bass all move to these areas to feed on herring, and you will see a half dozen bass following the one you hook. This pattern holds from mid spring through the summer.

In the fall, bass again move into the creeks, and crankbaits are excellent lures for catching them. Fish these baits along steep creek banks or throw a jig-and-pig to any wood cover you find.

In the winter, jigging a spoon on main-lake humps and points is also a good idea. You can catch all three species of bass by dropping a spoon to fish schooled up in 30 feet of water. Locate schools of baitfish, and fish under them.

Savannah River

The Savannah River from Augusta to the coast offers many miles of good bass fishing. In the CCR, it shows the third highest catch of bass per man/hour, so it is as good as our best lakes for numbers of fish. And the bass are a good sized, with the river having the third-highest weigh per angler/hour.

Early in the spring, bass tend to hold around the mouths of creeks and oxbow lakes, taking advantage of any breaks in the current. Cast a crankbait or jig-and-pig around trees in the water on the main river, right at the mouths of creeks. Also, fish back into the creek a short distance, hitting the deeper banks.

As the water warms, bass move into the creeks and sloughs to spawn. Most old oxbows and creeks offer a deeper bank with stumps and wood cover on it and a shallow bank with overhanging willow trees. Fish the deeper banks with a jig-and-pig and spinnerbaits up until the fish spawn.

After the spawn, throw a Trick worm under overhanging willows for some good bass fishing. This pattern holds up through the summer, but the best catches are in May and June. During the summer, many bass move back out onto the main river, where you can catch them on crankbaits and Texas-rigged worms in wood cover.

In fall, look for largemouths on the main river and around creek mouths. They are more active as the water gets cooler and hit faster moving lures like crankbaits and spinnerbaits. In the coldest months, slowly work a jig-and-pig through cover that breaks the current to find sluggish bass holding there.

Lake Oconee

Lake Oconee is one of the most popular bass fishing spots in Georgia, with the third-highest number of tournaments held there annually. Right in the middle of the state, it produces good numbers of bass of a respectable size. The catch rate per hour and weigh per hour is right in the middle of the range of all bass tournaments recorded in the CCR.

Oconee is the site of an effort by the WRD, and local clubs like the Lake Oconee Bassmasters, to improve shoreline habitat. In many areas, the shore is lined with docks and seawalls that tend to eliminate natural cover and reduce places for young bass to hide. Here, the program is to plant native water grasses in the shallows and place wood cover for the young bass to hide in.

In early spring, look for bass feeding around riprap banks and seawalls. A spinnerbait or crankbait ordinarily attracts these fish. As the water warms, they move into pockets to spawn, and you can sight-fish for bass on the beds.

All spring and into early summer, throw a spinnerbait around any grass cover you find back in the pockets. On sunny days in late spring and during the summer, pitch a jig-and-pig or Texas-rigged plastic worm under boat docks. Docks on deeper water are usually better during the summer, and main-lake docks with current moving under them are best.

Docks continue to produce in the fall. But bass are more active, and crankbaits and spinnerbaits fished near riprap and seawalls can also pay off. Small crankbaits work in the same areas during the winter, but fish them more slowly. Also try targeting bridge pilings and riprap at this time of year.

Flint River

From the Lake Blackshear's dam to south of Albany, the Flint River has some of the best shoal-bass fishing you can find. No tournaments were reported on this river, although some people weighed in shoal bass running way up the Flint from Lake Seminole.

Access is limited, and the best way to fish the river is to drift sections of it. Team up with other fishermen and use two vehicles. Leave one at the take-out spot and drive upriver to put in. You'll need a shallow-draft boat with a strong trolling motor to fish the shoals on the river.

Shoal bass, obviously, like shoals. You may find a few in deeper sections of the river or holding on wood cover but for the best fishing, look for swift water running over rocks. In the spring, you have to watch for high water that makes the river very dangerous.

Fish the shoals with small Texas-rigged worms, small jig-and-pigs and little crankbaits. Work those lures through eddies and riffles for bass that are waiting on food to be washed to them. Fish with the current to make your bait look natural.

In late spring through the summer when the water level stabilizes, topwater action can be fantastic. Use a popper-style lure or buzzbait around shoals, and you could catch some good-sized bass. Five-pound shoalies are usually caught in this area on most trips, along with many more in the 3- to 4-pound range. Early morning and late afternoons are best for topwater action.

Lake Walter F. George

Lake Eufaula -- as this reservoir on the Chattahoochee River is more commonly called -- is a well-known bass fishery that produces excellent catches year 'round. The 14-inch size limit enforced for all black-bass species means that lower numbers of bass are actually weighed in during tournaments, since the 12- and 13-inchers that would otherwise be brought to the scales on other lakes must be released. The heaviest winning weights reported in tournaments are the highest in the state.

In early spring, look for big largemouth moving into shallow water in search of spawning beds. Bass will often be surprisingly shallow and a long way from the channel. Try spinnerbaits and a jig-and-pig around the grass edges for them.

After the

bass spawn, they move out the flats to the edges of the creek and river channels. At Eufaula, the ledge fishing that this migration offers is legendary. Big crankbaits, plastic worms and heavy Ledgebuster spinnerbaits often produce heavyweight largemouths at this time. Look for stumps and brush on bends of the flooded river channel in the main lake for the best of this action.

The bass stay on the ledges from late spring until the next spawning season, so follow them from shallow ledges to deeper ones, then back to shallow in the fall.

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