Peach State Bass Prospects

Georgia continues as a hotbed of bass fishing -- and no wonder. Our state's filled with outstanding bassin' venues! (April 2007)

A number of North Georgia lakes give up top-quality spotted and largemouth bass like the ones Jim Croft of Dalton boated.
Photo by Kevin Dallmier.

Georgia bass anglers are blessed, maybe more so than we realize. A moderate climate allows us to fish year 'round. Our long growing season means big fish. And we have the widest variety of black bass fisheries to be found anywhere in the country.

From smallmouth bass in Appalachian streams to largemouth bass in the brackish Atlantic Coast estuaries, and a host of others in between, bass fishing in Georgia is second to none.

Ever since George Perry pulled the world record largemouth bass from an Ocmulgee River oxbow in 1932, millions of angling hours have been spent trying to steal that title away from the Peach State, but the record still stands.

Largemouth bass aren't the only game in town. Six of the seven recognized black bass species make their home in Georgia -- a fact that only this state can boast. Largemouth, smallmouth, spotted, redeye, shoal and Suwannee bass all count Georgia as at least part of their native ranges.

In some cases -- such as smallmouth bass being restricted to the Tennessee River drainage of extreme north Georgia -- that range may be somewhat limited. But it's still enough to support a good fishery.

At the other extreme, largemouth bass can be found in nearly any warm water across the length and breadth of the Peach State. Let's have a look at some of the best places to try for Georgia black bass this year.

BLUE RIDGE LAKE

Located close to where the borders of Georgia, Tennessee, and North Carolina meet, picturesque Blue Ridge Lake is arguably the best destination in Georgia for catching smallmouth bass. A relatively small reservoir with

just 3,290 acres at full pool, the lake stretches for 12 miles with more than 100 miles of shoreline.

With depths greater than 120 feet near the dam, Blue Ridge is a deep reservoir. Constructed during a time when lake builders stuck to a barren-earth philosophy, it offers very little in the way of woody cover. Instead, the lake bottom is composed of rock and sand. That lack of cover can make the impoundment difficult to fish.

Though other species are present, Blue Ridge Lake is known for smallmouth bass fishing. In Georgia, there are only a handful of places to catch smallmouth bass, and this reservoir's at the top of that short list.

According to recent electrofishing samples by the Wildlife Resources Division (WRD), Fisheries Section, 32 percent of the black bass in Blue Ridge are smallmouths. Largemouths and the recently introduced spotted bass make up the remainder.

No one's sure how the spotted bass got in the lake. The jury is still out on what the results of that introduction may be. In other Georgia waters, the introduction of spotted bass has meant the collapse of the smallmouth fishery. The more aggressive spotted bass dominate the prime spawning and feeding areas.

Since structure is so limited here, successful anglers have learned to key on subtle differences to find and catch fish. Given the scarcity of woody cover, structural features like points, drops, humps, and channels become very important.

Some cover that's easy to find is the WRD fish attractors. Constructed with the help of volunteer groups, the PVC attractors -- proven fish magnets -- are scattered around the lake.

Contact the WRD Summerville Fisheries Office at (706) 857-3394. Or visit www.gofishgeorgia.com for a map showing the location of these attractors.

Favorite tactics for fishing Blue Ridge include soft-plastics or jigs fished on the bottom, vertically jigging spoons, or casting crankbaits. Points are always good places to hit with a jig or crankbait. And if you can find fish concentrated on a ledge or drop, the jigging spoon can wear them out.

Blue Ridge Lake lies just east of the town of Blue Ridge in Fannin County.

HARTWELL LAKE

Hartwell Lake is a 55,950-acre U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reservoir on the Savannah River in northeast Georgia. The lake transitions from Piedmont-type terrain on its lower end to rugged foothill country on the upper end.

During construction, trees were cleared near the shoreline in the Tugaloo and Seneca arms of lake. In the main body of the reservoir, though, the trees were simply flooded. The result is a virtual forest hidden anywhere from 10 to 100 feet below the surface.

Largemouth bass are popular with Hartwell anglers, and the lake also offers decent fishing for redeye bass. That is unusual, since redeyes prefer streams and typically do not do well in reservoirs.

Hartwell Lake is known for yielding numbers of bass instead of large fish. The lake has produced largemouth bass weighing in the double digits, but they are rare.

Early in the year, look for bass in the pockets, those shallow little coves and cuts that warm quickly. If you find one with a firm, sandy bottom that's ideal for spawning, you may have struck a bonanza. Twitching a weightless plastic worm just below the surface often draws vicious strikes.

Topwater plugging in Hartwell can be excellent for much of the year, especially early and late in the day. Look for long, flat points or humps with deep water nearby. Schools of bass use the points to ambush passing schools of baitfish, and the action can be fast and furious.

If you feel confident that an area should hold bass, but can't coax one into striking a topwater bait, try dragging a Carolina-rigged soft-plastic along the bottom. These spots are easy to find since they pose a threat to navigation and are clearly marked. Newcomers to Hartwell Lake can do well by simply casting to the hazard markers.

Summertime bass anglers catch fish by jigging spoons in the deep timber or concentrating on fishing off lighted docks at night. Target your efforts to small isolated patches of trees or anything that looks different from the surround area. When fishing docks at night, concentrate on those that are near dropoffs into deep water. A soft-plastic jerkbait twitched on top, or a Texas-rigged worm crawled along the bottom, are good choices.

Redeye bass are most abundant in the lower portions o

f the lake. Anywhere you see rocks, there should be redeye bass. When hungry, redeyes often throw caution to the winds and are usually willing to strike. A small crankbait or topwater lure is a good choice.

The impoundment lies near the town of Hartwell and is crossed by Interstate 85.

LAKE SINCLAIR

Lake Sinclair is a 15,330-surface-acre hydropower impoundment on the Oconee River. Several factors come into play, making this lake a somewhat different fishing situation, compared to most other Georgia reservoirs. The first is the presence of Lake Oconee, just upstream.

Oconee's Wallace Dam separates the two lakes and has a pump-back hydropower operation. After water is released through the powerhouse, it's pumped back upstream from Sinclair for reuse. That means Sinclair can have current flowing either up or downstream, depending on what is happening at Wallace Dam.

Also, Lake Sinclair itself serves double duty for the Georgia Power Company. Not only does water run through the powerhouse at Sinclair Dam, but the lake's water is also used in the cooling towers of Plant Harlee Branch. That coal-fired generating plant is situated on the Beaverdam Creek arm of Lake Sinclair. Water from the plant returning to the lake is warmer than the lake itself, which makes the area around the discharge a great place for wintertime angling.

Lake Sinclair is not known for the huge fish it produces. But if catching consistent numbers of fish is your goal, this reservoir is a great place to go. It's a frequent stop on the Georgia bass tournament trails.

Although the impoundment's record largemouth weighed more than 13 pounds, trophies are rare on Sinclair. But anglers get lots of action from 1- to 2-pound bass.

Spring is one of the best times to pursue Sinclair bass. Look for small pockets along the shore with plenty of grass, boat docks and other cover.

One of the best places is where a grass bed comes right up against a boat dock. This combination draws shad in the spring, and the bass move right along with them.

Fr fishing this shallow cover, a chartreuse spinnerbait or Texas-rigged soft-plastic is a good choice.

After the easy fishing of early spring, things start to get a little tougher. Beginning in mid-May, fish the grass beds at the mouths of coves early in the morning with a buzzbait or other topwater lure. Later in the day, target deepwater docks or the long, shallow, main-lake points.

The Oconee River arm of the lake, from the dam upstream to the State Route 16 bridge, has many good points. Depending on which way the current is running, fish the "upstream" side of the point with a Carolina-rigged worm or crankbait.

The WRD maintains several fish attractors on Lake Sinclair. These brush piles are marked by white buoys and hold bass year 'round. Since they're so easy to find, these attractors are heavily fished, but seem to keep on producing despite the pressure.

Lake Sinclair is near Milledgeville.

LAKE SEMINOLE

A 37,500-acre Corps of Engineers reservoir on the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers near Bainbridge, Lake Seminole is nationally renowned for its angling, especially for largemouth bass.

Over the years, the introduction of non-native aquatic plants has affected the reservoir significantly. Eurasian watermilfoil and hydrilla are excellent bass cover, and fishing the weeds is a favorite strategy with anglers.

At the peak of the growing season, however, weed growth can make navigation and angling difficult. Along with the weeds, Seminole has plenty of stumps and sunken logs too.

Although largemouth bass support most of the fishery, good numbers of shoal bass are available for anglers willing to run up the Flint River arm and fish the rocky headwaters of the impoundment upstream of Bainbridge.

On Seminole, fish spawn early. As early as February, look for sandy-bottomed shallow areas with deep ditches running into them.

That nearby deep water gives bass a place to go when conditions for spawning are not quite right. But when the fish decide it is time, a few flips of their tails, and they're in prime spawning habitat.

Fish a Texas-rigged lizard in the bedding areas for a chance at a real lunker. Anglers who like the challenge of sight-fishing for shallow bass love this season on Seminole.

When fish pull off the beds, toss a Carolina-rigged soft-plastic around submerged timber and ledges, or pull a crankbait over submerged weeds. Good colors to try are June bug, dark blue, or pumpkinseed for the plastic baits and for the crankbaits, something that imitates a shad.

OTHER OPTIONS

You don't have to fish big water to get big bites in Georgia. Small lakes offer excellent bass fishing. The beauty of small impoundments is that they're much more responsive to management efforts like fertilization and length limits. It's a lot easier to turn 200 acres of water into a quality fishery than it is 20,000 acres.

Here's a brief look at a handful of smaller waters that should be on any bass angler's list this year.

ROCKY MOUNTAIN

PUBLIC FISHING AREA

Rocky Mountain Public Fishing Area is north of Rome in Floyd County. The PFA has two fishing lakes -- 357-acre Antioch Lake and 202-acre Heath Lake. Antioch is open from sunrise to sunset, 365 days a year. Heath is open only the first 10 days of each month and is managed using a slot limit for trophy bass.

With little standing timber or shoreline cover, Antioch Lake is for offshore structure-fishing.

Search for humps, drops and rockpiles in 10 to 15 feet of water. Casting a deep-diving crankbait or jig-and-pig is a good way to prospect for fish in these areas.

On Heath Lake, standing timber rings the shoreline. Creek channels and rockpiles out in open water also are good places to fish, but many anglers prefer to run a spinnerbait or Texas-rigged worm through the timber. The WRD has constructed several, marked fish attractors on each lake, in addition to felling shoreline trees into the shallow water.

PARADISE

PUBLIC FISHING AREA

This PFA contains enough ponds to keep an avid angler busy exploring for weeks.

The site was originally operated as a private, pay-to-fish site known as Patrick's Fishing Paradise. Back then, it was billed as "Home of the next world-record bass." Although it's never quite met that goal, its more than 70 lakes have produced many bass weighing in the teens.

With many different lakes and ponds managed for different objectives, this area to the east of Tifton in Berrien County offers something for everyone

. On some lakes, different management schemes are used to produce a variety of fishing opportunities. Some of these waters are managed for big bass, others for good all-around fishing. A few ponds are reserved for use by children and other special groups.

Traditionally, the larger lakes like Patrick, Bobbin, and Paradise have offered the best bass fishing. For big-bass hunters, the favorite lure is the jig-and-pig. But nearly any lure will produce at the right time of year. Your best chance for a trophy largemouth is in late winter and early spring when the water is just starting to warm.

A local favorite for when bass are working the shallows is a large plastic worm fished with little or no weight. Cast near the shoreline or any cover and slowly twitch the lure back to your boat. That slow, slithering retrieve is more than most Paradise bass can stand.

BANKS LAKE

Part of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Banks Lake is part of a large blackwater system stretching across south Georgia. This satellite refuge contains many different habitats, including 1,500 acres of marsh, 1,549 acres of cypress swamp and 1,000 acres of open water.

If you can imagine ideal bass fishing water in the Deep South, Banks Lake -- shallow and averaging around 5 feet deep -- fills the bill. Cypress trees and knees fill the lake. Weed beds are everywhere.

Unlike many blackwater systems, this lake is not overly acidic, and largemouth bass thrive here. Good water quality, plenty of forage, and a long growing season make the lake a great place to fish.

When you come to Banks Lake, be prepared for battle. Stout tackle is required if you plan to land many fish. Wherever you look, you'll see plenty of casting targets, but all that cover is hazardous to lines and lures.

The key is to fish snagless. Plastic worms and lizards, spinnerbaits, and weedless spoons are all good choices. Topwater plugs are also good.

Don't overlook live bait to land trophy bass on this lake. Consider large shiners under a float, especially in the winter and early spring.

Banks Lake lies just west of Lakeland, off SR 122.

Find more about Georgia

fishing and hunting at:

GeorgiaSportsmanMag.com

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