Mid-State Late-Summer Bassin'

Lakes Oconee and Sinclair may be close neighbors, but in September don't count on their fishing to be identical. Join the author in exploring this angling.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

By Ronnie Garrison

If you are headed east on Georgia Highway 16 toward Eatonton for a bass fishing trip in September, you have a hard decision to make about which way to turn: go a little north to Lake Oconee, or head south for Lake Sinclair. Either way you turn will be a good decision, since both lakes offer similar bass action in late summer. But knowing some specific things about each reservoir can help you catch bass this month.

LAKE OCONEE

Lake Oconee is the younger of the two lakes, built by Georgia Power in the late 1970s and filled in 1979. It covers 18,791 acres of rolling Middle Georgia hills and valleys, and its 374 miles of shoreline contain everything from expensive docks to golf courses to undeveloped shoreline.

There are areas of standing timber in deep water at Oconee and plenty of rocky shoreline, from natural boulders to riprap, but you won't find much grass and weeds growing in the water. There are a lot of manmade brushpiles on points and drops in the lake, and many docks have brushpiles under them.

This time of year, you are likely to find one of the most outstanding characteristics of Oconee in play - current running either upstream or downstream through the lake. Because of the pumpback operations at Wallace Dam, water can flow upstream when Georgia Power is filling the lake back up, and downstream when power is being generated.

This current has one of the most significant impacts on September fishing at Oconee. The current makes bass feed, but it is a problem, too. Because of the constant flow and mixing of water, no thermocline forms on Oconee. At first thought, this seems to be a good thing, with oxygen throughout the lake, but it actually means less oxygen at the surface. Some late-summer days, there is hardly enough oxygen to keep a bass healthy at any level in the impoundment.

Fisheries biologist Scott Robinson of the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division studies Oconee and keeps track of its bass population. Right now the bass seem to be doing pretty well, with bigger bass showing up in greater numbers. Oddly enough, the recent drought years may have helped bass grow bigger in Oconee.

Oconee is not a really fertile lake, and bass compete with each other for food. That is the reason for the harvest slot limit on the lake. You can keep bass from 6 to 11 inches long and those over 14 inches long. This limit was set up to encourage people to take little bass out of the lake. Unfortunately, catch-and-release is such a fanatical creed among most bass fishermen that not many small bass are kept. Since there are too many small fish, they compete for food with the bigger bass, stunting the whole population.

Nature seems to have helped where fishermen would not, though. During the drought, fewer small bass survived since the lake was lower and young bass had even fewer places to hide. That removed some of the competition for food, allowing bigger bass to put on more weight.

One thing that would help younger bass grow faster and improve all sizes of bass in the lake is better shoreline cover to produce more food. Recently the WRD got a grant from Fish America to work on improving habitat at Oconee. The state biologists, along with the Oconee Bassmasters and some of the local resorts, have been working to place cover in shallow water.

Over 100 fish attractors have been put in the lake in shallow areas, while Reynolds Plantation and the Harbor Club are helping by putting cover under all the new docks built in their areas. The Oconee Bassmasters and the WRD are also planting shoreline vegetation, like water willow and other native grasses, that will help.

Glenn Rivers lives near Crooked Creek Marina on Sinclair and fishes both that lake and Oconee often. He was a member of the Oconee Bassmasters for several years and currently is fishing the pro trails, as well as doing some guiding on both lakes. He knows them well.

The increase of larger bass at Oconee in the past couple of years is something that Glenn has noticed. He says tournaments are producing bigger stringers and he is catching a bigger average size bass at Oconee. Although September is one of the toughest months to fish these lakes, you can catch some good fish on them now.

There are two keys to catching bass on Oconee in the late summer - brush and current. According to Rivers, the bass feed much better when current is moving, no matter which way it is flowing, and they relate to brush cover. Since Georgia Power generates almost every day and pumps back almost every night during this hot time of the year, you should be able to find current virtually anytime.

To take advantage of the moving water, Glenn fishes the lake from the State Route 44 bridge upstream to the I-20 bridge, and the area where the Oconee and Apalachee rivers split. He looks for brush 12 to 16 feet deep on main-lake points in these areas. Current moving downstream is a little better, based on River's experience. Most points on Oconee have man-made brushpiles, and he has put out a few himself. You can spot this debris by riding the points and watching your depthfinder. Check out both sides of a point, especially areas where there are good drops, and also out on the ends of the slopes.

Glenn likes to crank big plugs down to tick the tops of the brush, or drag a Carolina-rigged 4-inch plastic worm in either green pumpkin or black with red flake colors through the piles. He positions his boat so he can cast into the current, regardless of which direction it is moving. That lets the current help work his bait into the brush.

There are more baitfish in Oconee than Sinclair, so the fishing might be a little tougher on Oconee this time of year, according to Glenn. But the good news is that by the end of September, Oconee bass start moving shallow. Then it is time to fish the creeks with small crankbaits, covering a lot of water and looking for active fish.

Al Bassett lives on Sugar Creek on Oconee and guides on the reservoir, along with Sinclair, for bass and crappie. He and his wife, Diane, also fish the Guys and Dolls tournament trail. He studies both lakes and is on one or the other almost every day.

September is a month of 80-plus-degree water temperature, according to Al. He looks for bass around wood cover on long points and wants to find brush or stumps to fish this time of year. He sticks with the Sugar Creek area, since it has all kinds of cover and also has a large population of bass.

Ba

ssett finds stumps or brush out on points and tosses a crankbait or drags a Carolina-rigged finesse or u-tail worm through it. He says three colors are all you need. If they won't hit green pumpkin, watermelon or watermelon candy, he looks for another place to fish.

Docks with brush are hard to find on Oconee, but Al likes to flip a jig-and-pig to the ones in deeper water. He works the jig and pig through the brush and also fishes the pilings on docks. He especially concentrates on the docks where the bank drops off fast.

Fishing at night on Oconee can be good this time of year, too. Bassett likes to find docks with lights near deep water and run a small crankbait around them. He says you can be more comfortable and catch a lot of bass using this technique after nightfall.

LAKE SINCLAIR

Lake Sinclair, begun in 1949 and completed in 1953, is much older than Oconee. Its 15,330 acres cover flatter land than does Oconee, with numerous small creeks and coves all over the impoundment. Its shoreline is covered with docks, many of them old and sweetened with brushpiles.

There is almost no standing timber in Sinclair, and much of the shoreline is composed of seawalls and riprap. Sinclair does have a lot of grassbeds growing in pockets, and this vegetation can be a major factor in catching bass this time of year.

CONTACT INFORMATION


To book a day of guided bass fishing on either Lake Oconee or Lake Sinclair, contact Al Bassett at (706) 473-7758 or Glenn Rivers at (706) 485-3015.

 

Much of the natural grass is being uprooted by development, though. All too often, bass fishermen head to a favorite grassbed, only to find a new seawall and no vegetation remaining.

Steve Schleiger is the WRD fisheries biologist responsible for Sinclair, and he says the bass population is in good shape. There are a lot of largemouths in the 15- to 20-inch range in the lake, and the condition of the fish is better than it has been in several years. Reports from club tournaments and other fishermen indicate fishing is good and improving.

Lake Oconee's upstream location has been helpful to bass in Sinclair over the years. Although Sinclair may rise or fall 18 inches per day because of water being pumped back upstream, the overall lake level stays relatively stable year 'round, which helps bass reproduction. There are almost always good spawns of bass, so there are no wide swings in year-classes, as are often seen on other lakes.

Sinclair does have the same problem as Oconee as far as stratification goes. The constantly moving water means no thermocline forms and lower than ideal oxygen content is the rule throughout the reservoir. The warm water released into the Beaverdam Creek area from Georgia Power's Harlee Branch Power Plant can add to this problem, since warmer water holds less oxygen.

The WRD is working on a project at Sinclair to restore more "soft" shoreline structure. They received about $250,000 from Georgia Power to plant native grasses in shallow water to stop erosion. This is much better for bass than the hard shoreline provided by seawalls or riprap. It gives young bass better protection and provides more food for all fish.

Glenn Rivers likes Sinclair better for bigger bass and fishes it more than Oconee at this time of year. Although some patterns work the same on either reservoir, there are also other options Glenn uses on Sinclair.

The main pattern is fishing brush on main-lake points, and Rivers likes the Oconee River area from Crooked Creek to the mouth of Little River on this impoundment. The current is strong in this area when Georgia Power is either releasing water through Sinclair Dam or pumping it back into Oconee. Still, the flow is not so strong as to make fishing tough, as it can be farther up the river.

Here, too, he positions his boat so he can cast upcurrent and work his bait back with the moving water. A current moving upstream because of pumpback is a little better on Sinclair, according to Rivers. He works his crankbait or Carolina rig into the brush with the flow, looking for feeding bass. Points with current washing across them bring shad into shallower water, concentrating them for the feeding. A point with a good drop on the side the current is coming from is better.

Another good pattern on Sinclair is to run up to Cedar Creek or Murder Creek, both of which enter the Little River arm of the impoundment from the southwest. Once there, find the docks and use flipping techniques to target them. This is also a good pattern in Little River itself, up around the Twin Bridges Road crossing. Glenn likes to flip a 4-inch tube lure in green pumpkin or black-and-red flake to the docks with brush around them. Look for older docks, since they more often have debris piles under them. Some docks on Sinclair have been there for many years and the brush is extensive. You can usually spot productive docks based on rod holders and lights on the docks. If you find a dock with all the rod holders on one side, you can bet there is brush out in that direction.

Al likes to start early each morning on Sinclair with a buzzbait around the grassbeds. This pattern holds up even in the hottest weather and can produce some good fish before the sun gets on the water. He quickly hits several grassbeds, unless he starts catching fish in one. If that happens, he sticks with where he is getting strikes.

The best grassbeds this time of year are in the short pockets right off the main river. Bass like to hold in the deeper water and run in shallow to feed, but they don't want to move far. A short pocket with grass in the back and good deep water at the mouth is the best bet.

Flipping docks on Sinclair is better than on Oconee, according to Al Bassett, because the docks are older and more of them have been sweetened with brush. He pitches a jig-and-pig to brush under the dock in the shade, and he fishes the pilings of the docks. He also probes in front of the docks and off to the side for brush sunk out from the dock.

Look for docks on the outside of coves and pockets, since they are ordinarily over deeper water. Also check for the deeper river or creek channels swinging in near the shore under these structures.

Deeper structure is the best bet for numbers of bass on Sinclair, and Al heads down the lake to Island and Rocky c

reeks to fish this time of year. These are the first two major feeders on the northeast side of the impoundment, just upstream of Sinclair Dam. Although there is usually not much current in these creeks, Bassett has spent enough time in them to locate the abundant cover and points. Look for long, shallow points running out to the old channels and watch for manmade brushpiles on them. Fish those debris piles with a crankbait or drag a Carolina-rigged worm through them. Al uses the same colors on Sinclair as on Oconee. The crankbait seems to be better if there is some current and the fish are active, and the worm works better when the current is not moving.

Night-fishing is excellent on Sinclair, too. Again, Bassett uses small crankbaits here and likes shad colors. Cast all around the lights and work the edges of docks too. Remember that bass often hold around the outside of the light and run in to hit baitfish in the glowing circle.

Pick either Oconee or Sinclair this time of year and you can catch bass. Sticking with one or the other to learn the lake's intricacies can pay off, or you can work both to take advantage of the slightly different fishing on each.



Discover even more in our monthly magazine,

and have it delivered to your door!

Subscribe to Georgia Sportsman


Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top Game & Fish stories delivered right to your inbox every week.