While the weather is cold and sometimes harsh, hunting and fishing winter hot spots still abound for Peach State sportsmen and women.
By Craig James
For the most part, the great state of Georgia is blessed to have mild weather practically year ’round. Unfortunately, the months of December and January are not on the top of that list.
Hunting and fishing during bitter cold, coupled with variable winds that lean on the strong side, can send many folks to the nearest fireplace to hunker until spring. However, the winter months can provide some of the best hunting and fishing of the year, for those in the right place.
Down in southeast Georgia, the winter bass fishing can be phenomenal, according to Bert Deener, Georgia Department of Natural Resources regional supervisor, especially at Paradise Public Fishing Area.
“Bass that have been fattening up on shad all fall, and a lack of fishing pressure for the last few months, means good news for anglers willing to brave the cold,” Deener stated.
Paradise is located just off of I-75 near Tifton and contains 525 surface acres of water made up of 68 lakes. Anglers limited to bank fishing will find unlimited access, and almost every body of water holds some real lunkers. Deener recommends keeping lure selection simple by sticking to worms and jigs fished slowly around points and near structure next to dropoffs.
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“A good 1/2-ounce jig is hard to beat in January,” said Deener. “Top colors are green pumpkin/orange, the old trusty black/blue and PB&J.”
When facing fronts, focus efforts on the deeper side of dropoffs, while concentrating on shallow points during warming trends. If jigs fail to produce, try fishing a green pumpkin or another natural looking finesse worm on a 1/8-ounce shakyhead jig around brush piles, which usually produces well even in adverse weather conditions.
“The biggest tip I can give anglers in January is to fish slowly and be patient,” Deener said. “You’re usually not going to catch a lot, but the ones you do catch will make the trip worth it.”
Those interested in a fish of a lifetime should consider Lake Paradise near the highway. The lake is catch-and-release only, and the DNR frequently thins out smaller bass to help larger fish really grow. Other areas to consider are Dodge and Evans PFAs.
Those interested in late-season whitetail action should consider Spirit Creek Forest WMA outside of Augusta. While many might overlook the small WMA because of size — it is only 570 acres — Lee Taylor, GDNR biologist, believes that is a mistake.
“I can’t think of a better place to have a good chance to harvest a deer this late in the season,” said Taylor. “Up here near Clarks Hill, a lot of deer hunters have called it quits by December to hunt rabbits and ducks. A lack of pressure puts deer back on the move and much less weary.”
This area is archery-only and maintained well for bowhunting. Taylor recommends that hunters key in on food sources and trails leading to and from bedding areas. Scouting will reveal these locations, but hunters need to be sure to use scent control in order to prevent blowing an encounter.
Guide and FLW pro Clint Brown (850-491-9199) recommends bringing an Alabama rig for wintertime success on Lake Seminole.
“The striper and hybrid bite in December and January is phenomenal,” said Brown. “Just be sure to bring a stout rod and load your tackle box up with Alabama rigs for success.”
Brown keys in on deep water in the main lake, and points out that the area near the dam is always a good place to start. By fishing 10 to 20 feet of water, and working humps and dropoffs it’s fairly easy to keep a bend in the rod.
Clint recommends making long casts and using a steady retrieve to keep the rig about halfway to the bottom, as well as hanging onto the rod, as doubles are common.
Other areas on the main lake for hybrids and stripers are where creeks meet the main lake and the mouth of the Flint. When fishing the Flint use a depth finder to locate rocks and boulders and work the Alabama rig a little deeper for success.
If this fails, try slow rolling spinnerbaits and deep-diving crankbaits in natural shad patterns. In addition, the duck hunting on Seminole can be quite good, so consider taking some extra gear to spend a day doing a cast and blast.
Lake Seminole Ducks
Lake Seminole offers up some fantastic duck hunting with fast action and quick limits. The most popular area to duck hunt on the lake is up the Spring Creek arm due to its thick vegetation. However, Fish Pond drain is also worth a good look.
Narrow areas of the creek are best due to ducks feeling less pressured and the numerous places for them to hide. The ducks will get a little call shy, so remember less is certainly more, particularly as the season lingers. Duck activity tends to be really good for the first few hours of daylight, and then it’s a good idea to try your hand at striper and hybrid fishing for a while.
“Oftentimes if you hunt ducks at daylight, then fish till lunch, you will spend the afternoon at a cleaning table, and that is a good problem to have,” said Clint Brown.
Sprawling across more than 22,000 acres, Rich Mountain offers some of the best squirrel hunting in northern Georgia because of its vast hardwood bottoms.
“Acre for acre, you will be hard-pressed to find another WMA with as many good hardwood bottoms as this one,” said David Gregory, GDNR biologist.
Gregory recommends getting off the beaten path, as most small-game hunters seldom venture far into the woods. While shotguns are probably most popular for squirrels, a .22 Mag. is a good choice in case a hog comes into view. However, hunters need to be safe and carry water, a WMA map, compass and GPS unit, as the area is quite large and temperatures can drop quickly this time of year.
Another high point for visiting Rich Mountain is the separate Cartecay tract. This area is roughly 2,100 acres and is open to bowhunting only for deer.
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“A real plus to giving the deer a late season try is most bowhunters have already called it quits, mostly in part to the colder temperatures,” said Gregory. “For those willing to put an extra jacket on and put a little time on the stand, success is just around the corner.”
Target deer trails and areas near food sources for success. One upside to the extreme cold is it will generally put deer up on the move right as daylight breaks. A good strategy to hunt both deer and squirrels on this area would be to focus deer hunting efforts the first few hours during the day and use the middle of the day to stalk squirrels, followed by an afternoon deer hunt.
The area below Morgan Falls Dam, along the Chattahoochee in metro Atlanta, is about as good as it gets in regard to trout fishing.
“This area is delayed harvest until May, meaning catch-and-release only, but for lots of non-stop fun this is definitely the place to be,” said Pat Snelling, GDNR biologist. “Anglers will find a mixture of stocker rainbows and browns that are more than willing to smash a fly or other offering.
According to Snellings, fly-fishing is popular during the winter months with dry flies and streamers both being popular choices of local anglers. Small Rapala minnow plugs in natural colors also work great, especially for catching better-size fish. A good ultralight rod/reel combo works great for fishing plugs, just remember to spool up with no heavier than 6-pound test, with 4-pound test being the best option for these wary fish.
Other lure options are small rubber trout worms, as well as inline spinners, particularly a gold panther Martin spinner with an Orange skirt.
Another popular lure as of late has been a small rebel crawfish crankbait reeled steadily and bounced off the rocky bottom. However, all lures must possess a single hook as possessing lures with multiple or a treble hook on a delayed harvest stream is against the law. Additionally, live bait is strictly prohibited in this area.
For those looking for a chance at a 10-pound-plus brown trout, the ’Hooch below Buford Dam is an excellent choice. Snellings notes that anglers won’t find as many stocker rainbows, but there is real potential for a big wild brown trout. When choosing lures for these fish, bigger is better. Use large minnow plugs, crankbaits and spinners to tempt these trophies.
For the fly anglers, leave the tiny stuff at home and opt for large streamers in natural hues. Focus efforts in deep holes, particularly right where the water drops off sharply, especially in areas with downed timber. The backside of large boulders is also a likely ambush point. Make casts 10 feet past the target and bring it into the strike zone slowly to avoid spooking fish.
Whether it’s bass, deer, stripers, squirrels, or trout, there is something worth pursuing this January. So move away from the fireplace and get out and enjoy some wintertime success. You will be glad you did and spring will be here before you know it!