If there has ever been a better year for Georgia bass fishing I can't recall it.
By Craig James
Without a doubt this year shows promise unlike any other. Of course, many anglers make claims such as this for various reasons. However, biologists have been monitoring Georgia's waters for decades, and it appears that this year all the cards have fallen into place. It seems that in every region of the state there is at least one, if not several, great bodies of water waiting to be fished. What's even better is many of these areas are accessible to bank and small boat anglers.
There are; however, a few areas that are on the rebound and might be best to avoid this year, but most waters should be excellent for bass anglers in 2017.
"Blue Ridge is definitely the place, especially for a chance at a good smallmouth," said Jim Hardala, region biologist.
On the downside spotted bass are beginning to overpopulate but there are enough shad and herring to keep smallies fat and happy. Of course, taking a few spots home for a meal can help keep their populations in check.
Hardala recommends keying in on schooling fish with topwaters at dawn and dusk, particularly on points near creek mouths. Zara spooks and flukes also work well, just be sure to use lighter line because of the water clarity.
As the sun rises higher, anglers should go deeper, hitting drop-offs in creek mouths with a finesse worm on a drop-shot rig. Jigging tubes is another great option for fishing the deeper points. Top color choices for soft plastics are watermelon seed and green pumpkin. Anglers can also keep things natural by mimicking the shad and herring on the lake.
With so many great locations, it is hard to know where to start in Region 2. Oconee, Clark's Hill, West Point and Lake Juliette all call the east-central region home, but one of the best places for trophy fish in this region is not one of the most popular.
"Charlie Elliott PFA in Jasper County is in my opinion your best chance at a real trophy," said Scott Weaver, regional biologists. "We're seeing a lot of 10- to 12-pound fish and it's just a matter of time before somebody's going to land a 14-plus-pound fish."
Weaver also notes that with ponds and lakes ranging from 1 to 95 acres, both bank and boat fishermen have a chance at landing a lunker largemouth.
"One of the great things about the state's PFAs is their smaller size means we can closely monitor and strive for a great bass fishing experience," Weaver said.
Typical bass fishing techniques work at the PFA, such as fishing buzzbaits early and junebug-colored plastic lizards around cover later in the day. It is important to use electronics to locate brush piles that hold larger fish, especially in the late summer months. This is also a time to fish smaller lures slowly in the sunken structure and watch lines closely for a light bite. Of course, while the larger reservoirs are good as well, those looking to land a monster should consider some of the smaller waters at PFAs.
Down in southwest Georgia, Lake Seminole stands as the top fishery in the region, according to Rob Weller of the fisheries department, because of the lake's stability.
Year after year, the lake conditions remain the same, with fish populations remaining steady, and bass getting bigger.
He went on to explain that year after year conditions remain the same, the population of fish remains steady, and most importantly the bass keep getting bigger.
And while the bass fishing remains good year 'round on Seminole, the spring sight-fishing for spawning bass is usually phenomenal. This bite gets going in late March as big females move shallow to lay their eggs, with top tactics being Texas-rigged worms and lizards worked slowly into beds. Green pumpkin, California 420 and black are good color choices.
Later in summer, the fishing becomes a little more difficult as the water warms, but this is still a good time to throw a frog on grass mats early in the day. When the frog bite dies, anglers should pick up flipping sticks with a heavy brush hog to punch through the grass using heavy braid, as pulling big fish from vegetation is no easy task.
Region 4 is another area with many bass fishing opportunities, particularly public fishing areas, according to Bert Deener, biologist.
Paradise, about 15 minutes off I-75 outside of Tifton, is a good choice, with 62 ponds and lakes, nine of which have concrete boat ramps. Paradise also boasts nice restrooms, a fish cleaning station and primitive camping opportunities. And the lakes are full of big bass. In fact, local tournaments pretty much require limits of 20 pounds or more to win.
Anglers have great success at Paradise with a variety of artificials, including buzzbaits and poppers fished around vegetation early in the morning. Green pumpkin flake worms on shaky heads are great for probing deeper water during the day.
Also worth noting in Region 4 are the Altamaha and Satilla rivers as worthy bass fishing destinations this year, as several years of high water have produced a great crop of fish. The trophy potential is not as high as other areas, but anglers will be rewarded with lots of fish weighing 2 pounds or better.
Satilla shows the most promise this year, with the river record broken recently by a 12-pound monster caught near Waycoss. Top Satilla tactics include trick worms and buzzbaits, but crankbaits also produce really well in the spring. It's important to pay attention to water levels before heading to the Satilla due to potential low-water conditions. A call to the Waycross Fisheries Office helps to plan trips. On the downside in Region 4, the lake at Laura Walker State Park has been drained, meaning it will be few years before it gets right for fishing again.
While the coastal region is mostly known for redfish and spotted trout, the area also has some great bass areas.
"Fort Stewart may offer some of the best trophy bass fishing in the entire state," said Joel Fleming, biologist with the GDNR.
Located in Hinesville, Steward offers numerous opportunities to land a lunker. In fact, the lake often produces monster bass, which is why it is surprising that the pressure remains relatively low.
An annual permit can be purchased for $30 by calling 912-435-8961, providing access to numerous ponds and lakes that harbor big bass. A good strategy to find top producing areas is to call the base and ask. Employees are glad to help anglers with information and advice.
Top techniques are big black buzzbaits, shallow diving crankbaits and curlytail plastic worms in dark colors fished around visible structure. During mid-summer it pays to fish areas slowly and methodically with a black/blue jig and pig. When cold sets in a Carolina rig drug through deeper water can entice some big fish. And since the water is stained, anglers can spool up with heavier line.
The Ogeechee River is also a top 2017 prospect from this region, with 30-plus-fish days being common, though trophies are limited. However, several big fish are caught in this river every year, but it is just not as likely as other locales. For numbers, though, this river is hard to beat.
Target slack areas in the current with frogs and buzzbaits early, then pitch speed craws in a red/black color as the sun climbs high. A white spinnerbait with gold blades is also a good choice to put fish in the boat.
Looking at the state's 5 regions it's really easy to see the possibilities for this year. Whether fishing large lakes, small ponds or rivers, bass are available from one end of the state to another.
So spool up reels, charge batteries and take the cover off the boat. It's likely no matter where you go in the peach state you will be rewarded with a great day of bass fishing. And who knows, you may even land a record breaker.
West Point Lake Project
West Point anglers have a whole lot to be smiling about. Though the trophy largemouth fishing has been declining for a few years, the Georgia DNR has gone on the offensive and is working on getting the lake back on track. Starting in May 2015, 40,000-plus 2-inch-long largemouths were stocked. This is being done to combat the damage that overpopulated spotted bass have done to the lake. The even better news is the stocked fish are from the same area and genetic pool as George Perry's legendary bass. Biologists hope for a one-in-four survival rate, and it will take about three years or so for the fish to reach 14 inches. This project is being closely monitored and more stockings are scheduled over the next few years. In the meantime fishing in the lake remains good, especially for spotted bass, and it's recommended that anglers take some spots home. The DNR estimates in about five years these stocked fish will account for some phenomenal fishing. And with the genetics that have now been introduced it is possible for West Point to produce some huge trophy fish in the future.