March 26, 2019
By Craig James
This year may go down as one of the very best years ever for bass fishing in the state of Georgia.
Thanks to a very wet year in 2018, bass fishing should be nothing short of excellent in our state’s many rivers, lakes, and reservoirs.
We’ve narrowed this year’s bass fishing forecast down to what could very well be the best 5 fisheries in the state, and some of the best nationwide. Some of the bodies of water may surprise you, as they have emerged in the last year as premier fisheries in our state.
If you live near the southern portion of Georgia, or if you can make the drive down, the Altamaha River should offer up some excellent bass fishing this year.
“The Altamaha River Fishery stays pretty steady each year, but with all the rain we had last year, you can expect some really great fishing in 2019,” said Don Harrison, Wildlife Biologist at the Waycross Fisheries Office.
“It’s a really long and diverse river — some anglers prefer the upper portion where it’s clearer and much more shallow, and some fishermen prefer to fish the tidal portion down near Darien. Up and down the river, Anglers can expect to catch plenty of fish in the 1- to 2-pound range, and don’t be surprised if you hook into a 5-plus-pound fish on your trip. We haven’t gotten all of the results from our sampling back yet, but we are expecting the numbers to be really good,” said Harrison.
Stefan Carter fishes multiple tournament trails on the river, and agrees with Don’s predictions for the upcoming year.
“Last year, the river stayed muddy and out into the flood plain, giving fish a chance to grow with little fishing pressure. I’m expecting this year to be one of the best years on the river in recent history,” said Carter.
Carter primarily likes to fish the tidal portion down around Two Way Fish Camp in Darien, but says that in March and April the river’s many lakes are the ticket for big spawning bass.
“I like to fish the lakes during the month of April because they are loaded with lots of quality fish in the 3- to 5-pound range. It’s hard to beat a plastic crawfish Texas-rigged around visible beds or vegetation,” said Carter.
Carter also likes to throw a buzzbait in the mornings, especially if it’s a little cloudy. It’s also a good idea to have a soft plastic bait on the ready in case a fish swings at your buzzbait and misses.
On the tidal portion of the river, Carter says timing is crucial for success.
“The last two hours of the outgoing and the first two hours of the incoming are going to be the best for fishing. The fish are fairly easy to predict and they stack up tight, making for some really fun fishing,” Carter noted.
Carter says that creek mouths and banks with wood structure are hard to beat, especially the portion of the river between Hwy. 17 and I-95.
He says that a variety of lures work well for tidal bass fishing, but his personal favorites are small bandit crankbaits, trick worms rigged weightless, buzzbaits and spinnerbaits.
“You want to fish lures that move fast and allow you to cover a lot of ground in a hurry. If the fish are there it won’t take you long to get bit,” said Stefan.
There are numerous public ramps that offer anglers access to the river. Carter says that Altamaha Regional Park near Jesup is a good place to put in, as you can fish many lakes that are a short distance from the ramp, or you can make a short run down the river to fish the tide near Two Way Fish Camp.
“If you have been thinking of giving the Altamaha a try, don’t put it off any longer, it’s going to be a great year on the river,” Carter said.
If you’re interested in planning a weekend trip to the river, Altamaha Regional Park has both tent camping and recreational vehicle spots available, as well as a general store that carries any bait and tackle you may need. You can reach the park by phone at (912) 264-2342 for reservations or any questions you may have.
Next up on the list of top notch fisheries for 2019, Ocmulgee PFA (located in South Central Georgia) is rapidly transforming into a big bass factory.
Brandon Baker, who is a Biologist at the Fort Valley office, said, “We have been conducting studies of the fish that we put in there 3 years ago, and some of them have hit the 5- to 7-pound mark already. Those are some amazing numbers that we are really proud of, especially in that time frame.”
He went on to say that the area is catch and release only for largemouth bass, so it is a good idea to bring a good camera in your tackle box.
“We stocked the lake with females only, and have kept the population low so we can try to produce some really big fish. Now we are starting to see some of the fruits of our labor and it’s exciting,” Baker said.
Baker says that anglers will have success fishing a variety of different lures, including topwater plugs, crankbaits, jigs, plastic worms, and a host of other offerings.
“Just be sure when you do catch these fish that you have your camera on the ready, snap a quick picture, and release them with as little handling as possible, so they will continue to grow,” Baker noted.
At Ocmulgee PFA, primitive camping is allowed in designated areas. It’s also worth noting that during the spring, the white crappie are spawning, so it may very well pay to bring a minnow bucket along for your trip.
To contact the PFA with any questions you may have, you can call (478)783-2557.
Heading toward the northern end of our state, Lake Lanier is well worth a mention as it is without a doubt our state’s greatest spotted bass fishery.
Hunter Roop, a Biologist from the Gainesville office, said, “I think that Lanier is one of the best spotted bass fisheries in the country right now. Abundant shad and plenty of cool deep water have the spots really thriving.”
Roop says that as good as Lanier is, it’s right above Lanier that has his attention this year.
“We have been studying bass in the upper Chattahoochee above the lake to understand the different species, how their populations are doing, and the amount of hybridization that is going on,” said Roop.
Shoal, Chattahoochee, spotted, and largemouth bass can all be found in good numbers, offering some river bass fishing like no other you will find.
“It’s small river fishing at its best. If you’re the type that likes small water fishing, as opposed to trying to fish a giant body of water, then this stretch of the Chattahoochee is perfect for you,” said Roop.
Lighter tackle is perfect for this stretch of the river, as many anglers prefer to use spinning gear with 8- to 10-pound line. Small worms, flukes, and minnow plugs get the nod, and a tiny torpedo fished first thing in the morning will draw savage strikes from multiple species of bass.
Roop says that float trips with kayaks are popular with anglers fishing the river, and small jon boats also will get you around — just go slowly to avoid damaging your boat.
Belton Bridge is a popular access point for anglers with small boats as you can normally go a few miles before the river becomes tough to navigate.
In western Georgia, Lake Seminole has long been known as one of the best bass fisheries in the nation, and it is tough to beat when it comes to bass fishing. But perhaps not impossible.
Rob Weller, the Fisheries Regional Supervisor for this part of the state, says that Seminole should be good for bass fishing this year, but Lake Walter F. George, or Eufaula as many call it, is quickly becoming a big bass factory in its own right.
“20-pound-plus bags have become the norm, and numerous tournaments last year were won with 25 pounds or more. Three- to 4-pound fish are common and a booming bream population is helping the bass grow at record rates,” Weller said.
Clint Meeks is an avid tournament angler on the lake and has numerous wins to his credit. He says that he agrees with Weller that the lakes fishing are improving, and says the hydrilla is the place to find the really big bites.
“Throw a frog on top first thing, and then switch to a big white swim jig and fish it right over the grass. It will really get you some big bites especially, in March,” says Meeks.Meeks went on to say that you can target schooling fish in deeper water, but the majority of the really good fish are going to be staged in the grass throughout the lake in the early summer months.
“When you come to fish all this grass, you need the right set up to fish a swim jig successfully. Heavy braid, a stout rod and a high-speed reel are all crucial to pull fish from the muck. Most importantly, you need a jig with a big strong hook. I use a Dirty Jigs swim jig and I really like the big sharp hook they use,” said Meeks.
As noted earlier, the bream population is also booming on the lake, so anglers may want to bring a cage full of crickets to target bluegill and shellcrackers when the bass bite slows down during the middle of the day.
This year definitely looks to be a great year for bass fishing throughout Georgia, whether you target tidal bass in the Altamaha River, fish the Ocmulgee PFA for some excellent catch-and-release action, chase a variety of bass in the Hooch above Lanier, drag a swim jig through the hydrilla at Lake Walter F. George, or try one of the hundreds of other public waters our state offers.
THE MYSTERY OF THE SEMINOLE SPAWN
Have you ever wondered why Lake Seminole is such a big bass factory, and bags of 30 pounds or more are often weighed in even during the hot summer months? Clint Brown is an FLW Pro, and lifelong Bainbridge resident, and says the spawn has a lot to do with the success anglers have on the lake.
“I’ve seen fish locked on beds in early January all the way through September. The spawn Is in full swing normally in February and March, but don’t let that fool you, there are a pile of fish on beds in April and May if you spend some time looking,” Brown said.
Keep your trolling motor on high and spend time looking for bedding fish in 3 to 5 feet of water during the middle of the day when beds are most visible.
“I have fished all over the country and have never seen a fishery with a spawn like the one Seminole has. Why it goes on so long is a mystery to me, but it makes for some excellent fishing for many months out of the year.”