April 28, 2020
By Larry Larsen
With almost 19,000 acres of pool and 374 miles of shoreline, beautiful Lake Oconee offers plenty of angling opportunities about 90 miles from Atlanta in eastern Georgia. In fact, bass fishing on Georgia’s second-largest lake, which has an average depth of 21 feet, is the best in the state, according to guide Norris Edge of nearby Buckhead. Edge has been fishing Lake Oconee, which is owned and operated by Georgia Power, for 40 years.
“The biologists say that we have more fish per acre than any other lake in the state,” he points out. “It’s about double what most of the other Georgia lakes have. We have a unique pump-back system so that our lake remains full most of the time. When we pull water to make power, 90 percent of the time they pump the water right back into the lake. There is no pollution in the lake and it is very clean.”
Two headwater rivers, the Appalachee and the Oconee, flow southward into the lake just north of the Interstate 20 highway bridge. Several major creeks such as Sugar, Lick, Richland, Beaver Dam, Sandy, Double Branches and Rocket, also feed the reservoir. Richland Creek is one of the clearest and most productive, particularly after heavy rains that may muddy the Oconee River channel.
“The Oconee River produces some of the biggest largemouth, but Richland yields lots of 5- to 7-pound bass and is a great ‘numbers’ waterway also,” Edge notes. “That’s why it is important to know that there is a slot limit on the lake. Anglers are allowed to keep largemouth bass between 6 and 11 inches if they wish, but those prime spawning fish between 11 and 14 inches must be released back to the lake. Bass over 14 inches can be kept for dinner. The limit per angler is 10 bass.”
A great thing about Lake Oconee is the big largemouths are accessible, particularly March through June. In fact, a tournament winner on the lake normally needs 18 to 20 pounds total from a five-bass limit, according to the guide. The lake’s largemouth record, a northern-strain black bass, weighed 12 1/4 pounds. Edge’s largest was a hefty 9-pound, 3-ounce fish.
The ambiance, lush landscapes and serene lakeside views of luxury homes along parts of Oconee are incredible. The boat docks on the scenic lake hold bass in the summer and fall, and Edge and I caught five largemouths and lost four others in about 2 1/2 hours of fishing around them one October afternoon. I was staying at the Ritz-Carlton Reynolds Lodge on Lake Oconee and had just finished lunch at Gaby’s by the Lake when Edge motored up to the adjacent lakefront dock to pick me up.
“Fishing is tough,” he warned as I jumped aboard his 19-foot bass boat. “Neither my friend fishing in another boat nor I have caught a bass this morning. There is no bite happening right now.”
From that ominous forecast to a 10-minute ride across the lake, the “no bite” changed. On my tenth cast to one of the docks, a 2-pound largemouth tried to make off with my Carolina-rigged plastic worm. I landed the fish and quickly released it. Within five minutes, Edge had taken another bass and I had a small one jump off on the way into the boat. My guide was now smiling. Then a 4-pound striper hybrid slammed my lipless crankbait and gave me a jolt. I thought it was a big largemouth until I laid eyes on it.
“Fishing in Oconee is like that,” Edge laughed. “You just never know what you have on until you see it sometimes!”
Casting to Richland Creek’s perimeter docks and adjacent flats, we landed three more “keeper-size” largemouths, a smaller hybrid and lost three other smaller bass in the following two hours before calling our brief afternoon trip a success. Edge’s 3-pounder was the “big bass” of our venture. The soft plastic worms fished on a leader below a lead sinker and swivel stop proved productive, but often jigs flipped to the docks and walls in front of the lakefront homes will be even more enticing, according to Edge.
Spiders, Slow Trolling and Specks
Hybrids, stripers, crappies (speckled perch or “specks”) and even catfish are abundant in Lake Oconee. Local and visiting anglers may get all the action they can handle by coming across schools of several different roving species. The species-abundant impoundment offers fishing for all tastes, whether it be with cane pole, spinning tackle, fly rod or heavy-duty conventional tackle. From small bluegills to giant flathead catfish, most everyone can find an Oconee bite to put a smile on their face.
The normal crappie limit on the lake is 30 per person, and there are thousands taken each year according to Edge. Local tournaments, however, usually have a seven-fish boat limit. To win, two crappie anglers usually need to catch an aggregate weight of 14 pounds or more. Those are some big crappies! January, February and March are the best months to chase them because the lake waters are warming up from harsh winter temperatures.
“When the water temperature reaches 49 or 50 degrees, crappie begin looking for a place to spawn,” Edge explained. “They head for the creeks and we’ll be catching them in 6 feet of water, and the air temperature will still be 35 degrees.”
The guide and his guests normally slow-troll a spider rig layout consisting of 10 lightweight fiberglass poles in rod holders spaced out all around the boat. Each rod and reel weighs less than 12 ounces, and Edge utilizes small hair jigs, tipping them with a minnow hooked through its lips or its eyes. With his trolling motor, he pulls the multiple bait rigs slowly through the shallows and mid-depths of the lake’s clearer coves and creeks.
Edge and his clients often get bites from 1/2- to 2-pound crappies on several poles in the spider rig at the same time, but what is really bad according to the guide is when they run through a school of fiesty 3- to 4-pound hybrid stripers. Then it is like a three-ring circus all around, and even inside, the boat.
“Those hybrids will tangle everything up,” he laughed, “so we just have to stop and rewind. Also in early March when the catfish move into the same areas to eat the crappie eggs, we have problems with the 8- to 10-pound cats that eat our jig/minnow baits on the cane pole rigs!”
Add Stripers, Hybrids and Flatheads
The hybrid striper bite on Lake Oconee is normally best in May and again in October. In mid-June when the lake waters get warm, the non-spawning hybrids start at the dam and then move up the river until the fall … when they head back down. Stripers follow suit and spawn up the river. When in the river, both species will be in pothole waters varying from 3 to 12 feet deep. Most catches will include both stripers and hybrids because they school together.
In four hours during an early October trip, Edge and a friend caught 42 of the fish that averaged about 3 1/2 pounds each. They only kept a few to eat. The aggregate limit for those wanting to take home a mess is 15, which can include hybrids, stripers and a third species that swims in Oconee, the white bass. The reason for the mixed bag limit, according to Edge, is that many anglers can’t easily tell the difference between the three species.
The Oconee striper bite is best in late May and takes place right at the dam before the fish head upriver. For stripers, the experienced guide uses live shad caught with a cast net on the lake. He’ll normally locate the fish in 25 to 40 feet of water. Sometimes, Edge will have his clients use vertical jigging spoons, or he may troll multi-hook umbrella rigs with soft plastic swimbaits for the roving fish.
“The largest striper caught to date was a 19-pounder,” says Edge, “but most of the stripers in the lake max out at around 10 to 12 pounds. If anglers locate a school of stripers, they may catch a bunch of them.”
Another fish that gets attention on this lake are flathead catfish. Edge believes that Oconee offers Georgia’s best catfishing for not only flatheads, but also blues and channels.
“Some locals believe there are even too many big 50- and 60-pound flatheads in Lake Oconee now because the fish are eating a lot of the crappie and bluegill,” he explained. “The flatheads are growing fast in these waters, and those catfish lovers that focus on catching them can’t keep up with the abundance.”
Whether you plan a weeklong bucket list vacation or have only a few hours to wet a line, fishing this beautiful area of the South is well worth the trip. Your catch could be a lunker bass, or it could wear whiskers, have stripes or a “paper” mouth. Either way, you’ll find action on Georgia’s Lake Oconee.
Lake Oconee Trip Planner
There are seven full-service marinas on Lake Oconee that are open to the public. Reynolds Lake Oconee has four marinas with 700 boat slips: The Plantation, The Landing, Great Waters and the newly expanded Lake Club. All offer fishing guides and fishing equipment, dry storage as well as boat rentals. Several tournaments are hosted at Reynolds each year. Sugar Creek, Blue Springs and Fish Tales are the other marinas scattered around Oconee.
For more information on the mixed-bag fishing opportunities on Lake Oconee, contact guide Norris Edge of H.N. Edge Guide Service at (706) 319-2024. Learn more about boat rental opportunities by visiting the Reynolds Lake Oconee website at reynoldslakeoconee.com/life/lake or by calling the Lake Club Marina at (706) 467-1601.
On the shores of Oconee amid the picturesque landscape of rolling hillsides and native Georgia pines lies The Ritz-Carlton Reynolds, Lake Oconee. The luxury lakeside resort with 257 guest rooms and luxury suites, plus two- and three-bedroom lakeside cottages, spreads over 30 acres and is just completing a multi-million-dollar renovation. This waterfront retreat offers five-star amenities, natural beauty, and a list of amenities and on-water activities well beyond other fishing resorts in the state. They include water bikes, canoes and kayaks for exploring the lakeshore, along with rentals of center-console fishing boats, pontoon boats, a double-decker pontoon boat (with slide), jet skis, ski boats and wake boats, plus captain and guide charters.
Off the water, there are five championship golf courses; three swimming pools (indoor, outdoor infinity and new family pool); a renowned spa; the excellent Gaby’s by the Lake restaurant; and indoor and outdoor events including bourbon tastings and summer concerts. There is also an outdoor activities area at the new Sandy Creek Sporting Grounds. The resort is definitely a place the whole family can enjoy.
For general information on Reynolds Lake Oconee, visit reynoldslakeoconee.com. For info on accommodations at The Ritz-Carlton Reynolds, Lake Oconee, visit ritzcarlton.com/reynolds.
While there are plenty of fish to catch on Lake Oconee, history buffs might want to take a short break to satisfy other interests. Just 13 miles from the lake, Oconee visitors can check out downtown Greensboro and its historic district. Greensboro exudes southern history and tradition, and is rich with elegant antebellum homes and churches. Greensboro’s Better Hometown Program sponsors numerous events throughout the year. Tours of Greensboro and other nearby historic towns such as Madison, which was spared from destruction by Sherman’s Army during the Civil War, are available.
The earliest grave in the Greensboro City Cemetery is that of a Revolutionary War soldier, Maj. Jonas Fauche, who was in charge of Greene County military operations during the Creek Indian raids of 1780. Many prominent people of Georgia’s history have been laid to rest there, including Gov. Peter Early, who served Georgia during the height of the Creek War of 1813 to 1814; Jeremiah Sandford, who was a neighbor and close friend of George Washington, also serving under him in the Revolutionary War during the siege of Yorktown; and 45 unknown Confederate soldiers.
Madison’s pre-Civil War and Victorian homes, as well as its tastefully restored downtown, offer a wide range of shops, tastes, sights and services. Believed to be the oldest standing masonry jail in the state, the Old Gaol building has remained virtually unchanged since its completion in 1807. The gallows and trapdoor, where prisoners were dropped to their deaths, still remain. The jail with its 2-foot thick granite blocks was patterned after the Bastille in Paris. It was used until 1895, and today visitors can take a free, self-guided tour.
For more information on attractions in Greene County and Greensboro, check out the Greene County Convention and Visitors Bureau at visitlakeoconee.com or call (706) 453-0380.