This might be the best time of year for hooking a lunker largemouth in the central part of the state. And these lakes offer some overlooked water to target!
Terry Lee balks at being called an expert on the Middle Georgia bass fishing venues he frequents.
But there's little doubt that the lifelong Griffin resident knows what he's doing when he launches his aluminum johnboat on such lakes as High Falls, Juliette and Tobesofkee, all small-water hotspots that fit into his bass-fishing wheelhouse.
Not a fan of the sizes and speeds of high-powered bass boats, he prefers smaller impoundments, where pleasure boaters are few and quality bass fishing is abundant. Leave the big reservoirs to others, he says, because his old 10-horsepower outboard gets him where he needs to go.
"I just like the calmer water," Lee said of his attraction to smaller impoundments. "And it doesn't cost you an arm and a leg to fish."
Lee, who has directed the Lil' Waters Bassin' johnboat tournament trail since it started 15 years ago, catches bass with regularity on High Falls, Juliette and Tobesofkee throughout the year. That even includes February, when the bass can be as unpredictable as the weather.
But it's the weather that may be the biggest key to your success for this month's fishing in the heart of the state. You'll just as easily find a 70-degree day as one in the 40s this time of year, and that keeps you on your toes.
On warm, sunny days, bass actively search for food in the shallows. For High Falls and Tobesofkee, that means shad; on Juliette, which mostly contains water pumped in from the Ocmulgee River, it could mean a variety of baitfish.
Matching your offerings to the food of choice is the best first step in lure selection.
"That's typically how (bass) make their living that time of year. They make those forays to shallow water to feed on warmer days," said Georgia Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist Steve Schleiger of the Wildlife Resources Division Fort Valley Fisheries office. "The weather is real changeable that time of year. You can have warm, sunny days or it can be windy and cold.
"When those bass are shallow, a good choice would be something that makes a lot of noise and vibration, like crankbaits. But I would probably forgo the plastics."
But when the weather is cold, expect bass to be like they are in most lakes -- concentrated around deep structure, around which vertical-jigging choices, like spoons are good bets.
Good sonar skills are necessary to catch deep, lethargic winter bass.
"One plus of fishing for bass in the winter is that when they're deep they are usually packed tightly," Schleiger said.
No surprise there -- find the concentrations of fish and you could do well.
Terry Lee fishes shallow all year -- although he's not against targeting deep points and creek channels when he has to -- and his first choice is usually a lipless crankbait. He works that bait around shallow wood on warm days and yo-yos it on deep channel ledges when it's colder.
He also might slow-roll a spinnerbait, shake a jigheaded worm, or flip a jig into that shallow wood.
"I feel like I can fish shallow all year 'round," Lee confirmed. "I think I can make them eat a rattle-bait every day, all year."
Here's a look at February fishing at each lake.
High Falls Lake
The WRD's annual fishing prospectus calls High Falls "an untapped resource for bass anglers." That's based on the number and sizes of largemouth bass, and it has relatively low -- depending on whom you talk to, that is -- fishing pressure.
The 650-acre impoundment just off of I-75 north of Forsyth is a popular destination for johnboat tournaments because of its tendency to give up limit catches. High Falls bass take a variety of baits and presentations.
The lake impounds the Towaliga River, borders Butts, Monroe and Lamar counties and is part of High Falls State Park. Most of the shoreline is lined by lake houses and cabins, especially the mid- and upper-lake areas.
Operated by the Parks, Recreation and Historic Sites Division, the lake has a horsepower restriction on outboards of 10 horsepower or less, and only two boat ramp areas. One is on the south end near the state park office and another uplake off Buck Creek Road. Both have ample parking. Fishing is allowed during daylight hours and there is a parking fee.
Schleiger said samplings have included largemouths up to 10 pounds. According to WRD records, High Falls is ranked near the top of state impoundments in numbers of bass in the 15- to 25-inch range, with around a third of the population in that category. The average bass is 13 inches long and weighs 1 1/2 pounds.
"This is my favorite of the three," said Lee, who has been fishing High Falls for 20 years. "It's always been a good lake to me."
His largest bass caught there weighed 8 pounds, 3 ounces.
Uplake is the place where most bass anglers target their fishing year-round. Buck Creek, Bushy Creek, Browns Bottom and up the Towaliga are all within a short ride from the Buck Creek boat ramp. All can produce quality bass 5 pounds and larger.
The abundant boat docks and submerged wood are all worth your attention, especially in proximity to sandbar points.
As stated earlier, warm days prompt bass to chase threadfin and gizzard shad into the shallows, so be prepared to use small and medium crankbaits, rattle baits and spinnerbaits. On these warm days, target the backs of creeks, stumpfields, boat docks or points, and keep an eye on surface activity.
Before the water warms for good in late winter to early spring, hit deep points with structure and channel ledges with deeper-running crankbaits, soft plastics and jigs.
For more information, call the High Falls State Park office at (478) 993-3053.
Juliette, with its 3,600 acres and clear water, doesn't seem to fit into what many anglers expect of a Middle Georgia lake.
"Actually, it kind of reminds me of those North Georgia mountain lakes, with its clay banks and rocky areas," Ste
ve Schleiger said of the Georgia Power-owned impoundment located on U.S. Highway 23 around 15 miles north of Macon.
Rum Creek provides the largest flow naturally entering the reservoir. Because the lake is used as a reservoir for the cooling towers at the Plant Scherer coal-burning electric plant, most of the water is pumped in from the Ocmulgee River. As a result, the water is less fertile, has visibility up to 10 feet and contains a more riverine forage base. Shad are present, as are blueback herring, which likely is because of their use as bait by striped bass anglers on the lake.
Juliette is a largely undeveloped impoundment with boat ramps at Holly Grove and Dames Ferry public use areas. It also has a 25-horsepower outboard restriction.
The WRD studies indicate that the average size of bass is relatively small, with half of the population in the 12- to 20-inch range. There is no length limit on largemouths to encourage anglers to take some smaller ones home to eat.
"Juliette does not have a big watershed. It is low in fertility and doesn't produce the numbers," Schleiger said. "But you're more likely to find a trophy bass. Juliette is more of a trophy lake. I've heard reports of 15-pounders."
Terry Lee has caught two bass pushing 8 pounds, the last a 7.91 on a spinnerbait in March 2009.
There also are populations of spotted and shoal bass in the lake. "I've seen some 5- or 6-pound shoal bass," Schleiger said.
Juliette has an abundance of deep timber, especially lining the main channel near the dam and in the feeder creeks uplake. Most tops out at about 40 feet below the surface. Points and humps in the timber are good bets, along with creek channels and deep-water structure in the middle of the lake. Try jigging spoons in the deep channels and around structure when it's cold, or crankbaits and spinnerbaits off points when the water warms. It might also be worth pulling out a plastic worm. Targeting weedbeds could also get you a bite.
Another tactic is fishing near the inflow area where the Ocmulgee water is pumped in near the dam.
"When they're actively pumping, that's a target area," Schleiger agreed. "People will tie up to the buoy line and fish."
But Juliette can be a frustrating lake for novices. With the clear water, light line is a must.
"It's one of those lakes where bass fishermen either love it or hate it," Schleiger said.
"It's a little bit tougher to figure out," Terry Lee admitted.
For more details on Lake Juliette, call Georgia Power at (404) 954-4040.
This 1,750-acre lake is owned and operated by Bibb County and located east of I-475 near Macon. It is much more similar to High Falls than Juliette, both in habitat and fishing techniques.
There are three boat ramps on the 40-year-old lake, at Claystone Park, Arrowhead Park and an undeveloped access point in the "Fingers" area far uplake near the headwater. The Fingers area also is where you'll find a large area that the Bibb County Recreation Department maintains for bank-fishing. There is an admission fee for access to the lake.
Private residences dot the lower half of the lake, but the upper reaches from Lower Thomaston Road up Tobesofkee Creek is largely undeveloped.
Tobesofkee has a forage base consisting of threadfin and gizzard shad, and has a strong bass population with a third of population believed to be in the 15- to 25-inch range, according to WRD data. The bass population is well above the 12-year average.
"I fish it the same way as High Falls," said Terry Lee, who caught a 6-pound 5-ounce largemouth on a rattle bait last winter. "In fact, I've caught quite a few that size, that way, over the years."
Because of its heavy use by pleasure boaters during the warmer months, winter through spring is a great time to fish Tobesofkee. There is less activity on the narrow lake and a better chance to get to where the bass are.
For bass in colder weather, target deep structure like dropoffs, steep banks and the main Tobesofkee Creek channel. Depths are no more than about 20 to 25 feet. Slowly work jigs, Texas- and Carolina-rigged worms and deep crankbaits.
Warmer weather gets bass on the move to shallower water. The more warm days in a row, the more likely you will find fish consistently in the backs of creeks, on rocky points and around shallow wood like brush and stumps.
Spinnerbaits, medium- and shallow-running or lipless crankbaits, and even plastic worms and jigs can all be good choices depending on bass activity. Use shad or perch patterns in clear water and firetiger or chartreuse colors when there is a stain.
Boat docks on the lower end of the lake with brushpiles are good targets, but don't overlook grassbeds above and below the Lower Thomaston Road bridge.
The three islands just below the bridge, all of which are close to the main creek channel and to a large flat, should not be overlooked.
For more information on fishing the lake, contact the Tobesofkee Recreation Area at (478) 474-8770.