From Rossville to Waycross and Albany to Hartwell, the Peach State is loaded with great bass waters. Here's a look at some of the best for 2008. (April 2008)
At Lake Walter George, fishing a big spinnerbait on the old river channel ledges can produce lunkers like this one.
Photo by Don Baldwin.
When we in the South hear the phrase "bass fishing," most of us doubtless think immediately of the largemouth, which, as the granddaddy species of the black bass, commands the greatest part of the bass-fishing public's attention.
And no wonder: A tough, acrobatic fighter, the magnificent largemouth is prolific, and present throughout the state. Fish in the 5-pound-plus class are relatively plentiful, and it doesn't hurt that the world record 22-pound, 4-ounce largemouth was hooked in Georgia more than 70 years ago -- and that mark still stands. So if this fish is the central focus of our angling attention, that's understandable.
In plenty of Georgia lakes, thousands of anglers ply their skills chasing Ol' Bucketmouth and his close relations every year. But, our river systems also offer some unique angling opportunities. So let's have a look at some of those waters and the fish they hold, and at the techniques needed to catch some of those Peach State bass.
UPPER CHATTAHOOCHEE RIVER
The Chattahoochee River is probably the most notable flow in Georgia. Starting in the mountains of northeastern portion of the state, it meanders through the foothills of the Piedmont Plateau to Atlanta, skirts the outer edges of the city and continues south along the Georgia and Alabama border. Eventually the stream combines with the Flint River in the southeastern corner of Georgia to form the Apalachicola River, which courses through Florida to the Gulf of Mexico. Along the way, "the Hooch" feeds lakes Lanier, West Point, Bartletts Ferry, Goat Rock, Walter George, Andrews and Seminole. While you undoubtedly recognize some of those names as giants in bass fishing, you may not know that the river itself also produces excellent bassin', albeit a variety different from what most anglers are used to.
The Chattahoochee River north of Lake Lanier offers some especially interesting options for bass anglers. Between Helen and Buford, the river winds its way through the foothills before combining with the Chestatee River in Lake Lanier. The river in this section is full of mostly shallow shoals. This swift, clear water is excellent habitat for one of Georgia's native bass species, the shoal bass. This fish occurring naturally only in the Apalachicola, Chattahoochee and Flint river basins was not identified as a separate bass species until 1999, before which it was deemed a subspecies of the redeye bass and often referred to as the "Flint River smallmouth." These fish, true to their name, prefer moving water around shoals as their primary habitat. They are also fiercely acrobatic fighters when hooked.
"Shoalies" can be caught on natural bait like worms, crickets, and crayfish, or on a wide selection of spinners and small surface lures. Light spinning gear is the choice of most local anglers, but an increasing number of flyfishermen stalk these bass, particularly during the summer.
Jimmy Harris, of Unicoi Outfitters, describes shoal bass as great alternatives for trout fishermen on the upstream portion of the 'Hooch,' particularly when the weather gets hot during the summer months.
"These fish are ambush feeders," Harris explained. "They sit behind or under rock ledges and slam a bait as it drifts by them. And since the water is so clear you can actually see the bass rush up and clobber the bait. It can be very exciting fishing."
Harris added that while the bass will come up for a surface popper, he has his most consistent fly-fishing success with larger fish on deeper-running streamers. Some of his favorites include Clouser Minnows in size No. 4, Woolly Buggers, and Zonkers.
A 5- or 6-weight fly rod is in order, as are heavy 1X or 2X leader tippets. He also advised that you check the tippet often for frays, as the rocks in the shoals are hard on monofilament.
You won't need a bass boat to fish this water. In fact, your best bet is either to wade or use a shallow running inflatable pontoon boat, like a Water Skeeter. The biggest issue is the availability of access points.
There is access to the river near some good shoals at the State Route 115 bridge to the east of Cleveland at the White and Habersham County line. Downstream at Duncan Bridge on SR 384 there is access in the western edge of Habersham, but no public parking, as lots at the site are owned by Wild Wood Outfitters, which does canoe liveries on the stream; check with them at 1-800-553-2715 before using the lots.
Once on the river you're likely to be rewarded. Harris said that in addition to shoal bass, largemouth and spotted bass and even stripers can be caught along this section by using similar tackle and tactics.
This 38,000-acre reservoir north of Atlanta is a significant element of the North Georgia landscape -- the primary source of drinking water for the more than 4 million residents in the area and a major recreational facility for pleasure boaters and anglers.
While Lanier has a pretty good largemouth population, particularly on the upper end, it chiefly provides a spotted bass fishery. The deep, cool, gin-clear waters of the lake offer ideal spotted bass habitat. These smaller, but feisty cousins of the largemouth have dominated the fishery for a several decades. In recent years, however, with the introduction of blueback herring to the lake, the spotted bass population has improved. Now chunky, football-shaped spots are the norm rather than the exception.
Being deep-water baitfish, the herring have a lifestyle that fits nicely with the spots' feeding habits, and the bass have fed on them with vigor. As a result, Lanier ranks as one of the best spotted bass lakes in the state, with 3- to 4-pound fish plentiful.
Deep structure-fishing is the preferred method for tempting spots on Lanier. The bottom is littered with numerous sunken brushpiles, and the spots like to hole up in them and feed on bait hiding in the branches.
A well-placed Texas-rigged finesse worm is generally all you need to pick a few of those bass out of the brush. The bite can be subtle, however, so use light line and tackle in the clear water, and pay close attention to any unusual line movement as you jiggle the bait in the brush. When you do connect, you'll find these fish to be aggressive fighters that are a lot of fun to catch.
During the late-spring and summer m
onths you may see schools of spots working baitfish on the surface. When you find a school churning the water, cast a surface lure like a Pop-R, Spook or Sammy into the fray, and you're almost guaranteed to hook up immediately.
This 4,000-acre Tennessee Valley Authority reservoir near Blairsville is a classic example of a North Georgia mountain impoundment: deep, cold and clear. It offers some great action and beautiful scenery in a pristine mountain setting. The black-bass population of Nottely consists primarily of spotted bass. The largemouth population has been on the decline in recent years owing to the relatively low survival rate of young largemouths, according to the Wildlife Resources Division. Biologists assigned to the lake believe this fry mortality to be caused in part by the introduction of blueback herring. The prolific bluebacks were illegally dumped into the lake in the 1990s and have adapted to the environment altogether too well, competing with newly spawned largemouths for food, and showing no aversion to eating the small bass as well.
As a result, the WRD has embarked on a largemouth stocking program for Nottely and they are beginning to see results of their efforts. The plan includes stocking largemouth fingerlings too big to be preyed on by the herring, creating more shoreline cover, and introducing more hybrid and striped bass to feed on the bluebacks.
The best locations on the lake for largemouths are in Ivy Log Creek, Young Cane Creek and other feeder creek arms of the middle to upper lake.
LAKE WALTER F. GEORGE
When it comes to famous bass reservoirs it'd be hard to be better known than this 45,000-acre impoundment of the Chattahoochee River near Columbus. Often called "Lake Eufaula" after the nearby Alabama town of the same name, the lake has been in the headlines of tournament bass fishing for about as long as the sport has been around. From the beginning, huge strings of giant largemouths were the hallmark of this great body of water. In the early days of Tom Mann and his counterparts, it wasn't uncommon to see tournament creels averaging 5 pounds per fish or more.
As at most bodies of water, there have been peaks and valleys in the angling here. But today this reservoir still provides a great largemouth fishery. Even though the overall bass population has declined somewhat in recent years the WRD still describes the lake as having better than average largemouth fishing. Fish in the 14- to 18-inch range should be plentiful, with significant numbers of bass above 5 pounds in the mix. The lake's 14-inch minimum-size limit for harvest has tended to increase the overall size of bass in the lake.
Probably the most notable topographic features of Walter George are the pronounced "ledges." On average the lake is shallow, with broad flats bordering the old Chattahoochee River channel crossed by flooded creek channels with distinct dropoffs or ledges. Bass tend to concentrate on the edges of these drops prior to and after the spawn.
Carolina-rigged plastic worms or lizards, big spinnerbaits, or big, deep-diving crankbaits dragged along these ledges can be deadly during the late spring and into the early summer. When the water gets really hot in the summer, fish down in the deeper channels with a jig or deep-running crankbait for best results.
In the spring and fall, bass will also congregate in the shoreline grass. At that time, a slow-rolled spinnerbait is hard to beat. And speaking of grass: Several infestations of hydrilla have afflicted the lake over the last several years. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is trying to control the aquatic weed, and it seeks anglers' help. Inspect your boat, outboard, trailer and even fishing tackle for fragments of grass before putting them in the lake.
If you need an overnight base on the impoundment, the George Bagby State Resort Park near Fort Gaines is a good option. It has excellent accommodations, a marina, boat ramp and other amenities.
The Flint River runs south from metro Atlanta through central Georgia before combining with the Chattahoochee at Lake Seminole. This river also has an excellent shoal bass fishery, particularly on the upper section along the Fall Line west of Macon.
Kent Edmonds is a full-time fishing guide on the section of the river between Molena and Talbotton. He's been professionally guiding on the Flint for more than 15 years and knows the waters and the habits of the fish in it very well. "In this section the river falls over 100 feet in a very short distance," he pointed out. "That vertical drop results in some excellent shoals -- ideal country for shoal bass."
Edmonds explained that shoal bass can be caught on live bait or small artificial spinning lures in this section, but he himself fishes for the bass exclusively with fly tackle. "These fish are bulldogs for their size and clever about diving under rocks and breaking you off," the guide cautioned.
Most of the fish in this area average about 12 inches long and a pound in weight, and are plentiful. An occasional 4- to 6-pound fish also turns up to keep things very interesting.
While access along this stretch is somewhat limited, there are several spots that are open to the public and have some great water. Edmonds pointed to Sprewell Bluff State Park to the west of Thomaston as having some great wading areas with an excellent shoal bass population among the rocks. Anther place with good accessibility and a stretch of Hightower Shoals is Big Lazer Creek WMA.
In addition to this fine stretch of river, which has a thriving native population of shoal bass, the WRD is conducting an aggressive stocking program on the lower section of the river below Warwick Dam at Lake Blackshear in Crisp County.
Whether you plan to hit the rivers or the lakes, plenty of bass action should be available in the state this year.
Find more about Georgia fishing and hunting at: GeorgiaSportsmanMag.com