Now's the time to shake off that winter lethargy and hit the water for some bass fishing. Once you're out the door, these are the places to target this year. (April 2009)
It pays to be in the right place at the right time, and year after year, Peach State bass anglers find themselves in that enviable position. Georgia is blessed from top to bottom, side to side, with great bass fishing. Six species of black bass are found in the state's lakes, rivers and streams, providing great diversity that anglers in other regions can only dream of.
The bread-and-butter species of Georgia bass anglers is, of course, the largemouth bass, with the spotted bass coming in a close second in much of North Georgia. Travel to the right part of the state though, and you can also fish for shoal, redeye, smallmouth and Suwannee bass. In Georgia, you can wet a hook for your favorite bass species on large reservoirs, small lakes, farm ponds, backwater swamps, rivers large and small, and even cool-water mountain streams. In every county all across the state, there is somewhere to go bass fishing.
Let's take a look at some of the best places to try this year. All of these waters offer good fishing for bass, and anglers can't go wrong making them part of a weekend fishing trip throughout the year.
Starting in the northwest part of the state is the Coosa River, or more technically correct, the upper end of 30,200-acre Weiss Lake. A vast majority of the impoundment falls on the Alabama side of the border, with only about 2,000 acres on the Georgia side, running from the state line up to the old Mayo's Bar Lock and Dam.
Anglers can do just fine though on the Georgia side by fishing any of the several large backwater sloughs off the river channel. Largemouth and spotted bass are both available in good numbers. Even a few redeye bass may be caught if you spend some time working up tributary creeks as far as you can go in a small boat. The main attraction, though, is largemouth bass in the sloughs.
Weiss Lake is a shallow reservoir that flooded hardwood bottoms and cotton fields. There are thousands of old stumps left in the sloughs, and while those can make navigation sort of tricky, they sure do hold fish. Creek channels wind their way through the sloughs before emptying into the main river channel, and working the stumps on the edges of the channel with a spinnerbait or jig is sure to produce throughout the year.
The main river channel can provide good fishing, too, especially for spotted bass once the early spring rains have ended and the river current slows and the water begins to clear. Good places are where any small branch or creek drains into the river. Hit these areas with a crankbait followed up by a Spotsticker jig or something similar to catch spotted bass.
Anglers have good access to the area at Brushy Branch boat ramp on Blacks Bluff Road, just west of Georgia Highway 100. The boat ramp is situated in the largest slough, and you could fish all day without ever making it out to the main river. But if you do decide to try another location, the channel out to the river is well marked, making for easy running.
One thing for anglers to keep in mind is there is no reciprocal license agreement between Georgia and Alabama on Weiss Lake, so if you venture into Alabama water, you need a Bama fishing license.
WEST POINT LAKE
Our next bass fishing hole is West Point Lake near LaGrange. The lake is a 25,900-acre U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reservoir extending 35 miles along the Chattahoochee River to the southwest of Atlanta.
Hydropower plays a role in the fishing at West Point. When water is released through the dam during generation, it creates a current in the lake and the fish become more active. Anglers can still catch plenty of fish when the turbines are silent, but during generation is the best time to be fishing. Most generation takes place Monday through Friday when demand for electricity is high.
West Point Lake receives heavy fishing pressure because of its excellent reputation, good access, and proximity to metro Atlanta. The lake is filled with cover and good structure including submerged ponds and roadbeds. The agencies responsible for managing the lake have taken steps to add even more cover by planting cypress trees and maiden cane at several locations throughout the reservoir. Other habitat efforts include felling shoreline trees into the water in some locations.
In addition, the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division has a major habitat enhancement project underway with the construction and maintenance of 10 large fish attractors. Each fish attractor consists of numerous plastic peach crates anchored in place. The attractors are scattered around the whole lake, down river from Highland Marina and also in Yellow Jacket Creek. The locations of all the attractor sites can be obtained by contacting the WRD Fisheries Management office in LaGrange at (706) 845-4180.
West Point is managed with a 14-inch minimum length limit for largemouth bass. The population has responded well to this regulation and some nice keeper largemouth, along with an abundant spotted bass population, combine to make for good fishing.
Recent fisheries surveys revealed more than 35 percent of the largemouth bass population sampled was within the 15- to 20-inch category with an average weight of about 1 1/2 pounds. Spotted bass numbers have been on the rise, and they now account for 50 to 60 percent of the total black bass population. Spots run smaller, with most fish in the 6- to 12-inch range. There is no size limit on West Point spotted bass, and fisheries managers encourage anglers to harvest those bass. Not only do these smaller bass make a tasty meal, you'll be helping thin out the spots to ensure that quality fishing continues.
West Point anglers concentrate on the shallow coves that warm quickly early in the season. Spinnerbaits, stick baits, and shallow-diving crankbaits are all good choices to cover a lot of water. Slowing down and fishing heavy cover with a jig-and-pig or plastic lizard is a good way to catch a trophy largemouth.
As fish move to deeper haunts, the key is being able to find and fish offshore structure in 20 feet or more of water. Channel ledges, humps and submerged pond dams are good producers. A Carolina-rigged soft plastic in June bug or green pumpkin is a good choice. Deep-diving crankbaits are also good if you can get them down and rooting along the bottom.
When fishing the offshore breaks, expect the best bite to be during generation when the current is running. West Point is a good night fishing lake, too. Many anglers target the lake's numerous boat docks. Lighted docks that attract bait are best, and if they have been sweetened with a brushpile or t
wo, more the better. Of interest to night-fishermen, the Corps of Engineers has been installing flashing lights on the main channel buoys and replacing the old wooden shoal markers with white PVC markers to improve visibility and safety.
Access is excellent on West Point Lake. The Corps of Engineers maintains almost 30 access points around the lake, not to mention state, county, and private facilities.
MARBEN PUBLIC-FISHING AREA
Moving into Middle Georgia and changing gears from big-water bass fishing to small lakes, the Marben Public Fishing Area at the Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center near Mansfield offers many choices. The PFA consists of 295 acres of fishable water spread across 20 different lakes and ponds. Some of the larger lakes have concrete boat ramps, while other ponds are reached only on foot. All of the lakes are intensively managed for fishing, and both bank and boat anglers find some great options. Other opportunities on the area include a visitor's center and museum, nature trails, primitive camping, and a shooting range.
Lakes Margery, Bennett and Fox are the largest bodies of water at 49, 69, and 95 acres, respectively, and are favorites with bass anglers. Fishermen find a good mix of habitats to fish, from shallow-water buzzbaiting to combing deep timber with a plastic worm or jig.
The great thing about small lakes is you have the bass hemmed up; there's no need to burn a tank of boat gas running across half a county of water looking for some fish willing to bite. In small lakes, they are all right there in front of you, so you can shortcut the process by spending less time figuring out where they are and spend more time figuring out what they want to eat.
Although the larger lakes draw the most attention, investing some time on the smaller, out of the way lakes can pay off big in trophy bass. The smaller the lake, the fewer fish it holds, of course, but there is nary a small pond that doesn't have at least a few old, wise mossybacks hanging out around a stump or sunken log. These bass have seen it all, but the day you decide to get off the beaten path might just be the day one slips up and gives you a shot at a once-in-a-lifetime bucketmouth.
The Ochlockonee River may not spend much time on the tip of the tongue of Georgia bass anglers, but it makes up a unique piece of the Peach State black bass puzzle. This slow-moving, black water stream offers anglers a shot at both largemouth and Suwannee bass.
Good locations to fish for largemouths are the sluggish flows near shore around Thomasville and the section upstream from the Georgia Highway 93 crossing. Typical shallow-water bass-fishing tactics using spinnerbaits and stick baits should produce.
But you may also achieve something most Georgia anglers haven't accomplished. By targeting swifter water around the main channel, you might catch a Suwannee bass, the most rare of our state's black bass. Small crankbaits, inline spinners, and plastic worms work well for this angling.
Suwannee bass typically run much smaller than largemouths, but the unique nature of this fish makes them an interesting quarry. Suwannee bass often have brown tones with blue coloration on the bottom rear of their bodies. The way to tell the two apart, however, is the Suwannee's jaw only extends to below the eye compared to the largemouth's jaw that extends well behind the eye.
CLARKS HILL LAKE
Clarks Hill Lake is Georgia's largest reservoir at 71,535 acres. This Corps of Engineers impoundment that is officially known as Strom Thurmond Reservoir is located on the Savannah River not far from Augusta. With numerous large creeks feeding the lake, more than 1,200 miles of shoreline, and vast expanses of open water, Clarks Hill is an inland ocean for bass anglers.
The lake has been evolving as hydrilla has become established in some areas, while blueback herring have found their way into the lake to change its forage base. Clarks Hill has been a fisherman favorite for years though, and still is.
A recent Georgia WRD tagging study revealed anglers release an estimated 63 percent of all bass caught. While catch-and-release has become synonymous with bass fishing and improved fishing on some waters, it isn't the automatic solution to all problems. That high release rate combined with several strong bass year-classes has resulted in an overcrowded situation with numerous small bass here. Consequently, anglers are being encouraged to take some of their catch home, particularly bass in the 12- to 15-inch size range. Thinning this size class will allow for reduced competition for food and better growth rates for the remaining bass.
Clarks Hill has always been a favorite of anglers who shy away from beating the shoreline. The hydrilla and blueback herring have added to the appeal of this reservoir for open-water anglers.
As mentioned earlier, Clarks Hill has many large creek arms. You would do better to focus your effort on learning all you can about a few of them instead of wandering around from creek to creek in search of greener pastures each time you hit the water. Some good areas to try are near Bussey Point and in Cliatt, Cherokee and Big creeks. These hold some of the better hydrilla beds. The flats where the Savannah and Broad Rivers meet are also productive.
Clarks Hill has many different access points, so finding somewhere to launch your boat shouldn't be a problem. Georgia and South Carolina have a reciprocal agreement covering the lake.
Lake Chatuge is a 7,050-acre Tennessee Valley Authority reservoir on the Georgia-North Carolina border in Towns County. Chatuge used to be one of the best places in Georgia to catch a smallmouth bass and also gave up some big largemouths. But the unauthorized introduction of spotted bass into the reservoir changed it forever. Smallmouths have virtually disappeared and largemouths are less plentiful.
Spotted bass support the fishery now, with high numbers of 1- to 2-pound fish. The number of larger spotted bass has been on the decline as competition for food takes its toll.
Spotted bass prefer rocky habitat much more than largemouths, so rocky main-lake banks on the lower half of the lake are good places to try. If you want to try to catch largemouths, which now comprise less than 20 percent of the black bass population, fish the upper part of the lake. Target the backs of coves with piles of logs and fallen trees.
The Georgia WRD, U.S. Forest Service, TVA and local anglers have worked together to place artificial PVC fish attractors in the lake. Information concerning the locations of this manmade fish habitat, camping facilities and boat access sites can be obtained from the WRD Gainesville office by calling (770) 535-5498 or by contacting the U.S. Forest Service's Blairsville office at (706) 745-6928. There is a reciprocal license agreement between Georgia and North Carolina allowing holders of either state's licenses to fish the entire reservoir.
Find more about Georgia fishing and hunting at: GeorgiaS