Southwest Georgia's Other Bassin'

Southwest Georgia's Other Bassin'

Reservoirs like Blackshear, Walter George and Seminole may get all the publicity, but this corner of the state also has some hidden bassin' jewels. Here's a look at a few of those waters. (May 2009)

Ron Sinfelt

For many, Southwest Georgia bass angling stubbornly adds up only to river reservoirs like Walter F. George, Seminole and Blackshear. The word-of-mouth grapevine and printed publicity generated by these popular and regionally legendary impoundments is copious. Few bass fishermen in this corner of the state haven't heard of these waterways and few haven't targeted them for largemouths on at least an occasional basis.

However, those "Big 3" bass-fishing destinations are not the only waters in the state's southwestern portion that prove themselves worthy of angler consideration. There are definitely others out there worth more than just the perfunctory glance. Some of them, due to the big-lake mindset of many bass fishermen, could even be termed well-kept secrets.

Paradise Public Fishing Area, George W. Andrews Lake and Banks Lake are three prime examples of Southwest Georgia's "other" largemouth haunts that offer anglers very good opportunities to catch quality fish during the late spring and early summer months. And you may even have little in the way of competition from others.

Each is unique in its own way, offering a variety of water types, fishing conditions, and more than generous helpings of their own brand of charm. Here's a brief look at each of the three.

Where well-kept fishing secrets are concerned, Andrews Lake is among the best. Not only are most Georgia anglers unaware of its location and bass-fishing potential, more than a few don't even know it exists.

Largely overshadowed by lakes Seminole and Walter F. George, this small impoundment lies sandwiched between the Walter F. George Dam at Fort Gaines and the George W. Andrews Lock and Dam near Columbia, Ala. It is a tiny lake by Chattahoochee River standards, but is a largemouth "factory" of high caliber.

Andrews has few lake-like characteristics when compared with most impoundments. In fact, the lake is officially described as being more like a large river than a lake, and as a result, the bass population and fishery are riverine in nature.

Likewise, one is hard-pressed to find a fisherman who calls it a lake at all. Anglers who fish it regularly instead say they are going "behind the dam," "below the dam," "to the backwaters," or just "to the river."

Where bass fishing on the lake is concerned, most anglers cite it for quality rather than quantity. According to angler surveys, the reservoir does not produce big numbers of largemouths, but does give up quite a few 6- to 10-pound individuals. Most also say the downstream areas immediately adjacent to the dams are the best lake locations to target.

As Andrews moves between Fort Gaines and Columbia, it hides beneath its surface rock-and-stump-lined ledges of the old river channel. There are also ample sandbars and points marking good bass habitat all along the reservoir's 29 miles and 1,540 acres. One also finds a number of feeder streams, where largemouths can be caught near traditional structure such as brush, blown-down trees, and root banks. In short, while the fishing is good near the dams, it can be productive along other stretches as well.

The Lake Andrews angler has little need for detailed strategy. The relatively small acreage and the waterway's very nature make the fishing rather cut-and-dried. The lake is an ideal spot for a day of trial-and-error fishing. Basic bass knowledge and a little perseverance can pay dividends to even first-time anglers.

During weekdays, the fishing here is river fishing and there is appreciable current flow. On weekends, when few, if any, of the river dams are releasing water, there is little current. Andrews is a lake in practice as well as theory.

Because of its general narrowness, there are few flats areas here. Fishing is largely a matter of working ledges along the river channel and structure near the banks. During early morning hours, target the banks and the mouths of tributary creeks with topwater baits. Farther up the creeks, plastic worms and spinnerbaits are used successfully. Deep-running crankbaits worked parallel to the banks can also reward an angler with a nice bass or two. Along the channel ledges, drop-fishing with a jig-and-trailer combination works, as do Carolina- or Texas-rigged worms.

Fish size in Andrews makes the angling worthwhile. There are some truly big largemouths here, and the chance of landing a trophy is relatively good on any given day. And, these riverine bass are blue-collar fish. Every day they are fighting current and working overtime for their nourishment. At the end of a line, they prove their mettle. Striking hard and fighting aggressively, they are apt to outdo most bass taken from larger reservoirs.

To reach George W. Andrews Lake from Blakely, go west on State Route 62 for approximately 12 miles. At Hilton, there is a boat ramp on Coheelee Creek.

Other access points are on the Alabama side of the Chattahoochee near the SR 62 bridge and at Omussee Creek Park off Alabama SR 95.

Lanier County's Banks Lake is a throwback to bass fishing like it used to be. Though modern-day anglers now prowl its dark waters for hard-fighting largemouths, this big South Georgia "sinkhole" stubbornly refuses to modernize and makes one fish the old-fashioned way.

A "satellite" of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge that comprises about 1,000 acres of open water, Banks Lake NWR lies about two miles west of Lakeland, on SR 122 near Valdosta.

Described by some as a huge cypress pond, the lake is literally full of standing and fallen cypress trees and stumps. There are weedbeds in abundance, featuring coontail, milfoil, spatterdock and water lilies. Depth runs at a 4- to 5-foot average with a few deeper holes 15 to 16 feet deep.

Where bass are concerned, a number of biologists believe the lake is one of the best spots in South Georgia to boat a big largemouth.

A plus for the Banks Lake bass angler is that he does not have to be an expert at locating isolated hotspots to be successful. Fishing conditions are generally described as being equal all over. Though it can't be realistically said that there is a bass hiding behind every cypress or in every weed patch, the chances of catching one are nearly as good in one spot as another.

Banks Lake bass fishing is quite basic during the month of May and on through the summer months. Baitcasting tackle is the preferred equipment here. Knowledgeable anglers suggest using lightweight line when there is good water clarity and heavier monofilament or braid if an algae bloom has the water a bit stained, a common occurrence during warm weather. Algae growth is periodic on the lake and you never know what the overall water conditions will be like until you get there, so be prepared.

Standard bass baits, like plastic worms and jig-and-pig combinations, are good in the late spring, as well as being productive most any time of year. Rat-L-Traps and other diving crankbaits also produce in the spring, though the wood and weeds limit their use.

Spinnerbaits and buzzbaits are good early in the morning and late in the afternoon. Buzzbaits, in particular, are quite productive when the fish are more aggressive. Spinnerbaits are best fished later in the morning.

Another good mid- to late-morning lure is a soft-plastic, weedless, jerkbait in a salt-and-pepper pattern. Topwater and shallow-water techniques can provide action right up until noon.

In the thick cypress tree stands, one good lure is the old standby Johnson's Silver Minnow spoon. In spring and summer, tipping the traditional spoons with a black-and-chartreuse worm tail can really pay off.

When fishing in the thick lily pads, where often the bigger largemouths are lurking, topwater mouse or frog imitations are excellent bait choices. Switch to strong, braided line and a medium-heavy or heavy-action rod in the pad thickets. Big bass in tough-stemmed lily pads can annihilate even the strongest monofilament line after the hook is set.

In general, experts describe Banks Lake's largemouth population as plentiful and healthy. There are normally a good number of fish in all year-classes and studies continue to indicate decent spawning activity from year to year. The fishery, in short, seems in very good shape.

For further information, call the office of the Okefenokee NWR refuge manager at (912) 496-7366.

From Valdosta, take SR 31 northeast for approximately 15 miles to Lakeland. Banks Lake National Wildlife Refuge lies near the junction of SR 31 and SR 37, one mile west of Lakeland along SR 122.

Paradise Public Fishing Area is situated on 1,351 acres in Berrien and Tift counties. Sixty lakes totaling 525 acres are intensively managed for fishing on the tract. Largemouth bass figure prominently in the management of many of those ponds.

As the largest PFA in Georgia, Paradise features many lakes that contain a good largemouth population. A handful, however, are designated "high-quality" bass fisheries by area managers.

Lake Patrick, at 112 acres, is the PFA's largest impoundment. It contains both natural and added structure that provides diverse largemouth habitat. A number of really big bass have come from Patrick over the years. Largemouths of up to 13 pounds, 14 ounces have been verified from the lake.

For topwater action here, buzzbaits worked in grassy areas often pay dividends. These and similar lures also entice bass near the bases of cypress trees or from lily pad patches near shore. When topwater offerings fail, a 3/8-ounce white spinnerbait may do the trick.

Crankbaits make excellent bass locators on Lake Patrick. Rat-L-Traps, in particular, work well around standing trees and in submerged stump locations. For slower presentations, plastic worms rigged Texas style are favored offerings. Small worms or lizards on Carolina rigs may tempt bigger fish in the stumpfields when other baits prove unproductive.

Lake Bobben, a 61-acre lake featuring a lot of standing and fallen timber, is another Paradise pond containing a good population of quality largemouths. Bobben is different from Patrick in that it offers less diverse structure and water that is a bit on the clear side, especially in the shallower areas near the banks. This can call for a bit more finesse.

Spinnerbaits are traditionally good in Bobben this time of year. Cast them close to the bank and vary the speed of the retrieve through the sparse nearshore grassy areas. Worms and lizards work well here also. Fish them slowly and set the hook quickly when a strike is felt.

One proven technique here is fishing a relatively large worm with little or no added weight. This finesse method often allows lure-shy bass to more confidently pick up and hold the bait, giving you more time to feel the fish and get a good hookset.

At 16 1/2 acres, Horseshoe No. 3 is one of six ponds in the "Horseshoe Chain." It has a lot of grass and provides good springtime fishing. This and other grassy Horseshoe lakes easily can be fished in half a day. Conventional spring methods produce good numbers of quality largemouths from year to year on these ponds.

Tacklebuster Lake covers 17 acres and is among the better ponds for bass. The pond gets its name for its heavy cover and big-bass reputation. Fishing heavy primrose mats and points in Tacklebuster can produce good catches in May.

One popular body of water for bass fishing on the area is 50-acre Lake Paradise. However, it is now closed to fishing until 2010. Quality fish from this trophy-regulation pond were transferred to other lakes on the PFA during renovation.

To reach Paradise PFA from Tifton, go east on U.S. Highway 82 for eight miles to Brookfield. Turn right on Whitley Road and travel approximately 100 yards. Turn left onto Brookfield-Nashville Road and continue 1 1/2 miles. The entrance to the area is on the left.

To check on the status of any of the ponds, call the PFA office at (229) 533-4792.

Consider trying Paradise, George W. Andrews or Banks Lake this spring. You'll find them a pleasant alternative to the usual big-water bassin' in southwest Georgia.

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