From St. Marys to Tunnel Hill and Dillard to Bainbridge, Georgia's loaded with worthy fishing destinations. We propose three dozen that you don't want to miss this year. (February 2007)
Few states offer such a variety of saltwater and freshwater fish as Georgia's waters harbor. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources lists state records -- some as old as 1932, some as recent as 2005 -- for 40 species of freshwater fish. Add to that 53 record saltwater fish, and you begin to form a notion of the diversity characterizing Peach State angling.
This state makes lots of water available for you to fish. Every Georgian lives within a short drive of a worthy freshwater venue -- everything from tiny North Georgia streams swum by native brook trout to reservoirs and rivers haunted by trophy catfish, and whatever else you can imagine in between. And if saltwater action's your passion, you can choose small creeks in the marshes, or go offshore to troll for huge billfish.
Here's a look at some of the best of all of these angling options.
What To Expect: Crappie school up this month and move into Beaverdam Creek, following the shad into warmer water. You can catch big numbers of fish as well as some slabs. In the middle of the state, Sinclair is readily accessible to many Peach State fishermen.
How To: Troll small jigs and live minnows at different depths until you find where the fish are holding, and then concentrate all your baits at that depth. Put out several rods to cover as much area as possible. If you have a depthfinder, watch for baitfish and bigger fish suspended under them, and carefully work the area they're in.
Contact: For more info, call Little River Marina at (478) 452-1605.
Options: Lake Seminole is far enough south that in warm winters, some largemouths bed in January. But most fish are still in pre-spawn mode, so throw Rat-L-Traps around hydrilla on lower-lake flats. Fish fast and cover a lot of area to find the fish.
Yellow perch run up the Savannah River in the winter, concentrating below the Clarks Hill Dam. Fish small jigs and live minnows from a boat or the fishing piers to fill your freezer with these tasty fish.
What To Expect: Favored as table fare in northern states, walleyes are found in cold, deep water here in the South. Carters Lake has the necessary depth and is so one of the few Georgia lakes harboring substantial numbers of them.
How To: Walleyes school up on deep rocky points and hit live earthworms, leeches and jigs. The best fishing's at night. Drop your bait down to the bottom in 20 to 35 feet of water on main lake points and fish it slowly. Walleyes bite gently, so set the hook on meeting any resistance.
Contact: Bart's Bait and Tackle, (706) 253-2248, can provide more information.
Options: Red drum are in coastal waters year 'round and can be caught during the winter. Get after them with live shrimp or jigs at the black mudflats near shell beds in coastal rivers and marshes.
Hybrid bass feed all winter long, and do so avidly at Clarks Hill Lake. Use live blueback herring or spoons on main-lake points.
What To Expect: Getting ready to spawn this month, the magnum-sized spots here move shallow. They're active and chasing bait, and it's early enough in the year that boat traffic's not quite as bad as it'll get later. Some say that the next state-record spotted bass swims Lanier; right now would be a good time to catch it.
How To: Throw white spinnerbaits or chrome jerkbaits on rocky main-lake points or humps at the mouths of spawning creeks. Fish a lot of different places to find the bigger specimens. Wind blowing onto the points and humps makes them much better.
Contact: Guide Ryan Coleman can put you on some spotted bass in March. Call him at (770) 356-4136.
Options: Warming water in Lake Walter George sets channel cats to feeding as they ready to spawn. Fish at night along river and channel edges with live or cut bait.
The buttonbushes at Clarks Hill are full of plus-sized crappie in late March. Dabble live minnows or jigs amid the plants to catch a limit.
West Point Lake
What To Expect: Water temps rise, moving West Point Lake largemouths to the banks to spawn. The flats on the lower lake hold numerous bass all month long. These fish hit many different types of bait, making this one of the easiest months of the year in which to catch them.
How To: Run flats and secondary points back in coves with Rat-L- Traps and Carolina-rigged plastic worms to find the fish; then, slow down and use the same baits to catch numbers. Don't hesitate to throw a topwater lure -- West Point largemouths love a buzzbait in April.
Contact: Robbie Nichols of Southern Harbor Marina at (334) 644-3881 is a valuable source of information.
Options: Bream are bedding at Lake Seminole; big bluegills fill the shallows. Look for beds on sandy flats; work crickets or Mepps No. 2 spinners around those depressions.
Your best bet for taking a Georgia smallmouth bass is Blue Ridge Lake. Try small crankbaits, spinnerbaits and plastic worms around shoreline cover on rocky banks.
Clarks Hill Lake
What To Expect: Officially known as Strom Thurmond Reservoir, this venue's full of large shellcrackers. Feeding year 'round on the mussel beds, they're easiest to take in May, during the spawning cycle. Most of your catch will be in the 1/2- to 3/4-pound range, but specimens exceeding that are landed regularly.
How To: Anchor your boat anywhere near a shell bed in the Little River arm on the Georgia side of the lake (another Little River lies on the South Carolina side!) in about 6 feet of water; cast several lines with No. 6 hooks tied 6 inches below split shots and baited with a gob of red wigglers. Let your bait sit on the bottom, keep a tight line and watch it for bites. When you catch a worthwhile fish, cast other lines to that area.
Contact: For fishin
g conditions, contact Raysville Marina at (706) 595-5582.
Options: Catch your own mahi-mahi (better known as "dolphin") off the Georgia coast this month. Charter a boat, or take your own, if it's seaworthy.
Bartletts Ferry (formally designated Lake Harding) offers fine bigmouth fishing around shoreline cover this month; go with weightless worms.
What To Expect: Weiss Lake offers some of the region's best shallow-water bassing this month. The Coosa River arm has miles of shallow flats just off the channel, and the edge of the channel is covered with wood. Largemouths move into this cover and feed all month long.
How To: Run up the river to Channel Marker 84 and start pitching jigs to all the logs in the water. Keep your boat in the channel; cast to the logs on the edge. Also, try running a spinnerbait along all the logs.
Use heavy tackle: When a 5-pound largemouth hits a jig and runs under a log, you'll need a stiff rod and strong line to pull it out.
Options: Put you boat in at any of the public ramps on the Ogeechee River and fish with crickets and earthworms for one of our prettiest sunfishes. Redbreast sunfish are abundant along shoreline wood cover on this river.
If you want to go for a trophy rainbow, head to Waters Creek. You'll see some impressive trout -- but seeing isn't catching when it comes to these smart, wary fish. Trophy-water restrictions apply.
What To Expect: Every few years, a new state-record flathead catfish is wrested from the Altamaha. Since the flathead's introduction, the average cat's gotten a lot bigger. The current rod-and-reel record, an 83-pounder, was caught last year, and bigger ones have been taken on limblines. You can catch a lot of these flavorful fish -- and maybe establish a new benchmark!
How To: Fish live bream on heavy tackle in the deep holes in river bends. Anchor your boat upstream of a hole and drift the live bait down into it; use enough lead to hold it on the bottom.
For bigger cats use big bait. A three-finger bream will catch eating sizes, but you need a heftier bream to tempt a record cat.
Contact: The Wayne County Tourism Board can provide detail on the area. Call them toll-free at 1-888-224-5983.
Options: Fish at night for big spotted bass at Carters Lake. Join the night pot tournaments or go alone. Fish spinnerbaits and crankbaits on rocky main-lake points.
Put a boat in at the Marine Ditch boat ramp south of Albany and work the shoals of the Flint River with a topwater lure late in the day. You might catch a 5-pound shoal bass!
What To Expect: Tarpon are feeding in sounds and rivers in summer; you can see them rolling on the surface. Hooking one of these 100-pound-plus fish near any inlet from Savannah to St. Marys is a distinct possibility this month.
How To: Cast-net some live menhaden (locals call 'em "pogies") and then drift them, either under a big cork or freelined, if you see tarpon. You need a needle-sharp hook to stick in their bony mouths.
For even more excitement, cast a big topwater plug to visible fish. To have any chance of boating one, you'll need a heavy rod and a reel that spools at least 200 yards of 20-pound line.
Contacts: In the Savannah area, phone Miss Judy Charters, (912) 897-4921; in St. Marys, give Capt. John King a call at Salt Grass Charters, (912) 674-8238.
Options: Motors at High Falls Lake are restricted to 10-horsepower and boats are not allowed on the water from sunset to sunrise, but you can catch some high-quality bass shallow on topwater baits and worms in this 650-acre state park lake.
Bluegills bed on the full moon again this month, so take some crickets and earthworms to the McDuffie Public Fishing Area. Find the beds on any of the several ponds for fast action.
What To Expect: This lake is your best bet for getting a specimen of this somewhat rare subspecies of black bass. Small, but putting up a good fight, redeyes are plentiful here; they school on top a lot this month. You can add them to your list of the basses you've landed.
How To: Watch for fish feeding on top at any time of the day in the mouth of Lightwood Log Creek and near Portman Shoals Marina in Twenty Mile and Six Mile creeks. Throw a Sammy, Spook or Fluke to them, and work it fast. You usually see fish following one you hook, so when you get a hit on a plug with two sets of hooks, fight the fish slowly to the boat -- you might hook a second!
Contact: Guide Tony Moran can take you fishing for Hartwell redeyes. Call him at (706) 779-2234.
Options: Although some call Allatoona Lake "the Dead Sea," Georgia bass clubs report it as having the best catch rate in the state. Fish topwater early around rock walls for these spotted bass; then, try a Spotsticker Jig and 4-inch worm in the same places.
For a change of pace -- and an interesting fight -- fray an 8-inch piece of white nylon rope, hook it on a silver spoon, and cast it to gar on the surface in Germany Creek at Clarks Hill Lake.
What To Expect: Following mullet, bull red drum, (a.k.a. "redfish") move into the surf as the water cools in the fall. You can catch them from the shore this time of year; indeed, some of the biggest fish of the year are within reach of boatless anglers.
How To: Use surfcasting rods to launch small live mullet or cut bait as far off the beach as possible. Try to find rips or current breaks, and put on a sinker heavy enough to hold your bait on the bottom. Keep your line tight -- and be ready for a screaming run. Check your bait often; replace as needed (crabs often pick it apart).
Contact: Call Golden Isles Charter Fishing, (912) 638-7673, if you'd rather target the fish from a boat.
Options: The state-record spotted bass was caught at Lake Burton, whose big spots are moving to the shallows to feed as the water cools this month. Try a jig-and-pig in any wood cover or around rocks on the main lake.
Goat Rock, a small impoundment north of Columbus on the Chattahoochee River, harbors some first-quality largemouths. Fish the blowdowns on the river channel with a 10-inch worm or a jig-and-pig.
What To Expect: Cooling water sends crappie shallower and gets them biting better than in the summer months. You can catch members of Oconee's strong population of slab-sized crappie all over the lake.
How To: Fish the standing timber plots with live shiner minnows and jigs. Night-fishing is best early in the month, but crappie hit during the day better later in November. Tie up to a stump sticking out of the water and drop a jig or live shiner down; try different depths -- start at 10 feet and go down to 20 before moving to hit another spot -- until you start catching fish. If the timber's topped out below the surface, drift or troll your bait at just over it.
Contact: For a day of Oconee crappie action, call guide Al Bassett at (706) 485-1280.
Options: With all its cypresses, Lake Blackshear looks like bigmouth heaven this month. Drop a Texas-rigged worm or jig-and-pig around the bases of the trees all over the lake.
Big brown trout can be caught in the Chattahoochee River downstream of the Lanier Dam. Use big wet flies or small spinners in the deeper holes.
Clarks Hill Lake
What To Expect: Big stripers move shallow in the cold water to feed on blueback herring. Fish weighing 40 pounds and more are caught here each year. The number of plus-sized specimens is substantial, and winter's the best time for taking one.
How To: Use planer boards to take live blueback herring in close to the rocks on main-lake points. At the same time, freeline live herring behind the boat in deeper water in order to cover a range of depths.
Contact: Captain Dave Willard specializes in this action at Clarks Hill. Call him at (803) 637-6379.
Options: Lake Jackson's spotted bass like the cold water in December. They feed on the main lake's steep, rocky points, so from the dam to the State Route 212 bridge on the Alcovy River arm of the reservoir, ply small crankbaits or a jig-and-pig at such sites.
Look for gulls to point the way to hybrid bass schooling up on West Point Lake. Cast bucktail jigs to them while the crossbreeds are on top, and then troll live shad or jigs in the area after they go down.
Find more about Georgia fishing and hunting at: GeorgiaSportsmanMag.com