The biggest problem for Peach State anglers looking for great fishing is simply deciding where to wet a hook. Here's a calendar of 36 top destinations for the coming year.
By Ronnie Garrison
For diversity of fishing, you can't beat Georgia. Few other states have the range of opportunities found here. You can fish cold, clear mountain streams for trout or cast to tarpon in coastal bays. In between, you can catch six kinds of black bass, plus crappie, catfish and almost every kind of sunfish that swims. No matter what you like to catch, you can find it here.
JANUARY Walleyes are rare in Georgia, but your best chance to catch some of these good-eating fish is at Blue Ridge this month. There are so many walleyes there that the creel limit is almost double the normal statewide limit. In spite of a maximum of 15 fish, limit catches are not unusual.
Blue Ridge Lake
Tips: Fish live bait on deep, rocky main-lake points for numbers of fish.
Earthworms and small minnows fished 18 to 25 feet deep should produce the best results. For the biggest walleyes, fish the same areas at night.
For more information, contact Blue Ridge Marine at (706) 632-6333.
Largemouths stack up on deep structure in Hartwell during the winter, and you can catch large numbers on jigging spoons. Look for long points or shoals near the river channel.
The state-record sheepshead was caught three years ago in January in the Wilmington River. Use fiddler crabs around rocks and bridge pilings for these tasty fish.
FEBRUARY Bass in Seminole often start looking for beds in early February. You can catch them in large numbers, and some of the biggest fish of the year are taken this month. The bass are feeding heavily as they prepare to spawn.
Tips: Fish fast-moving lipless crankbaits and spinnerbaits around the mouths of creeks and pockets. On sunny, warm days, move back into the shallow pockets with the same baits and work them around any grass you see.
For current fishing reports and guide service, call Wingate's Lunker Lodge at (229) 246-0658.
Striped bass move very shallow to feed during February at Clarks Hill Lake. Look for them on main-lake points or humps and drift a live blueback herring to catch them.
Brown trout are growing fast in Lake Burton and feed best during cold weather. Fish live blueback herring on rocky points for the biggest trout and try different depths from very shallow to 25 feet deep.
As March wears on, the crappie begin heading shallow on Middle Georgia's Lake Oconee. Photo by Ron Sinfelt
MARCH Big crappie move shallow early in March at Lake Oconee and can be caught up the river as soon as the water starts to warm. As the month progresses, the fish move into shallow water all over the lake and can be caught in large numbers as they go through the spawning cycle.
Tips: Troll jigs and live minnows along the river channel up the Oconee River early in the month for big fish. As the water warms, check out the feeders near the dam, like Double Branches and Sandy Creek, and fish jigs and minnows around any shoreline cover.
Al Bassett offers guided trips for crappie on Oconee. Call him at (706) 485-1280 or e-mail him at OconeeAl@msn.com.
Fish crankbaits and spinnerbaits for largemouths around riprap early in the month on Lake Walter F. George, then move to spawning pockets down the lake with spinnerbaits as the water warms.
Chicken livers or live earthworms fished from the bank can produce a limit of catfish at Evans County Public Fishing Area (PFA). The cats feed heavily in the warmer South Georgia water this month.
APRIL Big hybrid bass are plentiful at Lake Hartwell, and they feed heavily all over the lake this month. Fish of more than 4 pounds are common, and it is easy to catch a 10-fish limit of that size. There is no length limit, but the creel limit is lower since the waters are covered by a reciprocal agreement with South Carolina.
Tips: Fish with live blueback herring on points and humps on the main lake. Fish some baits 18 to 20 feet down on Carolina rigs, with others free-lined shallower. Also keep a topwater plug or bucktail jig ready for surface schooling action.
Mark Waller can provide guide services and information at (706) 376-4407.
Big bass spawn at Paradise PFA on the full moon in March. It is probably the best place in the state for stalking a 15-pound bass on the bed. Sight-fish for these lunkers with big tube baits and lizards.
Above-average trout are available in Waters Creek, which is open Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays for artificial-lure fishing only. Brown and rainbow trout must be 22 inches long to be kept, and there is a one-fish limit.
MAY Shellcrackers feed heavily over shell beds all during May. Fish average 1/2 pound, and 'crackers over a pound are common. They put up an excellent fight on light tackle, and you should be able to easily catch a limit.
Clarks Hill Lake
Tips: Anchor in 10 feet of water off banks and points covered in shells and fish earthworms on the bottom. Put out several rods in holders and wait on bites. Prospect in water that is 5 to 15 feet deep until you find the fish.
Raysville Bait and Tackle (706-595-6637) can provide current fishing conditions.
Post spawn largemouths feed heavily around grassbeds on Weiss Lake and provide exciting action on spinnerbaits and buzzbaits. Fish fast and cover a lot of water on secondary points and backwaters where bass spawned.
Chose any of the 12 ponds at McDuffie PFA and fish the sandy banks with livers or earthworms for a limit of pan-sized channel catfish. It is possible to catch some large fish, too, so use stout tackle.
JUNE Both Antioch and Heath lakes have good populations of bass, and the fish are active in June. You should be able to limit out easily on either lake. Heath is open only a few days each month, and hitt
Rocky Mountain PFA
ing it on open days is like fishing new water. Other special regulations are in effect, but fishing for bass is excellent and the average size of the fish is good.
Tips: Fish topwater plugs and buzzbaits early and late in the day, then switch to plastics worms while the sun is on the water. Concentrate on rocks and brush in shallow water early in the month, then look for deeper cover as the water gets warmer. Call (706) 802-5087 for fishing reports and the schedule of open days.
Big flathead catfish inhabit High Falls Lake and can be caught in feeder creeks and along the old river channel on live bream during the day. Boats are not allowed on the lake at night.
Bluegills in the lake at Big Lazer Creek PFA bed around the full moon, and large numbers of good-sized fish can be caught on crickets when you locate beds in shallow protected pockets.
JULY Spotted bass feed on top, chasing blueback herring all day long on hot July days. Some 5-pound fish are caught every summer, and it is possible to catch a lot of fish if you find them schooling. These spots also feed at night, when you can fish in relative comfort with less boat traffic.
Tips: Fish hard- and soft-plastic jerkbaits around long main-lake points and shoal markers. At night, switch to spinnerbaits and crankbaits in the same areas.
Contact Ken Sturdivant at Bass Pro Shops for current fishing reports and guide service at (770) 889-2654.
Tarpon move into the Altamaha River mouth on the coast and can be caught on live pogies or big plugs this month. Look for surfacing fish and cast to them.
Tie up under a bridge on West Point Lake, hang a light over the side of the boat, and drop minnows down to different depths. When you start catching crappie, put all your baits at that depth. Fish will feed all night long.
AUGUST Guide Shane Watson averages 15 striped bass per day weighing 8 to 20 pounds during August morning trips. The stripers are plentiful, and some fish of 30 pounds are caught each year. Continuous stocking of stripers promises good fishing each year.
Tips: Fish blueback herring on down lines at various depths until you find the stripers. With a good depthfinder, you can see the fish and concentrate on the depth at which they're feeding. That could be 80 feet in August.
Charter boats and headboats make bottom fishing accessible out of Savannah this month. Black sea bass are plentiful, and fish up to 5 pounds are possible. Limits of 20 fish are common most days.
Put a boat in the Flint River around Albany to float for shoal bass this month. Bass feed around the rocks and hit topwater baits late in the afternoon. Five-pound fish are caught on many trips.
SEPTEMBER New state record flatheads are caught from the Altamaha River almost every summer. There is no limit, so you can keep as many as you want, and all sizes of flatheads taste good. Because of the damage flatheads do to native populations of fish, you are encouraged to keep all you catch. Use heavy tackle, since 30-pound fish are common and a 70-pound state record is possible.
Tips: Find a deep hole in the river, anchor above it and drift a live bream downcurrent to the deep water. When it gets to the deepest point, let it sit until a cat finds it. Bigger baits catch bigger fish, and nighttime is the best time to catch big flatheads.
Contact the Jesup-Wayne County Tourism Board at (888) 224-5983 for more information on the area resources.
Sign on a charter boat destined for the Savannah Snapper Banks or use your own boat if you have a suitable one. Fish cut bait on the bottom for red snapper action. A 37-pound state record was caught here in September a few years ago.
Lake Oliver is a small impoundment near Columbus that produces good numbers of bass. But you must fish early in the day before it gets too crowded. Toss buzzbaits and spinnerbaits around shoreline cover at daybreak.
OCTOBER The shallow waters of Lake Blackshear hold a lot of crappie, and you can catch large numbers of them in October. The lake gets less crowded as the water cools and the fish get more active. The contours of the lake limit the areas where crappie hold, making the fish easier to find here than on some bigger lakes.
Tips: Look for brush and wood structure near the old river channel and drift jigs and minnows around them. If you can spot a school of shad right on the lip of the channel, fish straight down under the baitfish with jigs and live minnows for crappie holding there.
Contact Lakeshore Marine at (229) 853-2275 for more information.
Redeye bass school heavily on Lake Hartwell in the fall, and fish breaking the surface can be spotted on open waters of the main lake and in bigger creeks. Throw popping corks or topwater plugs when you see activity. Smaller baits are often better since most fish are 12 or 13 inches long.
Crappie go on a feeding spree in the fall at Bartletts Ferry Lake. Fish live minnows and jigs around deeper boat docks and brushpiles. Also troll jigs along the old river channel until you find a school of fish.
NOVEMBER Cooler water at Lake Russell this month means bass move shallow and fatten up for the winter. Bigger bass come up from their deep-water summer holes and can be caught. Large numbers of bass can be expected most days in the fall on this lake.
Tips: Fish crankbaits and spinnerbaits around riprap and channel marker poles for numbers of bass. Slow down and work a jig-and-pig in the same areas for lunkers.
Contact 72 Marine at (706) 283-7800 for current fishing and water conditions, as well as guide services.
A state-record 18-plus-pound brown trout was caught in the Chattahoochee River tailwater two years ago. Fish large streamers or small jerkbaits in artificials-only areas of the river for big trout this month.
Fish live bait on Lake Juliette from the bank near the dam or from a boat over standing timber along the old creek channel for big striped bass. Use heavy tackle to keep hooked stripers out of the trees.
DECEMBER Both Georgia and South Carolina stock hybrids in Clarks Hill, providing large numbers of fish. The hybrids grow fast on the blueback herring in the lake, and fish of 6 pounds and up are common.
Clarks Hill Lake
Tips: Use live blueback herring for bait on long shallow points in Little River on the Georgia side or on riprap near the dam. Watch for schooling activity and throw a popping cork or bucktail jig to schools of fish on the surface.
Captain Dave Willard can be reached at (803) 637-6379 for guide services and fishing updates.
Spotted bass start feeding on Allatoona Lake in December, after all the boat traffic dies down. Fish a small jig-and-pig on rocky points near deep water for large numbers of 12- to 14-inch spots this month.
Lake Jackson has a reputation for giving up big largemouth bass in the winter. Work a jig-and-pig on rocky points along the main lake for a chance at an 8-pound-plus fish.
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