Regardless of the time of year, Georgia bass fishing can be excellent. Here are five waters anglers should consider in 2018.
Bass anglers in Georgia are lucky to have many options, with 32 large lakes and 21 rivers, all with public access and good fishing.
Even better, anglers can catch 10 separate species of black bass as identified by the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division. The WRD even has a special "Georgia Bass Slam" awards program for anglers catching five of the 10 species.
Of all the species available, largemouth and spotted bass are the most popular. Both are found in most waters due to illegal stocking of spots.
Spots are not native to most Georgia waters and are considered an invasive species. There are no size limits on lakes and rivers except for Lake Lanier. The WRD recommends keeping every spot caught anywhere but Lanier, up to the 10-fish daily limit, to eat.
Lakes and rivers go through cycles with excellent fishing at the top of the cycle but only fair fishing at the bottom. Many factors, including spawning success, lake levels and baitfish numbers, affect cycles and vary from lake to lake and river to river. However, every angler in the Peach State lives within easy driving distance of some good bass fishing.
Lake Seminole, located on the Florida/Georgia/Alabama line, is a 37,500-acre Corps of Engineers lake full of standing timber, hydrilla beds and shoreline vegetation. It has long been considered one of the best largemouth lakes in the nation.
The WRD says the average largemouth caught in Seminole will weigh 2 pounds, but there are large numbers of 4- to 6-pound fish in the lake. Tournament-winning weights usually are higher than 20 pounds for five fish, and some 30-pound-plus limits are weighed in ever year.
Guide and tournament fisherman Matt Baty says the numbers of 3- and 4-pound fish is excellent right now. The quality of fish has been improving for several years and Seminole is near the top of a great cycle. A good day fishing will produce numerous 3-pounders with several over 4 pounds.
By the end of February, some bass will still be spawning but many have already spawned and are moving toward summer holes near old creek and river channels. Early in the year, look for spawning fish in the clear water of Spring Creek and Fish Pond Drain. They can be caught around lily pads on Senko-type baits fished weightless, chatterbaits and spinnerbaits.
As fish move out, cast a lipless crankbait, topwater plug or Texas-rigged worm around hydrilla beds that are starting to grow. Work areas in the creeks near spawning flats. As the water gets hotter, move to the creek channels and work the edges of hydrilla beds that are topping out by early summer. A topwater, crankbait and Texas rig worked along the edges where they drop off will produce fish.
During the hottest months use a 1.5-ounce weight ahead of a bait and punch it through the thick mats of hydrilla that border deep water. Let it fall to the bottom, then carefully tighten the line and be ready to set the hook.
As water cools in the fall, bass will chase shad around standing timber. Fish an Alabama Rig or crankbait through the trees, or fish over hydrilla with a topwater plug. In the coldest months, work old creek and river channels with jigging spoons and drop-shot worms.
The Savannah River from the Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam to the I-95 Bridge offers many miles of main river and numerous small creeks and oxbows to fish. Bass spawn in the still waters in creeks and oxbows starting in February, then move to the main river as the water warms.
According to WRD fisheries biologists, largemouth populations in the river are healthy. Growth and reproduction have been good for the past two years, since the drought lowered river levels and came back up to normal. In the spring, fish the calmer waters off the main river and move to the main river channel in summer.
In oxbows and creeks, buzzbaits, spinnerbaits and a jig-and-pig are good baits around the wood cover that fills most of these areas. Early in the spring, start in the very backs of these areas, but work toward the river as the water warms. Bass will stop and hold for several weeks where creeks enter the river and feed in eddies created by the current.
In hot weather work the main river. The WRD says the best river fishing is when the levels drop within 5 to 6 feet based on the flow gauge at Cylo. Pitch a jig-and-pig into eddies behind logs and willow trees on the river, as well as the mouths of any small ditches or cuts in the bank.
Always work against the current, pitching baits ahead of the boat and fishing it with the current, which is a natural movement bass expect from their food.
In the fall, bass follow shad into the creeks and can be caught on a variety of fast-moving baits, such as rattlebaits, spinnerbaits and buzzbaits. When it gets cold, slow down and fish the creeks with a jig-and-pig.
Lake Hartwell is a 56,000-acre Corps of Engineers lake on the upper Savannah River. Its huge size means there is a wide variety of cover and structure where both largemouth and spots live. Blueback herring offer an excellent food source for both species, and control their movements and feeding habits.
According to the WRD, a strong spawn of largemouth in 2012 resulted in a lot of 3-pound bass in the lake, and biologists' sampling has shown a slight increase in largemouth weighing more than 6 pounds. Spotted bass have seen a huge increase in numbers, but most are 10 to 14 inches long, with a few growing to 3 pounds or more.
In the spring both species spawn in shallow water but largemouth like the very backs of sandy coves and creeks, while spots spawn deeper on more rocky bottoms. Both can be caught on Carolina-rigged lizards fished slowly through these areas.
Soon after the bass spawn, they move to main lake blow-throughs and humps where herring spawn. Cabela's Tournament Pro Martha Goodfellow says a topwater bait or swimbait will catch them early in the morning. As the sun gets high, fish deeper on these places with a jighead worm.
Even in the hottest months, bass will chase schools of blueback herring to the top on main lake humps and long points. Fish a walking bait, like a Zara Spook, around breaking fish and over brush piles up to 30 feet deep.
In cooling water, fish crankbaits and a jig-and-pig on rocky points in creeks and main lake points. In the winter, the fish will hold in very deep water on old channels and the end of points. A jigging spoon or underspin bait will get them to bite.
Carters Lake is a 3,220-acre Georgia Power lake with bluff banks and no shoreline development. It is a deep lake that has become known for quality spotted bass fishing. Fish attractor brush piles have been placed on the lake, which can be found online.
Although largemouth are only about 5 percent of the bass population, they are good size, with some 7- and 8-pounders caught each year. They can be caught year 'round in the backs of creeks and coves around wood cover with a jig-and-pig.
The WRD says they have confirmed the spots in Carters are the Alabama strain that grows much bigger than Kentucky spots. In 2015, a good spot spawn resulted in many young spots that weigh a pound or more now. But there are fewer 5-pound-plus spots due to lower gizzard shad populations.
Guide Bill Payne likes to fish a jig-and-pig or jighead worm in backs of coves and creeks in the spring, as spots move in to spawn. As they move out, follow them to main lake points and humps near the mouths of creeks.
As water warms, Payne moves closer to the main lake using the same baits. During the heat of summer, night fishing is best. Work a jig-and-pig on rocky points, humps and deep brush piles. The marked fish attractor brush piles are a good place to find feeding fish.
Cooling water moves spots shallower on humps and points, and a jig-and-pig is a good choice. In winter, look for suspended spots off bluff banks and use a float and fly, spoon or jerkbait. Schools of alewives in deep water will attract suspended spots this time of year.
WEST POINT LAKE
West Point is a 25,900-acre Corps of Engineers lake on the Chattahoochee River near LaGrange. Although part of the lake is in Alabama, a Georgia fishing license is valid throughout. There is a 14-inch minimum legal size limit on largemouth but no limit on spots.
The WRD has placed brush piles on the lake to attract fish, which can be found at georgiawildlife.com.
Although spots are rapidly increasing in numbers, there is a good population of largemouth, with over one-third of them in the 15- to 25-inch range. The average weight is just under 2 pounds but there are many bigger fish.
In the spring, catch largemouth in creeks and coves on crankbaits, spinnerbaits and Carolina rigs fished on flats. The coves off the river upstream of the mouth of Yellowjacket Creek are good, as are the coves in Yellowjacket Creek.
After the largemouth spawn, follow them to deeper water, working deep-diving crankbaits and Carolina rigs on points in the mouths of the creeks. Move to main lake points and ledges with the same baits in the summer. Some current from power generation at the dam makes the fish bite much better.
As the water cools in the fall, consider using crankbaits around rock and wood cover from the mouth of Yellowjacket Creek to the dam. Target blowdowns and rocks on points and steep banks with a shad colored crankbait. This pattern will produce both largemouth and spots.
Spots have increased dramatically in the past few years. While spots are aggressive, and comprise more than half the bass population, they are small, with most shorter than 12 inches. The WRD recommends keeping some spots to eat.