There are a number of states that try to stake the claim of offering the best bass fishing in the nation.
In California, they support the claim with monster largemouth and spotted bass that gorge on rainbow trout. But, those behemoths are not native to the state and are found only in a few reservoirs.
Texas is another contender, pointing to the fishery in Toledo Bend Reservoir. That gigantic inland sea does produce lots of largemouths in the double-digit weight range. But, again, the phenomenon is not that widespread in Texas. However, the Lone Star State does claim another black bass species. The Guadalupe bass is found only in Texas.
Finally, Florida, with its vast system of natural lakes and rivers, holds plenty of bass that often top 10 pounds. It also is home to Suwannee bass, along with limited fisheries for spotted, shoal and Choctaw bass.
When it comes to both quality and variety of black bass action, however, no place can match the Peach State. Georgia can boast of producing the largemouth that holds a tie for the world record at 22 pounds, 4 ounces. Just to place a fish on the list of the state's top 50 largemouths requires catching one that tops 14 pounds.
As to quantity, Georgia comes close to offering it all. Of the eight species of black bass recognized by the International Game Fish Association, six occur in the state. Georgia has largemouth, spotted, smallmouth, shoal, Coosa redeye and Suwannee bass.
It also has both the northern and Alabama sub-species of spotted bass present. The only ones missing are the Gulf coastal plain's Choctaw bass and Guadalupe bass.
Finally, it is quite likely that the Bartram bass of the upper Savannah River system soon may be recognized as a 9th species. Dr. Bud Freeman of the University of Georgia's Odum School of Ecology has been studying those fish for years and believes they merit such a listing.
Of course, anglers have to know where to take advantage of these abundant bass resources.
Lake Sidney Lanier
Lake Lanier is arguably the state's most heavily fished reservoir for black bass. That's partially because it consistently ranks as one of the most often visited Army Corp of Engineers lakes in the nation. But an even better reason is the quality of the spotted bass action found in the reservoir.
Although the impoundment on the Chattahoochee River holds largemouths and some shoal bass, it's the spots that steal the show. This 38,000-acre lake is located just northeast of Atlanta and gives up lots of 2-pound-plus spots, more that top 4 pounds and even some that approach 6 pounds in weight. As for timing, spring is by far the easiest time for catching these fish.
Bill Vanderford has the longest continuously operating guide service in the state on Lanier. He also has a developed an in-line spinning lure called the Swirleybird that is deadly for these spots.
"Spotted bass spawn in much deeper water than largemouths," Vanderford explained. "What we look for with spawning spots is nothing-looking, moderate-sloping clay banks."
That advice goes contrary to most anglers' perception of spotted bass fishing. Usually the places they target are around rocky shores.
"We cast our Swirleybirds up toward the shore, but not right on the bank," Vanderford continued. "We catch most of the fish halfway back to the boat in about 20 feet of water. Just fish it down the contour of the bank slowly.
"It's a pretty dumb thing to do, but it's easy for anybody."
For many years Seminole was numbered among the best largemouth bass lakes in the nation. It, however, fell from that peak during the drought years of the late 1990s. In the ensuing years, the 37,500-acre impoundment in the southwest corner of Georgia has rebounded strongly.
Largemouths now routinely average 2 pounds, with 6- to 8-pounders commonly showing up on the reservoir fed by the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers. Even better, double-digit brutes are again being brought to anglers' boats.
During the spring spawn, the best place to find these bass is in the Spring Creek area of the lake. This region lies between the mouth of the Chattahoochee to the west and the Flint's confluence on the east.
The best tactic for the spawning bass is to locate beds in coves or sandy flats. Then target them with plastic worms or creature baits. Another option is to fish around the edges of the abundant aquatic weed beds. Throw topwater lures over the vegetation, or run spinnerbaits along the edges.
Clarks Hill Lake
Up in northeast Georgia the largemouth action should be good on Clarks Hill Lake this spring. Officially known as Strom Thurmond Reservoir, this lake on the Savannah River has had outstanding spawning classes the last couple of years. For that reason the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division is encouraging anglers to take a few of the smaller largemouths home this spring to ensure that more 3-plus-pounders will be present in the future.
Clarks Hill is massive, spanning 71,535 acres on the Georgia-South Carolina border. That means there are plenty of places to find bass. But once located, the fish are ordinarily not that picky about what they bite this time of year. Plastic worms, crankbaits, spinnerbaits and even topwater offerings can attract their attention.
For some of the larger bass, try hitting the south shore of the Fishing Creek arm of the lake. It's located on the Georgia side of the reservoir, just south of the community of Chennault. The lures to try here are Zara Spooks or Carolina-rigged plastic worms.
Farther down the lake toward the dam, another place to target is the large cove on the west side of the Savannah River, just upstream of its junction with the Broad River at Bussey Point, and indention in the shoreline that is referred to by some anglers as "Bass Alley." With such a moniker, anglers can expect to find some springtime largemouths along its shore. Bait choices are spinnerbaits or Texas-rigged plastic worms.
One final hotspot to check out is Scott Creek, just to the east of the dam. It's another place with a locally applied nickname — "Hot Corner." In the spring, this small feeder arm fills up with blueback herring that attract big largemouths. Obviously, the lures of choice here are crankbaits or plastic jerkbaits that imitate bait fish
West Point Lake
For anglers in the west-central part of the state, a good option for bass is 25,900-acre West Point Lake. Here anglers find a combination of largemouths and spots.
Spotted bass now make up the majority of the fishery, but these fish are mostly less than 12 inches long. As such, state biologists encourage anglers to take a limit of these spots home for dinner
On the other hand, the largemouths are thriving too. More than half of this species are in the 15- to 20-inch size range and weigh 1 1/2 pounds or more.
In the spring, finding spawning largemouths is a matter of getting back into the upper ends of the feeder creek arms of the lake. Maple Creek runs into West Point just upstream of the dam on the east side of the lake. The area of this arm upstream of the Lower Glass Bridge Road provides good conditions for bedding largemouths. The lures to try are Texas- or Carolina-rigged plastic worms. A 7-inch bait in pumpkinseed color is a good bet. Anglers might also want to try a buzzbait in these shallows.
On the west side of the impoundment, the upper reaches of the Wehadkee Creek arm offer similar spawning grounds. Anglers will actually be fishing in Alabama here, but the lake is covered by a reciprocal agreement to honor both states' licenses (though an Alabama license is good only upstream to the State Route 109 bridge on the Chattahoochee River arm). Baits to cast in these waters are plastic worms or lizards in grape, black or pumpkinseed, along with topwater lures.
Finally, the portions of Whitewater Creek above the Antioch Road Bridge and Yellowjacket Creek upstream of the U.S. Highway 27 Bridge offer more of this largemouth spawning habitat. The same lures work just as well here as on the other arms.
Dodge County Public Fishing Area
The Dodge County PFA in Middle Georgia offers a good small-water option for big bass in spring. Steve Bell Lake covers 104 acres on the PFA and is noted for giving up largemouths that reach double digits. In fact, it could be the best small water for lunkers in the state or even the southeast region. This lake impounded on a small feeder stream of Gum Swamp Creek has yielded one largemouth of more than 15 pounds, at least three over 14 and lots of fish running from 10 to 12 pounds.
Located 3 miles east of Eastman, the lake is like a microcosm of larger reservoirs. It has a paved boat ramp, fishing piers, coves, points, shallow creek channels, steep banks, standing timber, a sunken roadbed, a small island and five fish attractors.
Just prior to the spawn, a lot of the largemouths are caught in 8 to 12 feet of water. Casting crankbaits and plastic lizards or worms provides most of the action. Once the spawn begins, move to the shallows in the backs of the coves. Fish soft plastic offerings around the beds near the shoreline.
For a completely different bass-fishing experience, anglers can try catching some shoal bass in moving water. The shoal bass is native only to the Chattahoochee and Flint River basin in Georgia, Alabama and Florida were not recognized as a separate species until 1999.
Today, the range of shoal bass has expanded to include a portion of the Ocmulgee River around the Fall Line in the mid-state region.
As the name suggests, shoalies are most often found near rocky cataracts in streams. They do not survive well in ponds or reservoirs. While largemouth bass prefer to ambush prey from eddies in rivers, shoal bass are found out in the current and readily chase down their prey.
Casting smaller versions of hard-plastic jerkbaits, spinnerbaits or 4-inch plastic worms are dependable methods of catching shoalies. But regardless of what is cast, it needs to be present near the current in areas holding rocks. If it is just a sand or mud bottom, anglers won't encounter these bass.
To locate shoal bass, try fishing the Flint River at Sprewell Bluff Park. This was formerly a state park, but is now run by Upson County. It offers more than a mile of riffles that can be waded for shoal bass.
Another spot for public access on the Flint is at Big Lazer Wildlife Management Area. Here, anglers can wade Hightower Shoals on the main river or up into the rapids on Big Lazer Creek.
On the Ocmulgee River, there are access points to the stream in the Oconee National Forest, just downstream of Lake Jackson. Or anglers can wade the river below the old mill dam at the town of Juliette.
On the Chattahoochee River, shoalies can be caught on float trips upstream of Lake Lanier. The stretch from the State Route 115 Bridge to SR 384 (Duncan Bridge Road) is a good one.
Shoal bass action is good on the "Hooch" in rapids at the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area.
Regardless of the kind of bass or style of fishing preferred, there are some great samplings. Give these waters a try, or do some research and find your own honey holes. Either way, the bass are ready and waiting for a fight.