March 17, 2016
By Jeff Samsel
Even though the popper is barely visible through the mist, every wrist snap creates a clear pop, interruption a chorus of frogs and birds. Then the real interruption occurs and the popper disappears in a violent explosion before the hook is set and the fight begins.
Spring brings some of the best bass fishing of the year to waterways all over Georgia. Bass prospects are always somewhat good this time of year, but some years are better than others, and 2016 promises to be one of those years, according to Scott Robinson, fisheries operations manager for the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division.
"As far as major statewide trends, 2016 should be a very good year for bass populations in Georgia," Robinson said. "We have had several years of above-average rainfall and water levels in most of the state, and that provides more and better habitat for fish populations, including bass and fish that bass feed on such as sunfish and shad."
Robinson also points toward good trophy bass potential in many Georgia waterways because of the availability of food and because of recent history. In 2015, a Peach State angler puled a 17-pound-plus fish out of a Coweta County lake, and the potential for more is abundant.
Georgia waters are best known for producing largemouth bass, a perception aided by the all-tackle world record largemouth bass pulled by George Perry from Montgomery Lake in 1932. Although largemouths certainly do offer the most extensive opportunity statewide, Peach State anglers also enjoy outstanding spotted bass prospects in several rivers and lakes. Additionally, four other species of black bass call some Georgia waterway home. Of course, the big reservoirs get the bulk of the attention, but rivers and smaller lakes in Georgia offer a host of opportunities.
"I would encourage anglers to try some of our unique river and stream fisheries for shoal bass in the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers, Suwannee bass in southeast Georgia, redeye bass in the Savannah and Altamaha River basins and largemouth and spotted bass in rivers and streams throughout the state," Robinson said.
Robinson says the WRD's Public Fishing Areas are providing very good opportunities, noting that a 16- to 24-inch slot limit at Hugh Gills PFA has begun to have a positive impact on the fishery.
"Paradise PFA is a great place for bass fishing too, and the ponds at Silver Lake Wildlife Management Area should produce some good fish," said Robinson.
The truth is that outstanding and widely varied opportunities exist all over Georgia, and the best water to explore depends on the type of experience being pursued and the area one calls home.
Stability is the name of the game at Lake Sinclair, a 14,750-acres impoundment of the Oconee River that's located just north of Milledgeville.
"The steady water level conditions that result from the Wallace Dam Pump-back system between Lake Oconee and Lake Sinclair facilitates high largemouth bass recruitment," said Brandon Baker, WRD fisheries biologist. "The stable recruitment maintains a consistent quality largemouth bass fishery, so you rarely observe boom and bust spawning years that occur on more naturally influenced systems."
Most of Lake Sinclair's shores are heavily developed, so the bulk of the shoreline cover is manmade in the form of docks, riprap, bridge supports and other kinds of fish attractors, including brush sunk by dock owners, anglers and the WRD. The GPS coordinates for WRD attractors, which include both inshore and offshore locations, can be found at georgiawildlife.com.
During spring, when many fish are shallow, anglers can do very well at Lake Sinclair by hitting docks, riprap and such with moving baits like square-bill crankbaits and spinnerbaits, and paying careful attention to areas that produce. If a couple of docks on modest slopes near the mouths of creeks produce well, chances are good that the pattern can be repeated.
That said, don't overlook the ends of points, the tops of humps and even offshore isolated brushpiles along the main river channel. Offshore structure produces year 'round at Sinclair, as long as some current is running, and between generation and pump-back operations, current often is flowing in one direction or the other. In areas influenced by the pump-back, pay attention to the movement of the water because the direction of the flow will definitely influence the positioning of the bass.
Spreading over 56,000 acres and serving up good bass action year after year, Lake Hartwell offers a lot of opportunity to north Georgia anglers. Although the make-up of the bass population is shifting, with spotted bass becoming ever more abundant, Hartwell still carries a high density of bass, according to WRD fisheries biologist Anthony Rabern.
Lake Hartwell is the first of three big impoundments of the Savannah River and is split down the middle by the Georgia/South Carolina border. Diversity is a major appeal. The extreme upper reaches of some arms are clear, rocky and bluff lined, but much of the upper lake offers good shallow habitat that commonly carries stain during the spring. The mid-section and the lower main body are deeper and clearer overall and best known for offshore opportunities.
The most recent fisheries surveys reveal that Lake Hartwell's largemouths are a bit larger on average than they have been in recent years, with a good number of 2- to 4-pound bass, but fewer small largemouths than normal. Spotted bass, meanwhile, are becoming more plentiful throughout the lake. Most spots are in the 10- to 12-inch range in this still-young population, but anglers are catching more and more 2-pound-plus spotted bass as the population matures.
Spring brings a big assortment of opportunities to Lake Hartwell. Up the lake, anglers can do well by fishing visible targets like downed trees and bridge and dock supports with spinnerbaits, square-bill crankbaits, lipless crankbaits or jigs. Down the lake, riprap, the tops of shallow points and humps are important. Again, jigs work well. Other good bets include flukes, topwater lures and finesse worms.
Sight fishing in the backs of pockets also offers good prospects on Hartwell during the spring, usually from late March through some time in May, as long as the water color and wind weather conditions lend to seeing fish.
Although far less plentiful than was once the case due to the encroachment of spotted bass, Hartwell provides an opportunity to catch native redeye bass in a reservoir setting. The redeyes, which look like miniature smallmouths, are normally found atop rocky points or humps in the lower lake and are most apt to take finesse offerings.
Access to all parts of Lake Hartwell is outstanding, with plentiful ramps (and bank-fishing access) in numerous state and county parks and Corps of Engineers recreation areas. A reciprocal license allows anglers properly licensed for Georgia or South Carolina to fish anywhere on the lake.
Georgia's most southeastern reservoir, Lake Seminole, impounds the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers and is divided by the Georgia/Florida border, with roughly 80 percent of the lake in Georgia. One of the state's most storied bass destinations, Lake Seminole may offer the best big bass prospects of any major reservoir in the state. The current largemouth population contains high numbers of high-quality fish.
Bass average a couple of pounds, but 5- and 6-pound fish are common, and Seminole produces its share of genuine giants. The number of big fish has increased over the past decade, according to WRD reports.
Much of Lake Seminole has a Florida feel, with vast flats covered with various kinds of vegetation. In parts of the lake, flooded timber stretches close to creek and river channels. Much timber is broken off near the normal water line, but it continues to provide good cover for bass.
During the spring bass relate heavily to vegetation edges. Swimming a Texas-rigged worm across and through grass and dropping it into holes can be very effective. A lipless crankbait fished close to the same edges can also be productive. If the fish aren't along the edges, a Texas-rigged craw works well farther up in the grass.
Lake Seminole bass also relate heavily to the Chattahoochee River channel and its many islands, especially when good current is flowing. Crankbaits and topwater lures work well for fishing the main channel.
As an interesting note is that while Lake Seminole is basically a largemouth lake, largemouth bags sometimes get beat in tournaments by large limits of shoal bass that come from the river arms. Getting to the best shoal bass waters typically requires a jet boat or other shallow drafting boat and good river navigation skills, but the shoal bass grow big and warrant mention.
A reciprocal licensing agreement between Georgia and Florida covers much of Lake Seminole but not the entire lake. Look in the regulations booklet or at georgiawildlife.com for specific boundaries.
BLUE RIDGE LAKE
Tucked away in the north Georgia mountains and relatively small at 3,290 acres, Blue Ridge doesn't get a lot of statewide acclaim. However, fisheries biologist John Damer suggestes that Blue Ridge warrants mention because it stands as the state's last stronghold for smallmouth bass. Damer acknowledges that the Blue Ridge bass fishery has been negatively impacted by the illegal introduction of spotted bass and blueback herring into the lake, but fishery in this deep, clear lake remains good and is unlike anything else found in Georgia.
Smallmouth bass have experienced good growth in recent years, with smallmouths averaging a pound or so, but fish in the 4- to 5-pound range show up with pretty good frequency. Because smallmouths and spots have similar behavior, anglers targeting smallmouths should expect to catch a mix of the two.
Spring brings some of best fishing of the year at Blue Ridge because bass that spend summers and winters deep move shallow to spawn and feed. The best smallmouth fishing at Blue Ridge generally occurs up the Toccoa River arm, with fish using rocky structure, especially long rocky points. Medium-running crankbaits in crawfish patterns, jerkbaits and soft-plastic craw imitations are good bets for spring smallmouths and spotted bass at Blue Ridge.
Largemouth bass also should not be overlooked. Though less abundant than smallmouths or spots, largemouths grow to larger size than their cousins and provide a nice opportunity. Catching 3- to 4-pound largemouths is not uncommon at Blue Ridge, and every year this lake yields a few fish that stretch close to double-digit weights. Numbers remain modest because of habitat limitations, but the same factor makes largemouths easier to find. Focus on cover in flatter areas in the backs of creeks and way up the Toccoa River arm.
Because spotted bass compete with native smallmouth bass for habitat and forage and have been increasing in numbers to the detriment of the smallmouth population, biologists encourage anglers to keep all spotted bass up to a legal limit of 10 fish whenever they fish Blue Ridge.
Now get out and have some fun pursuing Peach State bass.