From mountain trout to marsh tarpon, you can catch food or fight strong-pulling game fish all over our state.
Every month of the year there is good fishing for some species.
Picking the right place to go can be difficult, but we’ve come up with some top choices for each month of the year.
Images by Vic Dunaway
CLARKS HILL | STRIPERS
Stripers love cold water and they grow big in Clarks Hill. The lake record is 55 pounds, 12 ounces, but 20- and 30-pound fish are common. January is a good month to catch numbers of fish and some bragging-sized ones, too. Captain Dave Willard (http://crockettrocketstriperfishing.com) says this is a good time to troll live bait on main-lake points, creek banks and points in the Raysville area. He expects the fish to hold from 1 to 8 feet deep. Cover a lot of water since the fish are scattered.
Try both big blueback herring and smaller threadfin shad to match what the stripers are feeding on that day. When you get bit, change most of your baits to that size. Use either planer boards or flatline the baits to cover the correct depth range.
OTHER OPTIONS: Spotted Bass at Jackson Lake are on the feed and anglers can catch them by fishing small crankbaits and shaky head worms on rocky points and banks in Tussahaw Creek. For walleye at Carters Lake, fish deep rocky points and bluff banks with live earthworms.
SAVANNAH RIVER | YELLOW PERCH
Yellow Perch make their spawning run up the Savannah River in the winter and stack up below the Clarks Hill dam. You can catch a lot of tasty fish, and some big ones. The state record 2-pound, 9-ounce fish was caught here in February. You can catch them from the fishing pier but will do better from a boat. Anchor in 15 to 18 feet of water or drift that depth and cast live shiners or small jigs tipped with live shiners.
Cast your bait on light spinning tackle with 4- to 6-pound line and slowly reel it to the boat, letting it sink to different depths until you find the depth the fish are holding. Sometimes they are right on the bottom. Fishing is best with moderate water flow.
OTHER OPTIONS: For Lake Seminole largemouth, fish the sand flats between Spring Creek and the Flint River with rattle baits. Catch sea trout at the Altahama River in deep holes in marsh creeks around Darien by fishing live shrimp on the bottom.
LAKE LANIER | SPOTTED BASS
Jim Farmer (http://www.castawaybaits.com) lives on Lanier, paints baits and guides there. He says big spots are up on rocky points moving into spawning areas this month. Fish the lower lake in Bald Ridge and Young Deer creeks. Rocky points in the creeks at the mouths of spawning areas hold quality spots. Make long casts across the points with crankbaits and jerkbaits. Keep your boat in 16 to 18 feet of water and fish the water from 2 to 15 feet deep.
A white or chrome blue jerkbait is a good choice to imitate the shad and blueback herring the bass feed on, as is a shad-colored crankbait. But a crawfish-color crankbait can be better since the big spots are feeding on crayfish for high protein. Keep crankbaits bumping the bottom as deep as possible.
Other Options: Big schools of Lake Eufaula crappie move into the creeks this time of year. Troll minnows and jigs in Bustahatchee and Wylannee Creeks. On Lake Hartwell, find birds diving on schools of fish and cast spoons and bucktails to catch hybrids.
TOCCOA RIVER | RAINBOW TROUT
The 15 miles of the Toccoa River downstream of the Lake Blue Ridge dam is stocked with up to 20,000 trout annually. It is best fished from a canoe or small boat and there are several good launch sites along the river. You can stop in shoals to wade and fish.
Cast small spinners on ultralight spinning tackle or fly fish with streamers, dry flies and nymphs. Fish eddies behind rocks and trees in the water. Watch for bug hatches and match what the trout are feeding on.
Also try the deeper water at the end of rocky shoals with bait like salmon eggs, earthworms and grubs. Cover a small hook with bait and fish it on the bottom behind a small split shot.
OTHER OPTIONS: Hampton River whiting are available to anglers who fish shrimp on the bottom 15 to 20 feet deep off the north shore of St. Simons Island.You can load up on tasty shellcracker from Lake Seminole if you fish grass shrimp below a bobber in sloughs around hydrilla bed edges.
LAKE EUFAULA | LARGEMOUTH
Lake Eufaula is known for catches of quality largemouth. Jack Tibbs is Mayor of the Eufaula, Alabama and owns Strikezone Lures. He loves to fish swim jigs and frogs around lily pad fields and primrose beds in Cowikee Creek. He also fishes the ledges in that creek and the main lake with big crankbaits and worms.
First thing in the morning a popping frog cast into primrose beds and lily pads and worked along the edges will draw bites from big bass. After the sun gets up a white swim jig run along the edges and through cuts in the beds will also get them to bite. Out on the 15-foot-deep ledges a deep-running crankbait bumping the bottom is good, especially when current is moving. In slack current, drag a big worm in the same areas.
OTHER OPTIONS: Bluegill at the Marben Public Fishing Area are a good bet. Fish crickets around bluegill beds in the shallows of any of the 20 open ponds. Anglers looking for bigger fish can hunt blue cats at Lake Oconee; anchor on a point or hump and fish cut bait on the bottom.
BIG LAZER PFA | BLUEGILL
The 120-acre lake at Big Lazer PFA is ideal habitat for bream, and the lake is maintained to produce good fishing through fertilization and liming. The full moon in June is prime time for bluegill to bed. Fishing from the bank or fishing pier is good but you will do better from a boat. Ease into coves and pockets and look for beds in water a couple of feet deep.
Fish a cricket under a cork or cast a small spinner or jig across the beds. You can catch as many as you want doing this, but the limit is 15 sunfish of all species combined. When you get your bluegill limit, bass and catfish fishing is good, too.
OTHER OPTIONS: Waters Creek trophy trout are a great challenge for anglers. Fish is with barbless hooks only on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. For West Point Lake crappie, tie up under a bridge, hang a light over the side and fish with live minnows.
ALTAMAHA RIVER | FLATHEADS
The Altamaha River is infested with flathead catfish to the extent the DNR tried shocking and removing them. In one effort, they boated up to 1,500 pounds of flatheads an hour. Even after removing 9,000 pounds of fish from a small section of the river, they found no lowering of the population after a short time.
Flatheads are everywhere in the river from its beginning where the Oconee and Ocmulgee join to the coast, but the highest concentration is from Jesup to Altamaha Park. The farther you go from a ramp the more fish there will be. Find a deep hole at the downstream end of sandbars, mouths of creeks and at any outside bend of the river. Rig a big hook, up to 12/0, on 30-pound plus line with a heavy sinker and fish it in the deepest water. Big live bream or shiner are the best baits.
OTHER OPTIONS: St. Marys Jetties provide good access to ladyfish this month. Catch them on bucktails and light tackle. Brook Trout around Elijay can be caught on flies and tiny spinners in high mountain streams.
ST ANDREWS SOUND | TARPON
Big pods of tarpon follow baitfish into the sounds, rivers and creeks behind Jekyll and Cumberland Islands. Menhaden, or “pogies,” are their favorite food. Find the baitfish and you will find tarpon.
High tides around the full moon this month are the best time to find them in the rivers and creeks. When you find the pogies, net some for the bait and some for chum. Watch for tarpon around them and the direction they are moving. Quietly anchor ahead of the school in 8 to 15 feet of water on the slope of the channel and chum with cut pogies. Put out several rods with bait covering different depths. Freeline a couple of lively pogies so they swim near the surface. A couple more with a small weight will keep them down in the water column. Add a couple more baits on the bottom with heavier weights.
OTHER OPTIONS: To catch trophy Lake Andrews blue cats, fish downstream of the Lake Eufaula dam with big cut bait. Rainbow trout on Chattahoochee River are best approached on a float trip on the river below Buford Dam. Cast small spinners on light tackle.
MCDUFFIE PFA | CHANNEL CATS
McDuffie PFA has seven ponds ranging from 5 to 37 acres with channel cats. The ponds are managed for good fishing and there are boat ramps, piers and good bank access. Late in the afternoon, set up on a sandy bank near the dam of one of the ponds and put out a rod in a holder. Bait up with earthworms, liver or cut bait and fish with a #2 offset hook below a split shot.
Channel cats usually bite slowly, so watch your line for twitches. Wait until your line starts to move off then sweep your rod tip a little to set the hook. The daily limit is five channel cats and you should easily fill it with tasty 1.5-pound fish.
OTHER OPTIONS: Bass Fish Heath Lake at Rocky Mt. PFA during the first 10 days of the month for quality largemouth. To catch Lake Oconee crappie, fish shiner minnows over standing timber along the main river channel.
FLINT RIVER | SHOAL BASS
Rocky shoals in the Flint River from the Highway 16 bridge near Griffin all the way to the upper reaches of Lake Seminole hold shoal bass. Shoal bass fight hard on light tackle. The best way to access the shoals is to float the river in a jon boat, canoe or kayak. Teamwork is best, with one set of anglers putting in at one bridge and the other driving to the next bridge downstream. When the first team reaches the second bridge, they can then take out and go pick up the other team at the next access point downstream.
Early and late in the day cast a popping plug in calmer water below riffles. During the day a small crankbait or plastic worm Texas rigged with a light sinker fished in eddies will catch scrappy fish.
OTHER OPTIONS: Jekyll Island sharks can be caught on secluded beaches in rips in the surf with heavy tackle and big baits. Satilla River reds are fond of live shrimp on oyster beds in the marshes in the mouth of the river.
ALTAMAHA RIVER | SHEEPSHEAD
Sheepshead are are fun to catch and taste good. Now it the time to catch them in Altamaha River creeks and sounds. Find hard vertical structure like piers, jetties, reefs and blow-downs in the water with barnacles. Those kinds of places hold the crabs sheepshead eat. Fish live fiddler crabs in eddies on the down current sides of the structure.
A spinning reel spooled with 80-pound braid, with a three-foot monofilament leader is a good outfit. Put a good barrel swivel between the braid and monofilament with a sinker above the swivel to avoid line twist.
Sheepshead will suck in the crab, crush it and spit it out. You have to set the hook fast or wait in hopes they suck the crushed crab back into their mouths to hook them.
OTHER OPTIONS: Chattahoochee River brown trout are big — The 20-pound, 14-ounce state record brown was caught below Buford Dam. Cast big spinners for big fish. You can catch a few Lake Blue Ridge smallmouth on topwater and small crankbaits on rocky points.
CLARKS HILL | CRAPPIE
Big schools of crappie suspend over standing trees along old creek and river channels at Clarks Hill in the winter. This month you can catch large numbers of quality fish by trolling or dropping minnows or jigs straight down to them.
The best trees are isolated. Ride channels in Soap Creek and the South Carolina Little River, and in Germany Creek and Hart Creek on the other arm of the lake to find them. When you locate a tree with fish over it, then put out several small jigs behind the boat and troll slowly, making wide circles as you do to go over the tree. Make sure your jigs are running just above the fish.
You can also hold right on top of the fish and drop live minnows or jigs straight down to the fish. Use 6-pound line on light spinning gear.
OTHER OPTIONS: Anglers target spotted bass on West Point Lake by casting light jigs, shaky head worms and small crankbaits on rocky points and shoals. For white bass on Lake Lanier fish the upper end of the Chattahoochee and Chestatee Rivers with 1/8- ounce curly tail jigs.
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