Category Archives: River Fishing

Prime Time to Catch Stream Smallmouth Bass

Now is Prime Time to Catch Stream Smallmouth Bass on Topwater Lures
by: Lee McClellan
from The Fishing Wire

Shorter days and yellowing leaves are about the only ways you can tell it is late September. Temperature wise, it feels like August lasted six plus weeks.

“We are 10 degrees behind, water temperature wise, than usual for this time of year,” said David Baker, Central Fisheries District biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “The water is usually cooler by now.”

Although the lingering summer has worn out its welcome, there is a silver lining. The peak of the topwater bite for stream smallmouth bass is just beginning, not winding down.

“I’ve fished Barren River the last two weekends and absolutely waylaid them on a buzzbait,” Baker said. “We caught two over 18 inches long this past weekend. I feel confident throwing topwaters on streams for smallmouth bass until the temperatures drop all the way down into the low 60s.” Daytime water temperatures on central Kentucky’s Elkhorn Creek ranged in the low to mid-80s this past week.

Early fall creates optimum feeding conditions for stream smallmouths, putting them on the prowl and turning them more aggressive. “We are in the best time of the year for food resources on streams, and the smallmouth bass take advantage and feed heavily,” Baker said.

The wet summer brought good flow to streams across Kentucky, providing slightly lower water temperatures with good amounts of dissolved oxygen. “The fish are really, really heavy right now, not the usual end of summer fish,” Baker said. “They were not so stressed during the late summer this year.”

Baker goes big with his topwater presentations in early fall, flying in the face of stream smallmouth orthodoxy that dictates small lures with subtle actions.

“This sounds crazy for stream smallmouth, but I use a ½-ounce white buzzbait at this time of year,” Baker said. “They will hit larger lures at this time of year. The way stream smallmouths grow big and fat is they don’t chase a lot of little stuff in fall. They eat a big meal when they can.”

Baker targets the shady, shallow side of the creek bend; a spot ignored by knowledgeable stream smallmouth anglers for most of the year. “Longear sunfish use these spots in fall and the smallmouth are feeding on them,” he said. “Small longears are a good food source for stream smallmouth.”

In addition to a buzzbait, a floating/diving minnow such as the venerable Rapala works in these spots as well. “My buddy has been catching a bunch of them on the silver with black back classic Rapala, the one that is about 4 1/2 inches,” Baker said. “The water clarity must be good for the Rapala to work well.”

Walking baits such as the Zara Spook or Puppy, designed for the “walk the dog” retrieve work well fished over the shallow, shady side of the creek now. Walking baits move side-to-side by gently jerking the rod tip from one side to another. Stream smallmouth can’t stand this retrieve and often hit walking baits with tremendous aggression in early fall. The best colors are bone, silver plate (chrome) and flitter shad.

“When casting a topwater lure for stream smallmouth, throw as tightly to the bank as possible,” Baker said. “Throw it a few feet past the target and bring the topwater lure back to it. If you throw it on top of them, they’re spooked.”

This also applies to the other topwater hotspot in early fall: the deeper pockets and eddies just above a riffle. Those with logs, large rocks or undercut banks nearby produce best. Avoid fishing topwater lures in the sections of the stream with the strongest current.

From the riffle area, cast chugger or popper-style topwater baits, such as the Chug Bug, Pop-R or Skitter Pop, upstream of the eddy, log, undercut bank or rock. Gently jerk the rod with the rod tip down to make the convex face of the lure pop and splash water. Don’t over work a chugger for stream smallmouth. Topwater propeller baits such as the Baby Torpedo or a floating/diving minnow lure also work well in this situation.

When the light dims at dusk to the point where it is hard see well enough to tie on one last lure for the day, choose a black 1/8-ounce Jitterbug. Cast it above stream drops at a 45-degree angle and retrieve it just fast enough to make the lure gurgle. Smallmouths sometimes just sip it from the surface or hit with a force that leaves you shaking.

“There is nothing more exciting than a stream smallmouth blowing up on a topwater,” Baker said. “It will stop your heart a bit.”

To find a good smallmouth bass stream near you, visit the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife website at www.fw.ky.gov. Click on the “Fish” tab, then “Recreational Fishing” tab for a wealth of information about smallmouth streams in Kentucky, including access points, stream fisheries information and paddling opportunities on streams with good smallmouth bass populations.

Author Lee McClellan is a nationally award-winning associate editor for Kentucky Afield magazine, the official publication of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. He is a life-long hunter and angler, with a passion for smallmouth bass fishing.

What Are Missouri Paddlefish and When Does Season Open?

Missouri Paddlefish Season Opens March 15

Editor’s Note: Here’s an interesting look at a sport many of us have never tried, but it’s apparently one of the few ways to harvest the giant “spoonbills” that populate many of our big Midwestern rivers and lakes.

MDC makes paddlefish snagging possible through annual stockings of fingerlings.

tagging a mature paddlefish

tagging a mature paddlefish

Missouri DOC biologists tag a mature paddlefish. Thousands of fingerlings are stocked in larger state lakes and rivers each year. (Credit MDOC)

Missouri’s annual spring paddlefish snagging season is a popular pastime for thousands of anglers. The state’s major paddlefish snagging waters include Lake of the Ozarks, Truman Lake, and Table Rock Lake with the season running March 15 through April 30. The season for the Mississippi River is March 15 through May 15 with a fall season of Sept. 15 through Dec. 15.

Also known as “spoonbills” because of the shape of their snouts, paddlefish take seven or eight years to grow to legal size. The fish feed on plankton and other microscopic prey. These filter feeders therefore do not take bait from hooks and must be snagged using large hooks that catch in the mouth, gills or other areas of their bodies.

The success of paddlefish snagging is dependent on weather conditions, primarily water temperature and flow.

“The best snagging conditions occur when water temperature reaches 50 to 55 degrees and there is an increase in water flow,” MDC Fisheries Management Biologist Trish Yasger said. “This prompts them to move upstream to spawn. We don’t usually see a lot of big fish being caught on opening day. Harvest early in the season is typically dominated by local fish and small males with the occasional large female. As water temperature and flow increase, you will start seeing more of the larger females.”

Stocking Efforts

The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) makes paddlefish snagging possible in the Show-Me State through annual stocking of up to 38,000 fingerlings raised at Blind Pony Hatchery near Sweet Springs. The fingerlings are released into Lake of the Ozarks, Truman Lake and Table Rock Lake, plus the Black River. The annual stocking is necessary because dams and other barriers to spawning areas have eliminated sustainable natural reproduction in the lakes.

“Without annual stocking by MDC staff, this popular pastime and food source would go away,” said Yasger. “And we need help from snaggers to learn more about and to better manage this popular game fish.”

Yasger added that MDC released an especially large number of fingerlings into Lake of the Ozarks, Truman Lake, and Table Rock Lake in 2008. The more than 164,000 fingerlings released are now eight years old and should start providing good numbers of fish for snaggers to harvest.

Snag A Tag – Get A Reward

MDC is beginning its second year in a five-year tagging project to help monitor paddlefish numbers and improve species management. Department staff are placing metal jaw tags on up to 6,000 paddlefish netted in Lake of the Ozarks, Truman Lake, and Table Rock Lake and up to 1,000 netted from the Mississippi River. Yasger encourages all snaggers to help out by reporting tagged paddlefish and to NOT remove tags from undersized paddlefish.

“We will send a special ‘I caught a Missouri paddlefish!’ t-shirt to each snagger who returns or reports their first tag on a legal-sized fish,” Yasger explained. “All returned and reported tags will be placed into an annual drawing for cash prizes with a grand prize of $500.”

Tags or photos of tags from harvested paddlefish must be submitted for rewards. Snaggers must include the following information with each tag:

Date caught
Location of catch including reservoir or river, mile marker, and county
Tag number
Fish length from eye to fork of the tail
Snagger’s name and complete address

Report tags by calling MDC at 573-579-6825 with the information, or mail the information with the flattened tag to: Missouri Department of Conservation, 3815 East Jackson Blvd., Jackson, MO 63755. Learn more about the tagging project from MDC online at http://on.mo.gov/1VA1E6B.

Report Transmitters

MDC biologists are also implanting ultrasonic transmitters in adult paddlefish at Truman Lake, Lake of the Ozarks, Table Rock Lake, and the Mississippi River to track their movements and gain other important information. MDC asks that all snaggers who harvest fish with a transmitter to report it by calling 573-579-6825 or by e-mailing Trish Yasger at Trish.Yasger@mdc.mo.gov. It is important to return transmitters so they can be implanted in other fish.

Help smaller fish survive

Yasger reminds snaggers to help undersized snagged fish survive to grow larger.

“Do not land paddlefish with gaffs. This can fatally injure sublegal fish. Use large landing nets,” she said. “Remove hooks carefully and get sublegal fish back into the water as quickly as possible. Wet your hands before handling fish and avoid excessive handling. Do not pass them around for photos and hold fish firmly to avoid dropping them. Never put fingers in the gills or eyes.”

Regulation Requirements

Paddlefish snagging

Paddlefish snagging

The state’s major paddlefish snagging waters include Lake of the Ozarks, Truman Lake, and Table Rock Lake with the season running March 15 through April 30. The season for the Mississippi River is March 15 through May 15 with a fall season of Sept. 15 through Dec. 15.

Unless exempt, anglers must have a current fishing permit to snag or to operate a boat for snaggers. The daily limit is two paddlefish and snaggers must stop snagging after obtaining the daily limit on Lake of the Ozarks and Truman Lake and their tributaries, and the Osage River below Bagnell Dam. The minimum legal body length for paddlefish at Lake of the Ozarks, Truman Lake, Table Rock Lake, and their tributaries is 34 inches, measured from the eye to the fork of the tail. The minimum legal body length is 24 inches on the Osage River below Bagnell Dam and in other Missouri waters. All paddlefish under the legal minimum length must be returned to the water unharmed immediately after being caught.

The Wildlife Code of Missouri requires the head, tail, and skin to remain attached to all paddlefish while on the water so paddlefish should not be cleaned until off of the water. Also, extracted paddlefish eggs may not be possessed while on waters of the state or adjacent banks and may not be transported. Paddlefish eggs may not be bought, sold or offered for sale. Additionally, paddlefish or their parts, including eggs, may not be used for bait.

Learn more about Missouri’s official aquatic animal, regulations, snagging reports, and more at http://huntfish.mdc.mo.gov/fishing/species/paddlefish.

Atlantic Salmon

Atlantic Salmon: A Species in Need of a Spotlight

NOAA Fisheries
from The Fishing Wire

Atlantic Salmon

Atlantic Salmon

“The coincidence, at least, in the erection of the dams, and the enormous diminution in the number of the Alewives, and the decadence of the inshore cod fishery, is certainly very remarkable. It is probable, also, that the mackerel fisheries have suffered in the same way, as these fish find in the young Menhaden and Alewives an attractive bait. The same remarks as to the agency of the Alewives in attracting the deep-sea fishes to the shores and especially near the mouths of rivers, apply in a proportional degree to the Shad and salmon.”

-Marshall McDonald, 1884.

Atlantic salmon are an iconic New England species. In addition to the ecosystem role these fish play, they have been an important indicator of economic health in our region. Atlantic salmon once supported lucrative commercial and recreational fisheries, as well as the small bait shops, gear stores, and amenities for fishermen that contributed to the economy. Before this, Atlantic salmon were important to Native American tribes for historical and cultural reasons. Tribes relied on watersheds and their natural abundance of sea-run fish, including Atlantic salmon, for physical and spiritual sustenance.

In the 1900s Atlantic salmon from Maine were so highly valued that for more than 80 years, the first one caught in the Penobscot River each spring was presented to the U.S. President. The last Presidential salmon was caught in May 1992 by Claude Westfall, who presented a 9.5 pound Atlantic salmon to President George H.W. Bush. Westfall’s was the last presidential salmon because there are now too few adult salmon to sacrifice one even for the President.

Because of significant declines in returning Atlantic salmon, the Atlantic salmon commercial fishery closed in 1948, and the recreational fishery closed in all Maine waters in 2008. In 2000, NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed Gulf of Maine Atlantic salmon as “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act. The fish, which were historically native to almost every river north of the Hudson, had only remnant wild populations in 11 rivers, all of them in Maine. In the 15 years since their 2000 listing, Gulf of Maine Atlantic salmon have not shown signs of improvement.

To draw attention to this iconic species and our plan for saving it from extinction, NOAA Fisheries recently launched the “Species in the Spotlight—Survive to Thrive” initiative. Atlantic salmon are one of the eight highly at-risk species in the nation that we have identified as needing special attention. These endangered species have declining populations, but also have a high probability of survival if we can marshal the resources to turn their trajectories around.

As part of the Species in the Spotlight initiative, we developed a five-year roadmap to aid the recovery of Atlantic salmon. The plan, which will be released in early 2016, outlines specific actions to save this species and will involve our regional partners in conservation. The primary focus of the plan is to restore access and quality to river habitat in Maine and work to better understand and address threats in the marine environment.

SALMON IN RIVERS ARE LIKE CANARIES IN A COAL MINE

Atlantic Salmon at dam

Atlantic Salmon at dam


Atlantic salmon are anadromous fish which means they spend a portion of their lives in freshwater and a portion in the ocean. Anadromous fish are indicators that the links between freshwater, estuarine, and marine ecosystems are clean and well-connected. The connections within the ecosystem are so strong that many of the factors that are impacting salmon’s survival are also affecting other species such as American shad, alewives and even some marine fish stocks such as Atlantic cod. Healthy anadromous fish populations support important marine food webs, providing a forage base for commercially important species like striped bass, cod, and haddock. When river systems are blocked or are too polluted to support these fish populations, the effects are felt throughout the entire ecosystem. The return of Atlantic salmon, along with other anadromous fish, would indicate the return of a healthy and connected system.

FROM RIVER TO SEA: TOO MANY DAMS

“The principal decline in the New England salmon fishery considerably antedated 1880, however, and was coincident with the erection of dams or other barriers to the passage of fish” – C. Atkins (1894).

One complicating factor for Atlantic salmon is that they are anadromous fish. When they return from the seas between Northeastern Canada and Greenland to the rivers to spawn, hundreds of dams block or impair their ability to reach the critical freshwater habitats that are still capable of supporting spawning. As noted in the quote above, this problem was created over many, many years and so, it will take time to restore connectivity for this species.

Listing Atlantic salmon as endangered in 2000, and expanding the listing to include large rivers like the Penobscot and Kennebec in 2009, helped spur 35 fishway constructions and dam removal projects in Maine, including the removal of two major hydroelectic dams (Great Works and Veazie) as part of the Penobscot River Restoration Project. Since the Penobscot River is home to roughly 75 percent of the adult Atlantic salmon returns in the U.S., restoring access to this river is particularly important. In the Penobscot River basin alone, there are still more than 130 dams that block or impede access to approximately 90 percent of salmon’s historic spawning and nursery habitat. There is still much work to be done.

REMOVALS LEAD TO RETURNS

Dam removals can bring back fish to habitat that was previously inaccessible. After the removals of the Fort Halifax Dam (2008) and the Edwards Dam (1999) on the Kennebec River, alewife and blueback herring (collectively called river herring) returns increased from less than 100,000 in 2006 to more than 2,150,000 in 2015. Similarly, on the Penobscot River, after the Great Works (2012) and Veazie (2013) Dam removals, along with improved passage at other upstream dams, documented returns of river herring increased from 2,000 in 2011 to an estimated 585,000 in 2015. Roughly 1,800 American shad passed the Milford Dam (now the first dam on the Penobscot River) for the first time in 100 years. Additionally, in Fall 2015, researchers found three endangered shortnose sturgeon in habitat upstream of the Veazie Dam remnants for the first time in a century. In 2015, biologists counted 731 Atlantic salmon at the Milford fish lift. (See map of Penobscot River Restoration Project).

STEPS TO RECOVERY

Our five-year action plan outlines specific actions to stop the decline of this species and put it on a path towards recovery, including restoration of the ecological connections between the freshwater and marine environment and restoration of habitat quality. Among the pieces of the plan are to: review hydroelectric power plant dams up for licensing to ensure that they have effective fish passage; encourage removal of dams and other barriers to fish passage where possible; work with other countries to limit Atlantic salmon catch in the ocean; and, continue research and monitoring of Atlantic salmon.

You can help by encouraging or participating in programs to conserve and restore land and water resources that benefit migratory fish and promote abundant, suitable and accessible habitats for Atlantic salmon. This can include working with communities to remove or provide passage around blockages such as round culverts or dams that block or impair movement of Atlantic salmon, maintaining forested riparian areas around rivers and streams, and implementing land use practices that protect streams from pollution and excessive erosion.

For more information on this initiative and what you can do to help Atlantic salmon, please contact Kim Damon-Randall, Assistant Regional Administrator for Protected Resources at Kimberly.Damon-Randall@noaa.gov.

What Are Some Georgia Rivers I Can Fish For Bass?

Georgia’s Best Bass Rivers

When Georgia bass anglers get together and talk fishing, it is almost always about lakes and reservoirs. That is a little strange since the world record largemouth bass came from an oxbow on a Georgia river. Georgia has many rivers that are full of bass.

If you have a big bass boat you can use it to fish most of the bigger rivers, but others are more suitable for jon
boats and canoes. No matter what your choice, new ramps on many of our rivers have opened them up to the fisherman. You can put in at one ramp and fish downstream to the next one or fish out of a specific ramp like you do on a lake.

No matter what river you chose to fish, bass are somewhat different critters in flowing water. Each river has specifics that work best on them so it is a good idea to get some tips in advance. Your lake and pond fishing methods will catch some bass, but it is best to adapt to what the fish want. The following three rivers will give you a variety of places to try, and the tips will work on them and on other rivers you fish.

Savannah River

The upper Savannah has been dammed and is flat water from the Clark’s Hill dam to its upper end in Lake Hartwell where the Seneca and Tugalo join to form it. There is also an old lock and dam in Augusta but downstream of it the river is free flowing. You can fish it for largemouth bass from Augusta all the way to the coast where it becomes brackish.

There are several good ramps along the river you can use. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources maintains five ramps on the river and there are also several commercial ramps. There are a few ramps on the South Carolina side maintained by that state as well as private ramps.

The DNR ramps are Tuckassee King in Effingham County, Yuchi WMA in Burke County, Tuckahoe WMA in Screven County, Burton’s Ferry in Screven County and Poor Robins Landing in Screven County. All these are good paved ramps and there is no fee to launch at them.

You can fish all the river and most of the oxbow lakes with a Georgia license, but some oxbows are totally in South Carolina and you need a license from that state to fish them. Get a USGS topo map to identify them. This map will also help you find some good spots to fish.

The release of water at Clark’s Hill affects the river for many miles below Augusta. When the river is running high from the release of water bass can get back in the woods and are almost impossible to get to. You can check the USGS river gauge at Clyo and Georgia DNR folks say the fishing is best when the gauge is at 5 to 6 feet.

Down the river near the coast the water will not change as much from the release of water, since the river is much bigger. On the far end of the river near the coast tides affect it, and you can time your bass fishing based on the rise and fall of water from it.

Bass fishing has been excellent during the past two years due to high river levels that gave bass access to a lot of new ground and food after our drought. Catch rates were up 14 percent in 2003 and the bass were larger.

The Georgia Bass Chapter Federation Tournament Results compiled by Dr. Carl Quertermus at the University of West Georgia can give you a good idea about the bass fishing on a body of water. Each bass club in Georgia sends in their creel census after a tournament and the results are studied and listed.

In 2003, the last year results are available right now, there were 28 club tournaments on the Savannah River that included 2623 hours of fishing by anglers in the clubs. An average of .195 bass per hour were weighed in, meaning it took just over 5 hours of fishing to land a legal bass. That compares to .214 bass per hour on all Georgia waters, so the Savannah River is about as good as any lake.

The bass weighed an average of 1.48 pounds and it took an average weight of 6.33 pounds to win a tournament. In club tournaments, 12 percent of fishermen weighed in a five fish limit and 35.5 percent did not catch a keeper. So fishing can be tough, but in all Georgia waters only 13.8 percent of club fishermen had a limit and 26.9 percent zeroed. Fishing the Savannah River compares favorably with most lakes.

Robert Ellis fishes with the Four River Bassmasters bass club in Vidalia and they fish the Savannah River in club tournaments. Robert made the state team last year by finishing 11th at Lake Eufaula in the Top Six and then was top man on the state team in the Southern Regional in Kentucky, which means he was the only Georgia club fishermen to qualify for the Nationals this year.

The Savannah River is a beautiful place to fish and Robert likes it from its upper reaches all the way to tidewater. He says the best fishing for him is upstream and the tide makes the fishing tough on the lower river, but his club catches bass all along it.

In the spring, bass move out of the main river into the old sloughs and oxbow lakes to spawn. This happens as soon as the water starts to warm, which usually coincides with the rising spring waters. This time of year Robert especially likes the oxbows above the Highway 301 bridge.

Go into these oxbows and you will find the outside bend a little deeper with the inside bend more shallow. Willow trees line the shallow bank and the deeper banks often have stumps and blowdowns on them to fish. You can often follow these oxbows and small creeks for a long way off the river.

Robert likes to start out with a buzzbait looking for active bass in these areas if the water is above 55 degrees. A Trick Worm in white or sweet potato colors fished under the willows or around the wood cover is his next choice, then a Suddeth Little Earl fished in the same places. Follow these up with a Texas rigged worm in black/red flake and you should find what the bass want.

The bass will stay in these areas until the water gets hot, then most will move back to the main river channel. Some bass can be found in the oxbows all year long, especially the deeper ones, but for more bass move out to the current during the summer.

If the river is muddy Robert will throw a chartreuse spinnerbait with big blades or a chartreuse crankbait around anything in the river that breaks the current. If it is stained to clear he will use the same baits as he used in the oxbows. The mouths of creeks and ditches are good as are trees and stumps in the water. Pilings should be fished just like stumps.

Also watch for riprap banks. Some stretches of the river have long sections of rocks placed there to stop erosion. Fish these rocks year round with crankbaits and spinnerbaits.

To fish the current, Robert heads his boat upstream and lets it drift slowly back down the river, keeping it in position and moving slowly with the current with his trolling motor. He likes to cast upstream and let his baits move back downstream naturally with the current. A strong trolling motor is needed for this kind of fishing.

Don’t hesitate to throw a buzzbait all day long on the shady side of the river. In one tournament Bob and his partner landed a 8.77 pound largemouth at 2:30 PM on a buzzbait by fishing the shade.

Ogeechee River

The Ogeechee River starts near I-20 about 40 miles east of Lake Oconee and flows south east to hit tidewater near I-95 south of Savannah. It is free flowing over almost all its length, with one small grist mill dam near its upper end. The rest of the river responds to natural rainfall, not release of water from dams.

There are shoals on the upper river making boat fishing difficult. Where highway 16 crosses the river at Jewell you can see some of the shoals and it looks more like a trout stream. Just south of there the river is suitable for fishing with a jon boat or canoe for several miles but is full of blowdown trees the often block the river completely.

When the river gets to Louisville it broadens to 35 to 50 feet wide and you can use bigger boats, but small bass boats and jon boats are still better then bigger boats. Below Millen the river widens and has big swamps and oxbow lakes on it.

There are four DNR ramps on the Ogeechee River and are kept in good condition and are free. The Morgan’s Bridge ramp is in Bryan County. The Highway 1 ramp is in Jefferson County as is the Highway 88 and the Highway 78 ramp.

The smaller river is not known for its bass fishing and there were no tournaments reported on it. Less then three percent of the creel of anglers fishing the river are largemouth, according to the DNR. But the largemouth population is good and the fish are healthy, they just don’t receive much pressure. The DNR reported over 23 largemouth per hour of electrofishing while doing their annual survey, an unusually high number.

Since there are no dams upstream to affect river flow, rains can change it fairly fast. When the river is high the bass move out into newly flooded ground to feed. Find a ditch or oxbow and go out in it, following the bass to the very shallow newly flooded water. Trick worms, spinnerbaits and topwater baits are all good.

When the water is lower and the river within its banks, fish anything in the current that provides and eddy for bass to wait in for food. The swirl of water behind a stump or the trunk of a blowdown is an excellent place to find a bass waiting on a meal.

Run a topwater plug or buzzbait over these eddies when the water is warm. Also let a Texas rigged worm float with the current into such hiding places. Use a light lead that will give you some control of the worm but that will not take it straight to the bottom.

Altamaha River

The Altamaha is one of our biggest rivers although it is fairly short. Formed by the joining of the Oconee and Ocmulgee Rivers just north of highway 221 north of Hazlehurst, it flows to the tidewater near Darien. Bass fishing is good along its whole length.

There are ten DNR ramps on the Altamaha and all are free. Most are kept in good condition. They are Williamsburg Landing in Wayne County, Morris Landing in Appling County, Carter Bight in Appling County, Town Bluff in Jeff Davis County, McNatt Falls in Toombs County, U.S. Highway 1 Ramp in Toombs County, Upper Wayne County Ramp in Wayne County, Pig Farm Landing in Wayne County and Highway 135 Landing in Montegomery County.

DNR sampling shows the largemouth population in the Altamaha has increased during the past couple of years, but the most noticeable change was the condition of the bass. They had fattened up a lot after the drought ended. High spring waters the past couple of years has made a lot more food available to them.

There are a lot of 12 to 14 inch bass in the river according to the DNR. Tournament results reflect this. There were 27 reported tournament there in 2003 that had a total of 2722 fisherman hours. The catch rate was .245 bass per hour, about one keeper every four hours, and the average weight was 1.57 pounds.

It took 7.01 pounds to win an average tournament and 23.8 percent of anglers had a five fish limit, a very high percentage. Even with that,, 36 percent of club fishermen did not weigh in a keeper bass, so it is tough if you don’t know the river.

Ray Odum, Jr. fishes with the Satilla Bass Anglers out of Douglas and that club fishes the Altamaha River a lot. He also fishes several buddy and pot trails on the river and it is one of his favorite places to fish. He does well in tournaments there in his club and in other tournaments.

The river level impacts the fishing a lot here, too. Ray likes to get back in the oxbows during the spring and also during high water levels. He will try to find the ditch or channel in the oxbow or creek entering the river and follow it. He says bass will move out into the very shallow flooded areas to feed but will hold on the lip of the ditch.

Fish a spinnerbait out on the flat shallow water and let if fall as it gets to the lip of the ditch. Also pitch a Texas rigged craw to the base of trees, especially those close to the channel. Ray likes a black craw with green flake. Fish all the cover carefully.

Out on the main river Ray likes to fish upstream against the current. He has a powerful trolling motor on his boat and he fishes upstream, allowing him more time to cast. Make cast upstream and work your bait back with the current, offering the bass a natural look.

A good spot to try when the river is at normal stage is the back sides of sandbars. Ray says there are usually steps of ledges on the back sides of them, and he will position his boat so he can cast up to the shallow water on top of the sandbar and work it back. A deep diving crankbait is his first choice followed by a Texas rigged worm.

On the lower end of the river where the tide affects it, Ray likes to follow the dropping water upstream. He will stop at each ditch where water is flowing out of the swamps and marshes and fish the downstream side of this current. He says he may make only 8 to 10 casts on a spot before heading upstream to the next one, keeping up with the dropping tide as it moves upstream.

These three rivers are similar in a lot of ways but each has its own characteristics. Plan a trip to one of them, or all three this year for some good bass fishing.

A river guide that contains a map, access sites and fishing tips is available for the Altamaha and Ogeechee Rivers from the Georgia DNR. You can call the Wildlife Resources Division, Fisheries Management Office at 770-918-6400 or contact your local fisheries management office.

How Can I Catch Bass In the Altamaha River Basin In Georgia

Roger caught these bass in Lake Oconee

Roger caught these bass in Lake Oconee

Catching bass in the Altamaha River basin in Georgia offers a lot of different kinds of fishing.

Some waters just seem to produce better bass fishing. The Ocmulgee River, whose waters produced the world record bass, and the Oconee River join to form the Altamaha River. The lakes on the two rivers upstream are varied but excellent bass fishing waters, and the big river downstream of the junction is full of hungry bass.

On the upper end of the basin, Lake Jackson on the very upper end of the Ocmulgee and Lakes Sinclair and Oconee on the Oconee River are popular destinations for bass fishing. Although there are some similarities, all three lakes have their own types of cover and structure.

The Altamaha River itself can be intimidating if you don’t fish big rivers much but it can be excellent if you take the time to learn to fish it. It is very different from the lakes but all four places are definitely worth fishing right now.

Lake Jackson

Jackson, dammed in 1911, is one of our oldest lakes and it covers 4750 acres. The dam is on the Ocmulgee River downstream of where it forms at the junction of the South, Yellow and Alcovy Rivers. Its rocky shorelines are covered with docks and the lake has a reputation for big largemouth, but it is also full of spotted bass.

Kip Carter is a well known professional bass fisherman and Jackson is his home lake since grew up on it and lives nearby now. He knows it well and this time of year is one of his favorites to fish it.

Bass fishing on Jackson in the spring centers on both the bass and shad spawn. Bass will move into spawning areas in waves, starting in March and continuing through April. Since the bass don’t all spawn at one time you can catch pre spawn, post spawn and spawning bass right now. Kip says you can find bass on the bed almost any day in April.

The shad spawn in April provides some of the best fishing of the year. When the shad move to seawalls and riprap to spawn the bass concentrate on them, eating their fill every day. They are so voracious they will often eat until you can see the tails of the last shad they swallowed sticking out of their throat.

A wide variety of baits will catch bass now on Jackson. While the shad are spawning a white buzz bait or white spinnerbait with silver blades is definitely a go-to bait. Use a one quarter ounce bait for most fishing, but go to a half ounce spinnerbait if you want to concentrate on bigger bass.

Early in the morning you will see the shad schools running the seawalls and riprap. Points on the main lake are best, especially if the channel swings in by them, but secondary points back in the coves are also good. You should move fast until you find the shad spawning then slow down.

Throw your bait right on the bank and work it out at a 45 degree or less angle. The bass will be right on the bank early. After the sun gets on the water back off and slow roll your spinnerbait, covering deeper water where the bass are holding after the shad back off the bank.

Also try a jerk bait after the sun comes up. Cast near the bank and work it back in a jerk – jerk – pause action, making it look like an injured shad trying to get back to the school. Shad colors work best.

During the day Kip targets shallow cover lake brush piles, blowdowns and docks in the coves. A brown jig with a brown or pumpkinseed trailer is one of the best baits to fish around this cover and a three eights to one quarter ounce jig will fall slowly and not get hung as much. It will also draw strikes from any bass on the bed you spot.

A weightless worm will get bit better than just about any other bait, day to day, this time of year. Kip sticks with natural colors rather than the bright worms some favor and watches his line for the bites rather than just watching the bait. He says the natural colors will draw more strikes than the brighter colors.

If you like worm fishing both a Carolina or jig head worm will catch fish. And they are better for fishing a little deeper. Try a Baby Brush Hog on the Carolina rig and a straight worm like a Trick worm on the jig head. Stick with natural colors like green pumpkin and fish rocky points and creek channel drops with them.

Lake Oconee

Lake Oconee is on the upper Oconee River just south of I-20 and is one of our newest lakes. It has it everything bass like with defined channels, deep points, riprap, docks, roadbeds, grass beds and standing timber. With a slot limit protecting 11 to 14 inch long bass it produces a lot of them that size that are fun to catch. It also means there are a lot of bass longer than 14 inches in the lake.

Roger McKee guides on Oconee and does well in a lot of tournaments there. He says the bite centers around the bass spawning movement and the shad spawn on Oconee like it does on Jackson.

A spinnerbait and crankbait are good baits to locate the bass on Oconee and also catch the bigger bass needed in tournaments. Roger will fish both baits fast, looking for active fish. He says he would choose a crankbait if he could use only one bait on Oconee right now.

Use white spinnerbaits with a gold and silver blade in clear water but go to more chartreuse in the bait as it gets more stained. Shad colored crankbaits are better in clear water but also use more chartreuse baits in stained to muddy water.

Many big bass spawn on Oconee in March so they are on an active feeding spree now, and there will also be pre spawn bass moving in as well as bass on the beds. Secondary points in the coves and smaller creeks are the key to both pre and post spawn bass and Roger will hit as many as he can. By fishing his crankbait or spinnerbait fast he can cover a lot of water, and fast moving baits make it harder for a bass to see it is a fake and will draw reaction strikes.

The very back of the cuts and pockets behind these secondary points are where the bass spawn, so look to them for big females on the bed. Roger says some of the biggest bass of the year can be caught off the beds if you have the patients to soak a jig and pig or worm in them.

A weightless worm will also catch fish back in the pockets now. Fish it around any cover like stumps, brush, blowdowns and grass. Try working it fast just under the surface first but it you don’t get hit slow it down. Jerk it and make it dart, then let it sink. Watch your line and if you see any tick or movement set the hook.

Roger also fishes a jig and pig and Carolina rig on Oconee. The Carolina rig is good on the secondary points, especially if you get a couple of bites on fast moving spinnerbaits or crankbaits on one. Slow down and work it with a worm on a Carolina rig.

Fish the jig and pig on the same points, but also throw it around brush, blowdowns and stumps. Fish a brown jig and trailer in clear water but go to a black and blue jig and trailer in stained water. Work the bait slowly with hops on the points and jiggle it on wood cover.

During the shad spawn all the bass on the lake, unless they are locked in on the bed, will feed on them. Shad prefer hard cover like riprap and seawalls to lay their eggs seawalls with riprap are all over the lake. Fish your spinnerbait fast on them early in the morning close to the rocks then slow it down some as the sun comes up.

Lake Sinclair

Lake Sinclair backs up to the Oconee Dam but varies a good bit from it since it is an older lake. Many coves have grass like water willow in them and the docks tend to be older and have more brush piles around them. There is no slot limit on bass and Sinclair bass tend to run smaller, with lots of 11 to 13 inch bass being caught every day.

Both my bass clubs fish Sinclair this time of year since we catch so many bass there and there are so many different patterns you can fish. The bass spawn is in full swing and the shad spawn will take place during the month.

When the shad are not spawning, start early in the mornings with a white and chartreuse buzzbait or spinnerbait back in the coves around the grass. These grass beds are full of bluegill and bass love to eat them. If the grass is not too thick throw to the back side of it and work your bait out. If it is thick cast into it as far as you can without getting your bait clogged up.

Keep the buzzbait moving steadily but drop the spinnerbait at the edge of the grass in any holes or cuts. Let it flutter down a few inches then pull it forward. Bass will often eat it as it stops and flutters.

Floating worms are also good in the grass. Fish them in the grass, letting the bait fall into any holes and at the edge. A white Trick worm is good since you can see it and keep track of where it is and when it disappears, set the hook.

After the sun gets up back off to secondary points and fish a three sixteenths ounce jig head with a green pumpkin worm on it. Drag it along the bottom, with a hop a few inches high every foot or so. Some JJ’s Magic chartreuse dye on the tail mimics the fins of a bluegill and helps you get more hits.

During the shad spawn fish a three sixteenths ounce white spinnerbait with two silver willowleaf blades on riprap, seawalls and around the grass, too. Shad will spawn on the grass as well as the wood and rocks. Watch for flickers of shad as the school moves down the bank.

Cast as shallow as you can, even to the point of landing your bait on the bank and pulling it off. It often seems a bass will sit with his nose right on the rocks, waiting on a shad to come by. You don’t want to cast behind them.

After the sun gets on the water and the shad quit moving, back off the cover and reel the same spinnerbait slowly, keeping it right over the bottom. Fish it out to at least eight feet of water since bass will back off to that depth after feeding.

Docks are also hold a lot of bass this time of year and you can catch them by running a shad colored crankbait or your spinnerbait beside the posts and over brush piles around them. Also pitch a black and blue jig and pig to the docks, getting back under them as far as you can when the sun is bright.

Try to bring your jig and pig right beside every post. When you hit brush stop your bait and jiggle it in one place to get a reluctant bass to eat it. Make it look like an easy meal for a lazy bass.

Altamaha River

The Altamaha River starts south of Vidalia where the Omulgee and Oconee Rivers join. It is a big river with lots of current but also has many pockets and backwaters with overhanging trees and bushes. These pockets are where the bass move in the spring to spawn, so that is where you want to fish.

This is pretty simple fishing since you will be casting to visible cover in shallow water. One of the best tactics is to skip a weightless worm under overhanging limbs of willow trees. Let it sink to the bottom and settle for a few seconds. Watch for your line to start moving off when a bass picks it up. Use natural colored worms like green pumpkin or black.

Also study the backout. If it is a small creek entering the river it will often have a channel the bass will follow. Target stumps and other wood cover along the channel with a chartreuse and white spinnerbait with one gold and one silver willowleaf blade. Run the bait over the wood then let it fall as it passes.

If the backout is an old oxbow, usually one side will be deeper. Bass often hold on this deeper side on wood and grass. A spinnerbait fish beside the cover is good but also try a black and blue jig and pig flipped into the heaviest cover on this deeper bank.

The Altamaha River drainage offers lots of different fishing opportunities. Give them all a try.

Fishing the Flint River for Bream

I caught this Flint River bream with black spots on a Mepps spinner

I caught this Flint River bream with black spots on a Mepps spinner

Fishing the Flint River is always fun and bream always bite there. The river is most famous for its shoal bass population, a subspecies of black bass found mostly there and a few other places, but sometimes they are tough to catch. But bream always bite.

The Flint River starts just south of the Atlanta Airport and flows through middle Georgia to join with the Chattahoochee River in Lake Seminole to form the Apalachaicola River. Except for Lake Blackshear it is free flowing with many shoals throughout its length. It is a beautiful river to fish

The Georgia Outdoor Writers Association spring conference was held at Albany, Georgia this year and we got some chances to fish the Flint. I went with fellow member Vic. O. Miller. a local writer who knows the river well. I was warned that he had a habit of turning over boats on the river but we managed to come home dry. I was a little worried. The first thing I did after getting in the boat was put on a life jacket but Vic warned me it didn’t float!

I tried several baits for bass but had no bites while Vic got a lot of hits from bream on his fly rod , so I went with the flow and tied on a Mepps Spinner and started catching bluegill and long ear sunfish. As luck would have it, I also caught two small largemouth.

It was a fun trip and I came back alive and dry!