Growing up in the 1950s and 60s, fishing was a warm weather sport. We fished from March through August and hunted September through February. I never knew bass would bite in the winter until I joined the Spalding County Sportsman Club in 1974 and fished an October tournament that year and a January tournament the next year.
If memory serves me right, we caught a lot of bass at Sinclair. But that was not really a surprise since the weather was still warm. But the January tournament was a big surprise. On a freezing day with sleet, my partner landed a six-pound bass at Jackson, one of six over six pounds weighed in that day.
I landed one small keeper largemouth on a chrome Hellbender, one of the few crankbaits we had back then. There were only largemouth in the lake.
The days of consistently catching quality largemouth at Jackson are long gone, as tournament results show. In the late 1980s sewage from Atlanta that used to flow into the lake down the South River, keeping it fertilized like a farm pond, was diverted.
Even worse, well-intentioned but clueless fishermen midnight stocked spotted bass in the lake. Now they dominate the bass population. Spots grow more slowly than largemouth, don’t get as big, and dominate the habitat since they are more aggressive.
Some examples of the changes over the years. I landed my first two eight pounders in January tournaments at Jackson in the 1970s, and the second one was third biggest fish that day. I landed my biggest bass ever, a 9.4 pounder, in a February tournament there.
In a March tournament I had fourth biggest fish with a 7.4 pounder. There was one just over eight pounds and a 9.1 pounder. But big fish was a 9.2 pounder. In a tournament with Larry Stubbs, I netted a 7.4 pounder for him then he netted a 7.5 pounder for me! There are many more examples like that.
I landed an 8.8 pounder in 2001 in a January tournament, but that is the last fish I can remember over six pounds, and there had been none I can remember for several years before it. If we didn’t have at least one six pounder back then it was a bad day.
Spots are fun to catch but totally change a lake. There is no size limit on them anywhere in the state except Lanier, and biologists encourage fishermen to keep a ten fish limit every time they can to eat.
I brought home as many as I could after our last tournament. The small ones are easy to filet and taste great. It is unusual to catch one over three pounds and removing as many as possible may help the lake a little.