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.
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.
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.
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.