George Perry put Georgia on the bass-angling map when he caught the world-record largemouth back in 1932. While none of our other state’s bass have closely rivaled that mammoth, Georgia is one of the best places in the country to tangle with a double-digit bass, and you could catch one of these lunkers from lakes in any region of our great state. This is the first of a three-part series detailing three of the top locations in the state to catch a 10-lb. bass.
A quick perusal of GON’s Georgia’s Biggest Bass of All-Time list shows that one location in southeast Georgia sticks out like a sore thumb… Fort Stewart. The army installation in Hinesville boasts eight of these bass, which must weigh a minimum of 14 pounds to make the list. Those eight fish came from four different lakes on the base. Think about that for a minute… 15 percent of the biggest bass ever certified in Georgia came from this area. The fish ranged from Bass No. 48, a 14-lb., 3-oz. fish caught by Eddie Hancock in Big Metz Pond in 1987 all the way up to Bass No. 14, a 16-lb., 1.2-oz giant caught by David Gregory from Big Metz Pond in 2001. I wrote a story back in 2003 about Josh Pacut’s 15-lb., 1-oz. monster he caught on New Year’s Eve 2002. If you are looking to catch a double-digit bass, Fort Stewart is a fantastic option in February.
Josh Pacut’s New Year’s Eve fish is the only one of which I am familiar with the details. Josh was fishing with a friend on Pineview Lake and had already boated an 8-pounder and put it in the livewell for later photos. He tied on a Carolina-rig and threaded a red-shad Zoom U-tail worm on the hook. The fish nailed his rig while he was dragging it through one of the offshore brushpiles. After certifying the 15-pounder and snapping a few photos, he released it and the 8-pounder back into Pineview Lake.
Several friends and I wanted to sample the bass fishing on the base, so we planned a trip. Waycross area anglers Tim Bonvechio, Bryant Bowen, Justin Bythwood and I waited for a warming spell that did not come, so we had to head to the installation under much less than ideal conditions. As we approached Glennville, the hard frost on the grass and my thermometer were brutal indications that we were going to have a cold day. We met up with Amanda Hinesley, the base public relations director, and Rachael Hallman, the fisheries biologist for the area. After discussing logistics, we headed to the lake.
Our choice for the day was Pineview Lake, a lake I had fished twice previously. The reason we chose that one is because it has historically produced big fish, does not have much cover (so the fish should be oriented to what is there in deep water), and most importantly, the lake is oriented so the forecasted strong wind would blow across the lake instead of down the fetch of the lake (that would allow us to fish in the strong winds). When we arrived, we realized the weather forecasters missed the wind direction, because the wind was blowing almost straight down the lake. Undeterred, we launched and headed out.
Before our trip, I learned the fish at Pineview like big worms, jigs and topwaters. When my depthfinder told me the water temperature was 43 degrees, I quickly wrote off the topwater option. With the wind still manageable, I flung a jig to some offshore cover, while my partner, Justin, fished a Texas-rigged 10-inch, tilapia-colored plastic worm. Several brushpiles and points later, we still had no bites. We tried to work our lures as slowly as possible in the cold water, but the wind made it difficult. An hour into the trip, the wind picked up enough to make feeling artificials impossible, so we fished live bait.
In the deeper half of the lake, we occasionally graphed pods of baitfish, so we tried to drop our baits down to them. Between the two boats, we caught five bass up to 2 pounds during the morning, all of which were fat and sassy. Then, at noon we got the bite that we were looking for. After a solid hit, I set the hook, and I just felt a fish shake its head. Justin thought I was hung on the bottom until the fish started moving off. My 7-ft., 3-in. Carrot Stik Microguide rod was doubled over as I fought the fish. Even in the cold water, the fish skyrocketed twice before Justin was able to slip my rubber-mesh net underneath it. The pig pulled the scales down to 9-lbs., 8-oz. With a couple dozen photos to document the catch, we released her back into Pineview. That one fish made the day, and so it goes when trophy hunting. Had my Vicious fluorocarbon broken or the hook pulled free, our day would have ended without success. And, that is what you have to prepare yourself for mentally when fishing for the biggest bass in a lake, because success is much more infrequent than when fishing for small fish with plastic worms on shoreline cover.
There are more than 400 acres of water contained within 18 lakes on Fort Stewart/Hunter Army Airfield. Of those, the three lakes that are synonymous with big bass are Big Metz, Pineview and Dogwood lakes. Our success came on 82-acre Pineview Lake, which is not even managed specifically for trophy bass. Pineview is very rarely closed for training, so you can typically count on being able to fish that lake. Big Metz (53 acres) has produced four of the fish on Georgia’s Biggest Bass of All-Time list and has a 24-inch minimum size for bass.
As with most of the lakes on the area, Big Metz is limed and fertilized to increase productivity. Standing timber in the middle of the lake provides copious vertical bass cover, while an occasional horizontal trunk creates a hot spot. The lake is closed relatively frequently for training, so you may or may not be allowed to fish that lake during any given day.
Dogwood Lake (33 acres) produced the No. 18 bass at 15-lbs., 12-oz. caught by Don Harlow in 1993. The fisheries staff has battled weed problems and low water in this lake, so the trophy potential is questionable at this time. But, that is part of the fun of hunting a trophy — catching one where folks do not expect you to catch it.
Daisy Pond (14.5 acres) is a sleeper. Rachael said they have electrofished some big fish during recent sampling. Her article in the June 2009 issue of GON <www.gon.com/article.php?id=2002&cid=118> gives a good description of the general fisheries in several of the popular ponds on the area.
Catching 10-lb. bass is not typically going out and expecting to catch a double-digit fish but rather putting yourself in a position to succeed and putting in the time to help it happen. It requires a different frame of mind than just rimming the shoreline of a lake with a spinnerbait or worm. There are lures that tend to produce larger fish and locations where they get to 10 pounds (because folks are not catching them every day in their deeper haunts). Sure, you can ease down a bank and catch a trophy, especially during the prespawn and spawn, but the rest of the year your chances are very low by bank-beating.
During the middle of January, Pat Cullen <www.patcullentrophybass.com>, a trophy bass hunter, from Valdosta, had caught more than 200 bass weighing heavier than 5 pounds and only boated one fish weighing 10 pounds during the previous couple weeks. He put in lots of time in areas where they live in order to catch that big one. The common thread of the trophy hunters I talk with regularly is that they fish offshore structure and cover (rarely shallower than 6 feet deep) and accept the fact that they have to thoroughly work their lures to get bit.
If you own a lake or have permission to add cover, placing Christmas trees or other brushpiles at an intersection of two creek channels, the end of a point, or along a creek channel will create an ambush spot for big bass. If there is not cover or some type of structure to which fish can relate, then you cannot have confidence that you are keeping your bait in the prime strike zone.
Lure choice is a matter of personal preference, but again you can up your odds of catching the fish of a lifetime by using types that consistently produce big fish. Jigs, big plastic worms and lizards and crankbaits have traditionally produced an exceptional percentage of trophy bass, while swimbaits have dominated the trophy bass scene in recent years. After the water warms later in the spring, buzzbaits are a go-to bait for many big bass specialists. My first 10-pounder came from the Altamaha River and was fooled by a buzzbait. I could list dozens of colors of each lure that have fooled big fish over the years, but the key is to have confidence in the lure you throw.
Tackle selection is a critical component of the equation. In order to up your odds of boating a trophy, you need to use the right type rod for your presentation. Using a limber rod to fish a heavy Texas-rigged worm will likely result in missed strikes, while using a cue-stick rod to throw a crankbait will usually spell disaster when the hooks pull out of a trophy’s mouth. You cannot imagine the power that a trophy bass exerts, especially when it sees the boat and powers away. At that point, if you have your drag set too tightly, you can expect a broken line or pulled hook. I speak from experience, as I have lost some huge fish at the boat. Nowadays, when hunting big fish, I usually have a tight drag until after I get a good hookset, and then I back off the drag when the fish is about half-way to the boat in anticipation of strong runs toward the end of the fight.
I searched 26 years for my first 10-pounder and killed it because the replicas in the mid-90s were of poor quality, in my opinion. That skin-mount is front and center in our living room, but I am finished killing those unique trophy fish. Today’s replicas have fantastic detail and are about the same cost, if not cheaper at most shops. In order to have a replica of your fish made, measure the length and girth (girth is not absolutely necessary) and snap a photo of the fish. Then, you can release it to make someone else’s day.
The size and creel limits are posted at each lake, so pay attention to the regulations if you plan to keep fish. Make sure you have a well-charged battery (or two) before you head out to the area, as your trolling motor is your only propulsion for the day. The outboard can remain on your boat, but you cannot fire it up. Also, there is a phone check-in system that you must follow when fishing the area. Remember, tanks and other equipment operate on the facility, and this check-in system keeps you safe, as well as allows unimpeded military training. Training areas are only open to recreational activities when there is no military training scheduled. In addition to a Georgia fishing license, you must have a Fort Stewart fishing permit. You can purchase a one-day permit for $5. Annual passes are available for up to $30, depending upon military rank or civilian status. For all the details about rules and regulations, check out the fishing and hunting web page at <www.stew art.army.mil/dpw/FW_Fishing.asp>. Maps for each of the ponds are available on the website.
In order to catch a trophy bass, everything must align. By fishing on Fort Stewart, you are putting yourself on an area that has a long history of producing big bass.
Next month’s 10-pounder destination will shift northward to Ocmulgee Public Fishing Area.