With early warm weather, you can bet that across the state some really big bass are spawning. Be it big largemouth on Seminole, feisty spotted bass on Lanier or any lake or pond in between, this is without a doubt the best time of year to land both numbers of fish and trophies.
The only hard part of fishing the spawn is narrowing down where the majority of the fish in a body of water are located. Jimmy Guess, of Ray City, will spend much of this month targeting spawning bass in Banks Lake, and for good reason.
Every two to three years, the lake is drawn down in an effort to eradicate the lake’s vegetation, bringing it down from its usual size of 900 acres to roughly 300 acres. This as you can guess concentrates the fish and makes them much easier to locate. Beginning in mid November, the lake began the drawdown, and in February, the boards were put back in at the dam, so the lake could begin to refill. The refilling process will generally take until early May or so.
Jimmy agreed to share his low-water tactics with readers, and I managed to go out with him just before going to press. As we talked on the phone, Jimmy mentioned that using a boat would be out of the question, and that I would needed to bring my kayak to navigate the lake due to the extremely low levels created by the drawdown.
Before going fishing, it’s important to note that fishing for bass until May 1 is catch-and-release only.
When we met up the morning of our trip, the first thing I noticed was the boat ramp was completely on dry land.
“If you pull your truck just along the main road, you can launch your kayak easier from there. It’s only about 20 yards from the highway to the water,” said Jimmy.
After putting in our kayaks, Jimmy introduced me to his long-time Banks Lake fishing partner, his
brother Jared Guess, who was joining us for the morning trip. As we paddled out the main boat run, the water was roughly 2 to 3 feet deep in most places.
“Now that they have drained the lake and killed the grass, it’s going to take a few months to fill back up, depending on the amount of rain we get this spring,” said Jimmy.
After paddling roughly 100 yards, we began casting as the sun began to peek over the horizon. It took all of about two casts next to a cypress tree for Jared to land our first fish of the day, a feisty 15-inch bass that inhaled a Bruiser Baits Diamond Tail worm in the green-pumpkin color.
Five minutes later, Jimmy had our second fish of the day, a chunky 2 1/2-pounder that inhaled a black GA BOY Lures Gold Digger buzzbait fished slowly next to an isolated stump.
“The gold-plated blade on the Gold Digger seems to provoke more strikes than a standard aluminum or painted blade. It has become popular with the locals throughout south Georgia in the past year,” said Jimmy.
Jimmy was also quick to point out that the thousands of trees located in Banks Lake are definitely not created equal when it comes to holding fish.
“The biggest mistake you can make out here is trying to fish every tree, stump or log you come across. You have to find the isolated trees or laydowns that are standing by themselves and fish them thoroughly,” Jimmy said.
As we continued working through the lake’s endless stump fields, Jimmy periodically stopped at an isolated stump and worked it with the Gold Digger buzzbait from multiple angles. It didn’t take long for Jimmy’s buzzbait to disappear yet again as another 2 1/2-lb. bass smashed it and did it’s best to wrap him around a log.
As he tossed the fish back in the water, Jimmy said, “I like to fish my buzzbaits on 17-lb. test monofilament line in Banks Lake because sometimes you have to work the fish away from cover quickly. If you fish with a lighter line, you will likely be going home with a good fish story to tell.”
After catching a few more 2-lb. fish on the buzzbait, Jimmy moved into shallow water and deployed the wings on his Freedom Hawk 14 kayak and stood up.
“I love this kayak because it gives me the freedom to stand and scan the shallow, tannic water for bedding fish. Today, the water is a little murky, so I will be looking for wakes created by fish moving through the shallow water,” said Jimmy.
After seeing a wake move toward his buzzbait and failing to draw a strike, Jimmy quickly pitched a Texas-rigged green-pumpkin worm to the fish. After a quick hop, Jimmy’s rod bowed, and he worked another 2-pounder to the boat.
“That fish wasn’t on a bed, just cruising the shallows. Expect the spawn to occur about mid March on Banks. With all the weeds killed off this year, they will be locked on beds in super shallow water and really easy to catch,” Jimmy said.
When the spawn does occur, Jimmy said it’s hard to beat a Spro Bronzeye Pop frog in the leopard color, fished slowly over spawning areas. Jimmy does recommend keeping the Diamond Tail worm on the ready to pitch to both bedding fish and to fish that miss the frog.
As the buzzbait bite slowed, Jimmy picked up another favorite springtime lure.
“This is a Crazy Craw made by Bruiser Baits. It’s a lot like a speed craw, but larger, and it produces more thump with its arms. I like to throw green pumpkin or junebug most of the time,” said Jimmy.
Jimmy fishes the craw Texas-rigged on 15-lb. test Berkley Big Game line with a 4/0 Gamakatsu hook and a 1/32-oz. weight.
“I try to mimic a crawfish as best I can by working the lure slowly back to me with short hops and three- to five-second pauses. Once again, I’m focusing on pieces of isolated structure and working them thoroughly,” said Jimmy.
Moments later, a bass inhaled his craw, and Jimmy carefully worked the 4-lb. bass to the boat. After a quick picture, Jimmy quickly released the fish.
“Everyone fishing the lake this spring needs to keep in mind that the lake is catch-and-release only for bass until May 1. By releasing all fish unharmed, it ensures a good spawn and helps the lake rebound from the drawdown,” Jimmy said.
As we spent the next few hours working isolated trees, we all managed some quality fish by pitching craws and worms to tree trunks. We also managed some beautiful chain pickerel (jackfish) and a few mudfish with bad attitudes along the way.
We ended our morning on the water at around 11 and had almost 20 bass to show for it. Not a bad day by any lake’s standards.
“As good as today was, it’s only going to get better in March and April. As the water temperature rises, you’re going to catch more fish and bigger fish. It’s definitely worth the trip to give this lake a try,” Jimmy said.
The lake should remain low through at least March and April, depending on rain amounts. Bert Deener, region supervisor at the Waycross Fisheries office agrees with Jimmy’s opinion of the excellent fishing during the drawdown.
“This is an excellent time for those with canoes, kayaks and small jonboats to enjoy some excellent fishing for bass and any other species on the lake. Just keep in mind that bass need to be released immediately until after May 1. Hopefully by then, the lake will be back around normal levels, and the bass will have completed a successful spawn to help next year’s population,” said Bert. “Anglers will enjoy not having to peel grass off of their hook on every cast, and not having their trolling motor bog down in weeds all summer.”
For those interested in planning a trip down to Banks Lake this month, nearby Valdosta has numerous hotels and restaurants. The lake is managed by the Okefenokee NWR in Folkston and is open for fishing 24 hours seven days a week. There is a tackle store on site (hours vary) that carries a selection of tackle and also offers canoe rentals at reasonable rates. For questions or up to the minute info on the lake, you can call the bait shop at (229) 482-3453.
The fishing on Banks Lake this month is sure to be phenomenal, as the peak of the spawn will occur. Take a day, a week or several weekends to explore this swampy south Georgia lake with your kayak. You will be glad you did, and you might just catch the bass of a lifetime.