The Wildlife Resources Division (WRD) operates 10 Public Fishing Areas (PFAs) across the state, and each provides tremendous angling, educational, and other outdoor recreational opportunities. The southernmost PFA is located near Tifton and is appropriately named Paradise PFA.
Paradise PFA and trophy bass have been synonymous since the area opened in September 1990. An impressive number of big bass have been caught on the area over the years. With abundant forage and a long growing season, the conditions are right to produce lunkers. The area contains more than 60 lakes with a total of about 525 acres of water. Lakes range in size from 1/4 to 112 acres, so you can find a lake that is just your size.
Lake Paradise, the 50-acre lake visible from Highway 82, was renovated back in 2007 to allow repairs to the spillway. It was restocked after refilling and was reopened to fishing in the spring of 2010. Anglers caught bass up to 5 pounds the summer after it was reopened, and some 8-pounders have been reported since. This fall, the trophy bass population in Lake Paradise got an instant boost when about 200 large bass were stocked into the lake from Ocmulgee PFA, which was being drained for repairs to the lake. The stocked bass ranged in size from 5 to 10 1/2 pounds. Concurrently with the stockings, a catch-and-release regulation was enacted on Lake Paradise.
If trophy bass fishing is your game, then Lake Paradise on Paradise PFA is one of the best destinations in our state this winter. Located in the Tifton area, the bite is usually good all winter. Lake Paradise is intensively managed, which means it is limed and fertilized to keep productivity at its peak level. Forage has also been stocked into the lake as needed to keep the bass growth rates high. Your first trip to the lake may be intimidating, as the lake is bowl-shaped with very little change in depth. But, as you dissect the lake, you will notice small changes that will concentrate fish. Hopefully, the following details will help you decipher the Lake Paradise code during your next visit.
The most obvious cover is the standing timber. While it looks great, that is one of the less-productive cover types on the lake. Still, it is worth a cast as you ease by a vertical tree. Spinnerbaits or crankbaits are good options, as you do not have to invest much time into working each cast. Shad and gold hues are good colors, as they imitate a baitfish flashing by.
When Wildlife Resources Division (WRD) staff electrofishes any of the lakes on the area, blowdown trees always hold fish, and that is especially true in Lake Paradise. Watch your depthfinder as you fish to locate this horizontal cover. Expect spinnerbaits and plastic worms to produce well, especially if the tree has several branches from it. Cast your spinnerbait parallel to the trunk of the tree, bumping limbs as you go. After a few casts with the spinnerbait, switch to a plastic worm and work it right against the trunk. The same shad and gold spinnerbaits are good options to imitate baitfish. On sunny days, gold and silver blades work great, but often a painted blade (white or chartreuse) produces better when it is overcast.
Concrete culvert pipes were sunk in the lake several years ago to provide permanent fish habitat. Look for them in the deeper areas of the lake (more than 6 feet deep). To fish the culverts, mark them with a marker buoy or your GPS, then back off and drag a lure through them. The most productive lures over the years have been plastic worms and jig ’n pigs. Black, junebug and green pumpkin hues have been the most effective worm colors, while black/blue jigs have been hard to beat.
When the lake was down for an extended time during the drought, a ring of willows grew about 50 feet from the edge, all the way around the lake. They were flooded when the lake came back up to full pool. While they are less and less obvious as time goes by, you will notice them if you look. The trees have died, but their skeletons still provide excellent cover for baitfish and ambush spots for bass. Approach this cover with a one-two punch. Bang spinnerbaits or crankbaits through the limbs in the upper part of the water column to pick off the active fish, then slowly work a plastic worm or jig at the base of each tree.
Vegetation is absent in the deeper areas of the lake, but there are areas where surface vegetation grows out several yards from the bank. During winter, most of these areas will be too shallow to hold bass, but during warm spells and as we progress into spring, this overhead cover will provide an ambush point for bass. During these times, expect to be able to draw strikes early and late in the day by working a spinnerbait, crankbait or buzzbait parallel to the weed edge or by throwing a hollow-bodied frog right overtop of the vegetation.
A large, shallow flat encompasses essentially the whole northern quarter of the lake. At full pool the area is 4 to 6 feet deep and has little cover. This is an area to focus on during winter warming trends and the prespawn period during early spring. Bass cruise the flat in this area, and you will be most effective by fishing a “search” bait over the flat. Moving baits, such as lipless crankbaits, spinnerbaits and diving crankbaits will produce well in this area of the lake. Baitfish colors are best, but try red lipless crankbaits as we get closer to the spawn. The red version has produced some huge fish in Lake Paradise in the past.
Lake Paradise is wide open with no shoreline trees to break the wind, so you will have more difficulty fishing “feel” baits like jigs or worms on a windy day. Those are the days to use the wind to your advantage and cast lures that will draw reflex strikes, like crankbaits, swimbaits and spinnerbaits. The actively feeding bass will often stack up on the windy bank, so that is a good place to start.
These trophy bass are accessible to bank anglers, as well as boaters. There is shoreline access all the way around the lake. The same lures will work from the bank or boat, and the ring of dead willows is within casting distance of the bank.
While all fish must go back in the lake, your handling of each fish will ensure the fish survives and thrives to battle again another day. One of the most important things you can do is have your camera and digital scale ready and easily accessible at the beginning of the day. A surefire way to kill a trophy bass is to hold it out of the water and ramble around in your boat looking for your camera for 10 minutes. While the bass are a little more hardy in the winter, they cannot stand even a few minutes out of water during summer. If the fish is big enough that you want a photo, the best release for the health of the fish involves working it to the side of the boat, keeping the fish in the water, grabbing your scale while your fishing partner grabs the camera, quickly lifting the fish up to get a quick weight, then lifting it for a quick photo. Please do not let them flop around in the bottom of the boat while you locate a scale and camera.
For anglers who do not spend time fishing for trophy bass, Paradise PFA offers many other options. Excellent catfish, bream, and crappie fisheries are also available on the area.
Crappie are your best target this winter if you are not interested in chasing trophy bass. Many of the lakes have crappie established in them, but some populations are stronger than others. Lakes Patrick, Russell and Horseshoe 2 have more notable fisheries for crappie. During cold snaps this winter, concentrate your effort in the deepest water by the dam. As warmer weather approaches this spring, look for them to move into shallow cover to spawn. Live minnows are not allowed, so bring an assortment of tube lures, curly tailed grubs and other artificials. Long-line trolling with curly tailed grubs is very effective in the deeper areas. Remember, there is a two-pole limit per angler. Some of the more popular colors are chartreuse, yellow, white, red, pumpkinseed and black, or some combination thereof. A reliable combination is black with a chartreuse tail.
Most of the sunfish you catch will be either bluegill, shellcracker or warmouth. They are present in all of the lakes, but the fertilized ponds hold the highest populations. The cleared berms and pond banks provide a great platform from which bank anglers can chase sunfish. There are literally miles of shoreline that boatless anglers can walk in search of their own honeyhole. Lakes Patrick, Beaver, Horseshoe 2 and Windy are top lakes for bream. If you want to chase trophy-sized bluegill and shellcracker, it will be hard to beat Lake Patrick, and many are caught right from one of the fishing piers by the main parking area. Crickets fished under a float take many of the bluegills, while a worm fished under a float but suspended near the bottom is a surefire method for shellcrackers.
Catfish are present in almost all of the lakes. Both bullhead and channel catfish are present on the area, and channel catfish populations are supplemented with stockings. Lake Horseshoe 1 is one of the better channel catfish ponds, as it receives supplemental stockings, while Lake Patrick has a very strong bullhead population. Lakes Horseshoe 3 and Horseshoe 4 also have decent bullhead populations. You may have your own secret concoction to fool whiskerfish, but the tried-and-true worm, chicken liver and mullet gut are three dependable baits. For bullheads, anglers have been very successful by using small pieces of cut baitfish fished on the bottom. The limit of channel catfish is five per person, but there is no limit on bullheads. For help with identification, check out the Georgia Sportfishing Regulations (new regulations will be coming out this month) or online at www.gofishgeorgia.com (then click on Fishing, Angler Resources, and Fish Identification).
Be sure to check out the various Kids’ Fishing Events (KFEs) held at the area each year. The JAKES/Outdoor Adventure Day held each September during National Hunting and Fishing Day has fishing and shooting sports activities and has won national awards. The Kiwanis KFE held in June is another large event that focuses just on fishing. Other smaller events are scattered throughout the year. During the events, children (usually the upper age limit is 16) are able to fish in well-stocked ponds that are only open for special events. Because of the high catch rates, KFEs are excellent for providing children high-quality fishing experiences and are a great time to introduce children to fishing.
As well as awesome fishing opportunities, the area has a nature trail and miles of dirt roads that you can walk. Primitive, semi-private campsites are available for $10 per night beside Lake Patrick (pay at the drop-box), and RV sites are available at nearby commercial campgrounds. If a motel room is more your speed, you can drive 15 minutes back to Tifton.
There are some special regulations that apply to Paradise PFA. The area is open sunrise to sunset, Wednesday through Sunday each week. The entire area is closed each Monday and Tuesday. Live baitfish are not allowed on the area. Fish limits, if different than the statewide limits, are posted several places on the area. Gas motors may not be run, except on lakes Patrick, Paradise and Bobben, where they may be operated at idle speed only. You can have a gas motor mounted on your boat if you fish other lakes, but you cannot operate it. For additional area information and license requirements for Paradise PFA, visit the WRD website at www.gofishgeorgia.com (then click on Fishing, Public Fishing Areas, and Paradise).
When cabin fever sets in this winter, head to our southernmost PFA and catch lunkers in Paradise.