Tom Shapard says fishing is a lot of fun because you never know when you begin a fishing trip how the day is going to turn out or what you’ll catch.
That’s the kind of day we had on beautiful Lake Eufaula (or Walter F. George) on November 8. The weather was absolutely glorious with clear skies, no wind and slick conditions on the lake. The temperature was just a tad warm, but we were happy not to be wrapped up in coats. However that cold weather is just around the corner.
Tom thinks the Fort Gaines and Lake Eufaula area is simply a wonderful place to live and work. He has fished the lake avidly since the early 1970s.
Long 60-hour weeks as manager of the local Dollar General Store seriously cut into his fishing time. However, today Tom’s friends say he looks relaxed, happy, and 10 years younger. It’s because he has retired! Now everyday is Saturday, and the fish on the lake are duly warned that he’s coming to hook ‘em.
Tom has guided some in the past, and his newly found freedom is allowing him to get on the water more frequently. Thus he will be fishing more in the future, primarily for crappie and hybrids and guiding for other fishermen.
Due to our schedule, we agreed to meet for lunch at Bagby State Park.
After lunch we headed down to the Bagby State Park Marina to load into the boat, and shortly, we were headed out to some of Tom’s honey holes.
Although Tom says there is lots of structure on the lake that holds crappie, he prefers to build his own. He likes to take small eight- to 10-foot tall, whole live-oak trees and sink them into the lake. Unlike old Christmas trees that only last a couple of years, live-oak trees last several years, he has discovered.
A major problem with any placed structure is movement over time caused by current, wind, being snagged by other anglers or just floating away due to poor anchoring. To prevent the latter, Tom quit using cinder blocks and has gone to discarded motor-grader blades which weigh about 80 pounds. This compact, heavy weight does the trick, he says.
Like any good guide, Tom had pre-fished prior to my arrival. He had fished his brushpiles and other natural structure with good success. In fact the day before Tom caught 14 good fish from numerous locations with little effort. He was feeling confident that we would catch fish.
After Tom located his first brushpile, we anchored down in 18 feet of water and went to fishing. For fishing over tree tops, Tom likes to use 16-foot, expandable fiberglass poles rigged with 10-lb. line, a crappie hook and a 1/8-oz., press-on lead weight. It is simple but effective. The important point to remember is to drop your line straight down to avoid hanging up on the structure. Too much noise and commotion scares the fish away, he says. Although we tried the first location for 30 minutes, we never got a strike, which was puzzling since they were biting well the day before.
Tom knows that fish move for many reasons, and the trick is to find them. To gather a little more information and to confirm the fish were not there, he dropped the lens to his Aqua-Vu camera into the water. We saw lots of good structure but only one fish, so we decided to move.
However as we went to one location after another, the story was the same. Eventually we did start catching fish, but not crappie. We began pulling in lots of small eight- to 12-inch bass, which indicated a great population of young bass.
Tom says he has seen a multitude of young bass this year, more than normal, which means good bass fishing for the future. We also caught several bream on the minnows, as well as numerous channel catfish.
If we had been actually fishing for catfish we probably could have filled a five-gallon bucket, but it was crappie we were after, so we kept moving.
Tom theorized that if any crappie were present and biting they would at least hit a few of our minnow offerings.
He concluded that the crappie had moved to deeper structure, and the best “go-to” structure was the submerged Pataula Creek Bridge. A concrete structure that was submerged intact when the lake was flooded back in the early 1960s the bridge lies near the mouth of Pataula Creek and starts near the short grey metal seawall. A great way to find the bridge is to look for the open “v” in the tree line to the west (left) of the grey seawall, indicating where the old roadbed used to run. The GPS reading at the bridge is N 31º 43.689 and W 08º 50.639.
The bridge top lies just a few feet below the surface, but the old creek channel is 49-feet deep. It naturally tapers to be shallower on each end. Tom says that about eight to 10 boats can line up parallel to the bridge on each side. On a busy day you might see 20 or more boats in the area, but with the deer season in full swing we were alone on the site until three other boats showed up at nightfall.
Tom’s key to successfully fishing the bridge is to anchor parallel to the edge of the bridge so you can drop your minnow or crappie jig just below the submerged bridge. The most effective depth to fish on a routine basis is around 12 feet over most of the bridge. Along the tapered, old creek-channel edges, the fish might hold a little deeper. As always fish as many poles as you can handle and experiment with depth, suggests Tom.
Another important factor in catching crappie at the bridge is keeping your boat in an effective position over the submerged edge of the bridge. Get just a few feet away from the edge and you can miss your chance as crappie tend to hold tight to structure, Tom has learned.
Although you can drop a couple of heavy anchors right on top of the bridge and fish off the edge, Tom prefers to use a grapple-type anchor, which he uses to catch the underbelly of the bridge. Locating the edge of the bridge on his depthfinder he throws out the grapple anchor about 10 feet and slowly moves over the bridge until he feels the anchor make contact with the bridge. Then he pulls in the rope to take out the slack and to maintain tight contact with the bridge. To allow the anchor rope to stay hooked on the underside of the bridge, Tom uses a strong rubber bungee cord between the anchor and the rope.
He says that one side of the bridge is as good as the other, but you should consider the direction of the wind and the location of the sun in choosing which side to fish on. For example, in the morning it would be a good idea to anchor on the east side of the bridge and face west, so you won’t have to look into the rising sun from the east.
And yes, we found the crappie! After we anchored down we started catching crappie and as the sun got lower on the horizon, the fishing got better. We pulled in numerous good crappie including a 1 1/2-lb. slab. Our average crappie that day was about a half pound, the perfect size to fillet and eat.
By nightfall three other boats had shown up and everybody was catching crappie with a few catfish mixed in. Disi Glover and Al Stamper were in a boat next to us, and we cheered each other on as we both pulled in fish. Both men said they had given up fishing when it got hot, but the cooler fall weather had brought them back to the lake and they were having good success.
Tom does a lot of fishing in Pataula Creek, both in the fall and spring. Just east of the submerged bridge location about 200 yards is a good cove to try, and you’ll notice some cypress trees jutting into the lake. This cove is on the north side of Pataula Creek near GPS coordinates N 31º 44.107 and W 08º 50.440. This is a good location to troll a Hal Fly or drift a minnow says Tom. Also on the south side of Pataula Creek near the mouth there is a large, old submerged stump field that is always good for crappie. Find it at GPS reading N 31º 43.518 and W 08º 50.477. Look for the raised metal dock with a pirate flag on top. This is another good place to troll.
To locate good submerged structure Tom recommends the north shore bank area of Gopher Island which you will find near channel mile 82.3 on an Atlantic lake map There are a lot of submerged trees in this area about 100 yards out from the bank in 18 feet of water. Tom advises you either troll or anchor down and fish this area well.
He also recommends boat docks and any stickups you may find in Sandy Creek and Drag Nasty Creek.
It is interesting to know that Walter F. George was a United States Senator in the 1940s and 50s. He convinced President Eisenhower that building a recreational lake in southwest Georgia was a great idea. George passed away in 1958, but the lake was named in his honor, and rightly so. The lake has become the recreational and economic hub of southwest Georgia.
The lake became fully operational in June of 1963 and flows 85 river miles from Columbus to Fort Gaines through a region of rolling hills with well-defined, sandy soils. The 48,000-acre lake is bounded by 640 miles of shoreline at the normal pool elevation of 190 feet above sea level. Its width ranges from three miles to 300 feet with a slow but continuous river current. Eufaula may seasonally fluctuate between 185 feet and 190 feet above sea level. Water temperatures for this area range between 45-degrees and 95-degrees farenheit.
Over the years, initial vegetation and standing trees have deteriorated creating a need for new fish concentration areas. A cooperative project by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was started to place fish attractors in the lake. Cedar trees have been used to create 24 fish attractors, and buoys mark their locations. This will continue as an ongoing program consisting of annual refurbishing of the existing attractors. The program has proved extremely successful in helping fishermen who are not familiar with the lake to more easily locate fish. Often overlooked by serious anglers, the fish attractors can be excellent magnets for crappie and other fish. If all else fails, Tom said you should give the attractors a try.
Georgia residents with a valid fishing license may fish anywhere on the lake except in the creeks on the Alabama side of the lake. The high-water mark on the Alabama side constitutes the Georgia/Alabama state line. Anything beyond that point falls under Alabama’s jurisdiction.
If you wish to fish in a creek on the Alabama side you must purchase a non-resident fishing license in Alabama.
Bagby State Park Lodge and Restaurant is located just north of Fort Gaines off Hwy 39 on the lake. A reasonably priced lunch buffet at $6.95 including drink means you can fish on a full stomach. During slack business times the buffet may not be operating, but you can always order from the menu for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
The lodge also has very nice, modern rooms or cottages for visiting fishermen. Contact Lodge Manager Annette Bradley or any of her fine staff at (706) 768-2571 if you have any questions.
Tom is a great fishing guide, and I had a very enjoyable day with him on Lake Eufaula. To book a trip, call (229) 439-2608 or (229) 881-4788.
Right now the fishing pressure is very low on the lake, and I can think of no better place to be than on Eufaula catching slab crappie off a bridge or around timber, and watching a beautiful sunset!