Experienced anglers say that if you want to catch a big bass, head to a farm pond. But since many farm ponds are private and marrying into the family is not frequently an option, other solutions must be explored. Rich Martens, like many other anglers, has discovered the great fishing available at many of Georgia’s public fishing areas (PFAs) especially those in middle Georgia.
Rich, 43, hails from Bonaire and is a 24-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force, stationed at Robins Air Force Base. He is a manager in the survival equipment section which deals with essential equipment such as ejection seats and parachutes. The standard inside joke is that their parachutes carry a lifetime guarantee. If it does not work, bring it back for a new one, but Rich is very serious in making sure that failure is not an option in the deadly game of war. He is a veteran of the first Iraqi war, Desert Storm, and well remembers the boom of falling Iraqi scud missiles and the roar of U.S. Patriot missiles fired in response. He says there is nothing like being in a war to make you appreciate the freedoms of being home and the simple pleasures of being able to go fishing.
Rich has become a serious bass angler and frequently hitches up his 20- foot Javalin boat to participate in the American Bass Anglers Tour (ABA) across Georgia. Although he often fish- es in the state’s major reservoirs, he has learned that central Georgia’s PFAs, especially Dodge County PFA, just south of Eastman, off Hwy 341 south, holds some bragging-size largemouths. In fact, his biggest bass, weighing 10- lbs., 4-ozs., was pulled from Dodge PFA in 2004 and now hangs on his wall at home.
Rich and I made a recent visit to Dodge PFA to check out the bass fishing, and we did a double-take when we reached the parking lot. The place was empty of vehicles, but it was fairly cold on Friday, February 2, so the Saturday anglers were waiting for their day off to hit the lake. But by early March the bass bite will start to heat up, and the bass will be in the shallows to spawn. Then the parking lot will be well occupied, so come on a weekday if possible.
After we launched the boat, Rich started casting immediately to the rip- rap around the boat ramp with a shallow-running Shad Rap. He says this is normally a good location on a quiet day without boat traffic, but we could not entice a strike. We were just finishing up casting to this area when another angler pulled up to launch his boat and asked if we were having any luck. We told him we hadn’t had a strike, and the angler said, “Well, I know it’s going to be tough if you didn’t get a strike there.”
This confirmed Rich’s assessment that the boat-ramp area normally holds biting bass. However, if you strike out at this site, just move out 20 yards in front of the boat ramp where there is some submerged timber, and work the area with a Texas-rigged worm.
Moving on down the lake, Rich was anxious to pull a DT16 Rapala crankbait across a submerged island. To find it, go to the north side of the lake’s only visible island which you can’t miss on the lower, southern end of the lake. From the north side of the island, head northeast about 75 yards and watch your depthfinder. Naturally, the water around the island is shallow, but as you move northeast, it quickly drops to 24 feet, then comes back up to 12 feet. This is the submerged island, so work across the top with a deep-diving crankbait and Carolina- or Texas- rigged worms, says Rich. This is a prime location for late winter and early spring bass, but we could not buy a strike this day.
We then moved to Rich’s ace-in- the-hole spot, which is the earthen dam rip-rap. Rich likes to stay out about 15 to 20 yards from the dam and then cast up next to the rocks with a shallow-running crankbait like a No. 5 Shad Rap. Normally as the bait moves off the shallow rocks and drops into the eight- to 10-foot deep water, a bass lies in waiting to strike, but today was cloudy and the rocks were unable to heat up from the sun’s rays. We managed one strike, as Rich pulled a 2 1/2-lb. bass from the southern end of the dam, which was our best bass of the day. This corner has both some floating and submerged logs that hold bass in the area and is a consistent producer. In fact, we hit this spot about once every hour and on four different passes it produced a bass! No, it was not the same bass as they varied in size.
As you pass the southern end of the dam and the emergency spillway, continue casting up to the bank along the grassbeds with a shallow-running plug. The water here drops off to about eight-feet deep, and Rich likes to dip his rod tip down under the surface to get a little extra depth from the plug. For variety, try a lightly weighted Texas- rigged Zoom Finesse worm in watermelon seed color. In the deeper water, fish it Carolina style with a 1/2-oz. bullet lead.
By the first of March the water will heat up considerably. On our trip in early February, the water temperature was 49 to 50 degrees, but it should be near 60 degrees by early March, which should get the bass and crappie cranked up. Although PFA anglers routinely fish all day, Rich emphasizes getting on the water at first light
when the bass are most active and an artificial bait can be the most effective in the dim light. Rich suggested the locations below for March bassing on Dodge PFA for your next trip to the lake.
Although the fishing dock was built with boat-less anglers in mind and it does provide good fishing for them, there is abundant structure around it for all anglers. Directly in front of the dock, there are numerous submerged Christmas trees which attract bass, cat- fish, bream and crappie. There is also a fish-food automatic dispenser at the end of the dock, as well as another about 30 yards out, sitting in about six feet of water. Try to use weedless lures or expect plenty of hang-ups, but the fish are there.
Around the island there are several small trees in the shallow water, which hold small bream and other minnow prey fish. It is not unusual to hear splashing around the island as bass move in for the attack. Seek out these bass with a small, floating, shad-colored Rapala or a Rattlin’ Rogue.
Directly across from the boat dock, on the east side of the lake, there is a steep bank that often holds bass. Reach them with a deep crankbait or the usual Texas-rigged worm, says Rich. But since these fish get to look at a lot of lures each day, don’t be shy about trying something different, like a 1/2-oz. jig ’n pig slowly eased across the bottom.
As you move up the lake toward the inlet side, try to locate the old submerged roadbed that runs from the family pavilion building on the west bank straight across the lake. Rich says this smooth roadbed is good worm country. You can also run a crankbait straight up and down the road to pick up a hitch-hiking bass.
From the old roadbed area upstream to the osprey-nesting pole, there are plenty of stick-up trees visible above the lake’s surface. This area is prime structure from March to June for bass and is usually best fished with a weedless Texas-rigged worm. There are small brushpiles, the old creek channel and a few small humps in this stretch of water that you can locate with a little investigative work with your depthfinder. If you see something unusual don’t be afraid to toss out a buoy marker and fish the location because it has probably been missed by the normal group of bank bangers.
In the very back of the lake you’ll find the shallow two- to four-foot water that draws bass that you can catch at dawn on a buzzbait, floating worm or frog. Be there early as these fish move off into deeper water early in the morning. Give it another try as the sun is set- ting for that last-chance bass. Also, many anglers target bedding bass as they move into the shallows to spawn in early March. The best technique, says Rich, is to find a bed with a bass on it, then back off and lay a Texas- rigged worm or jig in the middle of the bed. When the bass sucks in the lure to remove it from the bed, set the hook hard. This is a waiting game that might take a few minutes to several hours, but a trophy bass is well worth the wait.
According to Dan Stiles, the Dodge PFA manager, the lake heats up by mid June which causes the algae to bloom that depletes oxygen levels in the lake. Naturally this negatively impacts the areas in the lake which the fish can survive. By the use of an oxygen meter, Dan has determined that by the end of June, oxygen levels are decreasing so that there is almost no life-sustaining oxygen below six feet through the first of September. So by mid-summer, concentrate your efforts at dawn and dusk in structure in six feet or less.
Last year in August, after I had bream and catfished all day, I talked with an angler who was coming into the lake just as I was leaving at 6:30 p.m. He said he had caught a 9- and 10- lb. bass the week before fishing shallow in the standing timber with a weightless worm, so there is a way to catch those summer bass.
Anglers will be glad to know that despite strong fishing pressure, the bass in Dodge PFA continue to prosper. A bass study that ended December 31, 2006 showed that the lake has a healthy population of 18- to 21-inch bass. These 4- to 7-lb. bass and larger fish are the size that most anglers seek, and they are plentiful in the lake. The bass limit is five per day on Dodge PFA, and only one of those bass can be 21 inch- es or greater; make sure you pack a ruler in the boat.
For Dodge PFA to continue to offer great bass fishing, it is essential that anglers practice good conservation, says Rich. That is the reason he and many other bass anglers practice catch and release. Big bass are not that great for eating, so why not catch a good catfish or stringer of bream to eat and let those trophy bass go back into the lake to get bigger and thrill you or another angler, another day? That’s something to think about, especially if you have a lunker or two on the wall.
According to Jeremy Wixon, WRD’s Tech III who helped with the 2005-06 study, the bass in Dodge PFA are doing well. In 2005, fisheries staff shocked up and tagged bass for eight nights, and they did the same thing for 12 nights in 2006. Using a biological formula that compares previously tagged bass to untagged bass along with the recapture rate, they were able to make a good scientific estimate, with 95 percent probability, of the number of larger bass in the lake. The big-bass data included information gathered from anglers who turned in tag numbers from released fish and actual tags from kept fish. They also used information from creel surveys to reach the figures below.
In 2005 they tagged 434 bass over 18 inches, and in 2006 they tagged 289. That works out to 2 1/2 to four bass over 18 inches per acre of surface water. In regards to larger trophy-size bass over 21 inches in length, the fishery’s biologists estimated that the lake holds 203 bass, or about two per acre, thus anglers who bass fish in Dodge PFA have the potential to land a trophy bass. But of course the angler has to locate, entice, hook and land the bass, and that’s another story!
Dan wants to remind anglers that Dodge PFA has some very good bream, crappie and catfishing opportunities, too. The best chances for these species are at both the north and south end of the dam, around the island, in the shallow coves and along the grasslines. Worms and crickets are allowed as bait, but minnows for crappie are not permitted.
For crappie you can troll jigs on no more than two poles. Another popular tactic is to tie on a 1/16-oz. Hal-Fly or Jiffy Jig about two feet below a small cigar cork and work it around the banks. Dan says all anglers must possess both a fishing license and a WMA stamp to fish the PFA. These are not sold on site, so make sure you buy both before your visit.
For additional information on this fishery, call Dodge PFA at (478) 374- 6765 or the region office at (229) 426- 5272.
You can also go to www.gofishgeorgia.com.