The breeze put a perfect chop on the water at Dodge County PFA as my 3/8-oz. chartreuse spinnerbait with gold willowleaf blades landed just beyond some standing timber with an audible sploosh.
I let the bait sink for three full seconds and began turning the reel handle slowly. I could feel the big blades thumping through the water and then nothing but tension as the spinnerbait stopped. Feeling the weight on the line, I immediately set the hook as hard as I could, fully expecting to bury the point of it in a stump. Instead, my line jumped sideways and the first bass of the day was off and running. He made a little dash toward the front of the boat and jumped before trying to head back down.
Jimmy Lester had said only minutes before the fish hit, “If you hook one in that timber, you’ll have your hands full getting it out. I’ve probably got $300 worth of lures down there.”
I kept pressure on the bass, and in a few seconds, grabbed his lip and lifted him aboard Jimmy’s boat. The largemouth measured 13 1/2 inches, not a keeper fish, but a good start to a beautiful day on one of Georgia’s best big-bass lakes.
Jimmy, from Warner Robins, has fished all the state’s PFAs. He likes the lakes at Paradise and Hugh Gillis, but he loves Dodge County PFA. In November, he’ll throw a crankbait, a Texas-rigged worm, and a jig to catch fish there.
“This is my favorite PFA lake,” Jimmy said. “It’s a great lake to fish.”
Jimmy has been coming to the 104-acre body of water for 13 years. He says the chance to hang into a real hawg is what keeps him coming back for more. Furthermore, November is the start of the best stretch of months to fish the lake if you have big bass on your mind. During the next few months, Jimmy will be at Dodge County PFA two or three times a week.
“Now is the prime time to catch a big bass,” Jimmy said. “November through the prespawn is the best time to fish this lake.
“You have a good chance on this lake to catch a premium bass,” Jimmy said, referring to largemouths five pounds or larger.
Jimmy should know. He has seen and caught his share of big bass from Dodge County PFA over the years. As we passed along the bank late in the day, he recounted how he and a partner caught bass that weighed five and 7 3/4 pounds within a 10-minute window one afternoon. In his past three trips to the lake he caught one fish each trip that weighed between six and nine pounds. The lake record, a 15-lb, 8.5-oz. bucketmouth was caught in 2002.
Jimmy grew up quail hunting, but with a dearth of birds, that sport fell by the wayside. He killed a deer one fall and said it didn’t excite him at all. It was a nice fish that got Jimmy addicted to bass fishing more than 30 years ago.
“I just liked to catch panfish, but my brother liked bass fishing,” Jimmy said. “One day we were fishing at a lake near Montezuma. He was catching fish, and I wasn’t. He tied me a Carolina rig, and I started using that.
“At first, I was working the worm too fast, so I just watched him for a few minutes. On my next cast, I felt like I was hung on something, and my brother says, ‘that’s a fish, set the hook.’ I set it and caught a bass that weighed three-and-a half or four pounds. I have been hooked ever since.”
He feels like the state’s management of Dodge County PFA has made it a much better fishery. And whereas his trips in the early days could produce 100 fish or more per day, Jimmy likes the idea that he catches fewer — but bigger — bass these days.
“The way it used to be, if you were a decent fishermen, and you came over here and didn’t catch 30 or 40 bass, something was wrong,” Jimmy recalled.
He says the lake does take time to learn and can be frustrating. His advice is to spend plenty of time on the water.
“This is just an awesome lake, but you have to keep working for it,” Jimmy said.
His favorite thing to do on Dodge County PFA is figuring out a pattern during the first part of the day, and spending the remainder of his hours lunker hunting.
Jimmy likes the next few months on Dodge County PFA because the fish are feeding aggressively, not only to fatten up for the winter, but also to prepare for the spawn, which in that part of the state is likely to hit in early February or even late January if temperatures are mild. On the days the fish don’t want to chase something down, Jimmy slows his presentation and keeps right on catching fish.
“I like to keep it basic,” Jimmy said. “I know crankbaits, worms and jigs will work so I’ll use them.”
Jimmy advises anglers to keep their boat moving, but fish the lake carefully. There are so many stumps, standing timber, partially submerged logs and other cover, it looks like there is a bass lurking under every square inch of water. The key to catching them is paying attention to what goes on around you and to keep plugging along.
When he launches his boat, the first thing Jimmy does is study the water to see if he can tell what kind of mood the fish are in. Occasionally he’ll see bass chasing shad on top of the water, or he’ll notice a lot of fish breaking. On those days, Jimmy knows the way to start is with a crankbait.
Jimmy loves to fish a 1/4-oz. chrome/blue Rat-L-Trap and will often start casting it before he tries any other lure. As he leaves the boat ramp, Jimmy heads down the lake to the left. From the boat ramp you can see a nice-looking area of standing timber. Jimmy will work around the edge of the timber throwing the lipless crankbait and letting it sink to different depths before retrieving it.
“I’ll count it down to different depths and see if I get any bites,” Jimmy said.
If a fish strikes at one depth, Jimmy keeps on throwing the Rat-L-Trap and pulling it through the same spot. He said many times he catches several fish out of the same spot, so if he catches a bass, he’ll slow down and really fish an area hard.
He started the day alternating between the Rat-L-Trap and a Texas-rigged worm. Jimmy will cast at an angle toward the bank, but keep his bait a few feet out from the water’s edge as he begins to work it back toward the boat. Later in November as the weather cools off, Jimmy works farther away from the bank, preferring to fish in 12 to 15 feet of water.
While it is warm, Jimmy sticks with the Rat-L-Trap and a baby-bass-colored crankbait that runs six- to eight-feet deep. He kept a crankbait rod at arms length all day, picking it up several times to make casts toward schools of panicked baitfish rolling on top of the water near the boat.
As we moved up the lake, Jimmy picked up his second favorite bait for Dodge County PFA, a red shad Yum worm Texas-rigged with either a 1/4- or 3/8-oz. bullet weight. I switched over to a watermelon red Zoom Finesse worm.
Jimmy’s casts with the worm put his bait in the same areas where he was starting his crankbait. He works the Texas rig slowly, almost always angling away from the bank, not really hopping the worm as much as dragging it across the bottom with a slow retrieve.
A couple of fish offered at our worms, and I even had one cut in half by who-knows-what, but it wasn’t until we started fishing along the long grass bank down the lake and across from the boat ramp that we hit paydirt again.
“I got him,” Jimmy groaned as he drove the hookpoint through the jaw of another short bass.
The wind had shifted and was blowing from the northwest after a south wind that morning. Jimmy let the wind do most of the work, only bumping the foot control of his trolling motor to keep the boat moving in the right direction.
As we worked our way back into a cove, a small bass kept nibbling at my worm before finally committing and getting himself caught. I even tried to throw a topwater prop bait for a few minutes, but I didn’t stick with it long.
“That’s the thing about this lake,” Jimmy said. “You can try a lot of different things and catch fish.”
Toward the spillway, we fished along a steep clay bank where Jimmy hammered another bass on the worm. We made a turn, ran parallel to the bank, and picked up another plastic-worm fish before the day was done.
Jimmy likes the plastic worm to slow down his fishing when the weather cools off. When he needs it even slower, he’ll go to a jig ‘n pig and stick to deep structure.
“Look for structure in 12 to 15 feet of water, and throw a jig to it,” Jimmy said. “Work it real slow at the bottom of the standing trees and around stumps. You’ll throw in there 10 or 12 times before you catch a fish sometimes.”
Jimmy knows the dangers of fishing too fast. He says he sometimes catches himself fishing too quickly, so he’ll stop and do something just to slow himself down.
“If you catch yourself fishing too fast, take a break, drink a Coke, and start back,” Jimmy said.
Dodge County PFA has many long coves. While they produce well sometimes, Jimmy typically works only part of the way back in them this time of year.
“In November the fish are usually going to be out toward the main part of the lake,” Jimmy said. “You can check farther back in the coves, but most of them are going to be out here.”
Jimmy will be fishing plenty over the coming months. He said he loves to fish when he’s wearing a snow suit because there won’t be much
pressure on the water, and the big bass will be lurking. He won’t be there at the crack of dawn. Jimmy and I met mid morning and he doesn’t mind what time the sun comes up, because he figures the fish will eat at some point. And if you see Jimmy, he’ll likely be the last person on the water in the evening.
“They don’t have a set schedule like we do,” Jimmy said. “Fish are going to eat sometime.”
Jimmy owns Sun Shell Auto Trim in Warner Robins, and many folks look at it as an angler information center.
“People come in all the time asking what the fish are doing at the PFA lakes,” Jimmy said.
Dodge County PFA is open between daylight and dark. To get there, take Hwy 441 south from Dublin to Hwy 117 south. Follow 117 into Eastman, cross the railroad tracks and turn south on Hwy 341. A couple of miles outside of Eastman, take Dodge Lake Road on the left. The road dead ends at the PFA.
You need a current fishing license and a WMA stamp to fish at Dodge County PFA. You can launch any boat, but gas motors must be kept at idle speed. Call (478) 374-6765 for information.