Many middle Georgia anglers drive to big reservoirs that are at least an hour’s driving time away and pass right by some of the best fishing that is available almost out the back door.
In Houston County, two large lakes are connected by Mossy Creek, and they are Houston Lake and Lake Joy.
Both are located between the rapidly growing areas of Warner Robins and Perry. Over the years, both lakes have surrendered some huge bass, but they also offer good fishing for crappie, bream, catfish and jackfish.
Lake Joy is located on Lake Joy Road, which crosses the dam. Immediately below it lies the headwaters of Houston Lake, and both lakes have existed since the mid 1800s. First, let’s take a closer look at Houston Lake.
Soon after Houston County was formed in 1821, early settlers dammed up Mossy Creek to set up a grist mill to process corn into flour. The mill grew into a sawmill and textile plant that made cotton and wool cloth. Later the plant made china dishes from the red clay abundant in the area, and early fishermen would sit around the wood burning stove in the small local store and tell big-fish stories.
Due to changing economic conditions, the mill eventually went out of business and was dismantled for parts. But the lake remained a local recreation destination, and Houston Lake Golf Course was built around it. The lake was private until Tropical Storm Alberto blew through in 1994 and dropped 15 to 20 inches of rain in a short amount of time. The heavy flood that resulted sent a deluge of water over Houston Lake dam and washed it out.
Because it would cost a huge amount of money to rebuild the dam to modern standards, home owners around the lake and public officials soon came to a compromise whereby the lake dam would be rebuilt with federal funds if the lake became public. Shortly after this decision, the lake dam was constructed, and the Houston County Commissioners worked with the Georgia WRD Fisheries Office in Fort Valley to install a short pier, parking lot and boat ramp. The lake is a huge recreational draw for Houston County.
Fishing has been popular at the lake, but a heavy cover of various aquatic weeds has hindered fishing and boating access in the past. The weed problem has been partially addressed with routine herbicide treatments coordinated and funded by the Houston Lake Alliance, a citizen’s group, headed by Jack Nash, interested in the long-term health of the lake. This has been an expensive undertaking, but the treatments have been effective, and today the lake is much more fishable and boat friendly.
If you would like to contribute to the Alliance’s effort, you can do so by mailing a contribution of any amount to the Perry Area Historical Society, P.O. Box 2174, Perry, GA 31069.
The Alliance now functions as a part of the Perry Historical Society for administrative purposes. Therefore, make checks payable to: Perry Area Historical Society and write in the memo field: HLA or Houston Lake Alliance.
The rules of the lake are simple. Fishing is allowed daily from dawn to dusk, boats must operate at no wake or
idle speed. No shooting, hunting, alcohol, swimming or jet skis are allowed, and other Georgia fishing regulation apply. There is only one boat ramp, but it is sufficient. Also, Houston County maintains a portable toilet on site.
The lake is about 150 acres, according to Brandon Baker, WRD fisheries biologist. However, a bridge across the lake from the No. 10 golf tee box blocks passage into some of the lake. Anglers are warned to stay back 100 feet from the bridge to avoid being hit by a golf ball.
Houston Lake is fairly shallow with some 16-foot water out from the dam, but much of the lake is only 3 to 6 feet deep. Local angler and house builder Michael Lynn lives close to the lake and fishes it on a frequent basis with great results. He honed his fishing teeth on the Military Bass Anglers Fishing Trail and won the 1988 national tournament on Lake Kerr in North Carolina. The grand prize was a Ranger boat with a Yamaha motor, and Michael and I fished from it on March 31. For a 30-year-old boat, it performed great, and we managed to put several fish in the boat on a very slow day.
Michael is a catch-and-release angler. In 2017, he caught his biggest bass, a 9.5-pounder, from Houston Lake. It hit a Strike King jerkbait in ghost color only about 50 yards north of the boat ramp. Bass up to 14 pounds have been reported from the lake.
He likes to fish open water and normally confines himself to the lower third of the lake that is mostly weed free. We fished in the late morning and could only draw interest from chain pickerel and yellow perch that hit chrome jerkbaits. Michael likes to make long casts and then slowly twitch his bait to draw a predatory reaction strike from a bass.
Some of his favorite locations are the northeast corner of the lake, out from the Houston Lake Clubhouse, where there is a lot of submerged old stumps. He also likes to hit around the shoreline structure out from the No. 10 golf green and the seawall out from No. 11. He sometimes works this area with a junebug or pumpkin-seed worm around the weeds but prefers the open water just out from the cover.
According to Brandon, Houston Lake offers some good fishing, and WRD has yearly stockings of catfish, totaling 16,000, since 2014. They also stocked 60 bass in the lake in 2017 in the 2- to 6-lb. size, and some threadfin shad were stocked to increase the food available to the bass. He says the bream and crappie fishing is good around docks and the deep-water stump fields.
Now let’s look at Lake Joy.
Also starting as an early pioneer grist mill, the area was known as Tharpes Mill Pond and then changed later to Lake Joy. The main lake is owned by Wilbur Long and managed by Taylor Long. Taylor says the main lake is 90 acres. Homeowners around the lake own property down to the water line. Fishing and boating access is $5 per day from dawn to dusk. Bank fishing is $3, but the bank fishing area is small. There is a small white, pay lock box at the boat ramp. The rules and fishing regulations are the same as Houston Lake.
James Fletcher is a lake resident and retired Robins Air Force Base civil service. He has fished the lake for many years from a small jonboat, powered by a paddle, and his best fishing pal is John Allison. He and I have fished together several times in recent months with good results.
James is a stealth fisherman and says the shallow water requires that anglers move around quietly to avoid spooking the fish. He prefers to fish the back of the lake where it is weedy and has less fishing pressure. He often catches good bass in water that is only 1 to 3 feet deep. His best bass was caught in 1986 and weighed 12-lbs., 6-ozs. and hit a Johnson Silver Minnow dressed with a pork rind.
His next best is an 11-pounder that hit a crappie minnow in January 2014 in the main-lake channel. He is a catch-and-release angler, but these two whoppers are hanging on his wall.
Lake Joy is densely weeded, and by summertime, only the deep channel areas are free of weeds. James sneaks around from open pocket to pocket of water and drops in an unweighted junebug worm and lets it sink to the bottom. He then begins a very slow retrieve where he lets the swimming action of the lure draw a strike. Most bass will be in the 1- to 2-lb. class, with a few chain pickerel and mud fish thrown in. James likes to bream fish on the small sandy bottom areas around the shoreline and around boat docks. For crappie, he often uses live minnows in the open channels.
Although Lake Joy is said to be the “Home of the Big One that got away,” local fishing legend Randy Zell has put some whoppers in the boat. His parents lived on the lake, and he fished it often. In the early 1990s, he caught a bass that weighed 15-lbs., 7-ozs. and says that he has caught 20 bass that weighed over 10 pounds from Lake Joy. Some of his big bass are hanging on the wall at Chucks Gun and Pawn in Warner Robins.
He recalls another bass caught by another angler that he saw that weighed 17 pounds, so the opportunity is there to pull in a trophy bass.
The above two bass were not properly documented or weighed on certified scales, so they could not be included in GON’s Georgia’s Biggest Bass of All-Time list.
He says the lake is loaded with dark-colored crayfish, so he uses a black-grape plastic lizard to match the bass food.
Like James Fletcher, he says bass won’t chase bait far in the weeds, so he drops the bait in every open hole in the grass and swims it slowly. The lake is also loaded with frogs and tadpoles, so a black floating frog will produce bass. For big bream, he recommends the back, south side of the lake and suggests Louisiana pinks fished on the bottom with no cork.
If you live in middle Georgia, spend a May day avoiding the longer drives to bigger reservoirs. Try out these two home-grown lakes, and you just may be surprised.