Paradise Public Fishing Area (PFA) near Tifton is a cornucopia for anglers. Boasting more than 60 lakes and ponds that range in size from 1/4 to 112 acres spread across the sprawling 1,341-acre tract, you can find just about any warm-water angling experience you want. By the same token, anglers’ eyes bug out the first time they look at the PFA map. Inevitably, the first thing that comes to mind is, “Where do I start?” The following information will help you get started with your exploration.
The map of Paradise PFA on the opposite page is one you’ll want to tear out and keep in your tackle box. It shows you what species of fish is in each lake or pond and what lakes are exceptional for a particular species. Although Paradise PFA has more than 60 ponds and lakes open to fishing, some of them are not printed in the list. These are very small ponds, but they are still open.
Charles West has been the area manager since 1989. Charles is retiring this summer after guiding the management of the area, along with assistant Noel Jackson and many other associates for more than two decades. During their tenure, literally millions of fish have been caught on the area. As one of the busiest PFAs in Georgia’s system, around 50,000 anglers visit the area to fish each year.
“Through intensive management, such as liming and fertilizing, the Paradise PFA lakes support very high fishing pressure and still produce high-quality fishing,” Charles said.
Whether you are a bass, bream, crappie or catfish angler fishing from the bank or a boat, Paradise PFA offers exceptional fishing opportunities.
Bass: The ponds have long been touted as a great bass angling destination. Even though the lakes are several decades old, they continue to produce trophy-sized bass each year, as well as plenty of smaller bass for frying pans. The harvest limit is five fish longer than 14 inches if you want to keep some bass to eat.
It is hard to pick just five quality lakes for bass, as you have the potential to catch a trophy in just about all of the lakes. That being said, Patrick, Bobben, Russell, Paradise and Horseshoe 4 top the list. The fish often relate to schools of threadfin shad, so always investigate areas where you see shad activity.
Lake Patrick has historically produced some of the biggest bass on the area. The lake was renovated in the late 1990s, and the bass population in the lake is strong. Threadfin shad are numerous, and the fish often key on those shad schools. During the heat of summer, fish topwater baits near shad schools and points first thing in the morning, and then for big fish bang a big crankbait against offshore cover when the sun is up. Anglers sight-fish for bedding females from February through April and catch some huge fish each year on black/blue jig-n-pigs.
If you are just interested in getting bites, head to lakes Bobben, Russell and Horseshoe 4. Early in the morning, you can often coax some quality fish with topwaters, such as Zara Spooks in open water or buzzbaits around shoreline cover.
Once the sun gets higher, throw a small 4- or 5-inch plastic worm on a shaky head or drop-shot rig for numbers of fish. Green pumpkin, watermelonseed, redbug and junebug worms work well, as do some of the newer designer colors, such as tilapia and plum apple. There are offshore brushpiles in each of these lakes, so keep an eye on your depthfinder as you are easing along. If you bounce a shad- or bluegill-colored crankbait or swimbait against that cover, you have a chance to hook into a lunker.
Lake Paradise was renovated a half-decade ago, and the bass population has grown very well. Paradise is a shallow lake with plenty of wood cover. Fish fast for reaction bites early and late in the day with spinnerbaits or crankbaits, and then slow down with plastics as the sun gets up. If you are looking for a big fish, use a Texas-rigged 8- or 10-inch plastic worm among the standing timber and flooded brush.
Bream: Paradise ponds contain bluegills, shellcrackers and the smaller warmouth. The fertilized lakes generally hold a higher panfish population, but bream are present in all of the ponds. The harvest limit on bream is 15 per person with no size limit.
Bream are a great option for anglers without a boat. Fishing piers, earthen berms, cleared banks and dams provide shoreline access. Some of the better lakes for bream are Patrick, Paradise, Horseshoe 2, Beaver and Windy.
For high numbers of smaller fish, lakes Windy, Beaver and Horseshoe 2 are good choices. Bank access is good at each lake, and fish will readily take a cricket fished underneath a small float. Lake Paradise produces fewer but larger fish, although if you fish during a good bite, you can catch a limit. Lake Patrick produces an almost unbelievable number of large bluegills and shellcrackers each year. Successful anglers generally fish with a float with crickets for bluegills and worms for shellcrackers. Generally, you want to set your float so that your bait is near the bottom, especially for shellcrackers. Lake Patrick contains accessible fishing piers to provide barrier-free angling.
As well as crickets and worms, you can catch bream on artificials. Black/yellow and black/chartreuse Beetle Spins fool plenty of bream each year, especially around bedding areas. During summer, fly anglers should bring some of their favorite bug patterns and fling them around shoreline cover and bedding areas. Some quality fish will pick the artificial off the surface. Subsurface flies will also fool them, but it is exciting to watch a big bream crash a surface popper.
Crappie: Crappie are established in many of the lakes, but some have much stronger populations than others due to habitat, predator populations and other factors. The harvest limit is the statewide limit of 30 fish per person (no size limit). The summer bite for crappie is usually slow, but they will start chowing as the temperatures drop this fall, usually by mid October.
Lakes Patrick, Russell and Horseshoe 2 are notable for crappie. Lake Patrick, the largest lake on the area, has varied habitat. In the deeper water near the dam, trolling works best, while you can pitch to shoreline cover and vegetation edges in the upper portion of the lake. Lakes Russell and Horseshoe 2 do not have quite as many fish, but you can catch some slabs from them.
Live minnows are not allowed on the area, so artificial lures are the go-to baits for crappie. Trolling small tube lures and curly tailed grubs under floats or without floats is usually the most productive presentation. Fish are typically offshore during fall and winter, and trolling allows you to locate the schools effectively.
Try a variety of depths until you determine at which depth the fish want the bait presented. During spring, fish shoreline cover to catch fish moving shallow to spawn. Combinations of chartreuse, yellow, white, red, pumpkinseed and black are common colors you will find tied on lines of anglers targeting crappie. If you do not have a favorite, a consistent color is black with a chartreuse tail.
Catfish: Practically all of the lakes contain one of the catfish species. The harvest limit is five channel catfish per person (no size limit). There are also bullheads (brown and yellow) in many of the ponds. Horseshoe 1 is a good option if you want to catch channel catfish, as the lake receives stockings of the whiskerfish. On most of the other lakes, the catfish populations are self-sustaining.
Lake Patrick has a good population of bullhead catfish. Anglers often catch shiners from the pier while bream fishing and turn around and cut them into pieces and fish them on a bottom rig to fool some nice bullheads (mostly brown bullheads, or speckled cats). Expect them to weigh up to about 2 pounds. Horseshoe 3 Lake also has a decent bullhead population. Fish around the mats of shoreline weeds, as the fish will often suspend underneath them.
Mullet gut is a unique catfish bait that involves wrapping sinuous, rank mullet gut around the hook like a ball of yarn until the gap of the hook is covered. Charles said mullet gut washes off your hands much better than other baits. You can try to find the bait at local bait-and-tackle stores or seafood dealers that sell mullet. The traditional baits—worms, cut bait fish, chicken livers and store-bought prepared catfish baits—also work well on the area. Present your favorite bait on a bottom rig with a sinker about a foot to 18 inches above the hook. Use stout tackle, as catfish weighing more than 10 pounds are not uncommon.
Access: Nine of the ponds have concrete boat ramps that can launch a canoe up to a bass boat. Those nine lakes are Patrick, Paradise, Bobben, Beaver, Russell, Tacklebuster, Horseshoe 3, Horseshoe 4 and Horseshoe 5 (this lake is closed while the spillway is being rebuilt). There is no limit on the size of boat or motor; however, do not go to Paradise PFA planning to run your Optimax wide open across the lakes. 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.
Paradise PFA is a great location for a family camping trip with tents or pop-up campers (no RVs). Primitive, semi-private campsites are available for $10 per night. Each site contains a picnic table and fire ring, and bathrooms are a short walk from the sites. Tifton is a 15-minute drive for those who prefer to “rough it” at a motel. There is also a group camping area ($20 charge) available by reservation only. Other than fishing, your family may want to walk the nature trail, which includes a portion of boardwalk over a wetlands area. Hunters can also access the area during scheduled waterfowl and dove hunts. Check the hunting regulations later this summer or the WRD website for dates and hunting regulations.
The area is open from Wednesday through Sunday (closed Mondays and Tuesdays) each week from sunrise to sunset. Licenses are not sold on-site, so make sure you are licensed before entering the area. The new Georgia Outdoor Recreation Pass (GORP) is required to enter the area for non-fishing purposes (camping, horseback riding, birdwatching, etc.). As with fishing licenses, youth 15 years of age and younger are not required to purchase a GORP. Check the Georgia sport fishing regulations guide, WRD website at www.gofishgeorgia.com or the information board at the entrance to the area for license requirements and other regulations.
To get to Paradise PFA from Tifton, take U.S. Hwy 82 east for 8 miles to Brookfield and follow the brown and white directional signs.
Load up family and friends and head to this impressive south Georgia PFA this summer. Use the above information to get started in your quest to figure out the numerous lakes that are teeming with fish.