Mention the word hydrilla to a farm pond fisherman, and you’re apt to be rewarded with a look of total disgust. And likely the only folks who detest this pond-blanketing weed more than pond fishermen are WRD Fisheries biologists.
When WRD undertook the transformation of the aging three-lake chain at Evans County Public Fishing Area, Biologist Joel Fleming, Area Manager Steve Mincey and their staffs had high hopes for this secluded spot just outside Claxton.
But hydrilla got a head start.
The original pond on the site dated back to the 1950s and had never been drained before work to repair weakening dams began in 2010. When water began flowing back into the chain in December 2012, the hydrilla saw its chance—and leaped at it.
“When we began filling and stocking, it happened to be one of those times when we didn’t have grass carp available to put into the lakes,” Joel said. “And when hydrilla gets started, you can’t keep up with it in the summer. It’s virtually impossible to get on top of it, regardless of what type of chemicals you use or how much you pour in.”
Two years ago this month, I visited Evans to chronicle its rebirth. I caught some fish, but I also cleaned a couple bushel baskets of aggravating hydrilla off my hooks. Last year, according to Joel, the stuff was even worse. But in keeping with GON’s tradition of letting you know what’s going on now, be advised that if you’ve put off making a trip to Claxton, go ahead and add it to your schedule.
Hydrilla is no more!
“When they became available, we poured the grass carp in, and they have cleaned the hydrilla out,” Joel said. “We actually saw a decrease in anglers last year because of the stuff, but we’re ahead of it now.”
And as I walked the banks of the three lakes—Longleaf, Woodie and Bidd Sands—within this 372-acre facility, the difference was amazing. Clean bottom was evident everywhere, shadowed only by lily pads, stumps and standing timber.
This was what WRD and visiting fishermen had in mind from the start. And those fishermen have been reaping the benefits of hard work put in by the carp.
“We’ve seen catches of every species go up,” Joel reported. “A month ago, folks were really catching a pile of crappie out of the big lake, and of course, the bass fishing is always going to be there.”
The big lake, 84-acre Bidd Sands, is the bottom of the three. It shares a dam with Lake Woodie, which is bordered on its upper end by an archery range reaching to Lake Longleaf.
Little Bull Creek flows into Lake Woodie, out of it into Bidd Sands, and the big lake’s drainage returns to the creek and on into the nearby Canoochee River.
Of Bidd Sands, Joel said, “Our goal was to create a quality crappie fishery. This area of the state doesn’t have a lot of spots available for the public to fish. There are no major lakes, and other than the south Georgia rivers, it can be difficult to find access to good fishing. A lot of our fishermen don’t have boats, so river fishing is out for them.
“With the catches we’ve seen already, it’s obvious that the crappie have really come on.”
Those fish were stocked in December 2012, along with bream and catfish. After a head start to give those species a footing, bass were added in the spring of 2013.
All of the lakes are shallow, with Bidd Sands featuring the deepest spots reaching 12 to 15 feet around the dam. Clearly marked submerged fish-attracting structures have been put in place within casting distance from that dam.
“Jigs and minnows are producing well for crappie fishermen, from the bank or out on the lake,” Joel said. “As it warms up, they’ll probably be caught in bunches from the creek channel that runs down the middle of the lake. It’s filled with stumps and submerged timber, and they’ll hold on that wood.”
The bass catch on Bidd Sands is already exceeding expectations. Those fish stocked three years ago are reaching impressive sizes, but keep in mind that those aren’t the only largemouth swimming around. Some of the fish removed when work began were put back in.
According to Joel, “The shallows have been very productive for bass with worms and other plastics, and we’ve had some 5-pounders caught. There are bigger ones in there.”
One bank fisherman, casting for largemouth along the lower dam on Woodie, pointed down toward the big lake and to a point directly across from the concrete launch ramp and said, “There was a 9-pounder caught a couple of weeks ago there where the bottom drops off that point into the creek channel. There are some good fish in here; you just have to be able to get to them.”
But don’t get caught up in thoughts of big bass. As Joel says, “Trophy bass are not in our program here. While the fishing for them is always going to be good, it’s because we keep it bass-heavy in order to keep the crappie under control. Most of our fishermen put the bass right back into the water for somebody else to catch, and we appreciate that. Their predation helps regulate the other species.
“We do electrosampling on Tuesdays, when the area is closed, so we keep up with what each population is doing.”
Evans PFA is open Wednesday through Sunday, sunrise to sunset. Creel limits for each species are clearly posted. The area is 8.5 miles east of Claxton just off Highway 280. Turn right on Old Reidsville-Savannah Road, and then look for Old Sunbury Road (dirt) a mile later on your left. Three tenths of a mile later, you’ll cross the Bidd Sands dam.
It’s likely you’ll spot several bank fishermen near the big lake’s ramp, shaded by lofty pines. This is a favorite spot, and bream limits are frequently caught here with little effort over the course of a couple hours.
Thus far, Old Man Winter’s grudging efforts at giving way have held up the usual big catches, but expect bream fishing to heat up with the weather.
“The shellcrackers haven’t bedded yet, but we expect that spawn around the next full moon,” Joel said.
That would be Saturday, May 21. As the PFA reopens for the week on Wednesday, May 18, after two days of no fishing pressure at all, it would probably be a good idea to be there with wigglers and crickets aplenty as soon as the sun shows itself.
Up the lake from the ramp, on the same side, there’s a couple of peninsulas that jut out into the water, providing access for bank fishermen to reach traditional bream and, in particular, shellcracker bedding areas. Now that there’s no hydrilla to contend with, all you need is to be in place when it happens.
We’ve focused on Bidd Sands because it is going to provide the best shot at catching any species of fish available here. But it’s certainly not the only option.
The middle pond, Woodie, does not see a lot of fish-intensive management. It’s very shallow and not typically fertilized because the flow through it carries the fertilizer along. It does have a large fish population and can be a really good panfish spot, according to Joel.
If it’s peace and quiet you’re looking for, you may want to travel to the upper end of the chain and Lake Longleaf. For families, there’s not a PFA I’ve ever visited that can top it: plenty of open area, benches, grills, tables and plenty of shade.
The lake itself features a wooden walkway completely cutting off a portion of water from boat traffic. You can walk all the way across, fishing from the bank all the way around the restricted area.
“We shifted Longleaf more toward catfish, and we typically push our catfish fishermen toward that spot,” Joel related. “There are catfish in the other ponds, but this one is managed especially for them and is best. While we appreciate bass being returned to the water, we encourage the harvest of catfish. This lake has plenty of them.
“And it’s a beautiful site back here.”
I would wholeheartedly agree. Plus, it’s getting even better. Part of the time he was providing information, Joel, along with Steve Mincey, was also handling the working end of a shovel. They’re busy preparing for a new pavilion going up beside Longleaf.
“We’re doing the concrete work ourselves, which will probably save a thousand dollars or so over having someone come in and pour it commercially. That’s a thousand dollars we can put back into the fishing,” said Joel.
Visiting Evans on a chilly, overcast Wednesday, arriving early morning and hanging out through the day, I was curious to see just how many fishermen would be on hand. The total was three: the one fairly nonchalant bank fishermen on Woodie and two in the same boat on Longleaf. There will be 40 or 50 come on weekends, but for the most part, Evans PFA remains a hidden jewel. Check it out.