Ocmulgee Public Fishing Area (PFA) near Hawkinsville is a lake you are going to hear a lot about over the next decade, if you have not already. It already has a fantastic crappie population, with some huge slabs caught each year, but the bass are just starting to raise eyebrows.
My article last month about Fort Stewart featured lakes that have a long, rich history of producing double-digit largemouths, but the oldest year-class of bass in Ocmulgee PFA just topped 10 pounds last year. This is a uniquely managed system that is very different from the pond across the street from you. In my opinion, you have as good of a chance at hooking a 10-pounder at Ocmulgee PFA as any other public water in the state. Whether or not you land it is dependent upon your angling skills and a little luck.
When you fish at the PFA, you will not be wading through lots of 5- and 6-pounders to catch that 10-pounder, as there are relatively few bass in the entire system. Joe Rydell, WRD fisheries biologist supervising the PFA, explained the lake was originally stocked in 2005-2006 with 11 bass per acre, which translates to roughly 1,100 bass in the 106-acre lake.
It then received supplemental stockings of about 50 bass in 2009 and 300 in 2010. You might ask yourself why additional bass were restocked, because bass can reproduce on their own. All of the bass stocked were females, and all were tagged with an internal chip that allows fisheries staff to monitor growth of individual fish when they sample them during routine electrofishing. Additionally, there is no harvest of bass allowed — they must all be released. Let me strongly encourage you to have a camera with you. You’ll want to quickly capture the moment before releasing the fish.
The combination of no harvest, only female bass, liming/fertilizing, and plentiful forage is a recipe that could potentially produce bass approaching or eclipsing world-record size. Forage species stocked into the lake include bluegill, lake chubsuckers, goldfish, threadfin shad, golden shiners and redear sunfish (shellcrackers). Crappie scarf up lots of the smaller forage, but there are lots of bigger forage fish on which the bass can grow. The bass in the lake look like big footballs, and the challenge for an angler is to convince them to eat your offering.
“When you bass fish at Ocmulgee PFA, you are fishing for one bite,” Joe said.
For my first trip to the PFA, I waited for a warming trend that did not happen and was forced to go at the very beginning of a warming spell in mid-February. Joe and Les Ager, of Hawkinsville, joined me on my trip to the lake, Joe in his boat and Les in mine. Les is a retired WRD fisheries regional supervisor who led the early development of the lake. He has fished the lake several times since it opened, and last year caught a 10-lb., 4-oz. bass on a fly rod and popper. With the forecasted cold weather, he traded his fly equipment for baitcasting gear for our trip.
That morning a hard frost greeted us. We launched, trying not to slip on ice on the dock or boat. As we idled away from the dock, I shuddered to see a 43-degree water temperature pop up on my depthfinder. It was deja vu, as that was the water temperature when I fished at Fort Stewart the month before. I brought along several live baitfish species and several boxes of lures stuffed with jigs, big worms and swimbaits.
Because of the cold morning, we decided to fish the channel on the upper end of the lake where we figured bass would stage before they move shallow. In our favor was the recent rain that pushed water through a pinch in the channel, giving a little bit of current to attract baitfish and bass. Factors stacked against us included the heavily stained water produced by that rain, cold water and wind, which howled all day after the first hour of daylight.
Joe’s approach, which has worked well for him, was to anchor next to the channel and let a big live bait work on the bottom while he fished a lure. He fished his live bait on a Carolina-rig with about a 1-foot leader between his 1/2-oz. sinker and hook. He used a 6 1/2-foot medium action Ugly Stik Lite rod that has worked well for his big walleye and bass fishing. He fan-casted a chrome/blue back 1/2-oz. Cordell Super Spot lipless crankbait in the area while waiting for his bait clicker to go off.
I decided to alternate between fishing a live bait without a float and casting one of my handmade black/junebug jigs with a NetBait Paca Chunk trailer.
Les chose the biggest live bait in the tank and suspended it about 5 feet below an oval float. He skewered it on a 5/0 Gamakatsu Shiner SE hook. We pretty much had the bass covered from top to bottom, so it was just a matter of finding a hungry fish.
The first couple hours were slow. None of our lures triggered a bite in the cold water, but Joe had a bass hit his live bait fished on the bottom. He swung and missed. We moved around between the timber-lined channel, deep open water, drops and the pinch during the day. Our only flurry of activity came almost at noon when Les had a baitfish get eaten underneath his float. A bass hit his bait several pitches in a row before it finally disappeared in a swirl. He leaned into her and hooked up. After several strong runs and wallows at the surface, he hoisted an 8-lb., 12-oz. bass into the boat. The big girl measured 22 inches, short for a heavy fish. With her super-fat belly, she appeared to have been feasting on the smorgasbord of baitfish in the lake before she ate Les’ bait. We took a few photos and then released her.
Jigs, lipless crankbaits, swimbaits, big worms nor live bait produced another strike the rest of that day. And so it goes with trophy bass fishing. At Ocmulgee PFA, you need to keep yourself in the mindset that it is a “one-bite” lake, but that one bite could very well be the fish of a lifetime.
March is a transitional month. Some bass will move shallow during warming trends, while cold fronts will push them deeper. During our cold, blustery day, I was drooling as I scanned the flooded willows lining the shoreline. My mind drifted to a warm spring afternoon with huge fish crashing my buzzbait as it cleared a flooded bush. Buzzbaits, spinnerbaits and big lizards should fool trophies this spring when they are shallow. Joe had a day last spring where he caught an 8 1/2-pounder on a lipless crankbait and his friend caught a 6-pounder on a chartreuse spinnerbait with a chrome blade. Those two fish are still out there and have gained another pound or two over the last year.
When spring cold fronts move through, expect the bass to pull out to the deeper edges of cover, such as the deep side of the willows. I would imagine that a big jig worked through the limbs or a swimbait worked parallel to the bushes when the fish pull back would be deadly.
There is so much cover in the lake that it looks as if you could catch a big bass anywhere. There are plenty of places for a big bass to bury up into after it takes your lure, so my recommendation is heavy tackle, as in flipping sticks and heavy line. To locate some of the cover placed offshore by WRD staff, check out the PFA website at <www.gofishgeorgia.com> and then click on Fishing, Public Fishing Areas then Ocmulgee PFA on the right-hand side. The detailed map, which you can print and take with you to the lake, gives depth contours and GPS coordinates for offshore cover. One noteworthy location is the aeration system in the deep area of the lake near the dam. During late spring and summer, fish congregate in this section of the lake because of the additional oxygen supplied by aeration.
Just because all bass must be released does not mean you cannot have a trophy for your wall. Today’s fiberglass replicas have fantastic detail and are about the same cost, if not cheaper than skin mounts. Check with your favorite taxidermist to see if they can reproduce your fish. In order to have a replica of your fish made, all you need to do is measure the length and girth (girth is not absolutely necessary) and snap a photo of the fish. The beauty of this type of mount is that your bass can make someone else’s day in the future.
Joe said that typically the peak shallow bite is from the end of March through the middle of April, but it is very much weather-dependent. The last couple springs have been colder and longer than usual, so the peak has been in April, but usually it is earlier than that. Les will be finessing trophies with his fly rod and poppers this spring. Whatever gear you choose, this lake will give you a better than average chance of tangling with a big bass. Ocmulgee PFA is not a bass fishery for everyone, but if you are looking for a double-digit bass it now ranks among the top Georgia destinations.
“I would not be surprised if someone catches a 13-pounder this spring,” Joe said.
I cannot wait to get back to Ocmulgee PFA to see if I can catch that 13-pounder, but next month, in part three of The 10-pound Tour, I will be heading to Lake Varner to tangle with some of its giant bass.