While the Fort Stewart ponds get much of the fanfare in the Savannah area, the Evans County Public Fishing Area (PFA) operated by the Wildlife Resources Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources quietly produces great catches of bass, bluegill, shellcrackers, and catfish. The almost 400-acre area is located in Daisy, adjacent to the north- west corner of Fort Stewart.
One day while in Savannah milling around the angler’s candyland, also known as Bass Pro Shops, I started a conversation with one of the associates named Joe Nunnally from Guyton. I learned that one of Joe’s favorite freshwater fishing spots was Evans County PFA. It did not take any arm-twisting to get invited on a trip, so we fished together this spring. Several days before the trip, I quizzed Joe as to the conditions he prefers for fishing the PFA. He said that during spring he likes to fish the afternoons to make sure he is fishing the warmest weather of the day. He did not really care rain or shine, as long as the winds were calm. We searched the weather forecasts and decided upon the day with the warmest temperatures and calm winds.
While the warm temperatures came to pass, the National Weather Service blew the wind forecast like a horn… a great big TUBA! Just before midday the winds started blowing down the length of the lake and built to a sustained 20 mph with higher gusts. We shoved off the Bidd Sands Lake dock into the howling winds with little confidence.
We talked as we trolled our way out of the wind and into a semi-protected, uplake cove to begin fishing. Joe, the assistant manager of the fish- ing section at the Savannah Bass Pro Shops, spends about half his time fishing inshore saltwater and half at Evans County PFA as was evident by his 17- foot Key W est, complete with poling platform astern. He is a third-generation angler at the Evans County Public Fishing Area.
“My grandfather fished the lake long before the state owned the property,” Joe shared. “My family has been catching bass from the lake since it was owned by the Sands family. The fishing can be tough, but if you slow down and stay with your confidence baits, you can catch some nice bass.”
It did not take long to learn that he was not blowing smoke; he actually knows the lake intimately. The inci- dent that secured my confidence occurred in the first cove we fished. Joe’s cast landed about 15 feet to the right of an obvious stump. I figured he had just missed the cast until a few minutes later as we eased past a large, previously invisible stump to which his “errant” cast was perfectly target- ed. When quizzed about the target of that cast, Joe just snickered back, “I told you I’ve fished this lake a bunch.”
Due to the high winds we were forced to spend much of our time in the backs of the few protected coves. Unfortunately, the fish had not yet moved into the backs of the coves, so bites were few. After plying the backs of the coves with spinnerbaits, worms, and jigs, we decided to fish the most protected water on the area — the spillway below Bidd Sands Lake. We beached the boat at the corner of the dam and walked across the dam with a couple rods and a pocketful of jigs and trailers.
“I’ve done really well for bass when the water is flowing hard out of the lake. Jigs have been the ticket when the fish are stacked in the spillway pool,” Joe said.
The plunge pool below Bidd Sands Lake is only a long cast wide and maybe 100 yards long, but it can be a fish magnet when conditions are right. The flow ends up in the Canoochee River just a short distance below the area, and many different species of fish move from the river up into the plunge pool from time to time. Crappie are the prime winter species, while bluegill and shellcrackers take center stage during spring.
About a year ago I saw an angler catch an impressive stringer of pound-sized shellcrackers on red wigglers fished on the bottom. Y ou have the potential to catch bass in the pool any month of the year. Joe has caught and released 3- and 4-lb. bass routinely from the pool. We did not score in the plunge pool on that day, but it was not from lack of effort. After about an hour of casting, we scurried back up the bank to the gusty wind in hopes that the wind would have slowed down or at least caused some fish to actively feed. Neither happened. We fished wind- blown points with Rat-L-Traps, spin- nerbaits, jerkbaits, and worms without finding active fish.
Joe eased the boat up one of his favorite shorelines opposite the fishing pier. The stretch has blowdown trees and limbs pushed up into piles. He slowed down and fished his favorite bait for cold water, a jig. He fishes jigs year-round, but relies on them most heavily when the mercury is below 60 degrees. His preference is a black with glow-blue skirt 3/16-oz. Strike King Bitsy Bug. A black with blue-flake Zoom Swimming Chunk trailer rounds out the package. He prefers the glow- blue highlight in blackwater systems, as he believes it is more visible than the traditional blue used in most jigs. He pitches jigs and his other offerings with Bass Pro Shops Extreme rods and Shimano Calcutta reels spooled with P-Line CXX in 8- to 15-lb. test, depending upon water clarity.
Joe pitched toward the blowdowns and s-l-o-w-l-y worked the lure back to the boat, a tedious presentation in stiff winds. He had a tap and set the hook hard, rocking the boat. After a short fight he brought a bass boatside before taking a few photos and releasing the fish that was just shy of the 14-inch legal length limit. We worked up that same shore without further bites on a jig.
“Last spring the bass were shallow on this shoreline, and you could see the wakes from their moving up in the trees and shoreline vegetation, but it is still a little early this year,” Joe said.
By the first of April, the fish should be sloshing in the shallows as he described. We worked up into the shallow, heavily vegetated upper end of the lake with only a few swats at our offerings. Several grass carp spooked from the shallow grass, making our hearts race for a moment. Joe threw a white-pearl Zoom Super Fluke a few casts in hopes of finding an aggressive cruising fish, but it was to no avail. He explained to me that in April after the bass have spawned, flukes are his favorite presentation from then until the first few cold fronts in the fall.
“As the water warms, lily pads will begin to grow all around the edge of the lake. The bass will move out on the edges after they spawn, and the Super Flukes are great baits to catch them,” Joe noted.
He does not get fancy with color selection at the area. The Super Flukes he casts will be either white pearl or Arkansas shiner. His hook of choice for fluking is a Gamakatsu 5/0 EWG extra-wide-gap worm hook, and he fishes the Super Fluke unweighted. If the bass are extremely finicky, Joe will throw a green pumpkin-chartreuse tip five-inch Senko unweighted. If he is fortunate to be at the area when the bass are active, he will tie on a pearl/green shad-colored RC 0.5 crankbait, made by Lucky Strike exclusively for Bass Pro Shops.
“I love the shallow depth and unique wobble of the RC 0.5 to trigger a reflex bite,” he said.
While Joe spends his time bass fishing on the largest lake, Bidd Sands Lake, the other two lakes on the area are also worth exploring. Eight-acre Lake Longleaf has clear water, as opposed to the blackwater of Bidd Sands Lake. Bass and crappie are more numerous in this lake than in Bidd Sands Lake, but your chances of catching a trophy of either species are less than in the bigger lake. Channel catfish are stocked each June in preparation for a Kids Fishing Event held each year. Bring a kid to this family-friend- ly event for fishing, food, prizes, and fun. After the event, the public will continue to catch catfish from this lake all summer. The usual worms, chicken livers, and prepared catfish baits fished on the bottom are always good offerings for catfish.
Lake Woody is a 30-acre lake that is managed for waterfowl, but fishing is still allowed. The management strategy for waterfowl (severe drawdown conditions in spring/summer, flooded conditions in fall/winter) is opposite of that to produce quality fisheries, so the fish population is low in Lake Woody. Nevertheless, an occasional nice sun- fish or bass is caught from the lake. For those interested in waterfowl hunt- ing, adult/child quota and general quota waterfowl hunts are conducted each year. For more information or to register for the quota hunts, call the Metter Fisheries Office at (912) 685- 6424 by early October.
Crappie fishing is very good on the area. Lake Longleaf offers larger numbers of crappie, but in Bidd Sands Lake you have a chance at catching slabs over two pounds. Evans County PFA is one of the few areas in the PFA program that allows the use of live fish as bait. Live minnows and jigs suspended under floats and drifted behind the boat in open water account for many crappie. Metter fisheries biolo- gist Ted Will likes to take his wife, Tracey, and son, Jackson, fishing for crappie on the area. Ted swears by two-inch Triple-Ripple grubs. Chartreuse and white hues are always good choices for crappie. Ted impales the grubs on a 1/32-oz. jighead and usually fishes them without a float when the crappie are near the banks. He casts them out, lets them sink a moment and then swims them slowly back to the boat without twitches, pauses, or any other antics. This simple retrieve is the one that draws the most strikes for Ted. He and Jackson caught several-dozen crappie on a mid-March outing to Lake Longleaf.
Bluegill and shellcracker fishing on the area can be outstanding on all the lakes and in the Bidd Sands Lake plunge pool during late April, May, and June. In Bidd Sands Lake, search the lily-pad fields and shallows until you locate the beds. Red wigglers and pink worms fished under a float account for many shellcrackers. Bluegill are frequently fooled by a cricket suspended under a float or a small Beetle Spin. The traditional 1/32-oz. Beetle Spins in white-red dot and black-yellow stripes are great starting choices. In the plunge pool, fish worms on bottom for shellcrackers and bluegill. Make sure to use the handrails when walking from the dam to the plunge pool, as pine needles can make the slope slick.
Concrete boat ramps with access docks are available on Lake Longleaf and Bidd Sands Lake. No boat ramp is available on Lake Woody, although you may slide a canoe down the bank, should you choose. You can launch everything from a canoe to a 24-foot Mako bay boat from the concrete ramps, but do not fire that big Mercury outboard. Gasoline engines are allowed on your boat, but they can’t be cranked on the lakes. You may use only electric trolling motors or muscle power (paddles).
The area is open seven days a week from sunrise to sunset. License requirements are the same as on all WRD Public Fishing Areas. You can learn the licensing options from the fishing regulations guide or from the division website at www.gofishgeorgia.com. Directional signs will guide you to the area from U.S. Hwy 280, east of Daisy.
Whether chasing bass, bluegill, or crappie from the bank, a bass boat, or from a canoe, you will have an enjoy- able trip to Evans County Public Fishing Area. Beautiful surroundings and the likelihood of seeing a bald eagle only add to the experience.