Now that the smoke has settled and another deer season is in the bag, I, like many of you, turn my attention to one of my deepest passions… bass fishing. Spring is one of my favorite times of the year, and my No. 1 favorite thing to do is head to Paradise PFA in Berrien County to try to hook up with a south Georgia giant.
I have a group of buddies who have been heading south with me for years now for a good time and some friendly competition. We call this annual fishing tournament and camping trip our “Spring Fling,” and we head down to Tifton as early as the middle of February and as late as mid April. With 68 different lakes, Paradise PFA offers some great fishing. These lakes are well man- aged and offer a variety of fish to be caught. There are catfish, bream, crappie and the ever so exciting largemouth bass.
Largemouths are what our group is gunning for, and let me tell you, there are some nice ones down there. There have been years when we caught a boatload of fish, and there have been years when the bite was very tough, but we have always had a good time. Here are some tactics we have found to be effective over the years at some of the more productive lakes on the area. So here is my so-called “knowledge of paradise” that I’m passing on to you.
First and foremost, before setting out for Paradise, contact the local DNR person who is working out of Paradise PFA and ask him some questions. Over the years we have gotten to know several of these guys, and they are top- notch. They are always more than willing to answer any question. They can tell you which lakes have been producing better than others and what the bass seem to be biting. We usually camp for three or four days, too, and they let us know what campsites we can use and how we should arrange our group.
And, on that note, the facilities at Paradise PFA are excellent. They have great campsites, good bathroom facilities, a fish-cleaning station should you choose to clean your fish there, and every lake is well marked. You should pick up a map of the PFA as soon as you turn into Paradise, and this map will help you find the different lakes that seem to be everywhere you look. Now let’s get to the fishing.
Paradise is known to have quality largemouths, and when I say quality, I mean big, fat bass that can weigh up into the ’teens. Just a few years ago there was a 13-lb. monster caught out of Lake Paradise itself. As far as our group goes, our personal best and still the all-time biggest bass for us, was a 7 1/2-lb. largemouth Mr. Wojo Jenkins busted one spring. So the potential is there to catch the bass of a lifetime. Early spring is one of the best times to target these big bass because of the spawn. And whether you like to fish prespawn or right in the middle of the spawn, when you have an opportunity to find them on bed, February through March is a good time to have a line in the water at Paradise PFA.
Understand that when fishing during this time of year the weather can play havoc with your fishing, or it can play right into your hands. We have been down there when it looked like everything was lining up just perfect, then a cold front blew in and shut down the fishing. One year, I had a big female targeted on bed, and I threw everything I had at her. She would swim out from underneath the lily pads to inspect her bed, take one look at my lizard, worm, Sweet Beaver or whatever the bait happened to be and turn her nose up and swim back into the lily pads. I’m going to give you the tactics we use on what we feel have been the best lakes to fish at Paradise PFA.
No. 1: Lake Patrick
At more than 120 acres, this is the biggest lake at Paradise, and it has a lot of different structure to fish. If you like to fish deep, then as soon as you pull out from the boat ramp you need to head toward the dam. There is a small stretch of docks that a lot of the bank fishermen use on the right side of the lake, and there is a good bit of brush right out in front of these docks where we have caught some good bass.
We have caught them on soft plastics here, mainly using a weightless, 5- inch, green-pumpkin Senko. Just cast up to the docks or skip it underneath them, and work it back to the boat slowly. We have also caught them here by throwing a white Zoom Super Fluke and swimming it over the tops of the submerged brush. The fish will come out of the brush and hammer a Fluke, and most the time you can see them hit your bait.
Now, we have never caught them really well right on the dam, but the corners have always produced. Facing the dam, the far right corner has good vegetation, and there is some shallow water that drops off into deeper water where you can catch a female trying to make her mind up whether she wants to come up and spawn or hang out down deep. In the other corner is another good fishing spot. It’s the same sort of set up as the other corner, but coming out from this corner and heading up the side of the bank is a deep creek channel that is a sweet spot for bass.
Now I can hear my buddies sharpening their knives as I write this, because for years this was a secret honey hole we didn’t even tell the rest of the group about. Sorry guys, I’m just trying to help people catch fish.
Work this channel and ledge with a jig or some type of soft plastic. Again, the Senko has busted them in this spot. If you are in a bass boat with electronics, really pay attention to your depthfinder. You will be able to find the channel fairly easily, and really work the edges of it.
My good buddy Buck put on a clinic in this very spot early one morning by catching a 5-pounder, followed by two 3-pounders. Then he lost one at the boat that made the 5-pounder look like a minnow! This was all in about a 10-minute span.
As you cruise up the lake, it becomes shallower, and off to the left and right of the lake are some sloughs. The lily pads grow pretty thick back in these sloughs, but at this time of the year the vegetation is not yet too thick. This is where you can find the beds. You want to make sure you have a good pair of polarized glasses, because this is where you are going to need them.
If I spot a bed, I put the brakes on and just observe for a few minutes. The bass may not be locked onto her bed yet, but she might not be far away either. They often hide under the pads that are nearby and will cruise in and out of the lily pads all day, but they really never leave that area. My No. 1 bed-fishing bait is a Mattlure Ultimate Bluegill. It’s a swimbait, but the nose of the bait is weighted, so when it’s flipped onto a bed it will nose down, and you can just pop it up and down. This makes it look like a real live bream is messing with the bed. These big bass do not like bream messing with their beds, and I have had some very violent strikes using the Mattlure on bedding bass.
There is some standing timber in the upper end of Lake Patrick toward the middle of the lake, and do not think for one second there won’t be a bass at the bottom of one of those trees. I used to think this because you would see everybody and their brother throwing at these trees, and I thought that it was too pressured to hold any fish. At the very least, as you’re switching sides of the lake, throw something over to these trees for 10 or 12 casts. I have caught a few unexpected bass by doing this.
Lake Patrick is big for Paradise, but if you zone in on one area and really dissect it, you can catch fish. As far as baits that work well in this lake, green is king! Soft plastics in green pumpkin work best. Sweet Beavers, lizards, Senkos, Trick Worms and Flukes have produced best for us in Lake Patrick.
No. 2: Horseshoe 5
Horseshoe 5 is another lake that we have caught some real pigs out of. Its location is one key factor that attracts some from our group. It kind of sits down in a hole, and when the wind picks up and blows you and your jon- boat all over the place, Horseshoe 5 is an excellent pond to fish. After you pull back from the ramp, stay 15 to 20 feet out from the bank and head toward the dam. There is a major hump located right there, and you would never even know it. Bass love to stack up on this hump.
“Big Rhett” and I were fishing Horseshoe 5 one afternoon, and we just stumbled upon this spot. As the boat drifted over the hump, five to seven BIG bass swam right off the hump. We turned back around and saw beds cov- ering this hump. Fish this hump with the Senko as well as other plastics, but keep your distance to avoid spooking the fish.
The dam can produce a good crankbait bite, too. I have caught plenty of bass throwing a Strike King Series 5 in Kevin Van Dam Sexy Shad. I just pretend I’m KVD and burn that crankbait all over the dam. Large worms such as a Zoom Ol Monsters work well here, too.
“The Weasel Dawg” thought he had the money in the bag last year by busting a 5-lb., 9-oz. largemouth off of an Ol Monster. Little did he know, the very next day a 6-lb., 7-oz. bass would be caught by “Gee” out of Horseshoe 5 to take home the money and the “Paradise Pond Big Bass Champion” plaque. “Gee’s” fish hit a Lucky Craft RC 2.5 crankbait.
The other end of Horseshoe 5 has plenty of structure to catch fish off of, as well. The far right corner has a good cove in it where lily pads grow, and you can catch fish by working a weightless Trick Worm or Fluke over the top and through these pads. Be sure to have strong line tied on, because the pads and other structure can and will cause you to lose that fish of a lifetime.
Horseshoe 5 is a great lake where you can catch them on soft plastics and a crankbait.
No. 3: Lake Russell
This lake is tucked away back in the far corner of the fishing area, but it is a pleasure to fish. It looks a lot like the other lakes, with lily pads, sunken timber and good grass mats. A little later in the spring, you can toss a top water frog or rat to the mats — and hold on buddy! They will blow up through these mats to end the life of your frog or rat.
There is a big sunken log with all kinds of big limbs coming off of it in the back corner of Lake Russell. This is fished a good bit, but it seems like this structure just holds fish. We have caught fish off this log and then let it rest for 30 minutes or so and gone right back to it to catch fish again.
The only drawback to fishing Russell is that it is a good ways away from camp, and if a storm pops up, you better be ready to make a run for it. We got caught out there one spring, and we almost didn’t make it back alive. Well, it wasn’t that serious, but it did get hairy.
Baits that work well on Russell are white Flukes, and if you’re not getting bit on the Fluke, color the tail with a chartreuse dye marker. That alone has upped our numbers of fish before. Green-pumpkin Senkos and a topwater frog such as a Mann’s Hardnosed Toad will fool bass in this lake, also. •Honorable Mention•
I have to make one suggestion on another body of water at Paradise PFA. The Canal is a great “lake” to fish, but it’s not a lake. It’s a canal, so you have to strictly bank fish. There are some bass in these dark waters that will straight scare you.
The Canal surrounds Lake Paradise, and WRD has been working on Lake Paradise, so access to this area of the PFA has been limited. During our spring trip of 2008, we could not fish the Canal. The work should be done by the spring of 2010, and the Canal and Lake Paradise will reopen.
The Canal is where the Mann’s Hardnosed Toad really shines, and the year that storm drove us off Lake Russell we headed to the Canal after the weather passed. I wore them out on the Hardnosed Toad. I caught seven bass in about a 15-minute span. The biggest was a 3-pounder and several were 2-lb. chunks.
If you are looking for a place to do some spring fishing this year, and you would like a shot at the fish of a life- time, might I suggest Paradise PFA? This is a place where numerous 10-lb. largemouths roam the waters. A place where the scenery is something you would find on a postcard, and a place where you can take your family or your friends. As you pull out of this PFA, you just might say to yourself, “That truly was Paradise.”