We know, we know…you are already planning that romantic fishing trip for you and your significant other for Valentine’s Day, right? No better way to spend quality time and promote marital harmony than by seeing who can catch the bigger fish, right? 

In news that will happen the day AFTER Valentine’s Day, we will be announcing the grand prize winner of the 2017 Georgia Bass Slam! 15 anglers managed to achieve a Bass Slam in 2017, and while each one received some fun prizes for that accomplishment, we are going to draw one winner for a big, fun grand prize package – including some sponsored gifts, donations and more. Want to watch the live drawing? Join us on Facebook on Thurs., Feb. 15 around lunchtime. Oh, and make sure YOU get started on getting YOUR Georgia Bass Slam in 2018!

Now, on to our Fishing Reports! This week, we have a report from North Georgia and Southeast Georgia. Go Fish Georgia everyone.

NORTH GEORGIA

(Fishing report courtesy of Jeff Durniak, fisheries biologist with Georgia DNR Wildlife Resources Division, with help from Region Staff and Local Experts)

Well, we’ve gone from an Arctic Blast to a Midwinter Monsoon.  These sure have been tough fishing conditions since Christmas, especially when we pile our cold and flu bouts on top of this crummy north GA weather.  Hey, at least last week’s Gwinnett fly fishing show was a lot of fun, with great seminars, good deals for savvy shoppers, and lots of tall tales shared among fishing buddies, old and new.  My new buddy is Flagler, who thought nobody here in “JoJa” would have ever had heard of his own home town, Califon.  When I rattled off Shannon’s Fly Shop, the South Branch in the K.L. Gorge, Spruce Run, the Muskie, and Sandy Hook blues, he realized that he had another displaced Yankee in his midst.  What a truly nice guy and a great teacher, one who is helping our next generation of angler/conservationist to learn the tricks of the trade.  Thank you, Tightlines Tim!

Now back to our midwinter depressions.  Yep, it’s been very tough, and that was simply because of the cold weather.  Now we’re starting to pile flash floods on top of them.  How tough?  Here’s the depressing summary from WRD’s Lanier biologist, Pat Snellings, today:

“Honestly, everything that I’ve heard has been super slow on Lanier. Stripers have been gorging on dying threadfin and will occasionally eat a medium shiner if you get it right in front of their face. Spots have been holding really tight to cover and been slow as well. Some finesse presentations are working for spots holding tight to brush and you can get one on the occasional spoon.”

That’s the problem, but what’s the solution?  I suggest a net, even before wetting your line.  Savvy Rabunites always use a net, the INTER-NET, the night before their planned fishing trip.  From weather forecast sites like Intellicast, we learn about daily high and low temps, and the timing and volume (inches/hour) of rainfall.  From river gauges we can see flow rates, water temperatures, and sometimes even the river itself, if we grab ahold of that remote Hooch Cam in Helen and aim it well. Bottom line: using the Internet can help put more fish InYerNet.

We also have a Plan B ready, in case our favorite rivers are too high, too  “YooHoo,” or both (see attached pic of Ami DH at Highway 53 that I took Wednesday (2/7) evening).  Those Plan B sites are often small streams like Smith DH and Dukes creek at Smithgall Woods (try getting a no-show slot), small lakes like Vogel,  or even sheltered reservoir coves, where a high sun hitting muddy water will raise its temperature, attract all of those freezing threadfins, and possibly lure in some spots and stripers for easy shad snacks.    Watch those water temperatures and find some warmer water, then you’ll find the fish.  As for flies, techniques, etc, consider looking back over your shoulder to the winter intel already provided in past weekly reports, archived HERE. And as we look ahead to spring, realize that those archived reports for springs-past are potential strike indicators for the months ahead of you!  Start resupplying your hare’s ears, quill gordons, and march browns soon.

Finally, in our glass-half-full approach to the rainy weekend ahead, we should realize all the good news bottled up in this muddy water.  Consider these ideas:

  • High flows help state and federal hatchery staffs to spread out stocked fish on the DH streams.  We’ll often stock more fish on the upper ends of DH streams when we know high water is coming.  Instead of big pods bunched up in the few spots accessible to the stocking truck, the fish can distribute into quiet eddies throughout the river.  The catching can be more consistent for good anglers, rather than the feast-or-famine deal of heavily stocked pools and nothing between them. Hint: Dredger always looks for gradient breaks, and will fish the head of the first nice, flat pool downstream from a long, steep riffle.  If that pool begins with a bedrock ledge running across the main current, all the better.  He calls these honey holes “flood refuges” and hits the upper half of them hard with (Pats Rubber) legs, eggs, and pheasant tails. Try the refuges on the Ami, Toccoa, and Tooga soon.
  • High flows recharge these rivers, the groundwater, and our hatcheries that depend on adequate water supplies to grow many of your stocked sport fish.
  • High flows give a good “flush” to spawning gravels and clean out the silt and fine sediments that have clogged them during fall’s low flows.  That’s good for wild, romantic rainbows in our headwater streams, which will soon start digging redds to cushion their eggs.
  • Rivers usually dump into reservoirs, bringing in nutrients that will help the whole food chain: plankton production, hungry shad, and shad-chasing bass, crappie, and stripers.  They also fill up, and we like full lakes with good spawning habitat (flooded vegetation) to produce bumper year-classes of bass, bream and crappie. Find river data info HERE.
  • Muddy water heats up quicker and allows predators to hide in the shallows, where they kick up crawfish and easily ambush unsuspecting shad and bream.  Our late, great Lake Lanier biologist, the legendary Reggie Weaver, would talk about his youthful jigpoling days on Tennessee lakes.  This month, take Reggie’s jigging techniques and cruise the muddy shorelines of small lakes and big reservoirs near you.

Enough of the hot-stove league conversations.  Let’s get to the latest fishing reports by Georgia’s hearty winter souls.

TROUT

Dukes Trophy: Click HERE

Toccoa DH: Check out these reports:

  • Report 1: Click HERE 
  • Report 2 (Jan 24): Hey Dredger! Just touching base, Hope the rendezvous went well! We all planned to head up to the rendezvous last weekend but had a fellow fish junkie spend the weekend: My son’s old friend Gabe, who I helped raise for many yrs.  He took a hand at tying some flies and whipping up some leaders for fly fishing Sunday.  We even scraped up a set of old waders! Got an early start Sunday morning and all three of us were fishing by 10ish at the Toccoa DH.   Weather was incredible and the water temp was warmer as well…according to my toes.  Fish were landed!   Legs and eggs of course😃. Gabe is a tournament bass fisherman but picked up the DFD quickly and after the first rainbow….he learned to reflexively set the hook at the slightest change in drift.  Water visibility was very good and I literally saw pods of trout moving in the river! I think all together we landed close to 20 fish!  I Hooked into another whopper and got a good look at him…..then my tippet broke…😝 We had a ball and it just never never gets old! I also saw some little black stoneflies coming off…Most bites were the eggs….hot pink, yellow, apricot, pink Ok all colors. Took several on olive rubber leg.   Hope all is well. -Boston Steve

Toccoa Tailwater: Click HERE 

Smith DH: This small stream is always a great Plan B for those times when heavy rains blow out our intended targets, the big rivers.  This week I watched NGTO’s “Stinkbait” catch and release a handful of rainbows and a nice brookie from one honey hole while Euronymphing with his favorite, tiny midge pattern, suspended just above a heavy anchor fly.  Not bad for just 30 minutes of effort!

Ami DH Catches and Cautions: Click HERE 

Winter Trout Stockings: Our larger fish have just about outgrown their homes, so we’ll trout rainbow subcatchables Buford Hat Feb 2018be stocking some this month to a) allow the rest of the spring catchables to grow and to b) make room for small fingerlings (the 2019 crop of fish) coming from our egg hatching houses at Summerville Hatchery and Chattahoochee Forest National Hatchery.  Keep your eyes peeled each Friday for updates at that last blue bullet, HERE.

Hooch Bucket Brigade: (Feb 19) – Gainesville fisheries staff will hold their annual Presidents Day bucket stocking at Whitewater Creek access site on February 19, 2018. The stocking truck should be arriving at 10:00 AM and this is a great time to bring your kids to stock trout and then hook a few on rod a reel afterwards. We encourage everyone that wishes to participate to bring waders or rubber boots and a five-gallon bucket. We look forward to seeing you all there!

  • To preregister, click HERE
  • For directions, click HERE
  • EP 28 on the National Park Service Map, click HERE

Flyfishing 101: Here are some great tips by a local expert to get a neophyte started in the sport.

Trophy Trouting Tip: This is why you tie or buy more than one of those hot fly or lure patterns.  Always, always throw toward those logjams!  While one may end up stuck in the wood, another may end of in the lip of a trophy!

Making Lemons: When the rain keeps ya from going, make midges

LAKE LANIER

Lanier Yakking Trophies: Click HERE 

Bass: (This report brought to you by: Jimbo Mathley – Jimbo on Lanier) – Well the conditions on the lake are changing!  The rain we have been receiving has jumped the lake up nearly a foot and a half over the past week or so.  The backs of the major creeks are heavy stained to muddy, and the main lake below Brown’s Bridge is still clear. The waters above Brown’s Bridge seem to be carrying more of a stain.  The water temps are still pretty cold, but it looks we have some more seasonal, stable temperatures heading our way with no major cold spells on tap.  This should help get the fish moving in their pre-spawn patterns in the next few weeks.   I was out on vacation last week, but back on the water this week.  The fish still seem to be mostly in a winter pattern.  Our fish this week have been coming deep.   The timber edges in and around 30- 40 feet have been productive with a Picasso Shake Down Head and worm combo.  We have been dropping directly on the fish we are seeing on the Lowrance electronics.  Casting in these areas can also be effective, but the drop down has been best, targeting specific fish we see on the graph. A drop shot is also working on these deeper fish – I have been favoring minnow imitations lately, like a fluke. The spoon bite is still there on some days as well, so make sure to keep that in your arsenal and ready for action.  It just depends on the day, so be flexible in your choices. The steeper rock points and banks on the main lake and in the creeks have been productive at times also.  The Picasso Shake Down head/green pumpkin worm combo along with a Chattahoochee Jig have done well in these areas.  We have been presenting these baits very slowly in these steep rock areas.  Look for the fish to be shallower in these areas on sunny days, and deeper on cloudy days.  When the wind is up, try your SPRO Little John DD on the rocks as well for some fish.  Don’t expect a lot of bites, but some good ones.  Don’t miss the opportunity to throw a SuperSpin in the same places as well. Also of interest, in the afternoons of sunny days, we have found some biting fish in smaller, shorter pockets close to deep water.  These fish have been in 15-25 feet and often around docks. Look for the areas that are protected from a north wind and get lots of sun.  This pattern is just like an early spring pattern, so think in those terms as you pursue it.  Sun and warming water is the key.   It’s still a great time to learn the deep winter bite and really learn the keys to catching fish when the bite is tougher. While the catch rates for trips this time of year is not as good as others, I believe the learning opportunities are at their best right now.  And don’t forget, that fun pre-spawn bite is just around the corner, so reserve your date now!  Following is a list of my upcoming open February: 12, 20, 21, 23, 24, 26, 28.  Give me a call and let’s get out and learn these deep winter fish as well as the early pre-spawn bite!

Crappie: (This Lake Lanier Crappie report is from Dan Saknini, member of the Lanier Crappie Angler’s Club) – Currently, the water temperature is 44 degrees, and a couple degrees lower in backs of creeks.  The last several weeks, we have not had anything positive to report.  To the die-hard fishermen that braved the conditions, fished during this time and boated 10-15 respectable-sized crappie, you should pat yourself on the back and high-five your fishing partner!  We looked at previous years’ fishing reports to compare.  There is a reason why we nickname our catches this time of year “cold water crappie”.  Our average water temps in past years at this time have been 47 to 48 degrees, which is significantly higher than our current water temps of 42 to 44 degrees.  Unlike previous years where the fish are suspended at 15 to 30 foot depths, this year the fish were well below thirty foot depths.  This pattern was out of our comfort zone.  However, I am making a bold statement, and hopefully won’t have to eat my words next week.  But I believe crappie fishing is going to return to normal quickly, starting in the next few days.  How can we make a statement like that?  We look at water temperature and overnight lows.  Over the next week, our nightly low termps will be close to and well above 50 degrees.  The rain on warmer days will cause the stain to creep from the backs of creeks.  As it spreads, it will cause the water to be moderately stained into the middle and toward the mouths of the creeks, and combined with warmer days, should raise the water temps quickly.  For the last few weeks, our bait and our crappie have been held hostage in deeper water.  The bait is going to move quickly to shallower water, and the crappie will follow.  They need to eat to prepare for the spring spawn.  If you notice bait and roaming fish nearby, tie a road runner to your line and fan cast toward them.  You may need to experiment with the depth.  My plan is to fish multiple times next week.  My first trip will be to observe, hit as many pockets as I can, and look for a pattern.  The fish may be roaming.  Or they may be on stand-alone brush piles.  They may be on docks, or on brush piles near docks.  My second and third trips will become easier and easier.  One helpful tip:  use darker jigs in stained water.  In moderate to light stain in the mouths of creeks, use lighter colors.  Just experiment.  If your fishing partner is using one color, be sure to use a different one until you figure out what they want.  Also, don’t use any line heavier than 4 pound test.  I use 2 pound test all year long.  In summary, we can feel the bite coming on, so go out and enjoy!   Stay safe on the water and wear your life jacket!

Captain Mack’s Lanier Reports:  Click HERE

MORE NEWS

River Bass: (From Fisheries Biologist John Damer) – WRD Fisheries staff captured and bass spot 4lb sample Coosawattee Feb 2018released this chunky spotted (Alabama) bass on the Coosawattee River below the Re-Regulation Dam at Carters Lake on Tuesday.  Weighing a solid four pounds, it may not be the heaviest spot we’ve ever seen, but it’s doubtful we’ve seen them much fatter!  We saw many other spotted bass in this section of river, along with plenty of largemouth, and even a few stripers, hybrids, and catfish.  All these game species were most abundant in the section of river just below the dam.  Access to this section is easy, thanks to the US Army Corps of Engineers who maintain fishing platforms on both sides of the river.  Recent rains and resulting high water may make fishing difficult for now, but anglers looking to catch a few fat pre-spawn river bass this spring should keep this spot in mind when flows return to normal.  Get the latest flow data for the Coosawattee River from the USGS HERE.

Ken’s Reservoir Reports: Fresh on Fridays

seatrout gulf WallyW 1-25-18Retirement is Good! What do you do after retiring from the GA State Parks Division?  Fish, of course!  Enjoy the photo of retired Parks Chief of Operations Wally Woods, who evidently is putting a licking on gulf seatrout and reds.  Congrats Wally!

The Walleye Countdown Begins: Interesting OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAconversation HERE, just in time for late February walleye stirrings across north Georgia. And check out fisheries biologist Anthony Rabern’s Intel HERE

$10,000 Lanier Striper Bounty is Back: Click HERE 

Your Used Reels for Kids: Sure, convince yourself you NEED that new reel for spring lunkers.  Bring in a used one to Bass Pro Shops during their Spring Classic and get a coupon on your purchase. More importantly, BPS offers us (WRD) some of your used reels, and we put them in the hands of TU repairmen (thanks Rabunite Ray!), who deliver free reels to scouts and school groups.  Now there’s a recycling program that we can all be proud of!

Nature Heals: Finally, as we all struggle with foul weekend weather, colds and flu, and tight-lipped fish because of cold water, let’s put our woes in proper perspective and remember how good we have it here in north Georgia.  We have wonderful opportunities to get outside and enjoy nature.  Nature heals, after all.  It heals us from sickness, heartache, and despair.  It gives us hope to last through another long work week just for that weekend rematch with the trophy we lost last month.  It gives us great joy.  Take a look here at Captain Mack and other real sportsmen and women who truly enjoy nature.  With their reminders of the blessings of nature, maybe we can all “weather” this second half of winter together, with renewed spirit and hope.

Maybe some of you will also choose to help with the “Nature Heals” campaign, too! From cash to a boat ride, your north Georgia opportunities to help fellow sportsmen and women abound: Check out all of the following opportunities!

There, do you feel a bit better now?   Is your fishing fever slightly recharged?   Good luck dodging high water and cold fronts to go fish Georgia, as winter hopefully heads toward its finish line.  As always, thanks for buying your fishing licenses and Trout Unlimited license plates.  May our Tamiflu work wonders and get us back into our waders and bass boats soon!

SOUTHEAST GEORGIA

(Fishing report courtesy of Bert Deener, fisheries biologist with Georgia DNR Wildlife Resources Division, with help from Region Staff and Local Experts)

The fishing has remained overall slow with the cold and windy weather. Crappie in rivers, ponds, and lakes have been the best bites. New Moon is February 15th. To monitor all the Georgia river levels, visit the USGS website HERE.

ALTAMAHA RIVER

In the upper river before the level started rising, some crappie were caught in the sloughs by anglers fishing minnows. In the tidal river, the bite slowed with the rising river. A few crappie, channel catfish, and bullhead catfish were caught. Goldfish fished on limb lines accounted for some small flatheads. Some of the backwaters produced a few bream for those pitching crickets. Ogden Sloan and Ronnie of Coastal Outdoors in Brunswick won a bass tournament out of Altamaha Park this weekend with a 10 1/2-pound bag, including a 4.4-pound big fish of the tournament. The river level was 7.1 feet and falling at the Baxley gage, and 9.1 feet and rising (53 degrees) at the Doctortown gage on February 6th.

SATILLA RIVER

Michael of Winge’s Bait and Tackle in Waycross said that the bass bite has been good in the river with the rising water. Shiners and spinnerbaits produced some 3 to 4-pounders. A few crappie were caught in the Jamestown area. Minnows and jigs fished around tree tops produced them. In the lower river, minnows fooled some good catches of crappie from the larger oxbow lakes. The river level on February 6th at the Waycross gage was 10.4 feet and falling (53 degrees) and at the Atkinson gage was 6.7 feet and rising.

ST. MARYS RIVER

The river is high, and even the catfish reports have been slow. Fish elsewhere this week. The river level at the MacClenny gage on February 6th was 11.0 feet and rising.

OKEFENOKEE SWAMP

At both entrances, the best bite has been bowfin, and they have been caught by folks putting worms or shrimp on the bottom. The current warming trend is exactly what we need to spur all of the bites in the swamp. The boat basins at both the Folkston and Fargo entrances provide excellent bank fishing accesses. The water level on the east side is still a little high (20.80 feet) for a great bite, but you can get around well.

LOCAL PONDS

Late last week a couple of anglers pitched cut bluegill on a Catfish Catcher Jighead and landed 9 nice channel catfish up to 2 pounds from a Brunswick area pond. An 8-pound bass (the biggest I heard of this week) was caught from a Brunswick area pond on Saturday. Michael Winge said that anglers reported catching good creels of crappie by using minnows and jigs in Waycross area ponds. After the rain ended on Sunday, an angler fished minnows behind a pond spillway and caught a nice mess of crappie. Fishing the plunge pool after a good rain is a consistent way to fill a creel.

PARADISE PUBLIC FISHING AREA (Near Tifton – Click HERE for More Info)

The crappie fishing has been awesome on the area over the last couple of weeks. There have been 4 angler award-sized fish (heavier than 2 pounds) caught over the last 10 days from the PFA. The latest was a 2-lb., 11-oz. slab that inhaled a jig. Bass fishing should pick up significantly on the area with the current warming trend.

SE GA Steve Phillips Striped Bass - 2 3 18
Steve Phillips of Douglas broke his own Lake Blackshear striped bass lake record on Saturday with this 35-pounder that he caught on a swimbait. Congratulations, Steve!

LAKE BLACKSHEAR

Steve Phillips of Douglas broke his own striped bass lake record this Saturday with a 35-pound fish he caught on a swimbait while bass fishing. Bass fishing has been hit-and-miss with the key being to find the schools of fish hanging with the shad. With the warming trend, expect some fish to move toward shallow cover.

SALTWATER (GA COAST)

The weekend winds killed most of the bites. A few trout were reported, but not like the last few weeks. The whiting should fire up before long with the warming trend. Put shrimp on the bottom to catch a mess of the tasty fish. Mike and Trish Wooten of St. Simons Bait & Tackle said that the bite was slow this week with only a few whiting reported. You can monitor the marine forecast HERE.

BEST BET

Finally….a reprieve from winter! The current warming trend should get the fish chowing, especially in the shallow or smaller systems like the swamp and ponds. The crappie fishing in area lakes has been the best bite, and it should remain good through the weekend. Bass catches should ramp up this weekend as a few fish cruise the shallow areas looking for food. Trout and redfish should sense the warming water and look around for some shrimp beginning late in the week. You will probably still have to bounce a Sea Shad to get bit. You may be able to get a few to come up for a Sea Shad-Equalizer Float rig, but you will probably need to keep your offering near the bottom.