100-Pounds Of Bass On The Mighty Altamaha River

Jason Baxley and the author weighed every keeper they caught, and this pair of bass anglers hit triple digits. Read how they did it.

Capt. Bert Deener | May 30, 2011

Jason Baxley, of Baxley, is one of the guys on Altamaha River who typically finishes near the top in open tournaments.

Reports of improving bass catches on the Altamaha River have been frequent over the last year. The big, often muddy river perennially provides tournament catch rates that are in the top couple bodies of water in the state. Higher-than-usual summer water levels the last couple years have provided the right combination of food availability and survival to put the Altamaha toward the top of the destination list for this spring.

Jason Baxley, of Baxley, is one of the guys on the upper river who typically finishes near the top in open tournaments. He is one of those folks who you figure had boat trouble if they are not on the leaderboard. Jason is a second-generation tournament angler, following in his father Ray’s footsteps. Over the last several decades, Ray has developed several unique approaches to fishing the Altamaha, and Jason has continued that tradition.

Last year, Jason stepped out of his comfort zone and fished the BFL Bulldog Division. He proved his fishing prowess on all types of waters by finishing fourth overall in the standings in that division. Jason agreed to show GON readers his approach to fishing the Altamaha, and we made a trip in early March. Our trip showed why he is considered one of the big sticks on this river.

I realized his adaptability the night before our trip when he called me and said he had some good news and some bad news. He asked which I wanted to hear first, so I opted for my usual bad news first. The bad news was that his trolling motor busted on his usual river boat, but the good news was that he had a Triton 186 backup. What a backup, I thought!

We met early at a restaurant in Baxley for a quick breakfast before heading to Deen’s Landing. I learned that our plan for the day was to launch and fish our way downstream and take out at Carter’s Bight Landing… basically a tour of the upper Altamaha. Ray planned to shuttle our tow vehicle to the lower ramp while we were fishing.

We splashed down his Triton bass boat at 7:30 and began the morning. Jason said he expected the bass to be in a prespawn mode during our early March trip, which meant they would probably be hanging out at the mouths of cuts, creeks and sandbars preparing to move into backwaters to spawn. Our first stop was a couple miles upstream of the ramp where a creek dumps out into the river.

“This is a community hole, but bass often stack up in here around the spawn,” Jason said.

We fished the edge where the ribbon of blackwater from the creek mixed with the muddier Altamaha. I tried one of my buzzbaits, while Jason fancasted a 1/2-oz., black/blue jig, a Carolina-rig equipped with a small finesse-style worm and a shad-colored crankbait. We did not draw any strikes for about the first half-hour.

“I didn’t want to have to drag it out, but I know there are fish here. I should be able to finesse them into biting,” he said.

With that he reached into the rod box and pulled out a medium-action spinning outfit with a drop-shot rig. We eased the boat to the head of the pool, where the edge of the current met the eddie, and he flung his rig to the seam. On his first cast, he reeled into a fish, a throwback. On his next cast, a 1-lb., 2-oz. keeper ate it. About three casts later, a 1-lb., 7-oz. bass loaded up his rod.

“They keep getting bigger. When you start getting 4- and 5-pounders on this rig, it’s a ball,” he laughed after catching that third fish.

We sat in that eddie for about 20 minutes and boated six bass, five of which were keepers (12-inch minimum on the Altamaha River). Jason had a limit weighing 6 pounds by 8:30. His rig consisted of a 3/16-oz., bell-shaped weight tied to the tag end of the rig and a No. 1 Owner Mosquito hook tied about a foot above the weight. He tied a palomar knot to his hook and tied the weight on the tag end at his chosen distance. His lure of choice was a green pumpkin/red flake Zoom Finesse worm nose-hooked on the tiny hook.

“The thing I love about that little hook and the drop-shot rig is that it hooks the bass right in the roof of the mouth almost every time,” he said.

Not that the fish stopped biting, but just because we had to cover so much water, he decided to move to another spot. We headed to a transition area where the wooded bank met a sandbar, and he casted a Shad Rap with a white belly and black back. He fished this crankbait on a 6-foot-long pistol grip Fenwick fiberglass rod that is no longer made. He used 8-lb. test (light by almost everyone’s standards) Stren monofilament for cranking to get his bait deeper and give the crankbait more action. On his first cast, he reeled into another solid bass that ended up weighing 1-lb., 2-ozs.

As he was unhooking it, he turned and mused, “Oh yeah, this is going to be a good day.” Wow, was that ever a prophetic statement.

By now the water temperature was beginning to rise with the sun beating down on it. Unfortunately, the wind picked up from calm at daylight to a steady 20 mph with higher gusts by 9 a.m., and it remained that strong the rest of the day.

“One drawback to water warming as the spring progresses is that the fish are more active and will jump and throw a crankbait much more often,” Jason said.

Not more than a minute after those words were out of his mouth, a 2-pounder loaded his rod and threw the crankbait back at him while rocketing skyward. One trick that Jason employs to combat that problem is that he immediately changes hooks when he buys a new crankbait. He arms the new lure with a No. 6 Gamakatsu treble on the front and a No. 6 Mustad Triple Grip treble on the back. This combination has been the best for him to keep a bass buttoned during its fighting antics.

We moved to another cut and worked our way back in it a little before I first got on the board…with a 3/4-lb. warmouth that ate a jig. He coaxed a 5-lb. bowfin (mudfish) to eat a jig before we left the backwater. It was a little early for the bass to be in the backwaters when we were there, but in April, the bass should be in those places, and Jason will target them with jigs and buzzbaits. We spent the rest of the day in the slack areas at the edge of the main river and in the mouths of cuts and creeks, staging areas for bass.

On the next spot, I finally caught my first bass, a 1-pounder, on a trickster-colored Bass Assassin Die Dapper swimbait, one of their new lure styles for this spring. When the fish get a little more active, it should be deadly on the Altamaha. As I was fighting my bass, Jason bowed up on another bass that ate his crankbait for our first double of the day. We stayed on that school of fish, and ended up catching 14 bass (all but two were keepers) from the spot.

At one point during the melee, when Jason found the sweet spot, he commented, “I can just about call it now.” And, he was right!

When the bite slowed on the crankbait, Jason suggested I fish a straight-tailed worm skewered on a 3/8-oz. jighead. I cut 2 inches from the head of a 7-inch candybug-colored Assassin Tapout Worm and threaded it on the jighead. I bounced it through the hole and almost immediately a bass inhaled my offering. After a brief fight, I lipped a 2-lb., 3-oz. bass, our biggest to that point.

Our next spot was a drop just off a sandbar. Jason had fish slap at his crankbait on his first two casts, but they would not take it or my jig-head worm over the next several minutes.

He said, “Let me show you what I do when they just won’t take it.”

He headed upstream from where the bass were laying and pulled out a Carolina-rig. He had about a 3-foot leader separating his 1-oz. egg sinker from his hook. His lure of choice was a small finesse-style worm in a watermelon-seed color. He fished the rig on a medium-action 6 1/2-foot Ugly Stik Rod.     

“This small worm will flutter in the current, and they can’t stand it,” Jason explained.

Sure enough, just a couple casts later a pound-and-a-half bass came over the gunnel. Then, on the next cast, Jason swung a 2-lb., 2-oz. bass over the side. I was convinced.

By this time it was noon, the water temperature climbed a degree to 59, and the fish were very active. Jason had already put on a clinic, as we had 23 bass in the boat at this point (I had not contributed many!).

At our next stop, a 5-pounder latched onto Jason’s crankbait but returned it to him while in mid-flight. Later we would realize that one would have been our biggest fish of the day. We continued downstream hitting each spot for 20 minutes to a half hour and moving on. Jason’s first casts at each spot were with a crankbait, followed by a Carolina rig. At a few spots, he would cast a drop shot, but typically he only used the first two techniques.

Jason Baxley (left) and Bert Deener hold four of the more than 100 bass they caught from the Altamaha River. Bert, a WRD fisheries region supervisor in Waycross, said the bass population in the Altamaha is very strong, and the fish are in good condition.

I dug through my crankbait box trying to match his magical Shad Rap with a white belly and black back, but I did not have an exact color combination. I had a few baits that were close and caught a few fish, but Jason continued schooling me. I did contribute enough, though, that we had five doubles during the course of the day. I alternated my jig-head-worm presentation with various crankbaits and caught a few fish on each lure.

Our downstream trek covered more than 37 river miles, and we hit at least 2-dozen spots. During the day, we boated 66 bass, 55 of which were keepers. Those 55 bass weighed a total of 85-lbs., 8-ozs. When you add the weight of the non-keepers and the estimated weight of the eight bass that jumped off, we hooked approximately 109 pounds of bass in our journey. That is a bunch of bass on any system, and it is a fantastic testament to the quality of the Altamaha bass fishery. Our biggest five bass weighed 14-lbs., 10-ozs. If your bass club is considering fishing the Altamaha, this is the year. The population is very strong, and the fish are in good condition. If you have never fished a river, you will be impressed with the power a river bass exerts during the fight.

The day ended with Ray waiting with the trailer on the ramp when we pulled up to Carter’s Bight Landing. Not really wanting it to end, we put the boat on the trailer, took a few photos of four nice fish we had in the livewell, and then released them to fight again another day. Jason has caught 13 (not certified), 11-, and several 10-lb. bass from the river using this approach. The big fish eluded us that day, but often while fishing cuts, creek mouths and sandbar drops, you will catch 5- to 7-pounders.

You can check the fishing predictions for the Altamaha River by visiting the WRD website at <> and then clicking on Fishing, then Fishing Opportunities, then Georgia River Fishing Information. You can click on the Altamaha River or any other resource for which you would like to check the fishing forecast. You can print a copy of the Altamaha River Fishing Guide, which shows the boat ramps along the Altamaha. This can be printed from the website, or you can get a copy by contacting the Waycross Fisheries Office at (912) 285-6094.

River fishing is water-dependent, and the best springtime fishing is typically when the river level is between 5 and 8 feet on either the Baxley or Doctortown (Jesup) gauges Check <>.

When the water gets above 9 feet, it begins to creep out into the floodplain, and the bass often scatter. The day we fished, the level at Baxley was 6.4 feet, and it rose a couple inches during the day.

I do not believe I have ever hooked 100 pounds of bass in a day, let alone on a river. While I am not guaranteeing you can duplicate that good of a bite when you go fishing, you will definitely enjoy a day of bass fishing on the Altamaha River in April.

While the main river cuts and creeks will still produce in April, you should also explore the backwater cover for spawning bass. Jason has fallen in love with the Altamaha while fishing it his whole life, but I would not be surprised if you fall in love with it after only one trip. I cannot imagine how many fish Jason and I would have caught if he had used the boat from which he originally planned to fish…

Become a GON subscriber and enjoy full access to ALL of our content.

New monthly payment option available!


Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.