Bass Fishing Shepherd Lake At Marben PFA

An early February trip to 12-acre Shepherd Lake produced surprising topwater action.

Daryl Kirby | February 23, 2023

Lots of different styles of fishing are appealing, but for me, bass fishing a small lake in the early spring is hard to beat. Small lakes, in general, are my favorite, so don’t be surprised to see me biting the bullet and writing quite a few small lake profiles in upcoming issues of GON.

Throw in the need to try out a new fishing kayak that GON brought home from The Dugout’s booth at last year’s Outdoor Blast, and there was plenty reason to get out and enjoy a day of fishing.

The biggest question was which water to fish. From our office in Morgan County, there’s an endless list of small-lake options. I set my sights on Marben PFA, and in particular on the 12-acre Shepherd Lake.

I have some history at Marben that goes back to the early days of GON and before the state purchased the property that became Charlie Elliot Wildlife Center, Clybel WMA and Marben PFA. In the early 1990s, my dad and I were members of a private fishing club called Marben Farm. Back then, the only trips we made to Shepherd Lake were to catch the biggest, prettiest shellcrackers you’ve ever seen.

The key to a good day fishing a small lake in February is a warming trend, and the second week hit pretty good. On Wednesday, Feb. 8, I arrived at Shepherd around 8:30 a.m. with the temperature comfortably in the 50s. It later warmed to the low 70s.

The author with one of six bass boated during a Feb. 8 trip to Shepherd Lake on Marben Public Fishing Area. After fishing the first half of the day without a bite, the bass were found busting shad in the very back of the 12-acre lake.

Shepherd is on the south end of the property and best accessed by the south entrance to the area, aptly named Shepherd Road, off Highway 11 between Mansfield and Monticello. Soon after you turn on Shepherd Road, there’s an information kiosk with maps, regs and a list of ponds currently open and closed. Soon after you pass the Clybel WMA check station on your right, take the next left on Shepherd Pond Road, and the lake is right there.

At both the north and south entrances to Marben PFA/Clybel WMA, there are pull-outs with information boards that include area maps and regulations.

Harvest of bass is fairly restrictive on Marben PFA. Most of the fishing pressure on these lakes is bank anglers dipping minnows, which definitely produces some bass on the stringers heading home for the fish fry. The daily bag limit is five largemouth bass, and only one can be 16 inches or longer.

Shepherd Lake has a gravel lot, concrete handicapped parking and access, a primitive bathroom and a concrete boat ramp. You can launch your bass boat in this 12-acre pond, but on Shepherd you can’t crank the engine. Gas-powered motors can only be run—at idle speed only—on Fox and Bennett lakes at Marben PFA.

Shepherd Lake is one of several Marben PFA lakes with concrete boat ramps. Brent Prescher, of Covington, found easy access for his Bass Hunter boat, which comes with two wheels that make it easy to launch on a concrete ramp.

At first glance, Shepherd Lake looks like a typical, good-sized farm pond. I noticed a couple of brushpile tops, and with my first cast of the morning I found another one under the water along the dam just off the boat ramp. One crankbait down on my first cast… not a great start to the morning. I quickly found that Shepherd is covered with brushpiles—or fish attractors of various description—and I lost a few more plugs before switching to a Texas-rigged lizard and jig to ply that thick cover slowly and thoroughly. And so the morning went… lots of casts, lots of methodical fishing of structure—and not a bite.

There’s no depthfinder on the GON kayak, but much of the structure I was fishing was more than a cast from the bank and in about 5 feet of water.

There’s great bank access along the dam and particularly on the north bank of the lake, but lots of that structure isn’t reachable with a cast from the bank.

I headed in for a lunch break on the tailgate, and I talked with Brent Prescher, of Covington, who had fished all morning from a Bass Hunter ‘pond-prowler’ type boat. He hooked only one small bass that got off at the boat. But he mentioned some fish rolling in the very back of the lake. That’s where I headed after lunch, and that’s where I stayed. The bass were busting shad right up against the bank in the back of the lake. They had the water stirred up to a muddy mess. They weren’t easy to catch, but it was fun to watch all the action, and I ended up boating six, five of which were quality bass from 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 pounds.

The Dugout Bait & Tackle booth had a great deal on these Hobie Passport fishing kayaks at the Outdoor Blast. This is the entry-level Hobie, and it worked well for fishing 12-acre Shepherd Lake at Marben PFA.

Brandon Baker, a WRD fisheries biologist who works out of the Fort Valley office, said he wasn’t surprised that the bass I caught were quality fish.

“Shepherd is one of the Marben lakes we manage for quality bass. We’re trying to start managing the ponds differently—not do a little bit everywhere, but focus efforts on a select few. At Shepherd we’re reducing bass densities, trying to help the bass get bigger. We remove small bass and stock them in another lake that we’re managing as a bass-crowded pond, which will create a fishery with bigger bream. In a bass-crowded lake, the bass get stunted, and the bream get bigger than the bass can eat.”

Brandon said Lower Raleigh and Dairy are two Marben PFA lakes where small bass have been moved to.

“They will eventually get bass-crowded and stunted,” he said. “They key is constantly monitoring the data. Eventually, if something isn’t working like we hope, we can change strategies. We want to go with what the pond wants to be, not what we want the pond to be. We are trying to sample these lakes twice a year in the spring and fall.

“One of the things Shepherd has going for it is that it is a very productive system. It usually has a phytoplankton bloom year-round. There is agriculture upstream, and the lake benefits from the farm fields. The nutrients go right into it, and that fuels the food chain and the bass. Whether we do anything or not, Shepherd can grow big bass.”

Coming soon to the Marben PFA lakes is GIS technology—depth profiles with detail of what the lake bottoms looks like.

“We’ll start with the lakes that have boat ramps, and eventually we will have those detailed depth profiles for all of the Marben PFA lakes,” Brandon said.

In general, I’ve found small lakes with shad to be tough to fish at times. The bass focus on the shad, so keep that in mind if you’re not getting bit in the brushpiles. It’s easy when you see the bass busting, but that’s not always going to happen. You can always fan-cast a Rat-L-Trap when nothing else is working. And keep an eye out for breaking fish—they might be anywhere from the very back to the middle of open water.

GON only fished for bass in Shepherd, but Brandon said the lake still has big shellcracker (redear), and there are big crappie in there, too. For more info on Shepherd or any of the other 19 ponds at Marben, visit

The bass were blowing up on shad almost non-stop the entire afternoon, but getting one to bite wasn’t easy with all that bait in 6 inches of water. The final tally was six bass—three on a Spittin’ Image topwater, two on a Pointer Minnow jerkbait and one on a weightless fluke. The bass ignored lots of other baits.


A good portion of Shepherd Lake offers great bank fishing access. In this photo you can see a vegetation exclosure, just one example of the intensive management being done by WRD Fisheries to the area’s lakes and ponds.


GA DNR Fisheries Sampling Data For Fox Lake

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