Best Bets For Georgia Bream

WRD personnel share their top spots for bedding bluegill, shellcracker and redbreast, including a few that don’t get fished.

GON Staff | May 1, 2007

This hand-sized bluegill fell for a red-and-white, in-line spinner. Spinners are a good backup bait for bream when you run out of crickets or worms.

Across the state, shellcrackers, bluegills and redbreasts start going on the beds in the spring, and even though the bite will last through the summer, May is the best time of the year to catch bream on the beds in most areas of Georgia. Nobody knows when and where the bream are going to be better than the fisheries biologists, public fishing area (PFA) managers and technicians with the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division (WRD), and these are
their picks, by region, of the best places to fill a stringer.

Northwest Region
Rocky Mountain PFA:

“All the lakes are fertilized, and it (Rocky Mountain PFA) produces bumper crops of eating- sized bluegill and shellcracker,” said WRD Fisheries Biologist Jim Hakala.

Assistant Area Manager Eric Dykes said the 203-acre west side of Lake Antioch and 202-acre Lake Heath are producing the best stringers of bream right now.

“It’s been pretty hot. People have been wearing them out on the shore in the flooded timber,” Eric said. “The bream seem to be our most steady fish, even through the hot summer months.”

Eric suggested crickets or worms under a bobber, and said to bring Beetle Spins or a white Rooster Tail with a silver blade to use as back- ups when the fish eat all your live bait.

Lake Conasauga: At 3,150 feet elevation, Lake Conasauga is Georgia’s highest lake, but it is by no means the typical infertile mountain lake. This 19-acre Murray County lake on Chattahoochee National Forest land was restocked three years ago, and Jim said last year’s bream fishing reports were good.

The shellcrackers go on the bed in April, followed by the bluegill in May. Jim said the prime bream fishing happens in May, but the bite will last through the summer. There is good woody cover for bream throughout the lake, and it does offer some bank access. Boats are restricted to electric motors only.

Lake Blue Ridge: Though this 3,290-acre Fannin County lake is not known for producing long stringers of bream, the bluegills people catch can be big ones, Jim said. The bluegill spawn happens in May, and Jim said to find bedding fish around timber in the backs of creeks and coves.

Through May and on into the summer, fish can still be found bedding, and they will sometimes spawn in water 10 to 15 feet deep. The fish attractors placed in the lake by TVA can be good areas to target. For more information about fishing the north- west region, call (706) 624-1161.

Northeast Region
Lake Tugalo: “It’s got a fairly abundant redbreast population,” said Fisheries Biologist Anthony Rabern. “And, it’s a unique opportunity, unlike any other lake in Georgia.”

Tugalo is a 600-acre, river-run lake on the Georgia/South Carolina border. There are no houses on Tugalo, and there is a 25-horsepower limit on motors.

Along with the redbreast, Anthony said there are some huge shellcracker, with fish in the 3-lb. range being caught every year. The lake has a good population of bluegill, as well.

There are boat ramps on the Georgia and South Carolina sides of the lake. The Georgia put-in requires a 4-wheel drive vehicle, but the South Carolina put-in is smoother. Anthony said there is a good bank for shellcracker right across the lake from the South Carolina boat ramp. He suggested fishing off the tree tops in 10 to 15 feet of water.

The redbreast tend to cruise the banks, and cove pockets and creek mouths can be good places to target them. The upper end of the lake, where the Chattooga and Tallulah rivers come together to form the lake, is better for bluegills.

Lake Rabun: Though it is not known for excellent bream fishing, Anthony’s sampling shows a good population of aver- age-sized bluegill in Rabun. He said there are also some shellcracker, but the bluegill are more dominant.

He suggested fishing the upper end of the lake where there is more structure. The bluegill go on the beds in late May in most of the lakes in the north- east region, and that’s when the fishing is best.

“They’ll spawn throughout the summer, but that first spawn is usually the best,” Anthony said.

Lake Seed: Late May is also the time to catch big shellcracker on 240- acre Lake Seed.

“It’s got some whomper shell- crackers in the 2-lb. range,” Anthony said.

There is a powerline that crosses the lake near the top end, and he suggested fishing from the powerline downstream about 1/2 mile. Red wigglers tend to catch big shellcracker better than crickets on Seed.

In May all you need is a box full of crickets or a tub of red wigglers to catch a stringer like this.

East Central Region
Clarks Hill: Clarks Hill is the best reservoir in the region for bream, boasting good populations of big shell- cracker, said WRD Fisheries Biologist Ed Bettross. Typically the best spawning behavior can be found from late April on into May, and bream fishing in the spring regularly produces long stringers of 1- to 1 1/2-lb. shellcracker.

There is also a good population of bluegill, Ed said, but the bluegill fishing is overshadowed by the good shell- cracker bite.

“They don’t get targeted a whole lot just because their size isn’t that good,” Ed said.

Targeting shallow coves and bank structure is a good way to find bedding shellcracker on the lake in the spring.

“A lot of fishermen go out and cruise the banks looking for spawning activity,” Ed said.

The bream fishing drops off considerably, and the fish can be hard to find in the summer months, but they can be caught year-round.

Savannah River: The Savannah River below Clarks Hill and above Stevens Creek is a little-known bream hotspot on the Georgia/South Carolina border. It is from this section of river that several river-record shellcracker weighing more than 2-lbs. have been caught.

Cold water flowing out of Clarks Hill dam can push the spawning back into the latter part of May, and fluctuations in water level can make it a little tricky, Ed said. But there is a good variety of different sunfish species, and good backwater areas, vegetation and tree structure.

“When you get the right flow conditions, there’s some good fishing,” Ed said.

Another good thing about this section of river is the bream bite lasts through the summer and into the early fall, Ed said. With species that include redbreast, bluegill, shellcracker and others, and fish weighing from 3/4 of a pound to a little heavier than a pound, it is a good low-pressure area for anglers to fish.

The backwater area where Stevens Creek enters the main river, also known as Deep Steps, is a bream honeyhole when conditions are right. The creek enters from the South Carolina side, but a Georgia license is accept- able because of the reciprocal agreement between the states.

“As long as it’s flowing water, a Georgia license will work. It’s covered by the reciprocal agreement,” Ed said.

Augusta Canal: Ed said this 6- mile canal that provides water for Augusta receives little fishing pressure. It leaves the Savannah River about a mile below Stevens Creek, and sampling has shown good populations of large shellcracker, as well as redbreast, bluegill and some large warmouth.

Ed said the canal can be challenging to fish because of abundant vegetation, but with a dirt road running near- ly the length of the canal, access is good for bank anglers as well as anglers with small boats.

Only electric motors are allowed on the canal, so canoes, kayaks or small jonboats with trolling motors are
the best way to fish it.

“There’s some fish in there that are really going untapped,” Ed said. “There’s very little fishing pressure.”

McDuffie PFA: Area Manager Vernon Baldwin said the bream fishing should pick up May through June in the PFA’s four ponds and 50 acres of water. An additional 43 acres of water and three ponds will open to public fishing on June 11, following renovation.

He said all the ponds are pretty good for bream fishing, and there is good bank and boat access.

The PFA is located in Deering, south of Thomson. For more information, call (706) 595-1684.

West Central Region
Flint River: The upper Flint River, particularly the floatable section between Joe Kurz WMA and the Hwy 80 boat ramp, is a good place to catch some redbreast, according to WRD Fisheries Biologist Jimmy Evans. He also said the bluegill fishing picks up south of Hwy 80.

A canoe or kayak is more suitable for this stretch of river, although there are some sections that can be fished carefully from a jonboat.

“There’s lot of rocks, sandbars and logs,” Jimmy said. “It’s just picking your way through with a jonboat or with a canoe or kayak.”

Ocmulgee River: Jimmy said the 5.3-mile float trip from the Georgia Power ramp below Lake Jackson down to Wise Creek is a good place to catch redbreast on the Ocmulgee. Some of the biggest bluegill he’s seen have also come from this stretch just below the dam.

“Kind of poke your way along and find them bedding and you can catch a lot of them,” Jimmy said. “But, if you can’t find the beds, it’s hard to catch ’ em.”

The best time to find bedding fish on the Flint or the Ocmulgee in this region is late April through early May, Jimmy said.

Charlie Elliott: The 22 lakes and ponds in Marben PFA at the Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center near Mansfield are great places to fill a stringer with bluegill. Most of the 295 acres of water are accessible by boat and there is also ample bank access, as well as fishing piers.

Anglers fishing any of the ponds must stop by the sign-in kiosk to sign in. There is information on which ponds are best for different species at the kiosk.

Big Lazer PFA: The 195-acre Big Lazer Lake between Talbotton and Thomaston is a good place to catch big shellcracker, according to WRD Fisheries Biologist Brent Hess. The lake is very weedy and the bluegill are small, but the shellcracker fishing gets good when they go on the bed about the first full moon of May. The bite will last through most of the summer.

Brent said the upper end of the lake is more shallow and better suited for bream fishing. Anglers have an advantage fishing from a boat, but there is good bank access, piers and docks, and fishing from the dam is allowed. For more information, call (706) 845-4180.

Southwest Region
It’s tough to be a bank angler in the southwest region of Georgia, said WRD Fisheries Biologist John Kilpatrick. There’s plenty of good opportunities to catch bream for those with a boat, but fishing from the bank is a tough prospect on public water. Lake Seminole: “If you want to catch big redears (shellcracker), Seminole is the place to go,” John said. “If you can find beds, then people can do really well on them.”

The shellcracker start moving into the shallows to bed in mid April, and the bluegill follow in the latter part of April. Both species can still be found bedding in May, but they will be in a little deeper water, John said.

Ochlockonee River: John said the Ochlockonee River is the best place to catch redbreast in the southwest region, followed closely by the Flint River. With lots of wood structure, the Ochlockonee offers prime redbreast habitat.

“There’s a ton of timber on the Ochlockonee. You can find them any- where you have a current break and a little timber,” John said. “And it doesn’t need to be much. We’ve been shocking good fish out of pockets the size of a trash can.”

The redbreast start to move shallow early in April, and the good fishing will last throughout the summer. Bluegill and shellcracker also call the Ochlockonee home, but in smaller size and numbers than the redbreast.

Flint River: With water tempera- tures a little cooler than the Ochlockonee, the Flint River redbreast bite starts a little later than on the Ochlockonee, but prospects for red- breast and bluegill are good, especially in the shoaly stretches of river between Albany and Bainbridge, said WRD Fisheries Biologist Adam Kaesar, who wrote a guide to fishing the river.

He suggested using the boat ramps at Newton Landing, in Newton, or at Norman’s Ferry, between Bainbridge and Newton, to gain access to some of these shoals. For a PDF copy of Adam’s “Guide to Fishing and Floating the Lower Flint River,” go to <>.

This nice redbreast fell for a Beetle Spin. The Satilla River in WRD’s south central region is renowned as Georgia’s best redbreast fishery, but the fiesty fish can be found in rivers and creeks across the state.

South Central Region
Dodge Co. PFA: PFA Area Manager Dan Stiles said the bream fishing at Dodge County PFA’s 104- acre Steve Bell Lake has been pretty good for anglers in boats and on the bank. He said some above-average bluegill are being caught, and the fishing is only going to get better as the fish go on to the beds for the first time in early to mid May.

For more information on Dodge County PFA, call (478) 374-6765.

Evans Co. PFA: Area Manager Steve Mincey said he has seen some pretty good stringers of bluegill and shellcracker through random creel samples at this PFA outside of Claxton. In early April people were already catching limits of bream, with some good-sized 1 to 1 1/2 pounders, and the fishing should continue to heat up with the water temperature. In most years, the bream go on the bed in early May, but the bedding started early this year with the early spring.

There are three lakes at Evans County PFA with 122 acres of water. There is also ample banks access and fishing piers. For more information, call (912) 739-1139.

Hugh M. Gillis PFA: With 109- acre Gillis Lake, and two smaller lakes that are open for special events, there’s plenty of water and good bank access for bream fishing at Hugh M. Gillis PFA, 10 miles outside of Dublin.

PFA Area Manager Neal Niblett said the bream should move shallow to bed in early May, and the shellcracker and bluegill should readily bite crickets worms or small spinners. He also said he has seen a good number of 1/2- to 3/4-lb. fish while sampling, so he expects some heavy stringers this year.

For more information, call (478) 296-6192.

Paradise PFA: With 68 ponds and lakes totalling 525 acres of water, there is plenty to explore at this PFA east of Tifton. PFA Area Manager Charles West said the best bream fishing hap- pens April through June, and there is plenty of access for boats and for folks fishing from the bank.

“Our fish typically go on the bed in April, but May is still a good month for bream fishing,” Charles said. “I anticipate finding bream on the bed all the way into June, especially the redear (shellcracker).”

Charles said the best place to load a stringer of bluegill is in Lake Bobben. The best spot for shellcracker is Lake Patrick. Lake Paradise is drained right now for repair and restocking. For more information, call (229) 533-4792.

Although some of the best bream fishing in the state can be found at the South Central Region’s PFAs, the region’s rivers also offer a prime opportunity to fill a stringer, and this region is also home to the Satilla River, widely accepted as Georgia’s best bet for redbreast.

Satilla River: With the drought the state is in, Don Harrison, a WRD fisheries biologist, said it may be hard to navigate the Satilla in a boat this month. The upside is, the water will warm up fast, and the redbreast will be more aggressive for bank anglers or folks willing to wade or float the river in a canoe or kayak.

“When the water warms up, you can go with a Beetle Spin or other spinner,” he said. “And, when it really warms up, people do well with a fly rod and a popping bug.”

Don said any of the bridge crossings or boat ramps are good bank fishing sites on the Satilla; he specifically mentioned the Hwy 301 bridge boat ramp near Nahunta and the Hwy 84 bridge crossing in Blackshear. For more access points or information on the river, “The Satilla River Fishing Guide” can be purchased through the WRD regional office in Waycross at (912) 285-6094.

Altamaha River: Oxbows on the Altamaha River make for good bream- holding habitat, and the action can be fast for those who take a boat ride to find them.

“It’s a real good bluegill fishery,” Don said. “You can fish from the banks at all the access areas, but the real good bream fishing seems to be in the oxbows, and you need a boat to get there.”

Don suggested putting a boat in or bank fishing from the Altamaha Park Landing between Brunswick and Jesup off Hwy 341, or at the Jaycees Landing right outside of Jesup on Hwy 84. There are also good access points to the river’s headwaters at Town Bluff outside of Hazelhurst and the two ramps near Baxley.

St. Marys River: The St. Marys River is a little deeper and more narrow than either the Altamaha or the Satilla, so there aren’t as many oxbows or backwater areas. Don said fishermen should fish current breaks and woody structure, concentrating efforts on mainstream structure and mouths of creeks to target redbreast or bluegill.

Two good access areas to the St. Marys are at Traders Hill Park Campground and Camp Pinckney Landing, both outside of Folkston.

For more information about fishing the South Central Region rivers, call (912) 285-6094.

Coastal Region
Tim Barrett, a WRD fisheries biologist who samples bream in the coastal region, said most of the bream fishing around the coast takes place in private farm ponds. However, there is good public fishing to be found on the region’s rivers, and the fishing only improves the farther one is willing to get from the boat ramps.

• Ogeechee River: Tim said the Ogeechee is “A-No. 1” for redbreast in the coastal region.

“The Ogeechee is probably the second-best redbreast stream in the state — second only to the Satilla,” he said.

The Ogeechee also has a good population of bluegill, and the river’s many oxbows are prime locations to catch a mess of them. Tim said there is good fishing from the bank at any of the bridge crossings above Millen, but a boat is the best way to find oxbows.

“Nine out of 10 people will have to get there in a boat, but (oxbows are) all up and down the river; heck, you’ll find one every couple of miles,” Tim said. “It doesn’t have to be much, maybe a quarter of an acre; just little pockets will hold fish. If you find the habitat, they’re there.”

• Savannah River: Tim also said the Savannah River offers good bream fishing. He suggested looking for fish- holding oxbows south of the lock and dam boat ramp in Richmond County, and where Hwy 301 crosses the river in Screven County.

• Lake Mayer: For in-town fishing in Savannah, Tim said this 75-acre lake at Montgomery Crossroad and Sallie Mood Drive has a strong population of bream.

“It’s weird,” he said. “It’s got a lot of fish in it, but not a lot of fish are caught.” For more information, call (877) 652-6780.

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