Best Georgia Small Lakes For Crappie
Try these small public lakes this spring for good crappie fishing.
GON Staff | February 1, 2002
It’s time to blow the dust off your Zebcos and spinning reels — crappie season is about to be here!
Those of you who still go fishing for the pure comfort and relaxation of the sport may not enjoy the hustle and bustle that often accompanies fishing on a major reservoir.
Maybe a day of crappie fishing to you is stretched out on a quiet bank or across a jon boat with a piece of switchcane in your mouth while you watch your favorite orange bobber.
While some big reservoirs, like Weiss and Clarks Hill, are awesome for crappie, it’s not the peaceful experience you’re looking for this spring. That’s fine — you’re not alone.
The following is a list of some of Georgia’s best small lakes for crappie fishing.
Let’s start in northwest Georgia with WRD Fisheries biologist Kevin Dallmier. Kevin recommended Rocky Mountain PFA as a good place to go. On most PFAs live bait is not allowed, but Rocky Mtn. does allow fishing with live bait. You’ll need to consult your regulations booklet before using live bait on other PFAs. Also, the general rules should be posted at all PFAs.
On Rocky Mtn. you’ll find the 357-acre Antioch Lake along with the 202-acre Heath Lake.
“One main difference between the two is we’ve got Heath under special management right now,” said Kevin. “It’s only open the first seven days of each month. The week it’s open the people are doing real well. Antioch is open 365 days a year.
“Heath would probably be a little bit better than Antioch. In both lakes the fish are going to run small when compared to Weiss or the Coosa River. The average fish is going to be seven or eight inches. There are some nicer ones in there but not in great numbers.”
On Antioch, Kevin mentioned the western side, where the beach and campground are located. Directly in front of these is a big flat that leads to a steep drop off. Look for pre-spawn fish here.
“Another good place is where we built a big fish attractor on the west side,” said Kevin. “Just come out from the boat ramp into the open lake and it’s right in front of you. It’s about 15-feet deep, and it’s marked with a buoy.”
As a general rule, the spring spawn begins at Rocky Mtn. in late March and early April. When that happens, Kevin says to move to the banks.
“I did pretty good right around the campground where there is a bunch of trees in the water,” said Kevin. “I used a 1/16-oz. jig and flipped it up in the treetops.”
In Heath you’ll find that over 50 percent of the shore is lined with timber. “Look for something different to attract the fish,” said Kevin. “There’s so much timber, but a lot of it is vertical. Look for a pile or more horizontal timber. It’s not like there’s going to be a crappie on every piece of timber.”
One good prespawn area Kevin recommends is to make a left out from the boat ramp and go straight across the lake. Hit that bank, and fish it back to the left until you hit rip-rap.
“We encourage people to keep what they catch, because crappie are starting to overpopulate the lake,” said Kevin. “When they become overpopulated, they become stunted.”
There is no horsepower restrictions on Rocky Mtn., but you must remain at idle speed only.
Moving across the mountains to northeast Georgia WRD Fisheries biologist Reggie Weaver said to try Fort Yargo State Park in Barrow County.
“It’s got a high density of crappie,” said Reggie. “Growth is pretty slow there, so the average size is down a little bit, but they do catch some fish over a pound right at that pre-spawn time. The park folks put out a lot of Christmas trees, and there’s a walking bridge at the boat ramp that has some brush there. A lot of people without a boat fish here.”
Fort Yargo is 260 acres and has a 10 h.p. restriction. Another lake Reggie mentioned in this area was Commerce Watershed in Banks County. Refer to the inset on the right.
South of Atlanta, try fishing one of the three lakes at the Clayton County Water Authority.
“Anglers do pretty well crappie fishing on all three reservoirs,” said Jep Palmer, recreation area coordinator for the Clayton County Water Authority.
The biggest lake on the property is Blalock (260 acres), followed by J.W. Smith (250 acres) and then Shamrock (68 acres).
“Crappie-fishing pressure is probably a little heavier on Blalock and J.W,” said Jep. “Shamrock has nice crappie, but being it’s a smaller lake you get more boat fishermen on the other reservoirs.
“On Shamrock they catch some really nice slab crappie in there, but not the numbers. The lake was built in the 1950s, compared to Blalock, which was built in 1988 and J.W. Smith in 1985.
“Shamrock is probably your best bet for crappie if you’re bank fishing. Shamrock has some blowdowns around the bank and there’s also some Christmas-tree piles marked with metal poles.”
There is also bank access on the other two reservoirs, but the best spots will probably be from a boat.
“On J.W. Smith they catch a lot under the Pan Handle Road bridge that crosses the reservoir,” said Jep. “Also the submerged pond dam straight across from the restroom area is a good place.
“Blalock has a lot of natural structure in it. Fish the treeline off the channel. Folks usually do real good trolling where it’s 5-8 feet deep.”
All three lakes are trolling-motor only. You can have a gas motor on the boat, you just can’t run it.
Moving east of Atlanta we need to visit the 810-acre Lake Varner in Newton and Walton counties.
This trolling-motor only lake, which does not allow outboards on the boat, boasts a good crappie fishery. In fact, it’s got the attention of WRD Fisheries biologist Bubba Mauldin, who fishes it regularly.
“It seems to be real consistent,” said Bubba. “It is a tremendous fishery. It goes just about nine months. You get into the dead of summer and you don’t see as many people fishing for crappie.”
Bubba said that two things are important when it comes to strong crappie populations — good habitat and good forage. Both are present in Varner. The water quality in Varner is considered good, and adult crappie have plenty of available forage.
“We stocked threadfin shad in Varner when the lake was coming up,” said Bubba. “Threadfins are an important food item for adult crappie.”
On any given day you’re liable to see Bubba on Varner — not with a shocking boat but with a trolling-motor powered jon boat and several fishing poles.
“I catch them in February slow-trolling in 20 to 25 feet of water,” said Bubba. “I keep a minnow on the bottom and just go as slow as I can.”
If you’re new to the lake, Bubba recommends starting in about 18 feet of water on the large flats while slowly working your way out toward the creek channel in 20 to 25 feet of water, or until you find the fish.
“They’re deep, and they may be that deep until they spawn. I’d start thinking about that when the temperature gets in that 60- to 65-degree range. Look for shallow, woody cover in the backs of the coves.”
Just one county west, in Rockdale, is a newer lake — the 650-acre Black Shoals reservoir.
“The water quality is a factor there,” said Bubba. “It might even be better than Varner. There’s very little in the way of agriculture at Black Shoals. It’s forested around the banks.
“On Varner you’ve got a fair amount of agriculture, you get pretty good blooms which is good for fish production, but then these algae blooms work against water quality.
“We saw good reproduction, recruitment and growth on the crappie in our early gill net samples.”
Park attendant for Black Shoals, Tommy Jones, told GON that the fishing this winter has been outstanding for slab-sized fish.
“We’ve had one that hit five pounds,” said Tommy. “We had one gentleman that caught one that went 4-lbs., 2-ozs., and he came back at the end of the week and caught one that weighed 4-lbs., 8-ozs. This has all happened in the last 30 days!”
Tommy said most of the big fish have been caught well off the channels in 20-25 feet of water while fishing a minnow in the trees.
When the spawning season starts, Tommy said about the hottest area on the lake is going to be the covered-bridge area. Coming from the ramp, you’ll head around to the left, to the northern end of the lake.
If you don’t have a boat, go to Black Shoals anyway. “We have a dock you can fish from and 300 yards of bank that you can fish from,” said Tommy. “There’s some good brush in this area that attracts crappie. People have been know to catch their limit off the dock in an hour and a half.”
Just south in Jasper County is the Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center.
“We’ve got crappie in Bennett, Fox and Lower Raleigh,” said WRD Fisheries biologist Ted Hendrickx.
Lower Raleigh receives less pressure than Bennett and Fox simply because you have to walk in to fish. If you want to take a boat in, you’ll have to carry it. However, there’s a lot of open shoreline and some good bank-fishing access.
Bennett also has some good bank access. “There’s a hiking trail coming from the spillway near the parking area right on the dam between Bennett and Margery,” said Ted. “There’s a couple of coves that would probably be good places to go. You can also get out on those points.
“Also, from the boat ramp head left and the first point is good for crappie fishing.”
In Fox Lake, a good springtime crappie spot is to head straight out from the boat ramp, go across the lake and hit the bank above the fishing berm. The bank is shallow and will hold crappie. Several hundred yards up the bank you’ll find a few offshore humps that should hold crappie this spring.
Moving three counties south to Talbot is Big Lazer PFA. It has a fair to good population of crappie in it, according to WRD Fisheries biologist Steve Schleiger.
“There are crappie populations at
Big Lazer PFA, and they don’t get a lot of fishing pressure,” said Steve. “The last couple of years we’ve sampled a good number of fish, and we get reports of anglers catching a good number of fish.”
The lower end of the lake will be good during the pre-spawn stage, because it has several steep banks.
Big Lazer has a bunch of timber in it, especially on the upper end. It’s relatively shallow and this area would be good during the spawn.
“Also, some of the coves in the lower end would be good for the spring spawn,” Steve added. “The spawning generally begins when water temperatures reach 58 to 60 degrees. Folks think when the dogwoods start to bloom is peak, but actually it’s a week or two before that probably.
“Also, there is a boat ramp and a fishing pier. We’ve got lots of bank access.”
Moving down in to south-central Georgia try fishing Dodge County PFA this spring.
“Dodge County PFA is awesome for crappie,” said WRD Fisheries biologist Bert Deener. “I’ve caught a bunch of crappie there. The lake is 104 acres. You can count on catching numbers there.
“You’ll have to use jigs, since you can’t use minnows on the PFA, but what we’ve done is troll the edges until we’d find a concentration and then just cast to them.
“There’s some timber in the middle part of the lake where they’re suspended during the pre-spawn. When you get four or five warm days they’ll pull up. The upper end of the lake is best. It’s the shallow areas where they’re going to spawn. The bank on the upper end is pretty much clean with some vegetation. There’s a handful of blowdowns, so if you can get on those during the spawn you should catch them. Two-pound fish aren’t uncommon.”
Moving east, WRD Fisheries biologist Keith Weaver says the 84-acre Evans County PFA has a good population of crappie.
“It’s an older lake from back in the 70s,” said Keith. “It does have quite a few stumps in it. It does provide good habitat, especially in the deeper parts.”
Keith said that most folks who fish the trolling-motor-only lake have their success while trolling jigs.
“Yellow and pink jigs are usually the most successful,” said Keith. From now until mid April anglers seem to do real well on Evans County PFA.
“The spawn hits around here in mid to late February. To the left and the right of the boat ramp is some shallow wood cover. That’s typically the best trolling areas during the spawn. Fishermen troll to locate the bed, stop, anchor and fish the bed.”
Most of this lake has good bank access.
Just south in Liberty and Bryan counties is some good fishing opportunities at Fort Stewart.
“We’ve got several lakes that have fairly good fishable populations of crappie,” said Tom Bryce, fisheries biologist for Fort Stewart.
The first one is Pond No. 1 or Pineview Lake. Sampling data from back in the fall revealed a good number of crappie in the 7- to 9-inch range.
“That’s good pan-sized fish,” Tom said of the 80-acre lake. Pineview also has a concrete ramp.
Also, the 52-acre Big Metz (Pond No. 26) has some crappie in it. “We didn’t pick up anything real big this year, but I know we’ve got some decent crappie in there,” said Tom.
You’ll find some timber and a concrete ramp at Big Metz.
The Evan’s Field Ponds (Ponds No. 19 and 20) have crappie present. Pond 19 is nine acres and Pond 20 is seven acres.
“They sit next to each other,” said Tom. “Both have crappie primarily because they’ve been flooded by the Cannochee River in the past.”
Fort Stewart is open to the public. In addition to a Georgia state fishing license you must buy a permit from the Pass and Permit office on Hwy 144, 14 miles west of interstate I-95. The price is $5 a day or $20 a year.
On Georgia’s border, along the Savannah River, Carl Hall, retired regional supervisor for WRD Fisheries, said he looks for good fishing in the oxbow rivers off the Savannah River.
“The Savannah River has 42 man-made oxbows between Port Wentworth and the lock and dam at Augusta,” said Carl. “Most of those surely have good crappie fishing. Most of them are pretty deep.
“When we did all of our comprehensive fisheries surveys of the rivers back in the early 80s, the standing crop of fish in general in the oxbow lakes was substantially higher than the main-stream river.
“The main thing is getting in an oxbow that is deep. Most of these are dead lakes and the majority of them should have fairly deep water.”
If you need more information about crappie fishing any of these small public lakes call WRD Fisheries in Social Circle at (770) 918-6418.
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