Small Lake Profile: Boatwright’s Pond
Seventy acres of bass, crappie, bream and catfish in Pierce County.
Boatright’s Pond, pond No. 12 in the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Small Georgia Lakes Open to Public Fishing guide, was little more to me than one of the 169 listings in the guide. It was just another place to wet a hook until I started talking about fishing with Neil Jones of Blackshear. Neil chases crappie all over south Georgia and north Florida, and Boatright’s Pond makes his list of top spots to catch papermouths.
For several years whenever Neil sprayed my office for bugs (Neil works as an exterminator in Blackshear), he would give me a quick update on the crappie fishing. Crescent Lake and Lake George in Florida were common locations discussed, but Boatright’s Pond was frequently mentioned. Without much arm-twisting, Neil agreed to show me his approach to fishing this 70-acre southeast Georgia lake.
We met after lunch in Blackshear on February 7 and headed north to the pond near Bristol. Several dogs greeted us as we pulled up to the Boatright family’s house. We gladly paid our $5 each, discussed the recent local happenings, and headed the short distance to the lake. As we drove along the road paralleling the lake, my eyes were immediately drawn to the mats of shoreline vegetation. I was glad I brought along my bass-fishing tackle, as the vegetation was beckoning me.
We launched our jonboats from the concrete ramp and pushed off into the blackwater. The Humminbird depth-finder on my boat indicated that the water temperature was 58 degrees. My boat was lined with bass-fishing tackle, while Neil’s was strewn with crappie equipment. Our plan was to fish together some and separately some to determine which species would best cooperate. Crappie were our first target, so I anchored my boat and hopped in Neil’s 17-foot Aluma-Weld boat. One item you will rarely find in Neil’s boat is a minnow bucket. He does not often use minnows, but relies on a myriad of small tube baits and curly-tailed grubs to produce his slabs.
“I prefer fishing lures because it is a much more active way to convince a crappie to bite. Dragging minnows is a little boring to me,” he said.
Because of some of the photos of his catches, I was not about to argue with him about his methods.
While I was trying to choose a tube color, Neil offered, “For crappie, various combinations of chartreuse, black, and green have worked best for me.”
The sun was shining brightly, so I chose a 1 1/2-inch tube in chartreuse with green glitter and fished it on a 1/16-oz. jighead. Neil started with a chartreuse two-inch curly-tailed grub hooked on his standard 1/32-oz. jighead. Some of his other favorite combinations are a green body with a chartreuse tail and “John Deere,” which is a green and yellow body with a chartreuse tail. At first, we both fished our jigs without a float.
“I’ve caught most of my crappie from this pond by letting my lure hit the bottom and slowly hopping it back to me, keeping it near the bottom. I’ll use a float if they are suspended against the trees or if they are along the shallow shoreline vegetation,” Neal said.
During March, the crappie should be spawning in or near the shoreline vegetation. When he uses a float, Neil prefers a small, chartreuse foam float to suspend his bait. When working this rig, he occasionally twitches his rod slightly to create a subtle gurgling noise that he believes entices the fish to bite. He starts with about a foot separating his float and jighead, but frequently changes this distance until he determines the depth at which the fish are holding. At that point, he sets all his rigs to that depth.
For crappie Neil likes the feel of a five-foot graphite rod paired with a Quantum ultralight reel. He has tried other length rods and believes the 4 1/2-foot versions are too short and the 5 1/2- and six-foot models are too long. Berkley clear Trilene XL in 6-lb. test is his line of choice.
After about an hour of fishing for crappie, I could no longer stand the call of the shoreline vegetation. I shuffled into my boat and headed off in pursuit of bass while Neil continued casting jigs for crappie.
Boatright’s Pond is a relatively shallow pond. The deepest water we encountered was only about eight-feet deep. With the sun still very bright and the water temperatures in the upper 50s, I calculated that the fish would be nestled up in the sun-warmed water under the thick vegetation. I was correct in that the water under the dense vegetation was about five degrees warmer than open water. But, the bass either had not yet moved shallow, or they did not want my offering. I flipped a four-inch Bass Assassin watermelon-red glitter crawfish pegged below a 1-oz. Penetrator tungsten weight. Shortly after beginning, I punched through a thick weed mat and was rewarded with a strong hit. Unfortunately, I did not connect. I continued working down the west bank of the pond casting a gold-black back jerkbait (one of my favorites in blackwater lakes) between dense vegetation patches, which I flipped.
After working half the bank, including a wooden dock (the only man-made cover on the lake) without a bite, I switched to a chartreuse Mann’s Baby 1-Minus. By then I was in the upper end of the pond, where the water was two feet deep or less. I cast the bait parallel to the vegetation and worked it with a relatively quick retrieve, attempting to get a reaction strike. This combination quickly drew a strike from a small keeper-sized bass. I continued around the shallow upper end of the pond alternating between the crankbait and the crawfish, but was unable to coax any more bass to bite.
While navigating the upper end, I could not help but dream about how effective a floating worm must be for cruising bass in March. Neil and I fished on a warm afternoon sandwiched between cool spells, so the fish had not yet moved shallow in large numbers. During the spawn, the upper end of the lake will provide good sight fishing opportunities for bass. The water has a black tint but is still clear enough that fish can be seen bedding in the shallows.
As the sun dropped near the tree line, the pond came to life. Schools of shiners began surfacing, but the predator fishes were not attacking them, an ominous sign that the magic hour might not be so magical that evening. I decided to hop back in Neil’s boat in hopes of catching a few crappie. While I was bass fishing, Neil had only managed one fish, a trophy-sized golden shiner taken on a chartreuse curly-tailed grub. I was disappointed that I did not have my flipping stick and a large float ready. I would have dragged the shiner behind the boat in hopes of a trophy bass inhaling it. We worked the deeper end of the lake for about another hour with several colors of tubes and grubs, but could only manage another golden shiner. Even though we did not catch many fish, we enjoyed the evening and were treated to a spectacular sunset.
During the sunset, Neil shared that one of his favorite fishing partners at Boatright’s Pond passed away last year. Cecil Brown III of Waycross was killed in a car wreck in May of 2004. Earlier I noticed the window sticker on Neil’s truck commemorating his friend’s life and death, but I then understood the ties to Boatright’s Pond. Over the years, Neil and Cecil took home many a mess of crappie from the pond.
Boatright’s Pond provides fishing opportunities for bass, crappie, bream, and catfish. Neil does not target the catfish, but he does fish for the other three species. Bass will be active from March until the dog-days of summer. Beginning in April, bream fishing picks up on the lake. Decent catches of hand-sized bream are commonplace when the water warms. Neal uses mostly crickets and Beetle Spins when targeting bream.
One of Neil’s favorite bites of the year on Boatright’s Pond is during the dog-days of summer. During the heat, the crappie are again vulnerable to jigs. They stack up in the deeper water and readily take small curly-tailed grubs and tubes fished in the deeper end.
“The key to catching crappie in the summer is simply finding them,” Neal said. “I’ve fished Boatright’s Pond when you had to cast your lure in a very small area or you were not going to get a bite. But if you cast in that magic spot, you could get a bite on every cast.”
Limits on the lake follow statewide size and creel limits. You must purchase a daily fishing pass ($5 per person, per day) from the Boatright family. You should call Mrs. Melba Boatright at (912) 647-5486 to discuss the best method to obtain the pass. If an early-morning excursion is planned, you may want to get your pass the evening before or purchase it ahead of time via mail. The most notable special regulation is that there is no fishing on Sundays.
To get to the pond from Bristol, take Ga. Hwy 121 north for 2.8 miles. Turn left onto Pine Road (a dirt road), and continue 0.9 miles. The pond will be on your right, and Pine Road actually crosses the dam of Boatright’s Pond. If you need to go to the Boatright house to pay the fee, take the unmarked road to the right just before you get to the pond. Follow that road about a half-mile until you come to an intersection. Take a left, and the Boatright house is the second house on the left.
Small waters, such as Boatright’s Pond, provide excellent fishing opportunities. You will not have to contend with jet-skis or pleasure boats, just a relaxing day of fishing. For a change of scenery, give this Pierce County lake a try when you are in southeast Georgia.
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