Bream Fishing At Dodge PFA

This state Public Fishing Area gets plenty of press about its bass fishing, but the bluegill and shellcracker fishing are not to be “dodged.”

Capt. Bert Deener | May 1, 2002

A jewel of a lake is nestled in the rolling hills near Eastman. Covering 104 acres, the lake is the main focal point of Dodge County Public Fishing Area (DCPFA) and could appropriately be dubbed “The Fish Factory.” Although the lake receives most of its notoriety from the world-class largemouth bass it produces (a 15-lb., 8.5-oz. bass and a 12-pounder were caught just within the last month), it also has a panfish fishery that is worthy of accolades.    

Dodge County PFA has three species of panfish: crappie, shellcracker, and bluegill. Although the crappie fishing is outstanding much of the year, it takes a back seat to bream (shellcracker and bluegill) fishing in May. Shellcracker typically spawn from late April through June, with the peak in May. The bluegill spawn peaks during this same time, but smaller aggregations will spawn throughout the summer, sometimes as late as October. During a creel survey conducted on the lake in 2001, bream fishing only accounted for about 16 percent of the fishing effort on the lake (49 percent of the effort was for largemouth bass). However, bream were the most frequently harvested fish, comprising 49 percent of the harvest, by numbers.

Jake Smith, of Warner Robins, shows off a pair of 3/4-lb. shellcrackers that he caught at Dodge County PFA in early April, 2002. In May, limits of this size fish are common.

In early April, 2002, Dan Stiles and I sampled the bream fishing on this south Georgia “fish factory.” Dan has been area manager of DCPFA since 1999. Since then, Dan has kept a finger on the pulse of fishing success at the lake and even calls many of the anglers by name. He is an avid angler, with panfish being his quarry much of the time. He especially likes “perch jerking” with his daughter, Emily, and son, Kalem.

“As with many south Georgia lakes, May is one of the best months to catch numbers and quality-sized bream as they move shallow during their major spawning period,” said Dan. “Limits of 1/2- to 1-lb. bream are common on this lake.”

During our morning on the lake, we determined that the bass spawn was just wrapping up. We saw many male bass guarding nests and clouds of fry. Surface water temperatures ranged from 73-76 degrees, and the water had not yet gotten its typical greenish color indicative of fertilization. Dan’s careful monitoring of the water quality and algal bloom allows the fertilization program to successfully increase fish production in the lake. Just as fertilizer applied to a corn field increases the yield, fertilizer applied to this lake increases fish production. While we and many other anglers that day were not successful in our hunt for bream, the two successful fishermen we talked with that day found a couple shellcrackers just beginning to bed. Jake Smith of Warner Robins located two shellcracker beds in the back of a cove and was able to convince the fish to eat his worm by repeatedly dangling it in front of each fish until it bit. In early April, we were a little early for bedding activity, but by the time you read this article the shellcracker and bluegill beds will be dotting the shoreline like dimples on a golf ball.

Early in the spawn, live bait such as worms and crickets will frequently account for larger creels than lures. Later in the month when the fish are more aggressive, lures will catch their share. If he is targeting shellcrackers, Dan prefers to fish a red wiggler worm on the bottom using a simple split-shot or bell sinker to keep it down. Bluegill will bite either worms or crickets. When targeting bluegill on the beds, he uses a float to keep his bait suspended slightly above the bottom.

“Sometimes they can be picky about the depth of the bait,” said Dan. “I’ve seen a 6-inch change in depth make a difference, so keep experimenting until the fish tell you the distance you need between the float and the hook.”

This Lil’ Thunder rattling float rig is ready for a worm or cricket.

A float that has been catching saltwater species for years but is new to the freshwater scene is the Cajun Thunder by Precision Tackle. The Lil’ Thunder is a smaller version just the right size for bream fishing. This float is mounted on a steel shaft and has two brass beads below the float. You can twitch your rod tip to make the float click, thus drawing fish from a distance. One tip that I have for using these floats is to have several leaders of different lengths rigged and ready with a loop knot tied at the top. When a different length leader is called for, you can quickly take off the old leader, slip the loop of the new leader through the bottom swivel, tuck the hook through the loop and you’re ready to fish in seconds.

When the bream are active, Dan believes that nothing compares to catching them on lures. He introduced me to a lure made by Renosky called a Keystone Minnow. It is a 1-inch plastic minnow rigged on a jighead. I’ve been amazed at the effectiveness of this fish fry (baby fish, not to be confused with the meal after a good day of fishing) imitation. It catches all species of panfish. Dan’s favorite color of this lure is yellow perch.

Other artificial standards are Beetle-Spins, 2-inch grubs, and small tube lures. Dan’s favorite Beetle-Spin is the 1/32-oz. with a black body with two yellow stripes. Favorite colors in the other plastic lures are white, black/chartreuse, and chartreuse. Dan recommends using 6-lb. test monofilament for bream fishing. He switched from 4-lb. test after a few bull bluegill buried in weeds and popped the lighter line. He has not had trouble losing big fish with 6-lb. line and has gotten just about as many bites.

Top artificial baits for Dodge Co. PFA bream include (left to right) a 1 1/2-inch tube lure, 2-inch Triple Tail grub, Keystone Minnow, hair jig, Rooster-Tail spinner, Rebel Wee crawfish, and a Beetle Spin.

Access at DCPFA is excellent for both bank and boat anglers. An angler access trail allows bank anglers to walk almost the entire shoreline of the lake. Frequent offshoots of the trail lead to open areas where you can fish. A 3-lane concrete boat ramp and service pier allow a large number of anglers to quickly launch or take out. The extra lanes are nice when all the anglers on the lake wait until sunset, then all make a mad dash to take their boats out at the same time.

Dan pointed me to seven spots where he has had success finding bedding bream during Mays past. Bream will bed in many other areas of the lake as well, but this map will give you several high-percentage spots to begin your search.

1. This cove contains a fishing pier. The majority of the bank fishing occurs off the pier and in this cove. Over the years, Dan has seen amazing stringers of bream leave this cove. Part of the attraction is the fish feeder out from the fishing pier. It is not uncommon to see thousands of small bream suspended around the dock. Often the larger fish are lurking in the shade of the dock and the deeper water. Between the parking lot and the fishing pier is a colorful new bragging board against which you can take a photo of your catch.

2. The focal point of this spot is the large flat extending from this broad point. To help get your bearings, you will notice a wooden bench on the point. Large aggregations of bream spawn on this point. Bank anglers can cast out, while boat anglers will have access to the deeper areas of the flat.       

3. This is a shallow, protected cove that usually harbors spawning fish. As you enter the cove, you will notice a service pier on your right. Just past the pier you will notice a subtle secondary point. Bream often bed around the stumps on this point. You are likely to find spawning bream anywhere in this cove.

4. This area begins at the end of the rip-rap along the dam and extends about 100 yards. This shallow flat is near deep water, and due to its openness is difficult to fish when the wind is blowing from the northwest down the lake.

The author spotted a few early bream beds on his trip to Dodge County PFA in April. Polarized sunglasses will help you see the beds. The bedding of both bluegill and shellcracker will peak in May.

5. In the middle of this large flat, you will see a pole with alternating orange and white stripes marking a fertilizer platform. The flat extends from the dam to approximately 100 yards upstream of this pole. As with area No. 4, this area is very open and is tough to fish when the wind is blowing down the lake.

6. This protected cove with its southern exposure is ideal to fish when the wind is from the north. This is one of the few places we found bream beds during our early April trip. The first half of the left side of this cove has scattered stumps.

7. These first two coves on the left after you pass under the powerlines are prime spawning areas. Bream spawn anywhere in these coves, so Dan suggests keeping the trolling motor down and moving slowly until you find the active beds, then quietly anchor and fish the area thoroughly.

Spot numbers 1, 2, and 3 are easily accessible to bank anglers. Spots  4, 5, 6, and 7 are bank-accessible if you want to combine a long walk with your fishing. Spots 1, 3, 6, and 7 are fairly protected in case the day is windy.

Like other PFAs, Dodge County is an excellent destination for a family outing. Along with the fantastic fishing opportunities, there are picnic tables and a nature trail. During our half-day trip in early April, we saw many species of birds, the most remarkable of which included a bald eagle soaring over the lake.

Keep in mind that DCPFA is one of the Public Fishing Areas operated by the Wildlife Resources Division (WRD), thus special regulations apply. Most notably, you cannot use live minnows for bait on the area. The area is open each day from sunrise to sunset. The daily creel limit for bream (all species combined) is 15 per person. There are no motor size restrictions, but gasoline motors must be operated at idle speed. Licenses are not sold on-site, so make sure you are licensed before going fishing. Check the Georgia sportfishing regulations or the information boards at the office or parking area for license requirements and other regulations. Dan mentioned that if he is available, he would be more than happy to weigh and photograph catches of large fish to include on the photography board in the office, so check with him on the way out when you have a noteworthy catch.

To get to Dodge County PFA from Eastman, take US Hwy 441 south for about three miles. Follow the Public Fishing Area signs to the area. Information cards for DCPFA or any of the other public-fishing areas operated by WRD are available from any WRD office.

For info about Dodge PFA’s great bass fishing, check out this feature article.

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.