Dodge PFA Still Going Strong

Recent electroshocking data shows this 104-acre lake still holds some good bass and crappie.

John Trussell | April 2, 2023

John Trussell (left) and Chris Bailey recently teamed up on Dodge PFA to put this nice stringer of crappie in the cooler.

 As Chris Bailey and I loaded up the boat near Perry, we were excited to be heading down to Dodge PFA near Eastman, featuring 104-acre Steve Bell Lake. The lake opened for fishing back on June 26, 1992. It’s been open for a little more than 30  years, so how is it doing today? 

Known for its sizable largemouth bass, the lake has produced numerous whopper bass, including Chris’s 11-lb., 8-oz. bass from February 2006, caught on a 1/4-oz. black jig. Chris is one of Georgia’s most successful big-bass anglers with 300 bass heavier than 10 pounds to his credit. If that seems like an incredible feat, that’s because it is very remarkable when most anglers are lucky to catch one 10-lb. bass in their lifetimes!

Chris is now 70 and is a big fan of Georgia WRD PFA’s, especially liking Dodge, Marben and Ocmulgee PFAs, saying they give the average angler the opportunity to catch a big bass. Chris also still likes to hit a few private pay-to-fish ponds, and his favorite is Stuckey’s pond near Jeffersonville. He has caught numerous bass over 10 pounds from there, with his best being 13-lbs., 10-ozs. Charles Sloan’s largest bass, weighing 14-lbs., 15-ozs., also came from Stuckey’s, so keep it on your big-bass radar!

Chris was a lieutenant with the Warner Robins Fire Department and retired in 2008, which meant more time for fishing! He normally uses a 1/4-oz. black jig, and his No. 1 tip is to not miss setting the hook on the first peck he feels on the line.  

“The first peck is the bass picking up the jig, and the second peck is the bass spitting out the jig,” he said.

David Hudson’s 15-lb., 8.5-ozs. Dodge PFA bass was caught March 16, 2002 and is the current lake record. It’s also No. 27 on GON’s Georgia’s Biggest Bass of All-Time list.

Looking back at the biggest bass from Dodge PFA, the current record is 15-lbs., 8.5-ozs. caught by David Hudson on March 16, 2002. Next in line is a 14-lb., 3-oz.  bass caught by Lenn Chandler on March 13, 2007. Lenn was the assistant fire chief for Warner Robins and passed away in 2012. He is closely followed by a 14-lb., 0.8-oz. bass hauled in by Charles Sloan on March 20, 1999. Charles operated Sloan Painting Services and passed away in 2017. Like Chris, Lenn and Charles were devoted big-bass anglers who targeted bedding bass in the early springtime when female bass were in prime shape.

Like Chris, Lenn and Charles both had numerous bass over 10 pounds to their credit and often shared friendly fishing tips and information. I had the honor of fishing with both Lenn and Charles over the years, and they were excellent fishermen and gentlemen of high character who are sorely missed. Chris and I both reminisce about the good times we had fishing with both of these excellent fishermen. Charles Sloan’s biggest bass is now hanging over the water cooler at the Go Fish Education Center in Perry, so check it out next time you’re in the area.

The last big bass over 13 pounds from Dodge PFA weighed 13-lbs., 2-ozs. caught by Scott Peterman on March 28, 2010. As you will notice, there hasn’t been a 13-plus pounder caught from Dodge PFA since 2010, a period of 12 years! Does that possibly mean that the golden days of lunker bass are over at Dodge PFA? I posed that question to WRD Senior Fisheries Biologist Tim Bonvechio, and he said there are still some big bass in Dodge PFA and said a 10-pounder was caught on March 27, 2020 by Daniel  Schmidt. Nearly all these big bass were caught in March.

On Tuesday, March 7, 2023, Chris and I were on a “catch what is biting” trip and scoped out the bass beds along the shoreline and didn’t spot a single bass on the bed. But it had been unseasonably warm in late February, thus some bass might have bedded a little earlier than normal. But the recent cold spell in mid-March may have driven the bass back into deeper water, so during March, we will continue to look for active beds. You may find some bedding bass into early April.

Here’s Bobby Knight with the Dodge PFA lake-record crappie. The slab weighed 2-lbs., 5-ozs.

Dodge PFA Manager Terry Sowell did come over to our boat while we were fishing out from the fishing pier and said he spotted a 3- to 4-lb. bass in a bed close to the bank, but he wasn’t interested in Chris’s offerings. Chris says the odd thing about bedding bass is that they might hit on the first cast, but all too often it’s many casts and sometimes many hours later when they hit a lure, or maybe never! 

We did find the crappie in a biting mood, but they were not tearing it up and we had to work for them. As we moved down the western shoreline, we spotted some treetops blown into the water and hoped that some crappie might be hunkered around them. We were about 200 yards south of the DNR work barn, along the west bank, so you can locate this area. We were fishing with 1/24-oz. jigs about 2 feet below small corks. Chris started catching nice crappie fairly quickly and had put five in the boat and I had not even gotten a bite, even though we were only fishing 5 feet apart. 

We compared rigs. I was using a chartreuse-colored Jiffy Jig, made by J.C. and Belinda Brantley in Vidalia, under a small orange-and-white cigar cork with a small bb weight placed about 1 foot above to jig to aid in the cast. Chris was using a black/white/white Betsy Bug jig from A & R Jigs, handmade by Tony Allen of Danville. Unfortunately, I did not have any white jigs in the boat with me, but Chris graciously pulled out one of his jigs and tossed it to my end of the boat, along with a small yellow cork with a red stopper. I also removed the extra weight off my line. Once I tossed out the rig, I immediately started to catch crappie. The white color was the key.

We continued to catch crappie and move down to other fallen trees that were providing cover along the shoreline. The technique was to toss out the rig, let it settle for two seconds, and if no strike, gently twitch the line every few seconds and retrieve it very slowly back to the boat. Following this method, we eased around the shoreline and around the island and put a total of 27 crappie in the cooler, with several in the 1-lb. range. The record black crappie at Dodge PFA weighed 2-lbs., 5-ozs. and was caught by Bobby Knight on Jan. 4, 2023. Terry said he has seen crappie in the 3-lb. range and a new record may be swimming around out there.

Walter Bray, of Warner Robins, used the Dodge PFA fish cleaning station to filet a nice mess of crappie for the frying pan.

I talked with Walter Bray, of Warner Robins, who was cleaning his crappie at the fish cleaning station, which is a big bonus for anglers at the PFA. He was just fishing off a park bench, casting out into the lake and had several big crappie to take home for dinner.

We tried the catfish in a few locations, using a half piece of raw shrimp as bait but never got a taker, so we will try the cats when the water is a little warmer. The record catfish weighed 13-lbs., 7-ozs. and was caught by Thomas Mulcher on Jan. 5, 2021. In the past, I’ve had good luck with the catfish, often pulling in fish in the 1- to 8-lb. range. Tim says the WRD routinely stocks about 2,000 catfish in the lake each year, but all other species are self-reproducing. The WRD also stocked threadfin shad in the lake to give the fish plenty of food. We didn’t have time to try the bream, but the wind got up to 20 mph, which made all fishing rather difficult.

The bream fishing is another bright spot for anglers at Dodge PFA. Chris recommends that anglers ease around the shoreline from May to June and look for bream beds scattered along in the shallow water. A cricket or red wiggler will do the trick, but Beetle Spins and Mepps Spinners in small, 1/32-oz. sizes will work, also. For deeper fish, take a look at the online PFA map, which shows the GPS locations of the many fish attractor sites around the lake.

Dodge County PFA has two great piers for anglers to use. The piers are strategically placed within casting distance of prime feeding areas for bass, crappie, catfish and sunfish, and there are benches located around the shoreline if you don’t have a boat. Funded by timber harvest revenue, the piers provide prime feeding areas within casting distance. The lake is open 24/7, so there are no excuses for not finding time to fish!

A very recent electrofishing survey done by Bonvechio produced 111 bass per hour up to 5.3 pounds and 22 black crappie per hour up to 2.29 pounds from Dodge PFA. Largemouth bass between 16 and 24 inches must be released immediately. Bass up to 16 inches and over 24 inches can be kept (limit five total per person, only one over 24 inches). A 24-inch bass is going to be in the 8-lb. range, thus some big bass (in the 17- to 23-inch size) should continue to be released and grow to very impressive sizes.

Here’s a little history on the PFA. According to Tim, the property was purchased by DNR using the proceeds from the 1987 increase in hunting and fishing license fees. The land was purchased in November 1988 from Mrs. Sue Jean M. Bell (93.44 acres) and Mr. Albert Glass Sr. (348.03 acres). In addition, slightly more than 2 acres of old county road right-of-way was deeded to the state.  

The impoundment of the 104-acre PFA and associated capital outlay facilities was approximately $1.4 million, of which nearly all was Federal Aid in Sportfish Restoration Program Funds. Y’all bought this.

Work began in the summer of 1990 and was completed in 1991. The gates were closed on the dam during late February 1991, and the lake reached full pool the winter of 1992. The lake opened to fishing on June 26, 1992. Based on the fishing success of this WRD project, I think everyone will agree that Dodge PFA has been a huge success.

This area also offers opportunities for archery deer hunting and youth turkey hunts on its 340 acres of woodlands. There is also a year-round archery range that can be utilized, as well as a group shelter that can be rented for family reunions, weddings and get-togethers. To reserve the group shelter, call 800.864.7275.

Directions and a map can be found at

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