Fishing Angle To Georgia Cicada Invasion?

Ronnie Garrison | April 30, 2024

The enormous emergence of adult cicadas in parts of Georgia right now provides a massive supply of protein nuggets for all types of wildlife—and fish. Photo by Dawn Culpepper.

They’re baaaaack. But unlike Poltergeist, you can have a lot of fun with a cicada hatch. In parts of Georgia right now, it’s more like an invasion than a hatch. Head to your favorite lake and use the emergence of these protein nuggets to catch fish.

Often inaccurately called “locusts,” cicadas are fat, noisy bugs with big lacy wings, much like an overgrown bumblebee but with bigger wings. Adults lay eggs, and when the larvae hatch, they dig into the ground and feed on the sap of tree roots—for 17 years!

When they mature, they come out of the ground and molt out of their hard shell, growing wings much like a butterfly coming out of a cocoon. Many of us have found the brown “husks” from this molting process attached to trees. The adults fly into trees, and the males flex a special organ called a tymbal to make the buzzing, humming sound to attract females. After mating, the females lay their eggs on branches, and the tiny nymphs hatch and fall to the ground where they burrow in and repeat the cycle. What makes them unusual is their time underground. Although there are cicadas that come out of the ground after a few days, there are big broods that come out after many years. Most bugs live a short time but one group of cicadas in Georgia comes out every 13 years, another every 17 years. This year is unusual because those two groups’ emergence or “hatches” coincide, something that has not happened in 221 years.

Dawn Culpepper got this great photo near her home at Bartletts Ferry of an adult cicada molting and emerging from its hard shell.

There will be billions of them in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin. There are many reports of them around east central and central Georgia that started in mid-April, and it will continue for a couple of months.

How does this affect fishing? Many days the surface of the water will be covered with big, fat, soft bugs, which provide a great food source for many fish. In Georgia they can appear anywhere, but the highest concentrations will be around West Point, Oconee, Sinclair and Bartletts Ferry lakes, Lake Weiss and some on Allatoona and Lanier. The GON crew reports a deafening cicada hatch in the Lake Country around Morgan, Greene, Putnam and Jasper counties.

Other lakes may see some activity outside the highest concentration areas. Just keep your ears and eyes open for them and be ready.

My most memorable personal experience with the cicada hatch was during the last big one in 2007.  I was fishing a club tournament at Sinclair and the incessant hum of cicadas could be heard all over the lake.  And dead bugs littered the water surface. But most important, I had not gotten a bite all day. I noticed the red hue of the dead bugs and dug around until I found an old pack of red-shad Culprit worms. As soon as I started casting it on a Texas rig, I started getting hits and landed limit of small bass! There was no surface activity, the bass were apparently eating dead bugs on the bottom down 12 to 14 feet deep.

Did “matching the hatch” with the red color make a difference?  Maybe.

Cicadas will not be everywhere, and you won’t find a single concentration like a mayfly hatch. A cicada hitting the water and struggling oftens attracts a bass, so be ready to make a cast when the fish shows itself.

If you want to fish around bugs on the water, pay attention to the wind. Wind will blow them out onto the water from points or wooded banks where they are “singing,” so find a good cove downwind from them. Bass will be attracted to areas where struggling bugs hit the surface and create disturbances on the water before they die. Late morning through early afternoon, when it is warmer, are key times. And rain softening the ground encourages the hatch.

Since bass are visual predators, recreating the plop and movement of the bugs can attract a topwater bite. Jason Kincy with Lurenet says poppers, prop baits, small walking baits and shallow floater/divers are all good. Imitate the colors and size of cicadas for best results.

Bass may eat the bugs on or near the top, but since they die quickly, there needs to be a constant supply of them dropping into the water. Find the right area for that. Live bugs hitting the water will attract the bass. Fishing one of the above baits in those areas will work if you fish it slowly around the place where bugs first hit the water.

On the bottom where bass might be eating the dead bugs as they fall, matching the reddish-brown color will help, as will matching the size. A 3- to 4-inch red shad Senko or similar stickbait should do a good job. Even better would be a 3/16-oz. brown finesse jig, like a Strike King Bitsy Bug. A small brown chunk on it would fatten it like the bug’s body and the legs on the jig will look like the legs on the cicada.

Fly fishermen have found out they can catch carp on top with big flies like a salmon fly imitation by casting them to carp cruising along the surface slurping up cicadas. Catfish gorge on the bugs on the bottom. Hooking a dead bug or two on a strong catfish hook and fishing them on the bottom under the floating bugs should result in good catches. And, since the bugs are easy to collect, they can be used for bait anywhere you want to try for cats, but they deteriorate fast, so get fresh ones.

Cicadas are too big for most bream to eat, but they will nibble on them. Fishing worms or crickets around the cicadas should result in good catches for the next two months.

Get out on the water, try to ignore that echoey buzz in your ears, and explore different ways to use the cicada hatch to your advantage and have fun catching “bug” fish.

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