Hugh Gillis PFA Loaded With Bedding Bream In May
This PFA in Laurens County good for eating-sized bluegill and shellcracker.
In its infancy, the Hugh M. Gillis Public Fishing Area (PFA) in Laurens County was favorably compared to its neighboring PFA in Dodge County, but as it entered its third year of operation in 2006, Gillis PFA showed definite signs of making a name for itself.
If you’re looking for a fat mess of fine-eating bluegills or shellcrackers, Gillis PFA can help you out in a hurry!
Long-time fishing partner Doyle Dowdy and I fished Hugh Gillis PFA several times the second week of April, and seldom have we caught fish any quicker or had more fun. Want results? How about a 30-fish, two-man limit in 30 minutes? And that was after cruising a little while perusing the real estate and aggravating a couple other boats full of fishermen with our chit chat and questions.
Gillis PFA is 109 acres of coves, points, standing timber, creek channels, humps and more than 50 fish attractors, all of which will hold fish of some type at some time. The water drops off pretty quickly from the banks, hitting 10 feet deep about 10 feet offshore around a couple of long peninsulas built for bank fishermen. One of those fishermen, by the way, provided some fine entertainment for the locals during our second trip as he got a little too close to the edge and wound up dunking himself with a sound much like a spare tire hitting the lake. His seven companions did quite a bit of racing around in attempts to haul him out of the lake, all to no avail. He wound up exiting by himself, much wetter and more foul of temper than upon his rather dramatic entrance. But that’s a back-page column; it’s the fish you’re interested in, not the sideshow.
Gillis PFA features two excellent launching ramps, side by side, with a sign-in sheet on a bulletin board nearby. Fishermen 16 years of age or older are required to have a current Georgia fishing license and WMA license ($19) to fish. One-day fishing licenses are available for the PFA for $3.50 but are not sold on-site. Youngsters or senior (65-plus) or Honorary license holders do not have to have a WMA stamp. You may use up to two fishing poles at a time, and run any size outboard motor at idle-speed only. Editor’s Note: Always check the current regs for changes since this article was written in April, 2006.
You will see mostly outfits like my small one, a 14-foot aluminum with a 32-lb. thrust trolling motor. I can go from one end of the lake to the other in 10 minutes, and did so several times running the depthfinder and looking at what the bottom had to offer. Overall, you’ll find water from 7 to 10 feet like a cereal bowl, with depths approaching 16 by the dam, which will be on your right as you face the lake standing at the double launching ramps. As we launched late the first afternoon, I got a whiff of bedding fish immediately. There is an area of standing and submerged timber to your right, some 40 feet away, and there was a bed there, though we didn’t spend time on it because of several bank fishermen nearby.
We went all the way across the lake to a partially submerged fallen pine that caught my eye. Our first two casts resulted in a matched pair of bluegills, so blue they were almost purple. Each was about 12 ounces. Within 50 feet of that pine, in water from 2- to 4-feet deep, we caught a limit each but culled down to about 10 apiece. It was very quick, enjoyable work. These fish weren’t on bed, they’d just pulled up shallow.
Unless otherwise posted, bream limits on PFAs is 15.
From there, we moved several hundred yards down the lake to the mid-lake area to an area of standing timber and buckbushes across from a man-made peninsula. This area holds some fine shellcrackers (redear sunfish).
I really enjoy catching redears. The fish at this peninsula put on quite a show whirling in and out of those bushes after being hooked. Several of these fish were close to a pound, and area manager Neal Niblett says there are bigger ones to be found.
“We have some shellcrackers in here that are close to one and a half pounds, and several bluegills caught that are a pound or better. The water temperature is still a little cool, and the bream and shellcrackers are probably going to get a lot more serious about bedding as it warms. The full moon in May should see things really picking up, and I think we’ll see some real decent fish come out of here.”
On my two trips we already saw the lake had some excellent redear and bluegill fishing to offer. When I fished with Doyle, each of the 15-fish limits we had was more than 9 pounds, not a bad average at all for anybody’s bream, and especially at a PFA. It’s not at all tough to imagine stringers hitting double digits in the weeks ahead.
When fishing for bedded bream, a cast 3 feet from their bed — shellcrackers favor wigglers over crickets while the bluegills preferred the latter — will sit there untouched. However, a well-placed toss in the bed, and the action will never stop. However, even with hundreds of fish bunched into one area, Doyle and I believe that downsizing your equipment will produce more bites, especially on public waters like Gillis PFA.
Our outfits consisted of ultralight tackle, with 6-lb. test line, a pair of BB shot and No. 10 Aberdeen hooks. A very light Dragonfly cork will tattle on even the slightest naughtiness of a bream attempting to do rude things to your bait.
While fishing the peninsula, Doyle and I backed off as far as we could accurately cast so as not to spook anything in the shallows. As an added reward, this allowed us a farther and longer fight from these hard- pulling fish.
Throughout both days we fished, by far the vast majority of bream we caught were in shady areas. Gillis PFA is a tree-lined lake, and there’s a lot of shade to be found.
The bedding will crank up again on the full moon in May. Find a shady area that holds any kind of wood in 4 feet of water, and you’re likely to have found an area that’ll quickly produce your 15-fish limit. If you don’t get bit pretty quick in one of these areas, move to another spot.
Besides the 15-fish bream limit per man, you can keep 30 crappie, five bass and five catfish per day. The lake was stocked with bluegill, shellcrackers, bass and catfish in January, 2002, and crappie a year later.
If you don’t have a boat, the PFA has a public fishing pier. The depthfinder showed tons of fish — likely crappie — bunched up in 7 feet of water out in front of the pier, about a third of the way across the lake.
We didn’t spend much time fishing the lower end of the lake. Looking at the depthfinder, the area seemed void of bottom structure. There was one boat anchored in that lower end, but we never saw a fish brought aboard. The only one we caught anywhere in the area was 3 inches off the submerged post of a duck box on the right side of the lake. It, however, was in the top two or three largest bluegills we caught on the day.
Another reason for not fishing much on this end of the lake was winds from 10 to 20 mph. The water is open, with not much break from a stout breeze. Finding fish bedding and staying on them on a windy day is going to require some nifty motor work or dropping of anchors, something to be avoided if at all possible. Remember how finicky bream can be if their bedding area is disturbed. Anchor as far away as you can cast, and drop the weight down gently at that. Shellcrackers aren’t as bad about leaving their beds and not returning, but they don’t appreciate an anchor much, either. There’s quite a bit of timber to tie to out in the deeper water, but the bluegills and shellcrackers are going to be shallow. Just go easy.
There were more than a dozen boats on the water the final time I fished, this time with my 11-year-old son, and we lazily caught a nice stringer of fish starting after 8 a.m. and coming out at 10:30 a.m. We caught 15 fish in about two hours, although a few other folks we spoke with had very little luck bream fishing. I really believe that because we used light tackle we were more successful. Downsizing will make a difference when fishing these heavily fished ponds. I like to use Stren Clear-Blue monofilament.
While there were several boats on the water Saturday, I would not at all classify the pressure as heavy. It looked more as if folks were out simply enjoying the 90-degree weather more so than fishing.
“Most weekends, we’ll have a couple hundred people come in, with 12 to 15 boats on the water,” Neal Niblett said. “It starts really slow, then builds toward the weekend. Typically on Monday morning there’s nobody out here at all.”
And remember, by far the vast majority of those fishing on any day are from the bank or piers, and nearly all within 50 yards of the ramps. Get away by yourself, and find some shade and you’re likely to be on fish.
This is a very nice, beautifully groomed public facility. There is a covered pavilion with bathrooms, picnic tables and grills, even a fish cleaning station.
To get to the Hugh M. Gillis Public Fishing Area, take Highway 80 east from East Dublin 10 miles to Keen’s Crossing Road, turn left and go 1.4 miles. The PFA entrance is on the right.
From Adrian, take Highway 80 and travel west 7.4 miles to Keen’s Crossing Road.
As we fished those first days in April, nightly temperatures were still dipping into the upper 30s, causing the water to remain cool and keeping some of the fish from pulling up shallow. Since that trip, the weather has warmed dramatically. When the moon turns full on May 13, shellcrackers and bluegill at Gillis PFA will be bunched and ready for the fisherman who wants a quick, hefty limit.
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