Lake Oconee Dock Light Crappie And Hybrids
With an abundance of lit docks, Lake Oconee provides a unique summertime fishing opportunity for those willing to play after dark.
Stan Payne of Athens used to pitch baseballs. These days, he would rather pitch lures around Lake Oconee as a fishing guide.
Stan was on the mound when the Georgia Bulldogs won the 1990 College World Series, and he spent several years with the Oakland A’s organization before retiring from the game and returning to Clarke County where he ran a successful carpet-cleaning business. Stan sold that company and spends most of his days patrolling Oconee for bass, hybrids, and crappie.
Stan often spends entire days on the water. You might have seen him. Then again, if you aren’t on Oconee after dark, you might have missed him as well. See, Stan catches fish on Oconee with an underutilized method. When the dock lights come on, the fish will bite, and Stan has known about this great opportunity for years.
“A lot of times, my wife and kids are asleep by the time I get home,” Stan said. “But I don’t fish much on the weekend because that’s the time I spend with them.”
Stan, who grew up in Bogart, has been fishing Oconee since long before the lake saw a boom in growth. He and his father, who went to the lake one day to hybrid fish, got on the water well before sunup. His dad decided to try fishing around some of Oconee’s lighted boat docks while the two waited for the daily shad-spawn-hybrid-feeding frenzy. What they found was a great way to load a cooler with fish.
“Nobody was doing it, and it’s so easy it’s ridiculous,” Stan said. “If you are leaving the lake when it gets dark, you are missing the best fishing out here.”
Stan guides anglers on Oconee four or five times a week. Many of his trips are to take guests from Reynolds Plantation or the Ritz-Carlton Resort on Lake Oconee on the lake after a variety of species.
Stan says his guide trips keep him busy from January through November. After that, it’s time to hit the woods.
Stan’s whole family hunts and fishes. In fact, he gave his mother a new rifle for Mother’s Day this year. Stan deer hunts in Georgia and usually elk hunts out west. He also goes deep-sea fishing with friends once a year. But of all the time he spends on the water or in the woods, Stan likes fishing Oconee at night better than anything else.
“Of all the hunting and fishing I do, this is my favorite,” Stan said.
While most Georgia fishermen equate night angling with catfish or crappie, virtually every type of fish in Oconee can be caught when the sun goes down.
We met at the Brantley’s Marina boat ramp a little after 7 p.m. one evening to get in a little hybrid fishing before the real action — the dock-light bite — began.
“The hybrids weren’t really doing their thing like normal today,” Stan said. “We caught a few fish, but the bite wasn’t what you normally expect.”
Still, we were able to boat a few feisty hybrids before the sun dipped below the horizon. Then we did what we came for: caught fish in front of docks. We caught a lot of fish in front of docks. In fact, we caught so many it was funny.
“This type of fishing is so simple, and most nights it’s very effective,” Stan said as he tied jigs onto spinning rods spooled with 6-lb. test line.
Stan ties a white 1/16-oz. jig about a foot up the line, and a darker-colored jig at the end of the line. On the night we fished, Stan and I used a motor-oil jig with a chartreuse tail.
Stan says the white jigs pick up most of the hybrids and white bass. Not only do those fish seem to favor the color of the jig, it is also deeper in the water, meaning it is down where they are holding. Crappie, on the other hand, are typically shallower, and they seem to like the dark colors better.
“I have tried other sizes, but 1/16-oz. has always worked better than anything else,” he said.
Stan casts his double-rigged jigs either on the edge of the lighted area or just past it, and reels back through the light. He counts his jigs down, letting them sink to a different depth each cast until he finds out where the fish are. He doesn’t work the jigs any special way. Stan’s only advice was to reel slow.
“When you think you are reeling slow enough, reel just a little slower,” he said.
As we pulled up to the first lighted dock, Stan explained the night-time fishing on Oconee has changed over the years.
“There used to be a lot more dock lights to fish, but now some people keep them off,” Stan said. “Most people don’t mind you fishing around their docks, though.”
Stan said that while going to dock lights right as the sun goes down can work, the later it gets, the better. Typically it takes a while after dark for the baitfish to school around the dock lights. And once they do, gamefish start schooling, too.
On his first cast, Stan let his jigs sink momentarily before beginning his retrieve. Just after the jigs came through the light, Stan started laughing as he hooked a crappie.
“I told you it was easy,” Stan grinned.
I reeled my first cast about halfway back to the boat before another crappie hit.
As long as Stan and I fished the first dock, we caught fish. Nobody was counting — mostly because we were too busy enjoying the fishing to worry about it — but we stayed on the spot for a half-hour or so and probably boated more than 30 fish.
Stan said often fish will just stop biting at a dock for no reason. When they do, he moves to the next spot. But sometimes, he’ll fish a dock light more than once in a night and catch fish on each visit.
“Sometimes the fish will just tear it up for a few minutes, and then stop for no reason at all,” Stan said. “If you leave for an hour and come back, you’ll start catching fish again.”
On more than one occasion, Stan and I each hooked two fish with one cast. Often one fish would get off, but Stan did manage a double right before we left our first stop.
A little while later, we were directly across from the Ritz-Carlton resort with the sounds of a party drifting across the lake. Pretty soon, we had a party of our own going on, as Stan hooked into a nice fish. It made a short run before breaking Stan’s line.
“That felt like a hybrid, and I usually can catch a bunch at night around these docks,” Stan said.
A few minutes later, Stan hooked another hybrid, this one making it to the boat after a short fight. On light line, a 3-lb. hybrid can provide a heck of a fight. The key is to hang on, let the fish run, let the drag work in your favor, and play the fish carefully.
“We have hooked a bunch of fish doing this that we just couldn’t turn,” Stan said. “It is just fun to hear the drag scream.”
It wasn’t long before I hooked into a hybrid about the size of the one Stan had just released. We caught a couple more hybrids from that dock, as well as a bluegill and another bunch of crappie.
Later, we moved back up the lake, past the Long Shoals boat ramp, where we found a cove with three or four lighted docks in a row. Stan eased the boat in front of the first dock, and we began casting. We caught a few fish there, but not like we had at other docks.
Stan said a key to successful dock-light fishing is moving when fish don’t strike quickly.
“Typically it only takes a few casts to catch fish if they are stacked around a dock,” Stan said. “If I don’t get a bite in the first five minutes, I’m checking another dock. One night they’ll be piled up on a dock and a few days later, they’re two docks away.”
The next dock we visited, the fishing was fast paced again. On nearly every cast, one of us hooked a crappie, white bass, or hybrid. We stayed around the dock for a few minutes before traveling back to where a bridge on Cuscowilla golf course crosses the lake. The bridge, made of big timbers, has lights under it in several places.
Stan and I fished all the lighted areas looking for good bites. A couple of fish here and a couple of fish there on each light wasn’t quite what Stan wanted to see. So we worked our way down toward one end of the bridge. For a solid 10 minutes, every cast Stan made resulted in a hookup. He would cast his jigs all the way under the bridge, past the lights. As Stan made his retrieve, fish holding near the bridge pilings would slam one of the jigs, practically hooking themselves.
I stood in the back of the boat laughing as he hauled fish after fish out from under the light, with crappie and white bass making up most of the catch. Right before Stan pulled his trolling motor out of the water to head back to the boat ramp, a largemouth that weighed a couple of pounds hit one of his jigs, capping off a fun night of fishing.
Stan likes dock-light fishing on Oconee all year. Fish can be caught every month of the year with this technique, and it keeps you off the water when ski boats, cuddy cabins and jet skis are roaring up and down the lake.
“I fish a lot in the summer, but it’s early and late when boat traffic is low,” Stan said.
While some big crappie can be found around the dock lights, most of them have moved back to deep water for the summer. However, a limit of decent-sized crappie should be easy to catch.
The best part of night fishing on Oconee is not knowing what you will pull out of the water. On our trip, Stan and I caught mostly crappie, white bass, and hybrids, but we also added one bream, one catfish, and one largemouth to the tally.
“More people should take advantage of this type of fishing because it is easy and it is a lot of fun,” Stan said. “This is the perfect kind of trip to take a kid on some summer night.”
With school out and time to spend on the lake, now’s the time. You can book a trip with Stan to learn how he catches fish any time of day on Oconee. When you call him at (706) 202-3602, he’ll probably already be on the water.
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