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Lunker Heaven In Middle Georgia

A 70-acre pay lake in Jasper County is producing unbelievable numbers of huge bass

Daryl Kirby | May 10, 1990

As soon as the jig ‘n pig hit the water, all three of us in the boat saw the massive swirl as a fish turned and swam toward the bait. A huge wake emerged, cutting a path through the shallow water.

We all held our breath as the wake sped toward the spot where the bait had hit the water, but without even slowing, the fish swam right by into deeper water. We were speechless for a movement as we watched the resulting waves roll off toward the middle of Lake Margery. I swear I think they were white-capping.

“Was that what I think it was?” I asked my guides, Dwayne and Wesley Luther. None of us actually saw what  caused the massive wake last Tuesday, but considering where we were, chances are it was a monster bass.

Lake Margery is a shallow, 25-year-old, 70-acre lake littered with fallen timber. One of 16 lakes located on 2,200 acres in Jasper County known as the Marben Farm Hunting and Fishing Preserve, Lake Margery may be the best kept secret in Georgia. It’s a monster bass factory, and it’s open to the public for daily pay fishing. Editor’s Note: The state of Georgia purchased this area and it is now known as Marben Farm Public Fishing Area, Clybel WMA, and the Charlie Elliot Wildlife Center. 

I learned of Lake Margery quite by accident. A friend gave me a picture of a huge bass, reported to weigh 17-lbs., 4-ozs. A few phone calls and it quickly became apparent that this fish wasn’t a fluke. Consider these numbers:

Five years ago, Ron Tyson, of Marietta, spent a warm February day on Lake Margery trying to catch a few bass.

“We’d had some cold weather, then it got real warm for about five days, and rain had muddied the water,” Ron said.

The angler had fished Margery before and had caught some tremendous bass but nothing like what he experienced that day five years ago.

“I was just going back and forth along the dam, throwing a white spinnerbait with gold blades. The fish had moved up in shallow water, which was warming up because of the muddy water and warm temperatures.”

When Ron finally called it a day, he had caught 16 bass. The smallest weighed 6 pounds, and the largest was a little over 12 pounds. All together the 16 bass weighed 113 pounds, that’s a 7.06-lb. per fish average!

Ron says during a two-year period when he was fishing Lake Margery regularly, he landed 25 bass between 9 and 12 pounds, almost all of which were released.

“I also had one on once that was probably a 16-pounder,” Ron sad.

Three years ago in September, Norcross fisherman Ron Petzelt landed the second biggest bass ever documented to have come out of Georgia waters. Second only to the world record, it reportedly weighed 18-lbs., 1-oz., and it was caught out of Lake Margery. The monster bass had a 23-inch girth, and that was in September. The speculation on what that fish would have weighed in the spring when she was full of eggs has many mouths watering.

“I’ve also caught (out of Margery) a 14 1/2-, a 14- and a 9-pounder,” said Ron. “Everybody who’s fished down there with me has caught a mounter.”

Dwayne Luther, a guide at the private fishing club called Marben Farm, holds the 17-lb., 4-oz. bass caught from Lake Margery. The fish was caught by Jerry Jones, who was fishing Margery when it was open to daily pay-lake anglers.

On April 22 of this year, a man from Atlanta named Jerry Jones fished Lake Margery, reportedly for the first time (Mr. Jones couldn’t be reached for his story). But from what we could piece together, Mr. Jones bought some pink worms from Dwayne Luther, whose duties as Marben Farm area manager include collecting money from pay fishermen (“pilgrims” he calls ’em) and selling bait.

Dwayne mentioned to Mr. Jones that he’d seen some nice big bass bedding around a fallen tree along the dam at Lake Margery. Mr. Jones went right to the tree and began fishing with a glob of pink worms. He was using a Zebco reel, hoping for whatever would bite. What bit was the 17-lb, 4-oz. bass mentioned earlier. The bass was weighed on certified scales at Newborn Taxidermy and will be mounted and displayed at the Marben Farm clubhouse.

There have been other lunker bass, way too many to mention, and many we’ll never know about.

“There’s no telling how many fish over 10 pounds have been caught out of here that we don’t know about. The people who fish here regularly want to keep it a secret, so they don’t even tell us if they catch a big one,” Dwayne said.

Marben Farm is not new. The property has been owned by Bennett O’Boyle since the 1950s. It was used as a thoroughbred horse racing farm for many years, but that operation shut down, and much of the pastures grew up into thickets and pine woods. Mr. O’Doyle has leased the property to various individuals and clubs over the years, but one thing remained constant. Two of the 16 lakes on the property remained open to the public for daily pay fishing.

The property is now leased by Dr. Dale Deibler, a Norcross dentist, and Dr. Larry Hamerick, a dentist in Mansfield a few miles north of Marben Farm. Other than Lake Margery and the 117-acre lake that it feeds, Lake Bennett, Marben Farm is open to members only. Last year a combination hunting and fishing membership went for $500. This year, who knows. Dr. Deibler said the prices have not yet been decided upon, but they’ll likely go up. Not that it matters to most of us. Dr. Deibler said there’s a waiting list to join, and for good reason.

Bass over 10 pounds have been caught out of every single one of the lakes at Marben Farm, including a 17-lb., 3-oz. giant reportedly caught about 10 years ago out of one of the members-only lakes. That fish, like many, were not weighed on certified scales to be documented.

Dwayne and his brothers Wesley and Chris make up the Luther Brothers Guide Service on Marben Farm. They take out club members and daily pay fishermen, and Dwayne also guides during hunting season for deer, turkey, quail, duck and rabbit hunters. Wesley said so far this year about 80% of his guide trips have been for bream. Club members come out and go bass fishing, and Wesley takes their kids to catch a mess of bream (which by the way commonly reach 2 pounds).

“I really think a lot of people just don’t know how good the bass fishing is here,” said Wesley as we fished Lake Margery last Tuesday.

Wesley is certainly convinced. In about four hours of fishing, we landed about 20 bass. All of them were “peckerheads” to Wesley, even a 4 1/2 pounder. The Luther brothers have quit counting the bass they’ve caught between 5 and 10 pounds. The only ones that count now are those over 10. Dwayne has one on the wall that weighed 11 1/2 pounds. But it’s the ones that got away that really have these guys excited.

“I had one on one day that had to weigh 20 pounds,” said Wesley. “It was an unbelievable bass.”

Dwayne has also hooked some monster bass that got away.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve set the hook and never even turned a fish. They just keep on going until they break you off or wrap up in timber,” said Dwayne.

What makes these lakes so good for growing unbelievable sized bass?

“I don’t think they get a lot of serious pressure,” said Dwayne. “Sure, they’re crowded on weekends, but most of the folks don’t really know what they’re doing when it comes to bass fishing. Most of ’em are bream fishing or just fishing for whatever bites.”

And then there’s the wind on Lake Margery. If there’s the slightest breeze, for some reason Margery is almost unfishable from a boat, Dwayne said. Ron Petzelt recalled numerous times when his small boat was blown up on stumps at Lake Margery, and he and his buddies had to get out and push the boat off.

“I really think the wind keeps a lot of people off Margery,” Dwayne said. “They pull up and see the lake and say, ‘The heck with it,’ and they go to Bennett.”

Margery averages only about 8 feet deep throughout its approximately 70 acres. Much of the lake consists of shallow grass flats that also have plenty of structure in the form of fallen timber and stumps. There’s also an old creek channel where the water drops off to about 12 to 15 feet deep. But this doesn’t really sound like a lake capable of producing such incredible numbers of big bass. No one really knows why, they just know it does. And that’s why the secret of Georgia’s Lunker Heaven has been kept for so long.

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