Ocmulgee River Bass

Montie Walters and Chase Plank show how to flip, frog and spinnerbait heavy cover to catch bass on this middle Georgia river.

Ronnie Garrison | May 26, 2022

What is bass fishing like on the Ocmulgee River? 

Well, there’s shallow, fishy-looking cover everywhere, with current breaks offering ambush points. Willows line the bank, and blowdowns reach into the seams of chocolate-green, slow-moving current—some laydowns almost blocking the whole river. 

Bass fishing here is unique, target-rich and fun!

The Ocmulgee River is formed at the junction of the Alcovy and South rivers in Lake Jackson. In the Jackson tailrace, the Ocmulgee is shallow with lots of shoals until it reaches the Fall Line in Macon. South of Macon, the Ocmulgee has sharp turns for a few miles before straightening out some and becoming a little deeper near Warner Robins. The Ocmulgee’s run ends when it joins the Oconee River near Hazlehurst to become the Altamaha River.

The waters of the Ocmulgee River produced the world-record bass in 1932 when George Perry caught a 22 1/4-lb. fish in Montgomery Lake, a small oxbow off the river in Telfair County. 

Big bass still grow in the Ocmulgee, and the river produces good numbers of largemouth. In its middle and upper sections, increasing numbers of shoal bass are caught. 

For this article, a pair of very qualified bass anglers gave me a tour of the 60 miles of river from Macon to the Ocmulgee River WMA near Cochran. This stretch has limited access, with a couple of dirt ramps that are very secluded and somewhat lacking in security. The one good ramp, Knowles Landing on Highway 96 near Bonaire, has good parking and a cement ramp. In the short time I was near the ramp on a Thursday, a sheriff’s car drove through. The ramp is right beside the highway, so it offers relatively secure parking. 

Knowles Landing offers good access to the stretch of river between Macon and Warner Robins.

Montie Walters is a well-known bass tournament fisherman in middle Georgia, competing currently on the Berry’s and BFL trails. Back in 1999, Montie placed second in the Redman All American national championship. After a few years off due to family reasons, he is competing again, placing 17th and having big fish at a Lanier BFL last year.

Rivers are just special, and so are the techniques and methods for catching bass in moving water. Montie Walters is passing along to his grandson Chase Plank (below) his knowledge and love of fishing the Ocmulgee River.

Although he is tournament fishing again, Montie now spends a lot of his time mentoring his grandson Chase Plank. Montie says he has a video of Chase at about 4 years old standing in their river boat with a flipping stick over his shoulder, asking, “We gonna catch ’em flipping today, Pawpaw?” 

Chase says flipping shallow river cover like willows and blowdowns is still his favorite way to catch bass.

Chase just finished 8th grade at Warner Robins Middle School and was in his second year on the fishing team. This year he had a third, second and first-place finish and a big fish in the school events and was the points leader. Chase plays other sports, too, and excels on the baseball team.

To fish the river effectively, you have to get up close and personal with cover. Big shiny bass boats, although you can run them if careful, won’t escape some scratches and dings. Montie has an old faithful welded aluminum boat with a 150-horsepower motor and knows the river well enough to run it fast. Until you learn the river, be careful.

Most important, you need a strong trolling motor to fish the current in the river. There are places you can ease along in an eddy without much power, but often you will have the nose of your boat pointed upstream with the trolling motor on high to slow your drift downstream as you fish. You will need a good battery, too.

Montie also rigs a “brush anchor,” a heavy battery clamp on the end of a rope with knots every couple feet. When he wants to stop and pick apart a small area, he will clamp onto a limb upstream and let enough rope out to hold him in place out from his target.

Montie’s baits for the river are few and basic. He has a spinnerbait, frog and flipping bait rigged and ready to fish, depending on the type and thickness of cover. And he uses a heavy or medium-heavy rod with a reel spooled with 80-lb. braid. Heavy rods and strong line are necessary for the kind of cover you will be fishing.

Flipping baits and a spinnerbait are great for fishing the river in June. Add a frog to the arsenal, and you’re set.

In early May, Montie and Chase showed me how they fish the river. We put in at Knowles Landing and fished mostly down the river for a few miles, but also motored upstream to hit some key spots. I was impressed with both of their skill at putting baits into tight places. 

Fish were hitting short that day for some reason. Time after time they would blow up on the frog and not get the hook. Or they would thump the creature bait and jump and throw it or just come off, often by going around a limb to pull loose, no matter how fast Montie and Chase reeled.

Montie and Chase showed me key places to fish—inside bends where current eddies into the willows and blowdowns. They said to also key on ditches and small creek mouths and steep banks. Banks with crayfish holes are especially good, since that is a favorite bait of river bass. The river bass also feed on bream and shad.

Ditches and creek mouths are prime river locations, especially when the level is dropping and high water is pulling out of the swamps.

Montie likes dropping water with current that pulls food out of the swamps to the river at the mouths of drains. If the river is too high, water will get so far back into the woods you can’t get to the bass. Too low, and it is hard to get around the wood, sandbars and mudbars in the water. A lot of rain upstream can make the river rise, muddy it up and make the current too strong to fish most areas, so watch the weather when planning a trip.

You can also check the river stage gauge online ( Flow goes up and down daily, usually varying from 1,500 to 2,200 cubic feet per second, and the stage varies from 7.5 to 8.5 feet in Macon. Based on our trip, when the river was falling after being very high and back out in the swamps for over a week, somewhere around 2,000 cubic feet per second of flow and a stage around 8 feet is good.

In June, the river might muddy up and make fishing tough. Montie says he likes the water to look a dark green, indicating most of the silt has settled out. This helps the bass see a bait and get it for a good hook-up. It was still pretty muddy the day we fished and that may have added to the problem of hooking fish.

An inside bend is likely to be shallower, have less strong current, or even an eddy going back upstream, and willows that reach far out from the edge of the water. Largemouth like inside bends due to less current and the abundance of bream attracted to the slack water and cover.

Anglers need to fish heavy cover to catch bass on the Ocmulgee.

Montie eases along the willows on inside bends, flipping his Texas-rigged green-pumpkin Brush Hog or junebug lizard to the edges of the limbs and letting them fall to the bottom. He uses a 5/16-oz. sinker for a fast fall, which is good for getting the bait down in current but also for drawing a reaction bite. 

The bite will usually be quick, but you should hop it once or twice just in case. Chase follows up with a green-pumpkin Zoom Original Speed Worm, he and Montie like the paddle-tail action on them better than the newer design. Fishing a Brush Hog and a Speed Worm tells Montie and Chase if the bass want a smaller or larger bait that day. When that is determined, they both use the same bait.

Montie says he dips the tails of his baits in chartreuse dye to match the color of bream fins in sunlight. Since bream are a major food for river bass, he matches the hatch.

“River crawfish are usually black with red highlights,” Montie said. 

You can match those colors with all three soft plastic baits, using either black with red flake or black with red tails.

Willows offer a variety of targets for flipping. The leaves and small limbs in the water on the outside of a thick group is a good place for bass to hold in the shade and watch the edge for food. If you can get to them, the trunks often run out parallel, some under water, some just on top, and are excellent cover for the bass.

When there is an opening in the thick willows, Montie will run his Zoom Horny Toad over and through all the cover he can reach. These openings are often formed by a blowdown. Even if most of the wood has rotted away, the willows have not completely regrown. 

An opening may go several feet back or all the way to the bank. Floating grass pushed into openings, including duckweed that can form “mats” in calmer water, is common in these openings. The grass as well as the blowdown wood and willow branches offer plenty of shade that the bass will hit all day, even in bright sun. They do not have deep water to hide in like they do on lakes.

These openings are often small and many times Montie had to “point the boat” so he could get back into them. When he did Chase continued to flip the willows on either side of the boat. If the opening was wide enough, he would get side by side with Montie and get his bait back in them, flipping with a Texas rig while Montie uses a frog. Teamwork speeds things up but if you fish alone try different baits before moving on.

Blowdowns sometimes go all the way across the river in this area. If there is a good eddy near the bank Montie will fish around the trunk of the tree and any other cover downstream, but he seldom fishes the wood out in strong current. A big blowdown just where an inside bend starts can make the area downstream of it even better.

Outside bends banks are usually steeper and have less cover on them. The current sweeping against them causes them to stay deeper and cleaner. These banks often have crayfish holes in them, you can see them when the water is down a little. Bass will hold on any eddy like a log or stump in the water or a small projection of dirt and feed on them.

You can flip your Texas-rigged soft baits to these banks, hitting any eddy along them. But Montie likes to cast a white single Colorado blade spinnerbait right to the edge of the water and let if fall. Bass will grab it on the fall. 

Even though they are there to feed on crawfish, river bass have to be less picky and are more indiscriminate feeders. Montie will also let his spinnerbait fall beside logs and willow limbs when there is enough of an opening to do so. 

Crawfish are a significant food source for river bass. Look for crawfish holes on mud banks—hungry bass are often in the area.

Ditch mouths, small creeks and any other drain entering the river offer great feeding spots. Montie carefully fishes the mouth of the opening, flipping both points and running his frog and spinnerbait from inside the ditch out to the current. Any water coming out of these openings make them better.

Also fish the banks on either side of the opening for several yards. When we fished, there seemed to be a good number of bass holding out from the bank in deeper water on either side of the ditches. Your flipping bait can be hopped and drug along the bottom on these banks to check that pattern. Montie and Chase got several bites doing that.

There is a big oxbow not far downstream of Knowles Landing where the river splits and then joins back together downstream. The current flows though both. Oxbows with current can be fished the same way as the main river. Montie stayed to the right split, he said he liked it better, 

Some creeks enter the river that are big enough to get back in and fish. These are more likely to hold largemouth than shoal bass since the shoalies like current. Go back into them as far as you can and fish all the cover you can hit. We went several hundred yards back into the big creek to the left going downstream from the landing. There was some current in it but it was easier to fish. And Montie caught a keeper in it. But his boat was full of willow limbs when we came out, we had to go under more low limbs in there than on the main river.

Anytime you are going under limbs, watch out for snakes and wasp nest. We saw several snakes on our trip. Snakes will not bother you but one falling into your boat can be exciting. But unlike snakes, wasps will take exception to you bumping a limb with their home on it and will attack you and there is nowhere to run in a boat.

Fishing the river is fun, you can catch a bunch of bass, and the wildlife you see is interesting. And it is peaceful and quiet. Although there were several trailers at the landing when we fished, we never saw another boat. 

Check it out for a fun, relaxing trip!

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