Silver Lake PFA And Panic Pond
Great time to enjoy 30 lakes and ponds totaling 537 acres, including Panic Pond that is managed for trophy bass.
The southwest corner of Georgia is a fishing paradise with 37,500-acre Lake Seminole. It’s been said by locals that you can fish Seminole for the rest of your life and never need to leave the lake and venture anywhere else. However, in recent years the region has enhanced its reputation as a fishing paradise.
Lake Seminole surrounds the 9,500-acre Silver Lake WMA on three sides. This WMA near Bainbridge also operates as a PFA, offering about 30 large and small ponds. The larger ponds have boat ramps, while many of the small ponds are walk-in only and take some time to explore.
The land was first purchased by a man named Cloud back in the 1880s, according to Jim Lockhart with DNR. Later, textile manufacturer H.B. Metcalf decided to start a quail and hunting planation in 1937. From there, it was owned by Southern Craft Timber and later International Paper Company. The Conservation Fund purchased this property in 2007 from International Paper, which had managed it as part of a private forestry research site for more than 50 years.
The state purchased the property from The Conservation Fund in three phases and created this new state WMA in 2009. The land is now managed by DNR and open to the public for hunting, fishing and other outdoor recreation.
The property is a jewel among WMAs and features numerous critical habitats identified in Georgia’s State Wildlife Action Plan. Most prominently, Silver Lake contains one of the finest examples of a mature longleaf pine forest. This highly imperiled habitat type supports a host of threatened and endangered wildlife, including the red-cockaded woodpecker and gopher tortoise. It also provides valuable habitat for deer, turkey, waterfowl and the declining bobwhite quail.
Creation of this WMA was made possible with funding assistance from Decatur County, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and a variety of other local, state, federal and nonprofit partners. Now our job is to get out and enjoy it!
I visited Silver Lake PFA in early March, and PFA Manager Jonathan Pritchard gave me a tour of the property. The layout is impressive for its vast natural resources and hunting and fishing possibilities. Jonathan is aided by the services of part-time state worker Chrissy Lokie, and together they keep Silver Lake in good shape.
Silver Lake Public Fishing Area is host of longleaf and wiregrass dominated pine flat woods in Decatur County. The area’s 30 lakes and ponds total 537 acres, making it one of the largest PFAs in the state. Outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy the many nature trails that meander through pine stands and dip close to the water’s edge. Jonathan has been constructing dirt piers in some of the lakes to increase lakeside fishing access.
The main attraction at Silver Lake PFA is its namesake lake, a 250-acre lake called Silver Lake. It has various habitat from standing dead trees to living cypress, along with abundant lily pads and submerged vegetation. Two boat ramps, one on the north end and another on the south end, allow boating access for anglers, and a handicap accessible fishing pier provides good fishing opportunities for land-locked anglers. Shoreline access is generally poor, so you will need a boat to get to the best fishing.
Recently I hooked up with Randy Blow, of Thomasville. He is pastor of the Elam Community Baptist Church in Quitman and borrowed a boat from Carlos Bass so we could fish. Thanks Carlos! Randy has had good luck in the past on Silver Lake.
We eased around the shoreline, casting into pockets of clear water and managed to catch numerous bass from 1 to 2 pounds. Randy used a black Culprit curly tail worm with red flakes. Between the 1/8-oz. tungsten weight and the worm hook he used a small glass bead to give the rig a fish-attracting clinking noise. It seemed to work!
I used a Berkley PowerBait worm that had a plum body and a chartreuse curly tail that got a few bites. We fished Texas rigs in water that was mostly 5 to 8 feet deep from the northern boat ramp. We only fished about 10 acres of the lake, so there is a lot of water to explore, and I’m eager to get back on this lake.
In addition to Silver Lake, the other largest ponds are Cutoff (20 acres), Frog (15 acres), Star (10 acres), House (8 acres) and Panic (15 acres); each has a boat ramp with an aluminum courtesy dock. All ponds, except for Panic Pond, are managed as a balanced bass/bluegill fishery. House Pond is the trophy bream pond and anglers are limited to five bream per day, but all bream must be at least 8 inches long. Fog Pond has been stocked with catfish, and they generally range from 1 to 10 pounds.
Although there are several other ponds, it has been dry lately and many of them have low water levels. Jonathan suggested that if you have an adventurous spirit, look at the PFA map and drag a kayak to some of them.
Panic Pond is intensively managed for trophy bass production. Panic Pond is only open Saturday through Monday from 30 minutes before sunrise to 30 minutes after sunset. It’s closed in July and August, and no live bait is allowed. Only one bass over 24 inches is allowed per day for harvest. This trophy bass pond routinely produces bass heavier than 8 pounds, and double-digit largemouth have being seen during lake surveys. During a electrofishing survey in 2021, Jonathan and Chrissy shocked up a 9-lb. and a 7-lb. bass that were measured and returned to the lake. The lake is stocked yearly with 50 1-lb. female Florida bass to replace yearly losses, says Jonathan.
I also had the chance to fish Panic Pond with Steve Wilkes and John Billings from Norman Park. Steve Wilkes runs Mechanical Consultants, and they install and repair hydraulic systems. We fished on a bright, cool and bluebird sky day that had the bass in a feeding slump. We worked topwater buzzbaits and Texas-rigged worms around the button bushes along the shoreline and then tried various crankbaits and worms in the deeper water to no avail.
They were having nothing of what we had to offer, and I think it was mostly the high pressure that had them turned off. Jonathan pointed out a honey hole in the lake, which is around the single dead tree in the middle of the lake with three big branches sticking up. From the boat dock, go straight out about 100 yards and look for the tree in the 11 o’clock position. Steve and John and I had a great time fishing, despite our lack of fish.
Randy Blow, who I had fished with the day before on Silver Lake, fished Panic Pond about a year ago and had fantastic luck with eight bass, the largest at 7 3/4 pounds, with two others over 5 pounds. They were all caught on a black Culprit worm with red flakes, his go-to rig for Silver Lake PFA bass.
Another successful Panic Pond angler is Marcel Baker and his son Eli from Alabama. On a recent trip to Panic Pond, Marcel caught a 6-pounder and Eli a 4-pounder on a Zoom Magnum worm in the California 420 color, which is a pumpkin-seed-type color.
The woodlands on Silver Lake WMA are managed by Matt Keel. He says the turkey hunting is down, like everywhere, but hunters can find some gobblers around the dove fields.
Deer hunting has shown improvements over the years with continued good hunter-success rates. According to GON’s WMA Special at gon.com, Silver Lake had the No. 19 non-quota deer hunt in 2020 during its Oct. 29-31 either-sex hunt. They had 26.1% hunter-success rate. For three years of Silver Lake WMA deer stats, go to www.gon.com/hunting/2021-wma-special.
Matt said rabbit hunting is very good and quail hunting is fair. Always check the regs before hunting a WMA.
Lake Seminole and southwest Georgia have a deep fishing history, forever enshrined with the fingerprints of Jack Wingate, who operated Wingate’s Lunker Lodge starting back in the 1960s. The memory of Jack is still strong in the area, but fishing in southwest Georgia has even gotten better with the addition of Silver Lake.
For property access, one of the following passes is required: Hunting License, Fishing License or a Lands Pass, but remember a fishing license is required to fish. To maximize your fishing time, consider staying in the primitive campground on the property. I ran across Greg Oliver, of Valdosta, who had pulled in several bass and was frying them up for dinner in the campground.
Another good bet is to stay in the Lake Seminole State Park that is only 11 miles away. The park has excellent two-bedroom, two-bath cabins that can easily be shared by groups. I stayed there and highly recommend it.
When you get hungry, pull into Ricky’s Steak and Buffet in Bainbridge for great food.
For more information on Silver Lake PFA, go to georgiawildlife.com/silver-lake-pfa.
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