Small Lake Profile: Hugh Gillis PFA

Bigger bass are being caught; plus tips for bream and catfish.

John Trussell | April 3, 2015

Hopefully, a good Public Fishing Area should get better with age, and due to good management from WRD and strong public support, Hugh M. Gillis PFA, near Dublin in Laurens County, is living up to that potential. The 109-acre lake, which opened in 2004, looks like a large fertile farm pond. It’s shaped like a giant U with two main arms—an east arm and a west arm—with a small 3-acre pond on the north end.

Recently, anglers have been reeling in some big bass at Hugh Gillis, including three or four in the 10-lb. class, according to Jimmy Miller, PFA manager. The largest verified bass from the lake was 11 3/4 pounds, but rumors persist of larger bass being caught. In fact, anglers are regularly reporting big-bass catches at this PFA, which indicates the implementation of a protective 16- to 24-inch slot limit in May 2014 is working. This slot limit will ensure to continue making this area a prime location for trophy largemouth bass.

The lake was originally stocked with 100 F1 bass, a cross between Florida strain and northern strain bass. More bass were added to the PFA from Lake Oconee at about the same time.

WRD Fisheries determined that a 16- to 24-inch protective slot limit would yield a 262 percent increase in the number of trophy bass available, with only a slight decline in the number of bass available to harvest, said Bryant Bowen, fisheries biologist. Before the slot limit went into effect, WRD received data that showed most fishermen supported the slot-limit idea. However, Bryant said the slot limit will only work if anglers continue to harvest small fish, so that the larger bass can avoid crowding and food competition.

Anglers at Hugh Gillis may still harvest five bass per person. However, only bass smaller than 16 inches or larger than 24 inches may be harvested. Bass between 16 and 24 inches must be released immediately. Bryant said the new slot limit would protect most bass in the 3- to 10-lb. range.

After meeting at Oconee Bait and Tackle in East Dublin to pick up supplies, this writer jumped into a boat on March 8 with Greg Barwick, of Dublin, and Mike Chester, of Warner Robins. A hometown man, Greg grew up only a half mile from the PFA and now works for Southern Foam and Coating Insulation. Greg is also a seasoned bass tournament angler, and he and his partner Jim Windham, of Bonaire, won the Tournament of Champions back in 2006 at West Point Lake. They took home $35,000 in first-place money!

Mike is also a serious bass tournament angler who owns Mike’s Deer and Wild Hog Processing in Kathleen. At his day job, he works for the Cascade Company.

After we launched Mike’s 19-foot Triton boat, the bass greeted us with locked jaws, but these guys are fishing machines. We tried a multitude of lures and got some hook-ups to keep us going and put a few fish in the boat, including a nice 3 1/2-pounder. Mike got the bass to strike a light blue/orange Strike King Red Eye Shad. It was a reaction bite close to the bank in 2 feet of water.

Moving around the lake, we cast at every stick-up and submerged log, but the late cold spring had the bass off their feeding pattern. However, by the time you read this, the bass should be in the shallows and in all stages of the spawn, and many of them will be ready to hit.

Try the following locations for bass in April.

• On the west end of the dam, there is a deep hole with structure where dirt was taken for the dam. Fish it with Texas or Carolina rigs for deep fish in the middle of the day. Even though it’s April, there will still be some fish here. Try chrome jerkbaits or ChatterBaits for topwater action along the banks early in the mornings or late evenings.

• Work the rocks along the dam with a jerkbait or Texas-rigged worm. Parallel the rocks with any shad-colored crankbait that runs 6 to 8 feet deep. The east corner of the dam can be especially productive, as there is some wood debris that has collected in 6 feet of water, and this holds some bass.

• All around the PFA look for sandstone outcroppings (Altamaha grit) around the bank or just under the surface. These areas hold fish year-round. There is one major sand-stone area across the lake on the opposite bank from the fishing pier. There are two small orange buoys there on the surface of the water to prevent boat and prop damage. These rocks are submerged and run 50 feet out into the lake.

• Near the kids pond, cast around the water discharge.

• The main-lake point at the bottom of the two arms of the lake near the dam is a prime funneling area for bass. From the bank, this water gradually drops into 15 feet of water. This is prime water for crankbaits, Texas rigs or a jig.

• Using your depthfinder, locate some of the 200 Christmas trees scattered in the deepest water in the middle of the lake. Deep crankbaits or Carolina-rigged worms can entice a bass to bite, particularly in the middle the day when the sunlight drives the bass deeper.

• About 50 yards north of the fishing pier and on the same bank, there is a man-made finger of land that juts 50 yards into the water. Meant for bank fishing, this point forces the bass into a bottle neck that is loaded with standing timber that has rotted off at the surface level. Work a Texas rig or jig through the timber for a hook-up.

As you move around the lake looking for these areas, Mike and Greg recommend you keep the boat about 25 yards out from the bank, so you don’t spook the fish. Cast at every cut along the bank, every overhanging branch and anything that looks like a submerged stump or log.

Bream: Bream fishing continues to be a major draw for anglers at the lake, with many hand-sized shellcrackers, bluegills and fliers being caught, said Jimmy. The bream were stocked, but the fliers are native to swamps and beaver ponds in central and south Georgia. Crickets, worms and small Beetle Spins in the 1/32- to 1/16-oz. size are good for bream.

If the fishing gets a little tough, try a worm tightlined on the bottom in water 4 to 6 feet deep. Using 6- to 8-lb. line, pinch on a 1/16- to 1/4-oz. round lead weight about 2 feet from the bait, and toss it out. Place the rod in a holder, and watch the line. If it moves left or right, goes slack or tightens, reel in your fish. With bream fishing, simple is good.

Also, the fish feeders will be loaded soon, and they always get the fish in a biting mood.

Catfishing: Catfishing continues to be good, and Jimmy said about 3,000 catfish have been recently restocked in the lake. The rocks around the dam and the upper arms of the lake around submerged stumps are good places to catch them. There are also some deeper stumps in the middle of the lake that can be productive.

In the summer, concentrate your bait suspended in 4 to 7 feet of water, as the lake isn’t aerated, and fish will stay shallow. Last summer, Jimmy watched a young angler in a boat in the middle of the lake haul in a limit of five catfish that weighed 40 pounds, and one that weighed 16 pounds. He was using raw shrimp fished on the bottom, but chicken livers and Louisiana pinks work, too.

Crappie fishing continues to be a big draw to the PFA, and Jimmy said that a recent shocking survey pulled up lots of hand-sized crappie, with some in the 2-lb. class. The PFA does allow minnows.

Popular crappie spots for spring are the stick-ups the back of the east arm of the lake. On the west arm, try trolling the lake 5 to 6 feet deep from the fishing dock back to the old railroad trestle crossing.

No boat? No problem! Hugh Gillis has abundant bank fishing and several points of land jut into the lake, providing additional easy casting access, and the banks are neatly trimmed thanks to Jimmy and his staff.

At the back of the lake, try fishing around the culvert that passes water from the small 3-acre section into the big lake. Lee Otis and Ray Evans report good catfish and bream in this area.

In addition to the good fishing, Bryant suggests that outdoorsmen try primitive camping, hiking, picnicking and birdwatching. The Rotary Club of Dublin has helped with several projects at the PFA in a strong show of local support.

Jimmy said that hunters should check out the limited hunting on the 300 to 400 acres of accessible lands that surround the lake. The PFA hosts two adult/child turkey quota hunts, as well as sign-in archery deer hunting. Hugh Gillis is a huge outdoor attraction for both anglers and hunters, so check it out.

The PFA is closed Monday and Tuesday but open the rest of the time from sunrise to sunset. Gas motors are allowed but must be operated at idle-speed only.

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