Southeast Georgia Bream Bonanza

Whether you prefer redbreasts, bluegill, shellcrackers, fliers or warmouth, southeast Georgia offers it all.

Capt. Bert Deener | April 1, 2007

If you love bream, southeast Georgia is calling your name. There’s a great variety in bream species and the types of waters to fish. Pictured is a bluegill, which is found in good numbers in Banks Lake.

March’s extreme weather typically gives way to a more stable weather pattern and warmer nights in April. In the southeastern part of our state, the stability brings the panfish to the shallows for their first spawn. Whether chasing bluegill, redbreasts, shellcrackers, fliers or warmouth, you can find a lake or river in southeast Georgia where the bite is on in April.

Paradise Public Fishing Area Bluegill and Shellcrackers
Being our state’ s southernmost public fishing area (PFA), the bluegills and shellcrackers typically go on bed in April. Many anglers alter their work and personal schedules to take advantage of the peak spawning around the new and full moons. With the warm weather so far in March, the shellcrackers should definitely be shallow, and the bluegills should be moving up by the April 2 full moon. Unless we get an unexpected cold snap, they will definitely be bedding by the April 17 new moon.
Some of the traditionally better bream lakes are Patrick (112 acres), Horseshoe 2 (8 acres), and Windy (1.5 acres). These are good starting points, but the fun of fishing an area with as many lakes as Paradise (more than 60 lakes!) is finding your own out-of-the- way honey hole. You will find bedding panfish in all the lakes on the area.
Standard tactics work well. Pink worms or wigglers on a bottom rig are standard for shellcrackers, while a cricket suspended under a small float is hard to beat for bluegills. Of course, other baits will work from time to time, but these are the standards. Anglers preferring artificials will want to bring along some 1/32-oz. or 1/16-oz. Beetle Spins in white with a red dot or black with yellow stripes. When bluegills are actively bedding, they have trouble letting a Beetle Spin swim through without attacking it. Fly rodders will have success late in the month after the water warms with small cork poppers fished over beds and around shoreline vegetation. White or chartreuse versions are consistent producers.
Fishing reports for Paradise and other Georgia PFA’s are contained in the fishing reports section of GON, or you can access them from the Wildlife Resources Division (WRD) Website at <> (select fishing and then look under the PFA section). The area is open each day from sunrise to sunset. Licenses are not sold on-site, so make sure you are licensed before heading to the area. Check the Georgia sport-fishing regulations, WRD website, or the information board at the entrance to the area for license requirements and other regulations. To get to Paradise PFA from Tifton, take U.S. 82 east for 8 miles to Brookfield and follow the signs.
Banks Lake Bluegill 
This large (over 1,000 acres of open water) cypress pond near Lakeland is operated as part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service refuge system as a satellite to the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. Last year’s drought caused the water to clear from its usual black hue, and the vegetation has gotten thick. Bluegills are the primary panfish, but do not be surprised if a warmouth inhales your offering while you are banging around cypress knees. 

Banks Lake features 1,000 acres of weedy, shallow, cypress-filled water in Lanier County.

Sandy from the Banks Lake Outpost, a tackle store at the lake entrance, said that the bream fishing had not started yet in mid March, but will pick up in April. She said that during the middle of March, the crappie were biting well, and they were about a month behind. Based on this, the new moon in the middle of April may be the time when the first wave of bluegills spawn at Banks Lake.
Bluegill hang around the cypress knees and trunks, but they can also be caught in open water. The southwest portion of the lake, referred to as “Eagle’s Nest” by locals, is a good place to begin, as there is a sand- bar out in open water where the bluegills traditionally bed. A live cricket suspended under a small float is usually the most effective presentation. It is your choice whether to use a Bream Buster pole, ultralight push-button, or ultralight spinning tackle. Because of the stumps, I would recommend a tough 6-lb. test monofilament, such as Sufix Siege. Lighter line is not a good choice around wood cover.

Later in the spring and throughout the summer, an unorthodox approach for bluegills, pitching glow bugs, is extremely effective on Banks Lake. The method employs a 10- to 12-foot long Bream Buster, an equally long section of monofilament, and a popper called a glow bug. This popper actually glows in the dark. Shine a flashlight on the bug for a second or two, pitch it to the base of a cypress tree, and wait for the telltale surface smack of a bluegill inhaling it. Stealth is a necessity, as bluegills can be spooky on a calm night. Many folks believe that the full moon is best because the light of the moon against the cypress trunks casts shadows. Bluegills lurk in the shadows waiting for insects, or glow bugs as the case may be, to drop into the water. Exciting is an understatement when describing a pound bluegill sucking in a glow bug and singing the line off a Bream Buster. If you are faint of heart, do not try this.

Georgia statewide fishing regulations apply at Banks Lake. There is no motor horsepower restriction; however, do not plan to open up your Mercury, as stumps are extremely numerous. Even though you may be well away from visible cypress trees, there are numerous stumps just under the surface. Whether presenting live bait, lures, glow bugs, or just watching the alligators, you will fall in love with this picturesque south Georgia lake. For more information, call the Banks Lake Outpost at (229) 482-3453, or check out the refuge website at

Satilla River Redbreasts
The Satilla River is one of the best destinations in Georgia to catch a “rooster” red, the local name for big, blood-red-bellied male red- breasts. When the water temperatures reach the mid to upper 70s, and the river levels fall to where it is tough to beat your way upstream in a motorboat, the redbreast fishing typically peaks. Sometimes this happens in April, sometimes in May. As dry as this spring has been, my money is on mid April, and you may need to fish from a canoe by that time. 
Redbreasts love flowing water, so concentrate your efforts around wood cover, undercut banks, sandbars, and creek mouths in and just off of the mainstream of the river. Redbreasts can be caught using a variety of presentations, but the traditional methods include crickets under a float, Beetle Spins, and pitching “bugs” on a Bream Buster pole or fly rod. The 1/32-oz. and 1/16-oz. model Beetle Spins are typically the best choice. White with a red dot and black with yellow stripes are two go-to colors. During late April or early May, fish will start taking “bugs” or small cork poppers off the surface. It can be a challenge to put the bug under overhanging tree limbs or in thick wood cover where the roosters live.
For a Satilla River Fishing Guide, which includes boat ramp locations, contact the Waycross Fisheries office at (912) 285-6094.

Shellcrackers on the Ocmulgee and Altamaha Rivers

Shellcrackers, the granddaddies of the panfish world, are not terribly abundant, but they are concentrated during the April spawn. The many willow-lined backwaters along the Ocmulgee and Altamaha rivers are where most of the fish spawn, if water levels permit. Fish over a pound are common, and I have weighed some specimens approaching two pounds.
Keep moving from backwater to backwater until you locate the willows where shellcrackers are spawning. Worms on the bottom are the primary presentation for shellcrackers. It can get really exciting trying to drag a giant, sassy shellcracker from a tangle of limbs.
A recent study conducted between Auburn University and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources determined that shellcrackers are slower growing and much longer-lived than bluegills. Some shellcrackers lived longer than 10 years. For this reason, do not harvest more than you can use. For a Lower Ocmulgee or Altamaha River Fishing Guide, contact the Waycross Fisheries office.
Okefenokee Swamp and Suwannee River: Fliers and Warmouth
Panfishing in and around the Okefenokee Swamp is unique in species caught and fishing presentation. The Okefenokee Swamp and Suwannee River are great panfishing destinations near Fargo. Stephen C. Foster State Park, about 17 miles east of Fargo, has launching facilities, boat and canoe rentals, and a camp store. Billy’s Lake, adjacent to the ramp, is home to fliers and warmouth, two species well adapted to the acidic blackwater. On the outskirts of Fargo, the Suwannee River lazily flows southward toward Florida. Both fliers and warmouth inhabit the river, as well.

Fliers have the coloration of a crappie, and these panfish are plentiful in the black waters of the Okefenokee Swamp.

Kevin Hart, a lifelong resident of Fargo, chases both species in the swamp and the river. Fliers, panfish with markings similar to crappie, but with much smaller mouths, have been his primary target so far this spring.
“I have caught some of the biggest, prettiest fliers from the river so far this March,” he shared.
The excellent fishing he has experienced in March should continue into April. The bigger fish have come from the river, but he has caught plenty of smaller fliers from Billy’s Lake. His go-to bait so far this spring is a white and pink Mini-Jig fished one to two feet under a small float. The traditional bait for fliers is a Yellow Sally, a small yellow fly, available only at tackle stores in W aycross and around the swamp. Both lures are most effectively fished on a Bream Buster pole. Dabble the Mini-Jigs or Yellow Sally around lily pads and cypress knees until the cork wiggles. Set the hook at the slightest float twitch, as fliers will often inhale the lure and just sit there.

The thick-bodied warmouth are a tough feisty bream species that can be caught in good numbers in the Okefenokee Swamp.

For those wanting to actually target the mottled, thick-bodied warmouth, live crayfish are the ticket. Locals collect the little crustaceans from roadside ditches. Bream Buster poles are rigged with a large bream hook and a single split-shot. After impaling a crayfish, dip the mudbug into cypress stumps or around cypress knees, as warmouth will usually be tight to wood cover. Billy’ s Lake in the swamp is lined with old, hollow cypress stumps, which are premium warmouth habitat.
Flier fishing is great all year, but warmouth fishing will peak from late April through May. You will not want to go into the swamp after Memorial Day, as the yellow flies will torture you. If the dry weather continues, a canoe or kayak will be the craft of choice for fishing the river. A jonboat is a great fishing platform in the swamp, but several more weeks of dry weather could cause shallow draft canoes to be the prime option there also.
Lodging is available either at the Gator Motel operated by Kevin (912)637-5445 or (229)251-0274 or at the Georgia state park <>. 
For current information, you can contact Stephen C. Foster at (912)637-5274 or Kevin at the above numbers.

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