Spring Break Fishing Trip
The author took his son on a seven-day fishing trip across Georgia.
My itch to begin fishing usually begins with the first warm day in February. The temperature rises close to 60 or so, and I can’t help but think that the fish are as eager to get started feeding as I am to get out there and take advantage of them. Combine this urge with the release of all the youngsters from school for spring break, and it’s easy to have an epidemic of fishing fever.
My first-grader, Forrest, and I had a very special spring break last year. Every day that week we fished for something different. We didn’t make a great catch on every trip, but we had a good time each day. The new scenery each day and different fishing kept his interest up. And the anticipation of the next trip to come made us look forward to each new day. It all went so well last year that I’m planning to do the same again this year.
Last year, we spent the first weekend of spring break on the coast. We took our boat and fishing buddies Ted Will and Woody Davis and fished one day on the Savannah River for striped bass and another day near the mouth of the Ogeechee River catching redfish.
On the Savannah, we tossed bucktails around the bridge pilings from the U.S. 17 bridge upriver all the way to Port Wentworth. The old railroad bridge across the back river was the most productive that day. Just as the tide began rolling out, we could see stripers busting bait around the pilings near the south end of the bridge. I positioned the boat upcurrent of the bridge, just about 50 feet or so from the pilings. Everyone was using a white bucktail, and Forrest was throwing his on a spinning outfit spooled with 30-lb. test Spiderwire. He had to be careful not to throw the jig too far and end up across the bridge altogether. But almost every time he was able to get it within three feet or less of the upstream edge of one of the bridge pilings, he was rewarded with a smashing strike. What these stripers lack in size (most were between six and eight pounds), they can more than make up for with horsepower. Their life in a tidal environment definitely makes them stronger than their landlocked cousins in our reservoirs. Combined with the aid of the current, those fish were about all my 7-year-old could handle. It was about an hour past high tide when we caught the first fish, but by the time the current had gotten so strong that I could no longer hold the boat in position (about halfway through the tide), we had caught and released more than a dozen.
Sunday afternoon, we were in the marsh near Fort McAllister State Park scanning the mud flats for redfish as the tide fell out of the spartina grass. As more and more of the muddy bottom became exposed, we began to see the telltale ripples and wakes of bigger fish in the increasingly shallow water. The redfish were in schools of a couple dozen fish each and would show up as an area of nervous water where the surface just looked a little different than the surrounding water. The trick was to ease the boat to within casting range and hook fish from the perimeter of the school without spooking them all. We had mixed success, in no small part because of the hooked redfish themselves. We did manage to catch 10 to 15 redfish, all in the 6-to 10-lb. range, before the tide became slack and the fish disappeared.
Monday morning, we were back home in middle Georgia doing a little tackle maintenance, but then the two of us left just before lunch headed for the Chattahoochee River on the upper end of Bartletts Ferry Lake. The river at the upper end of the reservoir is rocky and steep. And when they release water from West Point dam, several miles upriver, the high flows and white water make the spot an exciting place to fish. As we made our way upriver through the rocky flows, a big bald eagle soared overhead. The kid and I both thought this was a good sign, and it turned out to be so.
When we first arrived, generation flows from West Point had not yet reached the shoals, and we had to struggle to pull the boat through a couple of shallow spots in the rocks. When we reached the low head dam, the water was scarcely knee deep except for a couple of deeper holes. Forrest began by casting a big, gray Super Fluke over the deepest water we could find. It took only a couple of casts before a big striper that looked as if it would have pushed 20 pounds blew up on the erratically moving surface bait. In typical striper fashion, the fish didn’t hit the bait with its mouth, and both our jaws dropped at the strike and the sight of the bait flying skyward for several feet.
About three hours of throwing bucktail jigs in the fast current of the rocky river had given us all the fishing action we could stand. Hybrids and striped bass up to about 10 pounds were plentiful and cooperative. The bucktail jigs were simple to fish — just throw them out and reel them in, and that made them ideal for my son. And those big linesides in that fast current gave him quite a battle.
It was late Monday night by the time we returned home, so it was Tuesday afternoon before we slid our boat into Dodge County Public Fishing Lake near Eastman for the next chapter in our spring break fishing adventure. This lake has gained a reputation as one of the best trophy largemouth bass lakes in the state. But we weren’t after trophies, just some bass. The sunshine had warmed the surface water into the 60s, and I hoped that some bass might be active up shallow.
I tied a 2/0 worm hook on Forrest’s spinning outfit with no weight at all. He was using 20-lb. test braided line, so that he could simply muscle it through most snags. I threaded a floating plastic worm on the hook, and we spent the afternoon just casting the shoreline. This weedless worm rig was well-suited to his haphazard casting.
We began just uplake and across from the boat ramp, working our way uplake. The mats of vegetation along shore had died back during the winter but still provided enough cover for bass while not being so thick as to make fishing tough. Not long after we started, Forrest threw his worm well beyond the lake and landed it in the bushes on shore. Having been coached, he eased the worm back toward him gently, and as it fell out of the bushes into the water, it disappeared in a big swirl. A few minutes later a nice 2-lb. largemouth was lipped into the boat. We repeated this several times that afternoon. We timed our circuit just right, and by the time the sun was dropping below the trees and the temperature began to drop, we had made it all the way around and back to the boat ramp. Forrest had caught a total of three largemouths and had lost a big fish that wrapped him around a submerged limb and got off the hook before we could get him loose. I ended the day with a half dozen. None were any larger than the first one.
Wednesday afternoon we went to Big Lazer Public Fishing Area just west of Macon in Talbot County. Here we used our ultralights and Hal Fly jigs to troll slowly through the standing timber trying to catch crappie. We tried a variety of jig colors and trolled over a wide range of depths but had little action. After a couple of slow hours of this, Forrest was really getting bored, and so was I. Because of the action with bass up shallow the previous day, I had expected crappie to really be biting. But the water temperatures were still in the upper 50s here, and I suspect the crappie were just not very active over most of the lake. Hoping that the rocks exposed to the sunshine at the dam might hold heat, we tried casting the small crappie jigs along the rip-rap of the dam and finally began to catch a few fish. This was our most unsuccessful trip of the week. We only caught six crappie all afternoon. But the weather was beautiful, and Forrest was thrilled when we heard a turkey let loose with a big gobble from one of the ridge tops surrounding the lake.
Thursday we put our kayak in the Ocmulgee River at Pope’s Ferry just across the county line into Monroe County north of Macon. I let Forrest paddle downriver about a half-mile until we reached a big rocky shoal. Then I took the paddle and maneuvered us downstream through the rocks for another half-mile or so. We finally beached the little boat on a sandy spit near shore, and we both waded the shallows fishing for shoal bass and redbreasts. Forrest started with his ultralight spinning outfit throwing a small Beetle Spin. His first couple of fish were shoal bass, but he got more action from redbreast than anything else.
After catching maybe eight or nine fish total, he became captivated by my use of a fly rod, and I let him fish with it after a time. I could have fished with his ultralight, but I got more enjoyment from just watching him. His casts were anything but skillful as he thrashed the line from front to back. He could manage to cast only 20 feet or so with the fly. Still, he hadn’t fished long when an eager redbreast latched onto his muddler fly. Wading the river seemed equally as enjoyable as the fishing.
The water temperature was only in the high 60s, but he wouldn’t quit despite being cold. I finally had to make him get out and put his rod aside while he dried out, lying on a big rock in the sunshine like a turtle.
After warming in the sunshine and eating a bite of lunch, he piled in the boat and I pulled him upstream throught the shoal. He threw his Rooster Tail while I cast a black wooly bugger on the fly rod. He had steady redbreast action all the way back upstream through the rocks. On the other hand, the bass action was slow for me, and I only caught two fish along the way. The fact that he had caught more than I for the first time that week was no small matter to him.
Friday was catfish day. We put our boat in at the upper end of Tobesofkee Lake after making a stop at a bait shop for some red wigglers and pink worms. At the upper end of the lake, the shallow mud flats give way to a rocky creek channel. We idled carefully upstream until the lake was not even visible.
Pulling the boat up on a rocky outcrop just downstream from the Hwy 74 bridge, it was easy to forget we were within a few minutes of urban Macon.
The action began slowly, but as the morning wore on, the sun gave way to clouds and the catfish became active. We fished the worms on the bottom with about a foot of leader separating the hook from a swivel and an egg sinker. Tight-lining this rig in the slow current of the deeper holes wasn’t difficult, and the easiest way to guarantee a hookup was to lay the rod down and not touch it until the fish began to bow the rod as it swam away with the morsel. The action wasn’t fast, but it was steady, especially after the clouds rolled in. We could have easily increased our catch if we had fished more than two rods. But by the time we took the boat out of the water at 3 p.m., we had eight nice channel catfish in the cooler, ranging in size from half-pound squealers to a 3-lb. catfish that surprised us just as we were getting ready to leave. They were delicious that night fresh out of the skillet.
Spring is an unbeatable time for fishing. We had seven great trips, and we could have had twice that many. We didn’t even try the shellcrackers on Juliette, or the bluegills at the new Gillis PFA near Dublin, or the crappie bedding in Tobesofkee and Sinclair, or a host of others. You get the idea. There are so many opportunities this time of year that you almost can’t pick a bad place to go.
Spring break is a great excuse to spend time fishing with your kids. This year, I think we’ll ask some of Forrest’s schoolmates to go along.
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