Lots of fishermen in South Georgia are out and about in search of largemouth bass and crappie right now.
It just makes sense to go after these two species because of the time of year, the wide variety of places they can be caught and the high quality these two popular fish have when it comes to meal time.
If, however, you want to take on a little adventure head up toward Madison (about two hours north) and tackle the white bass that are currently on their annual spawning run up the Oconee and Apalachee Rivers.
Most of these fish spend nearly all their time in Lake Oconee but the longer days, warming water temperatures and river water flow cues will send them instinctively up the two major arms of the lake and into the rivers by the thousands. The white bass will also be accompanied by hybrid bass as well, although the hybrids are on a false run since they cannot reproduce. Nonetheless, they can be caught using the same basic pattern, and can add some spice to your trip and some weight to your stringer.
If you are there at the right time this is a bonanza that will make you glad you forfeited some of your bass or crappie fishing time — and the time is now. The spawning run is in full swing and will probably last a few more weeks before the fish begin their return downstream to Lake Oconee. Typically, the blooming of dogwoods is a good sign that temperatures and conditions are ideal for this action.
Fishing for white bass is not complicated. The fish will stack up behind current breaks, sandbars, shoals and creek mouths. If you catch one, get your lure back into the same area again quickly because there are probably numerous fish in that same location. While they can be caught with minnows under corks, most people use artificial baits such as Panther Martin inline spinners, rooster tails, curly tailed jigs, or any small lure that resembles a shad or minnow. A steady retrieve at moderate speed in the lower third of the water column will usually do the trick once you find their location. If you are using jigs, usually anywhere from one-eighth- to one-half-ounce may be needed, depending on how fast the water is moving. One good strategy is for everyone in the boat to use something a little different until you determine what they are really turned on by. My guess, however, is that if you find them they will bite any one of the baits listed here.
The average male white bass will run anywhere from one-half-pound to perhaps a little over a pound but the most sought after prizes are the females. These fish are fat and full of eggs, will often be in the two-plus-pound class, and will make your drag sing, especially when they get into the river current. Even though their primary reason for being in the river is to spawn they are still in an aggressive feeding mode.
The best tackle to use is a light-spinning outfit spooled with eight-pound test monofilament or braid. This type of setup is easier to throw into tight areas and the fish are much more enjoyable to take with the smaller equipment. Find those current breaks and throw upstream when possible (the fish are usually facing upstream), then work your lure as close as possible past these places. The fish are just waiting to ambush them there.
Don’t forget about the hybrids. They will bite the same things the whites will and are likely to be much larger. Be ready to loosen your drag if you are using light line because the hybrids will go on long runs and break you off. The downside of loosening your drag is that it may give them an opportunity to get into some brush and break you off anyway, so it’s a judgment call.
It is usually not necessary to get an early start because often times the bite doesn’t get going until mid-morning as the sun warms the water a little. When the water heats up a tiny bit the fish may move into shallower feeding areas. Sometimes it seems that cloudy days are not usually as good as sunny ones for this reason.
Although the limit for any combination of whites, hybrids and stripers is 15 per person, it would not be unusual for a party of three to catch 100 fish on a good day.
The Oconee River is substantially larger than the Apalachee and, thus, you can fish from a bass boat in most places on the Oconee. Because the Apalachee is smaller and more difficult to navigate, you will need to downsize. The upside of the Apalachee is smaller crowds. Once the fishing gets hot, the Oconee is going to be crowded, especially on weekends.
If you have any specific questions let me know via email and I’ll help you get going on one of the best and most unique fishing trips of the year. Don’t forget to send pictures and stories of your outdoor adventures to my email address.
Alvin Richardson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.