Georgia anglers are fortunate to have so many types of the black bass species in the state’s waters. Georgia is the only state in the nation with as many as six black bass species within its waters. The six black bass species found in Georgia waters include largemouth, smallmouth, shoal, spotted, redeye and Suwannee bass.
On local lakes Oconee and Sinclair the largemouth bass is the dominate black bass species. Occasionally an angler might catch a redeye bass in either lake, and spotted bass are now in both lakes in small numbers.
Georgia also has the distinction of holding the world record for the largest largemouth bass ever caught. The 22-pound, 4-ounce largemouth bass was caught in 1932 in Montgomery Lake off the Ocmulgee River. Several recent largemouth catches in California and Japan have threatened that record and it seems only a matter of time before a largemouth bass from those waters will break the world record.
Both lakes Oconee and Sinclair contain good populations of largemouth bass. Lake Oconee has a slot limit that has been in place since the lake first opened. Depending on who you talk to, opinions vary considerably on the effectiveness of the slot limit.
The slot limit requires anglers to return to the lake any largemouth caught that measure between 11 and 14 inches. Largemouth bass measuring less than 11 inches and more than 14 inches can be kept. The purpose of the slot limit was to encourage anglers to keep the smaller largemouth and thereby increase the bass growth overall in the reservoir.
However, few anglers will keep a largemouth bass of any size, especially one that measures less than 11 inches. Most bass anglers have practiced catch and release for many years, and the idea of keeping any largemouth bass goes against their best judgment.
The Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Wildlife Resources Division (WRD) continues to enforce the slot limit on Lake Oconee and has been doing so for about 30 years. However, the WRD is currently studying the slot limit on Lake Oconee for the possibility of changing the slot limit. A decision should be made in the near future but not before the public including anglers will be given the chance to provide input.
The legal harvestable size for largemouth bass at downstream Lake Sinclair is the more typical 12 inches. Just as occurs in Lake Oconee, bass anglers on Lake Sinclair keep few largemouth bass due to the catch and release idea that is ingrained into most bass anglers’ brains. Studies to determine survival rates of released largemouth bass in either lake have never been conducted.
Bass tournaments result in large numbers of fish being caught from throughout the lake and then those fish are released at the weigh in site after the tournament completion, which is often at one of the larger marinas on either lake. What impact that release has on the bass populations is undetermined due to the lack of a comprehensive study.
Largemouth bass populations in both lakes appear stable and doing well according to the WRD. Ten-pound bass have been harvested from both lakes in the past but are a very rare catch today. In 2012, a 12-pound, 14-ounce, largemouth was caught in Lake Oconee, which established a new lake record. The lake record largemouth bass for Lake Sinclair weighed 13-lbs., 2-ozs., and was caught back in 1990.
Largemouth bass in both lakes are in the early stages of spawning or the pre-spawn period and the actual spawning will begin shortly and will continue right on through the month of April. Some largemouth will spawn in March and some females will actually spawn up into May. The largest largemouth bass I caught in Lake Sinclair weighed more than 8 pounds and was a female loaded with eggs. That spawning female was caught on Memorial Day in 1988.
The water temperature is now reaching into the middle- to upper-50s so the temperature will soon be right for the females to be begin building nests and beginning their annual spawn. We are now in what is referred to as the pre-spawn period where the largemouth bass are staging in areas near where they will spawn.
This means that anglers should be concentrating on areas near shoreline spawning areas. Main lake points, the mouths of coves, secondary points in coves, flats and lake pockets will all hold concentrations of largemouth bass now. Good lures for the pre-spawn and spawning bass are spinnerbaits, crankbaits, jigs and soft plastics. Warm sunny afternoons can send the water temperature up several degrees so look for the afternoon bite to be better on those days.
Good fishing for largemouth bass is beginning now and the good bite will occur from now through early summer so now is the time to get out on the water. Good fishing and see you next week.
Outdoor columnist Bobby Peoples can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.