The South is full of old millponds that can be magical places for fly casting!
On The Fly Freshwater
by Polly Dean
Photos by Jimmy Jacobs
Spring is the time for fishing in the South. Warm-water species such as bass and bream are getting ready to spawn and becoming frisky. Smaller ponds and lakes are some of the best places to take advantage of this angling.
Among those, some of the best spots are vestiges of the past. Old mill ponds date back to the days when industry was driven by the power of water. To feed that need for energy, streams were dammed to create steady supplies of water to turn mill wheels. In the deep South states, many of these ponds still exist.
These lakes often have the appearance of a bass-fishing haven, heavily splattered with bald cypress and tupelo trees draped in Spanish moss, jutting out from relatively shallow, dark tannic water. Besides the largemouth bass, other fly-rod targets inhabiting such lakes are bluegill, shellcrackers, chain pickerel and crappie. Best of all, some of these ponds have been protected as public fishing water.
George L. Smith State Park is a South Georgia retreat best known for Parrish Mill Pond. This 412-acre reservoir on 15-Mile Creek, also is shown on some maps at Watson Pond. Either way, it was created to power refurbished Parrish Mill, a combination gristmill, saw mill and covered bridge built in 1880.
As with much of the black-water South, the largemouth bass is king here. The pond has a strong population and the habitat is ideal for these fish. The mill pond has given up some very large bass, topping out with one that tipped the scales at 14-pounds.
With temperatures warming, this is the time and place for using top-water flies, such as popping bugs. A loud-splashy “pop” will get the attention of bass from several feet away. Not much is better than a “take” on top-water.
Those poppers are always a great way to start, but if the action is too slow, something rhat runs a little deeper is a good option as well. Go with darks colored black or purple Wooly Buggers, if water conditions are a bit stained or muddy, and lighter, brighter colors for clearer water.
The other predator prowling the lake is the chain pickerel. These fish, which have reached sizes of up to the world record of 9 pounds in this part of the Peach State, are attracted to any flashy, quick moving flies. Just be careful of that mouthful of teeth when handling them.
Speaking of teeth, be aware that the mill pond also has a population of alligators.
There is plenty of water access that fishermen can reach on foot around the picnic areas and mill dam on the pond. One obvious spot is the fishing dock in front of the park office. It provides a platform for casting to a number of nearby cypress trees and a short section of shoreline. Additionally, the dam to the west of the mill has several openings where it’s possible to launch a fly to cypress stands.
Also, just below the dam, the outflow of water creates a large pool on 15-Mile Creek. The east bank here is an open grass field providing plenty of room for back casts. Various flows of water that cascade over rocks at the head of the pool form seams and changes in current that give bass anglers a variety of target options. Slow-moving water along the banks and under over-hanging trees are places to target bluegill.
A lesser-known spot for some casting is found on the fishing dock located next to the park’s boat ramp, halfway up the lake on the western shore. The L-shaped structure offers some tight casting conditions as it juts into the cypress jungle on the Wolf Branch arm of the pond.
Having a canoe, kayak or jonboat from which to fish is an added advantage for reaching an almost overwhelming number of fishy-looking areas. For traveling anglers, the park rents all of those, but during these Covid induced shortages of staff, check ahead of time with the park office to see what days boats are available and to reserve one.
Tackling the fishing from a boat can at first be a bit daunting. You have hundreds of trees jutting from the water. This creates the problem of where to cast. The flooded forest may also even get you turned around to the point of not knowing which way to go.
Fortunately, the best aids for navigating the lake are the three marked paddling and boating trails. The Yellow Trail hugs the western shore, running along most of the park’s facilities, all the way up to the U.S. Highway 80 bridge at the upper end of the pond. Running up the center of the pond, roughly following the 15-Mile Creek channel, is the Red Trail, while the Blue Trail follows along the totally undeveloped eastern shore. These latter two join the Yellow Trail a bit below the highway bridge.
Regardless of how you approach the fishing in this idyllic setting, the scenic beauty and hungry fish of spring will make it a lasting memory.