On The Fly Freshwater
Article and Featured Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.
For many anglers the first fish taken on a fly was a bluegill. Ubiquitous and easy to fool, they are the prefect fish to get a novice hooked on tossing feathers and fur. But, when the full moon in May rolls around, these panfish become serious targets for fly casting.
Bluegill spawn around the full moon each month from early spring through early fall, yet the two days prior to and after the May phase is the prime time for catching them. Also, these bream are often the biggest of the year, earning the title of bulls.
Photo by Capt. Craig Riendeau.
Locating the spawning areas is usually not difficult, whether on a large reservoir or in a small pond. Look in the shallows at the backs of coves to find them. When you see the bottom pockmarked like a moonscape, you have stuck gold. The bluegill fan out these depressions for laying eggs and spend a good deal of time defending the nests. Drop a fly in or near these beds and a strike is sure to follow.
Often the first problem faced in finding such action is locating a place to fish. Smaller ponds are the ideal sites, but most of those tend to be private waters. If you don’t know someone who owns one, you can find yourself out in the cold. In our case, we took advantage of several of Georgia’s public fishing areas.
Photos by Jimmy Jacobs.
Of course, not every body of water is going the be conducive to this type of easy fishing. The crew from On The Fly South headed down to South Georgia to try our luck on spawning bluegills at the Paradise Public Fishing Area near the town of Tifton.
Prior to being acquired by the state, the tract was a private, pay-to-fish facility known as Patrick’s Fishing Paradise. Covering 1,351 acres, the PFA contains 68 lakes and ponds ranging from less than an acre to more than 100 acres each. All told, there are 525 acres of water on the property.
Because virtually all of these ponds were dug out when created, the edges tend to have inclines dropping to deeper water. Also, recent rains has left the water a bit off color. That made finding the bluegill beds difficult. As a result, our first day of fishing proved frustrating.
That lead to Plan B the next day and the short drive to Perry, Georgia and the Flat Creek Public Fishing Area. Here 108-acre Lonice C. Barrett Lake offers a more natural shoreline with shallow flats in the coves. Soon we had our kayaks launch and were searching these shallows for the bluegill.
A Red Copper John turned the trick on this ‘gill. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.
I started off tossing a white Boogle Bug popper, trailing a Red Copper John as a dropper. Meanwhile, Polly Dean tied on a Wee Willy Wiggler created by Craig Riendeau (see the profile of Craig and his flies from our February 2020 edition in the fly tier section of On The Fly South).
As we prospected for the bedding areas, we were again hampered by a bit of murk in the water, but we began picking up a steady stream of bluegill. However, they were not the hand-sized and bigger fish we wanted. At one point, I was sure I’d snagged a branch when the dropper hung on something solid: then it began to move. When I boated the fish, it was a surprise, 14-inch slab crappie.
Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.
Eventually, casting to a small indention of the shore at the tip of an arm of land jutting out into the lake, we found the big boys and girls. On a 3- to 4-weight outfit they put up a respectable fight, adding a bend to those rods.
Georgia is not the only southern state that provide small-pond angling to the public. Here’s a look at what’s available.
Alabama has a system of 23 Public Fishing Lakes ranging from 13 to 184 acres of water. These are spread across 20 counties, with a total of 1,912 acres of water.
Arkansas’ Public Fishing Lakes system boasts more than 250 small ponds and lakes throughout the state that are open to public fishing.
Florida has a system of Fish Management Areas that contain 74 lakes and ponds ranging from a couple of acres up to 200 acres.
Georgia’s 10 Public Fishing Areas provide 140 ponds and lakes of less than 120 acres in size. These are located mostly in the Piedmont and southern portions of the state.
Many areas of these small public lakes can even be fished from the shore. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.
Although Louisiana has no formal small pond system, the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries offers a list of more than 90 such bodies of water providing bank and pier fishing access.
Maryland’s list of Public Angler Access points contains 22 small lakes and ponds offering bluegill fishing.
Mississippi offers 20 State Fishing Lakes for public access that total more than 4,000 acres of water.
Missouri has a dozen conservation areas with small lakes that provide bluegill angling.
The North Carolina Community Fishing Program has 37 small lakes open to public angling.
Oklahoma maintains a system of 16 small lakes throughout the state for public fishing.
The South Carolina State Lakes system is composed of 18 such bodies of water spread across the state.
Texas holds more than 70 State Park lakes open for public fishing, as well as several hundred Community Lakes of less than 75 acres each.
Virginia lists more than 140 small lakes and ponds within its boundaries that are open to public angling.
On its Public Fishing Access list, West Virginia has 97 lakes and ponds of less than 200 acres each.