A Tough Winter for Southern Bats: Tracking the Spread of WNS in Georgia

By: Trina Morris, Georgia DNR wildlife biologist

The winter bat monitoring season had an ominous start. Kevin Glenn of the National Speleological Society emailed in early February to say they had seen signs of white-nose syndrome on bats in Kingston Saltpeter Cave. I had been expecting to start hearing reports of bats with white fuzzy noses any day. But Kingston, in Bartow County, would be the farthest south the disease had ever been reported.

A tri-colored bat with white-nose at Black Diamond Tunnel in Rabun County.

A tri-colored bat with white-nose at Black Diamond Tunnel in Rabun County. More photos available at WNS Surveys 2014.

On Feb. 22, Pete Pattavina with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service joined me for the Saturday survey with Kevin and his partner, Shannon. Kingston Saltpeter Cave has an interesting past, from its use as a dance hall to the mining of saltpeter for gunpowder. Our survey added to that history: We found the fungus that causes WNS on more than half of the 160-plus bats in the cave. And that was only the beginning.

We expected to see the fungus during a survey the next week at White River Cave in nearby Polk County. Normally, we count nearly 1,000 bats at White River. This year, helped by landowner Mason Rountree, Jackie Jeffery of DNR, Laci Coleman of EcoTech and a handful of other volunteers, we only saw about 80 bats. We had detected the fungus on one swab of the cave wall from last season but we hadn’t observed WNS. We didn’t this season, either.

So where were the bats? Mason told us the cave flooded last fall. We also noticed it was unusually warm. Our theory is that the flooding and possibly changes in the cave airflow caused conditions to be undesirable for bats.

Still, the cave is part of a nationwide survey to track the spread of the fungus. Swabs from bats and surfaces this year will be analyzed. We will also continue to monitor White River to see if the bats return.

Bad News at Black Diamond

The next Sunday, Regina Bleckley, owner of Black Diamond Tunnel in Rabun County, called. I could immediately tell she was upset. Earlier that day, she had seen a bat flying out of the tunnel, a possible sign WNS was affecting the hibernating bats. We had a survey scheduled for Black Diamond the following Tuesday. I told her maybe the bat had been disturbed and maybe not because of WNS. Unfortunately, soon after we arrived we confirmed her fears.

Jackie, Pete and Nikki Castleberry, of the Georgia Museum of Natural History, helped guide the boat through the tunnel. Black Diamond normally provides wintering habitat for 5,000 tri-colored bats on average, the largest known hibernaculum in the state. In 2013, we counted 5,517 bats. In this, the first year of WNS infection at the site, we counted only 3,472 and observed nearly 100 dead bats. Because the tunnel is flooded, it’s also unlikely dead bats would be detectable for long.

The cold weather this winter may have been partially responsible for the large drop in bat numbers at Black Diamond. However, if this decline continues, next year’s survey will be a difficult one.

The following week, Pete and I met with employees from Imerys to survey the Whitestone Marble Mines in Gilmer County. We counted fewer than 383 bats, compared to more than 500 last year. Some bats were infected with the fungus but many were too far away to determine if the disease was present. Visiting the marble mines is always an experience and many of these vast expanses of underground mazes are inaccessible to people due to safety concerns. Certainly they provide important winter refugia for bats, but they can’t escape the impacts from WNS.

From Hopeful to Tragic

Osbourn Cave on Black’s Bluff Preserve in Floyd County is owned by The Nature Conservancy.  I surveyed Osbourn on March 12 with help from Dottie Brown of Ecological Solutions. White-nose wasn’t found at the cave in 2013 and it seems to have been spared for at least one more season. We counted more than 200 bats and all appeared healthy. The cave is very dry, a condition that might not be the best for the growth of Pseudogymnascus destructans, the fungus that causes WNS. Although not many bats use Osbourn Cave, with the declines observed so far it was good to see healthy bats. We can only hope they continue to escape the impacts of the fungus over the next few seasons.

Another survey on Saint Patrick’s Day led us to Howard’s Waterfall Cave, owned by the Southeastern Cave Conservancy. Jerry Wallace of the conservancy led the trip, with Jackie, Pete and Chris Coppola, of the Fish and Wildlife Service, also helping. Finding signs of WNS was no surprise. However, the number of bats had declined by about a third from last season.

It wasn’t a good start to a week of surveying the northwestern part of Georgia where WNS was first detected in the state in early 2013. But we couldn’t have predicted what we found the following day.

Sitton’s Cave at Cloudland Canyon State Park was the first site on state-owned land confirmed positive for white-nose, a confirmation made last year. This winter, a large survey team including Pete, Chris and Jimmy Rickard of the Fish and Wildlife Service, plus Jackie, Brian Nichols and Josh Purdy of DNR, headed into the cold, wet passage to see what WNS had done to the site in only a year. Silence told the story as the clicks from counters marking bats observed were few and far between.

We counted only 250 bats at Sitton’s. In 2012, the total exceeded 1,700. That’s a decline of 85 percent in two years. And unlike what we’d seen in other infected caves, there were no bat carcasses at Sitton’s. Only empty walls and silence.

A part of me wants to believe that the bats  found another cave to use this winter and they’ll be back. But logic tells me that’s not true.

Spreading Farther South

The mystery of the missing White River Cave bats led me and volunteer Kevin Townsend to Deaton’s Cave in Polk County on March 20. This cave had not been surveyed before but was close to White River and we thought maybe the bats had moved there during the flooding.

Deaton’s is another cave that had been used for entertainment before air-conditioning made indoor summer activities more comfortable. A small stage built in the “dance hall room” is still there. Unfortunately, we only saw 66 bats and several showed signs of white-nose.

The crawl from the main room was flooded so if bats from White River had tried to winter there, they were trapped. Deaton’s now represents the farthest point south that WNS has been recorded in the U.S.

During the final week of surveys for the winter monitoring season, Jackie, Pete and I met Allen Padgett of Walker County’s Cave and Cliff Rescue Team at Anderson Springs Cave on Crockford-Pigeon Mountain Wildlife Management Area. Allen, a DNR retiree who once worked as area manager of the WMA, guided the crew into the cave.

Our count of tri-colored bats was almost double last year’s count, about 1,200 bats. Normally, I would be excited about a jump in numbers like this. But I have followed the trends from the beginning and I know this is part of a pattern seen over and over. We saw signs of WNS at Anderson Springs, and more bats near the entrance. Often when bats first become infected, they will move from inaccessible parts of the cave to areas along the survey route. This rise in numbers is likely only temporary.

Although the cave includes an excruciatingly cold crawl through a flooded passage, the formations at Anderson Springs make it one of my favorite to visit. But I’m already dreading next year’s survey. If bats in Georgia follow the same trends as those at infected sites farther north, the numbers at the cave will be much lower next year and likely even lower the following year.

The next day we visited Ellisons Cave and added Jimmy Rickard of the Fish and Wildlife Service and Sara Keys of Walker County Cave and Cliff Rescue to the survey team. Last year, we had seen WNS at Ellison’s, the first detections on the WMA with the most state-owned cave resources in Georgia. As expected, infection rates this year were higher. Live bat totals were down by about one-third and we counted some 60 dead bats. More bad news.

Facing the Expected

On our final day of surveys, a beautiful, exceptionally warm day at the end of March, Jackie and Jimmy joined me in Pettijohn’s Cave. Pettijohn’s is extensive in size and it’s the most heavily visited cave on Crockford-Pigeon Mountain WMA. We only survey a small portion of the cave, which doesn’t have many bats. But we did detect signs of WNS, a first for Pettijohn’s this season. The results seemed a fitting end to a winter filled with evidence of a killer bat disease that doesn’t seem to be slowing down.

On the long drive home from northwest Georgia, I reflected on what I had seen in the last few years. We started counting bats in Georgia when white-nose syndrome first began decimating bat populations in New York and Pennsylvania. We gradually added more sites to get better winter numbers as the disease spread rapidly down the Appalachian Mountains. I knew we would find the fungus in Georgia last year but I wasn’t prepared for how seeing the disease for the first time in my state would make me feel. This year, I thought I was prepared to see greater impacts. But, again, I wasn’t.

How could I prepare for watching bats disappear from caves where they have thrived for years?

It’s likely that in my lifetime I will never again see sites with thousands of hibernating bats. Will there even be places where there are hundreds? We don’t know. I’m holding onto the hope that next winter will be warmer and bats will do better in the South. Time will tell. For now, all we can do is watch and wait.

Trina Morris leads white-nose survey monitoring for Wildlife Resources’ Nongame Conservation Section. Learn more about WNS. http://www.georgiawildlife.com/WNS

Southeast Georgia Fishing Report: April 17, 2014

By: Bert Deener, GA DNR Fisheries Biologist

(Deener’s reports can also be found in the Waycross Journal Herald on Thursdays)

The bull redfish have shown up at the St. Simons Pier. This 43-incher and another smaller fish were caught on Saturday evening on cut whiting (photo courtesy of St. Simons Bait and Tackle).

The bull redfish have shown up at the St. Simons Pier. This 43-incher and another smaller fish were caught on Saturday evening on cut whiting (photo courtesy of St. Simons Bait and Tackle).

Pond fishing and saltwater have been awesome this week. Bass in ponds and whiting in the ocean have been the top bites. The Okefenokee should be good once the water level stabilizes again. Forget the rivers this week due to flooding, but when they finally come back down it will be awesome fishing! The last quarter moon is April 22. To monitor all the Georgia river levels, visit the USGS website.

Altamaha River  – Forget it this weekend! The big rains are making their way down the river. The annual Wayne County Catfish Tournament will be held May 3-4 out of Jaycees Landing in Jesup. First place will pay $10,000 (NOT a misprint)!  For more information, visit the website www.waynecountycatfishtournament.com. A new panfish tournament sponsored by Iron Pigs Motorcycle Club was recently announced for June 14. First place is a guaranteed $500. The tournament will also be based out of Jaycees Landing in Jesup. The winner will be determined based on the weight of their biggest 10 panfish (bluegill, warmouth, redbreasts and shellcrackers are the species to be weighed). The entry fee is a modest $20 per angler, and children under 16 years of age can compete free of charge with a paying adult. For more information, contact the Wayne County Board of Tourism at 912-427-3233. The river level was 13.9 feet and rising (66 degrees) at the Baxley gage, and 11.2 feet and rising (66 degrees) at the Doctortown gage on April 15.

Satilla River – Michael Winge of Winge’s Bait and Tackle in Waycross said the deluge put off the fishing, except for a few folks who caught catfish on limb lines in the upper river. Give it a couple weeks for the river to get back down in the banks. For more detailed information about fishing the Satilla River, check out my article in the April issue of Georgia Outdoor News. The Satilla Riverkeeper recently announced they will sponsor a fishing tournament on the Satilla River on Saturday, May 10. The river should be fishable by then, unless we continue to get significant rains. Look for more information about the tournament in the weeks to come. The river level at the Waycross gage was 15.4 feet and falling (67 degrees) and at the Atkinson gage was 15.7 feet and rising (68 degrees) on April 15.

Local Ponds – Bass fishing has been awesome according to most accounts. On Monday, Warren Budd of Newnan fished a Cochran area lake with a friend and caught 76 bass on Satilla Spins and Flashy Jigheads rigged with 2-inch Assassin Curly Shads (crystal shad was the best color). The pair was targeting smaller bass for a fish fry and had a blast with ultralight tackle. An angler fishing a wacky-rigged (watermelonseed) Senko worm landed and released a 9-pound bass on Monday morning. Monday evening, James Woolsey of Perry fished a Eastman pond with Flashy Swimbait Heads and Keitech swimbaits and caught 24 bass up to 4 pounds. The fish were chowing ahead of the front, and swimbait color did not matter. The bluegill bite picked up over the weekend ahead of the front. Anglers reported catching most of them on crickets rigged under a float. Michael Winge reported anglers catching crappie on minnows and bream on crickets and worms. Some nice bass were caught with bubblegum ZOOM Trick Worms (rigged unweighted) and also moccassin and red shad Culprit worms (Texas-rigged). Catfish anglers caught them on pink worms over the weekend. Anglers fishing spillways below ponds in the Homerville area reported catching big stringers of warmouth this week. I saw the impressive photos!

Laura Walker State Park Lake – Staff reported some very good catches of mostly bluegills and bass over the last week. The lake was closed to boats due to the big rains last week, but reopened Saturday. Bass were fooled with plastic worms and topwaters. Some anglers fishing on the bottom reported catching some nice catfish, a bunch of bream, and a big warmouth on Monday.

Okefenokee Swamp – The best reports this week came from the east side (Folkston entrance). Some big bream were caught with beetle spins. Fliers were also eating yellow Okefenokee Swamp Sallies fished under a float. Anglers fishing shrimp on the bottom caught catfish. The warmouth bite should fire off any day for those dabbling crawfish around the old cypress stumps on the west side. Anglers fishing all of the tributaries flowing into the swamp on all sides have reported catching lots of catfish and warmouth. Just find some flowing water, pitch a bait in (crickets under a float or worms or shrimp on the bottom), and hold on.

Saltwater (Georgia Coast) – The whiting bite is on fire on days when the winds allow you to fish. Dead shrimp fished on the bottom has been the ticket. Anglers fishing the Jekyll Island Pier have reported catching 50-60 whiting per day. Some sheepshead and a few big black drum were caught at the St. Marys Jetties. Some red drum (redfish) were also mixed in the catch. Mike and Trish Wooten of St. Simons Bait & Tackle said it has been whiting, whiting, and more whiting from the pier. On Saturday night, two big redfish were caught and released from the pier. The biggest was a 43-incher. On Sunday, two giant black drum were landed. One was 40 pounds and the other was 65 pounds! A few flounder and trout were also caught.

Best Bet – The wind forecast is iffy right now for the weekend, so check it late in the week before planning a trip to the brine. If it’s fishable, the whiting bite will be hard to beat in saltwater. Bass and bluegill fishing will be excellent this weekend in ponds. With the cooler mornings late in the week, expect the afternoon bite to be better. Bass coming off the spawn have been chasing down lures, so expect swimbaits and spinnerbaits to work well. Use plastic worms or lizards if the fish won’t chase your lures down. Wacky rigged worms should start fooling them for the next couple of months.

North Georgia Fishing Report: April 17, 2014

I drove past icicles early yesterday as I crossed Hwy 129 over the mountain to Union County.   The changing weather of the last three weeks has been playing games with north Georgia fish and anglers.  Folks who were able to work around temperature drops and flow spikes did pretty well, while many others struggled with the tough conditions of the last couple weeks that put a lot of fish down.

The good news is that spring may finally get here and stay here, and the fishing should break loose.   The forecast finally shows a warming trend, after some Friday rain, to highlight your holiday weekend and the coming week.

On the positive side, rain beats drought conditions any day of the week for the long-term health of our sport fish populations and habitat. Plus, there’s still plenty of daylight left to wet a line in the evening after your school or work day ends.

The fishing is about to get real good, real quick.  I hope you’re ready.  Here we go:

Habersham Kids Fishing Event- Saturday (details) – Nancytown Lake is a fun place for adults, too, after the kids event ends.  Bass and crappie anglers can bring their equipment and enjoy the 100-acre Lake Russell, which is a half-mile down the paved road. While this USFS Rec Area does not open until May, the Russell boat ramp is open year-round. Note: no gas motors allowed.  (PHOTO)

Walleye caught by Landon on the Chestatee with a fly rod.

Walleye caught by Landon on the Chestatee with a fly rod.

Walleye

The Chestatee at Highway 400 must have been a pretty good spot last week.  College Boy said he caught a couple of walleye and a big white bass on his fly rod, and he shared some pics to prove himself.  DNR ranger Shane B. also found some happy campers in that area. Most of these fish should now be heading back to the lake, with its abundant shad and herring groceries. However, big striped fish should replace them.  Landon said he almost got spooled a couple days ago…

Stripers and Whites

Biologist Jim Hakala says the spring striper run has started in the Greater Coosa River Basin.  Stripers will continue to move upstream over the entire length of the Coosa River and into the Oostanaula and Etowah Rivers above Rome.  The high, muddy water conditions of last week have given way to more favorable fishing conditions this week.  DNR electrofishing crews have noted spawn-run stripers in all three river systems, but numbers and size have been best over much of the Oostanaula River between Rome and Calhoun.  The key to locating fishable striper congregations is finding river sections with good water flow like those near shoals, islands, and debris jams.  Live or cut shad are the preferred offerings.  For numbers, the Coosa River at Mayo’s Lock and Dam has been holding an abundance of small 1-2 pound stripers.  These aggressive young-guns will readily hit, small live shad, crankbaits, sassy shads, and rattle traps pulled through the rapids below the old lock.

Coosa white bass fishing was absolutely phenomenal before last week’s high water episode.  Jim looks for catches to again improve as the river stabilizes and we return to more seasonable air temperatures this weekend and into next week.  The best areas have been from Lock and Dam Park downstream to the “stair-step” waterfall several miles downstream.  Minnows, jigs, flex-it spoons, and crankbaits are all good offerings.

Need to find a boat ramp on one of these rivers?  Check out the newly released Georgia Outdoor Map interface on the DNR webpage at: http://www.georgiaoutdoormap.com/

The Lanier fish have been deep much more often than shallow, according to WRD fisheries tech Chris Looney.  His annual spring electrofishing samples have been pretty sparse this month, since the method works best in waters less than ten feet deep.  Daily samples have been in the single figures, as both the bait fish and predators have hung deep.  Last Thursday was an exception, with about fifty fish sampled and released.  Best bet for the next two weeks: try the migrating fish up the Hooch and Chestatee, when river conditions allow their pursuit. What they lack in numbers, they compensate with size.

Up on Nottely, try the river under the highway bridge, Coosa Creek, and the upper end of  the Ivylog Creek embayment.  Our sampling boats always turned real big fish from these spots each April.

Bass and Crappie

Spotted bass on Lanier

More from Lanier

LAKE LANIER IS .97 FEET UP FROM FULL POOL, THE MAIN LAKE IS CLEAR AND CREEKS ARE STAINED & 54 DEGREES – April 10, 2014

Bass fishing is very good. The heavy rains from Sunday and Monday have caused the lake to rise almost 2 feet in a short time. The backs of all the major creeks as well as the rivers are heavily stained to muddy. In addition, the water temperature has dropped around 4 degrees due to the front and the cold rain. The fish have been affected and the fishing the first part of this week has not been as good as the previous week. With all that said, fish can still be found in the back of creeks and on secondary points at the mouth of creek arms as well as pockets near the main creek channels. The backs of those creeks are stained to muddy, but this will allow them to warm more quickly as the nice weather moves in for the remainder of the week. The main lake fish are starting to move up and can be caught on points and humps. A Davis Shaky Head and a jerk bait have been the most productive lures still this week. The dock bite is still there, particularly when the sun is out, but is not nearly as strong as it should be. The deeper docks have been more productive for us again this week vs. the shallower docks. Look for the docks in the 20 to 25 feet range at the front to be the best right now, and if brush is around, even better. As the water warms, look to those shallower docks to be better producers. There are some fish bedding now, but it is not prevalent everywhere yet. With the full moon approaching in conjunction with warmer weather, look for a strong push of more spawners in the next week. Now is a great time to learn prespawn fishing on Lanier! I have the following dates left open in April: 15, 22, 25, 29, 30. I am also booking for May. Give me a call and let’s go fishing! – This Lake Lanier Bass report is from Jimbo Mathley. www.jimboonlanier.com

Crappie fishing is good. Water temperature is 60 plus degrees and continuing to rise. We are in the middle of the spawn. Like a highway, some have completed their spawn and are heading out to deeper water while some are coming in toward the shallows in the backs of creeks to spawn. You can target fish on blow downs, preferably older blow downs in the middle to the back of creeks and in pockets. You won’t find fish on every blow down, and they are usually average sized fish. You can find the bigger fish if you target docks from 8 foot to twenty foot depths. Always remember that crappie are structure related fish. Having said that, use your Lowrance to locate some type of brush under those docks. If you are in above average stained water, try using darker colored jigs. The fish are biting anything, whether artificial or live bait 1/24 ounce jig head, either soft body or hair jigs are working well in various colors. Always remember to tie your jig directly to your high visibility four pound test line. Do not use swivels or additional sinkers. This will maximize the number of bites you are getting. Wear your life jacket; it can save your life! – Lake Lanier Crappie report is from Dan Saknini, President of the Lanier Crappie Angler’s Club

More crappie - Don Carter State Park manager Will Wagner reported good crappie catches along Lanier’s shoreline in the vicinity of the park.  Will has a really nice, brand-new ramp there, so visit the park soon with your kayak or motorboat. (Don Carter State Park – VIDEO)

“Look at this monster my son caught today! We landed about 20 nice fish!” – DNR Law Enforcement Sgt. Mike Burgamy – 4/16/14

Lake Allatoona Bass Report

Carters Lake Report, GON Forum

Trout

Stocker best bets – Try Buford Dam, the Hooch thru Helen, Black Rock Lake,Rock Creek and lake, Middle Broad River, Holly Creek, and Cooper Creek. If the water’s high, add some more split shot to roll your bait along the bottom. More on trout stocking.

Wild fish – Sautee and the Guru hiked into one of their favorite wild trout streams last weekend and caught browns and specks.  They had to dredge for their bites due to the cold water.     Right now is a great time for dry/dropper combos, so carry some elk hair caddis, parachute mayflies (adams, cahill) and a few nymphs and soft hackles (hare’s ear, pheasant tail).  Stealth is more important than pattern.  If the fish don’t see you before they see something buggy, they’ll generally “eat” on these small headwater streams.

DH Streams – …are fishing really well when they’re not blown out from a three-inch rain.  The final dose of stockers for this DH season went in recently and now await you: http://www.georgia-outdoors.com/forum/showthread.php?t=102392

We’re pretty sure Spring is here, now that we have this last blast of cold weather out of the way!!On the Chattooga Dry Flies are working well, as well as the UV2 Streamers.  The Hatches are excellent and it should be a wonderful weekend of Dry Fly Fishing. For those of you that enjoy Nymphing, that too is working, because the fish have come up from the depths & are striking like they mean it. – Karl at Chattooga River Fly Shop

Toccoa Joe’s Report – The Toccoa Tailwater has been fishing very well as of late. While the fish aren’t looking up much to take dry flies, they’re gorging themselves on the plentiful nymphs in the river, mainly large (very large, like 2-4″ long without tails or antenna) black stones and mayfly nymphs (sz 14-10). Of course they’ll occasionally eat a caddis pupa or two (sz 18-14). There’s lots more, bigger bugs in the river now than ever before (at least in my decade fishing it). Another interesting occurrence, which I’ve been blaming on the weather, is the best bite seems to be through the afternoon. The only slow trip I’ve had in the last two weeks was started at 7 am. all others have seen good numbers and quality of trout and were run from 11-noon until darkish. Thanks for all you guys do!! Jeff you’re welcome to include this info and the photos in your blog/email on n. Ga. fishing.  – Joe DiPietro

What’s that minnow? Trout anglers on our bigger streams often catch this critter and wonder what species it is.  Here is the answer.

Thursday Program in Clayton

Trout and Wildlife Tags – Georgia’s five wildlife license plates will soon cost less and provide more support for conserving Georgia wildlife, from bald eagles to bobwhite quail. FULL NEWS RELEASE.

It’s spring.  Be flexible.  Carry your rain coat, a smart phone with your favorite weather app, and an assortment of rods and baits in your car trunk.  Like College Boy, adapt to the conditions at hand and you’ll make some fine fishing memories during these unstable weather periods.  Good luck.

Southeast Georgia Fishing Report: April 10, 2014

By: Bert Deener, GA DNR Fisheries Biologist

(Deener’s reports can also be found in the Waycross Journal Herald on Thursdays)

Kenny McClain of Knoxville, Maryland caught his biggest bass to date, this 5-pound., 13-ounce whopper while fishing a Brunswick area pond .

Kenny McClain of Knoxville, Maryland caught his biggest bass to date, this 5-pound., 13-ounce whopper while fishing a Brunswick area pond .

It seems we are having a repeat of last summer. The rivers get about right, then wham – a storm comes through. My rain gage at the house overflowed Tuesday morning, and it measures up to about 5 1/2 inches. Because the rains were heavy and basin-wide, all of our rivers are going to go way back into the floodplains by the time you read this. The Satilla will probably not be fishable until late April at the earliest. Additionally, the north Georgia water will likely not work its way through the Altamaha system until May. When it finally comes back down it will be awesome! Pond fishing, the Okefenokee, and saltwater should continue to be very good. Whiting fishing has been excellent this week. The full moon is April 15. To monitor all the Georgia river levels, visit the USGS website.

Altamaha River – Before the river jumped up, the catfish bite was pretty good. Connie at Jaycee Landing Bait and Tackle reported that some anglers caught a few flatheads on Saturday. Most of the better catches were channel cats and blue cats. They mostly ate chicken livers, shrimp, and worms fished on the bottom. Dannet at Altamaha Park said good numbers of channel and blue catfish were caught on Saturday. The river level was 10.9 feet and rising sharply (66 degrees) at the Baxley gage, and 10.1 feet and rising (65 degrees) at the Doctortown gage on April 8.

Satilla River – The good redbreast and bluegill catches started in the extreme upper reaches, but came to a screeching halt with the rise in water levels early in the week. Michael Winge of Winge’s Bait and Tackle in Waycross said quite a few bass were caught by anglers fishing topwater plugs and plastic worms before the rains. One angler was using a red shad Culprit worm to land a 5-pound bucketmouth. He released it after weighing it. For more detailed information about fishing the Satilla River, check out my article in the April issue of Georgia Outdoor News. The river level at the Waycross gage was 13.7 feet and rising sharply (65 degrees) and at the Atkinson gage was 10.6 feet and rising (67 degrees) on April 8.

Suwannee River – Before the heavy rains, the bullhead catches were ridiculous. A Homerville angler reported catching 40-60 catfish in less than an hour during the couple trips he made lately. The river level on at the Fargo gage was 11.5 feet and rising (68 degrees) on April 8.

Local Ponds – Scout Carter and a friend fished a Blackshear pond on Saturday evening and broke off two big bass (they estimated at over 5 pounds each) with an ultralight rig. They were using a Bass Assassin 2-inch Curly Shad on a jighead to fool fish. Small lures are the way to go when the bass first leave the beds, as they are usually in a funk for a week or so and will not eat much. Michael Winge reported anglers catching lots of crappie on minnows from area ponds over the weekend. Bream were caught on crickets and this will improve with the fish pushing to spawn during the upcoming full moon. An angler reported catching bass from their beds with a frog colored Heddon Torpedo. Anglers fishing spillways below ponds in the Homerville area reported catching stringers of nice warmouth, mostly on crickets.

Okefenokee Swamp – The fast rising water after the early week rains will likely put the bite off for about a week as the fish push back into flooded areas. It should pick up next week when things stabilize. You should be able to catch catfish at any of the entrances by putting shrimp on the bottom. The fliers should still be catchable, but not in as big of numbers as recently because they are spread out over the prairies. Even so, pitching an Okefenokee Swamp Sally with a bream buster will fool a couple dozen fliers per trip. Anglers fishing all of the tributaries between Manor and Homerville reported catching lots of catfish and warmouth in any running water.

Saltwater (Georgia Coast) – The whiting bite has been excellent. An Alma angler fished out of Blythe Island Park on Thursday and brought home 13 nice whiting and a bunch of assorted bottom fish. They ate shrimp fished on the bottom. The most impressive part was that he accomplished this catch from backwaters due to howling winds that day. On days when anglers could get out to the sound, dead shrimp fished on the bottom produced all the whiting they wanted to clean. A Waycross angler reported catching some nice trout, sheepshead and black drum from the creeks behind St Simons over the weekend. In Gould’s Inlet, anglers have started catching the big flounder. An angler fishing from the Jekyll Pier reported catching 71 whiting using dead shrimp. From the beaches, the whiting bite has remained strong. One day the fish were small, the next they were as big of bull whiting as you could catch. Mike and Trish Wooten of St. Simons Bait & Tackle said that from the pier anglers caught lots of whiting, some black sea bass, and a fair number of sharks. Bluefish have been stealing baits, but anglers have not been hooking many of them. On Tuesday, an angler caught a 22-inch flounder on a piece of dead shrimp. Wyatt Crews and a group of Waycross/Blackshear friends on spring break fished the pier over the weekend and caught several dozen bull whiting on dead shrimp fished on Stealth Rigs. Blue crabs have started showing up under the pier. You can check the marine forecast at www.srh.noaa.gov/jax/.

Best Bet – The whiting fishing has been excellent and should remain so this week. Put a piece of dead shrimp on the bottom and you can’t help but catch the ubiquitous, tasty fish. Bass and bluegill fishing will be hard to beat this weekend in area ponds. Look for bass to eat topwaters in the shallows early in the day, and then fish plastic worms around shoreline cover after the sun comes up. Bluegills should move shallow in anticipation of the full moon this weekend. They should eat worms and crickets fished under a float or artificials fished near shoreline cover and vegetation.

Categories: Fishing

Southeast Georgia Fishing Report: April 3, 2014

By: Bert Deener, GA DNR Fisheries Biologist

(Deener’s reports can also be found in the Waycross Journal Herald on Thursdays)

Ty Baumann was all smiles while fishing with his father, Chris, recently. They had a blast catching and releasing the dozen or so bass they caught.

Ty Baumann was all smiles while fishing with his father, Chris, recently. They had a blast catching and releasing the dozen or so bass they caught.

The Satilla will be within the banks by the weekend, but it and the other rivers are still not anywhere near peak. Pond fishing and the swamp have provided excellent fishing. Whiting fishing is picking up in saltwater. The first quarter moon is April 7. To monitor all the Georgia river levels, visit the USGS website.

Altamaha River – The upper river is still swift and out in the floodplain, but it is dropping. Connie at Jaycee Landing Bait and Tackle reported catfishing to be the only thing going on. Anglers fishing trot lines and limb lines upstream from the landing caught some nice channel cats, blue cats, and a few flatheads. The flatheads ate mainly goldfish, while shiners and cut bait produced most of the other species. Dannet at Altamaha Park said some catfish were caught upstream of the park. Limb lines produced mostly channel and blue catfish. Some crappie were caught with minnows in the oxbows this week. The river level was 11.4 feet and falling (62 degrees) at the Baxley gage, and 10.4 feet and falling at the Doctortown gage on April 1.

Satilla River – The significant rains dodged us here in Waycross, and the river is falling well. It’s still up in the floodplain in Waycross at the time of writing this, but should be about within the banks by the weekend. While still too high for peak fishing, folks will catch some fish this weekend, especially in the upper river above Highway 158. Michael Winge of Winge’s Bait and Tackle in Waycross said the fishing has started in the extreme upper river. Anglers reported catching some big redbreasts in the Telmore portion of the river on red-white Satilla Spins. The average  catch was 20-40 fish per boat already. Red-white dot beetle spins also produced some fish. Catfish hit rooster livers, shrimp, and shiners fished on limb lines. An angler reported catching a giant blue catfish (probably a channel catfish that has lost its spots) in the tidewater portion of the river. For more detailed information about fishing the Satilla River, check out my article in the April issue of Georgia Outdoor News. The river level1 at the Waycross gage was 10.9 feet and falling (61 degrees) and at the Atkinson gage was 12.4 feet and falling (62 degrees) on April 1.

St. Marys River – Dickie Winge reported that the river rose some this week as the St. Marys basin got more rain than the Waycross area. The catfishing has been good. Channel cats were caught on limb lines and trot lines baited with shrimp or rooster livers. The river level at the MacClenny gage was 11.5 feet and falling on April 1.

Local Ponds – Last weekend, Zion Hill Baptist Church held their second annual bass tournament. Most bass were caught from local ponds. First place was Yancey Mixon with 23 pounds. The second place team was Lance Berragard and Seth Melton. They had 22.5 pounds, which included the 7.5-pound big bass of the tournament. Proceeds went to the Catch a Dream Foundation. Bass are on still on beds in Waycross area ponds. Michael Winge of Winge’s Bait and Tackle said lots of crappie were caught this week by anglers fishing minnows and Jiffy Jigs. Bream started biting well with the warmer weather, and they ate crickets and worms. Anglers reported sight-fishing for and catching bass with red or pink worms. Catfish started biting well this week, and most were caught with pink worms fished on the bottom. Expect the first wave of bluegills to spawn later this month.

Okefenokee Swamp – I took a couple of friends on Thursday evening to the east side for a 2-hour trip. The flier bite was excellent, as we caught and released 64 fliers during the short time. Surprisingly, the bite slowed as the sun dipped (usually that is when they bite like crazy). The quickly falling temperatures must have put the fish in a neutral feeding mood. We might have pushed 100 fish if the last half-hour were as good as it usually is (we only caught a couple of fish the last half-hour). Pink #10 and orange #8 sallies fished under a float produced the best catches. A pink #8 sally fished without a float produced well for the first hour. Yellow did not fool them for us that evening. At the Folkston entrance, warmouth have started to bite crayfish and pink worms. Several good catches were reported. Fliers were caught in good numbers on #8 yellow sallies from that entrance (every day is different!).

Saltwater (Georgia Coast) – The whiting bite is still on fire. Anglers reported catching all they wanted to clean on dead shrimp. The Mackay River produced some good trout catches this week. Lots of folks on spring break went, so there should be a bunch of reports next week. Mike and Trish Wooten of St. Simons Bait & Tackle said that from the pier anglers caught black drum and whiting. From the beaches, the bite is all whiting, and dead shrimp has been the best bait. The average creel was 30 to 40 fish with a size range of 10 to 17 inches.

Best Bet - The whiting bite is hard to beat if the weather allows you to get out to the sounds. You cannot go wrong with pond fishing this weekend. Bass are still shallow and bluegills and catfish should bite well in the warmer weather forecasted for late this week. The Okefenokee bite should be awesome this weekend for those pitching sallies (fliers) or fishing shrimp on the bottom (catfish).

How Wildlife is Thriving Thanks to Firearms and Hunting

Here’s a pretty cool infographic from the National Shooting Sports Foundation highlighting just how much the hunting and firearms communities contribute to wildlife conservation. Hunters, anglers and wildlife watchers all contribute a great deal to conservation, and as always, we can’t thank you enough. You make wildlife conservation possible in Georgia!

How Wildlife is Thriving Because of Guns & Hunting

Explore more visuals like this one on the web’s largest information design community – Visually.
Categories: Conservation, Hunting

North Georgia Fishing Report: March 28, 2014

Info Provided by: Jeff Durniak, GA DNR North Georgia Region Fisheries Supervisor and North Georgia Region Fisheries staff

Opening Day – What does that term mean to you?  When I was a kid, it meant one thing: trout season is here!  My brother and I

Nice take of trout caught by these three boys last April.

Nice take of trout caught by these three boys last April.

would finally have a chance to try out our Christmas presents that had to wait all winter for that magic April Saturday’s baptism.  Six months of Field and Stream, Outdoor Life, and Sports Afield magazine articles had been memorized.   Monthly trips to Efingers Sporting Goods depleted our allowances, but ensured our resupply of mission-critical goods.   The memories are still clear almost fifty years later: Garcia Conolon ultralight rods, Mitchell 408 reels with fresh four-pound line (the 408’s were the Cadillacs; they had more ball bearings and faster retrieves than your run-of-the-mill 308’s), new hip boots to fit growing feet, chain stringers, egg jar holders – the ones with the flip tops for quick pickings from a fresh jar of Mike’s salmon eggs, the re-arming of our creels with a dozen brand new Mepps size 0 silver Aglia spinners.  After birthday number 12, a yellow Eagle Claw fly rod, Medalist reel, and metal Perrine box of wet flies was added to the arsenal in the car trunk. Worms were dug from the compost pile for several days after school that week.   The covered coffee can was cool, in the basement.  We were ready.

Mom and Dad were ready too.  Extra clothes were cached in the car and the tank was gassed up on Friday.  Phone calls were made to baseball coaches, and the boys were excused from Saturday practice.  Before dawn, regular thermoses were filled with coffee and scalding soup that would still steam at noon, warming the bones of two skinny boys at a mom-mandated lunch break.  Hot dogs and their boiling water went into the wide-mouthed thermos for special, hot, streamside lunches.  The hardest thing for was getting some sleep that Friday night.  The wait was worse than Christmas eve!

Dawn never came quickly enough, but soon we were flying down Route 22, and then up route 31, past Spruce Run Reservoir and up to our traditional spot, the Musconetcong River near the sleepy hamlet of New Hampton.  We all knew it as the “Muskie.”  We’d grab a parking spot next to the dairy barn, walk in, wade up, and get in between the masses of other trouting addicts who also celebrated the coming of the spring fishing season.  We half-pints would hold our own with many of the grizzled old vets.  Many were kind and offered tips or their own spot along the honey hole.  Some resident ducks would swim down, protesting the streamside masses of unwanted guests.  Garter snakes popped out of their winter lairs and startled us on the fishing trails.   As the sun warmed the frozen fields, pheasants would cackle in the adjacent thickets along the corn rows and pastures.   Hot soup and ketchup-slathered dogs on warm buns warmed our buns, and we were ready for Round 2 that afternoon.

Late in the day, we’d tally up the catch, take some pics of our trophies, unhook each from its chain loop, and clean and stack ‘em in the cooler.  Dad would enjoy some pan-fried trout that night, and the rest went to our fishing-loving neighbors as gifts from our fishing family.

May your own family fishing traditions continue this Saturday.  Bring a raincoat, some patience, and maybe even your own rock to stand on Saturday morning, if you’re aiming toward the most popular waters.  For others, fishing quality will increase with distance from the road.  Saturday is more about the celebration than the catch.  It’s about family and good friends, cold mountain water and wood-smoked clothes, campfire food and sleeping bags, tall tales and photographs.  It’s about making memories.

For those of you in catching mode, do not fear.  The crowds plummet when Saturday’s lunch bells ring.  In fact, with some heavy rain forecast for all day Friday and Saturday morning, the weekend crowds should be down.   An afternoon arrival on Saturday and a focus on smaller streams may be a better bet.   Sunday afternoons are often barren of competitors, too, and stream flows should drop.  Fish the riffles and pockets below the big pools that got hammered on Saturday morning.  All of those wash-downs have avoided hundreds of wader boots and are now very hungry.  Prospect under each boulder, ledge, submerged log, and other shady current break with a half-nightcrawler and just enough split shot to occasionally bump the bottom on the drift back downstream to you.   Don’t forget your creel or stringer and a cooler of ice.  Also, don’t forget to stop at eight fishon that stringer, lest a conservation ranger materializes from the rhododendrons and asks you for a full count  that will match his/her own, seen thru the state-issued binoculars…

Walleye caught in the Chestatee River off Lake Lanier on March 21.

Walleye caught in the Chestatee River off Lake Lanier on March 21.

From fly-flinging to niblet-tossing, there is something for everyone on the opening of trout season.   May you, your family, and your friends make some mighty fine memories together this weekend.   Have a great time!

Here we go…

Walleye

Dredger tossed a weighted super fluke into the Chestatee after work on Friday, and a twenty-inch male walleye inhaled it at dark.   Fillets now rest in the freezer.  Georgia’s walleye spawning runs should be waning on our lower elevation reservoirs like Lanier and Hartwell.  You’ll find many of those spent fish now returning to the main lake, although a good number of males were still above Mud Creek on the Hooch during our sampling trip on March 26.  Spawning runs should be at their peak in our higher elevation lakes this week, so give places like Tugalo and Carters a try.  More details are in the Anthony Rabern’s walleye fishing guide.

Trout

Opening Day is Saturday!  More than 80,000 catchable size trout will be stocked by Lake Burton, Summerville, and Buford state fish hatcheries and Chattahoochee Forest National Fish Hatchery during the last two weeks of March to give our opening weekend crowds a chance at some great memories and good eating.  Watch the weather and USGS stream flow gauges, and pick those streams and small lakes that will still be fishable, despite the early weekend rain.

Jason’s Excellent Adventure: Day 1:  Duke’s – we hit rain on the entire drive up from Atlanta, which had me excited thinking we would encounter high & stained water and less spooky fish, however this was not the case.  Regardless of the rain (there must not have been much up north), the stream was low and clear.  The morning was fairly warm, in the low 50’s, and we had some decent action early as we started just below the covered bridge.  I hooked two good sized fish almost back-to-back, losing the first one seconds after hookup but managing to land the second after a nerve-racking battle during which I managed to escape from having my line wrapped under a tree limb.  I estimated him at 18-19” (pic w/ net) but he had great color and some girth too.  I landed several more smaller fish over the course of the morning, but that one was definitely the highlight for me.  We lost probably 2-3 fish that were easily over 20”,   and as disappointing as it is to lose fish like that, just the feeling of hooking up with one for a few seconds is pretty incredible.  As the afternoon wore on, the temperature dipped almost 20 degrees as a cold front rolled in, and the fishing seemed to shut down completely.   I don’t think anyone had as much as a hit from about 1 p.m. til we got picked up by the van at 4.  It’s odd how the fish can react to such a sudden shift in the weather.  All in all it was a good day, even though my one friend got skunked, he would make up for it in coming days.  Patterns that produced fish included small pheasant tails, dark caddis pupa, and a zebra midge.

Day 2:  Chattooga DH – The cold front that rolled in the night before made for a slow day on the Chattooga, or at least that’s what I’m telling myself.  We arrived to temps in the low 30’s, and some wind that made it feel much colder.  While the sun was shining and we had the place pretty much to ourselves, we could never really get into any sort of consistent action.  We did make it all the way up to Reed Creek, which was the first time I had covered the entire DH stretch.  I threw about everything in my box, but managed to bring only 4 average sized rainbows to hand in about 8 hours of fishing.  My one friend who got skunked the day before won the day, landing 5 fish and losing a couple more.  He was getting them on an odd looking pattern, that looked like a cross between a wooly bugger and a clouser minnow.  Whatever it was, it seemed to be working for him.  Nevertheless this is some of the most beautiful river and surrounding country I have ever experienced, which makes it so memorable every time regardless of the fishing.  I can’t wait to go back.” – Sincerely, Jason

Stripers 

Lake Lanier: Lanier stripers are finally starting to come near the surface, but the best is yet to come.  Region 1 Fisheries staff were out on Lanier on Monday collecting male striped bass for hybrid bass production and were able to find a handful of fish on the surface.  Temperatures ranged from 52-54 degrees depending on location.  After the final cold front (fingers crossed) this week subsides, Lanier should begin hitting the magic number of 55 degrees and the surface action will be on.  Soon they’ll start heading up both rivers, too, in an attempt to spawn.  Stripers will stay up in the mornings and evenings until lake surface temperatures are consistently more than 60 degrees.  The good news is that once that happens, it is time to start finding largemouth and spotted bass spawning shallow on Lanier’s banks. – Patrick O’Rouke, Georgia DNR Fisheries Biologist

More striper reports and great photos:

White Bass

Fisheries biologist Jim Hakala sampled Monday and says the Coosa white bass run continues to build, with fair numbers moving into the river section between Mayo’s Lock and Dam downstream to Hwy 100.  Inside bends and creek mouths are holding the best concentrations.  The fish are deeper in the morning and moving up close to the banks with the heating of the day.  Recent cold weather has slowed the run, but conditions should improve dramatically given next week’s forecast high temps. Also, a few striped bass have begun to appear around Mayo’s Lock and Dam.  It’s still a little early for big catches of stripers, but anglers “cranking” for white bass may entice a striper bite. Here’s some evidence!

Black Bass

Crappie

They’re heading to the shallows!

Allatoona is heating up

Lanier Report

Additional Items of Note

Hooch Sweep – Be a part of this fine effort on April 12!

Serious Whitewater – If you’ve never seen these releases into Tallulah Gorge, it might be worth a road trip up here to watch.

 

Good luck.  I look forward to hearing about your own successes.  In closing, may we all enjoy this “photo of the week!

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