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Cycles of Bass In Georgia Lakes

Why Do Lakes Go Through Cycles?


Russ Hamilton with Clarks Hill Bass

Russ Hamilton with Clarks Hill Bass

2010 Ronnie Garrison, licensed to About.com
If you have been bass fishing for very long you have seen it. For some reason a lake gets "hot" and bass bite like crazy. Suddenly, fishermen are catching more and bigger bass than they have for years. Our Georgia lakes go through cycles, but what causes a lake to produce better bass fishing than normal?

We all know the bass spawn makes a difference in bass populations, but it is not felt for several years. The success or failure of a few bass does not change the long term effect. It is not how many eggs are laid and hatched, it is the survival of the little bass that matters.

In Georgia lakes most bass spawn in April. Some spawn earlier, especially way down south in Seminole, and some spawn later in northern lakes, but the bulk of the spawn is in April. So what happens on our lakes in April and May this year may control how many bass you catch in three to five years on that lake. It is definitely a delayed reaction.

After bass spawn the male protects the fry for a few days but then they must fend for themselves. Everything in the lake, from bream and blueback herring to papa bass, wants to eat the tiny bass. So they must hide while finding enough food to grow big enough that they aren't near the bottom of the food chain.

Walter George, usually called Eufaula, is a good example of the cycles our lakes go through. There is a lot of very shallow shoreline cover that is perfect for baby bass to hide in and eat as they grow. But if the lake drops a foot or two it leaves the grass they need to hide in high and dry, and many baby bass are eaten.

For some reason the Corps of Engineers seems to drop Eufaula in April after the bulk of the spawn, at the worst time possible. Although there are extensive lily pad fields and deeper grass on some areas of the lake, the very shallow shoreline cover the baby bass need is unavailable to them. So the numbers of them are greatly reduced, all over the lake.

If the water at Eufaula stays high in April and a lot of young bass survive you will see the effect in a couple of years. It will seem you catch throwbacks everywhere you fish, and you will catch a bunch of them. Your bass fishing skill didn't suddenly get better, there are simply more bass to catch.

The bass hatch is considered a year class and it includes all the bass spawned in a year. As that group of bass grows you can follow their year class and see the ways it affects the catch rate. After three or four years you will catch a lot of keepers, then after five or six years you will start catching more quality bass. That is when it seems it takes a 20 pound plus stringer to win every tournament.

It would seem that a large year class would produce more and more bass every year because the higher numbers produce more young bass, but just laying eggs and having them hatch does not affect the future numbers. What makes a difference is the numbers of fry that survive their first few months. Since each bass produces hundreds of eggs, it does not take many to produce all the young bass needed. What matters is how many survive.

While our lakes were low the past few years lots of stuff grew in the exposed bottom. This cover runs way out so, even if the lakes drop after the spawn, there will be shallow cover for the fry. This spring should see an excellent survival rate in most of our lakes, so our fishing should get better and better for the next five years. That gives us something to look forward to!

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