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Opening date set for repaired public lake

Ocmulgee Public Fishing Area now has water and some nice fish

Ocmulgee PFA in Bleckley County, closed after sink holes drained the lake of water, has been filling with water. Georgia DNR biologist Tim Bonvechio says the habitat is well on its way to becoming a big bass fishery.
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Ocmulgee PFA in Bleckley County, closed after sink holes drained the lake of water, has been filling with water. Georgia DNR biologist Tim Bonvechio says the habitat is well on its way to becoming a big bass fishery.

When the sun rises Oct. 27, anglers can once again cast lines into the waters of Ocmulgee Public Fishing Area.

The lake shut down in 2012 – with the fish removed and relocated to other lakes – due to sink holes in the lake bed. Now the lake is set to reopen following a $2.9 million repair. A ribbon cutting ceremony will be held 11 a.m. that morning but anglers can start fishing at daybreak.

The lake began refilling in January and was restocked in the spring. The repair has held up well and the fish – including large mouth bass, crappie and bream – are in good shape, said Bert Deener, fisheries regional supervisor for the Department of Natural Resources. He’s had many people asking when the lake will reopen.

“There’s a lot of excitement, a whole lot of excitement,” he said. “I’m excited to get people back in there fishing again and to get boats back in the water.”

The 106-acre lake is in a secluded area at the border of Bleckley and Pulaski counties, off Upper River Road, in the Ocmulgee Wildlife Management Area.

On Wednesday, two DNR representatives sampled more than 100 fish in the lake using a shock technique. The shock stuns the fish just long enough to be captured with a net, then they are measured, weighed and released.

The bass were stocked as adults weighing a pound or more. Many caught Wednesday were two pounds or more with the largest four pounds. Crappie were more than a pound and bream were a quarter pound to a half pound, said Tim Bonvechio, senior fisheries biologist for DNR.

Although it will about another three years or so before the bass are at trophy size again, Bonvechio said there will be some good fishing in the lake from opening day.

“A lot of these fish are naive because they’ve never been caught before,” he said as he checked the captured fish. “It will be really good initially.”

Before the sinkhole issue cropped up, the lake was becoming known around the state as the place to go to land a trophy bass. Anglers were regularly pulling out bass that weighed 10 pounds are more.

That’s because the lake is intensively managed, and it has a catch-and-release policy on the bass. That will remain in place when the lake reopens. Within limits, bream and crappie can be kept.

In the spring, 551 bass were stocked in the lake and all were females to ensure the bass do not reproduce and overpopulate. Bonvechio said more bass will added over time.

All of the bass stocked in the lake had an implanted chip about the size of a grain of rice. Bonvechio used a scanner to individually identify each one by number. That allows DNR to track how individual fish are growing.

The bass fishing could be even better in the rejuvenated lake. DNR has added fish attractors around the lake to give bass a better habitat, and also channel catfish were not stocked this time around. The catfish were big competitors for food so that should help the base grow even more.

Those over 16 years old must have a state fishing license in order to fish in the lake.

Wayne Crenshaw: 478-256-9725, @WayneCrenshaw1

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