Big fix is in the works for Ocmulgee Public Fishing Area

One of Middle Georgia’s most beloved public fishing spots is on its way back.

The General Assembly this year approved $2.3 million to repair Ocmulgee Public Fishing Area on the border of Bleckley and Pulaski counties. The 106-acre lake had to be closed in 2012 after its water began to drain into the aquifer below, endangering the fish population.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources thinks it has the right plan to fix it, and the job will be put out for bids in about a month, said John Biagi, the department’s chief of fisheries. Engineers are finishing up the design of the fix.

“I am certainly happy that we had plenty of support to get this project going again,” Biagi said.

He expects work will begin this fall, and construction is expected to take about six months. Then it will be a matter of waiting for the lake to fill.

Biagi said Mother Nature will largely be in control of that part of it, so it’s difficult to say exactly when it will reopen, but he projected it will be sometime in 2017.

If that seems to fishermen like a long wait, it would be a lot longer if it weren’t for an unusual step the state is taking to get it reopened as soon as possible.

Ordinarily a lake would be stocked with fingerlings that would then need a year or two to grow to fishing size, but in this case the fish for the lake are already growing. The state has them set aside in hatchery ponds, so the fish should be supper-table size and ready to catch at roughly the same time the lake is full.

The fish that were removed from the lake when it closed were relocated to other public fishing lakes. Additionally, the plan is to take some adult fish from those lakes to add to the population in the Ocmulgee Public Fishing Area.

Wayne Sapp, who leads a group of local sportsmen that pushed for years to get the lake, said he and many other anglers are looking forward to seeing it reopened.

“I think it will be back fine,” he said. “It may take a little while for the fish to get back to what it was.”

Located in the Ocmulgee Wildlife Management Area and surrounded by protected forest, the lake offered one of the most tranquil and beautiful public fishing spots in the region. But that was only part of what made it popular. With the lake intensively managed by the state, fishermen were regularly catching bass that were 6 pounds or more just a few years after it opened.

When the lake was closed, the state wasn’t sure what was causing the problem. Now geologists believe the water was seeping through a large area in the bed of the lake -- not just one or two holes. The drought at the time of the closing also likely played a role because the water level was down in the aquifer, creating space for the water to seep into. The effectiveness of the fix, therefore, might not be fully known until the next prolonged drought.

The plan is to remove a layer of the current lake bed, put down geotechnical fabric similar to a silt fence at a construction project, then cover that with a layer of nonporous clay that will be taken from near the lake.

Biagi said geologists have studied the problem carefully and are convinced the fix will work.

To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.