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By Jim Porter

Lake George is the second-largest freshwater lake (only Lake Okeechobee is bigger) in the Sunshine State and the largest along the trace of the St. Johns River. Covering some 46,000 acres (14 miles by 6 miles), George lies approximately halfway between the headwaters of the St. Johns River (the Melbourne/Palm Bay area) and the river's closure with the mighty Atlantic Ocean at Jacksonville.

As with most Florida lakes and rivers, Lake George has a number of very specific 'personal' traits and characteristics which give it a distinctiveness all its own.

First, it has possibly the most consistent bottom structure possible. Once you have moved across the shallow areas bordering the shorelines and out past the sloping drop-off, from six into 10 feet of water, the bottom topography of 'Big George' has hardly any variation in its entire length and width. We cruised a large portion of the lake with an Eagle graph recorder and found virtually no variations, save the normal drop-line that follows the shoreline.

Second, George has a significant salt content. In fact, the saline level is high enough that numerous salt-water fish and plant species thrive in its waters. There is a large blue crab fishery that forms a significant part of the local economy. The St. Johns River waters, entering the lake at the South end, contain a good amount of salt from the run-off waters and springs, which enter between Lake Harney and George. In addition, three feeder creeks (Juniper, Silver Glen Spring Run, and Salt Springs) on the West side of George add a salty water influx. Salt Springs Creek, as the name would imply, is particularly salty. The waters gradually dilute as the river flows to the North, particularly when the clean, fresh waters of the Oklawaha River enter.

The sources of the salt are the massive, underground marine deposits left from eons ago when the St. Johns basin, and the lands to the East, were still a part of the Atlantic Ocean floor. The third trait of Lake George is the lack of vegetation, except along the shallow shorelines. Within the areas of open water, there is virtually no natural cover or growth. And, finally, the fourth item is the active Armed Forces bombing range, which lies along the East-central portion of the lake. This is an approximate nine-mile by two mile rectangle used for the training and certification of pilots and bombardiers. There are some features of the range area, which are of fishing and boating significance, and we will cover these in our usual tour of the lake.

For our tour, let's start mid-way along the eastern shore, at Pine Island camp grounds and fish camp. John and Mary Solmonson, who manage the facility, gave us a general orientation and 'map-talk', plus some pointers on seasonally fishing the lake.

Exiting from the small, short canal that leads from the ramp to the lake, we turn North, up along the eastern shoreline. As we start this turn, we note the large, wooden pilings far out into the foggy mist that shrouds the main lake. These we file away for later reference.

The area in near the shoreline is very shallow and generally bordered by reeds and some standing grasses. To the outside of the reeds, we find significant amounts of eelgrass, mixed with some peppergrass. The eelgrass usually thins out and disappears when the depth gets to 4-5 feet. From that point, out to the gentle, rolling main drop-off, there appears to be no vegetation to speak of. It is generally 100-400 yards from the natural shoreline, out across this flat, to the main drop-off into the main lake. Once past the drop (into 10-12 feet) and in the deep water, we found no vegetation, either. This shoreline and vegetation pattern seems to hold constant all around the main lake body.

You will note old pilings scattered along the shoreline flats, with some extending out to the edge of the deep water. Those, which reach close to the deeper area, have potential for bass. We found a plastic worm to work well. Obviously, a Springtime lure would also be a spinner bait. These pilings also indicate that for each one we can see, there are possibly 10 underwater hidden from view. A 'word to the wise' says to confine your high-speed motoring to the deep-water areas and only idle in the flats.

At the North end of Lake George, we find Drayton Island. The main river channel and lake exit passes to the East of the island, with numerous marinas and camp areas along the East shoreline. To the West of the island, another passage exists. This one is not a main passage, but most boaters can navigate it easily if they follow the deeper water. The area around Drayton Island is Coquina stone, a form of compressed small stones, sand and shells. This provides some very hard and clean bottom structure and has some nice drop-offs and deep bank areas.

The West side of Drayton Island, in-between Kinsley and Rocky Points, was found to have a very sharp drop from 6 into approximately 12 feet of water. A medium-depth crank plug (we used a Bagley DB II and a Rebel Deep Wee-R, as examples) produced good, chunky largemouths all along the West drop-line. The drop on the East side was not as steep and a plastic worm seemed to work better there. As a suggestion, this area would appear to be best on windy days, when strong southerly or northerly winds would push induced water currents through the channel. We suspect that the bass gather to feed on this artificial current flow.

As we start down the West shore, we first come to Salt Cove. This is fed by the influx of the already-mentioned Salt Springs Creek. This section of Lake George is usually the first to experience a spawn of both bass and speckled perch (crappie). This is primarily because the entering spring waters run a constant 72 degrees (F) year-round. Also, the northern portion of a lake always gets more of the warming late-Winter/early-Spring sun and the northerly winds of Spring have less effect in this area. At the lower corner of Salt Cove is a small feature known as Lisk Point. There is a good amount of eelgrass in this area and it produces some fine bass angling.

Just below Lisk Point, there is a shallow flat that extends far out into the main body of the lake. There are some pilings out on the edge of the deep water, which nearly always seem to hold bass. If the bass are not in against the pilings, move out on the drop and try a very deep crank plug (such as a DB III or Magnum Hellbender) and a plastic worm. There are some remains of an old pier or some structure that collapsed and slid off into the deep water, right at the base of the drop-off. These remains have rotted away significantly, but can still hang up a lure. Hunt for them and you should also find a bass or two. In the Summer, crappie will also hang out on this deep cover.

Approximately two-thirds of the way down the West shoreline, we come to Silver Glen Spring Run. About two miles further South, we find Juniper Point, just above the entrance of Juniper Creek. From Silver Glen Spring Run to Juniper Point is another of those FG&FWFC off-limits areas to fishing during the bass spawning season. Again, it will be well marked and easily detectable.

All three creeks on this side of the lake are very good bass fishing, especially when heavy rains have made the creeks run strongly. Try the areas around the mouth first and then move into the creeks for a distance. Since all three run at the constant 72 degrees (F), the cover and flats near their mouths are good for spawning bass. Striped bass also make good spawning runs into the creeks (although they do not actually reproduce in these waters), particularly the more-saline Salt Creek. We were told that this Striper migration usually occurs in the Spring.

From the mouth area of Juniper Creek to Volusia Bar, there is a line of submerged pilings. Some are visible, especially when the water levels are low. Bass and crappie are regular inhabitants. We suggest you motor carefully in this area and place a few marker buoys to reference the piling line.

Juniper Cove is rated as very good for drift fishing for crappie. A the extreme South end of Lake George is the entrance of the St. Johns River. Through years of river flow, a very large and shallow slit area, called Volusia Bar, built up across this entrance. In order to retain navigational freedom, a channel is maintained. A portion of this man-made entrance point is lined with rock and some timbers and is locally referred to as the 'Cow Pen'. Many different species of fish gather at this moving-water location to feed. Largemouth and striped bass are the two most commonly found. Watch for surface feeding action in and around the Cow Pen and use spoons, top-water lures and Shad-A-Lac (vibrating, free-running crank plug) style lures. Also, be sure to toss crank plugs and plastic worms near the obstructions present.

In the Southeast corner of the lake is Jones Cove. Surface schooling bass use this location well during the May/June and September/October periods. Some of the lake's larger crappie are taken drifting live minnows and small jigs a few hundred yards out from the shoreline.

Nine-mile Point is the next feature and lies just up the lower East shoreline. On the bank, you will note a bombing range control tower and a microwave communications tower. Directly in front of this complex, a line of old pilings runs from the shore out to the drop into deep water. At the end of these pilings, some 250 yards into the lake, there are the remains of a deteriorated dock. While the squared-off set of dock pilings are mostly still visible, the platform materials have long since rotted and sunk. Some of the old boards and timbers are in amongst the remaining pilings, while other slid off into the deeper zones. On our visit to George, we took a good string of 2-3 pond bass off the dock remains and the outer 100 yards of pilings. A Texas-rig plastic worm was used in the more snag-prone dock area, while a Carolina-rig worked extremely well around the individual pilings.

Nine-mile Point is bordered by an outer growth ring of eelgrass and an inner ring of reeds and small pads. Some peppergrass is mixed in. This entire point is rated excellent bass fishing by all the local anglers we talked to. We were told to work the eel grass using spinner baits (in the Spring and Fall) and plastic worms (year-round.) A slowly fished, weedless Johnson Spoon, with a plastic trailer, was recommended for hot weather. Willow Cove was indicated as a good spawning location for bass and crappie. Willow Point has a large stand of isolated reeds out in the open water. This was the only place in Lake George that we noted this condition, although there may be others. The water in the reeds is 4-6 feet deep and there is no grass or other hindering growth. A spinner bait or worm can be cast far into the reeds and retrieved back with no far of hanging up. My partner and I found a huge school of small bass (1-2 pounds) dispersed throughout this reed stand.

John Solmonson, at the Pine Island Marina indicated that the East shoreline was his overall choice for the better fishing and that it helped the angler avoid the common easterly winds from the coast. For certain, he indicated, this shore was the best for shellcrackers and big, bull bluegills in the June-August timeframe. The West shore, particularly near the creek entrances seem best during the late-Winter/early-Spring.

When we started the tour of Lake George, we noted a cluster of pilings out in the lake. There are actually three of them and they are laid out in a circular pattern and serve as 'targets' for the bombing range. The center cluster is the largest and is significant because it has a ship sunk in the middle of the piling circle. Local anglers, who know the ship is there, find it a fine place to take crappie year-round.

In the months of May through July, the lake's striped bass population often provided great surface action in the bombing range area, particularly near the pilings. Watch for them and you can get the kinks out of your line in a hurry.

There are numerous fish camps and facilities around Lake George, particularly along the upper, Northeast section. Another is located at the South end, at Volusia Bar, and, of course, the Pine Island facility is on the East side. Additionally, the town of Crescent City is only 15 minutes East of Lake George and has ample facilities for overnight stays.


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