Lake Seminole seems like the place that time forgot.
Spreading through the remote piney woods of southwestern Georgia before spilling into a small portion of northern Florida, the trappings of progress are barely lapping its shoreline.
In recent years, Lake Seminole has survived both man-made and natural assaults on its lush hydrilla beds that once covered nearly 80 percent of its surface acreage.
In fact, the 37,500-acre reservoir has bounced back big-time from several down years.
"Lake Seminole will blow your mind," says Pam Martin-Wells, a longtime lake guide and a competitor on the Mercury Marine Women's Bassmaster Tour presented by Triton Boats. "It is an awesome fishery that has been overlooked for a while.
"The grass is in excellent shape. It's very healthy. We've had some really good spawns the past several years."
"Big Sem is back," adds Jack Wingate, a fishing legend and the man most closely associated with the lake. "I've lost track of all of the big fish that came in over the past year."
Martin-Wells, who averages 150 days a year on the lake, was asked if Seminole had returned to the quality of its glory days, which seemed to peak about 1995. "No doubt," she replies. "It may be better."
That would be a phenomenal turnaround considering that David Fritts won a BASS tour-level event here in 1995 with a then-record 91 pounds, 3 ounces.
To support her claim, Martin-Wells points to local tournaments in the spring of 2006 where five-bass bags weighing 20 pounds often weren't enough to earn a check. And the good fishing wasn't limited to the springtime; she recalls a summertime outing just before sunset when her husband (and guide) Steven Wells nailed a pair of 8-pounders on back-to-back casts.
To a die-hard bass angler, today's Lake Seminole is a thing of beauty.
An impoundment of the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers, it is home to an estimated 10,000 acres of standing timber; scads of lily pads; dozens of natural springs; countless hard-bottom flats perfect for spawning; and two deep river channels. And then there are the thousands of acres of bright green hydrilla that stand out in the fishery's clear waters.
It is a lake where you can still get lost. And be glad that you did.
TRIP CHECK REPORT
Lake Seminole straddles the Georgia-Florida line (mostly in Georgia). It's easily accessible through several ramps, including the city park in Bainbridge, Ga.
Wingate's Lodge on the southern end of the lake (www.wingateslodge.com; 229-246-0658) offers a variety of accommodations, from cottages to campsites. For lodging in the city of Bainbridge, contact the Bainbridge-Decatur County Chamber of Commerce (www.bainbridgegachamber.com; 229-246-4774).
Guide Pam Martin-Wells, 229-254-6863.
For lures to pack, best times to go, and techniques for fishing Lake Seminole, visit www.bassmaster.com/magazine.
37,500 — Surface acreage of Lake Seminole
10,000 — Acres of standing timber
91-3 — Winning weight caught by David Fritts in 1995 BASS event on Seminole
374 — Miles of shoreline
BASSMASTER BONUS CONTENT
On sprawling Lake Seminole, everything revolves around its abundant vegetation, particularly hydrilla.
"We do have a lot of hydrilla, and that intimidates a lot of newcomers," Martin-Wells says. "You look at it and it's just grass, grass everywhere. For the person that comes here the first time it's a little bit intimidating.
"You have to approach grass like you would any other cover. A bass is a bass whether it's in Florida or Maine. They all relate to the cover at hand, whether it's wood or rocks or whatever.
Here, it's vegetation. So you need to look for similar things — points under the grass, pockets in the grass, grass walls."
Although Lake Seminole harbors a fine year-round fishery, Martin-Wells picks spring (usually from the middle of February through March) as the absolute prime time for experiencing what the lake has to offer.
You have prespawn and spawning bass, and it's absolutely awesome," she notes. "You literally get tired of catching fish. And they will be good quality fish.
"Sight fishing is wonderful here. I live to sight fish, and this is one of the best lakes in the world to do it on."
Seminole has never been clearer, a fact that can be attributed to the return of its abundant vegetation. In fact, Martin-Wells' favorite area of the lake is Spring Creek, where gin-clear conditions scare many fishermen off. The number of big bass that inhabit the deep grassbeds in that clear water keeps her coming back time after time.
"Winter — November through January — is a real underrated time," Martin-Wells adds. "I have actually caught my biggest limit on this lake in December on a crankbait. I had five fish that weighed a little over 25 pounds. It was extremely cold; the water temperature was 48 degrees. I was throwing a Shad Rap, reeling it real slow (along) the edge of a creek channel where there was grass."
Most Lake Seminole regulars take full advantage of its hydrilla bounty with weedless topwater lures like buzzbaits and plastic rats, as well as a variety of soft plastics teamed with heavy sinkers and big jigs.
There is nothing quite like the sudden, jarring explosion of a big bass bursting through a surface mat of hydrilla to inhale a surface rat or swimming-type frog. And on Seminole, the bass are so plentiful that you have to concern yourself only with getting the bass out of the cover and into the boat. Getting strikes is usually not a problem.
Day in and day out, Martin-Wells' most consistent lure is a 6-inch Tiki-Shadick. The soft plastic jerkbait has ridges across its body and a tapered design that gives it a lifelike action when pulled through the water.
I throw it a bunch," she says. "It has so much action it will catch fish all year long."
Formerly Jack Wingate's Lunker Lodge, Wingate's Lodge is no longer owned by the local legend. But it remains a local attraction and the man known throughout Georgia as "Mr. Jack" can still be found spinning yarns from his favorite rocking chair. Located 18 miles south of Bainbridge, the lodge's unique restaurant is filled with mounted fish, animals, Indian arrowheads and artifacts, and other local memorabilia. And if your timing is good, Mr. Jack will share his colorful wealth of knowledge of the region's natural history and culture.