A lot is said about North Georgia’s freshwater fishing opportunities, but maybe nothing says more about fishing from the flatlands of the Piedmont to the ridges of the Blue Ridge Mountains as does the variety. Between tackling bruiser striped bass with big baits and heavy tackle on Lake Lanier, and combat-styled fly-fishing for wild trout with wispy rods and fine lines in a remote Rabun County mountain gorge, fishing venues are as varied as are the species chased by Peach State anglers.
Where will you begin your fishing outings this summer? Will you chase spotted bass with topwater plugs at daylight on Lake Chatuge? Perhaps, you want to soak live minnows along a brush line looking for crappie in the backwaters of the lower Etowah River. Maybe your next summer fish fry will feature a heap of dressed-out channel cats from Rocky Mountain Public Fishing Area.
At these sites and many more from the fall line northward, Georgia anglers find plenty of places to catch the fish of their choice. But they also realize that with so many places to fish, they can always branch out and make their next fishing trip an adventure in learning about fishing for trophy catfish, magnum bluegills, heavy striped bass, rainbow and brown trout and much more!
LAKE OCONEE TROPHY CATS
Sprawling north to south across Greene County, near the towns of Madison and Greensboro, Lake Oconee’s long narrow shape carries a noticeable current during times of hydropower generation. Owned and operated by Georgia Power Company, the 19,000-acre reservoir is part of a pump-storage facility that creates power during times of discharge from the dam, but often recovers the water from the downstream pool of Lake Sinclair.
“You need to remember that a 10-pound catfish has a ‘nose’ on it that can track down the smell of a cut bait in that current over an area of about two miles,” said Oconee fishing guide Chad Smith. “A fish that size — and bigger — can easily pick up the blood or the smell of dying bait when the powerhouse is running.”
That’s why Smith sets his bottom baits at the mouths of just about any creek channel entering the main-lake channel, where the current sweeps the smell of the cut bait around the drop-off.
“Much of the time I set up on the edge of the big flats at the creek mouths, right next to the river channel where there is usually some structure that attracts both catfish and baitfish. These are the threadfin shad, gizzard shad and the bluegills — especially the bluegills,” Smith said. “And you can target any of the catfish species — channels, flatheads and blues — from May through the first of July with cut bluegills. The bream are easy to catch, but don’t throw a cast net. You can keep up to 50 per person, so have fun hauling them in with a rod and reel. But because bluegills and all the other bream species are classified as game fish, you have to catch them with hooks.”
Smith’s bottom-fishing rig is set up as a Carolina rig. Using what he describes as a “no-roll” sinker, the teardrop shaped weight of 1 1/2 to 2 ounces won’t move in the current.
Slide it onto a 20- to 25-pound main line of high-visibility monofilament and tie on a heavy-duty swivel. Tie a 1 1/2- to 2-foot length of the same mono onto the other end of the swivel for a leader. Finish it off with a size 5/0 circle hook and prepare your bait.
“I cut bream about 4 to 5 inches long across the back, from just behind the eyes on an angle through the backbone toward the anal fin,” Smith explained. “That exposes the guts where the scent is strongest.”
Those big baits return big cats for Smith. He said “small” channel cats — fish in the 3- to 5-pound range — often outnumber the larger fish, but he’s not surprised any more by channel cats in the 20-pound range, flatheads in the 30-pound range and blue cats that easily tip 30 pounds. In fact, the lake record blue catfish topped out the scales at 47 1/2 pounds!
“Yes sir! A lot of folks are starting to call Oconee the ‘little Santee,’” he said, referencing the Santee-Cooper lakes region of South Carolina, which is arguably the nation’s best trophy catfishing destination.
Seven public boat ramps are situated on Lake Oconee. For more information about fishing for catfish at the reservoir, call Chad Smith Guide Service at (706) 207-2411 or visit his website at www.chadsmithguideservice.com.
For more information about Lake Oconee operations and facilities, call the Oconee/Sinclair Land Management Office in Eatonton at (706) 485-8704, or go to www.georgiapower.com and follow the links for Lakes and Oconee.