The Peach State's Best Autumn Angling

The Peach State's Best Autumn Angling

As the weather turns cooler, the fishing in Georgia again comes alive. These destinations can get you into the middle of the action this year! (October 2007)

Though the fall weather on the Georgia coast can be blustery, Golden Isle redfish will still be hungry, and ready to fight.
Photo by Polly Dean.

Spring is a season of rebirth: The trees are budding, the birds are singing, and love is everywhere, even in the watery world. After months of long, cold winter nights, spring just feels like the best time for fishing. The angling may be a little haphazard as fish react to weekly cold fronts, the distractions of the spawn, and the heavy fishing pressure -- but it's still great to be on the water.

The problem is that after a few glorious weeks, spring turns into summer. Sizzling temperatures make life uncomfortable for both man and beast, and lakes are overrun with pleasure boaters. Many anglers succumb to the dog-day doldrums, stow their tackle for the year, and sit in the air-conditioning reading hunting magazines in preparation for deer season.

What these anglers don't know is that they're missing the second season of rebirth in the fishing world. In fact, this time of year -- not spring -- is the one you absolutely don't want to miss.

Once the mornings turn crisp and water temperatures start to drop, instinct tells fish that lean pickings are just around the corner and, if they want to survive another year, it's time to stock up to carry them through the lean times to come.

Autumn weather patterns are usually stable, the distraction of the spawn is long gone, pleasure boats are stored away, and many anglers who crowded the lake on those April days are spending their mornings perched in a tree stand far from the water's edge.

For all of these reasons, autumn can be the best time to be on the water. Only one thing occupies a fish's mind now: eating as much as possible while the getting's still good. The fall bite is on, so let's take a look at some of the best places for partaking of Peach State fall fishing.

BLUE RIDGE LAKE

Picturesque Blue Ridge Lake is near the Georgia-Tennessee line just outside of the town of the same name. This venerable mountain lake is the best destination in Georgia for catching lake-dwelling smallmouth bass.

The Tennessee Valley Authority dammed the Toccoa River in 1930 to create a reservoir for flood control and hydropower. Blue Ridge, a small reservoir with just 3,290 acres at full pool and a maximum depth of more than 120 feet, has very little in the way of woody cover; its bottom is composed of rock, shale and sand. For the newcomer, Blue Ridge can be a difficult lake to fish.

This reservoir also undergoes a significant annual drawdown to provide flood-control storage. Beginning as early as August, the lake level starts to drop, and then returns to full pool the following spring. The lake may get as low as 70 feet below normal pool. Low water limits your options as to which boat ramp to use, but access is always available.

The fish seem to take the falling water in stride and simply move with the lake's changing shoreline. Blue Ridge is known for smallmouth bass fishing. The Peach State has only a handful of places at which to catch smallmouths, and this reservoir is at the top of a short list. Blue Ridge is also a lake for cashing in on a black-bass trifecta. Largemouth and smallmouth bass are both native to the lake, and spotted bass, which over the last decade have made their way into the lake by unknown means, have seen their numbers on the increase.

So the fishery is changing; along with spotted bass, blueback herring are also now found in the lake. The jury's still out as to whether the smallmouths will be able to hold on in the face of the spotted bass invasion or, as happened at lakes Nottely and Chatuge, just disappear. But for now, the fish are there -- and they're stout.

Georgia professional tournament angler Heath Pack grew up fishing Blue Ridge, and still counts it as one of his favorite lakes. "A tube is my No. 1 smallmouth bait," he said, "and a jerkbait isn't far behind. There are two approaches to fishing a tube. Use a shad-colored tube and try to keep it kind of floating above the fish, 4 or 5 feet off bottom. If the fish are feeding on crayfish, then use a green pumpkin tube and keep it just above the bottom.

"For jerkbaits, just experiment a little until you find one the fish like that day; a shad pattern is a good place to start. And sometimes one that dives a little deeper or suspends is what it takes to trigger the bites."

To catch smallmouths on Blue Ridge you have to fish structure. On this old mountain lake, that means bottom contours like flats and points. Not just any structure will do, though. "The best flats have ditches that drain the flat to the main river channel and a chunk rock bottom," Pack noted. "There are a lot of deep flats on this lake, but many of them are dead flats -- just a smooth bottom that gradually leads out into deep water. Those don't hold many fish."

The absolutely key factor for catching Blue Ridge bass is the wind. "The wind has to be blowing for the fishing to be good," Pack noted. "Not only does the wind concentrate the bait and predators, but the wave action cuts down the light penetration, which is important on a clear lake like Blue Ridge."

Success at Blue Ridge requires paying attention to the details; know which way the wind has been blowing the last several days so you know which points and flats should be holding the fish. Also, look for white rock patches. Just what, exactly, the attraction of dirty white rock (as opposed to the usual sandy-brown rock) might be for the fish is anybody's guess, but Blue Ridge regulars know to exploit it. Many of the best honeyholes have white rock.

Pack suggested that anglers in a hurry to catch some fish might want to look at the fish attractors that the Wildlife Resources Division has been constructing and placing in the lake. "The smallmouth tend to kind of loosely associate to the attractors, so you want to fish up high and around the attractor," the angler said. "Largemouths bury down in them, so for them you have to drop a worm or something right into the middle of the attractor."

Biologists from the WRD are concerned about the impact of spotted bass on the lake's smallmouth population, and encourage anglers to do their part by harvesting their limit of spotted bass whenever possible. More information on the lake's fish attractor program, including maps and underwater video is available at www. gofishgeorgia.com.

Blue Ridge Lake is just a few miles east of

the town of Blue Ridge in Fannin County. To get an update on what the fish are doing or to pick up some last-minute supplies, visit Tri-State Bait and Tackle on Lakewood Highway in nearby Mineral Bluff, or give them a call at (706) 374-2030.

THE GOLDEN ISLES

The Georgia coast is a neglected saltwater fishery, and there's no better time than autumn for going after redfish in the Golden Isles. How you go about doing it is up to what you think your tackle boat and shoulders can stand.

For bull redfish topping out well over 30 pounds, fishing cut bait in the breakers on sandy shoals off the barrier islands is the ticket. The fish are recovering from the rigors of the early-fall spawn and feeding heavily. The high-energy environment created by surf meeting sand is a fertile feeding ground: Mullet and pogies pour out of the estuaries into the confused currents of the surf; bluefish and other toothy critters tear into the bait schools, while bull reds vacuum the bottom for leftovers from the feeding frenzy above.

The surf line is no place to be if your vessel, seamanship and tackle aren't up to the challenge. A V-hull of at least 17 feet and a healthy respect for the ocean's power to show you how insignificant you really are in the natural world should be considered prerequisites for this fishing. However, the reward is huge fish in so wild and untamed an environment.

The basic idea is to drop anchor, positioning the boat just outside of the breakers. A piece of mullet or other cut bait is then rigged on heavy tackle with 3 to 5 ounces of lead to keep it pegged to the bottom. You cast the rig right in the confused currents of the rip and hold on tight. If the fish are there, it won't take long for a biceps-bulging, shoulder-aching brawl to get started. Redfish are incredibly powerful fish, and when they have a strong current to help them out, the odds are even more in their favor.

All of Georgia's barrier islands have potential redfish hotspots. Perusing a good chart should reveal numerous potential areas. Even better, talking to tackle shops and local anglers can tremendously speed up the process of finding a good bar. The best ones have shallow water with a deeper trough running through the bar. Throw in some diving birds to show you the way, and you can pinpoint a good place to try out.

If the rough-and-tumble world of the surf is a little more than you care to tackle, head into the shallow estuary bays and creeks for fast action with smaller redfish -- "smaller" being a relative term. While you aren't likely to find huge schools of 40-pound bulls prowling the extreme shallows, 5- to 10-pound fish are a dime a dozen here. When afternoon sun warms the shallow mudflats on a crisp fall day, the redfish prowl these areas soaking up the warmth and looking for small crabs and baitfish.

A craft with a shallow draft is perfect for prowling the skinny water, but make sure you can get back across the big water when the afternoon breezes kick up.

Cast artificial lures like spinnerbaits, gold Johnson spoons and soft-plastic jerkbaits to fish that are stirring up mud. These fish are feeding hard, but aren't totally stupid -- too much commotion sends the whole school scurrying out of the tidal pond or creek in a mad dash for the safety of deeper water.

Beach access by vehicles isn't possible on Georgia barrier islands, but numerous launches and marinas serve boating anglers, leaving a usually short run to the surf zone. Too, all of Georgia' sounds and estuaries have boat ramps in protected water that are great jumping-off points for exploring the marsh in search of shallow redfish.

ALLATOONA LAKE

Striped bass are a coolwater fish, so it stands to reason that autumn's a great time to catch these hard-pulling saltwater transplants. Peach State anglers are fortunate to have some of the best striped bass fishing in the Southeast right at their back door. Although the linesides are stocked in many Georgia reservoirs, Allatoona Lake north of Atlanta is one of the Peach State's best striped bass fisheries.

At Allatoona, a 12,010-acre U.S. Army Corps of Engineers impoundment on the Etowah River completed in 1950, striped bass are highly mobile, being a pelagic species that stays on the move to follow the bait. A lake like Allatoona is large enough to give them plenty of places to go, but anglers have discovered a few favorites.

Local anglers Ellis and Danny Leigh, who fish the lake regularly, have developed some techniques for catching Allatoona stripers even without a boat. Both of these fishermen have caught Allatoona stripers weighing more than 20 pounds, with Ellis having landed a fish hitting the 35-pound mark -- a big lineside no matter where you go.

When asked what it takes for a newcomer to catch Allatoona stripers, Danny's reply was surprising. "Sometimes the hardest thing is catching the bait. We can usually catch shad up near Little River, or at the Highway 92 spillway."

"Getting good bait is half the battle," Ellis added.

"You don't have to have a boat to catch stripers on Allatoona," Danny continued, "The 35-pound fish I caught came off the bank. What we do is fish cut bait on bottom around points near the dam. The area between Bethany Bridge and the dam is really good.

"A heavy-duty rod, a large reel with a bait clicker, some shad for cut bait, and patience is all you need. Since you are talking big fish here, you want to go with at least 20-pound-test line, a heavy hook, and a 1-ounce sinker to hold the bait where you want it.

"The key is to pick a good point," Ellis added. "You want your bait in 15 to 20 feet of water. Once you have your spot, set out several rods in holders scattered around the end of the point; then just wait for the bait-clickers to signal when a striper has picked up the bait and is running with it. On a striper bite, there will be no mistaking it: The bait clicker will just scream out a song. A bite from a catfish, hybrid or spotted bass is not nearly as fast."

If you've never caught a striped bass, you're missing some of the best the fishing world has to offer. If any fish species found in fresh water can rival a striper for pure fighting spirit, it has yet to be discovered. Stripers have it all: strength, speed, stamina.

The great thing about soaking bait for Allatoona stripers is that you never know what you're going to catch. The lake has some monster catfish, and they find shad just as tasty as stripers do. Hybrids and spotted bass also will fall prey to a piece of bait fished on bottom.

Allatoona Lake is an easy drive from Atlanta up Interstate 75. The lake has numerous public access areas. Consult a lake map for an access area on the main body of the lake with a good point leading out into deep water. Collect some bait, set up shop and wait for the action to start.

Stripers are in their element when it's cold and nasty -- doesn't bother them a bit. In fact, it seems makes them mean and hungry. That quality makes striped bass a great choice for fishing l

ate in the season, when the first days of winter have arrived.

This fall, don't let the best fishing of the year pass by unheralded. Autumn's a great time to be on the water all across the state. Smallmouths in mountains, striped bass in the Piedmont, bull redfish on the Georgia coast: Whatever the fish, the coming of fall signals to them that the seasons are changing and it's time to be reborn again -- to rouse themselves from sulking through the summer doldrums and to resume their roles as insatiable predators constantly on the hunt for prey.

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