October 04, 2010
Think spotted bass in the Peach State, and Lake Lanier immediately comes to mind. But if you ponder a bit longer, you should also think of fishing these four reservoirs.
Photo by Ron Sinfelt
George Perry's world-record largemouth turned Georgia and the rest of the angling world on its ear way back in 1932. The record still stands today, but when it comes to opportunities to enjoy exceptional fishing for black bass species in the Peach State, anglers have more than largemouths to choose from. In fact, there may be a fish swimming in Georgia waters right now that could best an existing world record. Another monster bucketmouth from a South Georgia oxbow? No, it is more along the lines of a magnum spotted bass from the cool depths of a North Georgia mountain reservoir.
The spotted bass is one of six black bass species found in Georgia. Spotted bass, commonly called "spots," are second only to largemouth bass in their importance to Georgia bass fishing.
At first glance, spotted bass are almost indistinguishable from largemouths. A second look at a few telltale characteristics makes identification easy, though. Spotted bass usually have a sandpaper-like tooth patch on the tongue, which largemouths lack. Also, the rear of the jaw does not extend behind the eye as it does in largemouths, and finally, the spiny and soft dorsal fins are connected with a shallow notch not reaching all the way to the body.
The average Georgia spotted bass weighs about a pound, and anything more than 4 pounds is considered a trophy, although spots of this size are not all that unusual.
Reservoirs that are favored by spotted bass can be generally characterized as deep and clear. Spots are more open-water fish than largemouths are, and they will commonly be found on deeper offshore structure instead of shallow shoreline cover.
Spotted bass are strong fighters, and many anglers feel that spots are the most spirited black bass species. Although spotted bass do not grow as big as largemouths and are not as acrobatic as smallmouths, a good spotted bass on the end of the line gives you a fight to remember.
Spotted bass are common in central and North Georgia in areas drained by the Coosa, Chattahoochee and Savannah river systems. But there are some notable exceptions.
Think of Georgia spotted bass and the first two words that probably come to mind are "Lake Lanier." Lanier has a dedicated cadre of spotted bass anglers, and the state-record spot, weighing 8 pounds, 1/2 ounce, came from Lake Lanier in 1985.
Although that state record has been challenged, the reservoir still sits atop the heap. Lanier may be king, but there are some serious contenders for the title. Let's take a look at some of these other spotted bass waters and what they have to offer.
Lake Chatuge is a 7,050-acre Tennessee Valley Authority reservoir constructed on the Hiwassee River for hydropower and flood control. Impounded in 1942, Chatuge has always been a popular destination, and its shores are lined with cabins and houses. Georgia and North Carolina share the lake, with both states having an almost equal-sized portion.
Since Chatuge is a relatively infertile lake, its waters are usually clear. Although not loaded with cover, the impoundment does have a fair amount of stumps and brush, especially considering the age of the lake. Chatuge is a typical highland lake, and fishing in depths of 25 feet or more is not uncommon here.
Lake Chatuge has undergone some dramatic changes in its history. For many years, this reservoir was the best place in Georgia for catching smallmouth bass, and big ones at that. The state-record smallmouth bass -- a fish weighing 7 pounds, 2 ounces -- came from Chatuge, and these bronzebacks were common catches back in the early days. Things began to change in the mid-1980s with the illegal introduction of spotted bass, followed by the appearance of blueback herring in 1996. By 2005, for better or for worse, spotted bass became the dominant species.
Lake Chatuge supports a thriving spotted bass population grown fat on an ample supply of blueback herring and shad. The average fish caught weighs from 1 to 2 pounds, but there are plenty of fish in the 3- to 4-pound range.
Fishing on Chatuge is no different from fishing any other highland lake. Just think deep and light. The clear waters of this reservoir are no place for pool-cue-stiff rods, well-rope monofilament, and drags snugged down with pliers. Light tackle and finesse-type lures put the most fish in the boat.
To catch Chatuge spotted bass, target main-river shorelines and points in 10 to 25 feet of water. A rocky bank is best, and if stumps or brush are present, that's all the better. From the U.S. Highway 76 bridge north to the dam is the best part of the lake in which to find this type of habitat. The Bell Creek arm, midway up on the east side of the lake, is also a good place in which to find spotted bass. Other top picks include Long Bullet and Shooting creeks. Also, don't pass up the deep ends of any of the trees downed by the hurricanes of 2004, wherever you may find them.
Fish these areas with small topwater plugs or crankbaits early in the day and then switch over to a deeper presentation once the sun is on the water. Good lures for fishing the depths are light rubber-skirted or hair jigs and 4- to 6-inch plastic worms or small grubs. Any color soft plastic is good if it includes plenty of green. For jigs, pick colors that imitate a crayfish. A brown/yellow/chartreuse pattern is a good choice.
Georgia and North Carolina have a reciprocal agreement allowing license holders from either state to fish by boat on the entire lake and all its tributaries reachable by boat. However, if you are on the shore or your boat is tied to the shore or a pier or a dock connected to the shore, you must have a license for whatever state you are in.
Be aware that North Carolina creel and length limits differ from Georgia's, and anglers must follow the regulations of the state they are in, no matter where the fish were caught. The Georgia portion of Lake Chatuge is easily reached from U.S. Highway 76.
Lake Nottely is a 4,180-acre TVA reservoir near Blairsville. Following along the history of Chatuge, spotted bass and blueback herring are introduced species in this reservoir. When the spots came, the smallmouths went. Things have progressed to a point where spotted bass make up about 75 percent of the catch, with largemouths coming in second, and the native smallmouths an almost nonexistent third place.
Like most mountain lakes, N
ottely has a distinct lack of offshore cover. Wherever you can find any, you need to fish it thoroughly. In an attempt to address the barren bottom of Nottely, the TVA, the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division, the U.S. Forest Service, and local anglers have worked at placing and maintaining fish attractors in coves around the lake. Maps showing the locations of the attractors are available from the WRD's Gainesville Fisheries Office, which can be reached at (770)-535-5498.
To find the steep, rocky shorelines that spotted bass prefer, begin searching in the lower half of the reservoir. This area of the lake has the best spotted bass habitat. Marked points No. 2 and No. 3 are traditional Nottely favorites.
The items that make up the standard spotted bass arsenal -- small jigs, finesse worms and crankbaits -- are just as effective on Nottely as everywhere else. For crankbaits, if the water is tinged, go with something with a lot of brown, chartreuse and orange. In clear water, shad and herring patterns work well.
Lake Nottely can be reached from U.S. Highway 76 near Blairsville.
Lake Allatoona, formerly and unfairly known as "The Dead Sea," may be the easiest place in which to catch spotted bass in Georgia. The lake is slam full of them.
Allatoona Dam was completed in 1950 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the lake's 12,010 acres lie just 30 miles northwest of Atlanta. Allatoona's depths reach to 145 feet. The lake's bottom is about as featureless as the surface of the moon.
Although Allatoona regularly gives up both spotted and largemouth bass, the spots are by far the most abundant species.
"Spotted bass numbers have been on the upswing the past three years," said Jim Hakala, the WRD fisheries biologist responsible for managing the lake. "Our 2004 spotted bass electrofishing catch rate of 62.2 fish per hour was the highest ever recorded. Anglers are still benefiting from a strong 2002 year-class, with fish from that group nearing 14 inches this year. Based on our sampling, the average spotted bass will measure a little shy of 12 inches and weigh around half a pound. Trophy fish up to 5 pounds are possible, though."
One pattern is consistently good for Allatoona spots: targeting points. And Allatoona has points in abundance. Good areas to consider are Stamp, Kellogg, Boston and Illinois creeks. These certainly aren't the only good places on the lake to fish, but they are starting points.
Points that gradually taper out toward deeper water and the channel are best. Since points often concentrate baitfish, bass can move onto these good feeding stations without having to travel very far. A point with the wind blowing across it is almost sure to hold feeding fish. The bass will usually hold on the "downstream" side, waiting for the wind to blow a ball of shad across the point and right into their laps. Current created by generation at the dam can create the same type of situation.
Since Allatoona's bottom was cleared during construction, cover can be hard to find. To help rectify this problem, the WRD, working with the Corps of Engineers and local angler groups, has placed numerous fish attractors throughout the lake. A map of these sites, including GPS coordinates, is available online at www.gofishgeorgia.com.
There are several methods for fishing points, but the most consistent and successful entail crawling a small plastic worm slowly along the bottom. When you feel the lure hit some cover, pause and gently shake the worm in one place for a few seconds before resuming the retrieve. Try natural shades with just a touch of bright color on the tail.
Another option is to crawl a small crankbait along the bottom. When you feel the plug hit a stump or rock, hesitate just a second. Most hits come when the lure hits an object and abruptly deflects to one side, mimicking a disorientated baitfish.
Very early or late in the day may find schooling bass corralling shad on the surface. On overcast days, though, the bite may last all day. Try a Zara Spook, Sammy, Rebel Pop-R or Super Fluke in white or pearl.
Whatever tactic you choose, be sure to keep tackle as light as practical. Spots can be very line-shy.
The Corps of Engineers and state and local governments operate many fine access points around the lake, so finding a place to launch your boat is no problem. Allatoona Lake is easily reached from interstates 75 and 575 north of Atlanta.
Having escaped private development, the Carters Lake shoreline is one of the most rustic in Georgia. The lake is challenging to fish, but pays dividends in catches of magnum spotted bass amid undisturbed panoramas.
Construction of Carters Lake, a 3,220-acre Corps of Engineers pumped-storage hydropower and flood control reservoir, was completed in 1977. Carters Dam towers to a height of 445 feet above its foundation, making the reservoir the second-deepest lake east of the Mississippi River. Spotted bass like that situation just fine, though, and make up more than 90 percent of the lake's black bass population.
Since Carters Lake has a pumped-storage operation, the lake is in a constant state of flux. Whether the best fishing comes on falling water during generation or rising water during pumpback is a matter of opinion.
Carters Lake has undergone changes over the years. The unauthorized introduction of gizzard and threadfin shad in the 1990s changed the lake's predator-prey relationships and the dynamics of the fishery.
In the first few years after shad were introduced, their numbers spiked and the spotted bass took advantage of the abundant prey. During this time, Carters Lake produced numerous spotted bass that were contenders for the state record, and a world record wasn't thought to be out of the question. After a few years, though, as the fish populations reached equilibrium, catching a truly huge spotted bass returned to being a celebrated event and not a weekly occurrence.
"The outlook for 2005 is good," Jim Hakala noted. "Spotted bass have been increasing in number the last few years. Our 2004 sampling produced a catch rate of 54.4 fish per hour, which was the highest recorded for Carters. Spots average 10 1/2 inches and about 2/3 of a pound on Carters. Just like Allatoona, the 2002 year-class was strong on Carters, and there should be plenty of 12- to 14-inch fish to catch. This being Carters Lake, trophy potential is always there, and I wouldn't be surprised to hear of some in the high 6-pound range caught in 2005."
|About The author|
Ken Dallmier is a fisheries biologist for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Resources Division, who makes his hom
e in Menlo.
He is also author of Fishing Georgia, a Falcon Guide book about fishing in the Peach State. Signed copies can be purchased from the author for $21.00 (postage paid) by mailing a check to 90 Dogwood Hill, Menlo, GA 30731. For more information about the book visit
Patience is the name of the game for Carters Lake spotted bass angling. Finessing small plastic baits through deep-water structure is the norm for catching fish. Since the lake is relatively clear and the favorite baits are small, light tackle is preferred.
Other than a brief period during the spawn, the best places to fish are points or other offshore structure sweetened by the presence of stumps or brushpiles. Angler-placed brushpiles can be sleuthed out with a depth finder. Or you can short-circuit the process and simply call the Summerville WRD Fisheries Section Office at (706) 857-3394 and Jim Hakala will supply you with a map of fish attractors constructed by the WRD working with the Corps of Engineers.
Another way to get your bait in the water in areas of good fish-holding structure is to look for the hazard markers. These shallow points and humps that could be a hazard to navigation are marked on the lake and also mark good fishing holes. Start shallow and then work your way out until you find the magic depth for the day.
A good backup plan may be to target the ends of downed trees on deep banks. Finding these areas shouldn't be hard. The Carters Lake area has suffered extensive pine beetle damage, so forest and fish management have intersected to make the best of the situation. Many of the damaged pines have been dropped into the water to increase fish habitat.
Early in the day, don't overlook fishing a trick worm around and through the trees. This can be one of the most exciting ways to experience Carters Lake's hard-charging spotted bass.
Carters Lake is just east of the intersection of U.S. Highway 411 and State Route 136 south of Chatsworth. There are several well-maintained boat ramps to choose from.