When the temperature's scalding, it's always pleasant to head for the hills. The variety of bassin' options in North Georgia's lakes just adds to the appeal of those uplands in July. (July 2008)
Photo by Kevin Dallmier.
In much of the Peach State, enduring the summer can feel like slaving over a hot stove from dawn until dark for endless days. Sometimes, though, it's best to just get out of the kitchen when it gets too hot. Fortunately, Georgia bass anglers do have an escape: the mountain lakes of North Georgia, perfect places to go for summer bassin' when the mercury's rising. Higher elevation helps moderate the temperature, and since cool streams feed many of these lakes, conditions remain more conducive to fish feeding.
Let's take a look at some of the best places for escaping the heat this summer.
When the gates at Chatuge Dam closed in 1942, this 7,050-acre Tennessee Valley Authority reservoir impounded the Hiwassee River near the similarly named town of Hiawassee. The lake has always been popular for summer recreation. Cabins line much of the shoreline, and boat traffic is heavy.
Lake Chatuge is a relatively infertile reservoir, and its waters are usually clear. As one might expect from the mountainous surroundings, the lake is deep; fishing depths of 25 feet or more is no big deal.
Chatuge has over time seen some dramatic changes in character -- for instance, it once was the best place in Georgia for catching smallmouth bass; the longstanding state record for smallmouths is held by a 7-pound, 2-ounce fish from Chatuge. But in the mid-1980s, spotted bass were illegally introduced, and the bronzebacks' decline began. To add insult to injury, blueback herring were put into the lake in 1990s, also illegally.
Spotted bass now dominate Lake Chatuge's fishery, such that anglers can expect more than 90 percent of their catch to be spots. The average fish -- a lot of which swim the lake -- weighs from 1 to 2 pounds. Jumbo specimens exceeding 3 pounds are rare, but are definitely out there.
To catch Chatuge's spots, target main channel shorelines and points in 15 to 25 feet of water. A rocky bank is good; if stumps or brush are present, it's even better. The stretch 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 worthwhile area. Fish these areas with small topwater plugs or shallow-diving crankbaits early in the day; switch over to a deeper presentation once the sun's on the water. Effective deep-water lures include small jigs or soft plastics; green color schemes are local favorites.
Really getting on a concentration of fish involves the use of a good lake map to find the offshore structure that attracts forage fish, primarily blueback herring. Spots are never far away from baitfish, and if you're lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, the action on schoolie spots can be fast and furious.
Chatuge is a border lake, stretching into North Carolina. Georgia-licensed anglers may fish from boats in all portions of the lake as long as the boats aren't tied to the shore or a dock. Bank-fishermen must be licensed by the state in which they are fishing. Keep in mind that creel regulations of the appropriate state apply to whatever jurisdiction you're in.
Lake managers have implemented a fish attractor program. Information concerning the locations of these fish habitat sites, camping facilities, and boat accesses can be obtained from the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division's Gainesville office, (770) 535-5498, or the U.S. Forest Service's Blairsville office, (706) 745-6928.
West of Ellijay on the Coosawattee River, Carters is a 3,220-acre U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reservoir. With depths exceeding 400 feet at the dam, Carters is one of the deepest lakes in the eastern United States, with steep bluff banks and rocky points surrounding the impoundment. As shoreline development is prohibited, Carters is one of the most scenic lakes in Georgia.
Like all the mountain lakes, Carters can be tough to fish on an initial visit. For those used to shallow bassin', floating on top of 100 feet of water while casting to a clean, rocky bottom in 25 feet of water can feel very strange, and doesn't do much for your confidence. But that style of angling is a way of life in North Georgia -- and it produces fish.
Spotted bass make up roughly 90 percent of Carters' black bass, numbers of which are at an all-time high. Although the average fish weighs only about a pound, plenty of the magnum spots that Carters is famous for are present. Year after year, this spotted bass factory gives up plenty of 5-pound fish, and 7-pounders are out there, too.
The lake basin was mostly cleared down to a depth of more than 30 feet during construction, and deep water with little cover along the shores makes the angler's job more difficult. Finding the most-subtle honeyholes takes a lot of time on the water. Luckily, shortcuts that can speed up the process do exist -- like this one: Simply target the shoal markers scattered around the lake.
These navigational aids not only mark shallow points and bars for boaters but also point out sharp drops from shallow water into deep -- just the kind of structure that spotted bass like, especially if some cover is present. Also: Over the years, anglers have planted brushpiles on probably every good hump and point in Carters Lake, and lake managers also maintain nearly 30 fish attractor sites on the lake.
Lake Chatuge has over time seen some dramatic changes in character -- for instance, it was once the best place in Georgia for catching smallmouth bass. But in the mid-1980s, spotted bass were illegally introduced, and the bronzebacks' decline began.
To succeed at Carters, you need finesse. Light tackle and small baits that allow you to maintain contact with your lure while fishing deep water are the best choices. Favorite lures are small soft plastics or jig-and-pigs. Deep-diving crankbaits can be good, too. Use these lures in the areas mentioned above to pick off deepwater spotted bass.
Carters Lake does harbor some big largemouths, but catching one is a rare event. Largemouths are found in shallower water, and debris piles trapped in the backs of shallow coves or pockets are good places to fish for these trophies. Pitching a jig and pig to the heavy cover is a good technique.
Fish attractor maps can be obtained online at www.gofishgeorgia.com, the COE Resource Manager's offic
e, (706) 334-2248, or the WRD Calhoun Fisheries office, (706) 624-1161.
BLUE RIDGE LAKE
Close to the point at which the borders of Georgia, Tennessee, and North Carolina meet, Blue Ridge Lake is the preeminent destination in Georgia for catching lake-dwelling smallmouth bass, along with largemouth bass and spots.
Impounded by the damming the Toccoa River in 1930, the reservoir is operated by the TVA for flood control and hydropower. Blue Ridge is small -- just 3,290 acres -- and has very little in the way of woody cover. That lack of cover can make Blue Ridge a difficult lake to fish.
The key to success at Blue Ridge is to stay constantly on the move, searching for high-percentage areas that should hold aggressive fish -- chiefly, windblown points and flats on which baitfish may be concentrated. If the bass aren't on the flats, they probably aren't actively feeding.
When bass are on Blue Ridge's flats, jerkbaits and tube lures are solid producers. Two productive ways of fishing a tube here are either to go with a shad pattern with a very light jighead, trying to keep the bait floating 4 or 5 feet off the bottom and above the fish, or -- if you suspect the bass are feeding on crayfish on the bottom -- to use a green pumpkin tube, hopping it along the lake floor.
The best flats are distinguished by a sharp break into deeper water; if that deep water is the main river channel, so much the better. At Blue Ridge, "deep" isn't a relative term: A good flat drops from 20 feet to 100 feet in just a few boat lengths. Although Blue Ridge is small in size, it features plenty of good rocky points and flats.
Since Blue Ridge is usually very clear, wind is important -- not only for concentrating the fish, but also for putting a ripple on the water to cut down on light penetration. Overcast conditions with some wind are ideal for a good bite.
The best fishing for smallmouths and spots is in the main lake. Blue Ridge does have largemouths, too; they're usually found upriver. Look for them where debris has collected in small pockets, providing the sort of shallow, woody cover preferred by largemouths. Early and late in the day, try a floating worm or buzzbait around that shallow cover for bucketmouths.
Anglers in a hurry to catch some fish may find the WRD fish attractors to be worthwhile choices. Largemouths and spots usually hold right in the deep cover, while smallmouths associate more loosely with the attractors.
Like Lake Chatuge, Blue Ridge has been slammed by the double whammy of illegally-introduced spotted bass and blueback herring. Whether Georgia's last good smallmouth bass fishery will disappear like those at other lakes subjected to the same one-two punch is still unknown. One way of limiting or forestalling the damage already done: Harvest a limit of spotted bass on Blue Ridge whenever possible.
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.
For a map of the WRD fish attractors, visit www.gofishgeorgia.com. Follow the links through Fishing, Reservoir Items and Sources For Maps.
Lake Burton is a deep, infertile impoundment on the Tallulah River. Created in 1919 to help meet Georgia's growing demand for electricity, the 2,775-acre lake boasts 62 miles of shoreline covered with lake homes and summer cabins. The beauty of the lake and its deep, clear water make it a favorite with pleasure boaters.
Both spotted and largemouth bass are present, but spots dominate the catch. Spotted bass are at record high levels, but most fish run a pound or less. Anglers can expect to catch a fair number of spots greater than 2 pounds in a day's fishing, and, of course, bigger fish are possible. The current state-record spotted bass was caught from Lake Burton in 2005; it weighed 8 pounds, 2 ounces.
For those used to shallow bassin', floating on top of 100 feet of water while casting to a clean, rocky bottom in 25 feet of water can feel very strange, and doesn't do much for your confidence.
During summer, spotted bass fishing is primarily an offshore game. The fish hold on offshore structure 20 to 30 feet down and intercept passing schools of bait.
During low-light conditions, anglers can enjoy fast action on topwater plugs, jerkbaits, and flukes. When the sun's bearing down, the fish hold deeper, and crankbaits or soft-plastic baits fished on bottom are better choices. Since Lake Burton has an abundance of small fish, anglers may want to consider upsizing lures, trading more bites for trophy-grade bites.
Anglers who prefer casting to something that they can see might consider fishing around docks that are in deeper water. Most docks always hold a few fish, and such a structure jutting out over deep water may hold some nice-sized spots.