October 04, 2010
These two mountain reservoirs in the northern part of the state tend to have one thing in common: In spring and summer they offer some outstanding angling for panfish! (May 2010)
By Bob Borgwat
Located about two hours north of Atlanta, Blue Ridge Lake in Fannin County and Lake Chatuge in Towns County are standouts when it comes to bream fishing in Georgia's mountainous northern tier of counties. Not only are these mountain reservoirs among the most scenic Georgia lakes, these impoundments have provided me with almost 20 years of outstanding fishing for "pounder" bluegills and redbreast sunfish. Both lakes' bream-fishing reputations stand on these species, but each impoundment holds unique personalities in how and where their biggest bream are found.
Without doubt, the best bream fishing on these lakes takes place during the spawning season on and between the full moons of May and June. Lesser periods of spawning continues through August.
The beds with the biggest bream are located in deep water, 6 to 15 feet deep. Hence, the key to catching big bluegills and redears during this period is placing the bait -- crickets, red worms and such -- on or near those deep-water spawning beds. Not only do bream feed aggressively during the spawn, but also both males and females aggressively defend their nests, snapping at almost anything that skips and slides toward their staked-out domains.
Put away the bobber-rig you've used for years to catch bream, but keep your 5 1/2-foot ultralight rod handy. Arm it with 4-pound monofilament, a No. 8 long-shank wire bait hook tied to the mainline, and a 1/8- to 1/4-ounce split shot squeezed onto the line 12 to 18 inches ahead of the hook.
This simple rig provides the "real feel" you need to bounce the bait directly on the bottom near bream beds that are often located on ledges of 45 degrees or more. Let the bait fall on an open spool where you cast it. Once it's on the bottom, work it toward deep water with short, light snaps of the rod executed on a limp line. Don't tight-line the rig.
Following each snap of the rig, make sure the line goes limp, indicating it's on the bottom again. Bites are usually quick, sharp and sudden.
BLUE RIDGE LAKE
Blue Ridge Lake's monster bluegills are overshadowed only by the scenic beauty of the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains. The 3,300-acre reservoir spreads out for about 4 miles at its lower end. Its upper 8-mile reach is characterized by numerous creek channels and coves that cut into the high hillsides above the deep, narrow and rocky Toccoa River channel.
The lake's cold water prevents an establishment of a baitfish population. Thus, the lake's bass and other predators feed primarily on the small individuals among the lake's sunfish populations. Those that escape get plenty to eat and eventually grow large. There are enough of them to make several late-spring/early-summer fishing trips of the best bream action in Georgia!
Two boating anglers on a bream-fishing outing on Blue Ridge Lake can usually round up 30 to 40 bluegills and redbreasts in the 9- to 12-inch range, and perhaps even bigger! You won't find them gathered in large schools. The biggest fish seem to lie scattered throughout their preferred habitat.
As the middle of May comes around, the biggest fish are found in deep water at 8 to 12 feet. Look for them between river-channel markers 5 and 7 where rocks fall away to sandy ledges and flats on long river-channel points. Others will be found alongside fallen trees over deep, sandy bottoms at the heads of coves. Still more can be found along the deep side of creek channels, especially where large rocks are scattered in the old creek. There are few docks with pilings on the lake, but those extending into deep water often hold big bream, too.
Boat landings are operated by the National Forest Service at Morganton Point Recreation Area and Lakewood Landing on the north shore of the lake. For details on those, call (706) 745-6928. A third private boat ramp is located at Blue Ridge Lake Marina. Their telephone number is (706) 632-2618.
For more information about the fishery of Blue Ridge Lake, contact the Georgia Wildlife Division office in Calhoun at (706) 629-1259 or (770) 387-4821.
The Hiawassee River and several small tributaries off the north slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains combine to fill Lake Chatuge by late spring to more than 7,000 surface acres. Unlike Blue Ridge Lake, its larger size and wide, shallow flats and coves provide a relatively warm base of water that supports a standing population of threadfin shad.
Game fish feed primarily on those shad rather than the bream. Thus, the impoundment's bluegills and redbreasts tend to average less than 6 inches long. But outsized bluegills of 8 to 10 inches long still are present to make up a good day's catch for late-spring to early-summer bream fishermen.
Lake Chatuge wraps around the city of Hiawassee and stretches its main pool northward across the North Carolina border. Bream fishermen can find action around the many fallen trees and brushpiles easily reached by boat along these shorelines. Tree stumps are also found in the very back of the numerous coves. But alongside all that wood, the silted bottom is attractive to few fish larger than the 6-inch bluegills that use the laydowns for cover.
But don't settle for those dinks at Lake Chatuge! The lake's biggest bluegills and redears of summertime spawn where pea gravel, sand and fist-sized rocks lie on submerged hilltops close to deep water. Because natural aquatic vegetation is sparse, the bottom of Lake Chatuge is an array of bare creek channels, smooth clay flats, sandy bars, pea gravel, sand, small rocks, large rocks and boulders.
Use a lake contour map and a depthfinder to locate the humps where gravel, sand and small rocks lie together 6 to 15 feet under the surface. Some of the key sites are found around Penland Island, Merry Island, the front of Bell Creek cove and the front of Shooting Creek cove.
Boat ramps are abundant on Lake Chatuge. Many ramps are privately operated, but launching is typically free. The most centrally located boat ramp is on U.S. Highway 76 at the campgrounds of the Georgia Mountain Fair. Their number is (706) 896-4191.
The National Forest Service also operates a boat landing south of U.S. 76 at the Lake Chatuge Recreation Area off State Route 288 on the Hiwassee River channel. For details on that day-use facility, call (706) 745-6928.
Bring along your bait and tackle, because local shops are sparse. The only one in Hiawassee is Emerald Cove Bait & Tackle. For directions, call (706) 896-0884.
For more information about the fishery on Lake Chatuge, contact the WRD Fisheries office in Gainesville at (770) 535-5498.