June 04, 2019
By Steven Johnson
The most familiar fishing spots have an understandable allure. You know exactly what to do to make fish bite.
That said, outstanding and diverse fishing destinations are scattered all over Georgia, so why not sample something new this year?
With that idea in mind we’ve selected seven locations in different parts of the Peach State that offer excellent summer fishing and would make fine road trip destinations. Pick out one (or better yet, two or three that you can visit it one trip) and start making plans!
CHATTOOGA WATERSHED | TROUT
The Chattooga National Wild & Scenic River and its major tributaries in Rabun County collectively offer a host of trout opportunities that range from fairly easy access to stocked fish to wild trout in rugged backcountry areas that are accessible only by foot.
May offers the final couple of weeks of the “catch and release” season in the Delayed Harvest section followed in mid-month with the beginning of the harvest period. The river at this time typically has good flows and comfortable temperatures for trout throughout the watershed. As summer progresses, backcountry fishing trips in to the Ellicott Wilderness, well up the West Fork and its tributaries and up the steep tributaries of Warwoman Creek offer the best prospects. Highway 28 and Warwoman Road, both out of Clayton, lead to most of the best sections. Access to the far upper end of the Georgia/South Carolina portion begins at Burrells Ford.
The Upper Chattooga and the West Fork support good populations of wild and semi-wild brown trout, so don’t be shy about fishing a sculpin- or crawfish-imitating streamer on a fly rod or a lure that imitates a crawfish or minnow on a spinning rod. Focus on deep, dark, cover-laden areas that are hard to fish; those are the waters that browns like best. Go on a cloudy or even a rainy day, if possible.
If You Go
A concert and art show venue, fly shop, campground and more in are in Warwoman Valley. Hatch Camp and Art Farm also offers exclusive guided and unguided catch-and-release fly-fishing for trout in Warwoman Creek.
LAKE RUSSELL | SPOTTED & LARGEMOUTH BASS
Although not native to the Savannah River, spotted bass find ideal habitat in Lake Richard B Russell, and the populations has expanded dramatically in recent years. Spots can now be found throughout the lake and provide steady action. This is largely a numbers game, with loads of 1- and 2-pound fish serving up fast action, but 3- and 4-pounders are fairly common, with much larger spots (or largemouths) possible. Adding to the total experience, Lake Russell’s shores are undeveloped, creating a remote feel that differs from any other major reservoir in Georgia.
Spotted bass relate heavily to structure along the Savannah River channel from just after the spawn through the end of summer. Dozens of points extend toward the main channel, and many will have bass on them any given day. An outstanding strategy is to point hop, using finesse worms on jigheads or Carolina rigs, working the structure at a range of depths. Also hit hazard markers, which mark high humps that rise from deeper water.
As spring gives way to summer, night fishing for spots can get very good. Fish the shallowest parts of the same structures with dark jigs and big thumper-type spinnerbaits under the cover of darkness.
If You Go
Shade Tree Cabins (shadetreecabins.com) in Elberton caters to fishermen, and includes a fish-cleaning station. Secluded log cabins that are modern and fully furnished, they’re handy to Lake Russell.
COOSA RIVER | BLUE CATFISH
The Georgia portion of the Coosa River, between Rome and headwaters of Weiss Lake near the Alabama border, is neither lengthy nor famous. However, it holds one of the state’s finest catfish populations. The Coosa’s catfish population includes channels, flatheads and blues, but blue cats are the main attraction. The most plentiful fish weigh less than 10 pounds, but 20- to 30-pounders are common, and any cat that grabs a bait in this section of river could turn out to be a genuine giant.
Don’t overthink locations. The entire moving-water section holds big numbers of blues, and the best summer locations overall are along outside bends and at channel confluences. Anchor at the upper end of a big hole, cast bottom rigs downstream, put the reels in clicker mode and wait for one to start screaming. Whole or cut shad are tough to beat as bait, but minnows or shrimp work as well. Use heavy gear, braid and a large circle hook. For the opportunity to catch a bonus flathead, bait one line with a live shad or other baitfish and fish it as a downline or use a big pole float to suspend the bait just off the bottom.
If You Go
Lock and Dam Park, just outside of Rome, offers bank-fishing and boating access downstream. Beyond fishing access, Lock and Dam Park offers a good spot to camp by the river.
FLINT RIVER | SHOAL BASS
For summer fun, it’s tough to top wet wading a clear, rocky river and casting for feisty river bass, and Flint River shoal bass exemplify the river bass experience in Georgia. Similar to smallmouths in appearance and behavior, shoal bass are native to the Flint. The river’s population is currently in excellent condition, with 30 percent of bass recently sampled were in the 11- to 15-inch range — many were much larger — and that only promises to get better because of a 15-inch minimum size that’s now in place for the Flint and its tributaries upstream of Warwick Dam.
As their name suggests, shoal bass favor shoal habitat and will hold in eddies and ambush meals in the swift water. Information published by the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division suggest concentrating efforts on major shoals between Joe Kurz WMA and Highway 128. A small popper will provide explosive all-day action some days. If the fish won’t come up, go down after them with a crawfish-imitating crankbait or a soft-plastic stick worm, grub or crawfish imitation. Best bets for fly fishermen are similar and include popping bugs and streamers that imitate crawfish, hellgrammites or river minnows.
If You Go
Sprewell Bluff Park offers some cool little cabins near the edge of a bluff and excellent river access for wading or for floating. The park fronts a major shoal that provides plenty of water for a full day of wade-fishing.
LAKE WALTER F. GEORGE | CRAPPIE
Although Eufaula, Alabama on Lake Walter F. George’s shore is sometimes dubbed “the Bass Capital of the World,” this 45,000-acre, border-straddling impoundment of the Savannah River also serves up some seriously good crappie fishing. Crappie are big and plentiful in this lake, which offers widely varied habitat and is rich in forage.
Anglers largely forget the crappie after spring, but summer produces some of the most predictable action as the crappie move to channel edges at the lower ends of major creeks like Barbour, White Oak and Pataula and the edges of the Chattahoochee River channel. Slow trolling with minnows staggered 12 to 20 feet deep is a good approach for finding fish. Watch your electronics constantly and be ready to drop a marker if you see something interesting on the graph or a couple of lines get bit at the same time.
An alternative effective approach is to vertical jig beside deep timber along the channel edge. Large stands of trees were never cleared, and while most are broken off near the normal full-pool water level, the trees continue to provide great crappie cover. Yet another effective approach is to go out at night and fish under bridges with a crappie light and live minnows.
If You Go
While you’re so close, don’t miss Providence Canyon. Though really nothing more than erosion ditches gone mad, Georgia’s “Little Grand Canyon” offers splendid scenery that’s unlike anything you’ll find anywhere else.
HAMBURG LAKE | SHELLCRACKERS
Easily overlooked because of its small size, 225-acre Hamburg Lake in Hamburg State Park offers excellent prospects for several species. Currently topping that list for summer fishing are shellcrackers (redear sunfish). The lake has always supported a strong shellcracker population, but good got better in 2014, when the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division began doing supplemental shellcracker stockings. The lake now holds excellent numbers of shellcrackers, which average about 1/2 pound, plus plenty of bluegills. This is a small boat lake, with a 10-horsepower limit for gas motors.
Shellcrackers tend to favor small worms over all other offerings. Fish a redworm or Georgia wiggler under a slip cork, with it set to suspend the bait barely off the bottom. During May and June, the fish will be spawning. Stay on the move and work your float rig slowly with twitches and pauses to cover water. When you get bit, repeat that cast. If you get bit again, drop an anchor.
As a bonus, while you have the bream gear handy, walk below the dam and make some casts into Little Ogeechee River with a small spinner or a cricket or worm under a bobber for colorful redbreast sunfish.
If You Go
Hamburg Lake is a century-old millpond and is the centerpiece of a state park that offers a historic gristmill and museum, lakeside camping, boating access and fishing boat rentals.
JEKYLL ISLAND | REDFISH
We’re officially highlighting redfish, but don’t limit your mindset. Jekyll Island offers equally good access to the salt marsh and the Atlantic Ocean, including excellent opportunities for boating, pier fishing and surf fishing.
During the summer, you’ll find plentiful redfish up to about 10 pounds in the creeks that open into Saint Simons and Jekyll sounds, with much larger fish sometimes in the surf, especially around the inlets at the north and south ends of the island. In the creeks and marshy areas in the upper sounds, it’s tough to beat live shrimp fished beneath a popping cork. Focus on hard-running drains when the tide is going out. During high tide, hit wide spots in little creeks (ones that can only be accessed at higher tides) and the tops of grass flats. Just watch the tides carefully and be careful to not get stuck! For bull reds on the ocean side, a good approach is to fish bottom rigs from the surf with crab baits or big pieces of cut mullet. The best areas, on the ocean sides of the inlets, call for some walking to access, so if you want a fair amount of gear, a cart would serve you well.
If You Go
The Jekyll Island Fishing Center, located by the pier at the north end of the island, carries all the right bait and tackle for the area and is a good place to get good, current information for planning fishing.