Most North Georgia anglers are familiar with the Chattahoochee River, particularly the sections in Metro Atlanta and near the Alpine town of Helen. There is, however, an equally-exciting section in between that many overlook. Some of the area’s best river bass and bream fishing can be had in the late spring and summer on the Chattahoochee River from Highway 115 (between Clarkesville and Cornelia) to Don Carter State Park on the upper end of Lake Lanier. In addition, anglers have a great chance to catch striped bass, walleye, crappie, catfish, and gar.
There are six main access points on the Upper Chattahoochee River that anglers can use (view the map). The sections between these access points each have unique characteristics and all are accessible to paddling in canoes, kayaks, or rafts. The lower sections can also be accessed from downstream by motorboat.
Highway 115 to Duncan Bridge (4 miles)
Shoal bass abound in this section of the river, which has several rapids up to Class 3. During May and early June, target pockets of water in and around the shoals to find spawning shoal bass. Later in the summer look for shoal bass in the slower, deeper runs where spotted and largemouth bass can also be targeted, year-round. Bream (redbreast sunfish and bluegill) are also abundant; and even the occasional redeye bass can be found. This section cannot be reached by motorboat.
To reach the Highway 115 bridge from Gainesville and the Metro Atlanta area, head north on I-985 and it will turn into Tommy Irvin Parkway (US 23/GA 365). Continue north to Cornelia and get off at Exit 27. Turn left on Highway 385, and then veer left on Highway 105 (Cannon Bridge Road). After crossing the Soque River, turn left at the four-way stop on Highway 115. Access to the river will be on the left just before crossing the Highway 115 bridge over the Chattahoochee River. A $5 parking fee (or annual State Parks pass) is required.
Highway 115 GPS: N 34° 34′ 30.83″ | W 83° 38′ 1.32″
Duncan Bridge to Mossy Creek (5 miles)
This is another excellent section for chasing shoal bass. The river becomes larger once the Soque River dumps in just above Duncan Bridge, so there will be more fish habitat to target. In addition to black bass, redbreast sunfish, and bluegill, striped bass can be found in the lower reaches of this section as they look for cool water upstream of Lake Lanier. In May and June, keep an eye out for longnose gar, which can reach more than four feet in length, spawning in the shallows. This section has a number of Class 1 rapids. Depending on water levels, the lower half of this section may be reached from downstream using a shallow-draft boat with a jet-powered motor, however extreme caution should be exercised due to the presence of many shallow rocks that could damage boat hulls and motors.
To reach Duncan Bridge, take Tommy Irvin Parkway (US 23/GA 365) north to Duncan Bridge Road (Highway 348). Turn left and travel 4 miles. The Wildwood Outfitters outpost is located on the right immediately after crossing the Chattahoochee River. Because Wildwood Outfitters leases this property from the Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites Division, a $5 parking fee (or annual State Parks pass) is required.
Duncan Bridge GPS: N 34° 32′ 28.31″ | W 83° 37′ 20.56″W
Mossy Creek to Belton Bridge (6 miles)
This stretch represents the lower end of the best shoal bass habitat, and anglers will find an increasing number of spotted bass here, particularly downstream of Bull Shoals. Striped bass will be present in the summer, and a few walleyes will remain following their spring run from February-April. Catfish are also available from this section downstream, including a shot at some very large flathead catfish. During higher-flow months, motorboats can reach as far as Bull Shoals using the Belton Bridge or Lula Bridge boat ramps. Use best judgment and caution when boating in this section as there are a number of shallow and/or rocky runs that could damage a propeller.
To reach Mossy Creek, take Tommy Irvin Parkway (US 23/GA 365) north to Lula Road (Highway 52) and turn left. Travel six miles and turn right on Holly Springs Road, then travel straight at the five-way stop on to Skitts Mountain Road. After 3 miles, turn right on Skitts Mountain Drive, then left on Home Place Road. A step-down ramp is located where the road ends at the Chattahoochee River. The Mossy Creek Access Area is operated by the Wildlife Resources Division and no parking fee is required.
Mossy Creek GPS: N 34° 29′ 43.59″ | W 83° 40′ 23.66″
Belton Bridge to Lula Bridge (3 miles)
Spotted bass are common in this section year-round, and higher numbers of largemouth bass also start to show up. Forrest L. Wood Cup Champion Jacob Wheeler caught many of the bass that won the 2013 tournament in this section. Striped bass are present throughout the summer, and walleyes can be found in great numbers in early spring. Catfish, crappie, and bream are available year-round. When Lake Lanier is at or near full pool, Belton Bridge marks the area where the river transitions into Lake Lanier and there is little or no downstream flow of water. This is an important point to remember for paddlers, as it requires more effort to get downstream but makes trips up the river much easier. While this section is accessible to all motorboats, there are some shallow areas and boaters should remain alert to exposed hazards.
To reach the Belton Bridge boat ramp, take Tommy Irvin Parkway (US 23/GA 365) north to Belton Bridge Road and travel 2 ½ miles, then turn left to stay on Belton Bridge Road. The boat ramp will be on the left about ½ mile before crossing the Chattahoochee River. The Belton Bridge boat ramp is operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and no parking fee is required.
Belton Bridge GPS: N 34° 26′ 14.60″ | W 83°40’51.00″
Lula Bridge to Don Carter State Park (3 ½ miles)
This is one of the best areas on Lake Lanier to target big largemouth bass. Cast in, and around, submerged brush on the river’s banks to find “bucketmouths” weighing up to ten pounds. Spotted bass are also common. Crappie fishing can be excellent around submerged trees and docks in the spring. In the spring, target rock walls for striped bass, and fish deep holes in this area for the best chance at a big pre-spawn female walleye during February and March. Large catfish are also common in this stretch. This reach looks more like a large reservoir than a river and there is typically no visible flowing water. Except during periods of extreme drought, it is generally safe for boats of all sizes. Because of the relatively light amount of boat traffic, it is also a great place to do some flat-water paddling in canoes or kayaks.
To reach Lula Bridge, take Tommy Irvin Parkway (US 23/GA 365) north to Lula Road (Highway 52) and turn left. After two miles, the boat ramp will be on the right immediately after crossing over the Chattahoochee River/Lake Lanier. The Lula Bridge boat ramp is operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and no parking fee is required.
Lula Bridge GPS: N 34° 24′ 54.66″ | W 83° 42′ 27.47″
Don Carter State Park - Don Carter State Park opened in 2013 and serves as a gateway to upper Lake Lanier. The park offers eight cabins as well as campsites for recreational vehicles or tents. There is also a day-use area that includes hiking trails, picnic shelters, a swimming beach, and two boat ramps (one for day use (northern most) and one for campers only). To make reservations, call (800) 864-7275. For other questions, call the park office at (678) 450-7726 or visit their website. Don Carter State Park can be reached by taking I-985 north to Jesse Jewell Parkway (Exit 24) and turning left. Turn right on Limestone Parkway (US 129), then right on Clarks Bridge Road. Travel six miles and turn right on N Browning Bridge Road. Continue to the left to stay on N Browning Bridge Road until reaching the park entrance. Entrance fee is $5/day (or annual State Parks pass).
Don Carter Day Use Boat Ramp GPS: N 34° 23′ 41.37″ | W 83° 44′ 3.03″
Don Carter Campground Boat Ramp GPS: N 34° 23′ 0.89″| W 83° 44′ 17.96″
Wildwood Outfitters offers canoe, kayak, and raft rentals, shuttle services, and camping opportunities downstream to Belton Bridge. Visit their website or call (800) 553-2715 for more information.
For other questions about upper Chattahoochee River fishing and boating opportunities, call the Wildlife Resources Division in Gainesville at (770) 535-5498.
By: Bert Deener, GA DNR Fisheries Biologist
(Deener’s reports can also be found in the Waycross Journal Herald on Thursdays)
The rivers are getting in decent shape, and the fishing is picking up. Swamp and saltwater fishing has been outstanding. Check out several tournaments and family events listed below. The full oon is May 14. To monitor all the Georgia river levels, visit the USGS website.
Altamaha River – Chris and Jennifer Swenson of Jesup were the big winners in the Wayne County Catfish Tournament held on Saturday and Sunday out of Jaycees Landing in Jesup. They won overall 1st place ($10,000) with a total of 61.06 pounds plus overall big fish and women’s category big fish (Jennifer’s 31.86-pound flathead won those two categories). Great job under some tough fishing conditions! 2nd place was Tiff Thompson’s team with 42.42 pounds. 3rd was Albert Bennett’s team with 31.92 pounds. Cody Bennett won the kids’ category with a 17.12-pound flathead. For more results and photos, visit the website www.waynecountycatfishtournament.com. Several panfish anglers reported to me that they were catching some nice redbreasts and bluegills up in the floodplain and in eddies behind trees by pitching crickets. The best photo I saw was a dozen nice redbreasts caught at the end of last week. Connie at Jaycee Landing Bait and Tackle reported that anglers caught redbreasts on the down-river side of sandbars in about 5 feet of water. An angler fishing on Monday caught over a dozen of the biggest redbreasts he has caught in years by using crickets and this sandbar pattern. Dannett from Altamaha Park reported anglers catching redbreasts, crappie, and catfish. Bream were eating crickets fished in the eddy on the downstream side of trees. Blue catfish ate worms, rooster livers, and shrimp in the deep holes. Flatheads bit goldfish best. On Saturday, an angler reported catching 41 keeper redbreasts with crickets fished from the dock at the landing. A new panfish tournament sponsored by Iron Pigs Motorcycle Club will be held on June 14th. First place is a guaranteed $500. The tournament will be based out of Jaycees Landing in Jesup. The winner will be determined based on the weight of their biggest 10 panfish (bluegill, warmouth, redbreasts and shellcrackers are the species to be weighed). The entry fee is a modest $20 per angler (children under 16 years of age can compete free of charge with a paying adult). For more information, contact the Wayne County Board of Tourism at 912-427-3233. Check out my article on bream fishing the Altamaha in the May issue of Georgia Outdoor News if you want some details about panfishing the big river. Barring additional rains, it should be awesome fishing in another week. The river level was 9.8 feet and falling (71 degrees) at the Baxley gage, and 10.0 feet and falling (69 degrees) at the Doctortown gage on May 6.
Satilla River – This Saturday, May 10, is the first annual Satilla Riverkeeper fishing tournament. The river is going to be a little high but will be fishable by Saturday. Last week’s rains were enough to keep the river level about the same for an additional few days, but at least it will not be flooding again from those rains. For more information visit www.satillariverkeeper.org. I am predicting that the tournament will be won by someone fishing one of the many tributaries of the Satilla. I received several reports this week from anglers catching lots of redbreasts and bluegills in the tributaries to the Satilla with beetlespins and crickets. “Trout Magnet” caught several dozen silver dollar-sized fliers from his favorite spot in Big Creek on his namesake little jig. Michael Winge of Winge’s Bait and Tackle in Waycross said that the upper river redbreasts are getting feisty. He said that they are killing crickets and Satilla Spins with a vengeance. The catfish bite has been great, with limb and trotliners catching fish on rooster livers and shrimp. Bass have been biting during the falling river, with topwaters (such as Pop-R’s and buzzbaits) producing the most strikes. Get your fishing gear ready – it’s about to bust wide open. The river level at the Waycross gage was 11.6 feet and falling (68 degrees) and at the Atkinson gage was 11.8 feet and falling (71 degrees) on May 6.
St. Marys River – Catfish, bream, and redbreasts were caught this week in good numbers. The upper river will be excellent for redbreasts shortly as the level continues to fall. Catfishing will be good this weekend all up and down the river. The river level at the MacClenny gage was 8.7 feet and falling on May 6.
Local Ponds – Michael Winge reported that the bream fishing was best this week. Crickets fooled some giants from beds and also shoreline cover and vegetation. Catfish were fooled with pink worms fished on the bottom. Black Trick Worms and Finesse Worms fooled quality bass this week.
Okefenokee Swamp – Warmouth, catfish, and fliers were reported from the east (Folkston) side this week. From the west (Fargo) side, anglers reported catching bream, catfish, and even a few bass. The oxygen was low in the Sill canal near SC Foster State Park after several cloudy days last week, and a few warmouth, pickerel, and bass died from the naturally-caused oxygen sag. The oxygen rebounded with the recent sunny conditions, but if you fish the Sill area, concentrate your effort from the first spillway outward. Lots of catfish were caught by anglers fishing on the bottom with worms and shrimp near both spillways. Okefenokee Swamp Sallies in yellow and pink produced the best flier catches. All of the creeks crossing Swamp Road (south of Waycross) produced good catches of catfish again this week. That bite will likely slow this week as the flows decrease and folks catch the fish in the pools by the bridge crossings.
Saltwater (Georgia Coast) – The whiting bite has turned on again after last week’s super-windy conditions. Dead shrimp and squid produced the best catches. A few trout caught with live shrimp were reported from Crooked River. The tackle shop in the parking lot by the state park ramp is now open. The 3rd annual Family Fun Day and C’Mos Kids saltwater tournament will be held this Saturday (May 10th). For more information about the events and tournament check out www.cmoskids.org or call the State Park at 912-882-5256. Lots of tripletail were caught in the rivers in the Brunswick area this week. In the creeks around St. Simons Island, trout and redfishing was strong, and a few flounder were mixed in the catches. Mike and Trish Wooten of St. Simons Bait & Tackle said that from the pier the bull whiting were caught by the truckloads. They might be slightly exaggerating, but the bite was strong. The average angler caught from 25 to 30 whiting. Dead shrimp were the ticket. Lots of small sharks are around, and a few trout and flounder were also caught. On Saturday night, a 28 and 47-inch redfish were caught on cut bait. On Sunday, a 25-pound black drum came over the rails. It ate dead shrimp fished on bottom.
Best Bet – You will have a blast this Saturday fishing the Satilla River Fishing Tournament hosted by the Satilla Riverkeeper or the Family Fun Day at Crooked River State Park hosted by C’Mo’s Kids. Both events will be top-notch family activities. River fishing is not quite right, but the fishing is picking up. Ponds and saltwater should be on fire this weekend. Whiting fishing all along the coast should be great this weekend. Take your pick, and you can hardly go wrong by fishing for about anything this weekend.
By: Bert Deener, GA DNR Fisheries Biologist
(Deener’s reports can also be found in the Waycross Journal Herald on Thursdays)
Pond fishing and saltwater have been awesome this week. Bass in ponds and whiting in the ocean have been the top bites. The Okefenokee should be good once the water level stabilizes again. Forget the rivers this week due to flooding, but when they finally come back down it will be awesome fishing! The last quarter moon is April 22. To monitor all the Georgia river levels, visit the USGS website.
Altamaha River – Forget it this weekend! The big rains are making their way down the river. The annual Wayne County Catfish Tournament will be held May 3-4 out of Jaycees Landing in Jesup. First place will pay $10,000 (NOT a misprint)! For more information, visit the website www.waynecountycatfishtournament.com. A new panfish tournament sponsored by Iron Pigs Motorcycle Club was recently announced for June 14. First place is a guaranteed $500. The tournament will also be based out of Jaycees Landing in Jesup. The winner will be determined based on the weight of their biggest 10 panfish (bluegill, warmouth, redbreasts and shellcrackers are the species to be weighed). The entry fee is a modest $20 per angler, and children under 16 years of age can compete free of charge with a paying adult. For more information, contact the Wayne County Board of Tourism at 912-427-3233. The river level was 13.9 feet and rising (66 degrees) at the Baxley gage, and 11.2 feet and rising (66 degrees) at the Doctortown gage on April 15.
Satilla River – Michael Winge of Winge’s Bait and Tackle in Waycross said the deluge put off the fishing, except for a few folks who caught catfish on limb lines in the upper river. Give it a couple weeks for the river to get back down in the banks. For more detailed information about fishing the Satilla River, check out my article in the April issue of Georgia Outdoor News. The Satilla Riverkeeper recently announced they will sponsor a fishing tournament on the Satilla River on Saturday, May 10. The river should be fishable by then, unless we continue to get significant rains. Look for more information about the tournament in the weeks to come. The river level at the Waycross gage was 15.4 feet and falling (67 degrees) and at the Atkinson gage was 15.7 feet and rising (68 degrees) on April 15.
Local Ponds – Bass fishing has been awesome according to most accounts. On Monday, Warren Budd of Newnan fished a Cochran area lake with a friend and caught 76 bass on Satilla Spins and Flashy Jigheads rigged with 2-inch Assassin Curly Shads (crystal shad was the best color). The pair was targeting smaller bass for a fish fry and had a blast with ultralight tackle. An angler fishing a wacky-rigged (watermelonseed) Senko worm landed and released a 9-pound bass on Monday morning. Monday evening, James Woolsey of Perry fished a Eastman pond with Flashy Swimbait Heads and Keitech swimbaits and caught 24 bass up to 4 pounds. The fish were chowing ahead of the front, and swimbait color did not matter. The bluegill bite picked up over the weekend ahead of the front. Anglers reported catching most of them on crickets rigged under a float. Michael Winge reported anglers catching crappie on minnows and bream on crickets and worms. Some nice bass were caught with bubblegum ZOOM Trick Worms (rigged unweighted) and also moccassin and red shad Culprit worms (Texas-rigged). Catfish anglers caught them on pink worms over the weekend. Anglers fishing spillways below ponds in the Homerville area reported catching big stringers of warmouth this week. I saw the impressive photos!
Laura Walker State Park Lake – Staff reported some very good catches of mostly bluegills and bass over the last week. The lake was closed to boats due to the big rains last week, but reopened Saturday. Bass were fooled with plastic worms and topwaters. Some anglers fishing on the bottom reported catching some nice catfish, a bunch of bream, and a big warmouth on Monday.
Okefenokee Swamp – The best reports this week came from the east side (Folkston entrance). Some big bream were caught with beetle spins. Fliers were also eating yellow Okefenokee Swamp Sallies fished under a float. Anglers fishing shrimp on the bottom caught catfish. The warmouth bite should fire off any day for those dabbling crawfish around the old cypress stumps on the west side. Anglers fishing all of the tributaries flowing into the swamp on all sides have reported catching lots of catfish and warmouth. Just find some flowing water, pitch a bait in (crickets under a float or worms or shrimp on the bottom), and hold on.
Saltwater (Georgia Coast) – The whiting bite is on fire on days when the winds allow you to fish. Dead shrimp fished on the bottom has been the ticket. Anglers fishing the Jekyll Island Pier have reported catching 50-60 whiting per day. Some sheepshead and a few big black drum were caught at the St. Marys Jetties. Some red drum (redfish) were also mixed in the catch. Mike and Trish Wooten of St. Simons Bait & Tackle said it has been whiting, whiting, and more whiting from the pier. On Saturday night, two big redfish were caught and released from the pier. The biggest was a 43-incher. On Sunday, two giant black drum were landed. One was 40 pounds and the other was 65 pounds! A few flounder and trout were also caught.
Best Bet – The wind forecast is iffy right now for the weekend, so check it late in the week before planning a trip to the brine. If it’s fishable, the whiting bite will be hard to beat in saltwater. Bass and bluegill fishing will be excellent this weekend in ponds. With the cooler mornings late in the week, expect the afternoon bite to be better. Bass coming off the spawn have been chasing down lures, so expect swimbaits and spinnerbaits to work well. Use plastic worms or lizards if the fish won’t chase your lures down. Wacky rigged worms should start fooling them for the next couple of months.
By: Bert Deener, GA DNR Fisheries Biologist
(Deener’s reports can also be found in the Waycross Journal Herald on Thursdays)
I hope everyone has a very Merry Christmas! By the time you read this, we will be in a warming trend that should fire up the Okefenokee and shallow ponds. The bite should be wide open by the weekend. The rivers are swollen and the water temperatures are in the lower to mid-50s. The river fishing will likely be slow for all species other than crappie (maybe). Tidal heights are good in saltwater, but keep an eye on the wind forecast before deciding to go to the brine. Last quarter moon is Dec. 25. To monitor all the Georgia river levels, visit the USGS website.
Altamaha River – There’s not much happening with the rising water. Folks simply aren’t fishing. Some really nice bluegills were caught last week from the couple anglers I talked to, but the river will likely rise and muddy somewhat this week with the water flowing down from middle Georgia. Connie at Jaycee Landing Bait and Tackle reported few fished in the Jesup area, but those who did caught some nice crappie in the backs of the oxbows by using minnows. The river level was 5.8 feet and rising at the Baxley gage, and 7.4 feet and rising at the Doctortown gage on Dec. 17.
Satilla River – Saturday’s rains caused the river to rise again into the floodplain. High water is not good for fishing this weekend, but it will be excellent for growth and survival of panfish for next spring! Michael Winge of Winge’s Bait and Tackle in Waycross reported anglers catching crappie, bream and redbreasts in good numbers before the weekend rain. With the rising river and warm temperatures late in the week, you should be able to catch some catfish in the deeper holes. If you have bank access at a deep hole, you’re in business. Rooster livers, worms or shrimp should produce a mess of whiskerfish. You may be able to find some crappie in the backwaters if you have a favorite oxbow lake. The river level at the Waycross gage was 9.6 feet and rising and at the Atkinson gage was 7.3 feet and rising on Dec. 17.
Local Ponds – Michael Winge of Winge’s Bait and Tackle said the crappie bite is on fire in Waycross area ponds. Both minnows and jigs produced fish. Expect to find a few crappie moving to shoreline cover on Saturday and Sunday afternoon if the warm weather materializes. Some bream were caught on pink worms. If you have a good bass pond, expect some bass to move shallow and feed on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Throw plastic worms or jigs (and plastic craw trailers) to score.
Okefenokee Swamp – Reports from Stephen Foster State Park (west side near Fargo) were excellent. There haven’t been many anglers, but the success rate has been great. Warmouth and big fliers were reported from Billy’s Lake in the swamp. Dabble crayfish or crayfish imitations around stumps for hard-fighting warmouth. Pitch yellow, orange or pink Okefenokee Swamp Sallies to catch fliers all winter. Keep your eye out for a new jig I’m going to introduce this spring. It has worked great for redbreasts, bluegill and small bass, but it will whack warmouth too!
Saltwater (Georgia Coast) – The wind cranked up again this week, but it was fishable for a few days. Michael Winge reported that Waycross anglers were able to catch sheepshead, redfish and trout in the creeks around Brunswick on days when the wind wasn’t blowing. Whiting are still biting for anglers fishing the beach, and that should continue from now until hot weather returns. Mike and Trish Wooten of St. Simons Bait & Tackle said that the winds were awful this past weekend, but a few folks still fished. On Monday, an angler caught a 14-inch flounder from the pier using dead shrimp. Trout, small black sea bass and sheepshead were also caught. Blue crabs were in decent numbers this week.
Christmas Gift Ideas: It’s time to make a final decision about Christmas gifts! Crooked River State Park cabin/guide packages are perfect for the saltwater enthusiasts on your list. The package includes 2 nights lodging in a cottage and a 2 1/2-hour guide trip. Packages start at $499, and you can customize your trip to your preferences. Call the park at (912) 882-5256 for more information.