Info Provided by: Jeff Durniak, GA DNR North Georgia Region Fisheries Supervisor and North Georgia Region Fisheries staff

Opening Day – What does that term mean to you?  When I was a kid, it meant one thing: trout season is here!  My brother and I

Nice take of trout caught by these three boys last April.
Nice take of trout caught by these three boys last April.

would finally have a chance to try out our Christmas presents that had to wait all winter for that magic April Saturday’s baptism.  Six months of Field and Stream, Outdoor Life, and Sports Afield magazine articles had been memorized.   Monthly trips to Efingers Sporting Goods depleted our allowances, but ensured our resupply of mission-critical goods.   The memories are still clear almost fifty years later: Garcia Conolon ultralight rods, Mitchell 408 reels with fresh four-pound line (the 408’s were the Cadillacs; they had more ball bearings and faster retrieves than your run-of-the-mill 308’s), new hip boots to fit growing feet, chain stringers, egg jar holders – the ones with the flip tops for quick pickings from a fresh jar of Mike’s salmon eggs, the re-arming of our creels with a dozen brand new Mepps size 0 silver Aglia spinners.  After birthday number 12, a yellow Eagle Claw fly rod, Medalist reel, and metal Perrine box of wet flies was added to the arsenal in the car trunk. Worms were dug from the compost pile for several days after school that week.   The covered coffee can was cool, in the basement.  We were ready.

Mom and Dad were ready too.  Extra clothes were cached in the car and the tank was gassed up on Friday.  Phone calls were made to baseball coaches, and the boys were excused from Saturday practice.  Before dawn, regular thermoses were filled with coffee and scalding soup that would still steam at noon, warming the bones of two skinny boys at a mom-mandated lunch break.  Hot dogs and their boiling water went into the wide-mouthed thermos for special, hot, streamside lunches.  The hardest thing for was getting some sleep that Friday night.  The wait was worse than Christmas eve!

Dawn never came quickly enough, but soon we were flying down Route 22, and then up route 31, past Spruce Run Reservoir and up to our traditional spot, the Musconetcong River near the sleepy hamlet of New Hampton.  We all knew it as the “Muskie.”  We’d grab a parking spot next to the dairy barn, walk in, wade up, and get in between the masses of other trouting addicts who also celebrated the coming of the spring fishing season.  We half-pints would hold our own with many of the grizzled old vets.  Many were kind and offered tips or their own spot along the honey hole.  Some resident ducks would swim down, protesting the streamside masses of unwanted guests.  Garter snakes popped out of their winter lairs and startled us on the fishing trails.   As the sun warmed the frozen fields, pheasants would cackle in the adjacent thickets along the corn rows and pastures.   Hot soup and ketchup-slathered dogs on warm buns warmed our buns, and we were ready for Round 2 that afternoon.

Late in the day, we’d tally up the catch, take some pics of our trophies, unhook each from its chain loop, and clean and stack ‘em in the cooler.  Dad would enjoy some pan-fried trout that night, and the rest went to our fishing-loving neighbors as gifts from our fishing family.

May your own family fishing traditions continue this Saturday.  Bring a raincoat, some patience, and maybe even your own rock to stand on Saturday morning, if you’re aiming toward the most popular waters.  For others, fishing quality will increase with distance from the road.  Saturday is more about the celebration than the catch.  It’s about family and good friends, cold mountain water and wood-smoked clothes, campfire food and sleeping bags, tall tales and photographs.  It’s about making memories.

For those of you in catching mode, do not fear.  The crowds plummet when Saturday’s lunch bells ring.  In fact, with some heavy rain forecast for all day Friday and Saturday morning, the weekend crowds should be down.   An afternoon arrival on Saturday and a focus on smaller streams may be a better bet.   Sunday afternoons are often barren of competitors, too, and stream flows should drop.  Fish the riffles and pockets below the big pools that got hammered on Saturday morning.  All of those wash-downs have avoided hundreds of wader boots and are now very hungry.  Prospect under each boulder, ledge, submerged log, and other shady current break with a half-nightcrawler and just enough split shot to occasionally bump the bottom on the drift back downstream to you.   Don’t forget your creel or stringer and a cooler of ice.  Also, don’t forget to stop at eight fishon that stringer, lest a conservation ranger materializes from the rhododendrons and asks you for a full count  that will match his/her own, seen thru the state-issued binoculars…

Walleye caught in the Chestatee River off Lake Lanier on March 21.
Walleye caught in the Chestatee River off Lake Lanier on March 21.

From fly-flinging to niblet-tossing, there is something for everyone on the opening of trout season.   May you, your family, and your friends make some mighty fine memories together this weekend.   Have a great time!

Here we go…

Walleye

Dredger tossed a weighted super fluke into the Chestatee after work on Friday, and a twenty-inch male walleye inhaled it at dark.   Fillets now rest in the freezer.  Georgia’s walleye spawning runs should be waning on our lower elevation reservoirs like Lanier and Hartwell.  You’ll find many of those spent fish now returning to the main lake, although a good number of males were still above Mud Creek on the Hooch during our sampling trip on March 26.  Spawning runs should be at their peak in our higher elevation lakes this week, so give places like Tugalo and Carters a try.  More details are in the Anthony Rabern’s walleye fishing guide.

Trout

Opening Day is Saturday!  More than 80,000 catchable size trout will be stocked by Lake Burton, Summerville, and Buford state fish hatcheries and Chattahoochee Forest National Fish Hatchery during the last two weeks of March to give our opening weekend crowds a chance at some great memories and good eating.  Watch the weather and USGS stream flow gauges, and pick those streams and small lakes that will still be fishable, despite the early weekend rain.

Jason’s Excellent Adventure: Day 1:  Duke’s – we hit rain on the entire drive up from Atlanta, which had me excited thinking we would encounter high & stained water and less spooky fish, however this was not the case.  Regardless of the rain (there must not have been much up north), the stream was low and clear.  The morning was fairly warm, in the low 50’s, and we had some decent action early as we started just below the covered bridge.  I hooked two good sized fish almost back-to-back, losing the first one seconds after hookup but managing to land the second after a nerve-racking battle during which I managed to escape from having my line wrapped under a tree limb.  I estimated him at 18-19” (pic w/ net) but he had great color and some girth too.  I landed several more smaller fish over the course of the morning, but that one was definitely the highlight for me.  We lost probably 2-3 fish that were easily over 20”,   and as disappointing as it is to lose fish like that, just the feeling of hooking up with one for a few seconds is pretty incredible.  As the afternoon wore on, the temperature dipped almost 20 degrees as a cold front rolled in, and the fishing seemed to shut down completely.   I don’t think anyone had as much as a hit from about 1 p.m. til we got picked up by the van at 4.  It’s odd how the fish can react to such a sudden shift in the weather.  All in all it was a good day, even though my one friend got skunked, he would make up for it in coming days.  Patterns that produced fish included small pheasant tails, dark caddis pupa, and a zebra midge.

Day 2:  Chattooga DH – The cold front that rolled in the night before made for a slow day on the Chattooga, or at least that’s what I’m telling myself.  We arrived to temps in the low 30’s, and some wind that made it feel much colder.  While the sun was shining and we had the place pretty much to ourselves, we could never really get into any sort of consistent action.  We did make it all the way up to Reed Creek, which was the first time I had covered the entire DH stretch.  I threw about everything in my box, but managed to bring only 4 average sized rainbows to hand in about 8 hours of fishing.  My one friend who got skunked the day before won the day, landing 5 fish and losing a couple more.  He was getting them on an odd looking pattern, that looked like a cross between a wooly bugger and a clouser minnow.  Whatever it was, it seemed to be working for him.  Nevertheless this is some of the most beautiful river and surrounding country I have ever experienced, which makes it so memorable every time regardless of the fishing.  I can’t wait to go back.” – Sincerely, Jason

Stripers 

Lake Lanier: Lanier stripers are finally starting to come near the surface, but the best is yet to come.  Region 1 Fisheries staff were out on Lanier on Monday collecting male striped bass for hybrid bass production and were able to find a handful of fish on the surface.  Temperatures ranged from 52-54 degrees depending on location.  After the final cold front (fingers crossed) this week subsides, Lanier should begin hitting the magic number of 55 degrees and the surface action will be on.  Soon they’ll start heading up both rivers, too, in an attempt to spawn.  Stripers will stay up in the mornings and evenings until lake surface temperatures are consistently more than 60 degrees.  The good news is that once that happens, it is time to start finding largemouth and spotted bass spawning shallow on Lanier’s banks. – Patrick O’Rouke, Georgia DNR Fisheries Biologist

More striper reports and great photos:

White Bass

Fisheries biologist Jim Hakala sampled Monday and says the Coosa white bass run continues to build, with fair numbers moving into the river section between Mayo’s Lock and Dam downstream to Hwy 100.  Inside bends and creek mouths are holding the best concentrations.  The fish are deeper in the morning and moving up close to the banks with the heating of the day.  Recent cold weather has slowed the run, but conditions should improve dramatically given next week’s forecast high temps. Also, a few striped bass have begun to appear around Mayo’s Lock and Dam.  It’s still a little early for big catches of stripers, but anglers “cranking” for white bass may entice a striper bite. Here’s some evidence!

Black Bass

Crappie

They’re heading to the shallows!

Allatoona is heating up

Lanier Report

Additional Items of Note

Hooch Sweep – Be a part of this fine effort on April 12!

Serious Whitewater – If you’ve never seen these releases into Tallulah Gorge, it might be worth a road trip up here to watch.

 

Good luck.  I look forward to hearing about your own successes.  In closing, may we all enjoy this “photo of the week!

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