(Info provided by fisheries biologist Pat Snellings)
Winter Water — Fueling North Georgia’s Summer Coolwater Fisheries
The dog days of summer might try to keep you from hitting your favorite fishing spots, but during this time some of your best fishing opportunities are available across north Georgia. Hot summer days raise the surface water temperature of a lake, but below the surface something interesting is happening — stratification. And, because of that stratification, in the depths of a lake lies winter water.
As surface water warms it becomes less dense and rises above the cold, dense water below it. These different densities create two distinct layers in the water column, separated by a zone referred to as the thermocline. The surface water is full of oxygen but gets too hot for many cool water species that prefer water temperatures below 80° F. Below the thermocline, the water is much cooler and is actually left over from the previous winter.
This cold winter water, deep below the surface (at least 20 feet down), provides refuge for cool water fish species such as striped bass, walleye, and trout. As the summer wears on, this cold water (which is completely isolated from the surface waters) does not receive any new sources of dissolved oxygen. The dissolved oxygen is slowly used up by the decomposition of organic matter on the lake bottom.
WRD Fisheries staff monitors the water quality on many north Georgia reservoirs throughout the summer. Lakes are sampled monthly by lowering a dissolved oxygen probe, one meter at a time, and recording temperature and dissolved oxygen level from the surface of the lake all the way to the bottom.
These data provide valuable information on pelagic species like striped bass to make sure there is sufficient habitat in the summer. For example, striped bass can become stressed or die if there isn’t enough cool water with oxygen available before surface water temperatures cool again in the fall. During drought years reservoirs tend to hold back more water, due to drought operations, and the winter water pool is conserved later into the summer. During wet years, more of the winter water is released for flood control, and habitat for cool water species can be limited in late summer.
These temperature and dissolved oxygen profiles also cue anglers in to the best depths to drop their baits, where there is sufficient coolwater habitat for targeted sport fish.
Georgia DNR provides monthly graphs of water temperature and dissolved oxygen for several of these reservoirs throughout the summer. For more information on lake stratification visit https://georgiawildlife.wordpress.com/2015/08/05/where-are-the-fish/
On Lake Lanier winter water provides excellent summer habitat for Lake Lanier’s striped bass and walleye. As the summer heats up these fish leave the Chattahoochee and Chestatee River arms and migrate downlake, toward the dam. These fish can be targeted using live Blueback Herring. Anglers aim for depths below the thermocline where there are cool temperatures and sufficient dissolved oxygen, and combine that water quality information with their sonar, which shows baitfish schools at those depths.
For the most recent Lake Lanier fishing reports check
Georgia’s only reservoir trout fishery, Lake Burton, which provides excellent fishing opportunities for both brown and rainbow trout is supported by winter water. The cold water habitat grows some of the biggest trout in Georgia, including an 11lb 2oz lake record brown trout caught in 2004 and a new 5lb 8oz lake record rainbow trout caught this summer. Summer trout will be deep, taking full advantage of the winter water below the thermocline. Lake Burton trout are best targeted using live blueback herring, shiners, and night crawlers or trolling spoons and plugs in 30 to 60 feet of water.
For more tips on fishing Lake Burton for trout check out: http://www.georgiawildlife.com/sites/default/files/uploads/wildlife/fishing/pdfs/reservoirs/lake_burton_trout_fishery.pdf
Winter water also supports the striped and hybrid bass fisheries of Carters, Nottely, and Chatuge lakes and the walleye populations in Carters, Yonah, Tugalo, Rabun, and Seed lakes.
Reservoir fishing in Georgia isn’t the only thing affected by winter water. Deep releases from dams on large reservoirs can also create cold water fisheries in the tailraces below them. The deep discharges from Buford and Blue Ridge dams are great examples of winter water fueling downstream trout fisheries. This clear, cold water is re-oxygenated as it flows downstream, where rocks and ledges create turbulence. That winter water supports excellent trout fisheries in the metro Atlanta area and in north central Georgia, near Blue Ridge. http://www.georgiawildlife.com/Fishing/Rivers
The Lanier Tailwater is a great location for targeting rainbow trout, which are stocked by Georgia DNR throughout the summer. Bait anglers can try Buford Dam or Jones Bridge Park. Flyfishing fans can try the river from GA Hwy 20 downstream to the boat ramp at Medlock Bridge Park. It designated artificial lures only, so be sure to leave all live and natural baits at home if you’re going to fish this reach. Small wild brown trout are abundant, but very smart and stealthy.
While the wild browns are small and abundant in the shoal areas, this reach is also a hotspot for trophy browns! The Lanier Tailwater’s winter water is known for producing the biggest wild brown trout statewide and boasts the current state record, a 20 lb. 14 oz. brown trout caught by Chad Doughty in July 2014. In 2016 there have been numerous brown trout over 27 inches and several exceeding 30 inches caught and released in this section of the Chattahoochee!
Winter water not only creates habitat for trout in the Chattahoochee River but it also fuels Buford Trout Hatchery. Buford dam’s cold flows allow the hatchery to produce and stock more than 400,000 harvestable sized trout into the Hooch and dozens of north Georgia streams each year.
The benefits of winter water don’t stop just below Buford Dam. Cold flows continue more than 36 miles downstream, through Morgan Falls Dam. In the winter, those cold flows support a delayed harvest trout fishery from the mouth of Sope Creek to Cobb Parkway (Hwy 41). During the summer, the Morgan Falls Tailwater warms a bit too much to sustain trout, but it’s cool enough to create a perfect summer thermal refuge for striped bass, migrating north from a warming West Point Lake. These summer striper can be targeted using artificial lures such as swimbaits and flukes or even big streamers on the fly rod. Live bait fish are not permitted to be used in the section of the Chattahoochee River from Morgan Falls Dam to Peachtree Creek.
You can find numerous Chattahoochee River access points managed by the National Park Service through the link below
Due to Buford Dam discharges, flows can change very rapidly in this river section. Anglers should be sure to check the Army Corps of Engineers release schedule before going by calling 770-945-1466. Other helpful hints on river flows can be viewed on the website for the Atlanta Flyfishing Club: http://www.atlantaflyfishingclub.org/resources/
From striped bass to walleye to trout, winter water is a staple of many of the fisheries found in north Georgia. It provides great opportunities to catch coolwater fish species year round and also helps to support the WRD trout hatchery system. So the next time you’re tackling a Lake Burton brown in July or netting a trophy Lanier striper in September, thank the cold winter water that provided that critical summer habitat. Good luck finding your winter connections this summer!
(Info provided by Fisheries biologist Bert Deener)
Effort was low for a holiday weekend because of Hurricane Hermine, but those who reported did well. The storm brought lots of waters back up to fishable levels, and the river fishing should be great as it falls back out over the next few weeks. The most consistent fishing this week was from area ponds. First quarter moon is September 9th. To monitor all the Georgia river levels, visit the USGS website http://waterdata.usgs.gov/ga/nwis/rt.
Altamaha River – Chad Lee and Daniel Johnson fished the middle Altamaha on Saturday and caught some nice bass. They had 6 bass up to 4 pounds and 4 bowfin (mudfish) up to 10 pounds. Everything ate plastic crawfish. Connie at Jaycee Landing Bait and Tackle reported that coolers of catfish were landed over the weekend. Flatheads, blues, and channel cats all graced creels. Goldfish and rooster livers produced best. Crappie bit well in deep holes for those fishing both minnows and jigs. The bass bite was fair, and the mullet were still around. Donna at Altamaha Park said that bream fishing was the ticket over the holiday. Anglers from Waycross fished out of the park over the weekend and caught big bream and a few redbreasts on crickets, Satilla Spins, and beetlespins. Crappie fishing improved, with minnows fished around slow-moving water in the 4 to 6-foot range producing most of the papermouths. Flatheads were caught on goldfish, while blues and channel cats ate pink worms and rooster livers. A few mullet were caught from the sandbars. The river level was 2.5 feet and falling (84 degrees) at the Baxley gage, and 4.7 feet and rising (80 degrees) at the Doctortown gage on September 6th.
Satilla River – What a difference a week makes! The river at the US 1 Bridge was just a trickle before the storm, but now it is full and flowing into the floodplain thanks to Hurricane Hermine. It will be a couple of weeks before it gets really good again, so get your redbreast equipment ready. Michael of Winge’s Bait and Tackle in Waycross said that before the rains late last week, anglers wading the river caught some bream and redbreasts by pitching crickets. Since the rains, nobody has reported. I would imagine the catfish bite is decent if you have a place you can safely access the river bank. Pink worms or shrimp should produce some nice catches. Catfishing should be your best bet this weekend. In the Burnt Fort area, the bite slowed. An angler pitching crickets on Monday worked hard for 6 big bream. The river level on September 6th at the Waycross gage was 11.0 feet and rising (78 degrees) and at the Atkinson gage was 4.3 feet and rising. The river crested at 11.1 feet at the Highway 158 gage upstream of Waycross and is falling back out.
St. Marys River – Reports were few, and those who went said that the rising river had a good bit of stain, and the bite was slow for panfish. Catfish were still caught by anglers putting shrimp or worms on the bottom. The river level at the MacClenny gage on September 6th was 11.7 feet and falling.
Okefenokee Swamp – I didn’t receive any reports from the swamp this week, but I’m sure you can catch fliers and warmouth by pitching yellow sallies and bowfin by casting in-line spinners down the middle of the canal. The rains brought the swamp level up, so getting around should be no problem.
Local Ponds – Chad Lee fished with friends Daniel Johnson and Logan Deen at Alma and Waycross area ponds and caught 20 bass during the weekend. The most notable was Daniel’s personal best, an 8.6-pounder, that inhaled a plastic crawfish. Their fish came on soft swimbaits, ribbit frogs, and crawfish. With the waxing moon, another wave of bluegills should push shallow to spawn over the next couple weeks. Michael Winge said that most anglers fishing over the holiday weekend were hitting local ponds. Bream were caught with crickets, pink worms, and beetlespins. Shiners and rooster livers produced some good catfish catches, and bass ate plastics and live shiners.
Saltwater (GA Coast) – Hurricane Hermine was the news late last week, and the winds from the storm continued through the weekend. Some flounder were still reported even in the blow. Michael Winge reported that flounder were caught on mudminnows in the Brunswick area. For those who found some clearer water, trout were fooled with Sea Shads, and redfish inhaled live shrimp. Sheepshead fishing picked up for those dabbling fiddler crabs around bridge and dock pilings. That bite will fire off as the water cools this fall. Mike and Trish Wooten of St. Simons Bait & Tackle reported that the fishing improved as the storm moved away. Early this week, anglers landed croakers, whiting, trout, flounder, and a few bull redfish from the pier. Sharks are also abundant for those fishing cut bait. Crabbing is on fire with some stone crabs mixed in with the catch. You can monitor the marine forecast at www.srh.noaa.gov/jax/.
Best Bet: The Satilla and St. Marys rivers are too high after rains from the storm, but the middle and upper Ocmulgee River and the lower Altamaha are fishable. Ponds and the Okefenokee will be your best bets in freshwater, while whiting will probably be the best bite in the salt. If you want a predator species, you should be able to catch trout as the water clears. The trout are moving around from the beaches where they spawn and will be feasting on shrimp and baitfish in the coastal rivers and creeks throughout the fall.
(Info provided by fisheries biologist Rob Weller and region fisheries staff)
Lake Walter F. George and Lower Chattahoochee River – The fishing for bass has been a bit slow. Anglers are having some success fishing deep (25 – 30 feet). The only shallow bite is first thing in the morning and has still been considered fairly slow. However, the catfish fishing continues to be hot on Lake George. Noodle anglers have been reporting catching upwards of 100 pan size fish in 6-8 feet of water. There have also been a few reports of anglers catching larger blue cats using flutter spoons around shad schools in 30 foot depths.
Flint River – Bream and shoal bass fishing continue to be considered good on the Lower Flint River. The water level has been relatively unaffected by hurricane Hermine, as rainfall in the region was only about two to four inches. The best reported catches for shoal bass has come from the portion of the River between Lake Blackshear and Lake Worth. Unlike some other species of fish, shoal bass are almost strictly sight predators so fishing during the middle of the day when the sun is overhead is often the best time to catch these fish. Crickets below a float adjacent to flowing water near rocks and shoals have continued to produce good catches of bream. The following USGS gauges of river level may be useful when planning your next fishing trip.
The following USGS gauges of river level may be useful when planning your next fishing trip:
Montezuma above Lake Blackshear
Highway 32 below Lake Blackshear
Lower Flint River below Albany
Lake Seminole – According to Lake Seminole fishing guide Steven Wells the fishing for bass has been good. Anglers have been having success catching fish with three and four bladed spinner baits in the pads. Several fish in the six pound and even larger range have been caught this past week using this technique. Bream fishing has not been quite as good as earlier in the year but are still being caught. Steven’s rule of thumb is if bugs are hitting your windshield while driving at night, the bream should still be biting!