Forgotten Lakes of the Chattahoochee National Forest
About North Georgia
In fishing, just like at Christmas, good things sometimes come in small packages. Small waters can produce tremendous fishing, and are often overlooked by many anglers. The problem with small lakes and ponds is they are often privately owned. If the idea of fishing on small,secluded waters is an attractive one, but you don’t have an “in” with a landowner, don’t despair. There are plenty of small lakes and ponds open to fishing on public land in north Georgia, and access and facilities are usually very good.
The Chattahoochee National Forest, owned and managed by the federal government through the auspices of the United States Forest Service, is a patchwork collection of about 750,000 acres of land sprawling across north Georgia. These public lands contain numerous ponds and lakes.
Situated near the summit of Grassy Mountain just west of the Cohutta Wilderness Area, Lake Conasauga is 19 acres, making it the largest Forest Service lake in north Georgia. The Civilian Conservation Corps built the lake during the Great Depression, and the lake opened to the public in the 1940s. Lake Conasauga’s claim to fame is its location at more than 3000 feet above sea level, making it the highest lake in Georgia.
The lake is a mountain jewel. Its waters are clear, the cool mountain air is refreshing, and the forested surroundings provide the perfect backdrop. Reaching Lake Conasauga requires traveling rough mountain dirt roads, but the destination is worth the journey. The campground and recreation area serve as an excellent base camp for hiking and fishing in the Cohutta Wilderness Area or other nearby trout streams.
One would assume that a deep infertile lake on top of a mountain in extreme north Georgia is not somewhere that could produce big bass. In the case of Lake Conasauga, that assumption would be wrong. Throughout its history, Lake Conasauga has given up many largemouth bass in the 10-pound range. Despite a shorter growing season because of the high elevation, an infertile watershed on top of an undeveloped mountain, and a popular campground on the lake, largemouth bass manage to grow to trophy size in Lake Conasauga.
Not surprisingly since trees surround the lake, Lake Conasauga has a good amount of woody cover. Concentrate on finding deep stumps and other hidden cover for the best bass fishing. Most casual anglers will miss the hidden cover, and it should hold the greatest concentration of fish.
Bluegill and shellcracker provide the most consistent fishing through the year. Beginning in late spring and continuing through the summer, search for a collection of bream beds in shallow water. A small popping bug or sponge spider fished on a light fly outfit is the most sporting way to partake of this hot action. If you prefer live bait, a red wiggler hooked lightly once or twice through the middle with both ends left to writhe seductively is hard for any self-respecting sunfish to pass up. Crickets are also a good choice.
Lake Conasauga is perfect for a family trip. Picnic tables and shelters are available. The area also includes a swimming beach and hiking trails. A gravel launch ramp is present and all boats are limited to electric motors only. A 35-site campground with restrooms and drinking water is on the shores of the lake. Each campsite is equipped with a tent pad and picnic table. Drinking water and flush toilets are available. Lake Conasauga Campground is open from spring through fall. The lake is open to fishing all year, but during the closed season anglers must access the lake on foot.
If you are planning a trip to Lake Conasauga, calling ahead to check the status of fishing in the lake and whether or not the area is open would be wise. Besides being seasonally open, severe weather can block the access roads with downed trees or ice.
To reach Lake Conasauga, travel 6.9 miles north on U.S. Highway 411 from the town square in Chatsworth. Turn right onto Grassy Street in the village of Crandall. A street sign is at this intersection. Stay on Grassy Street until it crosses the railroad tracks and ends in an intersection. Turn right and then turn left onto FS 630 at the next intersection. FS 630 starts as a paved road but soon changes to gravel. Continue about 7 miles and then turn right on West Cowpen Road (FS 17). Stay on West Cowpen Road until it intersects FS 68. Turn right onto FS 68 and follow the signs to Lake Conasauga.
Two other nearby National Forest lakes are Murrays Lake and Peeples Lake. At six acres, Murrays Lake is a good choice for a pleasant evening of angling. The lake is approximately 5.5 miles north of Lake Conasauga as the crow flies, but driving between the two is a twisting and turning trip of almost ten miles. Peeples Lake is down in the valley near the town of Chatsworth.
Both lakes offer good fishing for bream and largemouth bass. The two lakes are open to fishing year round. Camping is allowed at both lakes, but there is no drinking water available. Murrays Lake has a paved boat ramp, and although Peeples Lake lacks a proper boat ramp, launching a small boat or canoe from the bank should not be a problem. Boats on both lakes are limited to electric motors only. Since the lakes are so small, deciding where to fish shouldn’t be a problem. Target blowdown trees along the shoreline for the best action with bass and bream. Deep weedlines can also be productive.
There are several ways to reach Murrays Lake. To reach the lake from the south follow the directions listed for Lake Conasauga until you reach West Cowpen Road (FS 17). Turn left on West Cowpen Road (FS 17) and travel approximately 5.5 miles and the access road to Murrays Lake will be on the right. To reach the lake from the west, take U.S. Highway 411 north from Chatsworth until reaching the village of Cisco. Turn right in Cisco onto old Georgia Highway 2. After approximately 2.5 miles, turn right onto West Cowpen Road (FS 17). Continue on West Cowpen Road for about four miles and the Murrays Lake access road will be on the left.
To reach Peeples Lake, take Georgia Highway 52 east from Chatsworth. After crossing the railroad tracks, take the second paved road on the right (Old Federal Road). Proceed south for approximately 5.5 miles. Peeples Lake Road will be on the left. Once on Peeples Lake Road, stay on the main road until it reaches the lake.
Pilcher’s Pond - This walk-in lake is found in the Armuchee Ranger District of the Chattahoochee National Forest. The pond is in the extreme southeast corner of Walker County near Johns Mountain. Pilcher’s Pond is three acres, but can be much less during a dry summer. It offers fishing for both bream and bass, and is easily fished from the bank. Walking the bank casting a Rapala or a small plastic twitch bait ahead of you is very effective for catching bass. Anglers can find some stumps and other structure in the deeper water near the dam. Also, especially when the lake is low due to drought, isolated patches of brush are visible in the middle of the lake and usually always hold fish. A Texas-rigged plastic worm worked slowly through this woody structure is almost guaranteed to produce some action.
The only facilities at Pilcher’s Pond are a few picnic tables. The hike into the lake is approximately a mile and is an easy walk down an old road over level ground. On the hike in, you will pass a small wildlife watering pond and several wildlife openings before eventually coming to Pilcher’s Pond.
To reach Pilcher’s Pond, turn south off Georgia Highway 136 onto Walker County Road 714 just east of the intersection of Georgia Highways 136 and 201 at Villanow. Travel south on County Road 714 approximately five miles and the turn-off for Pilcher’s Pond will be on the left. The road to the pond is gated at the county road, but the walk in is a pleasant hike. Traveling south on County Road 714, if you reach the Forest Service’s Keown Falls Recreation Area on the right, you have gone too far.
Situated high on a small tributary to Waters Creek in the shadow of the Appalachian Trail, Dockery Lake is small 3-acre pond that offers good still-water fishing for rainbow trout. The lake, campground, and other facilities along its shores are popular with people searching for a peaceful, relaxing place to try their hand at catching a stringer of trout. Dockery Lake is noted for its exceptionally-nice shoreline campground.
The lake receives periodic stockings of catchable-sized rainbow trout throughout the trout season. Warmwater species including bass and bream are also found in the lake, but trout are the favorite. Several small piers have been constructed to help give anglers unrestricted access to the lake. In addition, an angler’s trail completely circles the lake never straying more than a few feet from the water’s edge.
Bear, deer, and wild turkeys can all be seen on the area at times. In fact, visitors should take extra precautions with their food and supplies to discourage any marauding by bruins with a hungry stomach.
Dockery Lake is strictly a stocked trout fishery. Most of the fish caught will measure around 9 inches. Since there is the possibility of some winter holdover, however, larger fish are not out of the question. The best trout fishing will be mid-season. Although the trout season runs through October, the year’s stocking has been wrapped up well before then, and by autumn, trout will be few and far between. Other warmwater species are available though, so one shouldn’t rule out Dockery Lake for a relaxing day of fishing simply because it is late in the season.
Most anglers approach Dockery Lake with light spinning gear and natural or artificial baits. Corn, worms, and crickets are all good selections for natural bait. Those who prefer to fling artificials will find small spinners and tiny minnow-imitating plugs to be effective.
Fly fishing is also a possibility at Dockery Lake. Even an angler confined to the shoreline should find plenty of places with room to cast. Even though shoreline access is good, the ideal way to approach flyfishing the small lake would be with a float tube. Fly casters should have luck with any variety of dry flies, streamers, or nymphs. Private boats are allowed on the lake, but only electric motors may be used. There is a carry-down access point to facilitate boat launching.
Camping is allowed at Dockery Lake, and along with the fishing is one of the main attractions of the area. The campground consists of 11 very nice sites each with a tent pad, picnic table, fire ring, and lantern post. Drinking water and flush toilets are available. The campground is open seasonally; generally from mid-April through the end of October.
To reach the lake, from Dahlonega, travel north on US Hwy 19/GA Hwy 60 until GA Hwy 60 splits off to the left. Bear left onto GA Hwy 60 and travel 3.6 miles to FS654 on the right. Follow this gravel road for 0.9 miles to the entrance of the area.
Lake Winfield Scott
The Forest Service’s Lake Winfield Scott is an 18-acre lake at the headwaters of Cooper Creek. Periodically stocked with trout, and surrounded by beautiful scenery, the small lake is popular with anglers, picnickers, and campers. Since it is situated high in an undeveloped watershed, the waters in Lake Winfield Scott are usually ultraclear. The fairly steep shoreline is forested, but there are plenty of openings to fish from making a boat more of a luxury than a necessity.
The lake was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s and has been popular ever since. The scenery is outstanding and the lake offers good fishing for both stocked rainbow trout and warmwater species including largemouth bass and sunfish. The Appalachian Trail runs nearby, and there are two approach trails that start at the lake and eventually join the main trail. In addition, there is a trail that circles the lake giving anglers easy walking as they move from one spot to another.
Lake Winfield Scott offers a good mix of angling. Fishing with worms or crickets is just as likely to produce a sunfish as it is a trout. Small spinners are also a good choice to catch nearly anything that swims in the lake. There are largemouth bass in the lake, and they can be caught using standard bass fishing tactics. A technique for catching the very biggest bass in the lake would be to use a lure that closely resembles a rainbow trout, a favorite food of big bass wherever the two species coexist. Using this technique is not going to produce a lot of strikes, but when you get one, it likely will be big enough to have been worth the wait. Some of the more popular spots to fish are from the fishing pier and also the area near the dam. Most trout caught will be around 9 inches, but bigger holdover fish are not out of the question. Fly fishing would be a good choice on the lake, especially from a canoe, but anglers choosing the long rod are a distant second to those preferring spinning gear.
Camping is allowed at Lake Winfield Scott. The campground is open from May through October. Two camping loops offer 36 sites on a first-come, first-served basis. Each campsite is equipped with a tent pad, grill, lantern post, and picnic table. Drinking water, hot showers, and flush toilets are available during the open season. A group camping area is also available. During the closed season 16 campsites are available, but there is no drinking water and the restroom is a privy.
To reach the lake, from the intersection of US Hwy 19/129 and GA Hwy 180, drive 6.1 miles west on GA Hwy 180 to the day-use entrance on the left. For the campground and the boat ramp, continue another 0.7 miles to the second entrance.
With the Chattahoochee National Fish Hatchery just a short drive down the road, it is no wonder Rock Creek and Rock Creek Lake are some of the heaviest stocked trout waters in Georgia. The remote location and heavy stocking combine to make Rock Creek very popular with families and those after an easy trout supper.
The 13-acre lake offers trout fishing of the still-water variety, and the stream that feeds the lake is just a few steps away. Most of the fish caught will be rainbows. With the heavy use it receives, angling at Rock Creek is a community affair. There are plenty of fish for everyone though, and success rates are high. Rock Creek is an excellent place to introduce youngsters to the sport of trout fishing. The fish are plentiful, can be caught with a variety of techniques, and present anglers a choice of fishing the lake or stream.
Just about any method ever used to catch trout should work on Rock Creek. Fish fresh out of the hatchery are suckers for anything resembling the food pellets that have been the standard fare for all their lives. Kernel corn, salmon eggs, commercially-produced “trout candy,” worms, and crickets fished on a light spinning or spin-casting outfit will all catch fish. Present the bait on or near bottom.
If artificials are preferred, small spinners would be the top choice. A small Rapala or other minnow imitator can also be good. Private boats are allowed on Rock Creek Lake, but are limited to electric motors only.
The Forest Service’s Frank Gross Campground is on the banks of Rock Creek. All 9 sites have a tent pad, fire ring, and lantern pole. Toilets and drinking water are available. The campground is open seasonally. In addition, there are many primitive campsites up and down the stream.
To reach Rock Creek Lake, from Morganton, travel 14.4 miles south on Georgia Highway 60 to FS69 on the right. A short distance after crossing the Toccoa River on FS69, Rock Creek will appear on the right side of the road.
The Chattahoochee National Forest lakes and other public lands offer great opportunities for outdoor recreation and are there for us to enjoy. Since we all share in the ownership of public land, treat it like you are an invited guest. Don’t leave behind trash, wads of fishing line, or any other sign of your passing to ruin the enjoyment of those who come after you. If we all take care of them, our public lands will be there for all of us to enjoy for many years to come.