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Georgia's Other Chattooga River
About North Georgia

Believe it or not, Georgia has two Chattooga Rivers. Both are fine rivers, each in their own right. One Chattooga River is widely known throughout the Southeast for its white water rafting and stellar trout fishing. That Chattooga River, part of the Savannah River drainage and flowing to the Atlantic Ocean, is in northeast Georgia and forms a portion of the South Carolina - Georgia border. Another Chattooga River flows virtually unnoticed through Walker and Chattooga counties in northwest Georgia, enters Weiss Lake in Alabama, and eventually reaches the Gulf of Mexico at Mobile, Alabama. No, this is not that northeast Georgia Chattooga River of banjo pickin' and Deliverance fame. The only living creature that may cast a wayward eye toward you on this Chattooga River would be a bull as you float through his favorite watering hole.

Dam on the Chattooga River
John Wehner
The forgotten Chattooga begins its journey at the base of Lookout Mountain in Walker County near LaFayette. Until the river reaches the town of Trion in Chattooga County though, it is more of a creek than a river, small and not really navigable. Below the mill dam in Trion, the river takes on more character and is perfectly suited for a canoe or kayak. Although this Chattooga may not be as famous as the other Georgia river of the same name, it has been no less important to the settlement and development of this corner of north Georgia.

The river serves today just as it did then supplying water for Mt. Vernon Mills, one of the world's largest denim mills and the economic lifeblood of Chattooga County. The dependable water source has helped keep the mill in operation, from The Civil War era when it produced uniforms for the Confederate Army, up until today when the denim jeans you pull on when you are headed out for a day's fishing on the Chattooga may very well have been produced from the mill right on its banks. The Chattooga has helped fuel the mill and the food it put on the table for generations of mill workers. Then, when their shift was done, the river provided a place to take the family to relax and maybe even catch a few fish for supper.

On the Chattooga, the best fishing is downstream of Trion, and floating is the best way to go. Another dam is found near the town of Lyerly, but getting past this low-head dam is no problem. A portage of just a few steps will get you around it, or at low flows you can just drag over it. The dam is sort of interesting in itself, since at one time its small generator, long since removed, brought electrification to the village of Lyerly. The old dam is a popular spot with anglers today. Other than road crossings, there is no public land along the Chattooga's banks, so to fish the best holes, you need to get there by boat. The river is full of shoals. Within just a few miles of Weiss Lake, there are still places where even a john boat must be dragged over the shoals to reach deeper water. Between Trion and Weiss Lake, there are seven road crossings where the road right-of-way can be used to access the river. All these crossings can be reached off of U.S. Highway 27 or Georgia Highways 100 and 114.

One great thing about small rivers like the Chattooga is only those anglers willing to work at it are going to reach the best fishing holes. The river, although good fishing, is medium-sized at best - perfect for a boat that can be carried up and down the bank and easily dragged over shoals and logjams. Usually, finding a suitable site to launch and take out is the hardest part of any trip. Some research with a good map should present several options. Before you set your float plan in motion though, it is a good idea to reconnoiter your access points if you are unfamiliar with the area. Some bridge crossings are great access points,and some are darn near impossible even with a small canoe. Keep in mind that other than the road right-of-ways, a vast majority of the land is privately owned. So even though a roadside pasture with a river running through it looks like a great place to fish, always get permission first.

Chattooga bass fishing offers some real variety. Largemouth bass, spotted bass, and redeye bass are all found in northwest Georgia. A trip down the Chattooga will produce all three species. Largemouths are the most common bass species caught in the river, but spotted bass run a close second. The Chattooga does have large numbers of small but feisty redeye bass, and they are easily caught by focusing your effort on the shallow, swift water they prefer. Largemouth bass and spotted bass also prefer certain types of habitats. Largemouths are most often caught in the deeper pools and deep holes in the bends, especially if there are some logjams available to lurk in. Spotted bass like deeper water too, but usually prefer a little more current than largemouths are willing to tolerate. The first depth break below a shoal is usually the best place to find spotted bass. These areas often have boulders and rock ledges, both magnets for spotted bass. Bass fishing the Chattooga is a rapid-fire style of fishing. As is typical with river fish, the bass are extremely aggressive and will usually hit a fast-moving lure like a buzzbait or spinnerbait all day long. Since the river isn't very wide, you will be making short casts, but lots of them. The best way to fish the Chattooga is simply to let the current move the boat along while you throw to everything you see. The really prime places to catch fish though are the bends. A straight stretch of river with shoals, logjams, and creek mouths will hold a few fish, but put the same type of structure in a section that twists and turns, and get ready for some fast action.

Lure selection is simple. A bag of purple or black six-inch plastic worms, a white or chartreuse buzzbait and spinnerbait, and your favorite topwater plug in any pattern is all that is needed to catch fish 99% of the time. If there would be anything to drop off the list, it would be the worms. A Texas-rigged worm will definitely catch fish, but it is a lot less efficient at covering water than the faster moving baits. Since both baits produce equally well, why go with the slow subtle bait instead of watching fish blast a buzzbait on the surface? The only time any worm fishing is truly called for is when you are absolutely convinced a lunker largemouth lives deep in the logjam and there is just no other way to get a lure deep into the heart of the tangled timber.

The average size of bass caught on the Chattooga will be around 12" although good numbers of bigger fish are present. There are some trophy largemouth and spotted bass in the Chattooga though, especially on the lower end near the state line. Catching largemouth up to six pounds is possible and spotted bass nearly as large are sometimes caught. While black bass are a year round draw on the Chattooga, summer brings the real bruisers to the rivers shallow waters. Striped bass, with fish up to 30 pounds possible, move out of Lake Weiss in the heat of the summer in search of cooler water. The Chattooga is one of several coolwater tributaries heavily utilized by this hard-fighting saltwater transplant. Stripers can be found anywhere in the Chattooga from Trion downstream, but the best fishing is from Lyerly Dam downstream to the lake. This lower section holds the most fish. A boat ramp is available at the Alabama Highway 35 bridge in Gaylesville, Alabama.

Anglers with a small boat and some perseverence should find navigable water heading upstream to somewhere near the state line, although some dragging will likely be necessary to get over the worst shoals. Look for stripers to be congregated around treetops and logjams in deep holes. Using live shad for bait is the best producer, but plugs work too. Large
topwater plugs like Zara Spooks and Redfins are local favorites. Stripers are big, strong fish and they like to hang out around heavy cover. Leave the light tackle at home. There is no place for it here. Go with a heavy spinning or baitcasting outfit spooled up with at least 20-pound test line. With all the cover in the river, it is imperative you turn a fish immediately upon hooking up. Lose the first few seconds of the battle and you have lost the war. Allow the fish to do what it wants those first few crucial seconds and you will find yourself hopelessly tangled in a treetop as the striper zigzags its way through the branches and out the other side leaving you no alternative but to grimace in frustration at another lost fish.

Stripers use the river seasonally. The first fish start to show up in early May, and by October the fish are usually gone. August and September are the best months to fish. Besides black bass and stripers, Chattooga River anglers will find that sunfish, crappie,and catfish are all common. Once in a blue moon, someone may even stumble upon a walleye. Walleye are exceptionally rare in the drainage, but every now and then one is caught by a lucky angler. Common sunfish species include bluegill and redbreast sunfish. A worm or cricket fished under a bobber near a treetop is almost guaranteed to produce some action. For crappie, fish a live minnow or small jig in the same areas. Crappie fishing is best in the early spring.

Catfish can be caught anywhere in the river, but deep holes are the best places to locate the big ones. Fiddler-sized channel catfish are the most common catch, but flathead catfish in excess of 10 pounds aren't unusual. A gob of anything stinky will work for channel cats, but flatheads prefer a bigger meal. Try a live shad fished on bottom to catch large
catfish.

In the summer, this technique is a dual producer. You are just as likely to catch a striped bass as a catfish since both love to eat shad. The only drawback to fishing the Chattooga is that since access is limited, a successful trip takes some advance planning. Once access points are located, the real work starts in carrying the boat and gear up and down sometimes steep, slick, overgrown banks. Because of the shoals, floating downstream while fishing then motoring back upstream to the vehicle is not really a good alternative, even with a small outboard. Strictly floating the river is the best approach and requires two vehicles. Using two vehicles is no problem if you have a fishing partner for the day. If you are by yourself though, you will need to find someone to shuttle you back to the boat after launching and then dropping your vehicle off at the take-out point. The other option is to set up a designated time and place to be picked up at the end of the float. Planning on someone meeting you at the end of a float is always a risky proposition. Given the variability in how long it can take to float a section of river depending on the current, obstacles encountered, and of course how good the fishing is that day, the person at the take-out point may be in for a long wait.

The best pick-up driver is a fishing buddy who couldn't go on the trip but can come pick you up. Your buddy will understand if you said you would be there at 5:00 p.m. and don't come floating around the bend until 6:30 p.m. because the fishing was so good you kept anchoring to fish the really good holes. Non-fishing spouses and family members on the other hand tend to
see it another way. You will be lucky if you don't come around that last bend after a hard day of fishing with a sinking feeling in your stomach as you realize that no one is there to pick you up and you have a long walk ahead. Modern technology has solved this age-old float fisherman's dilemma. Carry a cell phone and the problem is solved. Just dial up your ride when you are ready. Coverage should be good, but as part of your recon efforts you might want to ensure your phone gets a signal at your chosen takeout point.

The Chattooga River roughly parallels Taylors Ridge for much of its length, and anytime you are in the north Georgia mountains, the topography can turn that neat little modern gadget clipped to your belt into a totally useless lump
of plastic and electronics. Although the current in the Chattooga is generally slow, especially during the summer months, sometimes the current will be pushing the boat a little too fast for effective fishing. Borrow an old river rat's trick and use a couple of foot-long lengths of chain clipped on the end of a rope as a drag anchor. Drift speed is adjusted by simply adding or taking off a piece of chain. Compared to the typical anchor, the chain will slide over logs and rocks without getting snagged. A drag anchor with just enough weight to stay on bottom but not slow down the boat too much is also very useful for keeping the boat straight as it drifts along with the current.

The beauty of fishing the Chattooga is the relaxation offered by the simple methods used and the peacefulness of letting the river slowly push you along. Take a break from the hassles of big water fishing, and give Georgia's other Chattooga River a try.


Rivers of North Georgia
The Chattahoochee River, both Chattooga Rivers, The Etowah River, which Sherman believed to be Georgia's Rubicon ...

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