Sunday, March 23, 2008
Lake Blue Ridge - Fisherman's Paradise
When it comes to variety, it's hard for the north Georgia fisherman to top Lake Blue Ridge in the mountains near Morganton, Georgia. In addition to most of the species found in other north Georgia lakes, Lake Blue Ridge has stable populations of both walleye and smallmouth bass, fish species normally found much farther north in the U.S. and Canada. With spring and better fishing conditions rapidly approaching we wanted to take a closer look at this sometimes overlooked gem in the north Georgia mountains.
Lake Blue Ridge was created when the Blue Ridge Dam on the Toccoa River was completed in 1930. The dam was built for both flood control and power generation, and is operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority. The lake level can fluctuate as much as 20' over the course of the year depending on rainfall and dam releases. The Toccoa River flows northwestward from the dam and becomes the Ocoee River upon entering Tennessee. The 3,290 acre lake is 11 miles long and has over 65 miles of shoreline, much of which lies within the Chattahoochee National Forest.
For boaters and fishermen, Lake Blue Ridge Marina offers a fee boat ramp and marine services. Morganton Point Campground and Lakewood Landing are additional popular boat ramps providing access to the lake. Camping, cabin rentals, and boat rentals are readily available in the Morganton/Blue Ridge area.
The hot fishing this month is for white bass as they congregate at the shoals where the Toccoa River enters the lake. Points and rocky bars in the northern end of the lake can hold large schools of these feisty gamefish. White bass in Lake Blue Ridge can reach 2.5-3 pounds and can be caught using minnows, small spinnerbaits, small jigs, spoons and curly tailed plastic grubs. White bass provide excellent table fare and bag limits are generous.
As the sun stays up a little longer towards the end of March, walleye become a popular target of anglers. Cloudy days and after dark are choice times for casting small crankbaits, plastic grubs and nightcrawlers against shoreline rocks and over rocky points. Deep vertical spoon jigging is an option for sunny days. Huge walleye tend to inhabit more northern climes, but 2-4 pound fish are common in Lake Blue Ridge. Walleye is, in my opinion, the best tasting fish that can be pulled from fresh water...but just keep what you can eat when you get home because they do not freeze well and are a valuable resource worthy of conservation.
April and May can bring increasing catches of smallmouth bass on Lake Blue Ridge. These fish average a little under a pound, but pound for pound will match any other freshwater fish for fighting ability. #5 and #7 Shad Rap crankbaits retrieved across rocky points are a popular technique for catching smallmouth, but they will also hit plastics and spinnerbaits. One friend of mine from nearby Cherry Log, Georgia fishes for smallmouths almost exclusively with his flyrod and enjoys good success. As summer conditions take over anglers have more success targeting smallmouths early and late in the day. Don't be surprised to hook a spotted or largemouth bass while targeting smallmouth. While not as plentiful here as on most north Georgia lakes, there are stable and catchable populations of both species.
Panfishing is a popular late spring and summer activity on Lake Blue Ridge. Crappie, bluegill, yellow perch and channel catfish all maintain good populations in the lake. minnows and small jigs will entice the crappie, especially during their spring spawning period. In my experience, a yellow perch will bite just about anything-and are very under-appreciated on the table. They have a very sweet, firm flesh that is similar to walleye. Bluegills are caught in good numbers off or near docks and around TVA placed fish attractor structures using red wigglers, but they are not picky and will strike a variety of baits and small lures-including dry and wet flies cast by fly fishermen. Catfish are most often targeted along rip rap banks near the dam.
Mainly due to the inflow of the well-stocked Toccoa River, rainbow and brown trout are occasional catches on Lake Blue Ridge. Not many fisherman target trout in the lake, but they are landed on a regular basis while fishing for other species. Finally, there are rumored to be large Muskies (Muskellunge) roaming Lake Blue Ridge, which would make the lake the southernmost fishery for these northern giants. I have never seen a Georgia caught muskie or even a picture of one, so I cannot vouch for the possibility of landing one in north Georgia. I enthusiastically welcome any readers to provide Mountainfreak.net with your stories, photos or reputable hearsay concerning muskie being caught in Lake Blue Ridge, along with any other outdoor adventures you have to share!