On the drive in to work, I can’t help but notice the bright pink flowers of an early dogwood bloom. Another sure sign that Old Man Winter’s time is short, yellow pollen will soon blanket everything.
Of all the things indicated by dogwood blooms, biting fish is decidedly my favorite. Many sportsmen will be looking at new calls and patterning various chokes and loads for another season chasing boisterous gobblers. Many others, myself included, will be looking to pattern bass, bream and crappie. For my springtime recreation, there’s nothing like heading to the river, hoping that this is the year that my 10-pounder will come.
In my home area of west Georgia and east Alabama, the flow of the Chattahoochee River forms the boundary between the two states. The Chattahoochee, whose headwaters lie in the north Georgia mountains, takes on many forms in route to the Gulf of Mexico. The northern reaches of the Chattahoochee is trout water. Man-made reservoirs Lanier, West Point, Harding, Eufaula and Seminole lie along its path. Used for everything from hydroelectric power generation, drinking water and of course angling, the Chattahoochee is a vital resource.
Good angling can be found all along the Chattahoochee, and certainly the reservoirs boast opportunity, but my preferred territory is a sparsely populated stretch of the river between Lake West Point and Lake Harding.
The stretch of the Chattahoochee River below West Point Dam is a scenic and largely unpopulated stretch of river. Fishing pressure is light, and the action can be outstanding for a variety of species.
I imagine that the river bottom of this stretch doesn’t look much different today than when the first residents of east Alabama and west Georgia, the Creek Indians, lived along its shores.
There are multiple access points for both motor boaters and anglers using paddle craft. Hydroelectric generation keeps the river in a constant state of flux, so the old adage that you never fish the same river twice is especially true here.
The single biggest factor to fishing this stretch of the Chattahoochee is generation by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Before hitting the river, check the current generation schedule. The easiest way to check is to call the corps generation information line at (706) 645-2929. Generally updated at 5:30 a.m. EST, there is a pre-recorded message advising of the latest planned generation for the day you are calling. Generation is always subject to change from the recorded information, so always be aware of current conditions. PFDs are required to be worn at all times in this part of the river, not just in your possession.
While it’s very possible to have a successful outing during periods of generation or when no generation is occurring, your approach will need to be altered accordingly.
When no generation is occurring and the river is “at rest,” the gauge in downtown West Point will typically read around 558 feet above sea level. When the corps begins releasing water, the level swiftly rises 3 to 4 feet in elevation, reading around 562 feet above sea level. The river basin evolves from a clear-water flow with rocky shoals exposed, to a powerful current with newly flooded wood and vegetation for both bait and game species of fish. The lures, approach and watercraft will need to be adjusted in each of these states of flow.
During periods of no generation when the river is at normal “at rest” conditions, the average depth of the river is only 2 to 3 feet in most places. Couple that with the presence of exposed rock shoals and submerged boulders, boaters should exercise lots of caution. In my experience, lower units and props yield before underwater rocks and logs.
It is possible to utilize a vessel powered by a traditional outboard during low water conditions, but travel cautiously and become familiar with the river and trails in between shoals. There are also anglers who utilize boats set up to run jet outboards to navigate the shallow, rocky shoals.
My preferred method, however, involves the use of kayaks. In recent years, kayak angling has made tremendous gains in popularity. A few years ago, I decided to purchase a fishing kayak and try my hand. I find this to be the most productive method for fishing the low-water conditions between periods of generation. A benefit for kayak anglers is that due to shallow water and the presence of rocks, you won’t encounter much boat traffic.
The stretch of the river that I fish from my kayak most frequently lies between the tailrace of West Point Dam and the Airport boat ramp at Shawmut.
One of the principal advantages to kayak fishing is that you don’t need much to launch your vessel. The is no boat ramp behind West Point Dam, but parking is just a few yards from the river, so it’s an easy portage. I utilize a kayak kart. For me, this is an easy way to hit the water about 3 miles upstream of the nearest boat ramp.
There are two ramps directly downstream of the West Point dam, and either one will make a fine exit point for a float trip. The first ramp that you will encounter on a float from the dam is a newly constructed ramp on the eastern shore of the river downtown the small town of West Point, Ga. There is a concrete ramp and gravel parking.
This ramp in the town of West Point is about 3 miles downriver from the West Point Lake Dam. With an average current, you could expect to float this stretch in three hours or so with minimal paddling effort. The river is scenic along this stretch, and fishing opportunities are very good.
Heading south from the ramp in downtown West Point, you will encounter the next access on the western shore of the river in Valley, Ala. at the Shawmut Airport. This ramp is about 3.25 miles downriver from the ramp in the town of West Point, Ga. This access also has a nice concrete ramp and gravel parking area. Just be aware that the gate to the ramp is locked each night at 9 p.m. and is not reopened until the following morning.
It’s possible to float past the access and fish, but an open spillway lies downriver, and you’ll have to paddle back upstream to the ramp. The next two accesses have spillway dams between them, so removing your vessel and driving will be necessary. There is a small boat ramp at Langdale, also in Valley, Ala. This stretch of river lies between the Langdale Dam and Riverview Dam. This area is filled with rocky shoals and is the shortest stretch of river, only a little less than 2 miles in length. The river splits in several places and is also blocked by the Crow Hop Dam.
The final access before Bartletts Ferry is the boat ramp at Riverview. This stretch of river combines flow with Flat Shoals Creek at the top of Lake Harding near Blanton Creek WMA. If you are paddling, I advise heading upriver and fishing back down to the ramp, since it is about 6 miles downriver to the nearest ramp at Blanton Creek Park.
Regardless of which stretch of the river you decide to fish, anytime you’re kayaking on moving water, it’s a good idea to fish with a buddy and drop a vehicle where you plan to take out. This self-service shuttle strategy provides the flexibility to fish and explore as long as you want, and easy floats downstream save energy for fishing.
Another option is to put in and paddle upriver before you begin fishing. Sometimes this is the easiest method when you’re fishing alone or plan to cover only a short stretch of water. I’m not aware of any steady commercial shuttle service in operation currently in this area, but a relatively new kayak dealer, GLL Marine, plans to begin operating a shuttle in the future to cover parts of the river below the West Point Lake Dam.
Fishing the river during periods of no generation generally involves some finesse techniques for me. When the corps isn’t pulling water, the river is very clear, and the bass are more finicky. On my most recent outings, working a small Texas-rigged plastic bait was the most successful technique for bass. Largemouth, spotted bass and shoal bass all inhabit these waters. A good day can yield a catch of all three species. I also like to throw a willowleaf spinnerbait in white, silver or shad colors.
During the springtime, my presentation is slow, and my baits are on the smaller side. The almost daily generation of water from West Point Lake means that the water will be much cooler in the river than on the main lake above. During the summer, a temperature difference of 15 degrees is normal, and the water is oxygen-rich, which can make the bass much more aggressive than their counterparts on the main lake.
Another type of fishing that can be very productive on the Chattahoochee River below West Point Lake is targeting panfish species. There is a healthy population of bluegill, shellcrackers (red-eared sunfish) and redbreast.
For panfish, I always keep an ultralight spinning outfit rigged with an in-line spinner. My favorites are Mepps Aglias and Worden’s Rooster Tails. If the bream won’t hit the spinners, a cricket or red wiggler under a cork will always coax them out for a bite.
Another very enjoyable way to catch these feisty river bream is with a long road and popping bugs. I use my general purpose 5 weight fly rod and balsa popping bugs. It’s not uncommon to catch 30-plus bream on a short trip, and I’ve salvaged more than one tough day of bass fishing with a good, old-fashioned bream-catching extravaganza.
One of my favorite things to do on a hot summer afternoon is wade the shallows and cast my popping bug to exposed wood structure and deep pools. There’s almost always a panfish hanging around, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised many times with a sharp strike from a bass cruising the shallows for his next meal.
For anglers who want to fish from a boat with a motor, this stretch of the Chattahoochee River boasts just as much fishing opportunity. During low-water conditions, my best advice is to travel slowly and be mindful of obstructions lying just beneath the surface.
Getting on the river in low-water conditions is an excellent way to learn the best paths between rocks and shoals, what types of cover are present, and learn potential areas to fish when the water rises.
The river takes on a much different appearance when the corps releases water from the spillway at West Point Dam. A clear, shallow, rocky flow quickly swells to a wide deluge. Wood and vegetation that stood high and dry is now flooded. An abrupt elevation change of 3 to 4 feet occurs within a couple of hours.
Especially during those hot summer days, the cool, oxygen-rich waters being released signal a dinner bell for hungry fish. Predatory species will hide in these newly flooded areas and pick off tasty meals that pass by. My all-time favorite technique during periods of generation is to troll against the current and pitch soft plastics against flooded brush. Typically, a simple Texas rig is my go-to. Due to swift currents and underwater obstructions, a Carolina rig or even a shaky head will get hung often and cause lots of frustration. I use the lightest bullet-head sinker I can get away with that will still give my worm a nice, smooth fall. A 1/4- or 3/8-oz. weight is usually ideal.
When these river bass are active, soft jerkbaits work very well. A couple of my favorites are Senkos and Trick Worms. Darker colors such as black and green pumpkin are my most productive.
I also keep a shallow-running crankbait tied on and cast to the mouths of creeks where bass hide looking for an easy meal. The mouth of any small feeder stream is a great spot to pick off a bass or two. Red colors such as crawfish or Rayburn red always produce well for me. A lipless crankbait can also be an effective lure, but expect to snag underwater obstructions.
The most important item in the boat for this type of fishing is a good foot-controlled trolling motor and fresh batteries. A healthy 12V system will keep you from losing ground, but you’ll need a 24V or even a 36V setup to troll against the current. I typically focus on bass fishing during periods of generation, relegating my bream fishing for low-water conditions.
When the mercury rises and bass become sluggish in bathwater-warm reservoirs, there’s nothing like getting a bait hammered by a fish in cool, 70-degree water. There is definitely an uptick in feeding activity during periods of generation. While this requires more equipment than kayak fishing, the reward can be very handsome. It’s not uncommon to land healthy 3- to 5-pounders, with larger bass possible.
The South is definitely blessed with good fishing opportunities. Our reservoirs get the lion’s share of attention for most anglers, and that’s fine by me. I enjoy the cooler waters, scenic landscapes and lower fishing pressure that a river offers. The Chattahoochee below West Point Lake is great place to spend some time outdoors. As the days grow longer and the temperature warmer, I’ll be on the river looking for my 10-pounder—or maybe just a good mess of bream!