Catch The Coosa River Striped Bass Run

Each spring the striped bass make their run from Lake Weiss up the Coosa filling the river with lots of big, hard-fighting fish.

Kevin Dallmier | May 1, 2008

Each spring, the deep holes on the Coosa River produce several monster striped bass. Striper guide Cy Grajcar pulled this 27-pounder from the river.

Storm clouds were gathering, and across the state line in Alabama a tornado warning was in effect and headed toward Georgia — the makings of what promised to be a stormy, early spring evening. Striper guide Cy Grajcar and I had waited for weeks to take our trip to the Coosa River in search of striped bass. Two things you can count on about stripers in the Coosa system are that they are always on the move, and they don’t bite well in muddy water. We had delayed our trip since the bulk of the stripers hadn’t yet made their spawning run up the Coosa from Lake Weiss, and then delayed it even longer when heavy rains the prior weekend turned the river to chocolate milk. Finally, it was now or never, so we met on a Friday afternoon just before the next round of spring storms through.

The Coosa system offers great striper fishing. Unlike other reservoirs where the stocking supports the population, in the fertile Coosa, natural reproduction together with an abundant supply of shad result in high numbers of fish and good average size.

Cy has been guiding on the Coosa system for several years, along with guiding trips on Allatoona, Carters and Lanier. In an average year, Cy makes 50 trips in search of hard-pulling striped bass and averages 30 to 70 fish per trip. In December 2007, Cy and his clients put six stripers that weighed more than 30 pounds in the boat from Carters, proving he knows how to catch big fish. His personal best Coosa striper pulled the scales down to 32 pounds. Before moving to Georgia, Cy guided in his native Pennsylvania for walleye and steelhead on Lake Erie, along with trips for crappie and trout.

“The striper bite has been strange this year so far,” Cy said as we pulled away from the River Road boat ramp and headed upstream. “Two weeks ago I had a trip where we caught 400 fish. Most were white bass, but we had about 70 stripers in the mix, too. Most were 5 to 7 pounds, but we did get one 18-pounder. But then, just when it seemed the bigger fish should have been arriving, instead it’s like they just disappeared. The week after that, I couldn’t mark a fish here in the lower river, and nobody was getting bit in the upper river in the spawning grounds. I think maybe they went back down to the lake and are just starting to trickle back up the river. The water temperature is 61 degrees, so the fish ought to be coming.”

Cy hit upon one of the toughest things about striper fishing in the Coosa, and that is finding the fish. The Coosa system above Lake Weiss is a huge drainage, and stripers make the most of it. Stripers are highly migratory, as data from a DNR Fisheries tagging study indicated — several fish traveled 70-plus miles in just a short period between initial tagging and recapture. The fish roam at will throughout Weiss Lake’s 30,000 acres and all the tributaries that feed the lake. All together, the Coosa, Oostanaula, Etowah, Conasauga, Coosawattee, and Chattooga rivers and Big Cedar Creek make up many, many miles of water in Georgia. Throw in Alabama drainages like Little River and Spring Creek, and finding the fish would seem like looking for a needle in a very large haystack. But, there is a method to the madness. Stripers spend the winter in the lake feeding on the abundant bait. Come early spring they head up the river to spawn, with the main spawning grounds being in the Coosa and Oostanaula right in the middle of Rome. After the spawning run, which usually begins in early April and some years can stretch all the way to early June, the fish scatter back to the lake until the hot summer pushes them far up the rivers in search of cooler water. Once autumn arrives, it’s back down the rivers to the lake.

While the small, cooler rivers like the Etowah, Coosawattee and Chattooga provide great summer fishing, when it comes to the spawn, the Coosa and Oostanaula get the nod. That is where the fish are spawning, and that is where you know they will be.

As Cy’s jet boat headed up the river under the Hwy 100 bridge then past Plant Hammond, Cy explained, “What you want to look for are deep areas, like outside bends. Use your electronics to scout these areas, and look for fish. Don’t expect to see big arches suspended in mid-column though. The fish are usually going to be right on the bottom, which can make them hard to see. Sometimes I will spend a few minutes fishing a spot I know is a good hole even if I am not marking fish.

“Deep holes, drop offs, blowdowns. Anything that causes a current break can hold fish,” Cy said as he dropped anchor in our first spot, a large bend in the river upstream of Plant Hammond. “Rocky bottom is good, like this outside bend here. When you see a rocky bank on an outside bend, that means there is probably a deep hole with a rocky bottom. The only problem is rocky bottoms are hard on anchors; this spot here is carpeted with them,” Cy grinned as he dropped the first anchor over the side.

Cy uses two anchors to position his boat across the current so he can fish several lines directly downstream of the boat.

Cy’s technique is to anchor the boat perpendicular to the current using an anchor off both the bow and the stern. This holds the boat sideways so he can make the most of the rodholders lining either side of his boat to fish several baits straight downstream.

“The water is clearing up some,” Cy said, “live bait may work. But, I always put out both live and cut bait until I see what it is they like in a certain spot. Usually they end up favoring one over the other, and once you figure that out, you can change all your lines to what they are hitting best. Sometimes, though, they will switch back and forth throughout the day, so each new spot I fish I start back with both live and cut bait.

“I prefer 3 1/2-inch to 4-inch shad for bait,” Cy said. “A medium-heavy spinning outfit spooled with 30-lb. braided line, egg sinkers, swivels, 2/0 Kahle hooks, and some 15-lb. fluorocarbon for leaders is all you need. Some guys prefer baitcasting reels, but I like the fight on a spinning outfit, and I like to get my anglers involved in the trip by letting them do things if they want to, like cast out their own poles. Spinning reels just work out better for those who might not be used to bait- casting reels.

“The rig is real simple,” Cy explained. “Put a 1/2-oz. egg sinker on the braided line, tie on the swivel, then about two feet of fluorocarbon leader, then the hook. I use the lighter leader since that way if a fish gets you in a blowdown and breaks off, the leader should break first and the fish won’t be dragging around a long piece of heavy braid.”

Because you are fishing straight downstream a lot of weight isn’t necessary and 1/2-oz. is plenty enough to keep your bait down. Cy uses several methods on the river.

“Sometimes I may freeline one rod with a live shad, or sometimes I may try to cover more ground by using the same downline rig but with just a 3/8- oz. sinker. That rod, I will cast straight off the front of the boat and let the cur- rent bump it along the bottom until it ends up straight downstream like the others, then I’ll reel it in and do it again casting it farther out this time. The Coosa is full of snags near the banks, but the middle of the river is surprisingly clean, so it won’t hang as much as you would think.”

We hadn’t had bait in the water more than five minutes before the first hookup came on a live shad. As a striper of about 4 pounds came over the side, Cy explained, “When you have cut bait out, you are going to get a lot of hits. The Coosa is full of catfish, and some big ones, too. My biggest flathead was 18 pounds, and the biggest blue cat I’ve caught was 28 pounds. That’s why this type of fishing is great for kids too; there’s always something going on. When the water is dirty, I prefer the cut bait since the smell helps draw stripers to the bait. They just don’t find live bait as well in those conditions. When I have live bait out, I don’t let it sit in one spot too long. Give it a few minutes, and if you get no takers, reel it in 20 feet and let it sit again. If still no takers, reel it in some more. With live bait, you could have fish between the boat and where you first cast out, and if you don’t bring it to them, you’ll leave that hole thinking there’s not any fish there when really what happened was you never put it in front of them so they could find it.

As a present for his 12th birthday, Jack Young of Vinings and his dad went fishing with Cy on the Coosa River and Jack caught this 26-lb. striper.

“The key to striper fishing is having good bait,” Cy said. “Brushy Branch near the state line is a good place to go to catch shad, although early in the year like this, you can usually find some in the river too. Plan on at least 200 shad for a full day. Sometimes, when the fishing is good, I’ll have to catch bait more than once. Get a good 30-gallon or larger bait tank. I use four handfuls of water softener salt in 30 gallons along with the suggested amount of Shadkeeper. The key is to have a filter and to keep it clean. The warmer it is, the more the bait mucks up the water. I clean my filters three or four times an hour the first few hours after I load up the tank and can keep bait alive for days.”

After a few more minutes with only one other hit, Cy decided to move. “I’ll give them about 15 minutes, maybe a little longer in dirty water, and if I don’t get good action, I move,” Cy said. “If they are there, they’ll usually hit.”

Instead of firing up the motor and running up the river though, Cy just pulled anchor and let the current push us farther down the bend before setting anchor again, this time closer in to the bank.

“Sometimes just moving a little is all it takes,” Cy said as we cast our lines back out in new water. “You want to watch which rods are getting the most action, too. If you have four or five rods out, and the two lines closest to the bank or closest to the middle of the river are the ones getting the most action, that tells you where most of the fish are holding. Reposition the boat so you can get all your lines in that area.

“Here below the Lock and Dam, there are plenty of deep holes to fish,” Cy said. “Above the Lock and Dam, the river is shallower. There is some deep water, but not as much. Up there, good places to look for are below shoals and around blowdowns. To fish a blowdown, anchor above it then cast down to just above the blowdown. Or, if you think the fish are holding in the break below the blowdown, just tie to it and fish a short cast downstream.”

Once our striper bait was in the water, we picked up some jigging spoons to see if any white bass were still around. The next few stripers, both small males in the 4- to 5-lb. range, hit a spoon, which surprised Cy. “White bass love a jigging spoon, but stripers here usually won’t hit one nearly as well as natural bait,” he said.

“One other natural-bait technique that can work really well later in the season when the water has cleared up is to downline with live shad. Use the same shad rig but with a heavier 3/4-oz. sinker, and just drop it over the side of the boat. Drift through the bends, and just hold the rod in your hand as you slowly jig the shad up and down. On one trip last year we caught 84 stripers from one stretch of bend doing that, but the water has to be clean for it to work well.”

As the dark clouds started to produce some thunder and lightning, we decided discretion is the better part of valor and called an early end to the trip. As we gathered in the lines and pulled anchor, Cy offered some final bits of advice.

“The key thing is to have good bait and good water,” Cy said. “If the water is muddy, fishing is tough. The Coosa is never clear, but there is a big difference between stained and muddy. I watch the river conditions on the Internet at You can see what the river has been doing for up to the last month. I look at the river stage and also the cubic-feet-per-second discharge, since that is really the best predictor of what the conditions are. If the discharge is coming up, it’s likely going to be muddy. If it has held steady for several days or is falling, it should be good fishing.”

Raindrops pelted our faces on the trip back down the river after an abbreviated trip that produced four stripers in just an hour or so of fishing. The rain was warm though, and that warm rain is what signals spring is here and the Coosa striped bass run in on. By the time you read this, the spawn will be going full blast, and the river will be full of big fish.

Access to the Coosa is easy from top to bottom, with good boat ramps at Heritage Park in downtown Rome, Mayo’s Bar Lock and Dam Park on Blacks Bluff Road, the River Road boat ramp just downstream of Hwy 100, and near the state line at Brushy Branch. The stripers are on the move to the spawning grounds, and all roads lead to Rome. Put Cy’s advice to work, and take a trip to the Coosa this spring to get in on some great striper fishing in northwest Georgia. If you would like to book a trip with Cy Grajcar’s Extreme Stripers guide service, call Cy at (770) 815-9579.

Here’s Cy with a 22-lb. Coosa blue catfish. The river is full of catfish that will hit both live shad and cut bait in the same deep holes where the striped bass hang out.

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