Eufaula Tailrace Fishing For Linesides And Catfish
March is when linesides will be thick below the dam.
Tailraces, those current-filled areas below dams, offer just about everything possible for a positive fishing experience.
Fish populations are often plentiful. Access is easy whether by boat or from land, and a social element exists among the bank fishermen, who are often shoulder to shoulder along the concrete walls that typically border the water.
In southeast Georgia, that area below Walter F. George Lock and Dam, which backs up Lake Eufaula, is one such place. The lake itself, located on the Georgia-Alabama border, is one of the state’s ultimate fishing destinations, boasting a national reputation for its largemouth bass population with equally good potential for crappie and catfish.
Much the same can be said for the tailrace area below the dam. Fishermen from both sides of the Chattahoochee River, Georgia and Alabama residents alike, flock to the area below the dam, seeking seasonal catches of saltwater stripe and hybrids and finding year-round availability of other species, mainly catfish along with occasional catches of black bass, crappie, bluegills and redear (shellcracker).
On a late fall afternoon, I found Fort Gaines resident Will Ferris already stringing up a blue catfish in the 25- to 30-lb. range with several other blues also accounted for from the slack water. The current was scheduled to kick on several hours later, and Will, a frequent visitor to the tailrace, baited a three-way rig with cheap marshmallows and tossed the offering a hundred yards into the still water. The catfish loved the marshmallows.
I had visited with Will by phone several times prior to my arrival, and he told me about his excursions to the tailrace area and also shared brief videos of his catches.
“It’s one of those places where you are almost always going to catch something, and the fishing for big stripes and hybrids can be very good at certain times of the year,” Will said in a phone conversation prior to the trip.
Scheduled to be in the Eufaula area for a bass tournament, I thought a side trip to the tailrace was in order.
“We’re catching them,” Will said, further piquing my interest about the fishing below the dam. “From the last of October through November, the big stripes and hybrids move in through about the first week of December. They usually disappear during the cold weather.
“Then there is another period when we really catch them in the spring, about the time when turkey season starts in March. When the shad move in, the stripe and hybrids show up by the thousands and bust bait on the surface. They will be all over the place.”
We continued to discuss the fishing while waiting for current, which is measured in megawatts produced. Will regularly referenced 40, 80, 120 and 160 levels of current generated with each of the four units capable of producing 40 megawatts. Generation of 40 megawatts translates to about 5,000 cubic feet a second of moving water. In the confined space below the dam, two units generating creates a huge volume of current.
Will watched over his catfish rigs, including one surf-style outfit featuring a 12- or 14-foot rod. He also provided an overview of his striped bass tackle, which consisted of medium-heavy baitcasting gear spooled with 17-lb. test mono. His favorite lures are a heavy jigging spoon spray-painted white, a Kevin VanDam jerkbait (white with a yellow belly) and a Zoom Super Fluke, normally dipped in garlic-scented chartreuse dye.
He said his biggest striped bass weighed 27 pounds, with a personal-best hybrid about 18 pounds.
“We’ve hung bigger stripers; I don’t know how big exactly,” Will said. “We get them up to the wall, and then all of a sudden, they take off. A few seconds of fun, and they’re gone. I’ve had them break off 50-lb. test braid.”
At one point an Alabama conservation officer ventured down the steps from the parking area and inquired about the afternoon’s fishing while he checked licenses. Later, a couple of Will’s fishing buddies, Ed Shippey, of Morgan, and Chuck Norris, who lives near Fort Gaines, arrived. Will also lives in Fort Gaines, which is only about three miles from the fishing area in the tailrace.
Moments before the current was scheduled to kick on, a steady progression of other anglers showed up, making the experience a truly communal affair. Soon, as many as a dozen people rigged just about every type of fishing tackle imaginable up and down the 100-yard stretch of wall.
Like clockwork, two units kicked on at the appointed hour, and Will and his friends immediately began tossing the spoons into the moving water. Snags were frequent, although a couple snaps of the line, plus the effects of the current, often worked the spoons free. Will said his spoon, designed along the lines of an old-school Hopkins model, weighed about 1 3/8-oz. and produced well “as long as it’s spray painted white.”
Able to cast the heavy spoon almost across all four units, a distance over 100 yards, Will worked it back across the face of the dam at a steady clip. At times, back currents pushed the lure into the opening of a unit under the dam, and Will said the stripers will frequently chase bait there.
“I like to throw the spoon and the jerkbait into the openings if I can reach them,” Will said. “The fish really push bait up in there at times.”
Farther down the wall, one fisherman produced the first fish, a quality largemouth bass, after the water started moving, but the action for striped bass was slow until Chuck set the hook. He played the fish, a hybrid with just a hint of broken lateral lines, to the wall and over, starting a steady succession of catches over the next few hours. The first fish was about 18 inches and weighed in the 3- to 4-lb. range, standard size for the tailrace.
Other fishing business called me away, but Will told me later that he and his friends caught about 15 more fish, all hybrids, with the other anglers on the wall enjoying similar success.
“It was a fairly typical evening,” Will said.
While the stripe fire up in the fall, the spring window from mid March through April produces equally good if not better fishing. Many times, Will ventures downstream about 100 yards from the wall and fishes from an elevated rocky point.
“In March, that spot right there is on fire when the current is running from about 2 a.m. until daylight,” he said. “Then they usually quit, but they will turn on again about an hour before dark.
“You can really catch them down there. They come in busting those shad in the spring, and you can catch them on topwater.”
When quizzed about the topwater action, Will said he had never attempted to catch them on topwater lures, but he added the fish are high in the water column chasing bait and will hit the same shad imitators like the spoon, jerkbait and fluke fished in the fall.
Will also said that he occasionally boats up into the tailrace area, launching from a ramp about a mile downstream, and catches stripe and hybrids. A line of buoys crosses the river about 200 yards below the dam, and no boats are allowed upstream (on the dam side) from the buoys.
Most of the action takes place from the bank, however. About three levels exist for fishing with the lower level used when one or two units are running. Even then, some water will pour through notches in the concrete wall, forcing anglers to wade in the “trough” on the lowest level. As more current is generated, anglers are required to fish from concrete platforms higher up. Water levels rise as much as 16 feet during peak generation periods.
“There is a danger element,” Will said. “You have to pay attention to the water levels.”
A siren sounds each time a unit kicks on. While the experienced anglers are accustomed to watching the rising water, Will emphasized the need to retreat to higher ground when three or four units are generating. He has pulled more than one angler to safety when they were threatened by the rising water.
“It’s sort of second nature for those of us who fish here all the time, but you have to pay attention to the water levels,” he said.
The heaviest current produces the best fishing. Will said generation levels of 80, like the afternoon that I visited, will bring fish into the tailrace, but three or four units generating is even better.
“At 80, the fish will show up,” he said. “The fishing is better with the two middle ones on. It’s even better at 120, and at 160, it’s wide open.”
While the striped bass and hybrids are the big draw for Will, other fishermen target different species at times. He mentioned one angler who specializes in catching shellcracker when the water spills over into the trough. He also said large shellcracker are caught on the Georgia side during flooding conditions and when heavy current pushes water into the ditches.
Crappie are a possibility year-round, mainly in slack-water periods.
Ever present are the catfish. Will said his biggest blue to date weighed 72 pounds. For catfish, he ties a 5-oz. weight on the bottom of his three-way rig and adds a 2/0 circle hook to the other leader. The catfish, mainly blues, a few channels, and an occasional flathead, are a daily, year-round possibility, even in those times when no current is being generated and no stripes or hybrids are present.
“I catch a lot of catfish,” Will said, “and end up giving most of them away.”
Although the parking area for the dam workers and fishermen is located on the Alabama side of the river off Henry County (AL) 46, anglers must follow Georgia regulations for their catches. According to Will, that means limits of 15 with only two over 22 inches for stripers/hybrids, 30 for crappie, and 50 for bream, including bluegills and redear. No size or creel limit exists for catfish. Fishing licenses from either Georgia or Alabama are honored.
Generation schedules can be found by calling 866.772.9542 ex. 244 or by visiting the following website: spatialdata.sam.usace.army.mil/hydropower/default.aspx.
While the fishing below the Eufaula dam may be overshadowed by the fishing on the lake proper, Will said timing is the key to the best trips in the tailrace.
“If you get here at the right time, it can be great,” he said. “You’re going to catch something most of the time whether the current is moving or not, but with the right current, the action can be non-stop.”
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