Fishing The Blue Ridge Drawdown
Like fish in a barrel, if you can get a boat in the water.
The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) has pulled the plug on Lake Blue Ridge. A long-term drawdown will drop the lake to more than 60 feet below summer pool for at least six months. The purpose of the drawdown is to repair and improve the dam, but anglers can use this low-water period to scout the lake for structure and to catch fish that are squeezed into less than half the water they are used to.
The problem is, as the lake continues to fall, fishermen will be limited to smaller crafts as boat ramps close. Every ramp on the lake will be shut down for a period of at least six months, according to the TVA. Water levels are estimated to be at their lowest by the end of October, and in September, when you read this, the lake is projected to be about 40 feet below summer pool.
However, if you can push, pull or carry your boat and gear to the water’s edge, Lake Blue Ridge should be a hot bed of action over the next several months and on into next year when they start to refill the lake in March. The spotted and largemouth bass, and the smallmouths Blue Ridge is famous for, should be stacked up and hungry.
As the only lake left in the state with a healthy smallmouth population, it will be critical that anglers take extra care and release the smallies they catch. On the other side of the coin, anglers are encouraged to harvest their limit of spotted bass because they’re an invasive species that competes with the smallmouths.
“I’m all about releasing all the smallmouths,” said Lake Blue Ridge fishing guide Bob Borgwat, of Suches, owner of Reel Angling Adventures. “I tell folks to keep all the spots they can. It’s not going to stop them, but it may slow them down. The spots don’t (taste) bad, and they’re not good for the smallmouths. And, let’s face it, this is the last lake in Georgia where you can consistently catch smallmouths.”
Since the introduction of blueback herring into the lake, the size of the average smallmouth has grown substantially.
“You never used to see 5-lb. smallmouths in this lake,” Bob said. “They used to run, 2 to 3 pounds. Since the bluebacks showed up, they’ve gotten bigger and bigger.”
While on the hunt for bass during the low-water period in Lake Blue Ridge, anglers should focus their efforts on main-lake points and main river-channel points, Bob said.
“This drawdown will be different than the normal winter drawdowns or even the deep drawdowns for dam inspection they’ve done in the past,” Bob said. “The (TVA) will be dropping it when the water temperatures are warmer than they usually are. So, it’s really tough to predict where the fish will be.”
When I fished with our experts, water was being pulled from the lake almost non-stop, and the fish were scattered as if they didn’t yet know what to do about the falling water level. They should hopefully move into established patterns soon, though, and Bob said your best bet is to get out on the lake with a good depthfinder, hunt for fish, and look for balls of bait being busted.
“A lot of the secondary points have good rock piles on them and should be holding fish,” he said.
As far as fishing the lake while all boat ramps are shut down, using a kayak is going to be one of your best options, according to Zach Yurchuck, of Athens, a pro-staff member with <www.KayakBassFishing.com> and a board member of <www.GeorgiaKayakFishing.com>.
Zach fishes from a 14-foot sit-on-top kayak rigged with rod holders, a depthfinder, a livewell and a crate full of tackle.
“The stealth of a kayak is a big factor,” Zach said. “You’re able to get to places where the bigger boats can’t get. When you’ve got a kayak, you can sneak up on those fish and give them a presentation they haven’t seen before.”
As far as getting a kayak around, Zach simply straps the boat to the top of his vehicle.
“The average kayak is going to weigh between 50 and 70 pounds. So they’re not too hard to get to and from the water. They’re also just about as fast as any boat with an electric trolling motor.”
With water temperatures being such an issue during this drawdown, Bob said he thinks many of the fish will initially head up the river channel in search of cooler water.
“You probably won’t be able to get most boats upstream of marker 7, though,” Bob said.
If you’re able to get up the river channel as far as marker No. 6, the eastern shoreline is steep and covered with rocks. This area, which Bob calls “The Wall,” should hold some good fish while the water is down.
This is where kayaks, canoes and other small crafts may prove to be the ticket. Zach is able to paddle his kayak in as little as a foot of water if need be. And, if it gets hung on the bottom, it’s as simple as getting out of the boat and dragging it to the next spot you can paddle from.
Other good locations to try fishing during the drawdown are the countless stump fields around the lake, Bob said. While many of these will soon be exposed, there will still be some under water that you can locate with a depthfinder.
Bob fishes 8-lb. line on spinning and baitcasting tackle on Blue Ridge.
“Because of the nature of this lake, there’s virtually nothing for them to break you off on in most spots,” he said.
Top lures to pitch at Blue Ridge bass include anything that mimics a blueback herring. Crayfish imitations also seem to work well on the lake, Bob said.
Early in the morning, try topwater poppers. Then, as the sun peeks out into the day, anglers should change up to hard-bodied jerkbaits, various jigs and soft plastics in crawdad colors of green and brown pumpkinseed. Fishing unweighted flukes is also a popular technique on Lake Blue Ridge.
On the day Bob, Zach and I fished the lake, a 4-inch plastic worm on a shaky head in brown-pumpkinseed color with a chartreuse tail was the ticket.
With water temperatures hovering around 85 degrees, it was a tough day fishing. However, Zach was able to pull a small spot and a smallmouth to save the day from a total skunk.
Both fish came from a steep rock face in the upper river channel and were suspended at about 15 to 20 feet in about 30 to 40 feet of water.
“That’s just the thing,” Bob said. “Nobody really knows exactly where these fish are going to be during the drawdown because we’ve never seen it this low during this time of year. You’re going to have to live and die by your depthfinder.”
Because the lake is an impoundment of the Toccoa River, which is surrounded by steep mountains, there will still be areas of deep water even when the water hits its lowest point of about 68 feet below normal summer pool. Search for these areas during the lowest periods of water, and you’re likely to find lots of fish stacked up.
“It’s still fishing, though,” Bob said. “Just because you can find fish doesn’t always mean you’ll be able to fool them. They may be hot and lethargic until the water cools off.”
If you decide to hit the lake with a kayak, Zach offered a few pointers to keep your trip a safe and successful one. Always wear your PFD, and always keep your paddle tied to the boat. It’s also a good idea to tether rods and other gear to the boat, just in case you tip the boat.
“Knock on wood, I’ve not flipped my kayak, yet,” Zach said. “But the day I do is going to be a bad day I’m sure.”
One particular safety aspect of kayak fishing that Zach pointed out is to not only have a PFD on, but to make sure you’re wearing one that will allow you the maneuverability to get back into the boat should you fall out or flip.
Also, Zach doesn’t recommend standing in kayaks, but if you must, “be very, very careful. A lot of guys have flipped their boats that way.”
Zach fishes in kayak tournaments run by KayakBassFishing.com in which a catch, photograph and release format is used to accumulate points. Different species of fish are worth a different amount of points.
“With this being the only viable smallmouth fishery in the state, this is the place to fish for them, and I think a lot of the kayak guys are going to focus on this lake while it’s down. Smallmouths are worth a lot more in our tournament system.” he said.
Another advantage of the drawdown is just getting out on the water and looking at all the features that are normally covered by water.
“You can’t find a good topographic map for this lake,” Bob said. “It would be a good idea to get out here while the water is down and just take pictures and notes on things like rockpiles, stumps, mid-lake humps and other structures.”
According to the TVA, this should be the last time it ever has to draw the lake down to inspect or work on the intake tower and the dam. So, this period of low water is theoretically the last chance anglers have to mark the structure and to fish it while the fish are concentrated in such a relatively small amount of water.
Before you go, it would be wise to check the lake’s elevation and contact the Lake Blue Ridge Marina at (706) 632-2618 to find out if any low-water boat ramps are still open. The marina has the best low-water ramp on the lake that is open to the public, but all of the low-water ramps may be limited to 4-wheel drive vehicles once the lake reaches a certain point.
However, after the lake hits elevations below 1,627 feet, even the low-water boat ramps will be unavailable, according to the TVA.
Whether your trip to Lake Blue Ridge turns out to be shooting fish in a barrel or if it’s just a boat ride to mark structure, it’s definitely worth a shot in the coming months. Be sure not to forget to keep those spotted bass and release the smallmouths.
To book a trip with Bob, visit <www.reelanglingadventures.com> or call (866) 899-5259.
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