Mountain Smallmouth Treat At Lake Blue Ridge

A trip to Blue Ridge is a great way to beat the early September heat, and it’s also your best chance for a quality smallmouth. Here's a map with GPS locations to set the pattern.

Ronnie Garrison | September 1, 2008

Beautiful scenery, cooler temperatures and the chance for a big Georgia smallmouth like this is what attracts anglers to Blue Ridge lake in the fall. This brute was caught by a client of guide Bob Borgwat, who marked a map of good fall locations to fish.

September bass fishing in Georgia is tough. The bass are still on summer patterns, the water is as hot as it gets, and the oxygen levels are at their lowest point. And it is still uncomfortable fishing most days. It just makes sense to head to the cool north Georgia mountains and Lake Blue Ridge to find some cooler air, beautiful scenery and a big bonus — smallmouth bass.

Blue Ridge, a TVA lake, is the highest lake in Georgia and has 3,290 acres of clear mountain water. Its 100 miles of shoreline stretch almost 12 miles up the Toccoa River and several major creeks feed it. The shoreline is steep wooded mountainsides with some development and many miles of natural rock and trees.

Big winter drawdowns are the norm at Blue Ridge, so the shoreline changes a lot in the fall. Lake levels 40 feet below summer pool are common, and every few years the TVA pulls the lake down about 70 feet to work on the power plant at the dam. The lake is likely to be low most of September.

Blue Ridge has one quality that sets it apart from all other Georgia lakes. It is where you have your best bet to catch a Georgia smallmouth bass. Smallmouth are native to some of the north Georgia lakes, but the illegal introduction of spotted bass in most of them has just about wiped out the smallmouths. Unfortunately, Blue Ridge now has spotted bass in it, and there are real concerns about how long the smallmouth population will hold up.

Blueback herring have also been introduced illegally into Blue Ridge, and right now, as is usually the case soon after they are introduced, spots are growing fast and fat on them. Smallmouths also seem to be taking advantage of this new food source. They are open-water feeders like spots, and the average size of smallmouths seems to be increasing. Only time will tell what will happen, but spots and bluebacks are now a fact of life at Blue Ridge.

Bob Borgwat has a house on the river above Blue Ridge and runs Reel Angling Adventures, a guide service in the north Georgia area. He guides for bass on Blue Ridge and has been fishing the lake since 1991. He fishes the lake year-round and says September is not the best month for bass on it, but there are patterns that should pay off now. And once you learn the kinds of places that hold bass now, they will be good year-round.

All three species of bass in Blue Ridge — smallmouth, spots and largemouth — live deep, 40 to 50 feet, most of the year. They are on their deep holes now and will stay there all winter, leaving just long enough to spawn in the spring before returning deep. And the bass tend to be mixed on these holes, with all three kinds present.

During the first of the month, bass at Blue Ridge will be near the thermocline, holding as deep as oxygen in the water will allow. They will feed at that depth, but they also come to the shallows at night and early in the morning to feed. When the lake turns over, they will scatter on the deep structure and be harder to pinpoint.

Bob likes fall fishing after the turn over. You can tell when the lake turns over by the change in water color. The water will get a cloudy-green color on the main lake. After roaming some, the bass will stabilize in schools and be easier to locate the rest of the winter.

You don’t need a lot of rods rigged and ready for bass at Blue Ridge this month, according to Bob. He likes to throw a topwater bait early in the mornings, then switch to a Carolina- or Texas-rigged finesse type 4-inch worm. He will also throw a bucktail jig and a jig ’n pig this time of year.

“All my lure-color choices are organized around blueback colors,” Bob said.

Topwater poppers and walking baits in colors like Tennessee Shad that match blueback herring are good. Bob likes the BPS or Spro bucktails that have some blue or gray hairs on top and white on the bottom. He will often trim them if they are bulky, since he likes a sparse jig to imitate the longer, thinner baitfish.

The worm Bob uses is a very soft 4-inch finesse worm. He likes green pumpkin with the very tip of the tail chartreuse. He usually rigs them on fairly light 3/16- to 1/4-oz. leads on both Texas and Carolina rigs.

A 1/4- to 3/8-oz. brown jig and an Uncle Josh No. 11 pork-rind trailer are his picks for a jig ’n pig. Although he likes the real pig trailers, he admits plastic is much easier to use and will go to it if the bass are not too picky.

Jigs and worms are thrown on 8-lb. test line, and Bob likes spinning gear for fishing these light baits and light line. Bob fishes both the worm and jig ’n pig on the bottom and says it is very important to stay in contact with the bottom. These baits are fished with a crawling, short hopping motion while the hair jig is fished with a swimming motion but still kept in contact with the bottom.

Bob and I fished the following spots on a foggy morning a few weeks ago. It was surprisingly cool to me after sweating on middle Georgia lakes. The fog and cool air made us stick with top- water all morning. These spots will get better and better as the water cools and the fish get more active. Bob says he
fishes them year-round.

No. 1: N 34° 52.699 – W 84° 16.575 — Heading toward the dam, the open water narrows down, and there are three rocky points in a row on your right. All three drop into very deep water and have rock and some wood on them. All are good places to find small- mouths, spots and largemouths right now.

Start on the first point downstream of the Lakewood Landing ramp cove, and work toward the dam. Fish topwater plugs as you work down these points first thing in the morning. Stay way out in the clear water, and make long casts near the bank, fishing your bait back to the boat. Bass will hold deep here but come up for a topwater early in the morning.

After fishing the three points with topwater early, or when hitting them later in the day, work them with worms and jigs. Watch your depthfinder for baitfish, and make sure you fish out at least as deep as the bait is holding. Concentrate on areas where the balls of herring or shad are holding because the bass will be nearby.

Swim your hair jig just off the bot- tom, staying in contact with it. That is hard to do since the bottom drops so fast. Light line helps, and you must fish slowly to stay in the effective zone. Do the same with a worm or jig ’n pig, making slow pulls and short hops to keep the bait right on the bottom.

No. 2: N 34° 52.145 – W 84° 16.429 — Going up the lake on your right, across the mouth of the cove with the marina in it, you will see an island with a big square marker with the number one on it. This marks miles from the dam. This point is a good place to start first thing in the morning with top- water then follow up with your other baits.

Start on the rocky point on the downstream side of the island, and work to your right, going into the cove formed by the island and mainland. They will be connected when the water is low this time of year. This point runs out to 30 feet deep at full pool then drops fast into 60 feet of water. There is good chunk rock on this point to hold bass.

As you work into the cove, a shallow point and flat comes out on the tip of the island toward the cove, then drops off. This is an excellent place to catch schooling bass so always be ready for them. They push baitfish back into the pocket formed by the island and mainland.

There is a dock that usually has a sailboat tied to it on the mainland side of the cove, and the dock is worth a few casts before leaving this spot. Work past it a short distance, hitting any wood that is still in the water, too.

No. 3: N 34° 50.884 – W 84° 16.174 — Run up the river past marker number four and the mouth of Charlie Creek where the river makes a sharp bend to your left around an island. The river side of this island is a good bluff bank to fish. Start at the downstream tip of the island and work upstream, casting topwater to the bank. Keep an eye on your depthfinder for brushpiles; there are several out in deeper water. There are also a couple of blowdowns to hit. I got a keeper largemouth on a popper here when Bob and I fished.

Fish to the upstream point of the island. Then work back, fishing the bottom with your jig and worm. Hit any brushpiles you saw as you worked up. There are a couple that were out in 20 feet of water near the upstream point the day we fished, so they are about 25 feet below full pool level.

No. 4: N 34° 50.926 – W 84° 16.100 — When you are on the upstream point of the island you will see a standing dead pine on the bank across the cove behind the island. There are a couple of small rocky and sandy points on that side, and you will see one small tree just off the bank. If you idle straight across from the point of the island toward that small tree, you will see a ledge that is usually 40 feet deep at full pool. There are big scattered stumps on this ledge.

Bob says there are many spots like this on the lake where big stumps are down deep. Those stumps hold bass. As the water drops they get easier to fish because they are not as deep, probably around 25 feet deep right now. Work them with a jig or worm, fishing slowly and trying to make contact with the stumps.

If you idle over this area, you will cross stumps and often see fish suspended on top of them or holding around them. We saw several like that the day we fished. Mark them, and back off to fish them. The stumps are so scattered the only way to hit them if you don’t mark them is to drag your bait along the bottom.

No. 5: N 34° 50.791 – W 84° 15.946 — Going upstream, there is another island on your left that is really a long point when the water is down. It is on the outside bend of the river and drops off very fast. You will see limbs over the water if it is at full pool and some dead brush and tree tops on the downstream point of this island. Bob says this is a good spotted-bass point.

Fish around it early with topwater, then work it with your other baits. Fish way out, and watch for brush and bait- fish. Sometimes you will find layers of different kinds of bass on places like this, with some largemouth in more shallow water, spots a little deeper and smallmouth out even deeper. But you may catch any of the three species at any level here, especially if they are under baitfish.

No. 6: N 34° 50.541 – W 84° 16.283 — Across the lake going upstream is a point with the marker number five on it on your right. There is a straight bank upstream of the marker that drops off right into the river, running from that point up to a small pocket. This bluff bank, from just above the point with the marker up to the pocket, is a good area for smallmouth.

Start at the point and work up, casting your worms or jigs to the blow- downs along the bank as well as working the bottom with both baits. There is a lot of rock here to hold fish. Bob hooked a keeper smallmouth on his Carolina rig here the day we fished.

No. 7: N 34° 50.329 – W 84° 16.329 — The river makes a turn to the left going up just before you get to marker number six, and there is a series of points along the left bank going up that Bob calls “Ten Points.” All the points are good places to work topwater early then drag the bottom. I got a small spotted bass here on top the day we fished.

The first pocket above the point has several blowdowns in it, three big ones and several smaller ones, all mixed up. If they are still in the water, bass will hold in them to feed. You will also see a patch of dead standing trees on the bank on the second point going up. They look like beetle-killed pine trees. Start at the point and work upstream, fishing any wood cover and the rocks on the bottom.

No. 8: N 34° 49.089 – W 84° 15.980 — On up the river between markers seven and eight is Long Creek on your right. The main-lake point on the upstream side of this creek is a perfect example of the kinds of points that hold bass on Blue Ridge. It drops off fast into deep water and has rocks and brush on it to hold bass. Bob says there is also a huge stump on the point that is great when the water is over it.

The point has a block-rock seawall around it, and there is a wooden deck on the upriver side of it. Out on the point are some chairs where the owner often sits and enjoys the lake. Start fishing the bluff wall near the deck, and work down to the point, around it and into the cove to the first dock.

All along this area the water drops fast, and there are rocks and brush, and that stump, to hold bass. Fish all your baits here. If you catch a bass at a certain depth, try making parallel casts to the bank, keeping your bait in that
water depth. Others should be holding at that depth.

No. 9: N 34° 48.939 – W 84° 16.010 — Idle into Long Creek to the back, and you will see a waterfall entering to the left of a house back there. Bob says bass sometimes stack up here, and he always fishes it, no matter what time of year. There are several docks to fish as well as rocks and wood on the bottom.

Two of the docks are what Bob calls “hard” docks — docks with posts in the water. Both are on the left going in. Start fishing at the fourth house from the back on the left, the one with the screened room on posts over the water. Fish all the posts. Many have collars of concrete at the bottom where a bass will hold. Work the bank, hitting the seawalls, wood structure and the docks.

No. 10: N 34° 49.137 – W 84° 15.814 — Across the lake, and upstream, you will see a buoy on the upstream point of a cove on your left. Bob suggested this spot to Fisheries as a good place for a state brushpile, and a buoy marks the fish attractor. There is scattered brush at a variety of depths around the marker.

Fish topwater over it, then work  around and through the brush with your other baits. As you fish around the marker, watch your depthfinder. There is brush a good ways out from it in all directions, so don’t get in too close and get on top of it.

The water may get muddy this far up the river after a heavy rain, Bob warns. It muddies up quickly when the water is down like it will be this fall, and he does not like fishing muddy water. If it is muddy up the river, head back down to clearer water on the main lake.

Bob says the TVA plans to draw Blue Ridge down about 100 feet some- time between now and 2010 to make repairs at the dam. Look for future info on that drawdown. That will be an excellent time to find hidden stump beds, rock piles and other features to fish when the lake comes back up. You will need a small boat to put in, but it will be worth your time to scout. And the fishing should be great, with the fish restricted basically to the old river channel.

To book a trip with Bob, visit Bob can show you first-hand how to catch Blue Ridge smallmouths.

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