Lake Blue Ridge Walleye

Walleye experts tell you where to go and what to cast when you get there for Blue Ridge walleye in March.

Brad Bailey | March 1, 2003

If you want to catch walleye in Georgia, the place you need to go is Lake Blue Ridge. There are walleye in other north Georgia lakes, of course, and some good ones. The state record fish at 11-lbs. 6-ozs. was caught in Lake Russell. The previous record of 11 pounds even was caught from Lake Burton. But for numbers of these bug-eyed, toothy, great-eating fish, no lake can beat Blue Ridge. And while the lake is known for lots of small walleye, there’s the long shot at a trophy- fish, too. The Blue Ridge lake record, caught in 2001, weighed 9-lbs., 4-ozs.

Lake Blue Ridge is a clear, mountain reservoir of only 3,300 acres. It is what fisheries biologists call a “predator heavy” lake. Walleye, largemouths, smallmouths, spotted bass, crappie, bream, catfish and perch all compete for food in this relatively infertile lake. Walleye reproduce naturally in Blue Ridge, but because forage is limited, most fish remain small. The fish are know locally as Blue Ridge cigars for their long narrow shape. Young bluegill, perch and any other small fish that they can catch are all on the walleye’s menu. Walleye will eat a few other things, too, including Shad Raps, twister-tail grubs, and jigging spoons.

Most of the walleye you will catch from Blue Ridge will be a foot or so long and cigar-shaped, but occasionally you’ll catch a fish in the 1 1/2- to 2-lb. range. A mouthful of needle-sharp teeth will quickly discourage you from lipping walleye into the boat.

March is considered one of the best months for walleye. As the water warms, these deep-water fish will move right up on rocky banks, and they are easier to catch.

Few people know more about catching walleye at Blue Ridge than John Hembree, Nathan Lewis and James Roberson. These mountain-lake anglers have been catching walleye from Blue Ridge for years. Here is what they have to say about how to catch Blue Ridge walleye in March.

John Hembree lives in the town of  Blue Ridge. He prefers to fish for walleye by the light of the moon.

“The key to catching walleye is having the full moon,” said John. “You can catch a few on dark nights, but the very best times are on the full moon. I guess the fish can see the bait better, and you can see better to get around the lake.”

John and his brother Jerry were on Blue Ridge on Tuesday evening, February 11 as the moon was building to full on February 16, and they caught 20 walleye in three hours of fishing.

“The fish were everywhere,” said John. “We caught at least one fish from every place we hit except for one.” Two days later, on Thursday, February 13, they were back on the lake after dark and caught seven walleye.

“These are just the preliminary rounds,” said John. “When it gets good in March and April, you should be able to catch as many as 30 to 35 fish a few times.”

On February 13, John and Jerry fished the lower half of the lake, starting on the rip-rap at the dam, the adjacent points, and then working up the lake hitting rocky points.

They caught their fish on curly-tail grubs fished on 1/8-oz. lead heads. John prefers smoke-colored grubs on moonlit nights. He said Jerry prefers pearl grubs, and he paints a black line down the back of the grub and fishes it on a red jig head. They fish the jigs on either 4-lb. or 6-lb. line.

This string of Blue Ridge walleye and a couple of smallmouths were caught on Shad Raps after dark on a mid-December night when the temperature was in the 20s.

“The fish weren’t right on the bank yet,” said John. “We were having to pull the jigs out into about eight or 10 feet of water to find them. The water is still cold. We have had about a month with nights that were below freezing and the water temperature is still in the upper 30s (Feb. 13). Walleye are a coldwater fish, but that is pretty cold, and they haven’t moved shallow yet. We need 40 degrees to spark the fishing.”

As the water temperature rises, the fish will pull up tighter to the banks, and smallmouth bass will move in, too. Through February 13, John and Jerry had caught no smallmouths, but that will change as the season progresses.

“In March, the majority of the fish you catch will be walleye, with an occasional smallmouth thrown in,” he said. “In early April it will be about half-and-half, and by the end of April the walleye will have started moving into deeper water and the majority of what you catch will be smallmouths.”

Walleye are more common on rocky banks, but John also keeps an eye on what color of rock.

“This time of year, we target the steeper points with dark rocks,” he said. “The smallmouths seem to like points with white rock, but the walleye like darker rock.”

As the fish move onto the banks, John will switch from the curly-tail to a No. 5, or No. 7 shad-colored Shad Rap. Both walleye and smallmouths will eat the small crankbait.

Points in the mid-lake area are a good place to start if you have never fished Blue Ridge before. About half-way up the lake, the Toccoa River makes a hard turn to the left. Just after that turn, there is an island known as the Big Island. John said that the rocky points on the island and up and down the river within a half-mile is a prime area for walleye.

Blue Ridge has a good population of walleye, so many that there is a special limit of 15 fish per day. Elsewhere in the state, the daily limit is eight walleye.

On average, a Blue Ridge walleye will weigh from about a half-pound to a pound, with an occasional fish in the 1 1/2- to 2-lb. range. John’s biggest walleye from Blue Ridge weighed 4 1/2 pounds.

“If you catch 100 walleye,” he said, “95 of them will weigh less than a pound.”

What they lack in size, they more than make up for in eating quality. The meat is white, mild and delicious. The filets, breaded and deep-fried, are arguably Georgia’s best-tasting freshwater fish.

James Roberson lives in Blue Ridge and has been fishing the lake with the same name for bass and walleye for 35 or 40 years. He has a 4 1/2-lb. smallmouth and a 6-lb. walleye among his fishing credentials from the lake. For walleye fishing this month he recommends jigging spoons, twister-tail jigs, and doll flys.

“The water is still cold and most of the walleye are still deep,” he said. He recommended targeting long tapering points where they drop off into the creek channel, or the mouths of creeks where they hit the river channel.

“If you go to the mouth of Wilscot, Star or Green creeks and watch your depthfinder, you should be able to see some fish holding right on the bottom,” he said.

During daylight hours in March, James expects to find walleye in the 30- to 35-foot depths. If he marks fish on the bottom, he will drop a 6/10-oz. Flex-It spoon all the way to the bottom. He then raises and lowers his rod tip to move the jig 18 inches or so off the bottom. A white spoon with green, white, or silver tape is a good choice. You can also expect to boat some white bass while jigging for walleye, he says.

“The white bass feed around with the pike,” he said. “If you are spooning, you are subject to catch some white bass, too.”

The second technique James recommends for Blue Ridge walleye is to cast either a curly-tail jig or a doll fly to deep banks.

“You want to bring the jig out just off the bottom into 20 or 25 feet of water. You can’t always tell what depth the fish will be,” he said.

His favorite colors are amber or crawfish. Chartreuse with metal-flake and watermelon-seed are also good color choices. The trick is to bring the jig back as slowly as possible without hanging it on the bottom. The fish aren’t very active in the cold water and aren’t likely to run down a fast-moving bait.

The same slow, rock-ticking retrieve goes for the doll fly. James ties his own “flys,” in a variety of color combinations, but patterns that imitate crawfish are his favorites at Lake Blue Ridge.

An overcast day is best for walleye fishing, says James. “Their eyes are sensitive to light, so I like to have a little cloud cover.”

Jigging for walleye may work any time during the day, he said, but working the banks is best in late afternoon, especially during the week of a full moon.

James’ biggest Blue Ridge walleye weighed six pounds, and he caught it two years ago on a jigging spoon.

“I knew it was a big pike when I hooked it,” he said. “They feel a little different. They are a lazy fighter and they don’t scrap much — it feels more like a dead pull.”

In March, James expects to find walleye along the deep banks up the river past the big island. Look for rock banks rather than red-clay banks, he said.

Walleye fishing at Blue Ridge should hold up well until May, said James. After that, as the water warms, the fish move out to the river channel and hold in water 50 or more feet deep.

Nathan Lewis, of Blue Ridge, is one of only a few fishing guides on Blue Ridge. Like John and James, he catches his share of walleye on curly-tails and Shad Raps, but he has also tried a few live-bait tricks.

“I have caught some walleye using medium-sized minnows,”  he said. “I use a Palomar knot through the eye of the hook so that the weight is at the end of the line — like a drop-shot rig. Then you hook a 2 1/2-inch minnow through the lips, and just fish it real slow on the rocky points. You will catch walleye and smallmouths.”

The same rig would likely work with a big nightcrawler, too — a favorite bait of walleye anglers in the northern United States.

Nathan has also pulled a Carolina-rig with a minnow behind his boat while he eases along casting Shad Raps to the bank. Or, when he has kids in the boat, he will fish minnows under a float right up on the bank.

If you have a four-wheel drive, you can launch a boat into Blue Ridge from the gravel bank at Morganton Point. There is a concrete ramp at Blue Ridge Marina.

And if you want to mark your calendar, the next full moon is prime time for walleye.

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