Lake Chatuge Hybrids Are Back
Guide Jeremy Seabolt says Lake Chatuge is full of hard-fighting hybrids that are hungry and easy to find in July.
Ronnie Garrison | July 1, 2019
There is a secret in the north Georgia mountains. Few anglers are aware that Lake Chatuge is full of 6- to 8-lb. hybrid bass. They are hungry, they are in tight schools under baitfish right now, and you can catch 30 to 50 of them in a few hours all summer long.
Filled in 1942, Lake Chatuge is a 7,500-acre, 13-mile-long TVA lake on the Georgia/North Carolina border at Hiawassee. Although waters are in both states, a Georgia fishing license is good in all waters of Chatuge.
It is a beautiful lake surrounded by mountains, and its deep, clear water makes it a great place to visit. It is better known for spotted bass fishing, especially after the BASS Angler of the Year Championship showed off its quality last fall.
Less well known is the numbers and quality of hybrid bass in it. Both Georgia and North Carolina have been stocking them for years. Chatuge produced the state record hybrid in 1995, a 25-lb., 6-oz. monster, and fishing was good for them for a few years. Then a decline in the stocking rate and population made Chatuge a less attractive place to catch them.
A few years ago the stocking rate was quietly increased, and now there are good year classes of fish in the 6- to 8-lb. range. They school up 25 to 30 feet deep over 50 plus feet of water, holding and feeding under clouds of blueback herring.
Find a school of hybrids, and the action will be fast and furious. The best bait is live blueback herring, but they can be caught on artificials, too. And topwater schooling action happens often enough to provide a thrill on many trips.
Jeremy Seabolt owns Lake Nottely Fishing Charters and has been guiding for 18 years on Chatuge, Nottley, Blue Ridge and at the Hiawassee dam. Although he does walleye and bass trips, Jeremy specializes in striped bass and hybrids. He discovered the good hybrid fishing on Chatuge a couple of years ago.
“You will see very few boats fishing for hybrids here,” Jeremy said.
On a weekday you are likely to be the only boat catching them. There may be a few local boats on weekends, but, unlike other lakes, it is very uncrowded with fishermen. The weekday we fished, we saw two boats fishing for hybrids at the dam and a couple of bass fishermen, but that was it.
Jeremy and his first-mate son Doccoa took me to Chatuge in mid-June to show me how they catch hybrids. Although the hybrids were just starting to school up on the summer pattern, we boated more than 20 good fish in just a few hours that morning.
One school of fish produced several doubles and some triples, and there would have been more triples if I could have put my pen and camera down long enough to get that third rod while Jeremy and Doccoa both fought a fish.
“The key to catching hybrids in the summer is to ride points, humps and channel ledges until you find the bait and hybrids under them,” Jeremy said.
The full-time guide recommends looking for Chatuge hybrids in Bell, Lick Log and Shooting creeks, as well as around the islands near the dam. The point with channel marker 1 is a good one. Stay in at least 40 feet of water. The fish are often over 60 to 70 feet of water, and you should find schools of bait and hybrids down 25 to 30 feet deep.
What you want to find is “spaghetti” on your depthfinder. When you see lines moving diagonally under clouds of bait, you are looking at hybrids running through the bait and feeding.
Since there is only one generator at the Chatuge dam, current is usually not a factor. Wind blowing into a cove or creek, or across points or humps, can improve the bite. Early mornings and late afternoons are usually best, but the fish feed all day. Jeremy often books three trips a day during the summer and catches hybrids on all three.
“Hybrids fight harder than any other fish this side of saltwater,” Jeremy said.
When hooked, a hybrid stays down, digging for deeper water. You need a reel with a good drag and a light-action rod with lots of bend, especially when the hybrid gets near the boat and makes a hard run on short line.
Jeremy uses Shimano reels and Okuma rods. The drag is set light so a strong hybrid won’t break the line. It also helps to not tear the hook out of the fish’s mouth, especially when they grab a herring with the rod in a holder. They hook themselves, there is no need for a hard hookset. You just take the rod out of the holder and fight it.
Jeremy has a center console boat that comfortably fishes four to six people. He usually sets four downline rods with heavy weights to drop down to the fish, and he uses two flat lines off the back of the boat—freelined baits with no weight.
A No. 1 or No. 2 hook is Jeremy’s choice. He says he has a higher hook-up rate with hooks that are smaller than many fishermen use. He ties the hook to a 6- to 12-foot leader. The 8- to 12-lb. Seaguar fluorocarbon leader is tied to a swivel. He puts a 1 1/2 to 2-oz. sinker is put above the swivel tied to 15-lb. Trilene Big Game main line.
The heavy sinker gets the bait down to cooler water fast, keeping them healthy, and makes it easier to move around staying on top of the fish and keeping the bait in front of them.
Herring 6 or 7 inches long are nose- or lip-hooked. This allows the bait to swim freely as Jeremy eases around the schools of fish, staying on top of them. He also keeps a big 4- to 6-inch Parker spoon on a rod, so he can drop it down to flutter through the hybrids. Although he does not catch many hybrids on the spoon, it seems to turn the fish on and can stimulate them to hit the live bait.
Lively bait is extremely important. For a half-day trip, Jeremy carries at least 10 dozen herring in his big bait tank. That ensures a good supply of lively bait, and he often goes through them all in half a day.
Jeremy catches and sells herring to local bait stores like Jacks Creek Bait and Tackle and the Bait Shack on Nottely. He has his own store, too. His bait shop is open 24 hours a day at 696 Deaver Road, one mile from Johnson Boat Ramp on Lake Nottely. Jeremy provides good lively herring.
Live shad, either threadfin or gizzard, will also catch summer hybrids at Chatuge, but they are harder to find at bait stores. You can net your own, but if you go planning on getting your own bait, you take the chance you won’t catch any.
Bigger baits are better, according to Jeremy, so herring or gizzard shad should be your preferred bait choice.
You can catch hybrids on artificial lures, too, if you don’t want to mess with live bait. Umbrella rigs, spoons, swimbaits and bucktails will catch hybrids and you can fish them in a variety of ways.
Trolling umbrella rigs is a popular way to fish for hybrids. Use a heavy rig with 5- or 6-inch swimbaits on them, and troll them slowly 120 to 150 feet behind the boat, keeping your speed slow enough for the rig to get down to the 20- to 25-foot range where the hybrids are feeding. Troll over schools of fish you locate on your electronics.
Bucktail jigs, plastic swimbaits and spoons can be trolled, too, but use a good swivel to avoid line twist with the spoon. Use 5- to 6-inch baits swimbaits. A 1/4-oz. bucktail or a 1/2-oz. spoon are good hybrids lures. Those baits can be jigged under the boat, too. Drop them down to the depth you see the fish, and jig them in front of the fish.
Jeremy always keeps a white Zoom Super Fluke and a big Zara Spook or Pencil Popper ready for topwater action. He said last year there was a lot of topwater schooling in July and August. When you see fish hitting on top, get close enough to make a long cast to them, and work your baits through the action.
For our trip, Jeremy had searched the lake and found a good school of hybrids on a channel edge. One good thing about Chatuge hybrids in the summer is they tend to stay in the same place. Once you find them, you can go back to the same school many times. They will move around under baitfish as the bait moves, but the hybrids will often stay on the same structure.
We went straight to the school of fish he had found in Bell Creek. His Lowrance sonar lit up, and Jeremy quickly dropped his Minn Kota Riptide trolling motor to hold us over them. The fish were feeding. As soon as Jeremy and Doccoa got the herring on rods and dropped them down to 25 feet, we started getting bites.
After catching more than 15 hybrids, we went looking for more schools of fish. We found several. It helps to know where to look, and Jeremy has the experience and knowledge to find them fast. The other fish we found had not really tightened up and started feeding like the first school, but they were active.
It is tempting to stay on one school until you run out of bait, but Jeremy prefers fishing several different schools on each trip. That way, clients get to see more of the lake and catch fish, without wearing out one school. The schools you find can be fished another day.
To protect the fishery, Jeremy prefers catch-and-release fishing. Clients can keep a few fish to eat, but he does not want to decimate the fish population. He charges $300 for half a day trip for two people with $50 for each additional person. A maximum of four fishermen is his preference, but he can fish up to six people. Kids 10 and under fish free.
We caught one 14-inch spotted bass from the first school of hybrids we fished. Spots sometimes feed with the hybrids. If hybrid action is slow, especially when kids are on the trip, Jeremy knows several places he can take them and catch a bunch of spots to keep the kids happy catching fish.
Jeremy makes finding and catching hybrids seem easy, and a trip with him is fun and entertaining. Call Jeremy at 706.994.8649 to book a trip with him. For more info, visit lakenottelyfishingcharter.com.
We put in at Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds, another little-known jewel on Lake Chatuge. It is a beautiful park with lake-front campsites. It is a good place to camp and fish, and if you have family members who don’t fish, several nearby venues and exhibits will give them something to do. And there are a lot of attractions in Hiawassee.
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