Rome City Limit Striped Bass
Lake Weiss stripers make their annual run up the Coosa River, and you can load the boat without leaving the city of Rome.
The below article and video first aired in June 1999 with striper angler Glenn Brown, GON writer Lindsay Thomas Jr. and GON-TV cameraman Eric Thornton. Join them for an amazing day of fish catching on the Coosa River more than 20 years ago.
“If a location is going to produce a striper, you usually won’t have to wait more than about 10 minutes to find out,” Glenn Brown told me.
We had just anchored Glenn’s deck boat above a section of Coosa River shoals that lie within the city limits of Rome in Floyd County, and we began hooking on fresh, live shad and chunking out the four lines we were fishing. I baited a line and tossed the weighted rig toward the bank and a log pile, and before the handle of the Ugly Stik had settled into the rod holder, the bait clicker began to whine.
Doubtful that a fish had taken the bait so quickly, I hesitated, but the arc in the rod was not imaginary. I picked it up and set the hook on another Coosa striper, the fifth one in an hour-and-a-half on the river. The striper quickly made the same evasive maneuver that the others had: running downstream of the boat and turning its side against the current, gaining leverage that added several pounds of resistance to the striper’s actual size. This one was the biggest striper of the morning, 8 1/2 pounds, and while I winched it upstream toward the boat, Glenn laughed.
“See what I mean,” he said. “If they’re here, you don’t have to wait long.”
I first met Glenn last summer when he came to the GON office in Marietta to claim his prizes for winning Week 13 of the 1998 fishing contest. Glenn won with a 38-lb. blue catfish that he caught in the Coosa River in Floyd County — while he was fishing for stripers. Glenn fishes the Coosa often, as much as four days a week from May through July, and he keeps records of his catch. The few days of fishing that he told me about seemed almost too good to be true, so this year I decided to find out for myself about Coosa stripers. On May 4, GON-TV cameraman Eric Thornton and I joined Glenn for a day on the river, and watched Glenn log another successful day of fishing in his striper diary.
We started the day in Brushy Branch, where the Coosa ends and Lake Weiss begins — not to begin fishing, but to catch bait. You can catch shad in the river with a castnet,
Glenn said, but it is much easier and quicker in the flats around the Brushy Branch Park ramp. With his 10-foot castnet and a depth finder, Glenn began to fill the bait tank with big gizzard shad. I knew Glenn was a serious striper fisherman when I got a look at his bait tank: a full-sized plastic garbage can. Mounted on the bow was the oxygen tank from Glenn’s welding torch. Through a product called an Oxygen Edge, pure oxygen was being funneled into an aerator stone in the bottom of the bait tank. By aerating the bait tank with pure oxygen instead of just air, Glenn has found that the shad last much longer and stay livelier.
With 60 or more big shad, we trailered Glenn’s deck boat, made by Lowe, and headed back to Rome. Across the street from Floyd Hospital is the Heritage Park Sports Complex, right on the Coosa, complete with a boat ramp. Just upstream of this ramp is the confluence of the Etowah and Oostanaula rivers, where the Coosa is formed. We put in and motored downstream and around the first bend to the mouth of Horseleg Creek, barely out of sight of the ramp. At the mouth of Horseleg Creek is a set of shoals in about seven feet of water, revealed only by swirling updrafts of water on the surface of the river. Glenn anchored the boat about 20 feet upstream of the shoals, and we prepared to fish.
Glenn’s preferred live bait rigs are not the standard “fish-finder” rigs, similar to a Carolina rig. Instead, Glenn uses a 3-way swivel. On one leg of the swivel is a 4-foot leader of 17-lb. test attached to a 2 1/2-oz. bank sinker. On the other leg is another 17-lb. leader to which is tied a 3/0 Kahle hook. He fishes the rig on 20-lb. mono, and the arrangement, when tight-lined from a rod-holder, presents the shad a couple of feet off the bottom. This way, the shad cannot hug the bottom or hide in the shoals, and the flash of the fluttering bait in mid-current is more visible.
Glenn uses Ambassadeur 6500s or 6000s on a 6 1/2-foot Ugly Stik. On our first stop, we baited up and put out four of these rigs, two on each side of the boat. With the lines in the rear of the boat fished straight downcurrent and the lines in the front fished at a 45-degree angle downcurrent, we were covering a good chunk of the shoals, almost half of the river’s width.
The shoals at Horseleg Creek have been a good spot for Glenn over the past couple of years. The places he fishes, like this one, share a common feature: structure that breaks the current and creates an eddy, making a place where migrating stripers can pause and ambush shad on their way up the river. Logjams and sandbars can serve this function, as can man-made structures like bridge pilings.
At Horseleg Creek, we put out our lines at 8:45 a.m. Fifteen minutes later, the first bait clicker of the morning sounded an alarm as line was stripped from the reel. I was nearest to the rod, so I grabbed it. By the time I had set the hook, the first striper of the morning was far below the shoals and still taking line. Believe me when I tell you that these stripers knew exactly how to use the river current to their advantage. When you tie into one, you fight fish and you fight river.
This was a good one, but not big enough for the net, at 7 1/2 pounds. It was a female, judging by the bulging belly she carried.
That brings up an interesting fact about Coosa stripers: they are one of the very rare exceptions among landlocked stripers in North America in that they naturally reproduce in the river that feeds their reservoir. There are a handful of locations in Georgia where reproduction by landlocked stripers is occurring in detectable levels, but on the Coosa, the striper fishery is actually self-supporting, according to DNR Fisheries biologist Patrick Pierce.
“In most of the other systems [where striper reproduction is successful] the population is still being supported with a lot of stocking,” Patrick told me. “We’re not having to do that on the Coosa. We’ve got a great population and several year-classes out there right now.”
The reason for the success is the size of the Coosa system, along with water quality and temperature. Striper eggs must float downstream for a certain period of time before they can hatch, between 45 to 100 hours, and this is possible in the Coosa. Most of the spawning occurs in the Oostanaula arm, and some spawning female stripers have been found as far up as Dalton on the Conasauga River.
Patrick said that the last time Alabama stocked stripers in Lake Weiss was 1984, and the last time Georgia stocked the Coosa was in 1986. Those fish, Patrick said, are almost assuredly long dead from natural mortality. So the 7 1/2-lb. female, and every other fish we caught on May 4, was hatched in the river, most likely in either 1993 or 1994, the two year-classes that are predominant right now.
It didn’t take long for the second, and larger striper to show up. At 9:30, another fat, 8-lb. female took a shad. Six minutes later, a 6 1/2-pounder hooked up. At 10 a.m., a 7-pounder sent us running for a rod again. Then, for a while, all was quiet.
When the action slows at one drop, Glenn reels in the lines and lets out several more yards of anchor rope, then casts out again to fish a new zone of the particular area. In this case, we raised anchor and moved sideways with the trolling motor until we were above the other side of the shoals, and we anchored again.
This was the place I mentioned earlier, where the first cast produced a striper immediately, as if the bait had come down on the striper’s head. This was striper No. 5, weighing 8 1/2 pounds, and the last striper of the morning. Though we continued to fish different zones of the shoal, the bite had dropped off.
Between Lake Weiss and Rome there are four access points, and Glenn fishes out of all of them. Beginning in Rome is the ramp we used at Heritage Park. There is a ramp at the Mayo Lock & Dam. There is a ramp on Old River Road off Hwy 20, just west of the town of Coosa, and there is the ramp at Brushy Branch.
Look over an excerpt from Glenn’s fishing log (pictured below), and you will see that as June passes and July arrives, Glenn moves down the river to stay with the fish. Though the stripers filter back out of the rivers after the spawn, a large proportion of them remain in the Rome area and slowly move back toward Lake Weiss as the summer progresses. Most don’t go all the way to the lake, however, due to the warm temperatures this shallow lake can achieve in the summer. Other stripers in the lake move upriver to meet them in the warm weather.
In the lower river, Glen focuses on two areas: the Coosa channel in the mouth of Brushy Branch, and the deep, channel side of the first big bend in the river up from Brushy Branch, known as Foster Bend or Coppers Bluff. Here, in July, Glenn finds that the stripers congregate in the deep water, around 20 feet, where the temperatures are coolest. Note in the fishing log that on July 31 of last summer, Glenn had an astounding day in the river near Brushy Branch. The stripers were biting so fast that Glenn quit logging his catches after 72 stripers totaling more than 400 pounds. The action became so fast there was no time to write notes. Glenn said he felt certain he boated between 100 and 130 stripers that day.
Another cool-water, summer haunt of many stripers is the Etowah River. Since the Lake Allatoona dam is not far from Rome on the Etowah, the water temperature of this arm is generally cooler than the Oostanaula. We went up the Etowah in the afternoon of our trip, and we found plenty of stripers there already.
At 3:30 p.m., Glenn motored up past the ramp and took the right-hand fork at the confluence, the Etowah arm. In only a few hundred yards we passed under the Broad Street Bridge, then the old Southern Railway trestle (which is now part of a walking and biking trail in Rome) and then a set of even older, Confederate-era bridge pilings made of stone and mortar. Just upstream of the stone pilings, we anchored in mid-stream. The Etowah in this stretch is narrow and swift, and we could fish both banks of the river from the boat at the same time.
For a change, Glenn took a fresh, live shad and cut it in half, then fished the head on one of the lines. Within 10 minutes, that rod bowed downstream and line began to peel. I lost that fish when it went under the boat and the line broke on the prop, but 15 minutes later we boated a 7 1/2-pounder, again on cut bait.
“It’s probably easier for them to find the cut bait in this stained water,” Glenn said. “They can follow the scent from downstream easier than they can see the bait.”
In 45 minutes, using cut bait on all the lines, we boated five stripers in the Etowah. We had a couple more 8-pounders, and one time Glenn and I were fighting stripers at the same time: a 5 1/2- and a 7-lb. fish.
The very last fish of the day, caught at 5:35, was the fish we had been trying to hook all day long: a blue cat. When a striper takes a bait, you know it right away: the run is instantaneous and fast. But a catfish usually pecks at the bait for a while before it takes the whole thing. So, all day long, we would watch catfish peck at a line then vanish when we set the hook. Finally, Glen got the hook in a blue cat: a 5 1/2-lb. fish. Though bigger cats are in the vicinity of Rome, the most dense population of whoppers is below the Lock & Dam and in upper Lake Weiss. Glenn was fishing at Coppers Bluff when he caught his 38-pounder last year.
Our final tally for the day was a good one in Glenn’s log book: 11 stripers up to 8 1/2 pounds brought to the boat, and one blue cat. We hooked and lost six more stripers.
If you want to try Coosa stripers this month, the trip is a fairly easy one to tackle. Access is good from Lake Weiss to Rome. The only hard part is getting the live shad, though other live baits, like bluegill, will work too. Artificials, like Redfins and Zara Spooks, or bucktail jigs, will also work.
On the Coosa, you can keep up to 15 stripers each day, but no more than two of them can measure greater than 22 inches. We only caught one striper all day that was less than 22 inches. DNR recommends that you make a meal of stripers and catfish from the Coosa no more than once a month, due to contamination from PCBs. For more information about fishing this stretch of the Coosa for stripers, call the Summerville Fisheries Office at 706.857.3394.
And be sure to wave at Glenn when you pass by his deck boat. He’s almost certain to be on the river when you go.
Coosa River Record Fish
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