July 2021


July is a terrific month to enjoy all that the CRNRA has to offer. This month’s Park Post offers information about fishing – fish species, how to get started, where to go, local indigenous history, and more.

Please note: all residents and non-residents ages 16–64 must have a fishing license to fish in fresh and salt waters of Georgia. One day, short-term, and annual passes are available and may be purchased online, in participating locations, or by phone. An additional trout stamp is needed for fishing in the Chattahoochee. For more information, go to https://georgiawildlife.com/licenses-permits-passes. Anglers can keep the fish they catch consistent with Georgia DNR regulations, except during the Delayed Harvest season which is catch and release only. And yes, you can eat them.

Please remember if you are out on the river to wear a personal flotation device and do not try to swim across the river. The water is cold, and the current is swift and can be dangerous. Always practice safety first.

Photo by Capt Kodak

Looking for Browns and Rainbows

The “Lower” Chattahoochee, below Lake Lanier, holds a lot of trout.  Although trout are not indigenous, the river is now a prime habitat with the mighty Buford Dam sitting 160 feet above the riverbed, allowing extremely cold, oxygen-rich water at the bottom of Lake Lanier to flow out from its base year-round.

Three species of well-oxygenated trout have populated the lower Chattahoochee. The original species was the Brook Trout (actually a char, but why quibble). The Brook Trout was stressed by nineteenth century warming of the (un-dammed) river, then pushed out of the river altogether when two non-native species were introduced. The first of those species is the beautiful and adaptable Rainbow Trout. Voracious and varied eaters, these flashy fish are marked by their red-pink stripe down their sides. Rainbow Trout thrive both in the ultra-cold water near the dam and in the warmer, slower moving water much farther downstream past CRNRA’s Paces Mill unit. The other non-native species is the Brown Trout, which hails from Europe. It prefers the colder, faster water in the upper reaches of the tailwater and will lurk in eddies and pools. The great news is that they are now self-sustaining in that region. Catching a wild, brown trout on a surface fly is a real treat!

For more information on local aquatic species fish found in the Chattahoochee, check out the interpretive panel funded by CNPC partner the Upper Chattahoochee Chapter of Trout Unlimited on the new overlook at the Jones Bridge unit.

Photo of a Rainbow Trout by JC7001

In the Park - Fishing Hot Spots

Would any devoted angler ever give up her best fishing spots? In general, fishers are very generous with advice. Additionally, the tailwater of the Chattahoochee below Buford Dam is so large, and the CRNRA offers so many access points, that there is no shortage of good opportunities to catch fish and thus no need to be secretive. 

During the summer, trout like the coldest water they can find. Bowman’s Island is an excellent choice. At lower water, most of the river is accessible to wading, and it also offers good opportunities to floatfish. Access is best from the Lower Pool West boat ramp just above Haw Creek. Try to stay on the gravel, not the slippery rocks, and be aware of any potential water release from the dam. The Jones Bridge unit is also a popular part of the river for fly fishing along the shoals.

Another excellent time to enjoy lots of fish and relative solitude on the lowest portions of the tailwater is the Delayed Harvest season which runs from November 1 to May 14. During that time, the Georgia DNR releases 50,000 trout into the river from Sope Creek in the Cochran Shoals unit downstream to the US 41 bridge in the Paces Mill unit. No bait fishing is allowed, and no multi-hook lures. All fishing is catch and release. As a result, there are a lot of fish in this area during the Delayed Harvest, providing excellent fishing.

Always remember that the cold water that trout love comes out of the dam in massive releases of water that can be very, very dangerous, overwhelming anyone downstream. Don’t ever get into the upper reaches of the “lower” Chattahoochee without checking the release schedule at (770) 945-1466 and understanding how long the released water takes to go downstream, and always wear a life preserver above the highway 20 bridge. This is fantastic trout water, but it can be fatal to humans who don’t take the time to understand when releases are coming or to take precautions.

Photo by Capt Kodak

Fly Fishing Basics

There are a lot of ways to catch fish, and they are all fun. Most of us are familiar with bait fishing, which uses live or dead bait to attract fish with sight and smell, and spinning, which uses artificial lures that are cast using the weight of the lure. Fly fishing is another traditional way of fishing in which an ultra-light hook covered in feathers or yarn is cast using the weight of a heavy line to carry the tiny, nearly weightless fly out to the waiting fish. This unique delivery mechanism permits a tiny imitation of an insect to float quietly down onto the surface of the river, imitating an aquatic insect landing on the water. It is intended to fool the fish’s sight. When it works, it results in a great fight on light line and a long, very flexible rod. When it doesn’t work, the angler does not reel in but rather simply lifts the line with the rod and casts it to a new spot.

Fly fishermen can be gearheads, but an expensive setup is not necessary. A decent flyrod with reel and line can be bought as a package at any of the big-box outdoors stores or online for a reasonable amount. There are several good fly shops along the Chattahoochee that can help with flies, such as Alpharetta Outfitters in downtown Alpharetta, The Fish Hawk in Buckhead, and Orvis. You can start fishing from the shore or wade out in the warm weather. A pair of waders will let you keep fishing into colder weather or closer to the chilly tailwater coming out of Buford Dam.

To get started, you will need a fly rod, reel and line in a 5 or 6 weight (this refers to the weight of the line and the corresponding size of the rod). Check out online tutorials on casting and practice without a fly in a large yard, or better on a calm pond or section of river away from trees. Alternatively, the Atlanta Fly Fishing School offers lessons (and use of their equipment) and is endorsed by Trout Unlimited, a national conservation organization devoted to preserving trout habitat. A local guide, such as Chris Scalley at River Through Atlanta, can take you out on the Chattahoochee to help refine your new skills and make those trout dreams a reality.

Book of the Month - Chattahoochee Trout, the definitive guide to Chattahoochee trout fishing by Steve Hudson

Anyone interested in learning to fish the “tailwaters” below Buford Dam these days is lucky to have the trout wisdom of Steve Hudson distilled into his easy-to-use guide: Chattahoochee Trout (2017, Chattahoochee Media Group). The second half of the book focuses on the water from the Buford Dam down to Paces Mill, which encompasses the entire CRNRA. Mr. Hudson includes detailed maps showing access points. He also details strategies and flies for different portions of the river, and different times of year. For example, the river at Bowman’s Island is characterized by the massive (and massively dangerous) timed releases of icy water which scour the riverbank of most insects and vegetation. This is very different from the slow-moving, warmer water of Island Ford, and the fish expect different food and different presentations of the flies at each section. This book will help anyone get started catching fish. It also contains a detailed discussion of the release schedules for Buford Dam and how to negotiate the upper tailwater from Bowman’s Island down to Highway 20 safely. If fishing this section, you should certainly read Mr. Hudson’s warnings and guidance before heading to the river.

Exploring National Parks in Georgia: Fish Weirs along the Chattahoochee River National Water Trail

    Fish were a perennial and critical food source for the indigenous people who lived along the Chattahoochee River. To capture fish in large numbers, they built fish weirs, also known as fish traps and fish dams. The weirs were made of stones placed in the river in the shape of a "V" or a "W" with the apex, or tip, pointing downstream. A fence of logs and sticks was built on top of the stone base, letting water pass through but not large fish. A wooden basket was usually placed at the apex to catch the fish. Sometimes black walnut bark, which contains a natural byproduct that can briefly stun fish, was thrown into the water to facilitate quick capture.

    Most of the Chattahoochee weirs were built by local indigenous communities, including some weirs which may be prehistoric. The Cherokee were one of many groups that used fish weirs, known as “uga’yatun’i.” A few weirs were built by white settlers, but most were taken over by settlers when the indigenous people were forced off the land. One weir known as Isham’s Fish Dam, located roughly a half mile above the mouth of Sope Creek, was used by Union Troops in 1864 to cross the river. In the late 1800s, Georgia laws were enacted that prohibited blocking waterways used for commercial trade and the use of fish traps to prevent overfishing.

    There are 11 fish weirs identified along the Chattahoochee River in the CRNRA. Some existing fish weirs are visible when the water level is low. Others were destroyed by construction of underground sewer pipelines, and many are degraded from erosion, flooding, boating, and vandalism. Most are visible in aerial photographs or on Google Earth. For more information on fish weirs located in the CRNRA, please refer to https://www.nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/chat/hrs_2007.pdf

    Photo of the Berkeley Lake Fish Weir courtesy of Google Earth

    Birds in the Park - Winged Fishermen of the Chattahoochee

      Humans are not the only species that enjoy fishing in the Chattahoochee River – birds of all types do as well! Great Blue Herons, Bald Eagles, Belted Kingfishers, and Ospreys all rely on the Chattahoochee River as a food source, and all have their unique ways of catching fish.

      As the national bird of the United States, Bald Eagles are easily recognizable. Sporting white heads and tails, dark brown body and wings, and bright yellow beak and feet, they are one of the largest birds in North America. Bald Eagles primarily eat fish but will also scavenge for garbage and carrion and hunt mammals and waterfowl. When fishing, Bald Eagles will generally scout from atop a high tree or soar over the water before quickly swooping down to catch a fish with their feet.

      Great Blue Herons are blue-grey in body and wing color, with a thick black stripe near the eyes and a long orange beak. Open to both freshwater and saltwater habitats, Great Blue Herons are frequently seen stalking fish in and along the Chattahoochee River. This species will stand still or wade slowly in the shallower parts, waiting for the perfect opportunity to swiftly spear a fish with their sharp beaks.

      About the size of a robin, Belted Kingfishers are identifiable by their straight, pointed beak, shaggy-crested head, and distinguished color pattern of a blue-grey head and wings and white underbelly. Belted Kingfishers perch on branches or hover near the water, seeking out small fish, then dive once a target is acquired.

      Ospreys are found near any body of water, including the Chattahoochee River. Ospreys are very large raptors, between the size of a Red Tailed Hawk and a Bald Eagle, and have thin bodies with long legs, brown wings, and a white underbelly. To find fish, Ospreys will circle the airspace over shallow water. They will then hover, dive, and grab a fish with their talons to carry back to a nearby nest.

      Many types of birds can be seen fishing in the ‘Hooch, but these four species are distinctive. Take note of their physical appearance and preferred fishing techniques, then see if you can spot one on your next trip to the CRNRA.

      Photo by Tom Wilson

      Family Fun - Favorite Family Fishing Spots

        Fishing is a fun way for families to spend time together in nature, and fortunately metro Atlanta has a ton of great family friendly fishing spots! Fishing is not only a hobby – it is a great way to teach children patience, empathy, and gentleness towards animals, and spark an interest in ecology.

        Children can begin fishing at any age, although many parents choose to wait until they’re at least three years old so they have a general understanding of the concepts involved and better control over the rod. Younger children can still enjoy the fishing experience with a net or wading along the riverbank and turning over rocks.

        Here are a few of many family friendly fishing spots to try in the CRNRA:

        • Kids’ Fishing Pier at Island Ford
        • Overlook at Jones Bridge
        • Sibley Pond at Sope Creek

        Remember to always supervise children closely, outfit them in well-fitting life jackets when spending time near water, and follow all state/local rules and regulations. 

        Photo of Kids’ Fishing Pier at Island Ford unit by Barnard

        Field Notes from CNPC’s Walk and Talk at the Buford Trout Hatchery 

          The Buford Trout Hatchery was host to CNPC’s June Walk and Talk event. Member participants were able to see firsthand how the Wildlife Resources Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources supports trout fishing in the CRNRA. The hatchery is located on the banks of the Chattahoochee River and pumps cold water immediately below Lake Lanier's Buford Dam to support trout production. Walk and Talk guide Kyle Trenda showed how water is circulated, blended, and aerated to maintain ideal conditions before the water is returned to the Chattahoochee River. The quality and temperature of the water impact trout health and growth. Up to one-half million brown and rainbow trout are at the hatchery, and participants had the opportunity to feed many of them.

          The highlight of the tour was watching the "transport" tanker being loaded, then joining Kyle on a stocking run. Participants formed a bucket brigade and released trout into the Chattahoochee River along the banks just upstream of the Bowmans Island unit. Both anglers and anticipating herons appreciated our efforts. 

          The Buford Trout Hatchery is open to the public daily from 8:00 am to 4:30 pm and offers a great opportunity for a side trip before or after a hike at Bowmans Island. 

          Updates & Opportunities 

          Celebrating Latino Conservation Week July 17-25th

          Latino Conservation Week, July 17 -25th, is an annual celebration created to support the Latino community getting into the outdoors and participating in activities to protect natural resources. Launched in 2014, Latino Conservation Week, or Disfrutando y Conservando Nuestra Tierra, is an initiative of the Hispanic Access Foundation (HAF). During this week, Hispanic community leaders and organizations partner to demonstrate the Latino community’s commitment to conservation and to support local and national conservation issues. Events such as hiking, camping, and community roundtables are held throughout the country to promote outdoor opportunities near where Latino families and youth live and to inform policy makers and media of Latino communities' views on conservation and their support for permanent protections of local and national natural resources such as land, water, and air. Family gatherings and community events at National Parks and National Wildlife Refuges are encouraged.

          The best way to celebrate is to get outdoors. This is a great time for a hike, fishing trip, trail exploration, or picnic in the CRNRA! For more information on celebrating Latino Conservation Week with NPS, go to https://www.nps.gov/subjects/npscelebrates/latino-conservation-week.htm.

          Graphic by NPS/Matt Turner

          Cochran Shoals Update

          Field construction to replace the third and final river overlook in Cochran Shoals is scheduled for early July. Any final contributions toward this project would be appreciated. Donate Today

          Upcoming Events:

          Morning Birding Paddle with Georgia Audubon 

          • Sunday, July 11th at 7:30 am 
          • Float from Powers Island to Paces
          • Learn More

          Yoga in the Park with SweetWater Brewing Company

          • Thursday, July 22nd from 6:00-8:00 pm
          • Paces Mill Unit
          • Learn More
          CRNRA Volunteer Trail Day
          • Saturday, July 3rd 8:45 am - 1:00 pm
          • West Palisades at the Paces Mill unit, 3444 Cobb Parkway in Marietta
          • For more information and to sign up, go to https://crnra.vip/forms/i-would-like-to-volunteer/

          CRNRA Volunteer Trail Day

          • Saturday, July 17th 8:45 am - 1:00 pm
          • Columns Dr at the Cochran Shoals unit, 150 Columns Dr in Marietta
          • For more information and to sign up, go to https://crnra.vip/forms/i-would-like-to-volunteer/

          Follow us on social and stay updated on all park activities!

          Become a CNPC member or donate today!

          YOU can help us achieve our vision of an inspired and thriving community of support for the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area.

          CNPC is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. We are proud to support our Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, a unit of the national park system managed by the National Park Service.

          Chattahoochee National Park Conservancy
          P.O. Box 769332, Roswell, GA 30076
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