Story and Photos by Bill Vanderford
Memories of clear, crisp mountain mornings with bronze-colored smallmouth bass exploding on tiny topwater lures before tailwalking across the surface of Lake Chatuge are a thing of the past. In fact, much has changed in and around this 7,050 acre TVA lake since it was first impounded in 1943.
Lake Chatuge is located at Hiawassee and is distributed almost equally between Towns County, Georgia and Macon County, North Carolina. The main source of water that feeds this gorgeous mountain lake has its origin in the Peach State. From its headwaters, the Hiawassee River flows down the eastern slope of the Blue Ridge from the vicinity of Uncoi Gap, then joins with Soapstone Creek, which plunges downstream near Georgia’s tallest mountain, Brasstown Bald, before emptying its clear waters into Lake Chatuge.
Spotted bass from a self-stocking program by local anglers were first detected in Lake Chatuge in 1983. This had a very detrimental effect on the smallmouth bass population by the much hardier spotted bass, and today none of the feisty bronze fish exist.
Before the spotted bass were found in Lake Chatuge, it had about 70 percent smallmouth and 30 percent largemouth black bass. During the 1970s, the lake became popular for bass fishermen and 7- to 10-pound largemouth bass became fairly common, including one that tipped the scales at 16 pounds, 11 ounces. Though their numbers have declined along with the smallmouth, a few big largemouth are still caught, but the spotted bass is definitely the most prolific black bass in Lake Chatuge today.
Since spotted bass prefer rocky points, anglers concentrate their efforts in those areas. Most rocky points have very little structure other than the rocks, so the bass are usually easy to locate. One of the best lures for such action is the 1/8th ounce Swirleybird, which is very streamlined and can be cast great distances on spinning tackle.
Because baitfish schools often migrate up into the Hiawassee River or any of the small feeder streams that possess running water, these are excellent places to look forfeeding bass. The rip-rap along the face of Chatuge Dam is also a good place for those who want to fish topwater lures early or late in the day or crawdad-colored, diving crankbaits during the middle of the day.
The Ridges Resort, formerly known as The Fieldstone Inn, has been completely refurbished into one of the finest places to stay in the North Georgia mountains. It is a complete facility located on Lake Chatuge near Hiawassee. For more information, or to make reservations go to their web site www.theridgesresort.com.
Because the resort borders Lake Chatuge, a great number of water-related activities are in walking distance. Pontoon boat, kayaks, peddle boats and canoes are available for a rental fee. Many other activities like golf, tennis, lawn games, a playground and sand volleyball are easy to reach by car or connecting walking trails.
In one direction, the town of Hiawassee has interesting shops and local eateries and in the other direction is Young Harris with its picturesque college. Behind and just above the college campus is the little known, but scenic, Cupid Falls, which was given the name by students who would often sneak away from the college for romance in this secluded spot.
Another aspect of the Ridges Resort that seems to bring everyone together before bedtime each evening is the roaring fire in a pit on the walkway just outside the lobby area on the lakeside. Kids and families have a blast making s’mores over the fire on sticks provided by the resort employees. This magical, but messy, Southern tradition always brings out the best in people from every part of the country or the world, and many of the stories that are told over the sound of the blaze are unforgettable! It is truly a magical ending to any day in this spectacular surrounding.
This part of the Georgia Mountains exhibits a quiet calm which allows birds, wildlife and fish to magically appear. Though smallmouth bass probably won’t ever be caught here again, Lake Chatuge may have “just what the doctor ordered” for anglers and visitors trying to get away for a few days from the madness of the Atlanta area.