Story and Photos by Bill Vanderford
Any proper description of Lake Lanier must begin in the babbling brooks and rivers of the North Georgia mountains. Several tributaries, including the Chestatee River, feed this reservoir, but the Chattahoochee River is the true lifeblood of Lake Lanier.
Georgia’s most famous poet said it best when he penned these words: “Out of the hills of Habersham, down through the valleys of Hall, I hurry amain to reach the plain, run the rapid and leap the fall, split at the rock and together again, accept my bed, or narrow or wide, and flee from folly on every side, with a lover’s pain to attain the plain, far from the hills of Habersham, far from the valleys of Hall.”
Though I was in my preteens before I ever saw the Peach State’s most magnificent river, my mother taught me that first verse of Sidney Lanier’s famous poem, “Song of the Chattahoochee” before I reached my sixth birthday. Thankfully, I have spent most of my lifetime sampling the potpourri of fabulous opportunities while visually feasting on some of Georgia’s finest vistas on Lake Lanier.
When the lake is at full pool, Belton Bridge on the Chattahoochee and Lumpkin County Park on the Chestatee, south to Buford Dam, is considered Lake Lanier. Nevertheless, without a boat that can run easily in very shallow water, safe navigation is only possible from south of Yellow Creek on the Chestatee and below Clarks Bridge on the Chattahoochee arms of the lake.
Boat ramps are available for canoes, kayaks and small fishing boats at Lula Bridge on the Chattahoochee and Lumpkin County Park on the Chestatee, but it is far safer to launch boats at Clarks Bridge on the Chattahoochee or at Toto Creek on the Chestatee. Also, Clarks Bridge has the added attraction of having been the rowing venue at the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics. The colorful timing tower from that event is still in use for many world-class rowing events.
Due to the presence of overhead power lines, lower bridges and shallower waters north of Gainesville, few sailboats and not many large powerboats are seen. Therefore, these northern sections of Lake Lanier are ideal for sampling the great fishing for black bass, striped bass, white bass, catfish, walleye and crappie. Rowing enthusiasts and people with smaller boats find these areas of the lake more pleasing. Nevertheless, because of the great water quality and tremendous baitfish numbers throughout, fishing anywhere in Lake Lanier can be extremely productive. For more detailed information about fishing the lake, visit my web site (www.georgiafishing.com).
The many long coves near Gainesville Marina and the open area of the Chestatee arm below Boling Bridge seem to be ideal for water skiers. Sailors, however, can unfurl their sails best in the openness of the lake from Browns Bridge southward to Buford Dam.
Throughout the length of Lake Lanier, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers boat ramps, camping areas and day use parks abound. Most of these are handicap accessible and have docks and fishing areas for the general public. Many private homes or cottages can be rented around the lake, and at Lake Lanier Islands, one can stay at a fabulous hotel or one of the lakefront cottages, which are more secluded. A challenging golf course, a complete water park with beaches and various boat rental options are available in the Lake Lanier Islands area.
Despite the tremendous growth in the area, the water quality at Lake Lanier has remained extremely good, the fishing is excellent and the wildlife populations are both healthy and diverse. Weekends and holidays bring tremendous crowds who enjoy a multitude of water-related opportunities. Lake Lanier is still one of the most naturally beautiful places in the Southeast, and we are very fortunate to have such a gem in our own backyard!