So it’s officially summer. That means two things. One is that it’s hot. The other is that folks ask me, “What’s a good place to fish for summertime trout?”
I love that question, and the answer is easy: the Chattahoochee tailwater, especially near the dam.
The Hooch tailwater (a “tailwater” is that part of river below a dam) starts at Buford Dam, where water is drawn from the bottom of the lake comes out in the high 40s or low 50s. That’s cold! Just thinking about it makes me shiver, even in June. But trout love it, and so do trout anglers.
The fishing starts right below Buford Dam at the Lower Pool West recreation area (accessible via Buford Dam Road). There’s actually good trout fishing for many miles downriver, but the area known simply as “the dam” is one of the best-known spots.
Many anglers begin at the Lower Pool West boat ramp. The area near the ramp offers a variety of fishing experiences for wading, floating and even shorebound anglers. There’s a small fee to park, and at times it gets a bit crowded – especially on hot summer days. But the fishing can be good.
I’ll get to the “how” of fishing there in a minute. But first, I want you to understand what you’re getting into — literally — when you step into that cold, cold water. Specifically, I want to talk about safety.
The first thing to understand here is the matter of water releases. When water is being released, the Hooch below the dam undergoes a dramatic change in personality and can be deadly. Every summer, river users who don’t understand that fact get themselves in trouble. Some don’t make it, and that’s tragic.
During a release, you don’t get a sudden tsunami of rampaging water. Instead, the flow simply starts to increase — higher and faster, higher and faster — and before you know it that peaceful river has transformed itself into a fast-flowing monster that’s impossible to fight. The level comes up quickly, especially close to the dam, rising several feet in just a few minutes. If you’re unaware, you might not realize what’s happening until too late. Thus, step one of any Chattahoochee tailwater adventure (whether fishing, floating, or anything else) is to know and understand the release schedule and how it will impact the section of river that you’re on.
To check on upcoming releases, call the Corps of Engineers information line at (770) 945-1466. You’ll get a recorded message. At the dam, listen to that message at 1610 on an AM radio.
When in the river near the dam, be aware of the law which says that anyone (yes, even you and me) in or on the river from the dam down to Ga. 20 must WEAR a life jacket. I put “WEAR” in caps, because you have to be wearing it to comply. It really is the law, and you can be ticketed if you don’t. Yes, rangers do check.
Besides checking the release schedule and wearing that life jacket, savvy river users also rely on their own senses to tell them if the river is changing. A wading angler, for example, should be aware of the feel of the water. Is it pulling harder than it was a few minutes ago? That might mean that the level is rising. Don’t wait to think about it. Just get out of the river. If you’re wrong, the worst that’ll happen is you’ll lose a few minutes of fishing time. If you’re right, you may save your life.
Keep an ear on the sound of the river too — and an eye on how the water looks. If the sound of nearby rapids changes, if the water is suddenly less clear, or if you start seeing leaves and tennis balls floating by, those are indicators that the river’s coming up and that you should get out right away.
But don’t they sound warning sirens? Yes, near the dam. But sirens are mechanical, and mechanical things break. Besides, as the recording says, “schedules can change with hydropower demands or equipment failure.” Translation: always be aware of the river.
Despite too many sad news stories in recent years, every summer folks still head for the river when they should not. That may happen because of ignorance or bravado, but whatever the reason, it happens too often.
Well, I see we never did get around to talking about the how’s of fishing near the dam. We’ll look at that next time.
But we did have the safety talk. That’s a good place to start.
Learn much more about fishing for trout in the Chattahoochee in Steve Hudson’s book “Chattahoochee Trout: The Definitive Guide.” It’s available from local outfitters or from Amazon, and signed copies are available direct from the author at ChattahoocheeMedia.com.