Most North Georgia anglers are familiar with the Chattahoochee River, particularly the sections in Metro Atlanta and near the Alpine town of Helen. There is, however, an equally-exciting section in between that many overlook. Some of the area’s best river bass and bream fishing can be had in the late spring and summer on the Chattahoochee River from Highway 115 (between Clarkesville and Cornelia) to Don Carter State Park on the upper end of Lake Lanier. In addition, anglers have a great chance to catch striped bass, walleye, crappie, catfish, and gar.
There are six main access points on the Upper Chattahoochee River that anglers can use (view the map). The sections between these access points each have unique characteristics and all are accessible to paddling in canoes, kayaks, or rafts. The lower sections can also be accessed from downstream by motorboat.
Highway 115 to Duncan Bridge (4 miles)
Shoal bass abound in this section of the river, which has several rapids up to Class 3. During May and early June, target pockets of water in and around the shoals to find spawning shoal bass. Later in the summer look for shoal bass in the slower, deeper runs where spotted and largemouth bass can also be targeted, year-round. Bream (redbreast sunfish and bluegill) are also abundant; and even the occasional redeye bass can be found. This section cannot be reached by motorboat.
To reach the Highway 115 bridge from Gainesville and the Metro Atlanta area, head north on I-985 and it will turn into Tommy Irvin Parkway (US 23/GA 365). Continue north to Cornelia and get off at Exit 27. Turn left on Highway 385, and then veer left on Highway 105 (Cannon Bridge Road). After crossing the Soque River, turn left at the four-way stop on Highway 115. Access to the river will be on the left just before crossing the Highway 115 bridge over the Chattahoochee River. A $5 parking fee (or annual State Parks pass) is required.
Highway 115 GPS: N 34° 34′ 30.83″ | W 83° 38′ 1.32″
Duncan Bridge to Mossy Creek (5 miles)
This is another excellent section for chasing shoal bass. The river becomes larger once the Soque River dumps in just above Duncan Bridge, so there will be more fish habitat to target. In addition to black bass, redbreast sunfish, and bluegill, striped bass can be found in the lower reaches of this section as they look for cool water upstream of Lake Lanier. In May and June, keep an eye out for longnose gar, which can reach more than four feet in length, spawning in the shallows. This section has a number of Class 1 rapids. Depending on water levels, the lower half of this section may be reached from downstream using a shallow-draft boat with a jet-powered motor, however extreme caution should be exercised due to the presence of many shallow rocks that could damage boat hulls and motors.
To reach Duncan Bridge, take Tommy Irvin Parkway (US 23/GA 365) north to Duncan Bridge Road (Highway 348). Turn left and travel 4 miles. The Wildwood Outfitters outpost is located on the right immediately after crossing the Chattahoochee River. Because Wildwood Outfitters leases this property from the Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites Division, a $5 parking fee (or annual State Parks pass) is required.
Duncan Bridge GPS: N 34° 32′ 28.31″ | W 83° 37′ 20.56″W
Mossy Creek to Belton Bridge (6 miles)
This stretch represents the lower end of the best shoal bass habitat, and anglers will find an increasing number of spotted bass here, particularly downstream of Bull Shoals. Striped bass will be present in the summer, and a few walleyes will remain following their spring run from February-April. Catfish are also available from this section downstream, including a shot at some very large flathead catfish. During higher-flow months, motorboats can reach as far as Bull Shoals using the Belton Bridge or Lula Bridge boat ramps. Use best judgment and caution when boating in this section as there are a number of shallow and/or rocky runs that could damage a propeller.
To reach Mossy Creek, take Tommy Irvin Parkway (US 23/GA 365) north to Lula Road (Highway 52) and turn left. Travel six miles and turn right on Holly Springs Road, then travel straight at the five-way stop on to Skitts Mountain Road. After 3 miles, turn right on Skitts Mountain Drive, then left on Home Place Road. A step-down ramp is located where the road ends at the Chattahoochee River. The Mossy Creek Access Area is operated by the Wildlife Resources Division and no parking fee is required.
Mossy Creek GPS: N 34° 29′ 43.59″ | W 83° 40′ 23.66″
Belton Bridge to Lula Bridge (3 miles)
Spotted bass are common in this section year-round, and higher numbers of largemouth bass also start to show up. Forrest L. Wood Cup Champion Jacob Wheeler caught many of the bass that won the 2013 tournament in this section. Striped bass are present throughout the summer, and walleyes can be found in great numbers in early spring. Catfish, crappie, and bream are available year-round. When Lake Lanier is at or near full pool, Belton Bridge marks the area where the river transitions into Lake Lanier and there is little or no downstream flow of water. This is an important point to remember for paddlers, as it requires more effort to get downstream but makes trips up the river much easier. While this section is accessible to all motorboats, there are some shallow areas and boaters should remain alert to exposed hazards.
To reach the Belton Bridge boat ramp, take Tommy Irvin Parkway (US 23/GA 365) north to Belton Bridge Road and travel 2 ½ miles, then turn left to stay on Belton Bridge Road. The boat ramp will be on the left about ½ mile before crossing the Chattahoochee River. The Belton Bridge boat ramp is operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and no parking fee is required.
Belton Bridge GPS: N 34° 26′ 14.60″ | W 83°40’51.00″
Lula Bridge to Don Carter State Park (3 ½ miles)
This is one of the best areas on Lake Lanier to target big largemouth bass. Cast in, and around, submerged brush on the river’s banks to find “bucketmouths” weighing up to ten pounds. Spotted bass are also common. Crappie fishing can be excellent around submerged trees and docks in the spring. In the spring, target rock walls for striped bass, and fish deep holes in this area for the best chance at a big pre-spawn female walleye during February and March. Large catfish are also common in this stretch. This reach looks more like a large reservoir than a river and there is typically no visible flowing water. Except during periods of extreme drought, it is generally safe for boats of all sizes. Because of the relatively light amount of boat traffic, it is also a great place to do some flat-water paddling in canoes or kayaks.
To reach Lula Bridge, take Tommy Irvin Parkway (US 23/GA 365) north to Lula Road (Highway 52) and turn left. After two miles, the boat ramp will be on the right immediately after crossing over the Chattahoochee River/Lake Lanier. The Lula Bridge boat ramp is operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and no parking fee is required.
Lula Bridge GPS: N 34° 24′ 54.66″ | W 83° 42′ 27.47″
Don Carter State Park – Don Carter State Park opened in 2013 and serves as a gateway to upper Lake Lanier. The park offers eight cabins as well as campsites for recreational vehicles or tents. There is also a day-use area that includes hiking trails, picnic shelters, a swimming beach, and two boat ramps (one for day use (northern most) and one for campers only). To make reservations, call (800) 864-7275. For other questions, call the park office at (678) 450-7726 or visit their website. Don Carter State Park can be reached by taking I-985 north to Jesse Jewell Parkway (Exit 24) and turning left. Turn right on Limestone Parkway (US 129), then right on Clarks Bridge Road. Travel six miles and turn right on N Browning Bridge Road. Continue to the left to stay on N Browning Bridge Road until reaching the park entrance. Entrance fee is $5/day (or annual State Parks pass).
Don Carter Day Use Boat Ramp GPS: N 34° 23′ 41.37″ | W 83° 44′ 3.03″
Don Carter Campground Boat Ramp GPS: N 34° 23′ 0.89″| W 83° 44′ 17.96″
Wildwood Outfitters offers canoe, kayak, and raft rentals, shuttle services, and camping opportunities downstream to Belton Bridge. Visit their website or call (800) 553-2715 for more information.
For other questions about upper Chattahoochee River fishing and boating opportunities, call the Wildlife Resources Division in Gainesville at (770) 535-5498.