Since the writing of this article, the Rome City Council has tabled the idea of
rebuilding the lock and dam on the Coosa. GRF would like to thank all who got
involved on some level to get this project stopped, and especially the Coosa
Basin Striper Club. As sure as the sun rises in the east, however, the idea will
be brought forth again. For this reason, this article will remain posted so
people can read about a resource we might have lost.
Striper Factory in Danger of Shutdown
By: Dave Bureau
It was going to be another 90 degree August day as my
partner eased the boat to the next honey hole. After quietly dropping the river
anchor, he tossed several shad towards the bank. Immediately, the gizzards went
airborne, skipping across the surface, trying to get away. The water boiled
under the shad as the stripers made short work of them, and it was was only a
few seconds later that we both were trying to keep our rods from getting yanked
out of our hands. These two stripers made a total of twenty three for the trip,
including a pair of 18 pound book ends. This is typical striper fishing on the
Coosa system in the summer.
Not only does the Coosa basin produce great
numbers of stripers, it can produce big ones, too. This 30 pounder was caught in
August and has probably put on a couple more pounds since it was released. Photo
courtesy of the Coosa Basin Striper Club.
The waterways in this northeast Georgia drainage basin are
shallow, rocky, and tough to navigate, but the rewards are great. Catches of
over 30 striped bass a trip are common. However, days like this on the Coosa
Basin could be a thing of the past if local politicians have their way. Plans
are currently under way to rebuild a lock and dam that will stop the migration
of this naturally reproducing striped bass population into the cooler waters of
the Coosa River system where they spawn and survive the summer heat.
The last time stripers were stocked into the Lake
Weiss/Coosa River system was 1984. Since then, the population of striped bass
has grown to be exceptional. In 1999, egg production in the Upper Coosa River
was estimated at 39 billion eggs, which with a 1% survival rate would produce
390,000 stripers just from the 1999 spawn! In fact, the Coosa River serves as
the major source of striper eggs for the Georgia DNR’s hybrid and striper
In a typical year, the striper population will winter in
Lake Weiss and gorge on the overabundant gizzard shad. In fact, guides and
others in need of large numbers of shad regularly drive from surrounding states
to load up on the plentiful gizzards. It is not unusual in the spring to catch
4-5 dozen prime 5-6 inch shad in one cast with a 7 foot net.
Once the water temperature in Lake Weiss reaches 62
degrees, the stripers begin their spring runs up the Coosa River and spawn as
long as the temperature is between 62 and 68 degrees. Late in the evening, the
large females will come to the surface of the river shoals, and they churn the
water to froth as they are bumped and pushed by several males. These mating
rituals, which are known as “rock fights”, are a sight to behold. A twenty
five pound female may be surrounded by five or more males as the ritual is
carried out, and there may be as many a 20 different displays occurring at once.
As the female sheds her eggs, the males also shed milt, and the fertilized eggs
will float for at least 48 before they hatch.
After the spawn, the stripers will seek out and stay in
their summer thermal refuges in the tributaries that drain into Lake Weiss. Many
of the rivers and major creeks are dam controlled tail waters that stay in the
68 to 72 degree temperature range all summer. By August, the waters of Lake
Weiss have heated up to over 90 degrees, making it impossible for stripers to
survive there. In the fall, after the first cold snap occurs, the stripers will
head back to the lake to gorge on the new spawn of shad over the winter. This
cycle will be repeated year after year.
The problem that the striped bass population is facing in
the Coosa system is the reconstruction of a Lock and Dam complex at a place
called Mayo’s Bar, which is on the Coosa River about 25 miles above Lake
Weiss. If this reconstruction occurs, the upstream migration of the stripers
will be effectively stopped. This will prevent natural reproduction and keep
stripers out of their cold water summer refuges and expose them to heat stress.
The Mayo Bar Lock and Dam is a historically significant
structure to the Rome/ Floyd County area because during its operation from 1889
to 1941 it made Rome, Georgia, a port city. The county wants to re-establish
this heritage by refurbishing the lock and rebuilding the dam that was dynamited
when it became non-functional. They are hoping that the restoration will create
an economic enterprise zone along the downtown riverfront area as boat traffic
shuttles between Lake Weiss and Rome.
The problem is that Rome is 42 miles from Lake Weiss and
it is a time consuming and expensive run by boat. Also, the old lock and dam
area is one of the most popular fishing spots in Georgia, particularly in April
and May when the white bass, crappie and stripers are running. If the lock is
restored, its current use as a fishing pier would be eliminated and thousands of
bank fishermen would lose access to this prime area.
Another major problem at Mayo Bar, is the contamination of
the river sediments with PCB’s which were created by a now defunct General
Electric transformer production facility. GE has agreed to donate $600,000 to
clean up the toxic chemicals, and the US Environmental Protection Agency and the
Army Corp of Engineers has approved the plan. However, there is great concern
that once the sediments are disturbed, they will spread downstream and cause
more contamination. A more detailed explanation of the PCB issue is located at
this web site: www.hudsonwatch.net/hudson13.html
With the help of Warren Turner, the Coosa Basin Striper
Club was recently formed. Its primary objective is to stop the reconstruction of
the lock and dam and to protect the world class striped bass fishery that exists
in the Coosa Watershed. To help raise money for this cause, the club is going to
sponsor two striper tournaments on Lake Weiss next year. This will give other
striper fishermen an opportunity to enjoy this great fishery as well as focus
attention on the economic potential that the striped bass bring to this area.