The Coosawattee River is
formed at the junction of the Ellijay and Cartecay Rivers just north of Ellijay.
Prior to the creation of Carter's Lake, the Coosawattee offered whitewater
enthusiasts one of the more thrilling rides in the southeastern US. These
rapids, forever buried beneath Carter's Lake, nearly proved too dangerous for a
novice canoeist named James Dickey, who was inspired by the incident to write
the book (and later movie) Deliverance. While the Coosawattee has lost
much of it's bite due to the lake, it is still a great destination for folks who
like to fish, paddle, or do both at the same time.
The Coosawattee is really two rivers: the lively section upstream of Carter's
Lake, and the flat (but still quick) section below the lake. The upper section
is still fun to paddle, with three or four legitimate Class II runs. The river
here varies from between forty to eighty feet wide in the shoal areas near the
lake. A couple of the rapids might approach Class III during higher flows, but
that shouldn't concern fishermen too much, as the water gets really muddy after
a good rain, which most fishermen will avoid. Many of the current canoeing
guidebooks mention the seclusion of the river once it leaves Ellijay. This is no
longer the case, as the river is highly (though tastefully) developed throughout
most of it's length. The fishing is great, however, with spotted, redeye, and
rock bass along with bluegill, redbreast, and tons of catfish. The trick is
slowing down long enough to catch them, as the water flows very quickly through
numerous rapids and rock gardens.
Another challenge facing anglers on the upper Coosawattee is a lack of daylight.
There are no public access points that I am aware of between Ellijay and the
lake, which means anglers need to keep moving in order to travel the 10-12 miles
between Ellijay and the lake. The best takeout point is the Ridgway boat ramp on
the upper end of Carter's Lake, which is in the first cove on the right you will
come to paddling down the lake. You will know you've gotten to the boat ramp
when you see a little island in a cove off to the right after about an hour of
paddling. If your arms aren't about to fall off, you aren't there yet. Canoeists
and kayakers should be prepared to deal with the wake of motorboats once on the
The lower stretch
of the Coosawattee is much longer and far more placid than the upper section,
suitable for a jon boat. There are a few minor shoals, but the water here is
mostly flat. The lower section begins behind the reregulation reservoir at
Carter's Lake and flows all the way to Calhoun, where it merges with the
Conasauga River to form the Oostanaula. The river here looks about as fishy as
any river you will ever see, and it contains some river bends that you could
fish for hours. The lower Coosawattee seems to flow straight for long stretches,
which have great rock and tree cover, but then the river will bend almost ninety
degrees, and these bends are absolutely loaded with fish. I am yet to catch
anything memorable from the lower river, but there is great cover and plenty of
baitfish and deep water. There just have to be some big fish in here.
The lower Coosawattee contains largemouth, spotted, and redeye bass, and I have
seen folks striper fishing near the dam and below, both in the spring and
summer. The bream fishing is good and the catfishing is excellent. I don't fish
for cats very often, but did catch five keeper cats one day on a
crawfish-patterned crankbait. Walleye have been caught in the lower river, but I
don't know if there are enough of them to specifically target. Shortnosed
sturgeon have recently been reintroduced to the watershed, and some may begin
appearing soon in the lower Coosawattee. Anglers should release these fish
unharmed and report your catch to DNR as soon as possible.
The lower river has plenty of access points, though getting a boat in the water
at some of these can be tough. The river never gets much wider than sixty feet
or so, and most any craft will work well here. The upper section of the lower
Coosawattee is a pretty good option after a heavy rain, because the water will
continue to stay fairly clear until the reregulation reservoir below Carter's
gets completely muddy, which usually takes a full day or so.
The Coosawattee has a lot to offer Georgia anglers whether they prefer a
relaxing day on the water or want to play in some rapids. The fishing is good,
too. I have never caught anything spectacular from the upper or lower rivers,
but there are a lot of places I can say that about. There are a lot of fish in
both sections, and they are waiting for you to pay them a visit.