Though winter is still around, it’s time again for the walleye population to begin their annual migration toward the upper Chattahoochee River in search of suitable spawning grounds. This tasty northern sport fish is known to only a small number of fishermen who angle in Lake Lanier. That’s because the walleye were only stocked one time back in the early 1960’s when biologists were experimenting with the introduction of several cold water species in the newly filled reservoir.
Chattahoochee WalleyeDespite the low numbers that were introduced into Lanier’s fertile waters, these toothy members of the perch family have reproduced well enough to maintain a standing population. While they are in the lake, walleyes are probably not numerous enough to target during most of the year, but certainly a sufficient amount are available to warrant angling for them during their spawning run.
Unlike most other fish in Lake Lanier, the walleye thrives in colder water, and their urge to reproduce is triggered at a much lower temperature than any other predator in the lake. In fact, the walleye population is already moving toward the upper river shoals to lay their eggs.
Since the sections of the rivers that annually produce the best catches of walleyes are quite shallow and littered with huge rocks that destroy propellers, the problem for many anglers is reaching the areas where walleyes congregate in enough numbers to readily catch them. That problem is solved by a jet boat, which will run in less than an inch of water. Trips in such a craft are available at: www.georgiafishing.com .
Catching walleyes, however, is not always easy. They can often be as difficult to pattern as black bass. Nevertheless, if the river isn’t high and muddy from heavy rains, walleye catches are generally very good.
Though the walleye’s natural food tends to be their cousin the yellow perch, they feed primarily on shad or blueback herring in Lake Lanier. Therefore, the best baits up in the rivers are live emerald shiners, nightcrawlers, or natural minnows, but they will also strike lures like the Swirleybird.
Lanier walleyes are easily recognized by their dark olive color with white stomachs. They may appear lighter on top if they have spent much time in muddy or stained water. The lower lobe of their tail is usually tipped with white, but the most noticeable feature is always the eyes from which their name is derived. Walleyes have large, glassy, opaque eyes that glow under lights at night, giving them an eerie look. A special pigment in the retina of the eye causes walleyes to be very light sensitive, which often makes them less aggressive on bright, sunny days in clear water.
Despite the difficulty of reaching fishing spots, or finding enough eager fish to catch, Lanier walleyes are the first fish to spawn each year. Usually March and April are the best months for walleye action on the upper Chattahoochee River. Most walleyes in the “Hooch” weigh two to five pounds, and are easily the best table-fare of any fish that swims in Georgian waters!
Bill Vanderford has won numerous awards for his writing and photography, and has been inducted into the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame as a Legendary Guide. He can be reached at 770-289-1543, at JFish51@aol.com or at his web site: www.fishinglanier.com