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Fishing for Spotted Bass on Georgia’s Etowah River

Fortunate to have discovered the Barnsley Resort several years ago, each successive visit further reveals outdoor endeavors to enjoy. Any visit includes the sporty feeling that comes with driving the twisting roads that lead to Adairsville, located in the foothills of North Georgia about an hour North of Atlanta. One can stay in the brand new Inn at Barnsley Resort, and tour the ruins of the 19th century manor house located behind the formal gardens. Lots of activities are based on their property but a fishing trip for spotted bass required a drive to nearby Cartersville to link up with the guides from Cohutta Fishing Company.

            Fond memories come to mind when reflecting on past adventures at Barnsley which began with driving a full-size pick up truck on their off road course, featuring two-rut roads across red clay and rocky terrain. Another day we went to the sporting clays course and shot targets amid heavy woods. Riding horseback one year allowed us to escape to the highest point on the property and look down at the golf course, which I would eventually play for the first time in 2017. A visit to the spa remains on my to do list, since it is located near one of the on site restaurants and is convenient to access.

            While the resort does have ponds for guests to fish in, they also sensed the need to present other options that might appeal to the sporting gentleman. Local business owner and lifelong fly fishing enthusiast Andy Bowen agreed to provide guide services from his Cohutta Fishing Company, named after the Cohutta Wilderness Area located in extreme North Georgia. As a much younger man I ventured into the Cohutta mountain area to camp and to fish for coldwater trout, and when that trip was over I was hungry and had a new respect for the vertical terrain of that area present in every trail and stream.

            Lucky for me the fishing trip for spotted bass on the Etowah River involves a lazy boat ride downstream in a 15-foot Clacka Craft drift boat under the command of a fishing guide. Head guide Garner Reid would handle the two oars on the boat while Andy Bowen would fish from the bow and I would cast my fly from the aft position. We put in at Hardin Bridge and floated one section of what is know as the Etowah River Water Trail, finishing up at Rome Highway. I was required to purchase a Georgia fishing license but Cohutta Fishing Company provided the rods, flies and all the necessary knowledge for a successful trip.

            “Spotted bass act more like smallmouth bass but they fight harder,” said Reid. “The hinge point of the spotted bass jaw does not extend past their eyeball. Fly-fishing for spotted bass involves lots of poppers to mimic the cicadas that fall into the river from overhanging trees. We recommend a 5-weight or 7-weight fly rod with floating fly line when fishing for spotted bass. Conservation of spotted bass is spreading far and wide and our backyard fishery here on the Etowah is 100-percent Catch and Release.”

            This lower stretch of the Etowah River is below the Allatoona dam, and provides a warm water fishery all year round. The average size for a spotted bass is 1.5-pounds, but fish in the 3 to 4-pound range are seen on occasion. The river banks are populated with sycamore trees, river birch trees, dogwoods, elms and oaks that offer part of the stream structure that is so important for spotted bass, a native species. History is present on this stretch of the river with V-shaped rock structures known as fish weirs, that were constructed by Native Americans to increase their success of catching fish. In Georgia, it is illegal to collect or to disturb these submerged cultural resources.

            “We can fish for striped bass on a 50-mile stretch of the Etowah River in summer months,” said Bowen. “They run up from Lake Weiss, and the proper equipment includes saltwater weight fly rods and large streamer flies. Lots of folks are used to a 5-weight fly rod for everything from spotted bass to coldwater trout, so they find that using a 9-weight for stripers is not as easy. Any encounter with a quality striper usually generates the kind of memories that keeps anglers casting again and again for the sake of outdoor enjoyment. Some days we don’t see any other boats out here, so there is a solitude effect on the Etowah that we cherish.”

            While water conditions were clear and river levels were normal, the spotted bass did not seem to bite much during my float trip. Stopping mid-stream on a rocky island for a sandwich and soda lunch allowed me to smell and see the workings of the Etowah River in a deeper sense with wading birds nearby, Canada geese overhead and lots of rushing water to provide the continuous soundtrack that anglers long to pause and listen to. This river is guarding Georgia’s natural resources in such a way that it provides a test for anglers, while inspiring them to practice conservation. I am glad to add this spotted bass fishery to my list of highly regarded diversions found at Barnsley Resort.


Jeff Dennis is a Lowcountry native. Read his blog at LowcountryOutdoors.com

Jeff Dennis, Contributor (347 Posts)

Jeff Dennis is a Lowcountry native. Read his blog at www.LowcountryOutdoors.com