OUTDOORS COLUMN: Lake Blue Ridge small but special

Herald Outdoors Columnist Bob Kornegay

Herald Outdoors Columnist Bob Kornegay

By familiar coastal-plain standards, this high-country mountain reservoir is not an impressive waterway. It drastically pales in size beside Lake Seminole and is laughable next to Walter F. George (Eufaula). No, little Lake Blue Ridge will never win any surface-area prizes.

That fact matters little. When Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) impounded this diminutive backwater years ago, lake acreage was the last thing on the government agency’s mind. Southern Appalachia sorely needed electrical energy and the progressive road it might pave from primitive past to the modern age. The Blue Ridge Dam, like similar TVA stream blockages, supplied the region with that longed-for power, size notwithstanding.

Snugly nestled in the mountain hollows and valleys near Blue Ridge, Ga., the lake is fed by the still-lovely Toccoa River, an Olympics-class whitewater stream called the Ocoee in neighboring Tennessee. The impounded river swells Lake Blue Ridge to just over 3,000 acres and constantly pumps in cold, clean water, ancient lifeblood of North Georgia and all else downstream.

The Toccoa’s unrelenting flow is lifeblood also to Lake Blue Ridge’s very diverse sportfish populations. Cool-water species such as rainbow trout, smallmouth bass, and even the occasional introduced walleye abound there. In fact, the reservoir is home to Georgia’s only remaining viable smallmouth fishery of mentionable size. Blue Ridge anglers are likewise treated to a prime springtime run of sizable white bass, a good concentration of largemouths, and gargantuan bluegills that often outdo our own “bull” bream, in size if not in numbers. Evidently, the miniscule waterway is quite fertile as well as beautiful.

It has been said by some that just by being in the mountains one places himself closer to heaven and that listening to high-country string music is slightly akin to hearing the harps and voices of heavenly hosts. It’s hard to disagree. Aboard a boat on Lake Blue Ridge, one is surrounded by the green, eons-old peaks of the Southern Appalachians and it isn’t at all unusual from time to time to hear the strains of banjos, mandolins, and fiddles carried by the lake’s wafting breezes to the ears of those who fish its waters. What a unique and somehow sublime pleasure to do battle with a hard-fighting smallmouth while the melody and harmony of “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” or “Black Mountain Rag” dances in one’s head.

Likewise, equal happiness is found in the company of those who fish the lake on a more regular basis than the flatlanders who journey north to sample its wares only when time and circumstances allow. These “guides,” knowledgeable and willing, paid and unpaid, know the lake well and love it. That is evident from the boundless stories they tell and their often-ebullient desire to share with others the beauty and the bounty of their home waters. And there’s a bonus as well. Almost to a man (or woman), these individuals possess the endearing qualities of the mountainfolk. Unabashed, unfettered, unpretentious, and fiercely independent, they are what most of us, deep down, wish we were. The visiting angler cannot leave Blue Ridge knowing or loving the lake as they do, but it is impossible not to feel an undeniable attraction for people and place while driving away after a final day’s fishing.

Yes, it is a wonderful place to spend a day, this lovely little lake in the mountains. Such a spot to throw a tiny crankbait, topwater plug, or soft-plastic offering on wispy light line and entice a willing fish into striking. Such a thrill (yes, thrill) to feel the tug of a hooked smallmouth bass and watch it dance in the morning sunlight as it tries valiantly but vainly to throw a well-set hook.

To the truly dedicated angler, it usually matters little where he chooses to wet his line. On Lake Blue Ridge, though, when sparkling diamonds of mountain water dance off the scales of a leaping fish in rising or setting sunlight, that well-known fisherman’s joy is appreciably multiplied.

It is returned in marvelous abundance.