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EDITOR'S NOTE: 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.

Coosa Basin 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 hatchery programs.

    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.

 
 

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