Boating, Fishing and Fish in the Tallapoosa River and Its Impoundments

The Tallapoosa River has a 4,675 square mile watershed. The watershed is mostly in the Piedmont, so it receives few nutrients from natural sources. For this reason, the Tallapoosa River and its reservoirs are often clear and not as productive as many of Alabama’s waters. The Tallapoosa River begins in Georgia and flows through eastern Alabama. All sections of the Tallapoosa and Little Tallapoosa rivers are determined navigable, which means the bottom of the streams is property of the State of Alabama. Four impoundments are formed from the Tallapoosa River before it joins the Coosa River near Montgomery to become the Alabama River.

Headwaters, the Upper Tallapoosa River and Little Tallapoosa River.
The Tallapoosa River has its headwaters in Georgia forty miles west of Atlanta and enters Alabama at Cleburne County. The Little Tallapoosa River also begins in Georgia and enters Alabama to form the border between Cleburne and Randolph counties. The two rivers have three types of black bass: largemouth bass, redeye bass and Alabama spotted bass. A variety of sunfish (bream) may also be caught in the clear waters.

lipstick darterVarious nongame fish are also present in the Tallapoosa River. The lipstick darter is unique to the Piedmont streams of the Tallapoosa River drainage. The stippled studfish is found in the Tallapoosa drainage and one Coosa River tributary, and the Tallapoosa shiner is only found in the Tallapoosa drainage and one Chattahoochee River tributary. The Tallapoosa River above R. L. Harris Reservoir and the Little Tallapoosa River have nearly equal watersheds; they merge at R. L. Harris Reservoir, also called Lake Wedowee, and continue as the Tallapoosa River.

R. L. Harris Lake or Lake Wedowee
Alabama Power Company’s newest reservoir was built in the early 1980s. R. L. Harris Lake contains an abundance of Alabama spotted bass and largemouth bass. Anglers are encouraged to keep smaller bass, but largemouth bass between 13 inches and 16 inches in total length must be returned to the lake unharmed. R. L. Harris Lake covers 24 miles of the Tallapoosa River with 10,660 acres of water

Richard Hill with a large striped bass from the Tallapoosa River, April 2010.

The Middle Tallapoosa River
Controlled by hydroelectric releases, the Tallapoosa River again has a riverine section below Harris Reservoir. This section includes Horseshoe Bend National Park, where “in the spring of 1814, General Andrew Jackson and an army of 3,300 men attacked 1,000 Upper Creek warriors on the Tallapoosa River. Over 800 Upper Creeks died defending their homeland. Never before or since in the history of our country have so many American Indians lost their lives in a single battle. This 2,040-acre park preserves the site of the battle,” according to the National Park Service Web site. This section of the Tallapoosa River contains more and larger catfish than the section above Harris Lake. Fishing below Irwin Shoals can be excellent in March and early April for white bass and striped bass.

Lake Martin
The largest town on the banks of Lake Martin is Alexander City; but people from Atlanta, Auburn, Birmingham and Montgomery areas converge on the lake during the summer to enjoy its clear waters. Anglers fish the 700 miles of shoreline on the 39,180-acre impoundment all year. Lake Martin is known for producing great Alabama spotted bass fishing during the winter, with most tournaments using Wind Creek State Park boat ramps. Wind Creek State Park also has boat rental, camping, cabins, a marina, picnicking, playground, swimming, and trails. Striped bass are popular with anglers year-round. Black bass and striped bass receive the media attention, but an Alabama record white crappie was caught in early May from Lake Martin. Catfish and bream are also abundant.

Yates Lake and Thurlow Lake
Lake Martin spills immediately into two smaller lakes, Yates and Thurlow. Fisheries at the two lakes are dictated by the flow from Lake Martin. Rising or steady water levels can produce good fishing for striped bass, Alabama spotted bass, white bass and various sunfish species. The 1,980-acre Yates Lake, or “the Middle Pond,” has one major tributary, Sougahatchee Creek. Yates Dam spills directly into the 585-acre Thurlow. Thurlow Dam is also known as Lake Tallassee, since it divides the City of Tallassee into two parts.

The Lower Tallapoosa River
As the Tallapoosa River passes from Martin through Yates and Thurlow, the river flows over the Fall Line. Below Thurlow, the Tallapoosa River finishes its Fall Line descent. During times of peak hydroelectric generation, the river contains Class V rapids until it reaches the Coastal Plain. Below the Fall Line, Uphapee Creek joins the Tallapoosa River; and it makes a relatively quiet trip for the remainder of its journey. The Tallapoosa River joins the Coosa River at Fort Toulouse, between Wetumpka and Montgomery, to form the Alabama River.Joe Harris catches a 20Summary
The Tallapoosa River drainage is 15% in Georgia and 85% in Alabama. It has a total length of 235 miles. The upper river contains redeye bass. Spotted bass and largemouth bass are abundant throughout the basin, and Lake Martin consistently ranks high in the percent of successful bass anglers. From just above Lake Martin down to the Coastal Plain, striped bass fishing can be excellent; and the location of the striped bass is dependent upon the season. The Tallapoosa River system often contains clear water, which makes fishing for all species fun.

Thurlow Dam in March

For more information on the Tallapoosa River, please contact the District II Fisheries Office.