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The Ultimate Fishing Road Trip: Southeastern US

Have you ever wanted to jump in your truck and just drive? Maybe you’ve got a few friends with you, or it could be you just need to find a quiet place somewhere. Regardless, you want to travel. And you want to fish.

Why not do it? Save a little bit of money up, take some time off work, and get in the truck. Here’s how to take the ultimate Fishing Road Trip in the Southeastern US.

Wait, wait…

Before we load up the gear, let’s talk about the South. You may be wondering why I chose the states I did. Because a lot of people argue over what, exactly, is the South.

If you look up “map of Southeastern United States,” you’ll see everything ranging from Texas and Florida to Washington DC and Maryland in the results. But that’s just not so! The Southeastern US has a culture of its own, and many subcultures underneath that one. The folks in Mississippi, on the whole, share few interests with the politicians in D.C.

These states weren’t chosen because they were in the bottom right hand corner of the map. They were chosen because Southern culture is a unique thing. These people know how to noodle (you know, for catfish). Their grandmas taught them how to make Carolina fish stew. And because you’re driving, you’ll probably meet a few of them.

I live in North Carolina, and have fished these lakes and rivers. In short, Southern culture is my culture, and I want to share it with you. Alright, bags packed? Let’s go!

Chattahoochee River

Atlanta, Georgia

Or thereabouts, anyway. We’re starting our trip in Atlanta for one reason alone: Hartsfield-Jackson is the least expensive airport in the Southeast. If you have friends meeting you, or if someone needs to fly home ahead of you, you’ll want to do it from ATL.

Just about 30 minutes away from Atlanta is the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area. Of course, you don’t have to stay in the National Park, but there are a few reasons you might want to. First, it’s about 20 minutes from Walmart. I only mention this because Walmart is the easiest place to pick up a fishing license in the area.

Secondly, the river is stocked. In some areas, it’s stocked weekly. The Chattahoochee offers some of the best brown and rainbow trout fishing in Georgia. You’ll also be able to catch striper, yellow perch, carp and white bass. In some places you’ll find long nose gar and channel catfish.

In other words, it’s an angler’s dream.

If you want to stay in a hotel, you can make the short trip up to Cumberland. But where’s the adventure in that? The Chattahoochee National Forest has plenty of primitive camping and RV hookups. If you absolutely must, you can rent one of the cabins. Just be sure to reserve a place well ahead of time. They book up fast.

Enjoy your time at Chattahoochee, then on we go…

Catfish in water

Guntersville, Alabama

Driving from Atlanta, it’s just about a three hour trip to Guntersville, Alabama. Of course, it’ll take a lot longer than that if you plan to stop at Six Flags Over Georgia. And if your fishing road trip across the Southeast hasn’t given you enough fish, stop in Rainbow City, Alabama. You’ll find fish tacos, shrimp and grits and hush puppies at Capeside Fish Company.

Take your time, but once you get to Guntersville, you’ll find a lake of the same name. Lake Guntersville is almost 70,000 acres, and is known for huge bass. Fall is a great time to visit the lake because there are so many tournaments scheduled. If you don’t want the crowds, come in the spring.

Aside from bass, Lake Guntersville has crappie, sauger, and brim. And, like Chattahoochee, you’ll catch catfish there as well. Time to act like a local and get to noodlin’. You’ll need a freshwater fishing license for Lake Guntersville. But guess what? Once again, there’s a Walmart nearby! You can pick one up here or at most of the tackle shops in Guntersville.

You probably won’t want to stay in Guntersville overnight, unless you want a motel. For the best camping, drive to Grove Oak. High Falls Park is home to a 35-foot waterfall, a natural bridge and, to be honest, some very clean bathrooms.

Ready to move on to the next stop? Okay!

Mississippi sunset

Oxford, Mississippi

M-i-s-s-i-s-s-i-p-p-i! Here we come! We’re actually going to be stopping a little west of Oxford, so feel free to stretch your legs at the Elvis Presley Center in Tupelo. Cathedral Caverns in Kennamer Cove is neat, too. Or you might like the Tupelo Automobile Museum.

When you’re ready to start fishing again, head over to Jackson to Sardis Lake. Sardis Lake is known for having a huge crappie population. But that’s not all you’ll find. Sardis has large and smallmouth bass as well as black bass. There are spotted bass, yellow bass and striped bass. Then there are the bass hybrids! You won’t end the day without catching bass.

It goes without saying that there are plenty of catfish in the lake, too. In fact, if you’ve got a target, Sardis Lake probably has it. You can see a full list of species in the lake online.

If you want to stay in a hotel or a motel, you can always go to Oxford. But there’s great camping in the area around Sardis Lake, and you won’t be disappointed by the cabins at John W Kyle State Park.

Say goodbye to the bass, and let’s move on to our next destination.

Dale Hollow Lake Dam

Dale Hollow Lake

You’ll notice that this is the only stop on our Southern fishing road trip with no state. That’s because Dale Hollow Lake is on the Kentucky-Tennessee border. It’s a long drive from Oxford to the lake: about 6 hours. You’ll probably want to check out a few pit stops on the way.

You can stop in Jackson, Tennessee to visit Rusty’s TV and Movie Car Museum. And Graceland is a little bit out of the way, but if you’re an Elvis fan it’s worth it. Memphis as a whole is an interesting place to stop if you’ve got any interest in music. And quite a bit further up the road is Cooters Museum and Store for you Dukes of Hazzard fans.

Once you reach Dale Hollow Lake, you can make a decision. Fish the waters there for muskie, crappie, bass and trout, or travel just a little bit west to the Cumberland River. You can fish both the lake and the river from either Tennessee or Kentucky. Make sure you’ve got the right fishing license, though!

Fly fishing on the Cumberland River is excellent; there are trophy browns and rainbows. Use skipjack herring to bait huge stripers. Or, sit on the banks and catch a few cats.

There’s not much by way of hotels and motels in the area. You’ll pretty much be camping, but that’s the fun of it. There are tons of state parks in the area. Some have primitive sites only, and others have cabins for rent. As always, be sure you reserve a spot ahead of time.

You’ve still got a few more states to fish, though, so it’s just about time to pack up the truck again.

Mouth of Wilson, Virginia

Depending on where you stayed near Dale Hollow Lake, it’s probably around a 6 hour drive to Mouth of Wilson. There’s plenty to do along the way, though. I recommend Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies in Gatlinburg. I actually recommend Gatlinburg itself. Be sure to take a ride on the ski lifts!

Once you make it to Mouth of Wilson, Virginia, you’ll see that you’re right on the New River. The New River is over 320 miles long, and record muskie, smallmouth bass and yellow perch have been caught there. There are lots of outcroppings in the river, where you’ll find catfish and walleye. Use jigs and live bait for the best bet.

Mt. Rogers is right nearby, and it’s the highest mountain peak in Virginia. If you want to spend the day there, you can hike to the summit. Bring plenty of water and good shoes, though. There are no access roads, only walking paths.

In the area around Mt. Rogers there are plenty of campgrounds. One of those is Hurricane Campground. The campsites are all primitive, but there are bathrooms and hot showers. The creeks on the property are stocked with trout.

If you’d prefer to stay in a hotel, you may need to drive a little. There aren’t any big towns around, but there are locally owned mountain lodges, inns and motels within an hour or so. Look up Sparta, North Carolina to find a few. Or you can drive about an hour south to Wilkesboro, North Carolina.

In fact, that’s the direction we’re headed next anyway…

Lake Glenville, NC

Nebo, North Carolina

The trip from Mouth of Wilson to Nebo is only about two and a half hours if you drive straight through. But I suggest that you don’t. You’re going to pass through some of the most beautiful mountains in the country, and there are plenty of stops you’ll want to make.

One must-see is the mile high swinging bridge at Grandfather Mountain near Linville, North Carolina. On a clear day you can see the city of Charlotte, over 90 miles away. Linville Caverns is very cool if you can make it, too. And there are dozens and dozens of gem mines on the road from Virginia to Nebo. Make a day of it, and enjoy my home state!

Once you get to Nebo, you’ll find Lake James. Lake James is one of the best spots in North Carolina for catching both largemouth and smallmouth bass. In fact, it’s a fishery. Crankbaits and jerkbaits will work best for both species, and the lake is clear, so plan on using a small diameter line.

Now, Nebo isn’t much at all. There are a handful of dollar-type stores and a few diners. But it’s very accessible to Lake James, so if you want to rent a cabin in the area, that’s your best bet. You could travel along to Asheville if you don’t mind driving a little further. Black Mountain is wonderful at any time of year.

If you plan to camp, though, the little diners in Nebo are close to the Lake James State Park and other campgrounds. You’ll find plenty of sites with electrical hookups, RV accommodations, or just primitive tent sites.

Enjoy North Carolina; maybe I’ll see you on the lake! Time to start heading home, though. Just one more stop…

People fishing the Savannah River

Modoc, South Carolina

From Nebo to Modoc, South Carolina is just over three hours. The first leg of that is moonshine country. Don’t forget to stop by a locally run distillery. Not into moonshine? There are what seems to be hundreds of wineries and breweries along the route, too. The Bennett Classics Antique Car Museum isn’t too far off the path.

Make the best of the trip, because the next time you pack up, you’re headed home! But for now, you’re headed to the Savannah River. Before you go, do understand that most of the fish you catch should be thrown back. There are high levels of mercury in the water; you don’t want to get sick before you leave! One meal won’t hurt you though, unless you’re pregnant.

Clark’s Hill Lake is right near Modoc, and it’s one of the biggest reservoirs in the southeast. This lake is the perfect way to end your fishing road trip, because you’re almost sure to catch a massive bass. There are hybrids, largemouth and stripers in the water. You’ll also catch bream, crappie and catfish.

There’s tons of camping around Modoc. Hamilton Branch State Park is the closest, but check around online before you get there. There are private and public campgrounds as well as RV hookups. Don’t expect any hotels, though. The population of Modoc is just 218. If you want to rest before the long drive home, drive to Augusta. It’s just 45 minutes away.

You can, of course, put any variation you like on this road trip. There are no small number of lakes, streams and rivers in the Southeast – you’ve just got to look around you! From the Appalachians to the Gulf of Mexico, you really can’t go wrong. Enjoy your trip, and happy fishing.

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