The Ocmulgee River might as well be called “anything wet flowing out of Atlanta” because that is literally what it is. However, despite being formed by three rivers (Yellow, South, Alcovy) that drain Atlanta and its suburbs, it is generally a cleaner and more nutrient rich river than you would think. I still wouldn’t be eating fish from the river five days a week or anything, but you know what I mean. It is not quite as scenic as the Flint River, but it is still a unique river experience in its own way.
About the River:
The river officially begins at the base of Lloyd Shoals Dam, which was built in 1910 and forms Lake Jackson. The dam is still one of the oldest major dams in the state today. The river then meanders its way through sections filled with shoals, pools and runs rushing over granite rock and red clay. The granite ends just north of Macon, GA, when the river begins to make its way over what is called the fall line, a twenty-mile-wide zone where the piedmont transitions into coastal plain. This coastal plain actually used to be the floor of the Atlantic Ocean thousands of years ago. Below Macon, in the coastal plain, the river becomes more of a sandy, windy adventure with no shoals or rapids to be concerned with. However, the volume of water that flows in this river is very dangerous and the lower Ocmulgee can be just as treacherous as the upper if you are not familiar with swift currents. The lower Ocmulgee has floodplains that broaden as wide as three miles across, creating a thick hardwood swamps, creeks, and oxbow lakes. Below Abbeville the river begins a dramatic easterly sweep that is appropriately called “The Big Bend,” on its way to join the Oconee to form the mighty Altamaha River, which exits into the Atlantic Ocean at Darien, GA.
Rapids/Obstacles to beware of:
For fisherman we usually want to note any class II rapids and above in a section of river. North of Macon, the Ocmulgee has a few class II rapids and at higher water even a class III. Most of these major rapids come on the first five miles of the river. The class III to beware of is right near mile 4.5 of the river and is referred to as Lamar’s Mill. The further left you go through the shoals, the lower class the rapids become. If you really want a wild ride, stay to the right of the center. You can also portage the easiest on the river right. Next obstacle to be aware of is a spillway dam at the town of Juliette, GA, that can be portaged. The next major rapid occurs below the HWY 18 bridge and is a class II. It is easiest run on the river left. Further downstream about 8 miles there is also a weak class II, a half mile above the River North Blvd bridge, that can be run on the far left at a class I rating. After that the Ocmulgee does not have any more significant elevation drops and heads on to the coastal plain.
Optimum Gauge Height for Fishing:
As with most rivers, lower is better. However too low on any river above the fall line can mean dragging your boat half the day. The gauge at Jackson is optimum around 4ft. If the gauge is over 5ft, beware of strong current, and possibly murky water – especially when it gets over 5.10. Also beware when the gauge gets that high because the rapids become potentially dangerous if you are in a section with numerous shoals. If you are fishing near Macon you may want to use the gauge at Macon and make sure it is below 8ft. Below Macon, just check the gauges to make sure the river is below the median CFS and you’ll be fine.