The hometown spirit is running rampant
When the urge grabs me to get outta’ town for some relaxation, fishing and adventure I often look to Alabama. A recent trip to Weiss Lake in Cherokee County, Alabama added a new destination to my list.
I was travelling to cover the Bass Pro Shops Big Cat Quest (BCQ) event on June 10, 2015. The BCQ is a grassroots tournament trail that offers local catfishermen the opportunity to participate in a national tournament trail and the chance to qualify for the national championship to be held in Memphis, TN later in the year.
The current World Champions of Catfishing, David Shipman and Brooke Wilkins
were on hand for the BCQ on Weiss Lake
“The locals have done well in past tournaments and they usually do,” stated Ken Freeman, organizer of the BCQ. “The locals often have a step up on the travelling pros and are often in the money. These local tournaments also get the towns involved in the bigger picture of promoting catfishing.”
Get involved they did. Local towns like Leesburg, Centre and Cedar Bluff were all sponsors of the tournament and personnel from the different towns provided volunteers to help facilitate the tournament. Even the Cherokee County High School Bass Fishing Team was on hand to drive anglers from the water to the weigh-in site in golf carts. That hometown atmosphere and spirit of cooperation is something that cannot be manufactured, it is either there or it’s not. In Cherokee County Alabama that hometown feeling is running rampant.
Nestled in the foothills of the Southern Appalachian Mountains, and bearing the moniker of Crappie Capital of the World, Weiss Lake and the surrounding area provides the perfect getaway for anglers and non-anglers alike.
It is pretty obvious that crappie angers are going to like the area. I saw some evidence of big crappie in the lobby of Weiss Lake Lodge where I stayed during my visit. On display in a glass case was a 4-pound and a 3.99-pound mounted crappie. All across the top of the south wall was numerous other huge crappie mounts giving further evidence to the moniker, Crappie Capital of the World.
The lodge itself caters to anglers of all types by providing a large parking lot with security surveillance cameras, battery charging stations, fish cleaning station and freezer storage for your catch. It doesn’t get much better than that.
In addition to Weiss Lake Lodge there are numerous other lodging opportunities in the area. Visitors can choose from motels, resorts, bed and breakfasts, cabins, camping and RV sites, all with in easy distance of the lake and its facilities.
Ken Freeman and some of the BCQ staff stayed at Bay Springs Country Inn. “They treated us like family,” said Freeman. “No request went unfilled. It is a great place to stay whether you are fishing or looking for other adventures.”
Jim Forrest is a local crappie guide and board member of the Weiss Lake Improvement Association (WLIA), a nonprofit organization that involves itself with projects like fish habitats, channel marker maintenance, educational projects with kids and things that just make the area a better place to live and visit. The all volunteer organization is another example of the goodwill that exists in the county.
Forrest describes Weiss Lake as a 32,000-acre impoundment averaging about 8 foot deep. “There is a lot of shallow water in the coves,” explains Forrest. “Weiss is known mainly as a crappie fishing lake, but it is also getting popular with the bass anglers. We have a real good population of large spotted bass here making it popular for tournaments.”
“We are known mainly for our crappie fishing,” continued Forrest. “We usually start around the first of October with our guided trips for crappie. The season goes until April or maybe the first part of May.”
Forrest did have a caveat for boaters on Weiss Lake. “You look out over the lake and it looks like wide open water. There are channels out there that run 25 to 30 feet deep, but in reality this lake is a very shallow lake. There is also 2 and 3-foot water right out there in the middle. There are a lot of stumps, a lot of shallow areas that aren’t clearly marked.”
Weiss is like a lot of lakes, you have to be careful. Your best bet is to go with a guide for your first experience. That would give you a chance to learn about the lake. Forrest says most guides are happy to show you the ropes and get you started. “Guides can help you find out where they are biting and how you can get to them without tearing your boat up,” concluded Forrest.
Forrest pointed out that the area is much more than just the fishing. “It is a great place to come fishing, but there are lots of other things to do and interesting sights to see. We have some nice waterfalls, nice hiking areas and camping areas too. Cherokee County is just a beautiful place to visit.”
Forrest specifically pointed out Little River Canyon. This is truly a special place and unique because most of Little River flows right on top of Lookout Mountain in northeast Alabama. Outdoor enthusiasts will encounter forested uplands, waterfalls, canyon rims and bluffs, pools, boulders, and sandstone cliffs. There is no end to the outdoor activities Little River Canyon offers.
Another especially majestic site is Cherokee Rock Village. Leesburg Mayor Ed Mackey introduced me to the site. Mackey was having breakfast at Coosa Corner with Public Judge Melvyn Salter and Scooter Howell, Chairman of the Cherokee County Park Board preceding their visit to the weigh in at BCQ. They all seconded the mayor’s proclamation that it was a beautiful and interesting place to visit.
“They have done a lot of work over there in the last ten years,” said Mackey. “There is so much history up there.” According to information on the Cherokee County website, Native Americans lived in the area from 8000 B.C. to the to the time of the Cherokee Indian Removal in 1838 and the resulting Trail of Tears. Today the park is owned by Cherokee County and administered by the Cherokee County Parks and Recreation Board.
“It was always called Rock City down the years when I was growing up as a kid,” continued Mackey. “There were just old sawmill roads out there. Chattanooga also has a Rock City so ours was changed to Cherokee Rock Village. They have put a welcome center out there and a nice pavilion making it more convenient for visitors.”
Cherokee Rock Village has become popular with rock climbers. The park has enormous boulders rising as high as 200 feet and measuring 70 feet wide in places. Even the U.S. military has been there for training. It is a must see attraction for rock climbers, hikers and anyone that enjoys the outdoors. The view overlooking Weiss Lake is nothing short of spectacular.
Weiss Lake rests comfortably in what is known as the ABC Triangle of Atlanta, Birmingham and Chattanooga. Day trips to surrounding attractions can be made with the knowledge that you will be returning to the quiet peaceful countryside around Weiss Lake to complete your day and refuel for your next adventure. If Weiss Lake and Cherokee County, AL is not on your bucket list, it should be.
A complete list of area attractions can be found on the Cherokee County website. Information on the BCQ can be found on their Facebook page.
Photo credits: Thanks to Jim Forrest for the picture of his client with a 3.25-pound crappie and Joy Perry, Events Coordinator for the Cherokee County Chamber of Commerce and Tourism, for the great shots of Cherokee Rock Village.