Fish and Fishing in the Pea River

The beaver swamps of southeastern Bullock County drain into small streams which merge to form the Pea River in southeast Alabama. The Pea River serves as the border between Barbour and Pike counties. It skims the northwestern tip of Dale County, then cuts across Coffee and Geneva counties. The Pea River flows into the Choctawhatchee River at the town of Geneva.

The Pea is a classic coastal river in every sense, and could serve as a good example of the plight of all of our coastal rivers in modern times. Some sections of the river are lined with majestic old growth hardwood trees and deep sandstone banks, while other sections of the river banks display the damage associated with poor watershed practices and flooding from severe storms. This damage has resulted in siltation and shallow stretches due to massive amounts of eroded soil. While watershed erosion tends to slowly fill the river with sand and silt, floods and storms can change the contour of the river almost overnight.

The Pea River can have some obstructions which cause the boater to portage.The Pea River is a popular river to float with either a small flat bottom boat or a canoe. Boaters need to be aware that they may have to portage their boat or canoe around fallen trees or shoals in the upper stretch of the river, especially north of the US Highway 231 bridge near Ariton.

Some of the more popular sites for sliding canoes or small flat bottom boats for float trips down the Pea River in Coffee County include: Wallace Bridge at Co. Road 107; Coles Bridge at Co. Road 147; Folsom Bridge at Highway 167; and Weeks Bridge at Co. Road 248. Be aware that the dirt roads leading to these points of entry often require a 4X4 vehicle, especially in wet weather. Anglers can expect a leisurely half day trip between these bridges. The stretch from Weeks Bridge to the Elba boat ramp is a little longer, and may require more than a half day to fish. Anglers can also expect to spend some time dragging their vessel during periods when the river is low. This stretch of the river typically has both sand and rocky substrate, and steady current. Casting small rooster tails or similar lures can usually produce good catches of spotted bass, longear sunfish, and redbreast sunfish. Crickets, wigglers, or catalpa worms also catch plenty of sunfish.

The Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries ramp at the Elba Park just below the intersection of Highway 84 and County Road 401 is the first point on the Pea River where a boat and outboard motor can be easily launched. This is approximately 5 miles upstream of the dam at Elba. The river is deeper with slower current in this stretch. Anglers find this area good for catching largemouth bass and bluegill. This stretch of the river is also a good place to set bush hooks for channel catfish and bullhead catfish.

Since the dam at Elba has been back in operation for several years and often stores water to generate power during peak demand periods, the stretch below the dam can be shallow and slow flowing during prolonged periods of dry weather. The area below the dam at Elba is very rocky, and the water flow can change quickly as in most tailwaters.

The Pea River below the dam at Elba, AlabamaThe tailrace below the dam is an excellent place to catch largemouth bass or spotted bass, and hybrid striped bass and striped bass have been caught there in the spring. However, public access below the dam is fairly difficult. Anglers can access the river at Ballards Bridge (Highway 134); but it is a fairly steep bank, and difficult to launch or retrieve anything heavier than a canoe at this site. This bridge is approximately 7.5 miles below the dam at Elba. Approximately 11 river miles downstream of the dam at Elba, there is a concrete boat ramp on County Road 474 near Kinston. This ramp has some broken concrete sections at the bottom which can be a problem when the river is low.

As the Pea flows south from Coffee County into Geneva County, access sites become less abundant. The next public boat ramp is the Samson Boat Ramp located just off County Road 17, three miles south of Samson. This is a popular boat ramp with a newly paved parking lot and several picnic tables. It is approximately 18 river miles downstream from the Kinston access area.

The river can also be accessed by a sandy slide under the Lester Kersey Bridge on Highway 52, approximately 5 river miles upstream from the Samson ramp. This stretch of the river is mostly sandy bottom with a lot of woody debris. The area between Flat Creek Boat Ramp (Highway 153) and the Samson ramp is a favorite stretch for many wiregrass anglers to catch mullet during the spring spawning runs. Anglers usually find a fairly deep hole near the junction of the river and the creek, and bait the hole with mesh bags filled with cottonseed meal or peanut meal. A popular boat launch (small boats) at the Kalamazoo Bridge (Highway 87) yields a day float to the Geneva City Park Ramp on the Choctawhatchee River 200 yards upstream from the mouth of the Pea River.

Michael Holley holds a Gulf Sturgeon. These anadromous fish run up the Pea River to spawn.The stretch of the Pea River near the city of Geneva contains many areas of steep limestone banks which are potential spawning sites for threatened Gulf strugeon. U.S. Fish and Wildlife researchers have tagged and tracked many Gulf sturgeon near the junction of the Pea and Choctawhatchee rivers over the last few years. Gulf sturgeon up to 5 feet long have been documented as far upstream as the dam at Elba during their spring spawning migrations. Anglers hooking one of these large fish must immediately release them.

For more information on the Pea River, please contact the District IV Fisheries Office.

Related articles:
Gangloff, M. M, and P. W. Hartfield. 2009. Seven populations of the southern kidneyshell (Ptychobranchus jonesi) discovered in the Choctawhatchee River Basin, Alabama. Southeastern Naturalist 8(2):245-254.