Mountain Gold: Georgia Trout Fishing for Browns, 'Bows, Even Brookies
June 01, 2018
North Georgia trout includes both stocked and wild for anglers to pursue. Even better, there are some areas with native brook trout.
By Ken Cook
According to legend, Dr. M.F. Stephenson, Dahlonega, Ga.'s mint assayer, tried to keep Georgia miners from heading west by claiming: "There's gold in them thar hills."
Less than two centuries later, Stephenson's phrase still holds true in regard to brilliantly colored mountain trout swimming in north Georgia rivers and streams.
The gold nugget reportedly found in Duke's Creek long ago might be compared to the 20-pound, 14-ounce brown trout caught in the Chattahoochee River in 2014, the 17-pound, 8-ounce rainbow taken from the Soque River in 2004 or the 5-pound, 10-ounce native brook trout landed in Water's Creek in 1986. All three are currently record trout in Georgia.
Georgia has a productive, year-round trout fishery spanning nearly 4,000 miles, with only 100,000 trout license holders "mining" this area. Regardless of skill level, choice of tackle or purpose in going, Georgia trout fishing can provide angling diversity.
Now there are three species found in Georgia — rainbow, brown and brook. Only brook are native fish; rainbow and brown were introduced, but all three species have prospered under the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Resources Division, Fisheries Section, with both eating- and trophy-size fish available.
Georgia's stocking program is heavily dependent on the supply of eggs and fish provided by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's National Fish Hatchery system. The federal hatchery in Georgia's Chattahoochee Forest produces 29 percent of the 1.1 million catchable trout stocked in Georgia.
USFWS hatcheries in Chattahoochee and Dale Hollow in Tennessee provide 43 percent of the 1.19 million fingerlings needed by Georgia's three hatcheries (Burton, Buford and Summerville). Federal hatcheries in Ennis, Mont., and Erwin, Tenn., supply 75 percent of the 1.2 million eggs needed for Georgia hatcheries to produce fingerlings and catchable trout.
The GDNR Wildlife Resources Division has been hatching, growing-out and stocking trout for close to 65 years. The aggregate goal of the three Georgia-based hatcheries is to release about 1 million trout each year between March and Labor Day. About 85 percent are rainbows and 15 percent are browns. The federal Chattahoochee hatchery normally produces 30,000 to 40,000 brook trout. Subsequent stockings after Labor Day normally occur only in five Delayed Harvest (DH) Streams.
"The 2018 stocking season should result in a banner year for trout anglers because 10-inch trout instead of the 9-inch norm will be released in March, April, May and into June," said John Lee Thomson, Burton Hatchery manager and supervisor of Georgia's Trout Stocking Program.
According to Thomson, Lake Trahlyta, a 22-acre impoundment on Wolf Creek in Vogel State Park, receives stocking in the winter months and is often overlooked by trout anglers. For anglers looking for a "trout slam," another promising area is Smith Creek.
FISHING FOR GEORGIA TROUT
Those just getting into trout fishing have lots of questions of where to go, as do many anglers with experience looking for new places to try. There are, of course, many places in north Georgia where trout, both stocked and natural, flourish, just waiting for nymphs, flies and baits to pass by for ambush.
Jeff Durniak, North Georgia regional supervisor and fisheries biologist in Gainesville, has a great deal of info about trout streams and lakes in that part of the Peach State. In fact, he has some he really recommends that anglers consider.
The Chattahoochee, often called the "Hooch," begins as a small stream in the Chatthoochee National Forest. It flows down to Helen to Lake Lanier, which is held back by the Buford Dam. From there, it continues to flow south, eventually reaching and rolling through Atlanta. The tailwaters below the dam are cold enough for trout, so the GDNR stocks both rainbows and browns, and the river contains some natural browns. Part of the river — from Sope Creek downstream to U.S. 41 — is a delayed harvest area from November to the middle of May, so all fish must be immediately released during this time, and anglers are limited to artificial lures with single hooks.
In spring and into summer, the Chattahoochee has numerous hatchings, including caddis, mayflies and stoneflies, providing numerous opportunities for anglers to "match the hatch." Be sure to check what is happening on the river, and use flies that resemble the current offering. Once May 15 hits, anglers can actually keep trout — under Georgia regulations — but the artificial lure regulation continues.
In the upper regions of the Hooch, the waters are smaller, providing opportunities for smaller wild trout. Even better, the area is close to Helen, where there are countless family attractions throughout the year, especially in the fall when leaves are turning and apples are ripening.
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Further west, along the South Carolina/Georgia border runs the Chattooga River, which is considered a wild and scenic river, one of the few in the South. The area around these waters that are shared with the Palmetto State is backcountry, providing areas where the only folks anglers will see are backpackers and other anglers who are willing to walk the long distances required to fish most of the river.
Backcountry camping is allowed, which is one of the best ways to get away for peace and quiet while targeting wild trout. Matching the hatch with flies works, but anglers have to make good casts to prevent spooking these very wary fish. There are some fairly easy access points, such as Overflow Creek Bridge, Highway 28 bridge and Earl's Ford. However, to get into the best areas, anglers must hike down the trails that run along this very scenic river that can give up some really large fish, but they are hard to catch.
Other areas where anglers can be successful are Cooper's Creek, which is heavily stocked because of its cool waters. However, some of its tributaries have wild fish. Dick's Creek is also stocked, with smaller wild trout in the tributaries. The tailwaters of the Blue Ridge are typically stocked at bridge crossings. All of these areas are places where anglers can catch trout for eating, but can occasionally come across a larger specimen, some of which might be naturally produced.
Over in the northwestern region of Georgia, John Damer is the fisheries biologist stationed in Armuchee. He also keeps a pretty close eye on trout conditions and populations. He is particularly interested in the Blue Ridge headwaters, Noontootla Creek and the tailwaters of the Toccoa River, where large browns and 9- to 12-inch rainbows are present.
Damer especially recommends the area because of the availability of rental cabins and the family friendly facilities, particulary around Blue Ridge and Toccoa. Incidentally, Blue Ridge bills itself as the Trout Capital of Georgia. Above 2000-feet elevation, Damer notes, freestone streams are cool and mostly stay in the 50-degree to 60-degree comfort zone for trout. Above 70-degree water temperature, trout stop feeding.
Noontootla Creek is a challenging wild trout stream that has some tributaries in the Blue Ridge Wildlife Management Area. It is an area where only artificial lures are allowed, and all trout less than 16 inches must be released immediately. Now because of these regulations, Noontootla Creek is a great area to pursue larger than average brown and rainbow trout.
Now part of the Noontootla is privately owned by Noontootla Creek Farms, which is a sporting facility that offers trout fishing, both with and without a guide, quail hunts, sporting clay ranges and lodging on its more than 1,000 acres. It is a good place to consider for those interested in a cast and blast weekend with the family, as the area has much more than just hunting, shooting and fishing.
Now the GDNR maintains and manages five trout streams that are designated Delayed Harvest Streams. These areas allow the harvest of trout only from May 15 to October 31. Between November 1 and May 14, these areas are catch-and-release only using artificial lures with one single hook per lure.
Now the true benefit of these areas are that they provide some of the best trout fishing in the entire state. Even better, many are not as pressured as open streams, because those who want to take trout home don't fish them for around six months of the year. The five Delayed Harvest Streams are the Amicalola, Chattahoochee, Chattooga, Smith Creek and the Toccoa.
Two areas that are truly worthy of mention, are the Smithgall Woods-Dukes Creek Conservation Area and Waters Creek. Smithgall is an area of breathtaking scenary, where anglers can pursue trout in a freestone stream environment, anytime of the year. However, there is a limit on the number of anglers allowed each day on Dukes Creek, so folks have to call 706-878-3087 and reserve a slot. Also, only artificial lures with barbless hooks can be used and all fish must be released.
Waters Creek, and its tributaries, is located in the Chestatee WMA, and is managed exclusively for trophy trout. As such, fishing is only allowed on Wednesday, Saturdays and Sundays. Other regulations are that only artificial lures with only a No. 6 barbless hook and a 2-foot-long landing net are required. Size limits are 22 inches for browns and rainbows and 18 inches for brook trout. The daily possession limit is one fish, and only three annually.
GEAR & MORE
Typically, there are three types of trout anglers — those who fish with bait (earth worms, corn kernels, salmon eggs, crickets, cheese, marshmallows, etc.); those who fish with downsize spinning lures (Mepps, Panther Martin and Roostertails) and spoons (Kastmaster, Phoebe and Little Cleo); and those who use flies.
For a trout fishing, a 5- to 6-foot ultra-light spinning rod and reel combo, spooled with 10 pound or less monofilament works well, particularly with lures that are 1/8 ounce and smaller.
A versatile fly rig for trout can be as simple as a 4- or 5-weight line and a 6-foot rod, which serves well in small streams, but if you're targeting trophy fish in tailwaters or broader streams, consider an 8-weight line and a 10-foot rod.
Regardless of gear choice, be sure to cast lightly and carefully to prevent from spooking fish. Trout have excellent eyesight and are typically very wary, especially wild trout. These, of course, are some of the traits that make them such targets for anglers, along with the potential to travel to and through some of the most beautiful scenery in the Peach State.