October 04, 2010
Our state is blessed with the best trout angling in the Deep South, and now is the time to take advantage of the fishery. Join the author as he explores Peach State mountain streams.
By Jeff Samsel
The tailwaters of Toccoa River below Blue Ridge Lake hosts a vastly improved fishery.
Photo by Jimmy Jacobs
Setting the hook with a sharp tug of his fly line, an angler expects to feel jiggling, a bit of extra pressure and maybe a quick sideways run. Instead, the fish yanks his rod tip down, and he has to let the fly line slip through his fingers to avoid having his tippet broken. This trout obviously is a cut above others the angler has caught, and it puts a big grin on his face.
Georgia trout fishermen will have more such reasons to grin beginning this spring. The Georgia Wildlife Resources Division is implementing a shift in their trout-stocking plans this year that will put more "quality trout" in popular mountain streams. Larger trout are to be a regular part of the mix on all the larger trout streams that the WRD regularly stocks throughout the spring and summer.
"Six to 8 percent of the trout stocked on those streams will be larger fish," said Lee Keefer, a WRD fisheries biologist who works out of the Lake Burton Hatchery office. "We believe this will kind of spice things up for fishermen -- anticipating the possibility of catching some larger trout."
Most of the bonus fish will only be 2 or 3 inches larger than typical stockers, but even that much difference makes fish stand out when all the rest are the same size. A few notably large fish also will be included in the mix. The streams that get the larger fish will get slightly smaller total numbers stocked because of hatchery space, but Keefer does not believe the difference will even be noticeable to most fishermen.
The WRD, which stocks more than 1 million trout annually in North Georgia mountain streams, continually evaluates how to provide the most benefit to anglers with the fish that are available. Along with mixing in larger fish, the WRD plans to stock a little heavier at the front of the season on smaller streams where the habitat is not as good during late summer.
"Fishing pressure is heaviest prior to the fourth of July," Keefer said. "Later in the summer, we typically spend a lot of time monitoring marginal streams to make sure they are still cold enough to support trout if we stock them. We'll still stock smaller streams throughout the season, but we'll stock more of the fish earlier in the year, when the habitat is better and more fishermen are using them."
The best place to fish for trout, Keefer pointed out, truly depends on the kind of experience an angler seeks. Some highly popular stream sections are heavily stocked and have easy access with parking nearby. These waters offer likely limits but little solitude. Other streams cut through remote forest sections and offer wilderness-type experiences with the chance to match wits with wild trout. Additionally, some streams are quite large, making for easy and open casting, while others are truly minute and much more intimate.
Location is also an important factor for anglers planning trips. Quality trout waters are spread across North Georgia, and picking the best stream sometimes begins with considering which watersheds are closest to home. Keefer noted that there are dozens of small streams throughout the mountains that offer very good fishing and get little fishing pressure. He suggested that anglers wondering about specific streams in any given area of the mountains call his office at (706) 947-3112 for guidance.
While there's no way to effectively cover all of Georgia's fine trout waters in a single article, we have selected a handful of waterways that promise excellent fishing this year. Collectively, these waters, which even include one reservoir, offer a tremendous variety of opportunities, and some individual streams offer widely varying experiences from one section to another.
Just how big will the trout in Lake Burton get? Only five years into the impoundment's trout-stocking program, Burton has yielded countless whopper browns and a fair number of heavyweight rainbows. Last summer, angler Larry Brewer caught an 11-pound, 2-ounce brown trout while trolling.
The trout were first stocked into Lake Burton in 2000, both to provide a new opportunity for anglers and to control a burgeoning population of non-native blueback herring. More trout have been added each year since, and they seem to be thriving in Burton's deep, clear waters. Fish up to about 3 pounds are very common, and much larger trout show up regularly.
Finding brown trout begins with finding the blueback herring, according to Anthony Rabern, WRD fisheries biologist for Lake Burton. In May, the search begins around clay main-lake points, where the herring spawn. The best bait, not surprisingly, is a live blueback herring, which can be cast among schools of baitfish under a slip-cork or slow-trolled on a flat-line. Productive artificial lures include minnow-shaped crankbaits, soft-plastic jerkbaits and sleek spoons, all in colors that suggest herring.
The best trout fishing typically occur from mid-summer though the middle of fall, during which time the lake stratified and the trout are forced to pile up in the lake's only suitable summer habitat. Through the warm months, the trout all hang close to the thermocline, usually in the 20- to 30-foot depth range, in the lake's lower main body.
Throughout this period, anglers find good success by trolling spoons and crankbaits near the dam, using downriggers, lead-core lines and other specialized techniques to keep their baits in the right depth. Night-fishing with live bait, using lights to concentrate the baitfish and pull the trout shallower, can be highly effective this time of year.
THE UPPER CHATTAHOOCHEE RIVER
The Chattahoochee River certainly is Georgia's most diverse trout stream, with trout waters that range from a brookie-filled high-mountain branch to the broad, often-turbid river that winds through Marietta. The 48-mile-long tailwater of Lake Sidney Lanier clearly is the most famous section of the Hooch, but the Chattahoochee also ranks among the best trout streams in the mountains.
Through Helen, North Georgia's Bavarian-theme tourist town, the Chattahoochee gets heavy doses of hatchery trout on a regular basis. Access is good through most of Helen, with anglers fishing right through downtown. The river has already reached decent size by this point and is plenty open for casting. The gradient drops just enough to create good holding areas for trout. The major downside to fishing in Helen, especially after Memorial Day, is that you must dodge hordes of recreational floaters in tubes.
Jumbo trout, some reaching double-digit weights, lurk in private waters at the south end of Helen, through a stretch known as Nacoochee Bend, which can be fly-fished for a fee through Unicoi Outfitters. For details on prices, angler quotas and special restrictions that apply, give Unicoi a call at (706) 878-3083 or on the Web log onto
A couple of miles upstream of Helen, the Chattahoochee's entire headwaters region tumbles through the Chattahoochee Wildlife Management Area. This section is wilder and more rugged in character than the Helen section, but through the lower end of the management area, access remains good and trout are heavily stocked, Keefer pointed out. Access is also good well up the river, where the stream is much smaller.
"In between those areas, the river goes away from the road for several miles, and anglers can find more of a backcountry-type experience," Keefer added. "The river supports a pretty good wild trout population, and anglers will also catch some stocked fish that have moved upstream or downstream."
Keefer noted that there are also plenty of places to camp in this area for anglers who want to get out for a few days and enjoy the river and the mountains that bound it. One semi-primitive developed campground is located near the river's headwaters. Upstream of the campground, the extreme upper Chattahoochee River is a brook trout stream that is only a modest hop's distance wide.
THE CHATTOOGA RIVER
The addition of a 3-mile section of the Chattooga to the delayed-harvest program a few years ago has attracted new attention to this river, which runs along the Georgia-South Carolina border, but because of its Wild and Scenic River designation the Chattooga has always has been one of Georgia's gems. The delayed-harvest section just added another facet and created opportunities on a stretch of river that previously had been only of moderate interest to fishermen.
The Chattooga rises high on the slopes of Whiteside Mountain in North Carolina and gathers tributaries for 10 miles before reaching Georgia and South Carolina at Ellicott Rock. Already of decent size at that point, the upper Chattooga twists between boulders and cliffs within the Ellicott Rock Wilderness Area. All access to a great population of wild brown trout is via trails on the South Carolina side of the river.
Three miles from the tri-state border, Burrells Ford (Forest Service Road 656) Bridge crosses the Chattooga. Regular stockings of catchable-sized rainbows and easy river access make the waters immediately upstream and downstream of the bridge very popular with anglers who hope to take home a limit of trout.
Downstream of the bridge, the next few miles of the river offer outstanding habitat for adult brown trout but marginal spawning conditions. Therefore, the WRD, along with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Forest Service, uses helicopters to drop fingerling browns in this section every fall. Browns tend to grow big from the bridge downstream to Big Bend Falls, and abundant shoals produce very good insect hatches for a mountain river.
From Big Bend Falls to the mouth of Reed Creek, which marks the beginning of the delayed-harvest waters, trout prospects are less appealing for most anglers. Big pools in this rugged and remote section do yield some big trout, but reaching these waters requires at least three miles of hiking, and redeye bass outnumber trout.
By the time the Chattooga hits the delayed-harvest section, it is a large trout river, with massive deep pools beneath riffles, shoals and rapids. All access is by foot, beginning at the State Route 28 bridge, which marks the lower end of the specially regulated section.
All fishing is catch-and-release with single-hook artificial lures only on delayed-harvest waters through May 15. After that, general trout fishing regulations apply. This means that during May, anglers enjoy the best of both worlds on this heavily stocked and truly beautiful section of river. Through the first half of the month, catch-and-release fishing should be outstanding, with terrific dry-fly action likely. Through the second half of the month, anglers can enjoy this section of the Chattooga and take home a limit for dinner.
A large, tumbling tributary of the upper Toccoa River, Cooper Creek provides an abundance of opportunity for trout fishermen in a beautiful setting. Around the parking area for the Cooper Creek Scenic Area and two nearby U.S. Forest Service campgrounds, the creek is heavily stocked and heavily fished. Forest Service Road 4 provides great access to nearly two miles of stream through this section.
Anglers anticipate catching a limit of trout in this part of the creek, and most fish with natural baits or in-line spinners from stationary positions, either along the banks or wading beside specific holes. Access for bank fishing is very good through this section, and the creek's moderate grade makes for generally easy wading. Huge white pines and hemlocks rise streamside through the scenic area, making Cooper Creek one of the prettiest streams in North Georgia.
Upstream of the parking lot for the scenic area, two miles of the creek are accessible only by hiking trails or by wading up the stream. Old-growth forest bounds a moderate-sized creek that quickly becomes more remote and is loaded with wild rainbows, plus a light mix of stocked fish. Anglers generally can wade up this section, drifting flies or casting lures with spinning outfits without having to work around many other fishermen.
Immediately upstream of the scenic area, Cooper Creek runs through a short section of private holdings. However, the creek's entire headwaters region above there runs through national forest land, and several miles of stream get minimal attention from fishermen. Forest Service Road 33 fronts part of the creek (although the road is often well up the hillside above the stream), providing scattered access. Most trout through the upper end of the creek are wild rainbows.
Cooper Creek actually forms beneath the impounded waters of Lake Winfield Scott, which is located off SR 180 on national forest land and also receives regular stockings of trout through spring and early summer.
TOCCOA RIVER TAILWATER
The Toccoa River below Blue Ridge Lake in Fannin County has quietly developed into one of the best tailwater trout streams in the Southeast. Work done to Blue Ridge Dam by the Tennessee Valley Authority to maintain minimum water flows during periods of non-generation has improved water temperatures, dissolved oxygen levels through the summer, and made conditions for insect production better.
Most of the land surrounding the 15 miles of trout waters from Blue Ridge Dam to the Tennessee border is privately owned. However, a handful of public access points provide some wading and fairly good access for beginning and ending float trips. By far, the best way to fish the Toccoa is by floating -- whether in a canoe, an inflatable pontoon boat or a drift boat.
g or wading, the Toccoa is essentially a low- or falling-water river. It is swift and difficult to fish when the water is fully up. Most anglers consider falling water the ideal condition, but generation schedules and anglers' schedules don't always line up to allow for fishing the falling water.
The Toccoa is heavily stocked with rainbow trout, which spread themselves nicely through the river. The river also supports wild browns, which reproduce in tributary streams and sometimes grow to large sizes. Most fish are typical stocker size, but anglers catch quite a few trout up to about 16 inches and occasionally even bigger trophy fish.
Numbers of big fish in the river seem to have increased in recent years, based on angler observations. Those fishermen who were fortunate enough to be on the Toccoa last year during the cicada event (17-year locust hatch) learned just how many big trout are in the river. The presence of so many large insects on the water led to feeding frenzies by the larger trout.
Access to the Toccoa is available immediately downstream of the dam at a TVA access, at the SR 515 bridge in Tammen Park, and near Curtis Switch Bridge, several miles downstream. There are also two different parks in the town of McCaysville.
For a guided float-fishing trip on the Toccoa River, check out
www.reelanglingadventures.com. For water-release schedules, call (800) 238-2264.