October 04, 2010
This stream in Fannin County provides a microcosm of what Georgia mountain trout angling can offer. From brook trout to lunker rainbows, it has it all! (May 2010)
By Polly Dean
For anglers who enjoy trout fishing for fun rather than for the numbers harvested, Noontootla Creek has traditionally been a favorite destination. That's not because the quality of trout fishing just isn't that good, rather it's the result of years of special regulations requiring almost all fish to be immediately released. The overall quality of wild trout fishing in this North Georgia stream is very much better than average!
The portion of the creek on Noontootla Creek Farms offers plenty of room for fly casting.
Photo by Polly Dean.
Noontootla Creek offers anglers a variety of trout-fishing opportunities in its approximately dozen miles of waters. The year-round cold waters of the Noontootla hold wild browns and rainbows that, because of the special regulations, grow to heftier sizes than the average wild fish. The two species were introduced decades ago and have adapted well to the hemlock and mountain laurel shaded waters. The rainbows and browns have successfully bred into ample self-sustaining populations. The species have not been stocked since the mid-1960s.
Several small feeder streams containing populations of wild brook trout join to form Noontootla's headwaters. These native inhabitants still thrive in the smaller waters, some of which are at elevations of more 3,000 feet, where the non-native brown and rainbow trout have not been able to reach.
Toward the stream's mouth, miles of private land stretch along Noontootla Creek, which runs through more gentle terrain of rolling fields and woodlands. The notable section is owned and managed as pay-to-fish water by Noontootla Creek Farms. It is home to some much larger brown and rainbow trout, many of which are trophy-sized fish. This section is so popular with anglers that when one mentions fishing on Noontootla Creek the next question is almost always "on public waters or at NCF?"
Noontootla Creek and the greater portion of its feeder creeks lie within Fannin County, southeast of the town of Blue Ridge. The stream originates in southern Fannin County close to the Lumpkin and Union County borders. It tumbles down in a northwesterly direction from Springer Mountain, very near the origination point of the Appalachian Trail. It's public waters, consisting of about two-thirds of the river, lie within the boundary of Blue Ridge Wildlife Management Area within the Chattahoochee National Forest. Finally, Noontootla Creek dumps into the Toccoa River southeast and upstream of Blue Ridge Reservoir, just below the crossroads of Dial.
Along this course, the entire watershed is open to fishing year 'round.
On the lower stretches of Noontootla Creek, Noontootla Creek Farms encompasses and manages two miles of the stream, just a couple miles upstream of where it joins the Toccoa River. In this section, anglers have a very good chance of hooking up to a 20-inch or larger stream-reared rainbow or brown.
A guide and a fly rod are required to fish these waters. The guides of Unicoi Outfitters' Blue Ridge shop are the folks to call when wanting to wet a line in this private stretch of the Noontootla.
Unicoi Outfitters with their knowledge and experience in taking customers to NCF were able to save the day (or really the week) for me and a relative to whom I owed a "fishing" favor. It was my turn to take my Uncle David fishing after he had patiently shown me the ropes of surf-fishing on the Delaware coast for several days earlier in the year. Since owning a small cabin on the Toccoa River, I have become a frequent visitor to Blue Ridge-area trout streams, becoming familiar with the upper Toccoa's Delayed Harvest section, as well as the outstanding trout fishery below Blue Ridge Lake's dam.
Thus, I knew what my options were for taking my uncle fishing. He is an accomplished saltwater fisherman, but I hoped to help him land his first freshwater fish on a fly. I didn't, however, count on the days and days of rain preceding his visit. The upper Toccoa was blown out, and below the lake, the dam was generating pretty much around the clock. The lower Toccoa was virtually unfishable as well.
With all the recent rains, I didn't know of any waters where I could take a beginning fly-caster to have a decent chance of catching a fish in the area. Desperate, I called Jimmy Harris, the owner of Unicoi Outfitters. He had the solution and waters where my uncle would successfully catch his first trout on a fly and even a few more after that one.
Characteristics of Noontootla Creek make it the go-to stream in many instances when other waters just aren't fishable because of high water. After heavy rain events, Noontootla Creek is usually clear enough to fish in a matter of a few hours or a day at most. Even with a slight stain to the water, anglers have a greater advantage over the typical gin-clear conditions. The stream is rarely difficult to wade.
Also, in the heat of summer when many streams are too warm for trout fishing, Noontootla's year-round cold temperatures keep it a viable option even in the driest and warmest of times.
David Hulsey, store manager of Unicoi Outfitters in Blue Ridge, was our guide for a day of fishing at NCF. He rigged my uncle's 5-weight line with an olive Woolly Bugger and, using a couple feet of fluorocarbon tippet, added a Chamois Worm as a dropper. Hulsey explained that he preferred using fluorocarbon for droppers because it is denser, allowing the fly to sink faster. And it has the same refractory index as water making it harder for the fish to see.
Being accustomed to catching saltwater species where there is no doubt when you get a strike, this action would be a bit different for my uncle. After a few casting tips and pointers on using the strike indicator, he learned that the slightest change in direction or hesitation of the indicator means it's time to set the hook and hang on. He soon hooked into a rainbow, and a 17-inch brightly colored one at that!
Hulsey's fly recommendations included brown hellgrammite patterns with light pink San Juan Worms as droppers, or No. 12 epoxy-back Pheasant Tails. The San Juan Worms seemed to be the fly of the day, provoking most of the strikes from the 16- to 22-inch 'bows that we managed to net and release. After running out of the light pink worms, the bright pink ones served just as well.
Stonefly, caddis and mayfly patterns work here in the spring months, and during the summer, a huge brown or rainbow is just as likely to inhale a hopper.
The NCF property provides a small-st
ream fly-fishing experience with the chance to catch browns and rainbows in the 16- to 30-inch range. A day's catch often averages 18 inches in length, but the action is not like catching fish from a barrel. The setting and conditions are authentic and can sometimes prove challenging for even experienced anglers.
The public access portion of Noontootla Creek in the Blue Ridge WMA is a premier trout-fishing stream. It is greatly popular with anglers who visit its waters hoping to land a 16-inch or larger wild trout, while also knowing that 11- to 13-inch ones are common. By any standard, these are respectable sized fish, but by Appalachian wild trout standards, these are trophies.
These stretches of Noontootla Creek have been under restrictive regulations for more than four decades. Only artificial lures are allowed, and the creel limit is one fish per day that must measure 16 inches or larger. That makes Noontootla, for all practical purposes, a catch-and-release fishery.
Even though access is fairly easy from Forest Service Road 58 that parallels the creek its entire length, fishing pressure is surprisingly low, especially on weekdays. This is probably because many trout fishermen are looking to put some fish on the dinner table. The combination light fishing pressure and special regulations has made the creek a premier fishery.
Noontootla Creek on the WMA is a small to medium-sized stream. At Three Forks where the Appalachian Trail crosses Chester Creek (the main upstream fork of the creek) is joined by Long and Stover creeks. Above this point the fishing is tight on all three creeks.
Although past electro-fishing surveys have shown that healthy populations of colorfully hued fish inhabit the creek, catching them is not always easy. Fishing Noontootla can be a humbling experience. Still, Peach State trout anglers place Noontootla Creek high on their list of North Georgia mountain streams for quality trout fishing.
David Hulsey grew up fishing Noontootla Creek with a spinning rod in hand, so the stream is not just for fly-fishers. He suggested using small No. 0 or 1 Rooster Tails or Mepps in-line spinners with gold blades and single, barbless hooks.
For fly-rodders, Hulsey recommends general nymphs, such as Gold-Ribbed Hare's Ears, Princes and Pheasant Tails. For dry-fly fishing he suggests an Elk Hair Caddis or a Parachute Adams. In the warmer months, Black Ant patterns work well.
Another great facet of fishing the Noontootla Creek watershed is the opportunity to hook into true native brook trout. Natural and manmade barriers in a few of the creek's feeder streams prevent the nonnative browns and rainbows from establishing themselves in these upper waters. That allows the native brookies to thrive and flourish.
Stover Creek is one of the three tributaries that join at Three Forks to form Noontootla Creek. With the combination of a natural barrier waterfall and many hours of stream restoration work by Trout Unlimited volunteers, the small stream maintains a healthy brook trout population.
I can attest to Stover Creek being a quality brook trout fishery, after briefly testing its waters one afternoon last fall. I don't often fish such small mountain trout streams. It isn't because I don't appreciate the miniature colorful species that inhabit them, but because of my frustrations with tangled lines and the close quarters of the rhododendron canopy. These small waters just usually whip my butt! However, I really do get more satisfaction from hooking into these wild gems than many fish of much larger proportions.
After surveying a few easily accessible sections of Stover Creek, I tied on a Royal Wulff and approached a small run to drift my fly through. Conditions were good, not much glare and I could easily watch the fly as it made its drift through the rocks. In an instant, I spotted a dark shape dart out from one of the rocks and attempt to inhale the fly. I was slow to react and missed the fish, but my spirits were up. They were definitely in here, and they liked what I was offering.
Another brookie gave me a chance in the same run, but I missed it as well or -- as I usually describe it -- the fish missed my fly. I quickly switched to another pool. I have learned that most wild brookies only give you one chance and then its time to move on.
I dropped my fly in a deeper run where it drifted underneath an overhanging tangle of branches and twigs. I clearly saw what looked too large to be a brook trout swim straight for my Royal Wulff and quickly gulp it in! I watched the fish with the fly in his mouth for what seemed to be several moments, though probably only a second or two. I clumsily couldn't get the slack out of my line or my rod tip up from under the overhanging branches to set the hook.
The fish had to have been 11 to 12 inches, but got away. Not really expecting a second chance, I dropped my fly into the same spot. A slightly smaller fish came out from a different direction and sucked up the Wulff. I was successful in landing this fish and it turned out to be a 9 1/2-inch brookie!
Though the second fish was a real wild trophy, I only wish that I had successfully landed the first one. But I know he's still there. I saw more fish and even hooked a couple more brook trout that afternoon. It was a good experience and I am ready to explore more of the upper reaches of Stover Creek in the near future.
Noontootla Creek does offer trout anglers a smorgasbord of trout-fishing opportunities. I honestly can't say that I enjoy one section of this stream over another. It is just good to have the choice of all of its year-round options!