Trout Time in the Mountains

Trout Time in the Mountains

With the blooming of dogwoods and azaleas in the highlands, trout anglers head to the creeks and rivers. Let's look at some of the top streams for 2004.

By Kevin Dallmier

Oh, the joys of spring. No time of year is nearer and dearer to anglers' hearts than when the first dogwood blooms begin to paint drab mountainsides with splashes of color.

Opening day of trout season is one of the yearly events by which time is measured in the North Georgia mountains - with good reason too. Spring rains can bring high muddy water and tough fishing, but they also pull small mountain creeks out of the winter deep freeze. The temperature has now crept up, and the trout are plentiful and hungry, so let's look at a few good places to try your hand at trout this year.

Before we get to the specifics though, a few words about Peach State trout. Georgia is home to three trout species - rainbow, brown and brook trout. Of the three species, brook trout are the only native trout species in Georgia. Brown trout were introduced from Europe in the 1800s, and rainbow trout are transplants from the Western United States. Brownies and especially rainbows have taken a liking to the southern Appalachians, though, and are much more common than brook trout. If brook trout are your target, then a climb is likely in order. Brookies are creatures of tiny headwater streams high in the mountains above barrier waterfalls. The falls prevent the more aggressive browns and rainbows from colonizing the stream and out-competing the brook trout.

North Georgia is the extreme southern edge of natural trout water in the Eastern United States. Given anglers' love of trout, and the limited natural supply, if Mother Nature went without help, the demand would far outweigh the supply in the Peach State. That is the reason for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) trout-stocking program. Every year, the DNR raises and releases roughly a million catchable-sized trout into North Georgia waters.

Many Georgia trout streams can support stocked fish but are unable to sustain natural reproduction. The culprits are the naturally low fertility of the North Georgia mountains, sedimentation of critical spawning habitat resulting from poor land-use practices, and competition from other coolwater species like redeye bass. A few streams are totally self-sustaining, a few more have a mix of native and stocked fish, and the majority depend on the stocking program to support the fishery.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

Starting in Floyd County in the northwest corner of the state, Johns Creek flows through the Chattahoochee National Forest and Johns Mountain Wildlife Management Area. Since there is no natural reproduction, the stocking truck is a frequent visitor.

Access is good, since the creek flows directly alongside the road running through the WMA. Anglers should have no problem finding plenty of public access. Since access to the creek is so good, the fishing pressure is heavy, especially early in the spring. An angler willing to get away from the parking areas, though, finds that most of the pressure is directed toward a few roadside pools.

Narrow and with overgrown banks, Johns Creek offers difficult going for fly-casters. The best way to approach the creek is with ultralight spinning gear.

Trout anglers who prefer natural bait find that worms, a few kernels of canned corn, or commercially prepared trout bait are enticing offerings for the hatchery-reared trout living in Johns Creek. Several deep pools lend themselves well to this method of still-fishing. Other anglers prefer to fish artificial lures. Small in-line spinners are a good bet. Fish the spinners through the deep pools and any other likely places. Within a few days of being stocked, most of the trout have migrated away from the stocking sites. Anglers should wade the creek away from the heavily used access points in search of these less pressured fish.

Johns Creek is designated a seasonal trout stream and is open to fishing from the last Saturday in March through Oct. 31.

The Jacks River in Fannin County is a major tributary to the better-known Conasauga River. The two rivers parallel each other through the Cohutta Wilderness Area and offer excellent angling for wild rainbow, brown and brook trout. From its headwaters until it joins the Conasauga near the Georgia-Tennessee border, the Jacks River flows almost entirely through the public land.

The Jacks River watershed has escaped development over the years. A few visible reminders remain of the railroad grade once used to get valuable old-growth timber out of the valley and to market. Overall, though, the valley appears much as it likely did before European settlement.

The extreme headwaters of the Jacks are outside the wilderness area. These streams are very small and overgrown, but they do offer some good fishing for native trout. Most of the fishing, though, takes place within the confines of the wilderness area.

The Cohutta Wilderness Area contains more than 90 miles of trails. The Jacks River Trail follows the river for most of its length and is part of any angling adventure. When hiking the Jacks River Trail, be prepared to get wet. The trail fords the river more than 40 times, with some crossings waist-deep even at normal flows. With so many river crossings, high water can pose a problem.

The Jacks River offers quality fish. Rainbows 12 to 14 inches are not uncommon, and 9-inchers are plentiful. Although brown trout are less numerous than rainbows, they are the largest fish in the stream. The Jacks River has been known to produce brown trout up to 9 pounds.

Brook trout are a possibility, but finding them requires bushwhacking up tiny tributaries at high elevations. Most fish are only around 5 inches long.

Jacks River trout are very wary, and a clumsy approach puts them down. Stealth and a careful presentation become especially important when the water is low and clear. In the cramped headwaters, ultralight spinning gear is the best choice, but the rest of the Jacks River is open enough for fly-casting.

A favored approach to fishing the Jacks is to concentrate on deep, slow pools in the early morning and then switch to riffle areas between pools later in the day. A size 8 or 10 stonefly nymph is a good choice early, and once the switch is made to fishing the riffles, dry flies like a Royal Wulff or Adams are good choices.

For anglers preferring spinning tackle, tiny in-line spinners are a good choice. Most anglers prefer dark colors. Live-bait angling can be the most productive way to prospect unknown water. Worms and crickets are both good choic

es for bait.

The Jacks River is designated as seasonal trout water.

With the Chattahoochee National Fish Hatchery just a short drive down the road, it is no wonder Rock Creek in Fannin County is one of the most heavily stocked trout streams in Georgia. The creek's tame nature and heavy stocking combine to make Rock Creek very popular with families and those after an easy trout supper.

The entire stream flows through lands of the Chattahoochee National Forest and Blue Ridge WMA. The Chattahoochee National Fish Hatchery is located on one of the creek's tributaries.

Although wild trout may be in the upper reaches, 9-inch stocked trout are what bring people to Rock Creek. Most of the fish caught are rainbows. With the heavy use it receives, angling at Rock Creek is a community affair. There are plenty of fish for everyone, though, and success rates are high.

Rock Creek is an excellent place to visit to introduce youngsters to the sport of trout fishing. The fish are plentiful and vulnerable to a variety of techniques, and the stream is easily fished.

Just about any trout fishing technique should work on Rock Creek. Fish fresh out of the hatchery are suckers for anything resembling the food pellets that have been the standard fare for all their lives. Kernel corn, salmon eggs, commercial trout baits, worms and crickets fished on a light spinning or spincast outfit all catch fish. Present the bait on or near the bottom in the pools.

If artificials are preferred, small spinners are the top choice. Tiny minnow-imitating jerkbaits can also be good. Present these lures at the base on plunge pools and riffles. In deeper pools, let the lure sink a little deeper before beginning an erratic retrieve.

If escaping the crowds is your goal, fish the extreme headwaters of the creek or its tributaries. Wild trout are possible in these tiny rivulets, and you might even find a native brook trout. The fishing in these small waters is much more challenging than in the main creek, and the fish are much smaller.

Rock Creek is designated as a year-round trout water.

Within the bounds of the Chattahoochee National Forest and Chestatee WMA, Dicks Creek in Lumpkin County is one of Georgia's more popular trout streams. Shortly after its journey to the Gulf of Mexico begins, the creek joins with several others to form the Chestatee River. Dicks Creek shows a variety of faces on its short journey. The headwaters are small overgrown brooks that eventually join together into a large and open creek at lower elevations.

Most of the Dicks Creek watershed is on public land, although there are some private in-holdings. The bulk of the private land along the creek is well posted as such, but be sure not to trespass on the lands of another.

Dicks Creek receives heavy stockings of catchable-sized trout throughout the season. The creek is also home to wild trout, mostly in the higher elevations. Dicks Creek has a reputation of producing an inordinate number of trophy fish.

Like many Georgia trout streams, the fishing spot you pick on Dicks Creek has a direct relationship to what sort of trout fishing you can expect. Where access is easy, both for anglers and the stocking truck, most fish are stocker trout. Where access is difficult, the probability of encountering wild trout increases considerably. The lower reaches near the road see the most anglers and the most stocked fish, and the remote headwaters get less fishing pressure and have increased odds for a wild trout.

Standard trout fishing techniques should work on Dicks Creek. The lower half is open enough for fly-fishing, but the fly-angler is the exception in this area. Most anglers after stocked trout prefer spinning gear and either small in-line spinners or natural bait. When fishing spinners, use the lightest one that you can cast that will run at the desired depth.

If fly-fishing gear remains your choice, nearly any dry fly, nymph or small streamer stands a chance of catching fish. Trout that have spent their lives in a hatchery are not fussy eaters and strike at anything resembling food, no matter whether it matches the hatch or not.

Farther upstream, more cunning is needed. Small spinners on ultralight gear are still a good choice, and worms or crickets are good natural baits. Fly-casting in these smaller waters can be difficult, but if you decide to give it a go, try a generic "attractor" pattern. These tiny-water trout are very skittish and a heavy footfall sends them scurrying for the nearest rock. Try to make your approach as unobtrusive as possible, keep sudden movements to a minimum, and wear clothes that blend into the surroundings.

Dicks Creek is designated as a seasonal trout water.

Designated by Congress as a Wild and Scenic River, the Chattooga River in Rabun County is known for its whitewater paddling, trout fishing and primitive setting. Arising high in the North Carolina Appalachians, the Chattooga River travels a rough 50-mile journey before ending in the still waters of Lake Tugalo. For much of its journey, the Chattooga forms the state line between South Carolina and Georgia.

The river is split into several management sections, with the upper section from Ellicott Rock to Georgia Highway 28 being of most interest to anglers. Ellicott Rock is the boulder that marks the point where Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina all meet. The site is named for Andrew Ellicott, an early 18th century surveyor commissioned with the daunting task of surveying this rugged parcel of Southern Appalachia.

The upper Chattooga is big water by Georgia trout fishing standards, 50 to 60 feet wide in most places, and predominantly a wild brown trout fishery. This is probably one of the best places in Georgia in which to catch a double-digit-weight wild brown trout. Downstream of Burrells Ford, the river widens out to almost 100 feet, and rainbows become much more common. Stocked fish are also more common downstream of Burrells Ford.

The Chattooga's reputation as a whitewater river is based on the lower sections; anglers should have no problem fishing the upper reaches, characterized by big, deep pools separated by shoals. Should you encounter areas too rough or deep to wade, a short hike puts you back into fishable water. One area to take special care with is known as "Rock Gorge" and is a short distance upstream of where the Bartram Trail intersects the Chattooga Foothill Trail. Although the gorge's deep pools hold some of the biggest brown trout in the river, anglers need to use extreme caution. Violent rapids, undercut rocks, drop-offs, and wading paths that dead-end into deep water or cliff walls are common in the gorge. The Chattooga is one of Georgia's wildest rivers and should be on the list of any angler who wants to see what Appalachian highland trout fishing is all about.

The best time to fish for the Chattooga's big browns is first and last light. Browns are much more nocturnal than rainbow trout, and anglers find that early

and late in the day offers the best fishing. Overcast days are also good, and the fish may feed off and on throughout the day.

For fly-casters, a Gold-Ribbed Hare's Ear nymph is a good choice. For dry flies, try a Light Cahill or Parachute Adams. Other good choices would be a big streamer like a Wooly Bugger or Matuka.

For spinning gear, try small spinners like a white Rooster Tail and a Panther Martin. Small plugs that imitate a minnow or crayfish are also good choices.

A good time to be on the river is right after a rain when the water is just starting to stain. The dirtier water makes the trout a little less wary, but once it truly muddies up, fishing is tough.

The easiest fishing is right around Burrells Ford, but it also is the most crowded. A short walk in either direction on the river usually outdistances most anglers, though, and you likely will have the river mostly to yourself.

The Chattooga River upstream of the mouth of Warwoman Creek (between Georgia Highway 28 and U.S. Highway 76) is designated as year-round trout water.

Kevin Dallmier is the author of Fishing Georgia, a FalconGuide book to fishing in the Peach State. Signed copies can be purchased from the author for $21 (postage paid) by mailing a check to 90 Dogwood Hill, Menlo, GA 30731. For more information about the book, visit

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