A Guide To Georgia Trout Fishing
From the best stock-and-catch streams to trophy trout waters special regs, here’s where and how to catch Georgia trout.
Bob Borgwat | April 11, 2017
Trout fishing in Georgia takes many shapes—from the methods used by trout anglers to the sites where those fishermen put those tactics in play. From world-class destinations to simple fishing venues, trout fishermen across north Georgia display a wide range of skill, focus and intent across waters that range from powerful tailwater flows to small peaceful lakes surrounded by national forest land. You’re just as likely to see expert fly-fishermen whip 8-weight rods for wild trophy brown trout as you are to watch anglers swing a simple red worm over stocked trout that haven’t seen the inside of a real stream until that day.
That’s the beauty of Georgia trout fishing. There’s something for everyone, and the opportunities abound to fish for trout by every method.
When To Go
Trout fishing in north Georgia is a year-round event, most notably in the Chattahoochee River (Fulton and Gwinnett counties) downstream from Lake Lanier, and in the Toccoa River in Fannin County downstream from Lake Blue Ridge. Arguably the best trout waters in the state, these two tailwater rivers flow cold year-round, supporting both the trout and their food resources.
Trout thrive best in water temperatures between 52 and 58 degrees. Temperatures will fluctuate outside that range on both of these rivers—from the very low 40s in wintertime to the mid-60s in early fall—but from mid-spring through summertime, trout flourish in the Toccoa and Chattahoochee tailwaters under near-perfect water conditions. Both rivers are known well for producing good numbers of trout and occasionally giving up trophy brown trout of more than 10 pounds. That’s the beauty of a tailwater trout fishery.
In many other places, however, you’d never know a stream could hold trout if you show up at the wrong time of year or under the wrong kinds of circumstances. The most popular Georgia trout fisheries are heavily supported by fish-hatchery operations that raise both rainbow and brown trout. From hatcheries located in Buford, Clayton, Suches and Summerville, state and federal agencies annually distribute more than 1 million trout across 30 north Georgia counties. The year-round programs follow trout-fishing opportunities both practical and regulated. How often trout are stocked is based on location, anticipated fishing pressure and water temperatures. Where water temperatures rise above fish tolerances, stocking will be curtailed at those sites. Many locations, especially in northwest Georgia, don’t see trout stocked after July 1 until the following March. Others get juiced up with fresh trout on a weekly, every other week or monthly basis. Some are stocked just ahead of primary holidays, while special fishing regulations dictate stockings at other sites in north Georgia.
Special regulation waters are not common. Some, such as Noontootla Creek in Fannin County in the Blue Ridge Wildlife Management Area, carry restrictive fishing regs that allow artificial lures/flies only. Others, like Waters Creek in Lumpkin County, in Chestatee WMA, have minimum length and creel limits. Dukes Creek in White County’s at Smithgall Woods State Park allows catch-and-release fishing with single-hook, barbless artificial lures/flies and is open to limited numbers of anglers only on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays, with reservations required.
The popular delayed-harvest streams hold trout anglers’ attention from Nov. 1 through May 15. During that time, fishing regulations at these delayed-harvest sites allow only catch-and-release fishing with artificial lures/flies only. All lures also must carry only single hooks. As a result, fly-fishermen dominate the scenes where heavy stocking takes place once a month from November through April at these five delayed-harvest destinations: Chattahoochee River at Paces Mill (Cobb County); Amicalola Creek, near Tate (Dawson County); Smith Creek in Unicoi State Park (White County); Toccoa River at Dial (Fannin County); and Chattooga River (Rabun County) upstream from Highway 28 on the Georgia-South Carolina border.
Other Georgia trout streams are often referred to as wild trout streams. In other words, the trout populations are wild, self-sustaining fisheries that hold rainbow, brown and brook trout. Sometimes, all three species can be found in a single stream. More often, browns and rainbows dominate these waters. Brook trout, the indigenous salmonid of the Appalachian mountains, are most commonly found in the most pristine watersheds that have not been “invaded” by rainbow and/or brown trout. Anglers are secretive about their forays on wild-trout streams, and streams are rarely named. These “blue lines” are found throughout the Chattahoochee National Forest from Fannin County eastward to the South Carolina border and northward to the state lines of Tennessee and the North Carolina. Like the rest of Georgia’s trout waters, all these streams are open to fishing year-round.
Don’t blame trout anglers for not openly sharing information. Georgia’s trout waters can suffer from high fishing pressure and periods of low water and warm temperatures. Others are simply too valuable in an angler’s eyes to openly share.
Anglers who closely watch Georgia trout waters are among the most passionate trout fishermen anywhere. They usually practice catch-and-release fishing and can be consummate conservationists. Their tongue-tied protection of the resources helps everyone catch more and bigger trout, whether they share information or not. You, too, can up your game in trout fishing by taking the same approach. Study the resources—from guide books to fishing clubs to fishery histories, maybe hire a fishing guide once or twice—and find your own way into Georgia trout-fishing destinations that best suit your style. Your game will be more complete, more satisfying and far more skillful, whether you choose to soak bait in a mountain lake, swing crickets into small stream pools, cast spinners across shiny river shoals, pull large streamers across dark river ledges, or drift small dry flies alongside forest laydowns deep in a mountain gorge.
Delayed Harvest Trout Fishing
Key to catching trout on Georgia’s delayed-harvest waters is lure or fly selection. Don’t forget: Your choice of lure/fly must be armed with just a single hook. Trout flies are tied on single hooks. Lures such as small inline spinners, spoons and crankbaits purchased in tackle stores and online commonly carry treble hooks. Replace treble hooks with single hooks of the same size; or snip off two of the three hook points on the treble hook.
Before you change those hooks, however, match your lure to the size of the common Georgia trout. Hatcheries commonly stock trout in the 9- to 15-inch range. A few larger trout could be released in any single stocking event, but large hatchery fish are not looking for a big bite to eat. Lures should be matched to the size of the water you’re fishing.
DH sites like the Toccoa River and the Chattooga River are medium to large riverways. Water flows are commonly in the range of 200 cfs (cubic feet per second). Choose spoons (Kastmaster, Phoebe, Little Cleo, Super Duper) and spinners (Rooster Tail, Panther Martin and Mepps) in 1/8- to 1/4-oz. models. Colors are harder to choose than brands. Silver and gold make up most of the attracting flash in these lures, but colors can make a difference depending on water clarity. Basically, choose bright colors—white, yellow, chartreuse—for clear water and dark colors—black, brown and olive—for stained waters. Don’t overlook casting Rapala crankbaits like the Floating Minnow, Countdown or Ultralight Minnow in 03 through 07 sizes. Some great trout have been caught on lures that might otherwise look like it belongs in a bass fisherman’s tackle box.
Smith Creek—the DH water that stretches about a mile downstream from Unicoi Dam—is considerably smaller. Lures for the rainbow and brown trout stocked there should be scaled to match the creek’s lower flows, from 1/32- to 1/8-oz. in size.
Amicalola Creek fits somewhere between the Toccoa River and Smith Creek, in terms of size.
The DH section of the Chattahoochee River at the Paces Mill access site is big water. Fishing here is nearly impossible on high-water conditions. But when the water flows are restricted to wade-able levels, lure sizes should be notched upward to 1/8- to 1/4-oz. for spoons and spinners, and up-size your crankbaits to 05 through 09 sizes.
Fly selection on all DH waters centers on the hatch of the day. Across the spring months, aquatic bugs are the hatch as these otherwise stream-borne insects leave the water in winged adult forms only to return within 24 hours to lay eggs and die. Water fertility dictates the strength of the bug population. Fly-fishermen do best to simply observe the insects of the day. Hatching mayflies commonly range from (common names) Blue-winged Olives to Quill Gordons to Hendricksons to Sulfurs to Pale Morning Duns. Caddisflies are usually black-, tan- or olive-bodied, sporting blonde wings.
If a hatch is not observed, choose nymph patterns that match these same insects. Common patterns include the Copper John, Prince, Hare’s Ear and Pheasant Tail. Colors patterns are commonly dark or light, but the Copper John comes in green, red, blue, copper and chartreuse colors. Any one of these colors may kick-start the bite if for no other reason than its visibility. A wide variety of specialty fly patterns can be effective, too. Search out that information online, or check with a fly shop near your destination.
Woodland Trout Waters
From the roadside access along the upper portions of the west fork of the Chatooga River (Rabun County) and the Chattahoochee River (White County), to the trail-heads that lead to remote, high-elevation tributaries of the Toccoa and Jacks rivers in Fannin County, woodland trout fishing stretches across hundreds of thousands of acres of the Chattahoochee National Forest. Gravel roads provide immediate access to many sites. Short hikes are required elsewhere.
In either case, the beautiful trout waters that tumble and cascade beneath the forest canopy can take your breath away. Chutes, waterfalls, plunges, riffles and glides often hold stocked trout where hatchery trucks can easily reach the water. In places not so easy to reach, these classic Appalachian Mountain settings are home to wild browns and rainbows. And when you stumble upon a tiny tributary—perhaps, an adjacent waterfall—spend some time scaling that creek, crawling through the rhododendrons, scrambling over the deadfalls, discovering openings. The rewards could be the indigenous brook trout that escaped obliteration a century ago against all odds. They’re maniacal! They feed aggressively, fight heroically and come to hand sporting the finest colors known to freshwater fish in the South. Worm-like patterns—yellow, green and black—on a brook trout’s back gives way to bronze flanks with a dazzling array of red spots surrounded by blue halos. Fiery orange fins are tipped with white and black bands.
Think small when you approach these trout streams, from your tackle to your lures and flies to the fish you’re targeting. Pick spinners and spoons in sizes 1/32- to 1/8-oz. Baits might include red worms, crickets, meal worms and processed bottled baits, and they should be fished on 2- or 4-lb. line and single bait-holder or salmon-egg hooks in sizes 14 to 18. Add only enough weight (a split shot) to make casts that will leave the bait tumbling in the current, not pinned to the bottom. Fly patterns, both nymphs and dry flies, can range from size 10 to 20, depending on the specific fly and the time of year. Late summer and fall patterns often mimic terrestrial insects.
Stocker rainbows in these places will range from 9 to 12 inches. Latch onto a hold-over, and that ‘bow could reach 16 inches or more. In these places, their wild cousins—the rainbows and the browns stocked long ago to rebuild fisheries decimated by logging operations—are more likely to measure from 6 to 12 inches. Their brilliant colors, clean fins and big eyes will give them away. Brookies likely won’t stretch beyond 8 inches, and if you do catch one that big, consider the trophy in your hand! Wild brook trout in Georgia are more likely to measure 4 to 6 inches long.
Trophy Chattahoochee Trout
It’s not just the high numbers of stocker rainbows caught by anglers in the Chattahoochee River tailwater that generates so interest in the 35-mile long stretch between Buford Dam at Lake Lanier) and Morgan Falls Dam south of Roswell. Both artificial and natural or processed baits raise a lot of those fish when fished around the right structure, in the right run and along the right current lines.
But when the occasional monster brown trout is lifted from the Chattahoochee tailwater, the interest among both local anglers and destination anglers grows. Not only is the Chattahoochee River the nation’s farthest-south tailwater trout fishery; it lies where traveling anglers can easily reach it.
In the late 90s, DNR fisheries biologists began to collect small wild brown trout from the Hooch, smaller than anything they stocked. Browns were reproducing. In 2004, the agency stopped stocking brown trout altogether in the river, opting for provisions that supported a self-sustaining and managed population of brown trout in the suburban riverway.
Today, the Chattahoochee River arguably holds the strongest population of wild brown trout in the Southeast. The tailwater from below Buford Dam to Morgan Falls Dam runs clean and cold year-round with several tributary creeks along the stretch. This creates near perfect conditions for brown trout reproduction and provides a sustainable food source for growing leviathan brown trout. Natural foods for big browns include small stocked rainbows, crawfish and yellow perch and other small fish. While most of the brown trout encountered will probably be in the 8- to 12-inch range, fish well over 20 inches are caught by anglers each year, including several fish more than 30 inches long caught in 2016. A new state record brown weighing 20-lbs., 14-ozs. was caught in this section of the Chattahoochee River in 2014. The previous state record brown trout of 18-lbs., 6-ozs. was caught in this section in 2001.
Fish this size don’t eat insects. They eat other fish. It doesn’t matter what the bug hatch may or may not be on any given day, and fishermen should not worry about the weather or water conditions, as long as it is safe to be out. An 18-lb. brown trout requires a substantial amount of food to sustain its existence. Anglers intent on hooking one of these fish present those “foods” with a combination of 8-weight fly rods and big streamers or 12-lb.-class spinning tackle and a variety of large artificial lures, including plugs, flukes and jigs. The spinning rod is a great way for fly-rodders to rest their shoulders from casting the massive streamers and not lose any fishing time.
DNR surveys have documented many of the big browns at sites throughout the tailwater. That’s not to say there are a lot of them. Recruitment of individual fish into this weight class is variable, uncertain and infrequent. With the right game plan and attitude, anglers on an average day may get a chase or two by a big brown. The hook-up depends on the individual fish. Some days are better, some are worse. That is the epitome of targeting trophy fish rather than the common 10-inch trout.
Where To Fish In A Stream
Unlike fish in a lake that move throughout the water column based on a number of influences like water temperature, air temperature, rising water, falling water, clear water, stained water, sky cover and more, the trout in a stream or river are relatively stationary. That’s not to say they won’t chase a lure, fly or bait. In fact, chase is exactly what they do when they leave the comfort found in slow water along the perimeter of the flow in the river or stream.
Those slow-water comfort zones are key to catching trout. Even the nets full of freshly stocked fish on Rock Creek (Fannin County) and the Tallulah River (Towns and Rabun counties) find resting areas outside the stronger currents in slow pools and eddies. Those fresh stockers won’t have quite the stream presence or state-of-mind of a hold-over or wild trout, and, in some cases, they will be terribly easy to catch before they understand the nature of survival in a living stream.
Commonly, trout tend to take fixed positions, no matter the size of the stream or river, where they can conserve energy and let the water carry the food to them. Those sites include ledges, bottom depressions, rocks (of many sizes), current seams, woody debris and water cushions. Observation is vital. Anticipation is key. Float a nymph or dry fly into these locations, and expect a strike. Pull a streamer or a lure through or along the perimeters of these sites, and expect a strike. Tumble or drift a bait on the bottom or in mid-current, and expect a strike. Make several passes. Adjust the angle of approach. Fish deeper. Fish shallower. Fish larger lures. Fish smaller flies. On some days, variation is everything; other days, you’ll “match the hatch” and take fish exactly how and where you planned. Plan your attack, and put strategy in your plan. Cover the water with care, stealth and tactical precision.
Patience is critical, but don’t beat a dead horse. Give the fish every chance you can imagine to take your offer; then, move on. Find a new spot. In a stream like Noontootla Creek (Fannin County), chances are the next best spot is just a few steps away. On larger water like the Chattahoochee, you could have miles of great fishing ahead of you.
Through a designation of water quality, Georgia recognizes more than 4,000 miles of trout streams. That’s not to say trout live in every mile of every stream or river under that label. Many Georgia trout streams are relatively unproductive when compared to streams found in other parts of the country. This is, in part, due to the calcium-deficient soils of north Georgia. To meet the demands of more than 100,000 trout anglers, stocking and regulations are used on some streams to maintain acceptable catch rates.
Trout fishing opportunities vary and include high-use streams (better for beginners), wilderness streams, those with special regulations and small impoundments. Some special-regulation streams offer trophy or catch-and-release fishing opportunities. That really is the beauty of Georgia trout fishing. There’s something for everyone, and the opportunities abound to fish for trout by every method. Consult the 2017 Georgia Sport Fishing Regulations pamphlet for more information about licensing requirements, stocked trout waters, legal fishing methods, fishing restrictions and local creel limits and/or length restrictions.
About the Author: Bob Borgwat is an award-winning freelancer and has operated his guided fishing and outfitter service for 13 years in the Georgia mountains. Learn more about his guided fishing outings at ReelAnglingAdventures.com, or call (706) 838-5259.
Catch Your Trout In A Georgia Lake
Are there lake trout in Georgia? Nope. That species is common in the reservoirs of the Midwest and the inner Mountain West. But there are lakes in Georgia that hold trout, and the trout fishing these lakes afford Georgia anglers is easy and productive.
State and federal trout hatcheries regularly stock a number of small impoundments in the north Georgia mountains. From March until about July 1, several thousand rainbow trout annually are released in state-park lakes and small impoundments managed by the National Forest Service. Stockings take place four times during the stocking season on the following lakes:
- Rock Creek Lake (Fannin County)
- Dockery Lake (Lumpkin County)
- Lake Conasauga (Murray County)
- Vogel Lake (Union County)
- Lake Winfield Scott (Union County)
- Nancytown Lake (Habersham County)
- Black Rock Lake (Rabun County)
Shoreline access on Georgia’s trout-fishing lakes is typically generous and easy. Trails encircle many of the impoundments. Some have fishing piers. Some allow small, non-motorized crafts. Campsites are often found at the lake site or nearby.
Common fishing tactics include casting small inline spinners and spoons with ultralight tackle. Bait-fishing is very common, too. Red worms, night crawlers, crickets, meal worms, kernel corn and processed baits such as Berkley PowerBait and Pautzke’s Balls O’ Fire salmon eggs are all top getters. Baits are applied to bait-holder hooks in sizes 12 to 16 and fished weighted under bobbers at various depths or on the lake bottom with a 12- to 20-inch leader on a light slip-sinker rig.
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