Bounce Bottom For North Georgia Trout
“It’s always great on top …” in oh, so many ways!
That long-time saying applies equally to business, song charts and being on top of the world and even fishing. When a fish strikes a lure on the surface of the water, it’s one of the most exciting—and anticipated—moments in an angler’s day of fishing.
But the top is not where fish feed most of the time. A fish that snaps up a meal on the surface of the water is oftentimes feeding opportunistically—in other words, the food happened to be on the surface, and the fish was “looking up.” In fact, fish feeding on the surface of a lake, stream or river do so because on that specific day, during that specific hour, the things they eat are collected or gathered on the surface.
The rest of the time, and I’m inclined to say as much as 90% of the time, the fish in an angler’s sights feeds on underwater resources.
Trout feed on things and in ways an angler cannot readily see but must understand to successfully catch those fish.
Surface Feeding Patterns
For trout fishermen across north Georgia, important surface collections consist of insects trout feed upon—primarily mayflies, stoneflies, caddisflies and the much smaller midges that live underwater as pupae, nymphs and worms before they rise through the water column to the water surface. Upon emerging this way, their wing cases open, their wings quickly dry, and they fly off, only to return to the water’s surface in 12 to 24 hours to carry on their life cycles as egg-laden adults. At those times when this fish food is both rising and returning to the water’s surface to deposit eggs, fly-fishermen attempt to mimic those insects in those stages of their lives. It’s a fly-fisherman’s favored time of day, when hungry trout erupt under a dry fly tossed into a current line where these small insects sometimes number in the hundreds. At times like that, trout food is abundant, trout feed easily, and the catching is exciting!
Trout also feed on terrestrial insects —land-based moths, bees, ants, worms, caterpillars, grubs, beetles, cicadas, grasshoppers, spiders and more. Heavy rainfall and run-off often accounts for how those bugs get into the water. Other, a dying insect drops into a stream, or a strong wind, perhaps, pushed them from their shoreline perch and into the water. These are unpredictable events that often surprise the fish. A large insect falling into a stream or river on a warm spring, summer or fall day can be a full meal for trout nearby. Fly-fishermen at these times of year often choose large dry-fly patterns that simulate terrestrial insects. Many have colorful names: Chernobyl Ant, Clodhopper, Madam X, Power Ant, Shear Damsel and more. Just the “plop” of a fly like these on a stream’s surface is often sign enough for a nearby trout to charge to the surface.
But during much of the year—mostly in wintertime and during periods of spring, summer and fall—surface-feeding opportunities for trout don’t materialize. Aquatic insects don’t emerge in the numbers or varieties found in the warm months, and terrestrial insects commonly die off with the onset of fall and winter. Also, trout don’t move as quickly for passing food when water temperatures drop into the low 40s to high 30s. Trout metabolism is tops in water from 54 to 58 degrees.
When those mayflies, caddisflies and stoneflies aren’t hatching… when those beetles, ants and grasshoppers are far off the water’s edge… that’s when a Georgia trout angler needs to reach “deep” into his or her mixed bag of tricks to fool the rainbows, browns and brook trout found in Georgia trout waters.
Get Deep With Flies
Switching from dry flies to any wet fly pattern sounds simple. Choose a nymph, an emerger, maybe a streamer pattern, and present it to trout beneath the surface, and hang on! It’s got to be that easy, right, if 90% of the time (that’s what I claimed) trout feed beneath the surface.
Well, they do feed primarily underwater. That’s where most of their food lives, but presenting a fly at the right depth and speed to mimic those aquatic nymphs, pupae and baitfish is not as simple as it sounds.
I’ll argue with you if you say a streamer—a fly that mimics a baitfish—is the best choice for taking trout when trout are not feeding on the surface, but it’s a good choice, for sure. Streamers can be fished just under the surface. Or, the direction of a cast and managing the line after the cast can place a streamer anywhere from less than a foot deep to 5 or 6 feet deep depending on current speed, weight of the fly, and any weight like a split-shot, sink tip or full-sink line that a fly-fisherman chooses to add to the presentation.
Casting streamers also means fast fishing while covering a lot of water, kind of like a crankbait is to a bass fisherman, and the action worked into the streamer can be slow and deliberate or sharp and erratic.
It’s these variables a streamer fisherman must recognize and control, while working out how these variables are affected by water speed and water depth.
Streamers can be fished on a clean leader under their own weight. Or, a piece of spit shot (in various sizes) can be added to the leader above the fly to help it sink; a sink-tip can be added to the fly line to help pull the streamer down; and a fly reel can be armed with a full-sink fly line to drag the streamer even deeper. Not so simple, because an angler must know when, where and how deep to present a streamer underwater to increase his or her odds for success.
Drifting Nymphs And Pupae
Just as it is in presenting a streamer, no specific formula exists for the presentation of a nymph. In fact, it’s downright hard sometimes for a fly-fishermen to put together the right recipe for getting a nymph to the right place at the right time for taking trout feeding under water.
Consider the leader. How long is the leader? Is it 7 1/2 feet? Nine feet? Shorter? Longer?
What weight is the leader? Is it 4x, 5x, or 6x?
These are two factors a fly-fishermen must consider when cooking up a nymph-fishing recipe of the day. Leader length and its line weight begin to determine the sink rate (if any at all) of the presentation. That bead a fly may or may not have on its nose must be considered. Did the fly have lead wrapped onto the hook shank during its creation? Does the leader need a split-shot added to it to help pull the fly down? How deep is the water or run where the fly will be put to work? How fast is the current where the fly will drift?
Is an indicator necessary “Always!” I argue. And where does the indicator get hitched to the leader?
Will your formula for these variables still work when you round that bend in the river, cross that bridge, hurdle that deadfall and scale that waterfall? Runs, riffles, tail-outs, plunges, slots, ledges, chutes and pools appear on any given trout stream. These can be just inches deep or many feet deep. The stream’s gradient will dictate the speed of the water across or through all these features. When nymphing is done right, changes in flies, using more or less weight, leader length and indicator placement may be necessary for this not-so-exact but demanding formula to succeed.
Get Deep With Hard-Tackle
Variables in line size, lure choice, lure weight, water depth, current speed and location also play in a successful day of trout fishing with hard tackle. Beyond choosing the right spinning rod-and-reel combination, the “conventional” trout fisherman chooses the line weight… 4-lb., 6-lb., 10-lb.? A trout fishermen chooses the lure type… spinners, spoons or jigs? A trout fisherman chooses where to fish… deep, shallow, riffle, run, pool or plunge?
All those questions present the obvious: Trout fishing with conventional tackle should never be approached without consideration given to the variables that affect success. There’s not much difference, really, between a fly-fisherman’s cache of fly patterns and a conventional angler’s arsenal of lures. A conventional trout fisherman’s tackle box hold things in similar variations as does a fly-fisherman’s fly box.
There’s no true topwater lure for taking trout, but lures do come in many styles, models and sizes for taking trout under the surface.
Based on their popularity, spinners arguably top the list of lures carried by conventional anglers. Rooster Tail, Mepps, Panther Martin, Joe’s Flies and many others (knock-offs, as well as brand names) are popular models. Equipped with an in-line spinner blade, these come in just about any color pattern you might imagine, and sizes vary from tiny 1/32-oz. to large 1/4-oz. presenting the two most important factors —color and size—in choosing when and where to fish a spinner.
Choosing a spinner’s color pattern generally centers on water clarity and sunlight. Clear water on a sunny day calls for brightly colored spinners with shiny, nickel blades. Consider those with the lure body and its feathered tail-hook in yellow, white, chartreuse and pink in both solid and mixed patterns. The best action turns to dark-colors and brass-finished blades when fishing stained water or under cloudy, rainy skies—spinners with black, brown, gold, orange and green colors in both the body and feathered tails. Other elements that change the action and appearance of a spinner include colored and/or hammered blades, patterned bodies and no feathers on the tail-hook.
Spoons hold an important place in a conventional angler’s trout arsenal. The fluttering action of a spoon can catch dozens of fish in a day and can often be the ticket for taking large trout.
Some of the best spoons are the most-simple spoons. Little Cleo, Phoebe, Kastmaster and Daredevle all come in multiple color patterns, but there’s little use for those beyond simple gold, copper and nickel patterns. These are sometimes “touched” with a single swipe of red, green or blue color along one edge. Effective weights range from 1/32- to 1/4-oz. Choosing one of these weights is a matter of water speed and depth, much the same as when choosing a spinner for the job at hand.
Jig colors are similarly chosen—the bright colors for clear water and sunny days, and dark colors for stained water and cloudy days. Effective sizes are small—1/64- to 1/16-oz. measured mostly by the weighted jig head. Profiles should be slim, much like jigs used for crappie. Trout Magnet is one brand that consists of 1/64-oz. shad-dart heads in bright nickel and brass finishes. The hook is finished with a soft-plastic body with a split tail, available in myriad colors.
A favorite jig-fishing tactic is to fish two of these small lures in tandem. Tie the first one onto the end of 4-lb. monofilament line, leaving about 15 inches of “tag line” hanging off the jig head. Tie the second jig onto this tag of line, reducing the space between the jigs to 10 to 12 inches. These can be cast for tightline drifting in holding water, sometimes with a small split-shot added for additional weight about 15 inches above the lead jig. The rig also can be fished beneath the small, foam floats that come with the lures for controlling the depth of the presentation.
Tips And Tactics
Spinners, jigs and spoons cast downstream will quickly rise to within just inches of the surface when retrieved or simply held motionless in the current. Active trout will chase or rise to a shallow-fished lure, but more trout can be caught deep on lures any time of year, especially in water temperatures colder than 48 degrees. That’s easily accomplished by choosing a lure weight that compensates for the speed of the current and the depth of the water.
Strong currents and deep water require heavier lure models. Cast the lure upstream; the sharper the angle upstream, the deeper and longer the lure can be fished because it will tumble and flutter with the current, not against it. After the cast, let the lure fall briefly through the current on an open spool, close the spool, collect some line, and lift the rod to feel the weight of the lure. Fish the lure with only this contact—or add a twitch in the retrieve—as it tumbles downstream close to bottom.
The angle of the cast across the current changes the presentation. Cast straight across the current, and the lure will fall little into the depth before the current pulls the lure downstream. Cast a quarter upstream across the current, and the lure will fall more into the depth.
Increase the direction of the cast upstream, and the lure will fall deeper yet. That choice affects how long the lure tumbles with the current before the lure turns upstream. That tumbling presentation is erratic, perhaps, mimicking an injured or dying baitfish, while also presenting the irregular flash in a spinner’s blade or a spoon’s profile. The lure really doesn’t look much like a baitfish, but the tumble, the color and the flash of the lure is often too much for trout to resist. Some anglers call this a reaction strike.
Hard-Tackle In Georgia’s Best Trout Waters
Small to tiny spoons and spinners take plenty of trout in north Georgia’s many trout streams. Typically, these roadside streams are heavily stocked and oftentimes crowded. But if you put some adventure in your day and scout out a blue line on the maps of Fannin, Union, Gilmer, Towns, Lumpkin and Rabun counties, you can discover hundreds of miles of lightly fished trout streams of the southern Appalachian Mountains. Carry an ultralight rod and a handful of small spinners and spoons, and you’ll enjoy the treat of trout fishing in what can be some truly remote places.
But it’s hard to argue Georgia’s best trout fishing takes place in its largest trout waters—the tailwater flows of Chattahoochee River downstream from Buford Dam at Lake Lanier, and the lower Toccoa River downstream from Blue Ridge Dam below Lake Blue Ridge. Both feel very different above the waterline.
For 43 miles, the ‘Hooch sports high, slick, muddy banks scattered with fallen trees, logs and stumps. Public access is clearly abundant at the many tracts of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, with some sites providing hundreds of yards of wading water, as well as light-craft, boating access.
On the other hand, the Toccoa River is lined almost entirely by private property along its 15-mile course to the Tennessee state line, and not much more than a couple miles of the Toccoa’s banks remain forested. Just two Fannin County parks—Tammen Park and Horseshoe Bend Park—and a TVA landing locally called “Curtis Switch” provide some wading access, but it’s the boating access at each of these sites that attracts trout anglers.
Drift boats, kayaks, canoes and float-tubes make up the fleet of Georgia trout anglers. Fly-fishing and spin-fishing opportunities open up widely when drifting on any segment of the Chattahoochee and Toccoa rivers, and despite their shoreline “qualities,” the rivers hold abundant brown and rainbow trout below their waterlines.
These rivers feature shoals, tail-outs, ledges, deep lanes, chutes and pools, a variety of targets where lures fished deep can turn any trout fishing outing into a lesson for success… beneath the waterline.
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