Chattahoochee Tailrace Trout from Buford Dam to GA 400: Niblets to Nymphs
He goes by Rick R — and for good reason. His tongue-twister last name is Rzemieniewski. Whatever you call him, Rick is a trout angler devoted to the Chattahoochee River tailrace below Buford Dam.
“The Chattahoochee is one beautiful trout river,” he says. “I’d match it with any trout river on the east coast. The state’s stocking program is fantastic, and the river is big enough for some fish to carry over.”
The 30-river-mile section of the Chattahoochee River, from Buford Dam to the Ga. 400 bridge, is big-water trout fishing with lots of variety. It offers great fishing for everyone from the Orvis angler flinging flies through the air with flair, to kids who enjoy fishing crickets, corn or nightcrawlers.
Rick, 48, who retired from the GM plant in Doraville, lives five minutes from Buford Dam. He has been fishing the tailrace for about eight years, and for the past year he and his son Ricky, and Shannon Scoggins have operated Chattahoochee Tailrace Guide Service. Rick’s fishing business targets families and kids, and Rick emphasizes catch-and-release trout fishing.
“There is nothing wrong with keeping some stockers,” he said. “But all the bigger fish, we release. With catch-and-release there is the potential for a real trophy trout.”
The river has a reputation of producing good numbers of trout in the 3- to 5-lb. range each year, with an occasional gigantic trout over 10 pounds — or bigger. On November 12, 2001, the state-record brown trout was caught from the river by Charlie Ford of Rome. The monster trout weighed 18-lbs., 6.72-ozs. and hit a Yo-Zuri Pin’s Minnow on 6-lb. test line.
Rick’s personal best from the tailrace is a 6-lb. brown.
The Chattahoochee tailrace is the most heavily-stocked stream in Georgia, with approximately 175,000 stockers scheduled for this year, although the number is a reduction from 250,000 in previous years. Surveys by state Fisheries personnel have determined that many anglers on the Chattahoochee are releasing many of the trout they catch. That, coupled with the documentation of trout reproduction in the river, and a higher-than expected natural mortality rate, prompted the reduction in the number of trout stocked into the river.
The Chattahoochee tailrace is a year-round trout stream. This year it was first stocked with trout in February when 10,000 fish were released from about 12 sites between the dam and Roswell Road. Another 6,600 went in on March 10, and another 5,700 in the week of March 17. The season-long stocking schedule will include 40,000 brown trout and 135,000 rainbows, mostly in the nine- to 10-inch range.
The first 2 1/4 miles of the Chattahoochee from the dam to the Hwy 20 bridge features a rock- and boulder-strewn bottom scoured clean by water releases from the dam. Bank access is good from the park at the dam, and when water is not being released, much of this area is wadeable. It is also popular, and on a sunny Saturday in April or May, you can expect lots of company. A boat ramp just below the dam makes it a good spot to begin a float downstream. Note that anyone fishing the river down to Hwy 20 is required to wear a personal flotation device.
Below the Hwy 20 bridge, the river slows and becomes deeper. Creek mouths are usually silted in, and the banks are lined with blowdowns. The section of the river from the Hwy 20 bridge to the National Park Service ramp at Medlock Bridge is designated an artificial-lure only section.
No matter where you fish in the tailrace, the key to fishing and to your safety is the water level. In mid-March the river was mostly unfishable because of continuous releases of water from Buford Dam. You can call (770) 945-1466 to access the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ recorded release schedule, which is updated each day. In the area from the dam to Hwy 20 a series of warning horns will sound ahead of the generators being turned on.
Rick operates a jet boat on the river, but his specialty is the leisurely pace of float-tube fishing.
“Some of the areas around the parks get fished pretty hard,” he said. “A float tube allows you to fish areas where there may be no bank access, and the fishing is usually better.”
Rick’s specialty is ultra-light spinning tackle. If you want to learn to fly fish on the Chattahoochee, he will refer you to Scott Swartz and the Atlanta Fly-Fishing School. Meanwhile, he will be casting spoons and spinners.
He says a variety of lures work well on the Chattahoochee. He fishes with Panther Martins, Little Cleos, Rooster Tails, Rapalas and Pin’s Minnows. The size of the lure varies with the area he is fishing.
“Trout will hold on the bottom, and you have to be able to get your lure down to them,” he said.
If the water isn’t too deep, a 1/8-oz. Rooster Tail is perfect, he said. But when fishing deep pools he may up-size to a 1/4-oz. lure and cast upstream to allow the bait to sink before he begins to retrieve. If he is fishing a Rapala in deep water, he may add two brass beads above a swivel two or three feet up the line.
If you are fly fishing, Rick recommends bead-head nymphs or Wooly Buggers to get down into the depths of the pools.
Rick’s top pick for the Chattahoochee is a Phoebe, made by Acme Lures. “It looks just like an injured minnow,” said Rick. He also likes the Yo-Zuri Pin’s Minnow. Both lures are a fresh look on the Chattahoochee, he said.
Presentation is also important. If he is casting to a particular target, say a rock in the river, he casts across the current and above the rock. He wants his lure to swing in right behind the rock or other obstruction that may be hiding a trout.
Rick reads the water, looking for dark, shady places where a trout may hold out of the light and out of the current waiting in ambush.
“Pay attention to the natural feed path on the river — the way natural food floats down the river,” said Rick. “If you watch the leaves floating in the river, that will be the same path insects and baitfish will float. A trout will hold on the bottom and scan that feed path for things to eat.”
Because trout are a light-sensitive fish, Rick recommends the first and last few hours of the day as best for trout fishing, especially during the summer when the sun is high in the sky.
“Cloudy days are good, but on a bluebird day, between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. it is usually dead,” said Rick. “The fish tend to move deeper and they aren’t as likely to come up to hit.”
On a great day, Rick has caught as many as 70 trout. During April or May, he expects to catch 20 to 30 fish per trip. To avoid damaging the trout any more than necessary, before he fishes a lure, Rick clips two of the three barbs off the treble hook.
Rick fishes line no heavier than 4-lb. test, and if the fish are especially finicky, he may tie in a 2-lb. leader. The light line makes casting light lures easier, and it is less likely to be noticed by the trout.
If you are taking a kid fishing, the Chattahoochee can be a great destination, and there are two places in particular that are good for kids. Because bank access is good and because they are stocked twice a week, try either Buford Dam park, just below the dam, or Jones Bridge Park. Worms, corn or crickets on a split-shot rig should be effective for the beginning angler.
If you’d like to try a guided trip with Rick, his guide service can be reached at (678) 455-5258. Trout fishing equipment and float-tube rentals are also available from the Dam Store, on Buford Dam Road about a half-mile east of the dam.
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