Family Float And Fish On The Nottely River
Beat the heat and enjoy the fishing on this relaxing float.
Hopefully, wherever it is that you are reading this issue of GON, the air conditioner is on full blast and working just fine, and you have a cold glass of sweet tea close by.
Without a doubt, the dog days of August in the Peach State are about as hot and miserable as they can possibly be. Daytime temperatures above 100 are normal, and water temperatures in the mid 80s are the norm.
Bottom line, it’s about too darn hot to fish. Or is it?
Deep in the north Georgia mountains, nestled under a canopy of shade-throwing trees, the Nottely River offers refuge from the sweltering temps—and some pretty decent fishing, as well.
The even better news is the best way to fish and get around in this little river is with a tube float. This ensures that no matter how hot it is outside, you will stay cool all day long floating down the river.
Located in the northeast Georgia mountains, the Nottely tumbles and turns its way north through the hills, eventually winding up at Lake Nottely, and then from the Nottely tailrace it flows north to Hiwassee Lake in North Carolina.
Fishing is great virtually anywhere on the river, but I have become partial to the stretch just upstream (south) of Lake Nottely, near the town of Blairsville. In this area of the river, you will find rainbow trout, brown trout, spotted and largemouth bass, a variety of bream species and even some big channel catfish. The Nottley River is without question one of the most diverse streams in this part of the state.
There are several reasons I prefer this stretch upstream of Lake Nottely, with access being the number one reason. Being from south Georgia, the biggest problem I have found with fishing mountain streams is where to access them. It seems that every inch of stream bank is owned by someone, and public access is scarce at best on many trout streams.
So, a few years ago it was by chance that I came upon the Nottely River during a trip to north Georgia. My wife wanted to go tubing with our children, which sounded great, but I had two questions for the lady who answered the phone at a tubing rental company.
How much per person? And can I bring my fishing pole? The answers were sweet enough music to my south Georgia ears that I loaded up the kids to head for the river.
The tubing company we used is located just a few miles out of Blairsville and is a small-town mountain mall, of sorts. They have shops that sell a little bit of everything, a moonshine distillery museum, and all sorts of honey, fudge, ice cream and a host of other snacks.
The tubing business is located on the left-hand side of the mini mall and is easily recognized by the enormous stacks of yellow and clear tubes out front. After paying at the outside booth, the kids grab life jackets, and everyone picks out a tube, and then you climb into their van and head up the mountain.
After a 5-minute ride, they drop you off at a bridge, and from there you take a slow, leisurely float downstream back to the shops. Generally, this is a two- to three-hour float, but depending on how much you stop and fish, this trip can last from four hours to an entire day.
I have had great success fishing on this river and have rarely had a bad day. While I’ve fished this stretch, I’m no north Georgia stream expert, so this article is not intended to be an expert’s guide to fishing the Nottely. Rather, I’ll include some basic information you can use on a late summer vacation to keep the rod bent, which is what I enjoy when floating this stretch of the Nottely River.
Here are the species I target most often, and the tactics I have used to catch them.
Starting with trout, you will find both rainbows and browns in sufficient numbers here. Most of these fish are rent summer stockers, with some holdover fish mixed in. By mid July, the DNR has stopped stocking fish, but due to receiving less fishing pressure than other streams and rivers in the area, there are still plenty of trout to be had on this stretch of the Nottely River.
I prefer to float along until I reach a slow-moving pool, and then I stand in my tube and fish the water thoroughly. I have found that lots of artificials work well on these trout, including small minnow plugs, 1/16-oz. white Rooster Tails and tiny crankbaits that imitate crawfish or baitfish. The very best lure I have found for these Nottely trout is a 1-inch white curly tail grub on a 1/32-oz. jig head.
This simple lure works great on virtually every species of fish in the river, and I have even caught brown trout up to 3 pounds on it. When cast to slack water and reeled slowly, this simple offering will often get the job done. I prefer to use a 6-foot ultra-light spinning combo spooled with 4-lb. Trilene XT line for all of my trout presentations on this river. Even the stocker fish that have been off the truck for a while will quickly spot larger diameter line. A light drag setting is crucial to ensure you won’t break your line if you do indeed hook up with a good-sized fish.
For those who prefer live bait, crickets and red wigglers work great. Just tie on a No. 6 light-wire hook and pinch on a couple small split-shot on the line above the hook. I like to fish live bait near laydowns and in deep holes in sharp bends. Throw your bait out, and let it sink to the bottom, paying close attention to your line. This is a great way to catch a variety of species, and live bait is a great approach if you are fishing with kids.
I definitely recommend bringing the kids. The float makes for a good half-day trip if you let them hoop, holler and splash down the river, stopping and fishing the deep holes as you go.
Largemouth and spotted bass are also prevalent in the river, with spots in the 1-lb. range being the most often encountered. If focusing on bass, a natural-colored minnow plug a little shorter than your pinky finger will do the trick. Spots can be found behind boulders in eddies, and on the down-current side of fallen timber. Make casts several feet past your intended target, and bring your plug by the structure slowly. Often you will be rewarded by a hot-headed spotted bass nailing your offering.
For largemouth action, try focusing your efforts in deeper holes and areas with very little current. Largemouth aren’t found in the numbers that spots are, but a day of bass fishing should result in a mixed creel of bass. As far as bluegill fishing goes, this river in my opinion is one of the very best in the northern part of Georgia. Catching 20 or more bream is more than possible in a day of fishing, and many of these bream are hand-sized.
To catch bluegill, focus all of your efforts in stretches of slow-moving water. As you float down the river, about every 10 to 15 minutes you should encounter a deep hole. A Beetle Spin is hard to beat—try white with a red dot. Also good for bream are white Rooster Tails and curly tail jigs reeled about a foot above the bottom. To fool these fish with live bait, use crickets on the bottom, or fish them under a cork and let them drift slowly to tempt suspended fish.
Another Nottely River species that is worth fishing for is the channel catfish. I have seen several fish over 5 pounds caught from this tiny river in recent years, and there are plenty of 1-lb. catfish that are perfect guests for your next fish fry. For catfishing, try a gob of nightcrawlers or a piece of chicken liver on a stout No. 4 hook fished on the bottom with a couple of split-shot pinched on about 6 inches above your bait.
Focus on deeper water, and give each hole 15 to 20 minutes before moving on to the next. A medium-action rod with 10-lb. test works great for these Nottely cats and gives you enough fighting power if you hook into a good fish.
When tubing on the Nottely, a small backpack or waterproof bag is essential for bringing items like bottled water, snacks, sunscreen, bug spray and whatever other equipment you may need. I try not to overdo it with equipment, often jamming all I my tackle in a tiny Plano box and bringing one collapsible rod-and-reel combo in my bag just in case I break my primary rod.
Clothing wise, a bathing suit works well, because when tubing you will get wet. Be sure to wear slip-resistant water shoes, and trust me, flip flops are a bad idea, as I have lost several pairs to the current over the years. Don’t forget to bring a waterproof phone case just in case your bag takes on water. A rope to tie from you to your tube is great for managing your tube while you fish.
The Nottely averages just a foot or 2 feet deep, with exception of deeper holes that average 5 to 10 feet deep. During late summer, it flows slowly and is a great river to bring children tubing on, just be sure they wear a lifejacket.
No matter if your target is trout, bass, bream, catfish or just whatever bites. The Nottely is definitely worth a trip this month, and the red-hot action and ice-cold water will surely bring you back.
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