Story Of The Very First Trout In Atlanta’s Chattahoochee River

Contrary to what most fishermen think, it was not Game and Fish that put the first trout in the 'Hooch.

Don Pfitzer | April 11, 1989

In April, 29 years ago (1960), Ed Scruggs, an excellent trout fisherman and successful businessman, came into my office at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and asked, “If you’re going to manage the Chattahoochee River below Buford Dam as a tailwater trout fishery, what would you do?” Knowing this to be a loaded question since Ed and I had talked about it for the past two years, I simply told him “get as many fingerling rainbow trout as you can, 10,000 or more, and about a fourth as many brown trout fingerlings and put them in the river at one or more of the four or five good shoal areas of the river after March 15.”

Little did I know then how persistent Ed Scruggs could be. During that summer, he talked to 20 or 30 other trout fishermen, most of them members of the Izaak Walton League in and around Atlanta, into giving him $2,500.

Ed went down a list of prominent fishermen in the Atlanta area and said simply, “give me $50 or $100.” When they asked “What for?” his answer was “for a trout fishery in your back yard.” Most of the people he contacted gave him $100.

All the while Ed had been trying to get the Georgia Game and Fish Commission, especially Director Fulton Lovell, to agree to stock trout in the river that had been converted overnight to cold water trout habitat by Buford Dam and the low-level discharge from Lake Lanier in 1957. During the late 1950s and early 1960s, Mr. Lovell was committed to developing what was being called a “million dollar” trout fishery in the north Georgia mountains. Every effort was being made to encourage more visitation to the mountains to help improve the economy of the area. Mr. Lovell did not want anything to divert attention from the mountains, especially a trout fishery closer to Atlanta.

Scruggs used every legal means at his disposal to get permission to put trout in the Chattahoochee River. His effort was to no avail. Finally, he and many of the members of the Atlanta Chapter of the Izaak Walton League decided to do something none of those staunch conservationists and law-abiding sportsmen would ever have done if they had not been sure it was scientifically and technically sound.

Ed Scruggs, Everett Roach, Richard T. Smith and others took the $2,500 and made a deal with Jennings Trout Farm at Cashiers, N.C. for 12,500 rainbow trout fingerlings, 2 to 4 inches long. Jennings was so impressed by the project that he threw in an additional 2,500 brown trout fingerlings and agreed to deliver them all to Atlanta.

At the time, Trout Unlimited did not exist and Izaak Walton League was the strongest conservation-minded organization in Atlanta. Everett Roach, owner of the famous Everett Roach Sporting Goods Store in Buckhead, Ed Scruggs, W.J. “Nick” Simmons, Dan Joslin, Robert C. “Jack” Frost the unofficial “Major of Buckhead,” and many other well-known people in the city were members of the Atlanta chapter. Others who were involved were Emil Lewis, Charlie Bondurant, Travers Hill, Willard McBurney and Bennett Hutchinson Sr.

In August 1960,  the trout were brought over from North Carolina, arriving at night at the Lynch Farm on the north side of the river above Holcomb Bridge Road. It was just as well that the truck arrived after dark, because stocking fish in public waters without Game and Fish permission was illegal, and these men did not want everyone to know about the trout. It took and hour to bring the water on the hatchery truck down to the temperature of the cold tailwater, which would have been about 55 or 60 degrees at that time of the year.

Finally, the tiny trout were ready to go into the river. Many of the Izaak Walton League members had been alerted to the arrival and were standing by to put the first trout in the river. A bucket brigade was formed and just as the first bucket of trout was ready to be emptied into the river, Jack Frost, the “Mayor of Buckhead” who had flown with Eddie Rickenbacher in World War I, yelled “Wait! Wait!” He ran down to the water’s edge, took a trout from the first bucket, and tossed it into the river saying, “You can tell your grandchildren that Jack Frost put the first trout in the Chattahoochee River!”

From a secret stocking in 1960, the trout population in the Chattahoochee in Atlanta has flourished. Todd Lavender caught this 14-lb., 14-oz. brown in the Hooch near Roswell in 1988.

The night marked the beginning of what has become the best and most consistent trout fishery in Georgia. By spring of 1961, the trout were already 9- to 12-inches long, a growth rate of nearly an inch a month.

Then, for two weeks during June 1961, torrential rains fell. The river ran muddy and high, and everyone thought the trout would be washed down to Columbus. But, to the surprise of those who knew about the trout, most of the fish were still in the river near where they had been stocked.

The Izaak Walton League realized that they could not continue to raise money to keep stocking the river. Scruggs continued trying to interest the Game and Fish Commission in a stocking program. He talked to Fulton Lovell and others repeatedly. Finally, with the help of several influential people, including the then Lt. Governor Peter Zack Greer, Lovell agreed to the stocking of trout.

With the success of the first introduction of trout in the river, the Game and Fish Commission began to take more interest in the stream. A stocking schedule was developed, and regular releases of hatchery fish were made throughout the entire length of the tailwater from the dam down to Roswell.

To their credit, the state fisheries biologists of that day were in favor of the management of the the tail water for trout. Leon Kirkland, the current director of the Game and Fish Division in 1989, had just been hired as a fisheries biologist. He was aware of the extensive research that had been done and the success of the many miles of tailwater trout fisheries in Tennessee and was convinced trout could survive in the Chattahoochee. The pre-impoundment studies completed by USFWS for the Buford project in 1956 recommended the management of the tailwater for trout.

With the trout population established, the 32-mile stretch on the Chattahoochee below Buford Dam has since become the focal point for a great interest in cold water fishing in Georgia. No less than five chapters of Trout Unlimited have been formed in the Atlanta metropolitan area. The people of these chapters have done some truly great environmental work and have been a strong voice in better water quality in the state. All because a few very interested Izaak Walton League people 29 years ago had enough vision and interest to force the hand of the state and put money and manpower into a much needed fishery source potential—a great trout stream  in our back yard.

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