Georgia Trout: Not The West, But…
The Peach State offers surprisingly good trout fishing, ranging from mountain streams and lakes to tailwater treasures.
Nope. Georgia is not the West. But trout fishing in Georgia is not unlike the West… where nimble fly-rodders test technical skills on small, wild trout streams. Where trolling for large lake-bound trout is executed with electronic aids and flashy rigs. Where driftboats carry anglers over long river glides and rocky shoals. Where dams pour out trout sustaining cold water year-round. Where scenic lakes attract family fishing outings.
GEORGIA’S MOUNTAIN TROUT STREAMS
Trout fishing on Georgia’s mountain streams is grounded in rainbow trout. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service stock thousands of rainbows in streams that can sustain trout for all or part of the year. Annually, the bulk of the stockings takes place from March to July, while some waters are provided with additional trout through summer into fall, commonly around key holiday periods.
Brown trout and brook trout are occasionally stocked.
The interactive Trout Streams of Georgia map displays all state-designated trout waters online at GeogiaWildlife.com/Fishing/Trout. The website also offers links to state fishing regulations, trout fishing access/destination information, stocked waters and weekly stocking reports.
Close To The City
Georgia’s mountain trout streams lay as close to metro-Atlanta as Stamp Creek in Cherokee County, where the foothills of the Appalachians tumble in low ridges east and west but climb in elevation toward points north. This tributary to Lake Allatoona is a primary example of a seasonally restricted trout stream, where stockings end by mid-spring due to high water temperatures.
The trout stocked in Stamp Creek and many other streams in the first tier of counties, north of a line from Rome to Canton to Dawsonville to Cornelia, are planned for catch-and-keep fishing action. Trout simply won’t survive when the water reaches 70 degrees and warmer. Anglers of all kinds are encouraged to catch their limits using bait, lures and flies.
Other notable streams in this region include John’s Creek in Gordon County, Pine Log Creek in Bartow County, Tails Creek in Gilmer County and Amicalola Creek (below the special-regulation section) in Dawson County. Even more catch-and-keep seasonal trout streams can be located on the Trout Streams of Georgia online map.
South Of The Blue Ridge
North of those foothill counties, the southern reach of the Appalachian Mountains climbs to ridges and mountaintops that range from 2,000 to 4,000 feet in elevation. Here, the Blue Ridge Mountains—that range of ridges among the Appalachians that separates the Tennessee River Valley from the Piedmont regions of Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina—sprout trout streams fed by forestland springs and rainfall, cooled by mountain weather and shaded by heavy, reclaimed forest canopies.
On the southern side of the Blue Ridge—from Helen to Dawsonville to Ellijay—seasonal trout fishing in stocked streams is the norm despite year-round trout-fishing designation on all the trout streams. With some exceptions, water temperatures on most of these streams can and do spike above 70 degrees, eliminating trout fishing opportunities across the mountains’ southern exposure during the late summer. Exceptions include the upper Etowah River, its tributaries, and Jones and Lance creeks (special regulations) near Dawsonville, Holly Creek in Murray County, the upper Chattahoochee River and its tributaries near Helen, Stekoa Creek near Clayton, and the watersheds of the West Fork of the Chattooga River and the main-stem Chattooga River in far northeast Rabun County.
Roadside access is common to many (if not all) these streams. Many flow within the Chattahoochee National Forest, which maintains a network of graded gravel roads easily passed by most vehicles. Some routes into the more remote sections require high-clearance vehicles, and 4-WD may be required in some instances. Use online and hard-copy map resources from the Chattahoochee National Forest to locate these routes. Some GPS-oriented map applications will not display the complete forest-service road system.
North Of The Blue Ridge
From near the town of Crandall in Murray County to Blue Ridge in Fannin County, to Suches in Union County, to the far northeast corner Towns County, Georgia’s trout fishing reaches high into the Appalachian Mountains. Still not the West, where trout streams often originate above 10,000 feet, this is Georgia’s hinterland region of trout streams.
Often shrouded in forest canopy heavy with pines, oaks, hemlocks, maples, alders, rhododendrons and laurels, these are the waters most notable in Georgia stream fishing. The larger ones are stocked, including the Tallulah River, Toccoa River and Hiawassee River, where roadside fishing for stocked rainbows supports the bulk of the fishing pressure. Stocking on these cold rivers can take place well after July (although not as frequent as in springtime) and sometimes around the holidays of Labor Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas.
With few stocking sites on these rivers’ headwaters, wild trout reign these watersheds’ upper reaches. On the Toccoa, southeast of Blue Ridge, this includes the watersheds of Coopers and Noontootla creeks. On the Hiawassee, south of the town of Hiawassee, it’s the main-stem and tributaries of Corbin, Soapstone, Hightower and Swallow creeks. On the Tallulah, north of Lake Burton, Coleman River and Charlies Creek collect numerous cold-water branches. Feeding Lake Burton, it’s Moccasin, Dicks and Wildcat creeks.
By heritage, Georgia’s wild-trout streams are grounded in brook trout, the indigenous trout of the Appalachian Mountains, but the bulk of the action on Georgia’s wild-trout streams is found where brown and rainbow trout were introduced long ago. Where the fish took hold, there no longer are brook trout among them. Adventurous anglers call it “blue-lining.” That’s the craft of locating small streams that are home to wild trout and given the respect of remaining unnamed in publications. It’s a calling for risk-taking, well-skilled anglers who climb (down and up again) steep gorges and small waterfalls, scale huge log jams, tangle with complicated laydowns, skate around granite outcroppings… all for the thrill of briefly gathering in hand a fish often not longer than 10 inches, only to watch it quickly kick away from a caring grasp.
On the other end of the scale, Georgia’s largest trout waters—some say, the most productive—emerge from Buford Dam on the lower Chattahoochee River and Blue Ridge Dam on the Toccoa River. Much like Western tailwaters, both sites are home to powerhouse operations for producing electricity, but the rivers that flow beyond the dam discharge sites are not the rough-and-tumble courses that fall sharply in elevation downstream from the likes of dams in the Sierras and the Rockies.
Buford Dam collects the Chattahoochee River to form sprawling Lake Lanier. Lanier’s shoreline wraps up more than 30,000 surface acres of water before it is released through various “gates” in Buford Dam. Most notably, the discharge from the powerhouse commonly unleashes the greatest volume of cold, clear water that supports trout fishing for more than 30 miles along a flat, meandering Southern-styled riverway. Much of its course bounds suburban neighborhoods and golf courses, but the entire length connects undeveloped tracts of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area.
Under low water flows of up to 700 cubic feet per second (sfc), the ‘Hooch is perfect for drift boats, canoes, kayaks, float tubes and, in some places, motorized boats—and all of these can help you reach the Chattahoochee’s remarkable trout fishing. After research showed that brown trout were reproducing in considerable numbers, DNR in 2005 ceased stocking brown trout (though rainbow trout stocking continues). Catches of browns in the river can produce fish longer than 20 inches, and anglers occasionally land lunker browns of more than 10 pounds. In July 2014, the ‘Hooch produced the state-record brown trout—20-lbs., 14 ozs.—for angler Chad Doughty.
But it’s rainbows that will make up a large part of a day’s fishing on the ‘Hooch. Many public access sites are located along its length, where anglers bank fish, wade the shoals or float drift boats and other craft from one site to another.
Learn more about Chattahoochee River flows online at spatialdata.sam.usace.army.mil/hydropower, or call the “hotline” at (855) 326-3569.
Seasonal, limited trout fishing on the Chattahoochee also takes place from Morgan Falls Dam down to the recreation area’s Paces Mill Unit near the U.S. Highway 41 bridge.
Blue Ridge Dam backs up the Toccoa River within the city limits of Blue Ridge. Built in 1929, the dam traps cold water deep in 3,300-acre Blue Ridge Lake and discharges it into the lower Toccoa River, creating a 15-mile-long tailwater trout fishery. Bounded by private properties (many that can be rented) along much of its length, the Toccoa is a popular destination for float-fishing in Western-styled drift boats, or from kayaks and canoes. Wading anglers use three public-access sites where most of the rainbows are stocked year-round: Tammen Park in Blue Ridge, Curtis Switch TVA Access site near Mineral Bluff and Horseshoe Bend Park in McCayesville.
The historic powerhouse at Blue Ridge Dam discharges up to 1,800 cubic feet of water per second (cfs) during periods of heavy generation. You won’t wade the river under that condition, and float-fishing, too, is difficult but not impossible. Some of the largest trout are caught under high-water conditions, and heavy-weight browns are known to live in the river. However, the best Toccoa tailwater action takes place under minimum flows of about 160 cfs.
The river meanders through a scenic, pastoral valley, featuring many Class 1 shoals and ledges where wade-fishing at low flows can be very good.
Blue Ridge Dam release information can be found online at TVA.gov or by phone at (800) 238-2264.
Out West, cold-water reservoirs large and small produce world-class trout fishing. And while lake-fishing for trout in Georgia takes place, the sites are few and generally unremarkable beyond the local scenery. Family-fishing is popular at a few lakes typically maintained by the Forest Service and operated as put-and-take, catch-and-keep fisheries, stocked with a few thousand trout from March through June.
• Rock Creek Lake in Fannin County
• Dockery Lake in Lumpkin County
• Lake Conasauga in Murray County
• Lake Trahlyta in Union County (Vogel State Park)
• Lake Winfield Scott in Union County
• Nancytown Lake in Habersham County
These are good sites for relaxed fishing from a chair at bankside or, perhaps, while floating the small impoundments in a kayak or canoe. All feature nearby (if not lakeside) campgrounds.
And then, there’s Lake Burton, a unique Georgia trout fishery that rivals Western lake fishing. The 2,800-acre reservoir on the Tallulah River between Clayton and Hiawassee supports a strong population of growing brown trout. Stocked by the DNR at an average length of about 14 inches, the browns grow fast and big, feeding heavily upon blueback herring. The lake record stands at 11-lbs., 2-ozs. Success depends upon anglers’ ability to locate these big browns in the vicinity of the forage fish.
SPECIAL REGULATION WATERS
Like the West, Georgia trout fishing does have its exceptions. Across many years, the DNR has established special-regulation trout waters designed to give fishermen something more than the usual fishing options.
A delayed-harvest schedule is in place on portions of five streams that are stocked monthly during the program: Amicalola Creek, Toccoa River, Chattahoochee River, Smith Creek and Chattaooga River. From Nov. 1 until May 15, trout fishing at these sites is restricted to single-hook, artificial-only lures/flies, and all fish must be released unharmed. Learn more online at http://georgiawildlife.com/fishing/trout.
The Noontootla Creek watershed in Fannin County offers high-quality fishing for wild brown and rainbow trout, with many of its tributaries offering a chance at a wild brook trout. Both Noontootla and its tributaries are managed under an artificial-lures-only regulation and have a 16-inch minimum-length limit in order to “recycle” the 8- to 12-inch trout that make up most of the population.
Fishing is restricted to artificial lures and flies only on portions of the Chattahoochee River, Coleman River, Conasauga River, Hoods Creek, Jones Creek, Mountaintown Creek, Stanley Creek and Walnut Creek.
Dukes Creek on Smithgall Woods-Dukes Creek Conservation Area near Helen offers trout fishing by reservation—call (706) 878-3087. All fish caught must be released immediately, and anglers can only use artificials with barbless hooks. The stream offers a great chance for catching browns and rainbows longer than 20 inches.
No. North Georgia is not the West. But we have it going for trout fishing that offers something for every angler of every skill level.
Fishing licenses are required for anglers aged 16 years and older, and Georgia also requires a state trout stamp. Fish without a license and yes, like the West, you’ll share a visit with game wardens committed to enforcing our regulations.
Learn more online at GeorgiaWildlife.com/fishing/regulations, or pick up the Georgia Sport Fishing Regulations booklet at a license vendor.
Festival Celebrates Georgia Trout Fishing
No matter how much you know about fishing for trout in Georgia, you owe yourself a visit this month to the Blue Ridge Trout Festival & Outdoor Adventures event. Downtown City Park in the town of Blue Ridge, about 90 miles north of Atlanta, will be transformed from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., April 28, into a marketplace and entertainment center for all things trout fishing in Georgia.
Designated by the state legislature in 2016 as the Official Trout Festival of Georgia, the event gathers fishermen, river sports enthusiasts and allied outdoor recreation fans and their families for fun, education, food, entertainment and services while increasing the public’s knowledge of trout and the conservation ethos associated with Trout Unlimited. On-site attractions include adventure outfitters, local fishing guides, purveyors of fishing gear, free fly-fishing/fly tying instructors, free fishing seminars, a casting pond, conservation organizations, lodging services, home decor and gifts, fine arts, outdoor clothing/gear, plus a Food Truck Alley and Beer Garden.
The Festival celebrates trout fishing in the Toccoa River watershed—as close as the city limits of Blue Ridge and stretching deep into the draws and valleys of the Chattahoochee National Forest. Trout fishermen throughout the Southeast recognize the Toccoa River and its tributaries—both above Lake Blue Ridge and along the tailwater downstream from Blue Ridge Dam—as serious trout water. For almost 50 miles, the Toccoa flows south to north, heading up in western Union County before bisecting Fannin County. From creek creeping, open-water wading and float-fishing in drift boats, local trout anglers pursue stocked and wild rainbow, brown and brook trout on both public and private waters where trout fishing at all levels can be found for the expert or the novice angler alike.
The festival benefits Blue Ridge Mountain Trout Unlimited (chapter 696), the official local chapter of the acclaimed national organization dedicated to cold-water fisheries. TU is dedicated to protecting critical habitat, reconnecting degraded waterways and restoring populations to cold-water fisheries. All funds raised or donated to BRMTU are applied in the north Georgia mountains for conservation and stream restoration efforts, stream cleanups like Rivers Alive, and sponsored education and outreach programs: Trout in the Classroom in local schools, the Trout Adventure Trail, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts conservation education, Project Healing Waters for wounded veterans, Casting for Recovery for breast cancer survivors, Georgia Trout Camp and Mercier Orchard Family Fishing Days.
Blue Ridge is a popular tourist destination that features a historic district and downtown city park flanked by shops for home/cabin decor, clothing, jewelry, gifts; galleries; craft breweries and fine restaurants; and the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway. Surrounded by the historic downtown district, the Festival stretches across City Park, bounded by Depot and Summit streets (north and south) and by West Main and East Main streets.
For information about sponsorships, vendor applications, event details and more, please visit the BRTF website at BlueRidgeTroutFest.com, or find them on Facebook.
Non-Fly Tactics For Georgia Trout
Natural/Processed Baits: Berkley Gulp! Trout Dough/chunky cheese, rainbow candy; Berkley Power Bait/orange, red, marshmallow white; Pautzke Fire Balls/red, red glitter; live crickets, red wigglers.
Inline Spinners: Blue Fox Vibrax Classic, 1/8- and 1/16-oz. gold shiner/black/hot pepper; Panther Martin Regulars, 1/8- and 1/16-oz., gold-black/gold-yellow/black.
Spoons: Acme Phoebe, 1/8-oz., gold/coppergold neon red; Little Cleo, 1/8-oz., gold neon red/copper red.
Stickbaits: Rapala Classic Floating, Classic Countdown, Jointed Minnow, sizes 3/5, silver/gold/brown trout/vampire/yellow perch; Rebel TracDown Minnow, TD49/TD50, slick rainbow trout, slick brown trout.
Crankbaits: Rebel Teeny Wee, stream crawfish/Cajun craw/ditch brown; Berkley Flicker Shad, 1/8-oz., black gold/black silver/rainbow trout.
Soft Plastics: Leland Trout Magnet, 1/64-oz., bubble gum/red/green; Cubby Mini Mite, 1/32-oz., pink-white; Zoom Super Fluke/Tiny Fluke, pearl.
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