Georgia Trout Treks
A comprehensive look at Georgia’s June trout-fishing options.
Bob Borgwat | May 30, 2021
Blue Ridge… Dahlonega… Clayton… Wintertime weather reports commonly use these north Georgia mountain towns to define the centers of snowfall systems that fall across the southern reach of the Appalachian Mountains from November through March. During summertime, however, these popular tourist towns are gateways to Georgia’s best trout fishing.
While trout anglers in June and July swarm along nearly 50 miles of the Chattahoochee River in Atlanta and its northeast suburbs, fishermen looking for trout waters that offer more genuine trout habitat can jump on three primary routes out of the city. Interstate 575, Georgia 400 and Interstate 985 lead into the north Georgia mountains before giving up their multi-laned surfaces to smaller roads that close in on scenic peaks, ridges and valleys around Blue Ridge, Dahlonega and Clayton.
And there’s something for every kind of trout fisherman—stocked lakes with campsites and easy shoreline and canoe/kayak access (for disabled anglers, too); tumbling streams with roadside access for wading trips; semi-remote streams for hike-in fishing; and a few truly remote streams where wild trout pull at the heart of fishermen looking to get away from it all. Drift-fish crickets and red worms; cast small spinners, spoons and jigs; swing dry flies, streamers and nymphs. All those techniques will fool rainbow, brown and brook trout, depending on locations.
Georgia holds about 4,000 miles of designated trout streams! But due to soil composition in the watersheds, many of those streams are relatively unproductive when compared to streams found in other parts of the country. Also, many streams flow on private property where access is restricted. Therefore, to meet the demands of more than 100,000 trout anglers, stocking and special regulations are used on many streams to maintain acceptable catch rates. Streams that hold only wild trout, commonly caught in the 5- to 12-inch range, offer balance for anglers seeking solitude and light-fishing pressure.
The number of trout stocked and the stocking frequency depend on a stream’s fishing pressure, accessibility and water conditions. In general, streams on public lands are stocked more often and with greater numbers of trout. In fact, some 700,000 trout (largely rainbow trout) will be stocked in 2021, creating many trout fishing opportunities, including heavily stocked, high-use streams (better for beginners); wilderness streams; trout streams with special regulations; and small impoundments. Some special-regulation streams offer trophy or catch-and-release fishing opportunities.
Georgia’s trout-stocking “season” is in full swing now. Plan your trip now, but don’t wait too long! The Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service stock streams heavily with rainbow, brown and brook trout (based on availability) from late March through June. Apart from a few exceptions, most stocking ends after July 4 when many trout waters warm above 68 degrees through early fall. Trout rarely survive in water of 70 degrees or warmer. Learn when and where stocking takes place online at GeorgiaWildlife.com/Fishing/Trout. Fisheries personnel also report trout stocking on this site on a weekly basis (after the fact).
Fishing licenses are required in Georgia for anyone 16 years and older. The daily limit is eight trout on general-regulation trout waters, but further restrictions can apply to special-regulation waters. Learn more at GeorgiaWildlife.com/Fishing/Angler-Resources, or consult the 2021 Georgia Sportfishing Regulations booklet.
Blue Ridge: Gateway to the Trout Capital of Georgia
At the center of Fannin County, the town of Blue Ridge stands as not only the county seat, but it also carries some angling weight as the site for the annual Blue Ridge Trout & Outdoor Adventures Festival (next scheduled for April 30, 2022). This official, state-designated Trout Festival of Georgia celebrates and promotes trout fishing in four north Georgia counties—Gilmer, Fannin, Union and Murray. All carry miles and miles of stocked and wild-trout waters, with plenty of access and local and nearby lodging options to meet any angler’s needs.
Forest land is abundant across the region’s mountains and establishes the habitat for much of the local trout-fishing opportunities. Running through much of it, the Toccoa River heads up in western Union County before bisecting Fannin County on its way to crossing the Tennessee state line nearly 50 miles west. Before it gathers much steam, the Toccoa River is fed by many tributaries. Coopers Creek is a popular site in the wildlife management area of the same name bounded by Georgia Highway 60 on its south side. Improved campsites are found in Mulky Gap and Coopers Creek recreation areas. More than 7 miles of good trout water, stocked frequently in season, is reached via roadside access on Coopers Creek Road and forest roads 33 and 33-A. Many miles more of wild-trout water flows among its tributaries and is popular among fly-fishermen.
Across Highway 60, Rock Creek is arguably the most heavily stocked trout stream in the state, and it also is home to the Chattahoochee Forest National Fish Hatchery. The hatchery rears tens of thousands of rainbow trout for stocking throughout the region. Rock Creek Lake is just upstream and is stocked from March through June. Nearby, Frank Gross Recreation Area provides several improved campsites, and primitive camping is abundant throughout the watershed on the northern end of Blue Ridge WMA.
Farther downstream, the Toccoa opens up alongside Doublehead Gap Road, Dial Road and Old Dial Road. Heed the private-property boundaries here while locating public sites where shoreline fishing and wade-fishing can be good in the stocked areas. Two national forest recreation areas—Deep Hole and Sandy Bottoms—provide a lot of direct river access, and both feature onsite camping.
Motel lodging is available in Blue Ridge and Blairsville, and rental cabins are abundant, especially along the Toccoa River’s tailwater section downstream from Blue Ridge Dam, best known for float-fishing trips booked by Reel Angling Adventures (ReelAnglingAdventures.com) and other guide services.
For about 15 miles, year-round trout water is accessible on the Toccoa tailwater at three public sites:
• Tammen Park, on Highway 515 in Blue Ridge, includes easy bankside access, boating access and wade-fishing access.
• A quarter-mile downstream from the Curtis Switch Road bridge, the Tennessee Valley Authority maintains a boat ramp and stream access for wading upstream and downstream.
• Horseshoe Bend Park, just outside McCayesville on the Georgia-Tennessee border, features a half-mile of stream access for wading, floating and bankside fishing.
All three Toccoa River tailwater public access sites are stocked regularly with rainbows March through July, but later in the year stockings are primarily made at Tammen Park around holidays.
Otherwise, look to the “Blue Ridge” for orienting your trout fishing in these counties. The long run of high-elevation peaks and ridges along Forest Road 42 forms the common border of Fannin-Gilmer and Fannin-Dawson counties. The Blue Ridge separates the expansive Tennessee River Valley from the local, coastal-bound watersheds of the Etowah and Cartecay rivers (and others) on the south side of the divide. Headwaters of these rivers get some stocking support from DNR, while other streams in both watersheds hold small populations of wild trout. Fish for rainbows and browns at Nimblewill, Jones and Lance creeks; each are located well down the southern slope of the Blue Ridge, off forest roads 77 and 28-1. On the north side, look to Noontootla Creek and its tributaries for wild trout along Forest Road 58. Primitive camping is allowed in much of the area, there are a couple national forest campgrounds, and you can also get a motel room nearby in Ellijay.
For what might be the most remote trout fishing in all of north Georgia, consider a backpacking trip into the Cohutta Wilderness in Fannin and Murray counties. Some 40,000 acres here are federally designated to remain wilderness and roadless. More than a dozen trails lead through the Cohutta, with the Jacks River Trail seemingly the most popular for trout fishermen. The Conasauga River Trail runs north and south, just west of Rough Ridge. These Jacks and Conasauga rivers are small waters loaded with wild rainbows and some browns, and some tributaries hold native brook trout. Those who make day trips into the Cohutta often camp at Conasauga Lake, near Grassy Mountain in Murray County, which is stocked with trout, as well.
Dahlonega: Gateway To South Slope Trout Fishing
Dahlonega, Lumpkin County, is an ideal site for staging trout fishing across the southern slope of the Blue Ridge, where rivers gather their tributaries en route to the Gulf of Mexico. Dahlonega’s tourist vibe offers many overnight lodging options, restaurants, shops and entertainment. Primitive camping is popular outside of town where local trout waters collect in the Chattahoochee National Forest, and improved camping is nearby at DeSoto Falls, Dockery Lake and Lake Winfield Scott recreation areas, as well as Vogel State Park on U.S. Highway 19.
Only a handful of Georgia’s mountain impoundments are stocked with trout. Dockery, Winfield Scott and Vogel State Park’s Lake Trahlyta are among the most popular trout lakes. Stocked twice a month March through June, these lakes are small in size, but they produce regular catches in season of rainbows in the 10- to 12-inch class. A few larger brood stockers also fall to anglers who commonly used processed baits, natural baits and small lures fished from both the shorelines, canoes and kayaks.
The 50 miles of trout water that attracts anglers to the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area in the northwest Atlanta suburbs is partially fed by the Chestatee River. It’s origins include Waters Creek (where trophy trout restrictions apply), Dicks Creek and many small branches. These streams north of Dahlonega tumble quickly through broad mountainlands. Access is via forest service roads off Highway 129/19 just south of Turners Corner.
The Etowah River heads up just northwest of Dahlonega. Its upper reach crosses the U.S. Army’s Camp Frank D. Merrill and is generally open to the public for wild-trout fishing, but the Etowah is also stocked at the nearby crossing of Forest Road 28. Around the backside of the post, Forest Road 141 leads into the wild-trout water of Montgomery Creek. A little farther west, Amicalola Creek heads up in Amicalola State Park, where the stream and a small pond is seasonally stocked with rainbows. Prior to June, the stream is stocked at Georgia Highway 53 and Steel Bridge Road, several miles downstream, as part of the DNR’s delayed harvest fishing program.
Thirty miles isn’t too far to drive from Dahlonega to reach the trout streams outside Helen, or you could make your base in and around this popular tourist town in White County. The Chattahoochee River heads up north of town in the Chattahoochee Wildlife Management Area and flows through Helen, where summertime fishing is admittedly marginal. But the Chattahoochee’s run through the woods along Forest Road 52 is abundantly stocked, and its tributaries carry strong populations of wild trout. Collectively, these waters offer one of the best places for anglers to accomplish the Appalachian Slam, which is catching rainbow, brown and brook trout all in one day.
Dahlonega also provides gateway access to the stocked waters of Unicoi State Park’s Smith Creek and the Smithgall Woods/Dukes Creek Conservation Area—the site of what many fly-fishermen say is the crown jewel of Georgia’s public trout waters. Open to catch-and-release, fly-fishing only on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays, Dukes Creek is 3 miles of prime trout water, accessible to only 15 anglers in both morning and afternoon sessions by reservation. An additional stretch is available to lodging visitors. Hopeful anglers also use the “wait and see” approach for entrance to Dukes Creek by claiming any open spaces that might remain at the start of a session. This is trophy-trout water that is heavily patrolled to ensure all anglers are fishing with artificial lures and flies only, using barbless hooks and only holding barbless lures and flies in their immediate possession.
Clayton: Gateway To Classic Trout Water
Not exclusive in its coldwater holdings and trout-stream flows, of course, Rabun County—and its county seat of Clayton—expands Georgia trout-fishing opportunities to some of the most remote fishing sites for those who hold more technical trout-fishing skills in their arsenals. The region is home to Rabun Bald, Georgia’s second-highest mountain, and the area is marked by steep mountains, high ridges and deep canyons where many streams carry wild trout. The area also includes easy-driving roadsides east and west of Clayton that meet the needs of the general, public-water trout angler.
West of Clayton, the Tallulah River competes with Rock Creek (Fannin County) and Coopers Creek (Union County) as the most-heavily fished—and most-heavily stocked—trout streams in Georgia, and for good reason. Marking the western boundary of Coleman River Wildlife Management Area in Rabun and Towns counties, the Tallulah River meets every requirement DNR uses to justify heavy stockings of 9- to 12-inch rainbows placed weekly from April through July, then twice before Labor Day, and once in the fall (September to October). The Tallulah may also receive unscheduled stockings around Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Roadside access to the Tallulah River is plentiful for 5 miles along Forest Road 70, also known as Tate City Road. But there is no city at the end of that road. Rather, Tate City is a tiny mountain hamlet, and Tate City Road eventually ends high in the mountains of North Carolina, just beyond the Georgia state line. Along its way on public land, the river wraps around three large national forest campgrounds: Tallulah River, Tate Branch and Sandy Bottoms. The result is a crowded fishing destination, especially on weekends. Adventurous anglers armed with lures and flies (artificials only, by regulation) can escape up the Coleman River, the primary tributary to the Tallulah just north of Tallulah River Campground.
If the crowd on the Tallulah is too much, plan a 30-minute drive east of Clayton on Warwoman Road. Along the way, four trout streams—Sarah’s Creek, Tuckaluge Creek, Walnut Fork and Hoods Creek—slip and tumble through the woods of Warwoman WMA before joining Warwoman Creek, which parallels Warwoman Road. These are small streams by all measures, carrying wild rainbow and brown trout, with some in-season stocking on Sarah’s Creek. Warwoman Creek opens to public access at Earls Ford Road, where camping is also popular. Its trout habitat is marginal, however, as it approaches the last reach of the West Fork of the Chattooga River.
West Fork, downstream from Warwoman Road, is wide and receives regular stockings in season, making for good fishing for general anglers. Upstream, above the Forest Road 86 bridge, West Fork grows from its tributaries—Holcomb Creek and Overflow Creek. Access here is via both roadside and trailheads, leading to wild-trout waters holding rainbows and browns. Those who fish far enough upstream on both creeks will also be rewarded with wild brook trout.
After West Fork combines with the mainstem Chattooga River, trout fishing in summertime falls off dramatically. Water temperature takes its toll here, but adventurous anglers can enjoy stunning trout water and scenery and primitive camping or backpacking, along the Chattooga River corridor above Burrell’s Ford Bridge. Take Burrell’s Ford Road/Forest Road 646 off Georgia Highway 28 a mile before it crosses the river in far-southeast Rabun County. It’s a bumpy, twisted road for 6 miles before it ends at the bridge, where camping is popular and the stocking truck shows up through July. Trailheads lead upstream and downstream into some of Georgia’s best-looking trout water featuring plunge pools, long glides, deep feeding lanes and shimmering riffles.
Brown trout outnumber the rainbows in this most-wild portion of the Chattooga River. Its corridor extends into Ellicot Rock Wilderness Area, where past anglers have found browns upward of 10 pounds. In fact, browns spawn successfully here, producing good numbers of 9- to 14-inch fish, especially for summertime’s dry-fly fishermen. Fishing licenses for both Georgia and South Carolina apply until the North Carolina border at the Ellicott Rock landmark.
Late Summer Trout
Apart from the Toccoa River tailwater at Blue Ridge Dam and the Chattahoochee River tailwater at Buford Dam, little trout fishing remains in Georgia from late July through early October. During this period, trout anglers look to those large rivers fed by deep, cold-water releases from the reservoirs above them. Indeed, Georgia’s trout fishing is not much of a mid-summertime adventure. Fishing in Georgia in late summer is better enjoyed fishing for bass, catfish and stripers or fishing off Georgia’s Atlantic coastline for spotted seatrout, redfish and whiting.
But before summer takes its toll on water levels and temperatures unfit for trout, anglers armed with lures, flies and natural or processed baits can enjoy early summer fishing action in hundreds of places thanks to the trout-stocking program of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. Now is the time. Go out and get it done!
Editor’s Note: Georgia’s trout fishing sites and conditions are well described and illustrated in books by Georgia fishing author Jimmy Jacobs. Jimmy’s “Trout Streams of Southern Appalachia” and “Fly Fishing for Peach State Trout” are available online at Amazon.com and JimmyJacobsOutdoors.com.
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