Guide To Georgia’s Top Trout Streams

Eight trout streams are profiled, ranging from put-and-take to fly-fishing waters.

Joe DiPietro | February 26, 2010

The author holds a fat rainbow from the upper Toccoa River. The Toccoa is regarded by many as the best trout river in the state.

Hidden in the southern Appalachian Mountains in north Georgia are approximately 4,000 miles of streams designated by the Georgia DNR as trout streams. That number is a bit deceptive when you account for private property, stream size, stocked versus wild populations and a myriad of other factors. Nonetheless, north Georgia is a trout fisherman’s paradise with a little work.

Many of the streams are open only during “trout season,” which opens on the last Saturday of this month. But, there are also many streams that are open all year. No matter where you are in north Georgia, you’re never too far from your favorite type of trout fishing, whether it’s fly, spinning or bait tackle you’ll be using.

Better yet, there’s tons of public access to trout streams through the various mountain WMAs and parcels of U.S. Forest Service land. Get out there and soak a worm for dinner, fool a stream-bred brown trout with a handcrafted fly or climb waterfalls to see the beauty of brookies.

Rock Creek

This popular stream, located mostly in Fannin County, is home to one of the largest populations of stocked trout in the state. Rock Creek, on Blue Ridge WMA, is easily accessible, and there’s a federal fish hatchery right on the creek.

Above the hatchery, there’s a small impoundment that is stocked a few times early in the season which offers still-water trout fishing. Rock Creek is an excellent place to take children and trout newbies. It is regularly stocked during the stocking season, running roughly from the end of March until the end of summer depending on the weather. This keeps the stream full of fish and makes it the perfect place to go to fill your stringer.

Little Rock Creek, which feeds into Rock Creek, is a fun place to explore and look for gorgeous wild fish to catch and release.

Bait fishermen rule Rock Creek, but there’s a place for fly anglers, too. I’ve found many good fish in Rock Creek that have learned the bait game, but will still readily take a woolly bugger or hare’s ear nymph.

Rock Creek is located off Highway 60 in Fannin County and is open all year.

The Toccoa River

From its headwaters in Union County to where it becomes the Ocoee River at the Georgia/Tennessee line, the Toccoa is regarded by many as the best trout river in the state. The upper end of the river is a great place to fish as it is heavily stocked in the springtime and is home to a delayed-harvest (DH) section, which opens to harvest May 15. The tailwater, beneath Lake Blue Ridge, holds a wonderful population of stocked, holdover and stream-bred trout. To top it off, the entire river is open year-round.

This big rainbow was caught on the Toccoa tailwater. March into early April is the perfect time to target these fish.

No matter where you are, the caddis can be a deadly go-to fly on the Toccoa. And for the bait fisherman, giant red worms, known locally as “red giants,” are always a reliable way to find good fish in the upper river and tailwater. Hook them once through the head with a size 10 hook, and use a BB lead shot. A variety of nymphs also work well throughout the river, as do small crankbaits and spinners.

Most importantly, before you go fishing, be sure to check regulations, maps and water levels before going out on any section of the Toccoa River. Release information for the Blue Ridge Dam is available by calling (800) 238-2264.

The Chattahoochee River

The Chattahoochee River offers trout fishermen from the mountains to Atlanta an excellent chance at both wild and stocked brown, and rainbow trout.

Where the upper end of the river runs through the mountain town of Helen and upstream in the national forest, the river is a typical freestone trout stream. While this stretch gets some pretty good pressure, it’s also a good place to find dinner. In the very upper end of the river, anglers can find a healthy population of wild trout to catch and release.

Upstream from the GA Alt. Highway 75 bridge, the river is seasonal. All other portions of it are open year-round.

After the river dumps into Lake Lanier, it passes through Buford Dam and becomes a great tailwater fishery.

“It’s easily the largest trout-supporting tailwater in the state,” said Chattahoochee River Outfitters guide Chad Bryson. “There’s a great combination of public access and lots of fish.”

There is also a DH area below the lake and a stretch of the river where only artificial lures may be used. The DNR has studied this tailwater extensively and found that brown trout naturally reproduce in it. As a result, stocking of browns has ceased. However, plenty of big browns are caught each year.

“The ’Hooch has a fantastic wild brown trout population that has not become too technical of a fishery,” Chad said. “Yet, most of the quality fishing requires a float trip in a boat.”

The entire 35 miles of this tailwater is productive, Chad said. “The DH section at the lower end of the river is best for wading, but the quality fish are in the artificial-only section from Highway 20 to Medlock Bridge.”

Standard flies like woolly buggers, prince nymphs, hare’s ears, caddis imitations, blue-winged olives and San Juan worms are recommended by Chad.

Spin fisherman and bait fisherman do well on small worms, Powerbait, salmon eggs, Panther Martins and small jigs and crankbaits.

One thing all anglers on the Chattahoochee should be aware of is “when wading, be very careful,” Chad said. “There’s lots of deep holes and ledges. Get a wading staff, and take advantage of the massive amount of public access.”

As with any tailwater system, be cautious and remember to check the river’s generation schedule prior to making a trip. To check the generation schedule, call (770) 945-1466. To take a trip on the river with Chad, call (706) 260-8615.

The Chattooga River

This big freestone river splits the border of Georgia and South Carolina, giving anglers in the northeast corner of the state great chances at wild and stocked fish.

The lower end of the river has a heavily stocked DH section managed by both states.

“There’s usually some bruisers in there,” said guide Bob Borgwat, owner of Reel Angling Adventures. “The cool thing about the river is the freestone nature of it.”

Upstream from the DH is a large stretch of wild trout water that runs through the Ellicott National Wilderness Area.

“Above the DH, it’s 90 percent wild browns,” Bob said.

There is good access to both sections of the river by following the trail that runs along the bank.

In addition to the fishing, “it’s one of the prettiest canyons in north Georgia,” Bob said.

Good spinner colors for the Chattooga include yellow with gold blades, white with silver blades, black with gold or silver blades and firetiger pattern with painted blades, Bob said.

The top flies vary depending on season, and anglers should do their best to match the hatch. On the DH section, standard “junk flies” like San Juan worms, Y2K bugs, woolly buggers and various egg patterns work well. To book a trip with Reel Angling Adventures, call Bob at (866) 899-5259.

The Jacks River

Inside the vast Cohutta Federal Wilderness Area and WMA, this wild trout stream is a serene setting for anglers to pursue Georgia trout in.

Because of the wilderness-area designation, the woods and waters of the Cohutta are spectacular. It’s not a trip for the faint-hearted though, as the shortest hike to the Jacks River is at least a few miles along a mountain trail. A person can go in with fishing gear and a backpack full of camping gear and easily spend several days walking the trails and catching fish on flies, bait and lures.

Even though it’s a wild-trout stream, I tend to break my own catch-and-release only rule when I’m backpacking. It saves a good deal of weight if you can count on frying fish at least a few nights while you’re out there. However, I’m always sure to bring backup food in the form of MREs and dehydrated goods. But, I haven’t had to eat them, yet.

The stories of truly big fish coming from the Jacks seem to have slowed in the last few years, possibly due to the long period of drought conditions we’ve had. Still though, I think with rainfall amounts back up, it may just take a few years until we bounce back.

When fly-fishing the Jacks, always try to match the hatch, no matter what time of year it is. If you’re tossing plugs or spinners, try gold, chartreuse and black as primary colors of your lures.

Access to the Jacks is rough to moderate at best. Be sure to study maps carefully and take all common-sense precautions when planning a trip into the Cohutta. Parking areas and trails into the Jacks River are located in western Fannin County, off U.S. Forest Road 22 at Daly Gap and several other locations along the road.

Wild southern Appalachian brook trout like this one are the only truly native salmonids in Georgia, and they can be found in certain small north Georgia streams.

Noontootla Creek

Noontootla Creek runs off a steep ridge in Blue Ridge WMA and dumps into the upper Toccoa River near Dial in Fannin County. Most of this stream’s public access is off of U.S. Forest Road 58, and it includes everything from small stream fishing in its headwaters to bigger areas capable of being fished with 9-foot fly-rods.

Special regulations on this wild-trout stream state that only artificial lures may be used and only one fish longer than 16 inches may be kept. This rule effectively makes the stream almost entirely catch-and-release. While fish longer than 16 inches are certainly a possibility in Noontootla — especially during the fall and spring breeding periods — the typical fish is a healthy 9- to 13-inch rainbow or brown trout.

Some of the creek’s tributaries are also home to southern Appalachian brook trout, and the 16-inch size limit applies to them as well, making it a haven for the little fish to thrive in.

Certain parts of Noontootla can be tough to wade. The key is to go slowly. Don’t get ahead of yourself and you won’t make as many mistakes.

Big stonefly patterns are a favorite among fly-fishermen on Noontootla. Typical artificial spinning tackle works well. I really like using a little Joe’s Fly in-line spinner, too.

Since you’ll likely be seeing more fish than you keep, be sure to take a waterproof or water-resistant camera if you’ve got one. The fish in Noontootla Creek are known for their particularly vibrant colors and patterns.

Smith Creek

This small stream offers the state’s only small stream DH fishing. The public portions of this stream are located inside Unicoi State Park. Anglers must stop at the state-park lodge each time they fish Smith Creek in order to pick up a free daily fishing permit.

In the dead of summer, fishing on this stream may slow down due to warm, low-water conditions. However, during the rest of the year, this stream is usually teeming with trout.

While this creek can get busy on the weekends, fishing it on a weekday is typically a good way to have the place almost to yourself.

Above Lake Unicoi, Smith Creek is seasonal and heavily stocked during the season. There is easy access to much of this section off Anna Ruby Falls Road in the state park.

Baits like worms, Powerbait and corn work well on the upper end of this stream. On the DH section, try throwing Y2K bugs, San Juan worms, hare’s ears and various egg patterns.

Cooper Creek

This Toccoa River tributary is right up there with Rock Creek when it comes to heavily stocked streams. With many Forest Service campgrounds on its banks, Cooper Creek is a great place to take a family. This seasonal stream is not just home to stocked trout, though. There are also good populations of wild browns and rainbows, and native trout that can be found in some of its headwaters. The main stretch of Cooper Creek is accessible to the public, and much of it is located on national-forest land.

“I just love this stream,” said Jay Campbell, who has been fishing Cooper Creek for more than 10 years. “There’s a lot of self-sustaining browns in it. The farther upstream from the campgrounds you get, the better the fishing gets.”

The stream is relatively easy to wade and offers a great place to get away from crowds of float tubes and rafts on the bigger streams.

“It’s always a good alternative to the Toccoa tailwater,” Jay said.

For bait and spin fisherman hunting a meal, Cooper Creek is great if fished with Powerbait, worms or salmon eggs. For fly-fisherman, Jay recommends using various midge and caddis imitations depending on what colors of bugs are hatching. Many types of nymphs work well, too.

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