Lured-In Georgia Trout

There’s a mystique to the art of fly fishing that draws lots of attention, but a large segment of Georgia trout anglers are casting artificials on light tackle.

Bob Borgwat | April 3, 2021

As it does in many states, trout fishing in Georgia goes hand-in-hand with fly-fishing. It’s fly-fishing that rises in the circles of talk heard in places like The Fish Hawk—Atlanta’s premier fly-fishing service shop in Buckhead, and at Cohutta Fishing Company—the hub of top-shelf fly-fishing services in Blue Ridge, the official Trout Capital of Georgia.

It’s fly-fishing that centers around a dozen chapters of Trout Unlimited in Georgia. And it’s fly-fishing that’s promoted by dozens of trout-fishing guides in the north Georgia mountains.

But trout fishing is not all fly-fishing. A large segment of Georgia’s trout-fishing anglers carries an arsenal of lures to their favorite trout waters.  You see them wading and casting on the Chattooga River on the state border in Rabun County. They toss ’em from park-side wading sites on the Chattahoochee River in the northern suburbs of metro Atlanta. They snap ’em with ultralight rods into the shoals of the Toccoa River in Union and Fannin counties of the north Georgia mountains. And they carry them in fanny packs on trout-fishing treks onto the thousands more miles of trout streams and rivers that trace across rural north Georgia, bounded by the Alabama, Tennessee and South Carolina borders.

All the interest in casting trout lures, no doubt, means a whole lot of trout catching is going on in Georgia where spinners, spoons, jigs and crankbaits hang off the business end of spinning rods. Spin-tackle anglers who are outfitted right have a small fortune tied up in the variety of lures needed to fish effectively for trout with the “hardware” they carry around in their tackle boxes, fanny packs and chest packs. The list of brand-name trout lures is long—Yakima, Worden’s, Panther Martin, Leland’s, Acme, Rapala, Rebel, Yozuri, Blue Fox, Joe’s Flies…

But brand names are just that—brands—and each brand further defines its offerings by names applied to lure models. Model names aside, it’s the style and characteristic of the lure that’s more important to successful trout fishing, and knowing when, where and how to fish that style of lure. Not every trout will strike any lure, and not any lure can be fished effectively in any trout water. It’s the character of the water and the size of the fish it holds that leads to choosing the right lure for the job at hand.

Instead of matching an insect like a fly angler, artificial lures use flash and vibration to draw reaction strikes or imitate fish that larger trout like to eat.

Georgia trout waters vary greatly… from the so-called “blue line” streams high in the north Georgia mountains where wild trout are the targets, to Georgia’s largest trout water of all—the heavily stocked Chattahoochee River tailwater downstream from Buford Dam. Across them all it is rainbow, brown and brook trout everyone’s out there to catch, depending on the species of trout swimming in any given stream or river.

Fortunately, trout live and feed in any stream or river in exactly the same places, no matter the size of the stream or river. It’s only a matter of scale from one waterway to the next. From its shoals to its riffles to its lanes, ledges and pools, if the waterway holds trout, they will be found in the same kinds of places, and they can be caught with lures properly scaled for the water and the trout it holds.

Catch ‘Em How They Eat

Nothing is more important in fishing than fishing where fish live. Sounds a little obvious, perhaps, but fish don’t live everywhere—or anywhere—you find water. But whenever and wherever food is abundant in a proper trout stream, trout (like other gamefish) can be found, can feed actively, and the “catching” can be easy.

In a lake, game fish are found where baitfish are abundant. Those sites change with the change of season as water temperatures rise and fall, and the small fish move from deep to shallow environments. In a stream or river, food, too, is key to where trout live, and food for trout centers on insects that come and go with the season, as well.

At times, trout live where the current delivers dying and dead terrestrial insects—moths, ants, caterpillars, cicadas and more… a host of insects that cannot survive in the water but are seasonally affected by weather and often driven into the water by the weather. These sites are chutes, pools, glides, riffles and plunges—sites where the current collects and directs these insects toward waiting trout.

They also live where the current carries live aquatic insects or the current supports these insects—stoneflies, mayflies, caddisflies and more—that go about their lives underwater and on the stream/river surface, depending on their stage of life. Each of these species of insects lives for a period of time as a nymph or pupae in clean substrate of the waterway—sand, gravel, chunk rock, aquatic grasses, logs, and other debris. Eventually, they move through the water column—swimming, floating or climbing—often carried through a trout’s feeding zone and emerge on the surface as a winged, adult insect and fly away. Soon thereafter, they return to the water to deposit eggs, before they die, and start the life cycle all over again. When and where these insects are high in number at any stage of life, trout will be close by.

Small baitfish also comprise a portion of a trout’s diet, especially large trout that grow that way because they have made the shift in their diet from insects to vertebrates or crustaceans (yet trout of all sizes do eat insects). In Georgia, these include a collection of small fish—darters, dace, shiners and minnows—as well as crawfish—all of them living on the slow side of current lines, also called “seams,” or near/on the bottom of the stream/river where the flow of the water is disrupted by obstacles such as logs, scattered rock, gravel and ledges. Seams, too, are caused by obstructions (seen and unseen) to the water’s flow and are easy to spot by observing the twists and turns in the currents visible on the surface.

For a fishing trip to the Chattahoochee River artifical-only stretch from Highway 20 to Medlock, where brown trout grow big, consider some larger crankbaits that look more suited for a bass boat than a trout box.

But trout fishing with lures on most Georgia trout waters is rarely about matching trout food resources with good living conditions. Small, soft-plastic jigs and worms might appear as natural foods for trout, but few other trout lures resemble insects. Fishing with lures—beyond matching a certain baitfish or crawfish—is often the means for triggering reaction strikes. These lures still need to be presented where trout live, but the lure may do little more than reflect light (flash) or produce sound (vibrations), enticing the fish to strike the lure.

That’s the case with spinners and spoons. The flash in these lures is caused by the metal component of the lure reflecting sunlight. Spinners carry a rotating metal blade at the front of the lure; spoons are pressed in curved shapes from metal. In both cases, these are typically finished in gold or silver flash; others are finished in solid colors and multi-color patterns. The general rule (not always) is: dark water, dark colors (gold) under dark skies; and bright colors (silver) in clear water under bright skies.

The shape and size of the lure and blade also create its action and/or wobble. Both factors affect the lure’s pulse in the water, creating a unique “noise,” the vibrations that give away a baitfish and are sensed by the lateral line on the sides of a game fish. Tight wobble and fast retrieves produce high-frequency noise. Wide wobble and slow retrieves produce lower frequencies. Finding the right wobble and speed of retrieve is part of the mystery in success.

The rest of a lure’s characteristics—its length, weight, shape and attractors such as feather tails—also affects its success in the hands of a trout angler. Length of a trout lure must not be longer than what a fish is willing to eat. Big lures, big fish, right? Consider large crankbaits on the Chattahoochee tailwater, for example, and you might hook into a trophy-sized brown trout. But big fish eat small lures, too, and small lures often produce more strikes (thus, landings) on nearly every other trout stream/river in Georgia.

Weight affects where and how the lure will swim. Spoons, spinners and jigs commonly weigh 1/32-oz. on the light side and 1/4-oz. on the heavy side. By weight, too, crankbaits either float, sink or suspend—a key factor, combined with their wobble—but their length is the limiting factor (tailwaters excepted). The 2 1/2-inch Rapala Ultra Light Minnow is a top getter. Heavy spoons and spinners are great for use in water flowing heavily or in deep water, but their length, too, often exceeds the practical side of fishing with them on many Georgia trout waters. No spoon is needed larger than the 1/4-oz. Acme Little Cleo, and spinners such as Worden’s Roostertail should also be limited to 1/4-oz. sizes.

As for the attractors, the feather dressings on a lure’s hook offer contrast in the lure shape and color, while also putting some “life” in the lure. Feathers pulse in the water, effectively lending motion or movement within the body of the lure and can often be the difference between a successful spinner and a loser. Feathers can be added to spinners, spoons and crankbaits.

Work ’Em Where They Live

Learn where trout live, and you’ve got most of the battle won toward catching trout. After all, you can’t catch ’em where they’re not… in muddy water, for example. Trout feed visually. When visibility drops to less than a couple feet, so does the fishing action. Most Georgia trout streams and rivers muddy easily under the weight of a spring or summer heavy rainfall.

A couple days later, however, that dirty water will likely clear, and while water levels and water speed remain high, trout will seek refuge and conserve energy by moving to the margins of the high-speed current. Cast spoons, spinners and crankbaits into the backs of shoreline and mid-stream eddies. Probe (lift and drop) the deep holes and lanes with heavy spoons and spinners. Pull a heavy spoon off ledges. Work these lures slow until they enter the heavy current. Pull ’em in quickly and cast ’em again. Change the angle of subsequent casts, if possible, to pull the lure through and alongside the eddy from a different direction.

Several days later, or any time stream and river flows have held constant and manageable for many days, trout will return to the most likely feeding areas—the shoals, the riffles, the plunges, the lanes and the pools where good fishing skills with spoons, spinners, crankbaits and jigs lead to success. When water temperature is in the low 50s to low 60s of a Georgia spring and summer, each of the three species of trout can be found in any of the prime holding areas. But each kind of trout also has its staging preferences: Rainbows often hold in the riffles and boulder gardens; browns tend to lay in deep water with soft currents and shady hides; and brookies will often take station on the stream edges and in cover.

Characteristically, Georgia trout streams and rivers hold all these sites and more. From one waterway to the next, the scale of the environment is the only difference between them. Whether you’re fishing the Toccoa River tailwater at Blue Ridge or a high-elevation creek in the river’s upper watershed, the shoals, riffles, plunges, glides, chutes and pools common in good trout water demand your attention, no matter how small or large these are the places trout fishermen focus on. Scale your lure selection, accordingly, choosing the smallest lures in 1/32- to 1/16-oz. for the smallest waters, such as Noontootla Creek in Fannin County or the Tallulah River in Rabun County. Go as large as a 1/4-oz. with these lures in large waters like the Chattahoochee, Chattooga and Toccoa rivers.

Perhaps, the best trout water often lies at the base of a shoal, extending downstream as a riffle and/or with one or more lanes of deep-water coursing through the riffle. Look for the “soft water” trout anglers often talk about. It can be found anywhere along the length of a shoal and the riffle downstream. These spots might be in the middle of a riffle, where the water surface flattens briefly because the bottom beneath it is slightly deeper than the surrounding area. That soft spot might be found where two currents meet, mix and wash each other out by virtue of their individual strengths. Watch for soft spots near an obstruction. In order for water to flow around an obstruction, it must build a “cushion” of water just upstream from the obstruction. Trout can easily rest in that pillow of water and pick off anything coming their way in the current. Cast spoons, spinners and crankbaits beyond these hotspots and pull the lure through these hotspots. Float a small jig, such as Leland’s Trout Magnet, under a small foam float through a lane, with the leader long enough to present the jig near the bottom.

And always try to work your trout water from downstream at some angle. All lures, other than suspending crankbaits, rise in the water column when pulled against the current. Avoid snags when working a lure downstream by retrieving it slightly faster than the current speed, and keep the lure moving all the way to the rod tip. Cast across the current at varying angles to pull the lure through the current. Where a cast lands across the current will change the angle at which the lure enters the perceived strike zone or deliver the lure to a different point in the strike zone.

Beyond the riffle, a pool of varying sizes likely stretches to the top of the next shoal. Jig a spoon through a run or pool by working it with a little tension on the line and the rod tip high. “Swing” any lure into the strike zone in a pool by casting across the current or slightly downstream, allowing the line to be mended into an arc by the current, leading the lure downstream. Just before the lure turns straight into the current, snap or jig the lure without retrieving line.

This action will cause the lure to jump erratically while making a 180-degree turn and rising through the water column.

Sometimes, that’s just too much for a trout to resist!

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