Toccoa River Trout Top To Bottom
Here’s a detailed guide to the Toccoa River tailwater, the centerpiece of a watershed that’s the heart of Georgia trout fishing.
From its smallest creeks to its heavy tailwater flows, the southern reach of the Appalachian Mountains is home to Georgia trout fishing.
Embedded in these Southern mountains lies the Chattahoochee National Forest, a wide swath of forestland—more than 750,000 acres of pines and hardwoods—that pours out the cold, clean water Georgia trout require to survive. Much of the forest is drawn on maps with blue lines that represent creeks, streams and rivers bisecting its large valleys, deep gorges, choked ravines and, sometimes, not much more than small draws of bottomland.
Throughout the region—north of a line from Cornelia to Dawsonville to Jasper to Calhoun—most of these watersheds are defined by the state as water capable of supporting trout. It doesn’t mean there are trout in every one of them, but DNR designates more than 4,000 miles of flows tumbling through the forests that blanket the north Georgia mountains as trout water.
Nowhere do these waters offer a greater chance for catching a lot of trout than does the Toccoa River in Fannin County.
The Toccoa River Watershed From Top to Bottom
Trout anglers of the Toccoa River watershed know trout don’t always have to be big to enjoy catching them. Hundreds of miles of streams and creeks that tumble through these highlands in Union and Fannin counties hold trout that generally range upward of not more than about 12 inches. Many are wild trout—browns and rainbows once stocked, now self-supporting, to replace the indigenous brook trout that were wiped out by the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Others are the native brookies, themselves, that survived and thrived among the hardwoods and rhododendrons. Those are the smallest of Georgia’s trout streams, holding brook trout that are measured as trophies at just 8 inches long.
Other streams are stocked with trout, accounting for catches made up mostly of rainbow trout by anglers who use roadside pull-outs to access Toccoa River tributaries like Coopers Creek, Rock Creek, Big Creek and more. Occasionally, DNR stocks these streams with browns and brook trout when the supporting state and federal hatcheries have them available. It’s a really good day of fishing on any of these streams when your catch includes all three trout species.
And then, there’s the Toccoa River that proves daily trout don’t always have to be big to enjoy catching them. When that’s your goal, float-fish a section of the Toccoa tailwater between Blue Ridge Dam and McCayesville, and you’ll find what can be Georgia’s best trout fishing. Whether casting small lures across hidden ledges, drifting dry flies over shallow riffles or soaking bait in a deep hole, Toccoa River anglers regularly catch high numbers of rainbows and browns in the 9- to 14-inch range in what is (conditionally) a year-round, trout-fishing destination that can also produce a true trophy trout—those 20-inch, 5-lb. pigs—on any trip, any time of year.
The Toccoa River Tailwater
Fannin County’s status as “The Trout Capital of Georgia,” as designated in 2005 by the state legislature, is largely supported by the Toccoa River, the spine of this countywide body of trout streams, flowing almost 35 miles through the county’s upper highlands before it empties into the tailwater of Blue Ridge Dam. From there, 15 miles more of trout water flows north to the Tennessee border at McCayesville. Along its length, seven or eight primary tributaries flow into the Toccoa, including waters in adjacent Union County, and some of those are supported by several smaller streams many anglers recognize as some of Georgia’s best wild-trout streams.
The tailwater gets most of the local trout-fishing attention. Investors recognize its value: It’s flanked with cabins and homes, old and new, creating a heck of a tax base for the county and, perhaps, some jealousy among anglers who don’t live here. This real-estate activity and the 2019 opening of Cohutta Fishing Company in historic, downtown Blue Ridge proves the local base of trout anglers is swelling. But you don’t have to own property on the Toccoa to reap its anglers’ rewards.
From basic bait-fishing to casting the daintiest size 20 dry fly, trout fishermen who don’t know the Toccoa easily discover its productive trout fishing. The county seat, Blue Ridge, approaches the riverside at Highway 515, where Tammen Park offers immediate access to the riverway. Just a few hundred yards upstream, the Toccoa River pours from beneath Blue Ridge Dam, creating great tailwater fishing conditions.
Along its length, bank and wade-fishing is popular, but wading here is conditional. When online, the powerhouse at Blue Ridge Dam discharges more than 1,800 cubic feet of water per second and even more during periods of high rainfall/runoff. Wading at these times is unthinkable, and the high flow makes bank-fishing challenging. The volume brings the river up about 30 inches above the minimum flow of 150 cfs during periods when the powerhouse is not generating electricity. Keeping up with the flows is a matter of following the powerhouse schedule as predicted and published online by the Tennessee Valley Authority at TVA.gov or by calling (800) 238-2264.
Curtis Switch To Horseshoe Bend Park
Stocked regularly with trout to support the heavily fished waterway, the Toccoa is best fished any time by floating. Wade-fishing is limited by restricted access to private property that flanks just about all of the riverside through the communities north of Blue Ridge, all the way to McCayesville. Public access is found at Tammen Park in Blue Ridge, Horseshoe Bend Park in McCayesville and at the “Curtis Switch” access site operated by the TVA just downstream from the road and bridge of the same name.
Some 6 miles downstream from Blue Ridge Dam, Curtis Switch includes the right-of-way at the road bridge itself. Mostly a wading site, an old Cherokee Indian fish trap stretches across the river here, forming some nice runs on river just downstream. Upstream from the road bridge, trout often hold in the deeper holes in mid-river and along the woody structure on the river’s west side.
Anglers who know Curtis Switch by name more likely use the TVA site about a quarter-mile downstream. It’s found by a quick 1,500-foot drive on North Toccoa River Road on the river’s east bank. When wading anglers enter the water here, they immediately find a fine riffle with several feeding lanes. A hatch of mayflies and/or caddisflies prove it, as trout rise to the bugs in the riffle. The next half-mile of water downstream is productive, too, as the river falls into a couple of deep pools before it slides over a ledge and into another fish trap. Small spinners and spoons do the work for casting anglers, while the streamers, nymphs and dry flies of fly-fishermen fool feeding trout above and below the trap.
Float the 6 miles of the Toccoa from Curtis Switch to Horseshoe Bend Park, and you’ll discover a great mix of trout water, from boulder gardens to plunges to long riffles, deep pools, ledges and more fish traps. Top holding areas are marked by dark green water and dark—not brown—bottom. Always look for where shallow water gives way to deeper water, sometimes, no more than a foot deeper and a few feet long. Long pools of deep water fish best if it holds some snags and other structure in which the trout can hide. And don’t overlook the collection of woody debris along the shorelines. Rainbow trout will dominate a day’s catch, but a log pile, collection of brush, or the base of a tree at water’s edge creates dark hides that can hold brown trout.
Tammen Park To Curtis Switch
Walk upon the Toccoa River at Tammen Park on a warm, spring morning of low-water flows, and the fog lifting off the river below Blue Ridge Dam front-lights a classic Appalachian trout river. The backdrop of the 175-foot earthen dam is set-off by the historic powerhouse completed in 1930.
From deep behind the dam, cold, clear water pours downstream, enriched with oxygen dissolved from air diffusers stretched for hundreds of feet in the lake’s upstream pool. Late summer can see water temperatures rise alarmingly close (and bad for the trout) to 70 degrees; but from November through August, trout fishing holds strong in the hatchery-supported fishery downstream to Curtis Switch.
Stocking of rainbows (and browns, occasionally) takes place regularly at Tammen Park as long as the water temperature remains below 68 degrees. Foot access on both sides of the river stretches a few hundred yards along the shallow water to just downstream of the Highway 515 bridge. This half-mile stretch of the Toccoa is heavily fished by anglers of all kinds, and the best fishing certainly takes place soon after a stocking.
A deep hole in front of the powerhouse discharge and to the left of the wing-wall holds trout that escape the front lines in the park. On a good day, many of them hold especially close to the current created by the small discharge gate at the base of the dam and left of the powerhouse. From there, downstream to the park boat ramp, the river runs 2 to 3 feet deep, the bottom is hard, aquatic grass is scattered, a few rock piles break the current, and woody structure lay scattered along the shorelines. The shallow water at the Highway 515 bridge gives way to a deep hole just beyond the creek that enters on the right. Throughout this stretch, bait-fishing pressure is heavy, and trout catches are commonly very good.
Beyond Tammen Park, the Toccoa’s next mile features a series of shallow, graveled ledges, followed by deep water before it turns east and displays hundreds of yards of shallow ledges, troughs, chutes, runs and woody banks. At low water, fishing with dry flies here can consume a half a day or more of active, fun-filled fishing in April, May and June when mayfly and caddisfly hatches are under way.
Beyond this protracted shoal, the Toccoa takes on the look and feel it holds at Curtis Switch and beyond. Stocking along this stretch is sparse (but often coordinated with riverside property owners), so the number of both rainbows and browns found from the old railroad trestle at Hemptown Creek to Curtis Switch appear to decline as fishing slows when the bugs aren’t present. However, hit the repeated shoals, ledges and riffles on a day when the bugs are hatching, and the dries and nymphs you can’t help but fish with lead you to discover fly-fishing you won’t soon forget. The number of trout you can catch will keep you coming back for more, and some of the largest trout caught on the Toccoa live along these 5 miles of the river. Large streamers and small crankbaits have accounted for a number of trophy browns caught from the deep holes and woody debris over the last several years.
Private and Public
Anglers tied to any of the private properties along the Toccoa River tailwater enjoy wading access others should respect. Rights-of-way are not always what they seem on the Toccoa. Ask permission to cross property whenever trespass is not clear, but never expect permission to be granted. You’ll be disappointed. If you don’t have land access, consider a cabin rental from companies found in Blue Ridge and McCayesville.
Because riverside property boundaries in the Toccoa tailwater often extend to the centerline of the river, trespass restrictions lead a lot of Toccoa River anglers to float-fishing options. Boat ramps at Tammen Park, Curtis Switch (TVA) and Horseshoe Bend support manageable, half-day and full-day floats through drift-boat trips offered by many area outfitters (go to ReelAnglingAdventures.com).
Plan for eight to 10 hours of float time on either section (6 to 7 miles) at times of low water. If in a private boat, beware (your guide certainly would) of the TVA’s powerhouse operations. High water hastens the trip, of course, growing the river into a Class II float through the Georgia hills. Powerhouse flows are commonly operated at about 1,800 cfs, but TVA will spill water at Blue Ridge Dam and/or divert water at various volumes through the sluice gate. Late this past winter, the tailwater release was more than 2,600 cfs for weeks as rainfall and runoff swelled Lake Blue Ridge beyond its summer pool level in mid-February.
Without private-land access, there is no option for a float shorter than all day. Know where you are. Flow times are displayed at each boat ramp, thanks to the efforts of Blue Ridge Mountain Trout Unlimited Chapter 696. Get off the river before dark. Always carry personal PFDs.
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