Best Tips for Fishing North Georgia's Delayed Harvest Streams
Updated: Mar 24
From November 1st to May 15th the delayed harvest sections of Smith Creek, Amicalola Creek, Toccoa River, Chattooga River, and Chattahoochee River are open to Georgia trout anglers. Whether fly fishing or using conventional gear, catch and release with single hooked artificial lures are the regulations for these areas. These sections of river are used heavily by local and visiting anglers alike. Management strategies between North Carolina’s and Georgia’s programs are somewhat similar with the main difference being that the streams in WNC can mostly hold fish year round. Georgia’s goal with the delayed harvest program is to convert streams that are not suitable to hold trout throughout the summer into productive trout fisheries during the cooler months. These streams will then be fished out completely as water temperatures reach the low 70s in May which would not be ideal for trout. While the DH sections here in North Georgia aren’t as effective at managing sustainable trout fisheries year-round as our neighbors to the north in Western North Carolina, the stretches can be quite productive at times of the year. Knowing what times these areas will be fishing at there best will assure higher levels of success on your trip.
Fishing The Smith Creek Delayed Harvest Section
The Smith Creek DH begins just below the dam of Unicoi lake in Helen. This DH section likely receives the highest amount of pressure per area of trout holding water (the Chattahoochee DH certainly sees more anglers but has far more available habitat/holding water for trout). On any given day there will be a half dozen to a dozen anglers on the water, and that number can be doubled on weekends. Many local and visiting anglers will fish this section of creek due to the convenience of its proximity to Helen. The creek is not very large and typically runs 15’-20’ across. This allows anglers to practice their small water techniques as the rhododendron and laurel lined banks restrict your casting ability. Though the creek is small, the fish density is quite high early in the stocking season. Smith creek, along with the other DH areas, receives a small boost each month following the initial stocking which sees success rates and number of anglers subsequently rise. A similar theme that will be prevalent with all the DHs, is that they will fish very well soon after being stocked in early November. The creeks and rivers will be at their lowest during this time of year, leaving the trout as fish in a barrel, even on the bigger streams. Junk flies (eggs, worms, and mop flies) will make quick work of these recently stocked trout. Because of this the success that is to be had during this time of year, productivity can dwindle quickly as each fish is likely to be caught multiple times with a 1-2 week period and get a good education from visiting anglers. When the water is low this happens even quicker as the fish will be limited to the deeper holes. Herons and poachers can also thin out the herd once they catch wind of the stocking, especially during low water. By Thanksgiving the fishing will be slow and only pick up slightly after the December stocking as more anglers will be hitting the water during their time off work for the holidays. During these slow times, it is important to approach the water slowly and from downstream to not spook these pressured fish. With downsized flies and tippet you will have much more success. The further away from the parking lot you get during these slow times, the more success you are likely to have. Keep your eyes on movement around the deeper runs as trout hill hold near the adjacent moving water. I recommend these tactics to beginning anglers, as the DH sections are great places to learn and the trout aren’t quite as sophisticated as their wild brothers once they’ve been pressured. For anglers with more skill, I would recommend exploring more of the wild trout waters. With the exception of the two weeks after the initial stocking, an angler with the base abilities to cast and achieve a good drift should always have more success in the creeks above Helen. Though you may run into more small trout (4”-8”) you will the opportunity to run into some larger fish that have been living in the upper stretches of the Chattahoochee headwaters for long enough to get big as well as browns or brook trout.
Fishing The Amicalola Creek Delayed Harvest Section
This section of delayed harvest begins at the Steele Bridge and ends at the Hwy 53 bridge. Despite being a creek, this is a moderately sized piece of water that fishes much bigger than the majority of creeks in North Georgia. The creek is stocked just below the Steele bridge and right above Hwy 53. Access is available on both ends, but the Steel bridge access offers a bit more opportunity for anglers attempting to avoid crowds. Though the Amicalola DH lies on a fairly long stretch of water, the stocking only occurs in smaller areas on each end. Some stocked fish will move down a fair bit from the upper end by the Steele bridge, very few fish move up from the lower end due to some fast water obstacles, and the availability of plenty of deep water. Add to this, the amount of poaching and predation from otters that occurs on the lower section, an angler’s efforts would be better placed on a smaller stream further in the mountains. From the upper section, a modest walk downstream will get you away from 90% of the fishing pressure and shore bound anglers. Here you can consistently find a fair number of trout by picking apart thigh deep seams with various nymphs. Similar to the Smith Creek DH, junk flies will work great earlier in the season while smaller nymphs will produce more through the winter months. Don’t be afraid to strip a small wooly bugger as a search tool when scouring the middle sections of the DH for fish that have moved downstream as they will be a bit more aggressive and eager to eat. This will save you a significant amount of time probing water. Though the bite on Amicalola Creek does not get as red hot as the fishing on Smith Creek, you will find more consistency here throughout the season as the fish have more room to spread out around the upper access. Be wary of moderate to heavy rains when planning a trip here. The creek tends to get blown out rather quickly compared to the other North Georgia trout waters.
Fishing the Toccoa River Delayed Harvest Section
The section of Delayed Harvest on the Toccoa river is located just upstream of Lake Blue Ridge and the Shallowford Bridge. This section, much like Smith Creek will fish very well just after being stocked in early November. Conveniently, this is about the only time this section of river is wadable as well. While water levels are low, and until we get our first winter rains in December, the Toccoa DH fishing will be good or even great. Many larger trout (20”+) are notoriously stocked in this section, or move through from adjacent waters. Trout here will eat a larger variety of flies as the river possesses a larger assortment of bugs and aquatic insects. Even the stockers are likely to eat a little bit of anything, including dry flies, once they’ve been acclimated to the river. After rains raise the water levels, the DH is essentially restricted to shoreline anglers or people making a float. During years were hurricanes move through in late summer or fall, the Toccoa DH may not be wadable at all. So even though the DH season runs from November to May, wading fly fishermen can usually count this area out after January when gear fishermen will do their best to reach trout from the shore.
Fishing the Chattahoochee River Delayed Harvest Section
Located minutes from downtown Atlanta, between the Sope Creek confluence and the Hwy 41 bridge, this section of DH is extremely popular with all anglers who live around Atlanta’s perimeter. Dozens of anglers swing by this section of river each day trying to squeeze a couple hours of fishing in just before, during, or after work. Though the water is a bit on the dirty side for trout water, with exception of dry periods in the winter, the section is very productive during the season. Weekends can be a bit intimidating here as anglers will pile onto the river during good or even fair weather conditions. In this scenario, fishing one of the sections further upstream will likely be more productive. The areas around Jones Bridge, Settles Bridge, and below the dam on Lake Lanier all offer wadable stretches. Even though the Delayed Harvest section is catch and release, these other areas are stocked so heavily that you can find an equally or even more productive day on any one of them. This is one of few pieces of water I don’t throw small flies on throughout the season. Larger nymphs and junk flies typically fish much better in this section due to the water that is stained to dirty most of the time. If however, the water does clear up during drought periods, small, bright nymphs are the ticket. Don’t be afraid to hang around this stretch of river past the end of the delayed harvest season as striped bass will pass during their migration from West Point lake to the Morgan Falls dam and eat what remains of the stocked trout. Medium to large streamers will coax these worthy adversaries to bite and give any angler a challenge on the fly. Always be cognizant of the scheduled dam releases while planning a trip or fishing the Hooch. You can contact the ACOE (770-945-1466) to listen to a recording that will eventually give you a schedule within 24hrs during the week and weekend times are typically available on Friday evening.
Fishing the Chattooga River Delayed Harvest Section
The stretch of Chattooga River from Reed Creek to the Hwy 28 bridge along the Georgia and South Carolina border makes up the Chattooga Delayed Harvest Section. This DH likely receives the last amount of pressure as the other DH sections for several reasons. The main two reasons are that this area is a bit of a drive from the nearest town/city and that there is plenty of room to space out from other anglers in this section. Add to these factors that the sections of the river upstream of the DH are also heavily stocked by both states and you could see why this is likely the most consistently productive of Georgia’s Delayed Harvest trout streams. Much like the Toccoa, the increased bug activity on the Chattooga can leave the trout willing to eat a larger variety of flies. Though nymphs are still the go to, don’t rule out dry flies on warmer afternoons and into spring. Throwing a wooly bugger to prober larger expanses of water similar to the method described on Amicalola Creek is a great way to locate where fish are holding over large areas rather quickly. Once fish are located, slowly down with nymphs will achieve more success. My biggest tip however would be to not get stuck solely fishing the DH section. Though this section is stocked well and is catch and release, there is so much water available on the Chattooga River from the Hwy 28 bridge up into WNC that holds wild populations and receives stocked trout. Many of these areas are far less pressured than the fish within the DH section. It may take a light hike and some wading but putting in a bit more effort up front will put you in front of more fish that haven’t seen an angler or a fly in some time.
I hope this article gives beginning anglers some insight on our DH water here in North Georgia. This will certainly save some time for experienced anglers by cutting the learning curve on where your time can be best spent fishing. To better understand how to bring these trout to the net, our articles on What Trout Eat and Best Flies for North Georgia will help you get more trout to the net. Please give us a shout at Georgia Wild Trout with any questions regarding your upcoming fly fishing trips you may have planned and check out our other articles to learn more tips and techniques for trout fishing here in North Georgia.