Fly Fishing the Chattooga River
The Chattooga River offers a few different choices for fly fisherman in North Carolina, Georgia, and South Carolina. The upper section of the river flows exclusively through North Carolina where it receives much less pressure as it flows through a long stretch of undisturbed forest. The river leaves North Carolina at the tri-state border where it splits Georgia and South Carolina beginning at Ellicott Rock. The river continues as the state border for several miles and runs into Lake Tugaloo, a small border reservoir. Along Highway 28, you can find the southernmost trout waters on the lower section of the Chattooga River. This lower section of the Chattooga River is managed by Georgia and South Carolina as a Delayed Harvest Stream from October 1st through May 15th. This stretch ends at the confluence of Reed Creek. Upstream of Reed Creek normal trout fishing regulations apply to the North Carolina where it is the Chattooga and its tributaries are managed as a Wild Trout Stream. Here you can find all three species of Appalachian Wild Trout in the river and its tributaries. The slam is also possible with stocked trout further downstream in the border waters but don't present the same challenges as the wild trout.
Fly Fishing the Chattooga River Delayed Harvest Section
The Chattooga River Delayed Harvest catch and release only regulations run from the beginning of October through the first couple weeks in May. After this period trout can be harvested according to normal fishing regulations. Most of the trout in this section of the Chattooga will find their way out of the river or escape to less disturbed waters upstream by early June. At the beginning of the DH season, stocked trout fishing can be simple. Good drifts with a variety of flies can produce. Mop flies, eggs, san juan worms, and other junk flies catch the eye of hungry trout still adapting to the river. Once the fish have seen a their fair share of pressure and are more acclimated to the natural forage in the river, they will become more selective about their diets. Smaller, natural flies and better drifts will be needed to land more trout. Hiking will open up better opportunities on the Chattooga River as the majority of the fishing pressure is focused on this section of the river. Trails line both sides of the river and it is uncommon to see many if any anglers after a fifteen to thirty minute hike upstream. Helicopters are also used to stock the portions of the river that are inaccessible by vehicle. This further spaces out the trout, rewarding anglers who are more willing to stray from the parking areas. Nymph set ups will fish better through most of the season. Dry fly action is uncommon on this section of the river until later in spring. During the Summer water temperature get too warm for trout. Chubs, shiners, and redeye bass will be the main residents of river creating a different opportunity for anglers until trout are stocked once again in the fall.
Fly Fishing Stocked Trout on the Chattooga River
From the confluence of Reed Creek upstream to Ellicott Rock, the Chattooga River is stocked by both Georgia and South Carolina. Trout stocking throughout this section is heavy. A majority of the stocked trout are released around the Burrell's Ford Campground. Again, trails can be found on both sides of the river but the best trails are the Bartram and Chattooga Trail which parallel the river on the South Carolina side and offer the easiest access in and out of the river for anglers. Many stocked trout can be found in the pools and slower runs up and downstream of Burrells Ford soon after being stocked. These trout will transition into the faster water habitat once they become acclimated. Hiking further up or downstream will allow anglers to see more wild trout and holdover trout creating a better challenge for experienced anglers. Rainbows and brown trout are most common in this section but the occasional stocked brook trout can stray into the area. Versatility is key to having success here. Just about every tactic from swinging streamers and soft hackles, dry flies, dry droppers, indicator nymphing and euronymphing can all produce trout on the Chattooga. These tactics will fish better in different water conditions. When trout are using a specific piece of water such as a tailout or riffle, corresponding patterns and techniques such as a dry dropper will be the most effective. Brown trout in the 20" plus size range are caught every once in a while. Targeting these trout is a whole different challenge in itself. Covering the most water as possible and focusing on areas where the bigger trout can stalk and ambush unsuspecting stockers and sculpin will improve your odds. Browns will focus on these bigger meals after reaching around 16" , so streamers will be your best option. Be wary of slick rocks and sudden dropoffs from rock ledges on the Chattooga River. Dirty water is not friendly to anglers who aren't familiar with the bottom contour but helps your odds when targeting trout on larger streamer patterns.
Fly Fishing the Upper Chattooga in North Carolina
The Upper Chattooga River is best accessed from either the Old Iron Bridge upstream of Ellicot Rock and just east of Highlands, or Whiteside Cove Road south of Cashiers. This entire section of river is managed as a Wild Trout Stream by North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. Fishing the Old Iron Bridge northward, anglers will find mostly wild brown trout. These trout will test even the most skilled anglers. This sections sees very little angling pressure throughout the year due to its remoteness and limited access. A modest or long hike in is required to fish this section of the Chattooga. Further upstream toward Cashiers, you will find a mix of trout species with brook trout becoming more common in the headwater tributaries. Dry flies are the go to for fly fisherman between late spring and early winter. Dry droppers will land more trout than other techniques on days when the bite is slow and while fishing the deeper plunges.
To learn more about North Georgia Fly Fishing, fishing Georgia's stocked trout streams, and the best flies for fishing Georgia, check out the other articles on the Georgia Wild Trout Tips and Techniques page as well as our other destinations like trout fishing the Chattahoochee River or fly fishing the Toccoa River.