Fly Fishing the Appalachian Trail
Updated: Mar 24
Few visitors of the Appalachian Trail in Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee realize they are hiking among some of the most pristine trout streams of the Southeast. These streams may start within a small area but possess very different geologies, histories, and end destinations. While anglers who fish these waters are not in search of the trophy sized trout, or even a meal for that matter, they can often find some of the most beautiful trout of the area that have been inhabiting the high mountain streams of Southern Appalachia for millennia. These trout are the brook trout, the colorful jewels remaining from the previous ice age that are the only native salmonid to the Eastern United States. Anglers can also find wild brown trout and wild rainbow trout in the rhododendron lined streams that flow adjacent to the trail. These trout are the descendants of the trout stocked in the last hundred years and are often separated from the native brook trout by large stream barriers such as waterfalls. Depending on where your journey starts along the trail, different pieces of water will possess different species of trout. Lucky anglers with good timing have the opportunity at landing the coveted Appalachian slam which consists of landing all three species in one day. Though the scenery drastically changes from Springer Mountain in North Georgia to Katahdin in Maine, many of the same fly fishing tactics will apply when anglers find themselves among the higher elevation trout streams.
Fishing Gear for the Appalachian Trail
Using the correct gear during these expeditions can be critical as larger or heavier gear can be cumbersome while hiking. Keeping it simple is the key to having a better time on your adventure. A smaller fly rod such as a 3wt, or one that breaks down into smaller sections to fit into a more compact storage tube is ideal for hikers. Tenkara rods (fly rods without reels) are also effective for the more adamant minimalist. As for flies, simple is also the answer. During the warmer months, a small box of dry flies is all you will need. Ones that tend to be less snaggy such as an elk hair caddis or stimulator are perfect for finessing through the tangled rhododendrons. In winter, a dozen assorted nymphs are helpful for the pools with a bit more depth when trout are reluctant to come to the surface for a meal. Besides the dozen or two flies you may bring, a small spool of 3X tippet will be adequate in squaring off against these mountain trout and snaggy shoreline cover. For apparel, some quick dry socks and pants will be perfectly adequate when the air temperatures are warmer. In the winter months or before the waters warm into the 50s, an additional pair of neoprene socks add warmth and an additional waterproof layer. These will also negate the need for any bulky waders that tend to become a hassle in the tight spaces anglers find themselves in.
Fishing the Appalachian Trail in Georgia
Georgia possesses the most watershed diversity of the Appalachian states as the many creeks that parallel the trail feed different rivers, that run in every direction. The trail itself runs the dividing ridges of these watersheds and allows knowledgeable visitors the chance to see the origins of several of the largest rivers on the Gulf and East Coast. The best fishing along the AT can be found from June through October as trout will be most active and the higher elevation keeps anglers cool from the summer heat.
Appalachian Trail Fishing Day Trips
Starting from the AT’s trailhead and southern terminus at Springer mountain, hikers will begin the four to five mile descent down to Three Forks. This area is the location of several Toccoa River feeder streams which give visitors the best opportunity to land the Appalachian Slam, as all three species call these streams home for at least part of the year. Many hikers prefer to start their journeys along the AT here as there is ample parking, and a handful of photogenic waterfalls that few visitors to the trail know are the aforementioned natural dividers between our native and introduced trout species. The hike along the AT at Three Forks parallels about 3 miles of fishable stream, with Long Creek, Stover Creek, and Chester Creek providing the friendliest access. The water in these streams will travel hundreds of miles through a half dozen states before dumping into the Gulf of Mexico via the Mississippi River.
As hikers make their way to Coopers and Woody Gap, they will pass several tiny creeks of the Upper Toccoa and Etowah River that tend to be more ephemeral in nature. Anglers willing to stray from the path will find several smaller paths leading south along some of the Etowah River tributaries. Rainbow trout and brown trout can be found in these small streams where the water becomes deep enough to provide adequate year round shelter. The water on this side of the ridge will take a different path than that of the Toccoa River and feed the Coosa and Alabama river to the Gulf in Mobile.
From Woody Gap, visitors will hike through the Blood Mountain Wilderness. This section of the trail runs the ridge that divides the Upper Toccoa and Upper Chestatee River drainages. Much like the previous section, the creeks here run perpendicular to the AT, but smaller trails will lead to fishing access along Slaughter Creek, Dicks Creek, Blood Mountain Creek, Boggs Creek, and Frogtown Creek. Rainbow trout are most abundant in the streams that flow through the narrow valleys here.
Unicoi Gap is the next major intersection of the AT, located just north of Helen, GA. The last couple miles of the trail before reaching Unicoi Gap runs along the headwaters of the Chattahoochee River and the Chattahoochee WMA. This is another hot spot to find Georgia’s native brook trout and some of the best fly fishing on the Chattahoochee River. Several waterfalls located below the trail keep the stretches of creek above filled with these brookies. Be sure to use the smaller connecting trails while descending to approach the creeks and not the creek itself as these trout are incredibly spooky. These drainages will filter down the Chattahoochee River, flow through a half dozen reservoirs, serve as the Georgia/Alabama border, and eventually empty into the Gulf of Mexico from the Apalachicola in Florida.
After crossing Highway 75 at Unicoi Gap, there are only two more fishable stretches of water on the longer hike to the North Carolina border. One of these opportunities is found along High Shoals Creek. Brookies can be found in this section of stream below the north side of the trail, but the introduction of rainbow trout to this section may pose a problem for the brookies in years to come. The second opportunity can be found along Moccasin Creek. A small offshoot from the AT will lead explorers down to Hemlock Falls and Moccasin Creek Falls. This is the last area where anglers can find all three species of trout in Georgia, with fall being the best time to visit, as trout will be on the move. Moccasin Creek is a small tributary of the Tallulah River and Savannah River which are the last of the major drainages in North Georgia. Water here will flow southeastward before reaching the Atlantic Ocean in Savannah.
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. The pristine higher elevation streams in North Georgia see some of the best hatches in the state.
To learn more about North Georgia Fly Fishing check out the dozens of articles on our site. For more fishing trip ideas and adventures, check out our articles on Fly Fishing Atlanta, Fly Fishing Dahlonega GA, Fly Fishing Blue Ridge GA, Fly Fishing Ellijay GA, Fly Fishing Helen GA, Fly Fishing Blairsville GA, and Fly Fishing Clayton GA. If you would like more hands on learning our fly fishing trips teach the fundamentals and fine nuances of fly fishing for trout.