As the weather warms in late winter, both trout and striper begin to stray from their winter haunts and move to new water where food is more abundant. This happens in two stages, early spring and late spring periods, for both trout and striper Here in North Georgia the process may start as early as late February and extends into mid June. The major factor in the progress of the fish during the spring is water temperature. Most people believe air temperature is the main driver behind this change, and while warmer air temperatures can contribute to warming water, rainfall is a much larger factor in these spring water temperatures. A warm rain in February will put fish far ahead in their spring process than a week of temperatures in the 70s or 80s, especially in creeks and rivers. On the opposite end of the spectrum cold or cool rains can prolong the early stages of spring and make fishing a bit more tough. Once you can figure out what stage these fish are in, catching more is simply a matter of repeating the pattern.
North Georgia Trout Fishing in Early Spring
As the water begins to warm in late February and early March, trout begin to leave the deeper holes where they have been overwintering. They may return to these holes during inclement weather, but during times of mild weather trout will first push up to the heads of pools where more food will be pushing in. Though they may not be the most active while holding at the heads of these pools, they are still looking for any easy meal. The warming weather will also trigger more insect activity which will in turn cause the trout to move once again. During these periods of higher bug activity, look for trout to slide toward the tail out sections of long pools and glides. These areas will concentrate the hatching insects and provide your best opportunity at finding fish on a dry fly. In early spring, Blue Wing Olives and Midges will most likely comprise most of the bug activity, with the occasional but more uncommon presence of caddis and winter stoneflies. As we approach March, you can look for more caddis and some larger mayfly species to be present. If trout aren’t actively present in the tails of pools and glides, you can be certain that nymphing the heads of the pools will be your best bet until the action begins later in the afternoon or evening.
North Georgia’s Stocked Trout Streams in Early Spring
Georgia’s Stocked trout streams will fish a bit differently than the wild trout streams this time of year. The first week in March is a major week for stocking in North Georgia. Just about every stocked creek in Georgia will have some new fish introduced within a two week period from the last few days in February through the first week in March. These trout are less in tune with the river and will seek out water more like the raceways they were reared in. Look for knee high to thigh high water moving at walking pace or a bit slower. These areas will hold the majority of the stockers on any given body of water. These trout will be much less inclined to feed from the surface, and nymphs along with other junk flies will yield the best results. Once pressured in these runs, some trout may move to find cover along undercuts or submerged cover. When comfortable they will continue to feed. When heavy rains push through in the early spring, look for stocked trout to push towards the bank to escape faster currents. Wooly buggers and squirmy worms are staples during these high water as the can help you find these scattered fish more efficiently. If you are able to find good cover for the fish during high water, fish the area thoroughly as the trout will likely stack up when there are not many other refuges on the creek or river. These high water methods will stay consistent during both early and late spring periods.
North Georgia Trout Fishing in Late Spring
Around mid-April temperatures become more stable, and insect along with trout activity pick up even more. Now yellow sallies, golden stoneflies, caddis of all sizes, and a myriad of mayflies will begin hatching. The presence of these bugs makes the trout much more opportunistic while feeding and willing to venture out to find more productive waters. Look for rainbow trout to seek out faster waters such as shallow riffles where food is in high abundance. While wading through the stream keep a close eye out for spooked trout in shallow or fast water. This can be your key in targeting aggressive trout. As we reach late May and into June, begin throwing bigger bugs as most trout, especially bigger trout, will gravitate towards bigger meals on the surface. Grasshoppers and other terrestrials will make their way onto the scene in May, making these larger offerings much more appealing. Hopper patterns will also give you the ability to throw larger dropper patterns during times of the day with less activity. High water can make fishing most streams near impossible or even dangerous following heavy rains. Move further up into the watersheds to find smaller water. Trout in these smaller tributaries will typically be even more aggressive during these periods of heavy flow as there is likely more food present than normal.
Fishing Georgia’s Stocked Trout Streams in Late Spring
Stocked trout streams can be fished the same in late spring as they are in the early spring. The only significant difference is the stocked trout’s ability to acclimate faster. Trout in mid or late spring will learn about the abundant food source floating over their head much more quickly as they see many more insects hatching. There is no wrong fly to target these fish on. A good drift should yield results rather quickly.
North Georgia Striper Fishing in Early Spring
Early Spring Striped Bass Fishing in North Georgia begins on the lakes. Striper will leave deep water and follow the bait (usually blueback herring) to the backs of creeks. This typically happens once the surface temperatures climb into the upper 40s or low 50s. The bait can reach the backs of the creeks earlier some years, but if the weather is too volatile, the majority of striper will choose to stay deep. Once the striper have decided to make the move shallow, look for secondary points and deeper pockets/ditches in the back of creeks to concentrate fish. Remember that a large presence of bait in an area can be a bad sign. The presence of striper will often disperse shoals of baitfish meaning that a large congregation of bait can be a sign of no predators around. If there are stripers around large schools of bait, they can also be tough to catch as they have plenty of easy targets around. Striper don’t typically move in the large schools that you can find in summer or winter during the early spring. 4-10 fish is the typical group of fish you will see on your electronics.
Once you find what looks to be a school of striper, try and identify whether they are moving or are camped out and waiting for a passing school of bait. Striper holding in pockets can be much more difficult to locate but will usually be stationary along the bottom. Fish down to these striper with larger clousers or other weighted flies. If you reach the school with your fly, it will not take long to hook up. Moving fish can be much more difficult to track. These fish will likely be suspended, and your timing is key as they will be moving fast. These striper will typically be patrolling the bank or creek channels and corralling bait into ambush points. Shallow points are great places to run across these schools. After locating a school around a point, set up your casts to target the high spot on the point. This is where the most aggressive fish should be targeting bait. Unless you can see fish coming to the surface off the side of the points ignore where you’ve seen the school of suspended fish on your graph, they likely aren’t there anymore. The high spot on the point will be your best odds of hooking up. A similar method to use on days where the schoolers are moving frustratingly fast, is to use the gulls to locate where bait has been pushed close to the surface. Though this can be a waiting game, this may be your only chance at finding fish. An important factor to notice, once you’ve spotted gulls diving on bait, is which way the school of herring is moving. You can then lead the school and put yourself in position to intercept the fish as they pass. Most of the time I don’t even bother to drop the trolling motor as this can cost the precious seconds where the striper are feeding up in the water column. Another important note is to not run over the school as this is a guaranteed way to push the fish back down and eliminate your opportunity to get bit.
Swimming flies such as the gamechanger, drunk and disorderly, and keeled jerk are great patterns for schooling fish on the surface. Don’t forget your spinning or baitcast rod at home either as there are days where getting withing 200’ seems impossible and the long cast is your only chance to land a fish.
North Georgia Striper Fishing in Late Spring
Starting in early April, a good number striper will make their way up the Chattahoochee River and Chestatee River above Lake Lanier, the Etowah River above Lake Allatoona, and the Chattahoochee River above West Point during their false spawn runs. On the lower end of Lanier striper can still be found mixed with pre and post spawn spotted bass schools around points and brush piles. These fish will be rejoined by the striper who left for the river at some point in May. The striper from West Point will make their way up the Hooch toward the Morgan Falls Dam and feed mostly on schools of gizzard shad during the migration and occasionally stay in the river throughout the summer months. These fish will stage in tributary mouths, deep pools, just below shallow shoals, and along steep undercut banks on the river. Striper in the Etowah can push well passed the confluence of Amicalola Creek. The distance of their journey usually depends on the amount of rainfall during the spring. The striper are much smaller than their brothers on the Hooch but the action can be more consistent as they mix with the abundant white bass during the spring. On years with heavier rainfall, the Etowah can be a mudhole which isn’t the most aesthetic venue for a day on the river. It also takes a lot longer for the water in the Etowah to clear up making a trip to the nearby Chestatee worth the extra drive. Striper in the Chestatee and Upper Hooch use the river in a similar fashion. Fish will stage in deeper holes 10-20’ until they are ready to move. These holes can be difficult to fish and unproductive as the striper wont be in feed mode while sitting deep. High percentage areas are typically behind obstructions (boulders, laydowns, and sandbars). The hundred or so feet below the mouth and in the mouth of tributary streams are excellent to places to find aggressive fish stacked up. The steep banks along the outside bend of channel swings provide good places for striper to stage and feed. While in the rivers, smaller patterns such as a clouser will get you the most bites while bigger patterns such as a deceiver or hollow point may land you a trophy fish. It seems striper take much longer to migrate upriver than it does to clear out. By mid may, most fish have left the river to head back into the lake where some of the most exciting action of the year begins.
Lake Lanier Shad Spawn
The shad spawn ramps up in late April and can last throughout May. Post spawn striper and spotted bass will gorge themselves on the surface during lowlight periods until the shad and herring move deep in the summer. Look for spawning to happen on rocky banks and points. If you can find bait in these areas before 10am or after dusk, you can be sure bass and striper will be around. Herons are the easy give away for areas with spawning shad. On Lanier, they will behave just like gulls and dive on bait that has been pushed to the surface. Just about any fly can be affective so long as it closely matches the size of the bait that is around. To maximize your efficiency, look for the areas where the bait is the most concentrated. Threadfin shad for example can spawn across entire bays and spread the fish out. Finding a dense cluster of bait sticking to the first dropoff on a mainlake or secondary point is a sure way to run across multiple fish in a short time frame.
Henry Cowen breaks down what to expect in the coming months in this latest clip from the Fish North Georgia podcast. You can learn more from his book Fly Fishing for Freshwater Striped Bass. You can also learn more in the short clip from Fish North Georgia's Livewell.
Hopefully these tips will get you ready to get out onto the water this spring. Take a look at our other articles to learn more tips on what flies work best in North Georgia and what are the best places to find trout in Georgia. Check out our trips page if you are interested in a Guided Fly Fishing Trip in North Georgia. We can cut you learning curve down considerably and put you on the fast track for more success.