Updated: Dec 2, 2022
Georgia is not known for having many of the accolades that come with most of the trout fisheries out west, but still offers excellent opportunities for anglers to get outdoors and experience the sport of fly fishing. The different opportunities you can find across the state make Georgia a near perfect location for beginning fly anglers to learn and hone their craft. Add that to the scenic back drop of the North Georgia mountains and the remoteness of Southern Appalachia, and you can see why many locals of the Southeastern U.S. gravitate to trout streams. In Georgia there are 4 distinct types of trout fisheries that each offer something different to anglers. Stocked Trout Streams, Wild Trout Streams, Private Water Trout Streams, and Tailwater Trout Streams can all be approached very differently and often require different tactics for success.
North Georgia’s Tailwater Trout Streams
Georgia has two year-round tailwater trout streams that each receive a good amount of attention from anglers. The Toccoa River tailwater below Lake Blue Ridge and the Chattahoochee River below the Lake Lanier Dam offer great angling opportunities for local and out of state visitors. The Toccoa sees many more out of town visitors as its tucked into the foothills of Blue Ridge while many more locals find their way onto “The Hooch” in metro Atlanta.
Below the Lake Blue Ridge dam, the Toccoa River offers great trout fishing all the way to the Tennessee border above McCaysville. The downside to this is the limited shoreline access along the river. Three small parks: Tammen Park just below the dam, Curtis Switch Park about halfway to McCayesville, and Horseshoe Bend just south of McCayesville are the only public access points. This limits fly angling to drift boats, private water, shorter wading trips. Shoreline angling is mostly limited to indicator fishing or a tightline/euronymphing setup as its not as likely to see many hatches on these small sections of the Toccoa that you may experience while in a drift boat.
The Chattahoochee is the largest piece of water where you can find trout in Georgia. The Toccoa being the second largest trout stream is still less than half the size of the Chattahoochee. For fly anglers looking to perfect their long distance casting skills, “The Hooch” is about the only piece of water where you can present a dry fly on a 50’+ cast and have success. With that said, a long cast with a dry fly certainly isn’t the only way to catch trout in the Chattahoochee River. Fishing current seams with indicator rigs or euro rigs is without a doubt the most productive way to target trout. Rainbow trout are stocked heavily throughout the river from spring through fall and stand little chance against a well presented fly. Finding these stockers may take more work at times as they are picked off gradually by locals. It is very common to find these rainbows grouped up in slower holes in the river.
The wild brown trout on the Chattahoochee can be a bit more challenging than the stocked rainbow trout as they are much more acclimated to their environment and in tune with the forage insects found in the river. Most of these insects consist of midges but seasonal caddis flies and mayflies can be found along with the occasional winter stonefly. The brown trout can require a bit more stealth during your approach. Using boulders or heavy current seams are great ways to disguise your presence. In areas with slower water, targeting browns on dry flies can be a demanding challenge for any angler. Patience and keeping your distance is key here for success. Sometimes waiting 15-30 minutes for the brown trout to begin rising more consistently is critical. Follow this with a well place cast that lands softly on the water 3’-5’ ahead of the rising trout will put you in a good position to get the bite. Hooking up with these fish over long distances with tiny hooks can often be the most challenging part of the entire process. I could give you the best tips I know, but even I go home after only landing 1 or 2 trout on a dozen rises some days. Because of this challenge, I find this style to be the most rewarding which leads me back to the shallow runs on just about every visit to the river. I also feel this style of fishing will improve my angling abilities and come into use when visiting other locations across the country and world.
Be cautious when wading the river as the rock outcroppings/boulder can be extremely slick and fall into deeper shelves off the river. Take your time moving through the water and make sure you have your footing. There are good wading opportunities from the south end of Bowman island, on up to the dam. Stretches along Hwy 20, Settles bridge, Jones Bridge, Island Ford, and a few other small parks are wadable and offer a good opportunity at catching trout.
North Georgia’s Private Water Trout Streams
Private water trout streams likely provide the largest draw of anglers to the state of Georgia. Trophy trout certainly captivate a large audience and offer a memorable achievement for those looking to target them. These fisheries do offer helpful lessons to their visitors that they won’t be able to find anywhere else in the state. They also provide some consistency during months or times when wild or publicly stocked streams are in a lull. Though I would argue public waters can be more helpful to beginning anglers in the warmer months (May through October) as new anglers can often see more bites on a given day. Private waters offer a consistent number of bites year-round, even when water temperatures dip and the natural food sources are lacking. Learning how to fight large trout is also an important lesson and one it’s likely best not to learn while fishing public waters as the likelihood of failure is high and the odds of finding a trophy trout on public water is so low. This experience often justifies the additional cost of fishing private waters, but I would recommend learning fundamentals on public water streams before taking this next step as it will improve you success once you visit the private streams. As far as trout behavior in these private waters go, the trout tend to still have similar habits to stocked trout. Larger trout will have of course learned a thing or two during their time on the water, but their feeding habits remain the same. These trout feed indiscriminately for majority of the time, but heavier pressure or tough conditions such as low clear water can leave only the smallest fly patterns on the menu.
North Georgia’s Stocked Trout Streams
Stocked waters see the most pressure of all the trout streams in North Georgia. Whether it be from locals, campers, or out of state visitors, these trout have the odds stacked against them as soon as they leave the stock truck. Targeting these trout on the fly is more about finding the trout than it is convincing them to bite. Stocked trout are willing to eat just about anything that resembles food if it’s presented with a moderately good drift and they haven’t already fell for that trick once. Finding them often takes covering a good amount of ground with either your boots or tires. The heavily stocked creeks in North Georgia are a good place to start. Know that these creeks are typically stocked in the same locations where the lazier anglers don’t have to walk more than 20’ from their trucks to set out a line. From these locations move up or downstream looking for holes or runs about knee high or deeper that have about walking paced water or a bit slower. These are areas where stocked trout will set up, especially if there’s cover around protecting them from other anglers and birds. Once you’ve put in the time to familiarize yourself with these creeks, you can systematically cross off locations from your list of potential trout holding areas and cover more water or creeks in the area until you find some trout that haven’t been found.
During the colder months, the Delayed Harvest streams offer fly fishermen better opportunities to hook up with stocked trout as catch and release regulations stand from October through May. These trout will eat just about any fly on the water within a short window of being stocked. Once they are educated smaller offerings on lighter tackle will produce the best results. To learn more about these special regulation streams check out our article on Fly Fishing Georgia's Delayed Harvest Trout.
North Georgia’s Wild Trout Streams
The wild trout streams of North Georgia provide fly anglers with an excellent chance to perfect their close distance casting. The shorelines covered with a myriad of trees, mountain laurel, and overhanging rhododendrons make precision casting a must for anglers looking for the most success. Across North Georgia, different streams can also have different species of wild trout. Though few streams offer brook trout, brown trout, and rainbow trout in the same areas, there are several stretches of stream which may only have one of the three species. This makes targeting each of these three species easier for those looking to catch the Appalachian slam.
Rainbow trout are certainly the most prolific wild trout in North Georgia. Their ability to colonize new waters is incredible when left alone. Brown trout may be the least common of the three as they are limited to where they have been stocked in the past (which is a much smaller area than rainbows) and don’t seem to be able to reproduce as successfully as rainbows. Brook trout likely have the most limited range, as they are limited to the highest elevation streams above barriers where they don’t have to compete with rainbow trout. The small, pristine creeks they inhabit are often choked with rhododendrons and other brush leaving bow and arrow casts and short roll casts the only options to target them.
The behavior of wild trout is similar. All are much more spooky than stocked trout, with brook trout being exceptionally spooky. Brook ad rainbow trout will eat just about any natural insect imitation while brown trout can be more selective at times. May through December finds wild trout eating consistently on the surface. They can be found in fast water, slow water, deeper pools as well as the skinniest water around and anything in between. During the colder months wild trout seem to congregate more in deeper pools with slower water and feed much less on the surface. Getting nymphs down toward the bottom in these areas is the best tactic for success from mid-winter to early spring. Recognizing feeding patterns within a given time of year can lead to more hookups by the end of the day. Trout missing or rising short on your flies may be a good indicator to size down your fly to increase you strike to land ratio. There are days where it seems the trout refuse to inhale any fly even after rising several times. These challenges are why I recommend beginning anglers start on Georgia’s public water wild trout streams. The increased number of bites, and fine-tuned approach to casting and managing your drift along tighter current seams elevates your position on the learning curve much faster than in other Georgia waters.
I hope these tips are helpful for the next time you visit one of North Georgia’s trout streams. For more tips, techniques, and articles on trout fishing destinations in Georgia, check out our website to learn more about Fly Fishing in Georgia.