As a Fly Fishing Guide in North Georgia, winter can be a tough time of year to be on the water. Don’t let the cold discourage you from getting outside and hitting your favorite piece of water. It’s easy to lounge around on the couch and be comfortable in the warmth of your home, but I’ve found some of the most rewarding days on the water during the coldest days of winter. Georgians are more fortunate than our neighbors to the north who get completely snowed in and unfishable conditions. While it can still be chilly, a mild winter day can be quite nice and trigger a flurry of activity. Knowing the pieces of water, you’ll be fishing is critical this time of year. Whether it be trout or striper, these fish go from using 80-90% of the water on a given lake or stream, to using closer to 10%. For trout, these waters can be distinguished into 3 categories: tailwaters, wild streams, and stocked streams.
Trout Fishing in Georgia Stocked Streams
Georgia stocked streams, especially the delayed harvest streams, are the best bet for beginning anglers who are learning to throw a fly in the winter. The trout are usually numerous in these areas and can be found without too much difficulty by covering water. Trout will usually gather in deeper runs and pools this time of year. Make sure your flies are hugging the bottom on your drifts to get the best results. If you do get bit or catch a fish, be sure to cover the hole or run very thoroughly with several different flies. The best flies on these water during the winter
are junk flies and small naturals. Mop jigs, eggs, and san juan worms are excellent choices when the fish are active and looking for a quick meal. When they get sluggish or overly pressured, zebra midges, pheasant tails, hares ears, or caddis pupa imitations size 18 or smaller will work best. On warmer days, look for trout to move closer to faster flowing water, if you can find them in these areas, they will be very likely to eat. Similar tactics will work on the tailwater fisheries (Chattahoochee River below Lake Lanier and Toccoa River below Lake Blue Ridge). Fish will be eating the same flies and using the same type of water most of the time. The exception is in
overcast conditions and warm days where the midges and Blue wing olives begin to hatch. On these days throwing small dry fly patterns such as the matt’s midge, Griffiths gnat, and adams along with BWO and midge emerger patterns can be excellent. Long casts may be necessary as the trout will be spooky when feeding on the surface. Stay observant while on the water. If you see insects beginning to fly around, chances are if they are larger, they will be BWOs, if smaller they will likely be midges. Have these patterns ready go, or you’ll likely be looking at a very slow day on the water as most fish will lock in on these bugs. If you’re caught without a good imitation, anything size 20 or smaller with a thin profile presented softly on the water has a chance to get bit. Once fish begin to rise, stalk their locations and position yourself to make the best approach and presentation without spooking the trout.
Fly Fishing Wild Trout Streams in North Georgia
Wild trout streams will take a similar cautious approach during the winter. Be prepared to cover a lot of water and get fewer bites than normal. While dry flies still get some bites in the winter months, san juan and squirmy worms are my go to flies for wild trout from January through March. I find the worms are one of few flies that have the drawing power to pull trout from under cover and deeper holes. Their bright colors are easily visible to the trout and myself, no matter the conditions. My second choice of fly during winter are small flashy patterns such as the disco midge, bling midge, rainbow warrior, or flashback pheasant tail nymph. To quicken your learning curve and make your day more productive, be sure to walk through every hole you fish in order to spook any trout sitting in them. This will let you know whether your fly choice is to the trout’s liking or if there were no fish to begin with.
Fly fishing for striper on Lanier is at its peak during the coldest days of winter. Though a boat is optimal in finding these quickly moving fish, with a little luck they can be caught from the shoreline under the right conditions. The first thing you want to look for is bait. Herring will crowd the backs of every creek at the north end of the lake this time of year. You will also be able to find them in the very backs of the larger creeks on the south end of the lake. The key to finding these fish hungry and shallow consistently, is to be out just before first light. Though this is the coldest time of the day which can be brutal, the herring will push into shallow water to feed at night and begin to pull back into deep water as the sun rises. The striper use the deep water off of these shallower flats to corral these big schools of bait during this period. The perfect areas are where creek channels begin to transition from 40’-50’ deep to 20’-30’ deep. Striper will spend majority of their time in the 40’-50’ depths but push up into the 20’-30’ depths during feeding times. If you’re in a boat do not idle over these schools of striper and bait, this will disperse them and tremendously shorten the window you have to catch fish. Creep in on these flats with your trolling motor and you will have far more success as the fish will remain grouped up. If fishing from the bank, find areas that act similar to these choke points. Though you may have to assume the presence of bait in the area if they’re not flickering on the surface, eventually you’ll see some sign of activity in these areas. Bridges in the backs of these creeks are excellent places to start. You can also look for deep pockets off the side of these creek channels. Remember that the striper will be concentrated in the deeper water in these areas. If the school does push shallow, you will likely know quickly as surface activity will heat up fast. On overcast days, these conditions can last throughout the day. Though the fish won’t be eating and chasing bait all day, they will sporadically push bait up throughout the day. Fly patterns can vary depending on which level the fish are feeding at. If they’re active, the gamechanger fished within a couple feet of the surface is a great method. If the striper are less active and still corralling bait from deeper water (20-30’) a weighted baitfish imitation will be best. Whether they are active or holding over the deeper water, these fish will still eat within 10’ of the surface. Getting super deep with your fly is not necessary this time of year.
Hopefully these tips will give you a good idea on how to get away from the fly tying bench or off the couch this winter and enjoy some time on the creeks, streams, or rivers near you. Checkout some of our fishing reports and other articles for more tips and techniques that will keep you hooked up this year.