Propelled by swirling whitish water, the pink float hurtled downstream, circled past a rock tip protruding from the surface and disappeared with hardly a ripple into a dark hole.
Below the float, or strike indicator, dangled a midge. Below that, a split-shot gave the rig casting heft. Below the weight, a nymph dragged along the rocky Chattahoochee River bottom until a 2-pound rainbow trout snatched it and raced downstream. After a fierce, but brief fight, the released fish returned to its black lair to await the next morsel washing down the stream.
“With the flies suspended by the strike indicator, we can make a natural presentation like a bug washed downstream,” advised Jake Darling, a trout guide for Unicoi Outfitters in Helen, Ga. “Most trout like deeper holes, moving water and ripples. We usually look for a place where the current and slow water meet to make a little break. The current brings them the bugs. Trout stay out of heavy current so they don’t have to work so hard, but move in and out of the flow to feed.”
Nestled along the Chattahoochee River in the Blue Ridge Mountains about 90 minutes from Atlanta and just south of the Tennessee line, Helen, Ga., serves as a base to access some of the best trout streams in northeast Georgia.
An Orvis endorsed operation, Unicoi Outfitters guides fly casters on several public and private streams around Helen. The Chattahoochee River emerges as a spring in the 750,000-acre Chattahoochee National Forest and flows 430 miles into Lake Seminole near Bainbridge, Ga.
Helen Has Outstanding Trout Habitat
The river flows cold and clear through Helen, providing outstanding trout habitat. By Nacoochee Bend not far from its full-service fly shop, Unicoi Outfitters stocks and manages 1.5 miles of the stream as a private trophy trout fishery where anglers may fish all day without casting into the same place twice. Guests may only use fly tackle with barbless hooks and release all fish unharmed.
“We mostly catch rainbows, but the river does have some brown trout,” Darling said. “Our fish average about 16- to 20 inches long, but the river holds a lot of trout up to 28 inches. We’ve caught trout close to 20 pounds before. The best fishing is usually from October through late May, but we often catch our biggest fish in the winter. February is a really good month for people who don’t mind braving the cold.”
Besides the stretch of the Chattahoochee near Helen, Unicoi Outfitters guides also fish portions of the Chestatee and Soque rivers or Noontootla Creek. The Chestatee River runs about 51 miles through northern Georgia, beginning in northeast Lumpkin County until it flows into Lake Lanier on the Chattahoochee River. The Soque River begins in Habersham County and also flows into the Chattahoochee.
“The Soque and Chestatee are very similar to the Chattahoochee,” Darling advised. “The Soque River is world-renown for producing big trout. Noontootla Creek is a little smaller than the other rivers and not as wide. In the summer, swarms of grasshoppers from surrounding agricultural fields fall into the creek and the fishing gets really good. We’ve caught numerous fish exceeding 20 inches on big, foam grasshoppers. That’s a lot of fun for anyone who likes to fish on top.”
Several streams traversing the Chattahoochee National Forest also provide good public trout fishing. Dukes Creek, one of the premier Georgia trophy trout streams, forms at the confluence of Bear Den Creek and Little Low Gap Branch then flows through the Smithgall Woods Conservation Area before passing under Georgia State Road 75. It enters the Chattahoochee River about a mile downstream from the highway.
Charles A. Smithgall, Jr., a noted conservationist and businessman, donated 5,664 acres to the state in 1994. Now, the Smithgall Woods Conservation Area rents cabins on Dukes Creek and allows catch-and-release fishing on selected days by reservation. Guests may also hike a mile from the cottages to Dukes Creek Falls or explore other mountain trails.
“Dukes Creek holds some big fish in a beautiful setting,” said Gerry Hinkley who fishes the area frequently. “At times, I’ve seen fish everywhere in the creek. The state regularly stocks it with brookies, rainbows and brown trout. It produces some trout exceeding 20 inches.”
Some public streams allow fishing all year long; others only permit seasonal fishing. Regulations may vary for each stream, possibly within certain sections of the same stream. Before fishing anywhere, consult the regulations.
For regulations and more information, visit Georgia trout waters.
Make sure to visit Sportsman’s Guide for an assortment of fishing gear today.