Winter fishing can be slow at times when water temps drop to around 40 degrees or less. This doesn’t mean you should stay home in front of the fireplace, just that you need to be prepared to adapt to conditions.
One of the more stable rivers to fish this time of year is the Toccoa River tailwater. With water released from the bottom of the lake, seldom will you see the temps fall below the mid-40s, resulting in good fishing just about any day you can venture out.
In January on the tailwater, there are excellent hatches of black midges, early black stoneflies (which can be matched with flying ant or small black caddis patterns with tent wings) and good hatches of blue winged olives. We have pumped the stomachs of trout caught during the middle of the stonefly and BWO hatches only to find them full of midges. A small black soft-hackle fished in the surface film can be deadly.
If you want to split your day up, consider fishing the tailwater in the morning, grab a warm lunch in Blue Ridge and head for the new Toccoa River Delayed Harvest in the afternoon. The DH water should be a little warmer by then, and the fishing should pick up accordingly. On the DH, you can almost always catch fish on small peach egg flies and pink San Juan worms. But, by this time in the season, the fish have figured out that in order to survive they have got to learn to eat the local fare. Good stonefly imitations work well, and don’t be afraid to add plenty of split shot about 10 inches above your flies. The difference between success and failure may be an extra BB to get down in that boundary zone near the bottom where the water is slower than that near the surface.
Jimmy Harris is a well-known expert on trout fishing in Georgia and co-owner of two full-service fly shops (locations in Blue Ridge and Helen), Unicoi Outfitters.