Along its length, the Toccoa River and its tributaries contribute largely to technical, yet traditional, trout fishing in Georgia. For more than 10 miles, it tumbles around the high ridges of national forest land in Union and Fannin counties, where it collects its frosty breath that supports wild rainbow, brown and brook trout. Twenty miles on, after twisting in and out of private holdings, the Toccoa spills into Lake Blue Ridge where it loses its nippy bite. Beyond the reservoir, iats again-cold water courses downstream from Blue Ridge Dam in the finest southeastern traditions of a pastoral tailwater trout fishery before it crosses the border of southeast Tennessee and loses its cold-natured character.
The Chattahoochee Forest National Fish Hatchery, which is located on Rock Creek in Fannin County, places tens of thousands of trout in the primary streams of the Toccoa River watershed between March and July. Among the most popular—largely because of easy access—Rock Creek, Coopers Creek and the main-stem Toccoa River are easily located, seen and fished along paved and graveled state, county and forest service roads.
During that period, they’re stocked “to the gills,” you might say, and without any “street smarts,” those 9- to 11-inch rainbows don’t last long. Commonly, it is hook-and-shot fishermen who bait up with worms, crickets, PowerBait, salmon eggs, kernel corn and Velveeta cheese wherever hatchery technicians place trout. Depending on the site, stockings take place weekly, every other week, monthly or just a few times each during Georgia’s trout stocking season—the period from March 1 through July 4, or until local water temperatures exceed 68 degrees.
Fishing all these sites is typically a matter of “catch ‘em while you can” after the stocking truck arrives. Right where they are put, the trout readily take the soft baits. Small spinners and spoons make fishing easy, too, in the steps, chutes and riffles where the smartest of the hatchery fish seek refuge.
Now, Let’s Get Technical At The Top
Trout fishing of the technical kind in the Toccoa River watershed mostly takes place out of sight of the roadside opportunities. Where the streams fall away from easy access sites, or where special fishing regulations limit fishing style and take, the fishing pressure drops tremendously. On these waters the fishing improves considerably for anglers who mark good trout fishing where technical trout water challenges a fly-fisherman’s skills.
At these sites, fly-fishermen target wild trout—rainbows, browns and brookies—in waters that test their existence. A banner day on these streams is eight to 10 fish to hand. It’s never great, in terms of numbers. These sharp-falling streams are subject to periodic flooding flows that flush the creeks. Bedrock granite restricts the early stages of the food chain. Basic minerals are dissolved very slowly; thus, the aquatic bugs that trout feed on—primarily caddisflies, mayflies and stoneflies—are limited. It doesn’t mean you won’t witness some very good bug hatches (the March Browns of late winter and early spring, and the Sulphurs on a warm late April day, are very cool). But it does mean an infrequent angler upon these streams is likely to fish water with little sign of bug life. That’s a bad thing because it marks diminished food sources. But it’s a good thing, too, because the fish that do live there are typically aggressive, opportunistic feeders.
Brook trout are found where waterfalls create barriers for the rainbows and browns that occupy the lower portions of the streams.
Above these falls, the streams are small—even tiny—and often course through thick stands of rhododendrons and mountain laurels. Diminished in size, the little streams still carry all the character a trout fishermen expects to see.
The small brookies feed in the chutes, drains, plunges, lanes, riffles and log piles that are miniature versions of the same characteristics downstream, where the ‘bows and browns warily compete for food and cover.
Upper Coopers Creek And Tributaries
An assortment of sharply falling creeks marked by thin blue lines on a map collect in Coopers Creek where it runs out of sight from nearby roads.
Coopers Creek emerges from Lake Winfield Scott on Georgia Highway 180, 5 miles north of Suches, before dropping out of sight for 3 1/2 miles in the deepest gorge in the local mountain range. Next time you see it at your side along Forest Road 33, the stream will be “at” and “off” of road-grade before it drops into the Coopers Creek Scenic Area.
This semi-remote, roadless stretch carries on for 3 miles, parting the national forest with plunge pools, long glides, shallow riffles and small waterfalls. Surviving stocked trout placed in the river at both ends of the scenic area share this gorgeous run of the creek with wild rainbows and browns.
When you look up the mountainside deep in the bottom of Coopers Creek, you’ll feel the depth of your fly-fishing from spots as much as 300 feet below the parallel road. Down there, you’ll find trout fishing no less technical than anywhere in Georgia, maybe the Southeast. Fascinating substrate, twisting currents, plunging waterfalls and giant logjams challenge both nymph and dry-fly anglers. Nymphing through chutes and lines is best done with the smallest indicators (or none at all) and small bead-headed bugs. Don’t get heavy with added split-shot unless you need to rummage through a deep feeding lane. Dry flies should always be armed with a tiny emerger dropper. Carry small, weighted streamers to dredge the deep, slow holes, especially at the heads of the pools. Trim your leaders to no more than about 7 feet to help keep you out of the trees and bushes at streamside and overhead. Fish upstream whenever you can, and keep an eye out for shady side channels and braids.
Don’t overlook the adjacent cascading creeks entering Coopers Creek. With some effort you can get above the falls where you will discover the smallest fishable streams in the watershed. Wild brook trout—3 to 8 inches long—thrive in these kinds of streams. Access is tough, but determined anglers find openings in the canopy or may even fish combat style on their bellies for these colorful little trout.
Rock Creek And Tributaries
No more miserable a place can I fish than Rock Creek. There. I said it. For almost 20 years, I have lived just 2 miles from the low end of Rock Creek. Generalities (mentioned above) aside, the stream offers no solitude alongside a busy forest road, where folks with fishing poles and soft baits most often stand above fresh hatchery trout stacked like cordwood because the fish know no better.
If your fishing is more ambitious than that, spend some time walking the small creeks that join Rock Creek. You’re not likely to catch trout of much size on these little gems, but with a fly-rod in hand and some exploring and effort, you will find wild rainbows and brook trout. Spring rains and a heavy forest canopy keep these creeks cold. Caddisfly and mayfly patterns produce quick strikes in all the places a fly-fisherman expects to find feeding trout.
Noontootla Creek And Tributaries
In the 1960s, Noontootla Creek was removed from the trout stocking schedule of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. Since that time, the pretty stream has stood as a bookmark among wild trout streams of the Peach State.
Joined by Chester, Stover and Long creeks at a site called Three Forks along the Appalachian Train in Fannin County, Noontootla falls sharply for 5 miles and displays beautiful falls, plunges, chutes, run-arounds and pools. Heavy rain last December, and the ensuing flooding, contributed greatly to the woody cover Noontootla is known to hold. Perhaps, that’s where the 16-inch-plus browns lay low, protected by their cover overhead and the special regulations that prohibit anglers from fishing with anything but artificial lures/flies. Why you would keep any trout from such a stunning stream as Noontootla is beyond me, but the law does allow a two-fish daily “keep” limit of fish longer than 16 inches.
That said, I’ve seen just one trout longer than 16 inches come out of the ‘Toot in more than 20 years of fishing there. It was caught by a buddy in 1996. The brown was stuck against the outside bend of a small run-around. It ate a small Wicked Wooly swung in on a high-stick against the curve from downstream, I’m sure there are more big browns in the creek. It just looks “that way.” But fishing pressure is high, the water is gin clear, the gradient is steep, and these are trout that have seen an awful lot of small lures and flies.
Fish Noontootla like you mean it. It will be good to you. Use extra stealth, make smart casts to overlooked lies, and use even smarter line control. Most trout are ‘bows—small, colorful and full of vinegar. Follow the area hatch charts (see the one linked to the trout-fishing pages on ReelAnglingAdventures.com) with both nymph and dry versions of the recommended bugs. Spin-fishermen do well with the smallest Panther Martins, Rooster Tails and those magic little jigs called Trout Magnets.
Stover and Long creeks are well known in local trout fishing circles. No secrets. Stover is a brookie stream that has received a lot of attention from conservation efforts and stream improvement programs cooperatively executed by the National Forest Service and area chapters of Trout Unlimited. Long Creek holds wild rainbows and browns. Not far upstream from Three Forks, it falls in a half-mile long series of cascades hidden by heavy forest growth. Its lower end has some nice gravel bars and cut-banks. Both creeks are key elements of the Trout Adventure Trail (TroutAdventureTrail.org), a “do it yourself” and “plan your own” hiking and learning experience near trout waters for kids of all ages along legendary trails in the Chattahoochee National Forest in north Georgia. The Benton-Mackaye Trail is the local component.
Toccoa River & Delayed Harvest
You cannot close a story on fishing the upper Toccoa River’s technical trout waters without including the delayed harvest stretch of the river. From the Sandy Bottoms put-in/take-out canoe site to a point 0.9 mile downstream (near a spot called “Swinging Rope”), trout fishing falls under special regulations from Nov. 1 to May 15. During that period, fishing is restricted to single-hook, artificial only, and trout must be released immediately unharmed.
Defiantly speaking, this is not a technical piece of water. It is wide and forgiving, as long as the Dial gauge reads less than 300 cfs, which allows wading access (but watch out for those long, slick granite slides). This season, the DH section has been stocked heavily with rainbows of all sizes (no brown trout were stocked in the 2015-16 DH season). However, a “100-year flood” struck the Toccoa in mid-December. What has come of the not-so-smart stocked hatchery trout is anybody’s guess. The last stocking takes place early in April, bringing the total number of trout placed in the section to about 7,000 since November. GDNR fisheries officials say the bulk of those are “catchable” rainbows, and the federal hatchery adds some 4- to 5-lb. rainbows to the mix.
Flooding aside, all those stocked trout share the river during the cold months with some wild trout—not many in numbers but wild, indeed, and potentially trophy sized. By early June, the riverway here will be much too warm for trout survival (hence, the basis for the DH regulations). But springtime can see some large rainbows enter the river from Lake Blue Ridge. Call ‘em “steelhead” if you want. They’re not. They are few and far between. Those that do enter the river from the lake seek spawning habitat, no different than do large lake-run browns in the fall and early winter. Go ahead and drift your Y2Ks, Montana Stones, San Juan Worms, Pheasant Tails and Prince nymphs. Float your BWOs, Hendricksons, Caddisflies and Sulphurs. Pull your Wooly Buggers, and snap your sculpin patterns. Toss your Mepps, Rooster Tails, Phoebes and Trout Magnets. You’ll catch plenty of the stocked trout.
However, take some time to look at the technical side of fishing the DH (and other points upstream), and you may find yourself tackling one of the biggest trout of your trout-fishing career. Spin-fishermen should spend some time fishing Rapala Countdown Minnows, Trout Magnet Crankbaits and 1/4-oz. Phoebe spoons in the shoreline cuts and around laydown sweeps. Fly-fishermen need to think big: large articulated streamers, “junk” like Galloup’s Golden Shower, Tips Up (a jig fly) and the Hairball Leach. Get technical. Make accurate casts. Imagine the swing. Understand the follow-through. And strip the fly like it’s a baitfish running for its life. It very well may be.
Just ahead of the December flood, I floated a client from a push-in on Dial Road through the DH section. The Y2Ks, San Juan worms, Trout Magnets, Phoebes and other flashy patterns of the day produced about 40 trout. Early on, John hooked a fat rainbow of about 5 pounds on a large Phoebe—not the largest trout I’ve seen in the river—I wish I could show you the browns I’ve seen here—but his biggest to date.
About the Author: Bob Borgwat is a freelance senior editor and writer of fly-fishing stories for destinations across the United States. He lives on the upper Toccoa River. In 2003, Bob began guiding anglers to trout fishing in the southern Appalachian Mountains. For more information, visit Reel Angling Adventures online at www.ReelAnglingAdventures.com or give Bob a call at (706) 838-5250.
Blue Ridge Trout Fest & Outdoor Adventures Celebrates Fishing in the Trout Capital of Georgia
A celebration of trout fishing and the magic of outdoor living and recreation in the Trout Capital of Georgia centers upon north Georgia when the Blue Ridge Trout Fest & Outdoor Adventures opens April 29-30 in Blue Ridge.
The weekend event—showcased among the ridges, peaks and trout waters of the scenic Blue Ridge Mountains just 90 minutes north of Atlanta—casts special attention upon trout fishing in the cold-water streams and rivers of Fannin County, while reaching out to outdoor enthusiasts of all kinds who enjoy unlimited opportunities to participate locally in outdoor recreation in the southern reach of the Appalachian Mountains.
“Most importantly, it will be a lot of fun for trout fishermen and outdoor lovers of all kinds and all ages. Our goal is to attract fly-fishermen and outdoor enthusiasts to Blue Ridge and the ‘Trout Capital of Georgia’ to promote trout fishing and the responsible use of north Georgia’s natural resources, attract tourism, and raise funds for Trout Unlimited and its programs that benefit our community,” says Ralph Artigliere, education director for Blue Ridge Mountain Trout Unlimited Chapter 696, which shares the presentation and concept of the festival with the Fannin County Chamber of Commerce.
Blue Ridge Trout Fest & Outdoor Adventures opens on the evening of April 29 with the Blue Ridge Trout Train—a special edition of the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway (www.BRScenic.com). The fundraising ride down the rails runs an hour and a half, winding along the beautiful Toccoa River. Passengers enjoy their choice of vintage, climate-controlled rail cars or open-air rail cars, while sharing complimentary adult beverages and snacks. Upon return to the station, a wonderful array of appetizers and drinks will be served during a silent auction of five fantastic donations. Dinner is encouraged afterward at any of the wonderful restaurants in Blue Ridge.
Local outfitters and fishing guides, fishing gear and tackle reps, kayak liveries, hiking clubs, mountain bikers/cyclists, whitewater outfitters and an impressive list of local experts in all things outdoor gather at the all-day Break-Out Event, Saturday, April 30 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., in the downtown city park, while live music provides entertainment. Commercial vendors and local shops of outdoor recreation and gear will be on hand to share the latest outdoor products and services. Local fishing guides will share inside information on trout fishing in the north Georgia mountains, and the Kids’ Korner will feature hands-on, outdoor-oriented activities for young anglers, kayakers and hikers. Food and beverage vendors will be on hand, too, to satisfy every appetite.
Fannin County was named by official resolution in 2010 by the state legislature as the official “Trout Capital of Georgia.” Speaker David Ralston led the effort, following his heritage in the north Georgia mountains, where dozens of the region’s best trout streams provide hundreds of miles of trout fishing access on both public and private property in Fannin County.
For information about sponsorships, vendor applications, event details and more, please visit the BRTF website at www.BlueRidgeTroutFest.com.