There are many things that can get an angler’s pulse pumping, and particularly trout anglers here in Georgia. We’re obsessed with anything even remotely related to trout fishing, whether it be as small as a new tool to pin on the vest, a new book or DVD, a tougher, more comfortable pair of waders, a beautiful Tom Landreth watercolor of our favorite Georgia trout stream, or heaven forbid, a new, higher-tech rod! If the money is in our pockets, all self-control will probably go out the window.
So what happens when a new stretch of prime trout habitat is introduced to this same crowd? In a word, pandemonium! And that’s what’s coming to north Georgia on November 1 when the state’s fifth delayed-harvest (DH) stream is opened on 1.2 miles of the Toccoa River headwaters. DH combines monthly trout stocking with catch-and-release regulations from November 1 to May 14 to give anglers high catch rates. Several trout of 15-20 inches also are stocked to give anglers a chance at a trophy fish.
When I called Jimmy Harris of Unicoi Outfitters to inquire about this section of river, I found that even the foremost expert on Georgia trout fishing, along with just about everyone else I’ve spoken with, didn’t know a whole lot about it. And, can you blame him? Unless you live near this section, it wouldn’t really make sense to opt for this stretch when one of the Southeast’s better tailwaters picks up on just the other side of Lake Blue Ridge.
“It’s funny you called,” Jimmy said, “because just yesterday I was speaking with Metrela Brown (manager of the Unicoi Outfitters fly shop in Blue Ridge and local expert) and we decided we need to get out and do some scouting on that section of the river.”
So, scouting we went. I met up with Jimmy and we hopped in his SUV with canoe in tow. Our goal was to record the locations of all the good parking spots and access points on the roads that run alongside the river and identify the different types of water that are present. As you can see from the map on pages 84 and 85, we were pretty thorough.
Before getting into the specifics of the river, we have to get there first.
Directions from Blue Ridge:
• From Hwy 515, turn south at the McDonald’s onto W 1st Street and continue for a half mile.
• Turn left onto Mountain Street and continue for 0.1 miles. You will pass Unicoi Outfitters on the right, so stop in for the latest info on the DH.
• Turn left onto E. 1st Street and continue for one mile.
• Turn right onto Aska Road and continue for 8.4 miles.
• Turn left onto Shallowford Bridge Road. Cross the bridge and follow the road around to the right. The downstream boundary of the delayed harvest section is marked by a Forest Service sign tacked to a tree on the left side of the road. If you intend on floating the entire d.h., you can drive 2.3 miles upstream from the bridge to the Sandy Bottom Canoe Launch.
Between the bridge and the canoe launch, there are several spots to park and walk to the river if you are wade fishing. Just keep in mind that several stretches weren’t wadeable because of depth on the day we were there, and the water was very low then. So, in normal- or high-flow conditions, that will be even more apparent.
Let’s take a look at the access points, working our way upstream from the downstream boundary.
Parking and Access Points
1. There are two parking spots at the lower boudary, or enough room for one vehicle with a trailer. If your vehicle isn’t responsible for the downstream pick up of watercraft, please move to the next open spot so as not to block this area.
2. Powerline Access Point. The next parking and access point comes after the road pulls away from the river and intersects with Old Dial Road. Turn right on Old Dial, travel another 0.3 miles, and there will be a pulloff with enough room for one vehicle on the left side of the road. Directly across the road begins a small trail that descends toward the river through a grove of hemlocks, then open up where a powerline corridor meets the Toccoa.
3. Twin Hemlock Access Point. If you travel another two-tenths of a mile, there will be a spot for one vehicle on the right. Next to the spot is a pair of hemlocks growing together, hence the name. The water is just steps away.
4. Sandy Bottom Canoe Launch. From the previous spot, you’ll go another four-tenths of a mile before reaching the largest access point which is also handicap-accessible. Here, you’ll find 14 marked parking spaces and will need to pay the parking fee of $3 at the drop box.
If you’re interested in making a weekend of it, four marked camp sites and public restrooms are located across the road from the canoe launch.
Now that you know how to get there, where to park and where to put in, the next question is one we’re all asking; what’s the water like?
Well, it turns out that this piece of the headwaters was proposed to WRD fisheries for DH designation by the Blue Ridge Chapter of Trout Unlimited.
“We receive several proposals each year,” said Wayne Probst, northwest region fisheries supervisor. “Most of the time, they don’t pan out for one reason or another, but this section of the Toccoa has good fish habitat and is public land on both sides. I was very surprised when I first saw this stretch.”
Aesthetically, this is a beautiful area. The river is similar in size and appearance to the upper Chattooga River. Pretty high compliment, huh? With its hemlock, white pine and rhodedendron-lined banks, the only thing that lets you know you aren’t on the Chattooga is the road running alongside roughly half of this reach.
Fishing the Toccoa D.H.
“This is going to be a great place to fish.” The first words out of Jimmy’s mouth upon arriving at the river. But, because of varying structure and water depth, changing tactics will be the name of the game here, and you’ll probably need to switch strategies many times while floating the entire section.
At the many shallow runs and shoals, a dry-dropper combo, or maybe just a dry fly, will be a good way to go. The deep, dark runs, which will hopefully be increasing in number once water levels recover from the summer droughts, are best fished by dredging the bottom with a few split shot and a nymph or two, along with the aid of a strike indicator. And the slow, deep slicks you’ll encounter along the way can be effectively covered by throwing small dry fly patterns, or by stripping a streamer through the water.
For floating purposes, we’ll begin at the Sandy Bottom Canoe Launch and work our way downstream. But first, be sure to fish the nice runs and great pocket water just upstream of the canoe launch. Now, back at the canoe launch, work in and around the tailout directly in front of the ramp before paddling downstream. This area could get hit hard by anglers because of the easy access, but it’s still worth a shot.
Downstream from there, you’ll soon arrive at some nice shoals. Anchor here and prepare to spend a decent amount of time carefully working each and every run.
After fishing the shoals, you’ll float by the U.S. Geological Survey water gauge on the bank. A downed tree adjacent to a good current lies in some fairly deep water near the gauge. This would be a great spot to crimp on some split-shot and dredge for larger trout taking advantage of the shelter.
Around the bend from there lies a pool that Jimmy appropriately named “The Laundry Room.” He dubbed it that because there is an old washer and dryer that seem to be permanent residents of the bank. This hole is a deeper area and the river bottom is littered by large boulders which should serve as prime holding spots. So, you’d be best served by keeping that split shot on your line through this section.
After drifting over some slower, more shallow water, you’ll come to a series of three rock lines where we figured the elevation of the river drops seven or eight feet. The “High-stick Cascades” are perfect for doing just that; high-sticking nymphs. At all three of these rock lines, chutes run on both sides of the river with a more shallow area lying between, which provides a perfect place to anchor, get out of the canoe or pontoon and work both sides.
Travelling around the next bend, you’ll find yourself on the slowest and deepest portion of the DH. We named it the “Lazy Bend” because, really, it’s so peaceful, you may doze off a bit. There are some overhanging limbs here, however, so stripping a streamer through this area could result in a hook-up.
And finally, you’ll come to a pair of islands, the North and the South (named after the trout capital of the world, New Zealand) surrounded by a boulder field that Jimmy named “The Rock Garden.” Much of the Rock Garden is just beyond the downstream boundary that is regulated catch-and-release. But, as Jimmy pointed out, “The fish don’t know that.” So, venture downstream. Just be mindful of private property on both sides.
As far as bugs go, we saw all four major categories of aquatic insects; midges, caddisflies, mayflies and stoneflies, in the three hours we spent on the water. So be sure to have a fully-stocked fly box before arriving.
When the opportunity arises, pack a lunch, a buddy and a camera, head toward Blue Ridge and enjoy exploring this truly great new addition to the list of Georgia trout-angling options.
Find out how the new Toccoa DH is fishing by calling the Unicoi Outfitters fly shop in Blue Ridge at (706) 632-1880 or online at www.UnicoiOutfitters.com.