Chattahoochee River Fly Fishing
Fly Fishing the Chattahoochee River in Georgia
There is no body of water in Georgia that offers the diversity of trout fishing as the Chattahoochee River. From the tiny brook trout streams where the first Appalachian Mountain runoff flows through the rhododendron lined creeks above Helen, Georgia, to the hundred-yard wide tailwater running through one of the most densely populated cities in the United States, The "Hooch" offers something for every angler throughout the year. Typically the tailwater section fishes best during the colder months while the tributary streams deep in the mountains are great way to escape the heat in the summer months. However, trout can be found anywhere in the Chattahoochee throughout the year, so don’t let your inability to travel be an excuse to not spend some time on the water.
Fly Fishing the Chattahoochee River Tailwater
The section of the Chattahoochee tailwaters along I-285 , north of downtown Atlanta is designated as one of Georgia's Delayed Harvest Trout Streams. Seasonal stocking begins in November at the Delayed Harvest section of the Chattahoochee where anglers throughout the metro Atlanta area can fly fish for trout in the catch and release only section of the river from November through May. Wading the shoals is easy and trout can group up in the many troughs, holes, and current seams. Increased rains can cause the water to dirty quickly making wading for anglers unfamiliar with the river difficult. Use caution during these periods of off-color water or make the drive further upriver and seek out better water conditions. The middle section of the Chattahoochee River tailwater, from Island Ford to McGinnis Ferry Road, sees the same stained to muddy water conditions throughout the year that makes fly fishing difficult for anglers. On top of this, the banks along the river are steep and slick and wading is difficult to impossible. Island Ford and Jones Bridge have several shallow water shoals where wade fishing for trout can be made easy when conditions allow. Drifting or floating this section will be far more productive and an easier method to avoid seasonal crowds. The upper section of the Chattahoochee tailwater is very productive year-round. From McGinnis Ferry to Buford Dam on Lake Lanier, there are a handful of wadable runs that offer productive fly fishing. Settles bridge, the Highway 20 access, and Bowman’s Island Public Access below Buford Dam offer comfortable wading and plenty of hungry trout. This section of the Chattahoochee fishes exceptionally well in the winter months when trout fishing in the upper tributaries above the lake is seasonally slow. Once the lake turnover, which lasts from as early as mid September and runs well into December, clears and the waters are no longer unfishable you will have much more luck. Trout below the dam seem to remain active throughout winter as water temps remain in the upper 40s or low 50s year-round. Along with the stable water temperatures, the brown trout spawn will begin at some point from late fall and last into mid-winter. The brown trout spawn will trigger heavy eating from migratory and transitioning brown trout while the stocked rainbows will occasionally join the festivities and keep angler warm and busy with consistent action. Midges are quite abundant on the river and create modest hatches in the afternoons as well as throughout the day during overcast conditions. You can use multiple techniques to catch these trout, with the key being to use small flies (size 20 or smaller).
Best Fly Fishing Techniques on the Chattahoochee River
The most popular technique on the Chattahoochee River is a simple midge pattern underneath an indicator. Picking apart shallow riffles, ledge rock, current seams, and for the patient angler, deep holes, are the most productive targets to find hungry trout around. Specific midge patterns are typically irrelevant so long as you keep your flies below a size 20. Euronymphing can also be affective with heavy anchor flies with a midge pattern on the tag. When trout are spooky in shallow water, this can be the only tactic that works as indicators will spook these trout. The wild brown trout in particular, can be quite stubborn and refuse any poorly drifted presentation and are often very dialed in to the subtleties of the currents they hold in. Winter and spring bring excellent dry fly opportunities to fly anglers as midge hatches will be at their peak. You can learn the where and when to look for the best dry fly fishing on the Chattahoochee in this article from Georgia Wild Trout. This bite will test the most skilled of anglers.
Fly Fishing Stocked Trout on the Chattahoochee River
Rainbow Trout are stocked throughout the year on the Chattahoochee River. These fish are much easier to catch than the wily browns that call the river home. Junk flies (eggs, squirmy worms, mop jigs) are an easy eye catching decision for these glutinous fish. Once they are educated and wise up to their new environment, midges again become their main source of food. These stocked rainbows will find the slower moving pools when they're new to the river. Once acclimated they tend to seek out current breaks located near the faster water in the river.
Streamer Fishing the Chattahoochee River
While swinging and stripping, a smaller wooly bugger or minnow imitation can be productive in the river when covering large expanses of water, don't overlook the big meaty streamers. Streamers in the 5-8" range can be very productive, even for the stocked rainbows that have been in the river for some time. There is also no better way to target the handful of large browns that roam the river hunting for bigger prey such as freshly stocked rainbows. With enough time on the river you can begin to identify the types of water these browns use to hide, hunt, and stalk their next meal. Pinch points in the river offer a great spot to start as they provide different types of current, depth, and cover for these fish. The large amounts of cover found along many of the shorelines also provide cover of a different variety for these transitory hunters.
The Future of the Chattahoochee River Tailwater
Currently there are several projects in place to improve the water quality of the Chattahoochee River Tailwater from it's origin below Buford Dam, all the way to Atlanta. Another movement has just begun however, to protect the wild brown trout of the river in hopes they can reach larger sizes and provide better future angling opportunities for our next generation of fly anglers. Promoting the catch and release of these brown trout is critical if we want to see a better class of trout on the tailwater. The Chattahoochee, along with most of North Georgia's trout streams are currently managed as a put and take fisheries. Though brown trout here are not stocked by the state, they are still kept by many local anglers. By educating our fellow anglers on the current state and the future potential of this highly trafficked trout fishing destination, we can hope to see a bright future ahead.
Fly Fishing the Upper Chattahoochee River
The Upper Chattahoochee River and its tributaries around downtown Helen are stocked throughout the year. These streams include the main stem of the Chattahoochee within the city of Helen, Spoilcane Creek, Jasus Creek, Low Gap Creek, Dukes Creek, Henson Creek, and Smith Creek. The Delayed Harvest section of Smith Creek is stocked with trout from November through May. The smaller streams are popular with out of state tourists and local visitors. After being stocked, the streams will fish very well for a couple weeks and are a great place for a beginner to learn, but after about two weeks from the stocking the trout are either gone or in the case of the Smith Creek Delayed Harvest, quite spooky. The stocked creeks will fish well all spring. In summer and into the fall months the opportunities in the area shrink as the main stem of the Chattahoochee is the only place being stocked. Once the Delayed Harvest Season and normal stocking resumes, pressure will be lifted and anglers will disperse to new areas. A myriad of techniques can be used in the sections, but nymphing is usually the most productive for stocked trout. Wild trout in the tributary streams will be looking up to the surface for most of the year, making dry fly fishing a hard technique to pass up. Planning to do a bit of hiking will lead to more productive time on the water on any of these creeks. Unless trout have just recently been stocked there is typically little reason to hang around the parking areas.
Best Fly Fishing Access on the Chattahoochee River
Bowman's Island Trail just below Buford Dam, Highway 20, Settles Bridge, Jones Bridge, and Island Ford offer the best fishing access to the Chattahoochee River for anglers looking to wade and have the best opportunity to catch trout.
Best Flies For the Chattahoochee River
1. Zebra Midge sizes 20-24
2. Junk Flies (mop jigs, squirmy worms, and eggs)
3. Rainbow Warrior sizes 14-18
4. Pat's Rubber Legs/Girdle Bug
5. Adams Fly Variant sizes 20-26 for midge hatches
6. Elk hair caddis sizes 16-20
7. Stimulator sizes 12-14
8. Matt's Midge/ griffiths gnat sizes 20-24
9. Helmet Head Sculpin/ muddler minnow
10. Woolly Bugger variations in various sizes
Best of luck on your visit to Georgia's Chattahoochee River. For more information about America's best trout streams and others in Georgia, our Fly Fishing North Georgia, Fly Fishing the Toccoa River, and Fly Fishing the Chattooga River articles will give you other ideas for places to visit in the area.