When you read about fly fishing in the Georgia mountains, the story usually centers on trout. Whether it’s rainbow trout, brown trout or native brook trout, the narrative either revolves around the fish known as “stockers” or “natives.” The stocked fish are raised in hatcheries and either find their way into public streams or private waters. The so-called natives, small rainbow trout and brook trout, reside in the “high” mountain streams where the water remains cool enough to support them year-round. Of the two, the only true natives are the brook trout that rarely reach 12 inches long.
Anglers that fish these waters have the option to fish the “put and take” trout that are regularly stocked in public streams or pay to fish the “catch and release” private waters that raise impressive double digit “trophy trout.” Over the years I’ve enjoyed some notable days on these North Georgia streams, but recently I’ve been introduced to some of the other local species, including spotted bass, shoal bass, carp and striped bass.
My first introduction to stripers was in the private waters of Unicoi Outfitters in Helen. Last year I fished with owner Jimmy Harris and Georgia fisheries biologist Jeff Durniak and caught a 9-pound striper on a 7-weight outfit. Those fish had migrated from Lake Lanier and reached the dam at Nora Mills in record numbers bolstered by high water from an unusually wet winter season. That was followed by a trip to the “lower” Chattahoochee with Harris and Capt. Henry Cowen where we sight fished carp.
This year I did a float trip on the Chattahoochee below Helen with Unicoi Outfitters guide and assistant manager Wes McElroy for the aptly-named shoal bass. These hard-fighting fish are closely associated with rocky shoals and are uncommon in other habitats due to their unique spawning requirements. They were only described as a separate species in 1999, having been confused as a sub-species of the red-eyed bass. The four-hour float introduced me to a section of the Chattahoochee that features intermittent rapids interspersed with smooth stretches notable for its scenic beauty and lack of development. McElroy also introduced me to the articulated flies he uses for shoal bass. These segmented flies create incredibly life-like patterns that “swim.” We encountered a number of fish along the river but never managed to “hook up.” Still, the experience was one that I will definitely repeat in the future.
On another day I fished the upper reaches of Lake Lanier near Gainesville, Georgia with Harris and Durniak for striped bass and spotted bass. The stripers in Lake Lanier are the source of the fish caught in the upper reaches of the Chattahoochee where they migrate to “spawn” and feed on a variety of forage fish, crayfish and small trout. We arrived at the lake just before the sun crested the horizon and as we launched the boat we noticed fish rising on a nearby point. It only took two casts before I was hooked up to a spotted bass that put up an admirable fight for its size on an 8-pound spinning tackle.
After making a few more unsuccessful casts we headed south on the lake in search of stripers that reach eye-popping proportions, upwards of 40 pounds, on the lake. This was early in the season for the stripers that are regularly found chasing baitfish on the surface under birds. The combination of an unusually hot and dry summer created water temperatures approaching 70 degrees even though the morning temperature had dipped into the low 40s. We still encountered a few fish on the surface and managed several casts near the breaking fish. This fishing reminded me a lot of the “run and gun” tactics we use locally for little tunny. Unfortunately, the winds picked up early and the fish sounded so we were unable to hook up. While I’ve yet to experience the action that makes this lake a mecca for anglers, I did get enough of a taste to keep me coming back.
Now that I’ve been introduced to some of the area’s “other fish,” I look forward to exploring the resource more fully. If you’re interested in the wide range of angling opportunities in the north Georgia mountains contact Unicoi Outfitters at 706-878-3083 or visit their website. Capt. Henry Cowen can be reached at 678-513-1934 or visit his website.
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