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North Georgia Fishing Roundup
About North Georgia

by Kevin Dallmier
Exclusively for About North Georgia

Got Him!
North Georgia’s beauty is rivaled only by the glorious opportunities it offers to anglers. From pristine mountain trout streams, to tangling with largemouth bass on one of the region’s many mountain lakes, the mountains have it all.

Conasauga River
Considered by those in the know to be one of the top 100 trout streams in the nation, the pristine 15-mile stretch of the Conasauga River within the Cohutta Wilderness Area is excellent fishing for rainbow trout, brown trout, and Georgia’s only truly native trout species, the diminutive brook trout. Travel in this rugged mountain country is restricted to non-mechanical methods of transportation, which in practice means on foot, or in a few designated areas, on horseback.

Rising near the southern boundary of the wilderness area, the Conasauga River flows northwest into Alaculsy Valley. Along the way, many small tributaries enter the stream, adding to its size. Reaching the river is no small task, so fishing pressure is light for such a high quality stream. Most of the fish caught will be rainbow trout in the eight-inch range, but anglers must always be prepared to tangle with a monster brown trout, the undisputed king of the river. Bruiser brown trout exceeding five pounds are a definite possibility.

If you like a challenge and want to trout fish the mountains like your great-granddaddy did, follow the streams to their very headwaters. In these tiny, high-elevation rivulets is where you will find brook trout. Most fish caught will average five inches. What they lack in size though is made up in the ambiance of the experience. Ignore the high-tech fishing tackle in your hands and the modern clothes on your back. Take in the serenity of the undisturbed forest. Transport yourself back to a time when hiking into the mountains for a fishing trip meant a brief respite from the backbreaking work of trying to eke a hardscrabble living out of the poor mountain soil. With the invention of freeze-dried trail foods still many years down the pike, what you ate on your mountain angling getaway was what you caught. In this case, the colorful little brook trout, Georgia’s only truly native trout species.

The Conasauga River nearly always runs crystal clear, and the trout are wary. A heavy footfall or careless approach will send them fleeing for the safety of the nearest rock. Conditions usually require ultralight tackle and a stealthy approach. More than 90 miles of trails traverse the Cohutta Wilderness Area. Some are an easy go, but others are very strenuous.

Lake Burton
A deep, infertile Tallulah River impoundment, Lake Burton supports a variety of sport fish, including largemouth and spotted bass, and an excellent, newly-established brown trout fishery. Steep shorelines with little underwater cover, and an abundance of baitfish, make Lake Burton challenging angling. The beauty of the lake and its deep, clear water makes it a favorite with both anglers and recreational boaters.

Bass anglers, especially those targeting the lake’s abundant spotted bass population, would do well to concentrate on offshore structure like points and humps. Largemouth bass, although fewer in number, are greater in size. Anglers targeting largemouths should concentrate their efforts around shallow cover in spring and fall and fish deeper during the summer and winter months. During the warmer months, anglers experience good topwater fishing early and late in the day as bass chase blueback herring on the surface.

Blueback herring, an illegally introduced nonnative species, have thrived, to the detriment of some of the lake’s native species. In an attempt to control the blueback herring, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources began stocking brown trout into the lake’s deep, cool waters. The program was an immediate success as the brown trout preyed voraciously on the abundant herring. The result of the program, which is really still in its infancy, is a top-rate brown trout fishery, not in a mountain stream though, but in a lake.

Whatever Lake Burton species you seek, the key is to think deep and fish accordingly. Areas near the dam and Moccasin Creek are favorites with both the fish and the anglers that seek them.

Lake Hartwell
Situated seven miles downstream of where the Tugaloo and Seneca rivers join to form the Savannah River, Hartwell Dam impounds 55,950 acres of water for power generation, flood control, and recreation. Including project lands bordering the lake, outdoor enthusiasts have more than 76,000 acres available for recreation, from Piedmont-type terrain on the lower end to rugged foothill country on the upper end.

For the angler, Lake Hartwell is all about variety. Largemouth bass, crappie, and hybrid striped bass are favorites with anglers. Other species perhaps less glamorous but just as abundant and willing to bite include bluegill, redear sunfish, redeye bass, channel catfish, flathead catfish, walleye, yellow perch, and white bass. Scrappy sport fish all.

A look at the surroundings may explain the good fishing. A backdrop of forested
hillsides greets the visiting angler’s eye, but if one could somehow peer below the lake's surface, you would see essentially the same thing. Unlike most mountain lakes constructed during an era when the general construction practice was to completely strip the lake bottom of any trees or vegetation, Hartwell is of more modern design. During construction, trees were cleared from a shoreline band in the lake’s Tugaloo and Seneca arms. In the reservoir’s main body though, the trees were simply topped out and flooded. The result is an expansive forest of trees hidden below the surface from 10 to 100 feet down. This abundance of cover is one likely explanation for the lake’s tremendous fishing.

With all the choices, it is easy to be overwhelmed and not see the trees for the forest. In these cases, reverting back to basics is best. No matter what species you seek, look for isolated cover with a good food supply and deep water nearby. For most species this means searching offshore structure like shallow humps and channel ledges for bottom cover like isolated flooded trees or brushpiles. Put this together with the plenty of baitfish, and you have found the right combination. Fish a high percentage area like this and you are almost sure to enjoy success.

Chattooga River
Designated by Congress as a Wild and Scenic River for its outstanding scenery and wildlife, geologic, and cultural values, the Chattooga River is known among outdoor enthusiasts for its white water paddling, trout fishing, and primitive setting. With the Wild and Scenic River designation came the protection of a corridor a quarter-mile wide on each side of the river. Regulations prohibit motorized equipment within the corridor, so visitors must rely on their own
skills and strength.

The river is split into several management sections, with the upper section from Ellicott Rock to Georgia Highway 28 being of most interest to anglers. This section is the best trout water on the whole Chattooga. Downstream of Georgia Highway 28, the river becomes marginal trout habitat and redeye bass are much more common. Also, no boating is allowed on the upper section, so it escapes the heavy white water use activity experienced farther downstream.

Although internationally known for white water, anglers wading the Chattooga’s upper section should have no problem if they apply some common sense. The stretch upstream of Burrells Ford is still big water by Georgia trout fishing standards, 50 to 60 feet wide in most places, but still easily fished. Big pools separated by shoals characterize this section. Anglers
may encounter some areas too rough or deep to wade, but a short hike around should put you back into fishable water.

One area to take special care with is known as “Rock Gorge” and is a short distance upstream of where the Bartram Trail intersects the Chattooga Foothill Trail. Although the gorge’s deep pools hold some of the biggest brown trout in the river, anglers need to use extreme caution. Violent rapids, undercut rocks, drop-offs, and wading paths that dead end into deep water or cliff walls are common in the gorge. Never go into this area alone. Having a partner for the day is really a good idea for fishing anywhere on the Chattooga. Not only may one of you save the other’s life, but you will have someone with which to share the majestic wildness of the river.

Upstream of Burrells Ford is predominantly a wild brown trout fishery, and arguably one of the best places in Georgia to catch a double-digit brown trout. Downstream, the river widens to almost 100 feet, and rainbows become more abundant. Stocked fish are also more common. Since natural trout reproduction is limited downstream of Burrells Ford, and vehicular access is prohibited, stocking fish via helicopter is used to augment the population.

The Chattooga is one of Georgia’s wildest rivers and should be on the list of any angler who wants to see what Appalachian highland trout fishing is all about. Both the river and the brown trout are big and brawny, and fishing the river is an experience the memories of which should stay with you for quite some time.

Many thanks to noted Georgia Fisherman Kevin Dallmier, whose book Fishing Georgia is available from fine bookstores everywhere.

Kevin also wrote Forgotten Lakes of the Chattahoochee National Forest

Outdoor Adventure in North Georgia

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