A Different Chattooga River

Fly Fishing the South


On The Fly Freshwater

Article and Featured Photo by Jimmy Jacobs

March 2020

The East Fork of the Chattooga River gets overlooked because of its nearby larger sibling!

Thousands of angling hours are expended on the big water of the main branch of the Chattooga River, where it forms the border between Georgia and South Carolina. That’s because it has about anything a trout enthusiast could want. In its upper reaches it holds wild brown trout – some growing to impressive sizes. Farther down both states stock it with catchable-sized fish, as well as fingerling trout in more remote regions. There’s also a delayed-harvest stretch of water. With that varied fishery, however, comes crowded angling conditions, particularly on weekends.

The upper portion of the East Fork affords some tight fishing conditions. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.

Meanwhile, the East Fork of the Chattooga gets far less pressure and publicity. The East Fork rises in the southern end of North Carolina’s Jackson County. Very quickly it spills across the state line, where is a small, but fishable trout stream. From that point down to its junction with the main branch in the Ellicott Rock Wilderness Area, the East Fork offers several types of angling for trout. Additionally, it is entirely on National Forest property.

Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.

After running parallel to State Route 107 for roughly 3/4 of a mile south from the state line and picking up the waters of its tributary Jacks Creek, the East Fork reaches Sloan Bridge. At this point it flows through Sloan Bridge Access to the Foothills Trail and under SR 107. From this crossing down to the river’s mouth is the best stretch for fly casting. Through here the water averages about 25 feet in width.

Around the SR 107 crossing there are a number of deeper, but very narrow pools that provide tight fishing conditions.  Most of my catches over the years in this area have been wild brown trout. As you move down river, the water is paralleled by a portion of the 76-mile-long Foothills Trail. While the path follows the stream course, it is not always right at the river side.

Photos by Jimmy Jacobs.

The distance down to South Carolina’s Walhalla State Fish Hatchery is a bit less than 2 miles as the crow flies. If that crow is walking and using a fly rod, expect it to be a bit longer. Along this upper stretch, fishing pressure is quite light and the trout will be predominately wild fish.

Photos by Jimmy Jacobs.

Just before reaching the hatchery, the stream flows under Fish Hatchery Road that leads to the facility from SR 107. From that bridge down to just below the hatchery is the best access to the river. It also is the portion that is heavily stocked with brook, brown and rainbow trout. As you would expect, this part of the river gets moderate to heavy fishing pressure during the warmer months.

The outlet pool from the handicapped fishinng pier. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.

As the stream leads away from the hatchery, the outflow pipe from its runs empties into a pool overlooked by a handicapped fishing pier. It is a spot guaranteed to hold trout, but practice some courtesy and only fish it when no one is on the pier.


Next you pass an old bridge piling in the stream and cross the water on a foot bridge. Once past these you are into a wilderness setting that stretches for roughly 2 1/2 miles down to the junction with the main Chattooga.  Along that course, the Foothills Trail often is up on the ridge above the stream, making access a bit iffy. Obviously, those portions of the East Fork also get the least fishing pressure. In fact, the entire lower section is generally lightly fished. Although some stockers drift down into this part of the river, expect most of the fish to be wild browns

The outlet pool from the handicapped fishinng pier. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.

At the point you pass another old bridge piling in the creek, it signals that you are very close to the main branch of the Chattooga. Next you reach the junction of the Foothills Trail with the Ellicott Rock Wilderness Trail that crosses a foot bridge over the East Fork. This spot puts you on the bank of the Chattooga River itself.

When it comes to actually fishing the East Fork, you will be best served with a rod of 8 feet or less in length. Making long casts is rarely necessary and some places are heavily foliaged. Something in the 3- to 5-weight is about right for this stream.

On both the upper and lower parts of the East Fork, fishing dry flies in the warmer months is a good tactic. Like most smaller freestone streams in the Southern Appalachians, this river has a good amount of forage, but rarely has hatches. Big, bushy attractor patterns like Royal Wulffs, Royal Trudes, Humpys or Adams Parachutes can attract top water strikes.

In some of the bigger, deeper pools, dead-drifting nymph patterns like the Prince or Red Copper John can fool some of the bigger browns. If you are fishing in the vicinity of the Walhalla Hatchery, junk flies like Y2Ks, egg patterns or San Juan Worms can be the ticket.

Photos by Polly Dean.

Should you find yourself in need of some flies, directions, fishing tips or other gear when heading to the East Fork of the Chattooga River, stop off in the town of Mountain Rest at the Chattooga River Fly Shop. It’s on SR 28 just south of its the junction with SR 107. They are the only full-service shop in the area and is 14 miles south of the Walhalla Hatchery. Visit their website for more information.