The big pool below Steele Bridge at Devils Elbow.
Dawson County, Georgia
On The Fly Freshwater
Article and photos by Jimmy Jacobs.
Rising on the southern slope of Burnt Mountain in north central Georgia’s Dawson County, Amicalola Creek flows southward on the southern edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Although called a creek, at various times in the past it has been referred to as a river. That’s because, by southern mountain standards, it is large enough to deserve the term.
Back in the 20th century the stream was mostly known for its whitewater canoeing. In fact, the name Amicalola is derived from the Cherokee word for “tumbling water.” Downstream of the GA 53 highway bridge over the stream, the flow features some class III to IV whitewater shoals with names like Edge of the World.
Back then its upper reaches also received stockings of trout above the Steele Bridge Road crossing at Devils Elbow. However, the stream was all marginal trout water, with one factor in that classification being the presence of Fawsetts Lake. This small reservoir on private land tends to warm the water, particularly in the summer months. Downstream the creek does get some colder water inflows from tributary streams.
Amicalola’s fortunes as a trout stream changed with the coming of the new millennium. The Georgia Wildlife Resources Division instituted delayed-harvest regulations on the portion of the creek from the bridge at Devils Elbow, downstream to the GA 53 crossing. It is ironic that the structure at Devils Elbow is a steel bridge, but the road name is actually Steele Bridge Road (County Road 192). Even earlier a covered bridge spanned the creek at this point, but in the 1970s vandals burned that span.
The delayed harvest section of the Amicalola stretches for roughly 2.5 river miles, with the only road access at each end. This portion of the stream is entirely within the Amicalola Tract of the Dawson Forest Wildlife Management Area.
The vast majority of the fishing pressure is applied at Devils Elbow and at the GA 53 bridge. The latter site also features a handicapped-accessible pier overlooking a deep pool. Trails run along the creek shore from both of the access points, with the better pathway running downstream from Steele Bridge. An angler willing to walk a bit can easily get away for some solitude on the creek.
At Devils Elbow there is a large and deep pool just downstream of the bridge that always holds some trout. From there the stream runs though a shallow stretch. As you head downstream there are deeper runs and pools, broken by shoals, some of which rate Class II to III. The DH water can be floated in canoes, rafts or kayaks, so you need to be aware of those when paddling. Wading is possible in most areas as well.
At the GA 53 bridge, access is rather easy. There’s a wooden stairway leading from a parking lot down to the creek and the wadable riffles upstream of the bridge. From there a path leads farther upstream past the handicapped pier to a shoal area at the next bend.
The regulations on this part of the creek are the standard Georgia DH rules. From November 1 to May 14 only artificial lures with single hooks are allowed and all trout must be immediately released. The rest of the year natural baits are legal and the statewide creel limit of eight fish applies.
With regard to stocking, Amicalola gets a large infusion of trout at the beginning of the DH season at the first of November. Monthly replenishments also take place as needed to compensate for natural mortality. All of these fish will be in the 8- to 12-inch range. Near the end of the DH period some of the holdovers may reach 14 to 15 inches. Larger fish are fairly rare on this flow.
Since the stockings only take place at each end of the DH region, the middle portion will produce fewer trout. The fish stocked at GA 53 rarely move far upstream above the first shoal. At Devils Elbow the trout are more likely to drop downstream .
One way the stockings differ on Amicalola is the absence of brown trout. Originally, those fish were included in the DH stockings, but later were dropped from the releases. The reason behind the change was stream surveys revealing the presence of federally-endangered Etowah darters in the creek. These fish are found only in the Etowah River system upstream of Allatoona Lake, including in Amicalola Creek. It was feared that predatory brown trout in the stream would imperil the darter population’s continued viability.
Early in the delayed-harvest season, flies like the Y2K or Wooly Buggers usually attract the trout. Later on, as the fish get accustom to their new home and the forage base, smaller nymphs begin to work better. Red Copper Johns or Prince Nymphs are two that have been successful on the creek.
As the spring weather and water begin to warm, tossing attractor dry patterns becomes another option. Royal Wulffs or Trudes, Adams Parachutes or Irresisbles are good buoyant flies for tossing in the shaded and turbulent areas.