Delayed Harvest on the Toccoa

Big-Water Fall and Winter Action in Northwest Georgia

Featured photo: Testing the water near the end of the delayed-harvest section. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.

On The Fly Freshwater

December 2021

By Jimmy Jacobs

The Toccoa River is arguably Georgia’s second-best drainage for trout fishing in the Peach State, trailing only the fabled Chattahoochee River.

The Toccoa begins at the junction of Cochran and Mauldin creeks, just southwest of the hamlet of Suches in the north central portion of the state. From there it flows in a generally western direction until emptying into the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Blue Ridge Lake near its namesake town. Below the lake the river heads north to the twin towns of McCaysville, Georgia and Copper Hill, Tennessee. There the river inexplicably changes its name to the Ocoee River as it flows into the Volunteer State.

Targeting the big pool at the Sandy Bottom boat launch area. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.

Along the course the Toccoa offers two distinct trout fishing areas. Below Blue Ridge Dam it is a 16-mile tailwater fishery that can provide some of the best dry fly action available. But it also is a portion of water that has offered trout fishing that resembled a roller coaster ride. Problems with and repairs to the dam have made the fishing mercurial over the years. On The Fly South profiled that portion of the river in the August 2020 edition.

This time we’ll look at the portion of the river upstream of the lake, in particular, the section that is managed as delayed-harvest water. By Southern Appalachian trout stream standards, the Toccoa DH is big water, often stretching to 100 feet or more wide. The regulated area covers just over a mile of water on national forest land in Fannin County. It begins just upstream of the Sandy Bottom Recreation Area canoe and kayak landing on Old Dial Road. This site also is the end of the 13.8-mile Toccoa River Canoe Trail that starts upstream at the Forest Service’s Deep Hole Recreation Area. The DH section continues downstream to the edge of Forest Service land just north of the iconic steel structure of Shallowford Bridge.

Shallowford Bridge over the Toccoa just downstream of the DH water was built in 1918 and still in use. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.

As with all Georgia DH waters, the Toccoa is heavily stocked around the 1st of November when those regulations take effect. It then receives some additional releases to replace natural mortality until May 15 when the stream reverts to general trout fishing rules. During the DH season, only single-hook, artificial lures are allowed and all trout must be immediately released. However, dropper rigs are legal when fly fishing, as long as each fly has only one hook.

An average rainbow from the Toccao River. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.

Most of fish encountered on the Toccoa DH are going to be in the 8- to 12-inch range and freshly stocked. Those may be brook, brown or rainbow trout. On the other hand,  there is some natural reproduction of trout in river, as well as in its tributaries. As  a result, some smaller wild fish even appear. Added to the mix, some trout hold over from year to year as well. Rainbows and browns up to 20 inches are not unheard of here.

A 17-inch holdover rainbow from the Toccoa. Photo by Polly Dean.

Major stocking points on the DH are around the Sandy Bottom area, along with near the rough canoe and kayak take-out on Shallowford Bridge Road close to the end of the regulated water. Ordinarily, by mid- to late November, the trout have spread to all areas of the DH section.

One option for fishing the DH is to float it in a kayak, canoe or even a drift boat. This is practical, unless the river is running unusually low. You also can use a float tube, but expect to do a lot of walking through shallow riffles.

For wade fishing, you have three options. Starting at the big pool at Sandy Bottom, it is possible to wade for several hundred yards downstream, though there are some deeper runs to avoid. Access is ease from Old Dial Road that parallels the river.

As you follow that road downstream, just before it veers off to the right away from the stream, there is a small pull-off area on the right of the road that can handle two or three vehicles. From there a trail leads down to the river where a powerline crosses the stream. This area also offers wading access.

Anglers at the Powerline crossing of the DH seciton. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.

Farther downstream the flow goes through a very large and deep bend pool. Below that wading is again possible down to the take-out point at the end of the DH section.

As to flies to use on the Toccoa delayed-harvest section, it depends on when and where you are fishing. Around the stocking points, and particularly just after fish have been released, Wooly Buggers, egg patterns and Y2Ks all can pay dividends.

As the fish get accustomed to their new home, and especially in the region down around the powerline, more subtle and natural offerings can work better. Pheasant Tail, Prince, Gold-Ribbed Hairs Ear or Red Copper John nymphs are a few that usually draw strikes.

If your preference is tossing dry flies, attractors often draw attention on warmer days, even when no fish are rising. Royal Wulffs, Adams Parachutes and Irresistibles in sizes No.12 to 14 are patterns that are buoyant enough for running through the riffle waters, while smaller Blue-Winged-Olives often work in calmer areas.

Bottom line is the Toccoa River delayed-harvest section offers plenty of room for letting out some line when casting, and it holds plenty of fish through the late fall to early spring.

Bob Borgwat with On The Fly South’s Polly Dean. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.

For guided float-fishing trips on the upper Toccoa River, including the delayed-harvest section, contact Bob Borgwat at Reel Angling Adventures.

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