Georgia’s Delayed Harvest Bonanza

Great fall and winter trout action!

On The Fly Freshwater

Featured photo: Stocking Amicalola Creek for the delayed-harvest season. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.

November 2023

By Polly Dean

Fishing “delayed harvest” trout waters during the fall and winter months has become a tradition of sorts in many southern states. Delayed harvest (DH) streams are select, generously-stocked waters where trout of all sizes are released during the colder months when water temperatures are cool enough to sustain the species.

The author with a brook trout on the Chattooga River DH section. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.

Delayed harvest areas provide anglers with hungry fish and subsequently high catch rates. They also provide great fishing on waters largely considered “marginal” for sustaining a healthy population of trout year-round. In many delayed harvest waters, large trout—like retired brood fish—are stocked and targeted by anglers.

Delayed-harvest waters are well marked. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.

Due to high catch rates and the availability of trophy fish, it’s easy to see why these delayed harvest waters are so popular. They are also, one of the most successful wildlife resource programs in terms of acceptance and angler participation.

Delayed harvest areas are catch-and-release-only during a designated season and have strict restrictions such as the use of artificial and single-hook lures only. These select waters provide a welcome opportunity for anglers to target rainbow, brown and brook trout during the cooler months. Fishermen, particularly fly fishermen, have the chance to hone their skills with no competition from bait fishermen.

The Nantahala River in North Carolina was the first fishery in the South to be designated a delayed-harvest water in 1992. It is still one of the most popular and prolific fisheries in the region. That success led to Georgia trying out this management scheme.

The portion of Smith Creek was the first of the Peach State’s delayed harvest fisheries. It also is the smallest of the streams on which that management method has been introduced. Smith Creek additionally offers a unique experience due to its location in Unicoi State Park. The 1050-acre park offers a 96-room lodge with a restaurant and pub, rental cabins and campgrounds. The facility also provides an array of resort amenities, including a lake with swimming beach, hiking trails, tennis courts and zip lines, along with air gun and archery ranges.

Smith Creek was the first – and smallest – of Georgia’s DH streams. Photo by Polly Dean.

Georgia presently has four other delayed-harvest streams. The special regulations apply on all of them from November 1 through May 14. The DH streams are portions of Amicalola Creek, the Chattahoochee River, the Chattooga River and the Toccoa River. All are located in the northern counties of the state, except for the DH portion of the Chattahoochee River that is located further south within the Metro Atlanta area.

The author testing the water on the Chattahoochee DH section. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.

Perhaps, primarily due to its metro Atlanta location and the fact that it does provide a lot of fish (approximately 50,000 stocked), the delayed harvest section of the Chattahoochee River is extremely popular with anglers. Even with plenty of fishermen showing up for several hours or just a quick toss of the rod before or after work, there is plenty of space on the water to get away from other anglers. Here you will primarily see fly fishermen of all skill levels, trying their hand at hooking into a stocked trout. The DH section runs 3.7 river miles from Sope Creek downstream to U.S. Highway 41 (Cobb Parkway).

      Fly anglers can try junk flies such as Mop Flies, Squirmy Worms, San Juan Worms and Y2Ks or dries such as Elk Hair Caddis or mayfly patterns. Nymphs to throw are Pheasant Tails, Princes or Hares Ears. Wooly Buggers are a good option as well. As the season progresses and fish become more educated, try smaller more natural-looking flies.

Netting a fish on the Toccoa River DH at Sandy Bottom. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.

Additionally, two more Peach State streams are under consideration to become DH water. Those are Waters Creek in Lumpkin County, which was once managed as a trophy fishery, and Raccoon Creek in Paulding County. Public hearings have already taken place regarding those changes. Additionally, the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division has proposed changing the DH dates to October 15 to April 14. We will keep our readers updated as to when and if these changes actually take place.