Wade fishing at Curtis Switch on the Toccoa River.
On The Fly Freshwater
Article and photos by Jimmy Jacobs
The tailwaters of the Toccoa River downstream of Blue Ridge Lake in Fannin County, Georgia could best be described as the Peach State’s “other tailwater.” The designation has nothing to do with the quality of the fishing, but just that the Chattahoochee River, which is nearer to Atlanta, gets all the publicity.
Yet, the roughly 15 miles of trout water from Blue Ridge Dam to the Tennessee border at the twin towns of McCaysville, Georgia. and Copperhill, Tennessee constitute a great fishery. In fact, the river can lay claim to some of the best dry-fly action found in Georgia.
The Tennessee Valley Authority built Blue Ridge Dam on the river in 1930, creating a 120-foot-deep reservoir. Water released from the depths of Blue Ridge Lake also produced a near year-round trout fishery, all the way to the state border.
Blue Ridge Dam at the head of the Toccoa River tailwater.
For years the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division stocked the stream on a put-and-take basis, with very little management. Low oxygen levels in the river caused frequent fish kills in the fall and carryover of trout was quite sporadic.
Then in the mid-1990s things began to change. A baffle generator was installed at the dam, supplying year-round oxygenation. Afterward, trout of 16-inches and larger became common.
Unfortunately, in 2010, the TVA had to lower the lake to 60 feet below summer pool levels for dam repairs. The warm water coming downstream virtually wiped out the rainbow trout population. Some of the bigger browns, however, retreated into feeder streams and weathered this manmade storm.
The Toccoa tailwater has now been restocked and is headed back toward its former greatness, though, warm, late summer flows still persist in the lower sections of the tailwater.
The tailwater now is stocked with brook, brown and rainbow trout.
Most of Georgia’s mountain trout waters are small, fairly infertile streams, where the fish attack anything that floats past, then spit it out if it’s not to their liking. The Toccoa tailwaters defy that stereotype
The cold water and lack of major scouring by water released (except for the area immediately downstream of the dam) are ideal for supporting insect life. Hatches can be large and mostly predictable, thus the trout in the Toccoa can be a bit more selective.
During the late winter on into early spring the dry flies to put on the water are Black Caddis, black or cream midges, Hendricksons or March Browns. When rings start appearing on the surface, the fish are likely targeting on one of those.
As the spring wears into early summer, expect to switch off to Sulfurs and Light Cahills. Still later in the summer Grey Caddis patterns and cream midges become important.
In the summer, floating from shoal to shoal and wading is good way to cover the water.
Access to the water is the biggest problem for anglers on the Toccoa River tailwater. The entire length of the river is private property, with the exception of four public access points. For that reason, a lot of the action is float fishing using canoes, pontoons, drift boats or johnboats. The three possible floats are 7.2-, 6- and 1.1-mile drifts. The first two are a bit long for float tubes, while the latter is so far down river that it offers only recently stocked, put-and-take fish.
Tammen Park is a county facility maintained just upstream of the Georgia Highway 515 bridge. The 1/2-mile of water from the dam down to the park is mostly wadable when releases are minimal. In the dog days of August and September the river from the dam to about a mile downstream is the only portion that can be considered truly “year-round” habitat for trout.
The next access point is at Curtis Switch. Wadable stretches are found from the bridge on Curtis Switch Road downstream to a small TVA park, canoe landing and boat ramp.
Another access is at Horseshoe Bend Park at McCaysville. The entire 1/2-mile stretch of water through this county park can be waded and is heavily stocked. There also is a primitive boat landing on site. Be aware the park also is quite popular with anglers and, during warm weather, swimmers or tubers.
In the cooler months anglers have Horseshoe Bend Park to themselves.
The final access point is on Market Street in McCaysville. City Park. This site has a paved ramp and parking lot, but no access for wading.
Being a tailwater, safety is of utmost concern when fishing the Toccoa River below Blue Ridge Lake. When the dam releases water, the river rises quickly. Always be aware of your surroundings, watching for increased debris floating downstream, the water clouding or the sound of the shoals changing. All of these are heralds of rising water.
For release schedules call the TVA at 1-800-238-2264, then hit 4, followed by the Blue Ridge code 23. The information is also available online at tva.com. Click the link for View Your Lake and then Blue Ridge on the drop-down menu.