On The Fly Freshwater
Featured Photo by Jimmy Jacobs
by Polly Dean
If you fish in North Georgia, or really just about anywhere in the South, you probably have seen more than your share of rain in recent months. In fact, the rain has been pretty darn relentless as far as not giving anglers on the local streams and rivers a break for some clear-water fishing. Georgians are getting pretty used to the sight of stained, clay-colored water as we cross bridges and peer wistfully at the dirty tumbling streams.
Being a frequent visitor to Blue Ridge, Georgia in Fannin County, I recently have become quite used to the Toccoa River being too high to safely wade. The Toccoa is big water, divided into two portions by the TVA’s Blue Ridge Lake. Upstream it is a freestone flow, while below the lake there is a 16-mile tailwater to the Tennessee border. Both sections are trout water.
On this particular visit I was planning on floating the Toccoa with Chad Bryson of Reel Angling Adventures in his drift boat. Although fishing is still good in higher water, the river was continuing to rise to an unsafe level, even for a boat.
Guide Chad Bryson coaching the author on Noontootla Creek. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.
We scrapped our plan of fishing the Toccoa and instead opted for wading nearby Noontootla Creek. Even in high water this much smaller stream is easily accessed by driving along the entirety of its public sections. Much of Noontootla Creek still was wadeable, so it makes a great option when the bigger waters are just too high.
Chad grew up fishing the Tellico Plains area of Tennessee and is familiar with many of the Southern Appalachian waters. A favorite method of fishing he uses during high-water periods is high-stick nymphing. When he is high-sticking, he uses a special leader system to get his fly down in the swiftly moving water column. Especially useful when the water is high, Chad’s adaptation of the right-angle leader rig allows the fly to get down quicker and to “dredge” the bottom more completely. This specially tied leader allows the tippet and fly to drop straight down from the butt section of the leader more abruptly than if it were just extended straight from the fly line. Chad builds his leaders using a selection of spools of Maxima Ultragreen monofilament in weights from 2 to 15 pounds. He added that we wouldn’t need to fish anything smaller than 3- or 4-pound test with our high-water conditions.
Chad Bryson high-sticking a nymph through a pool. Photo by Polly Dean.
Also, in Chad’s arsenal, especially in high murky waters, are large flies tied with jig hooks and tungsten bead heads. When there is a lot of water flowing, Chad said we want the fish to see the fly, so it needs to be heavy to get down to where the fish hold and to provide a large silhouette for them to see. His fly box also holds Meat Whistles and other flies too large for Noontootla Creek, but favorites when it comes to looking for big browns on other waters. Chad’s choice for me this day was a March Brown fly.
Bryson’s fly box for high-water situations. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.
As to where he fishes on the stream during high water periods, Chad pointed out the water spreading out in the streambed makes ordinarily small eddies along the shore favored holding water for the trout. He suggested working these tiny pools thoroughly.
Using Chad Bryson’s tactics it is possible to salvage some trout action, even when the water is running high and a bit stained in your favorite mountain stream.
Big, weighed flies are needed to get down where the fish are holding in high, fast water. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.
About Noontootla Creek
About a dozen or so miles of Noontootla Creek, which is a major tributary of the Toccoa River, tumble along roadside access southeast of the town of Blue Ridge. Much of it is public and runs along Forest Service Road 58 in the Chattahoochee National Forest, as well as the state’s Blue Ridge Wildlife Management Area. For all practical purposes, Noontootla Creek is a catch-and-release fishery. Regulations on the public portions deem it as artificial-lure-only and one trout per day of 16 inches or larger may be kept. As a result, the majority of anglers wanting to take fish home, are not interested in fishing these waters. But for fly fishermen it is a definite draw. It is not unusual to see large fish in the creek, though catching them may be a bit more challenging.
Brown and rainbow trout were introduced decades ago, and have adapted well to the hemlock and mountain laurel-shaded waters. Today those trout thrive and reproduce as self-sustaining populations, as do the native brook trout that inhabit the smaller feeder streams of Noontootla.
If one wants some help in hooking into and landing a decent trout – even a trophy is not uncommon – there are two miles of a privately-managed section of Noontootla Creek in its lower reaches. This section is owned and managed by Noontootla Creek Farms as a pay-to-fish, fly-fishing-only resource. It is probably one of the more authentic and challenging “fantasy fishing” locations in the state, where catching a 20-plus-inch rainbow or brown trout is the rule, not the exception. Visit ncfga.net for rates and information on fishing the private stretches.
For details on booking day of fishing on the Toccoa River or Noontootla Creek’s public section with Chad Bryson or one of the other associated guides, check out Reel Angling Adventures.