Helen, Georgia offers an Old World flavor and lots of trout options!
On The Fly Freshwater
Article and photos by Jimmy Jacobs
In 1923 Ernest Hemingway wrote of hiking and fishing through the Black Forest region of southern Germany. His descriptions of the fly casting and Hansel and Gretel villages and landscapes painted a picture of central European trout fishing that captures the imagination.
Unfortunately, those fairy tale environs and trout action are almost a century past, and half a world away from today’s southern angler. However, in the north central mountains of Georgia, you can experience a budget version of Hemingway’s ramblings right now.
In the late 1960s, a dying lumber town situated on the shores of the Chattahoochee River in White County reinvented itself as the Bavarian village of Alpine Helen. In viewing the downtown, one might expect an Oompah band dressed in leather shorts and suspenders to appear playing a polka. In fact, that probably will happen on any given weekend!
But just as it was trout that drew Hemingway to southern Germany, it is trout fishing that calls anglers to Helen. Once there, the options are as varied as can be found anywhere in our region. From freshly stocked rainbow trout on public land, to trophy-sized lunkers on private water, or native brook trout in tiny rivulets, the Helen area can deliver what you crave.
The portion of the Chattahoochee River running through downtown Helen is heavily stocked with rainbow trout and open to fishing. Some brown and brook trout are also released in this stretch, which is open to fishing under general state trout regulations allowing any type tackle or bait.
On one occasion when I was roped into a day of browsing the shops of the town things took a turn for the better. While walking across the river over the Edelweisse Strasse bridge, I glanced down at the surface of the “Hooch.” The water was dimpled with the unmistakable rings of fish feeding on the top.
Excusing myself, I scurried back to the car to retrieve the ever-present fly rod. Then standing on the shore beneath the bridge proceeded to catch and release a half dozen brown trout. It was by far the most pleasant “shopping” trip ever in Helen.
Just to the north of the town the river courses through the Chattahoochee Wildlife Management Area. Here in the Hooch and its tributaries expect to find a mix of wild and stocked fish. But, walk very far up Jasus or Low Gap creeks, and you find only wild brown and rainbows.
IN THE BACK COUNTRY
If you want to catch one of the native Southern Appalachian brook trout that are the jewels of these mountains, expect to pay a price in boot leather. This is hike-in fishing. Far up the Chattahoochee above the grotto-like Henson Creek Falls is one place to find these fish. Another option is to head north up State Route 75 from Helen. Just over Unicoi Gap you find High Shoals Creek Scenic Area. Following the hiking trail a mile to High Shoals and Blue Hole waterfalls on the creek puts you in brookie country.
SPECIAL REGULATION FISHING
If you prefer to match wits with some big, wily rainbows and browns you have a good option in the area. Just west of town is Smithgall Woods State Park. Flowing through it is a portion of Dukes Creek that is open on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday for fishing with barbless, singlehook, artificial lures only. All fishing here is catch and release year-round (though it may be shut down during periods of extreme heat in the summer).
The number of anglers allowed daily is limited, so you have to call (706) 878-3087 to reserve a spot. Rainbow and brown trout in excess of 20 inches often are taken in the park waters. But be aware. This is technical fishing. The trout probably have seen and know all the fly patterns better than you do
Just on the southern edge of Helen you also find Unicoi Outfitters on GA 75. Besides having a full-service fly shop, they manage Nacoochee Bend on the Chattahoochee. This stretch of more than a mile of water around the historic Nora Mill Granary grist mill is open to catch-and-release fly-fishing with single hooks.
The pools of Nacoochee Bend teem with rainbow and brown trout in 14- to 30-inch sizes. While the really big boys are tougher to fool, fish in the 18- to 24-inch range are caught regularly. To book a day of fishing at Nacoohee Bend or for more information on any of the trout waters around Helen, drop in at the Unicoi Outfitters shop just north of Nora Mill, or visit their website.