On The Fly Freshwater
Article and Photos by Jimmy Jacobs
South Carolina’s Chauga River suffers from an unfortunate geographic location. Its position just to the east of the famed trout fishery on the Chattooga River causes it to often be overlooked in favor of that flow. But for anglers in the know, the Chauga is well worth the effort to attack with a fly rod.
On The Fly South’s Polly Dean with a Chauga River rainbow.
The Chauga River rises due south of the village of Mountain Rest, where the East and West Forks of Village Creek join. From there the river flows southwesterly, mainly through lands of the Sumter National Forest, to the mouth of Laurel Creek near the Spider Valley Access. From that point it turns sharply to the east, before again turning south and eventually emptying into the Tugalo River arm of Lake Hartwell. The stocked trout water open to the public along this course stretches from the Lands Bridge Road crossing down to the Spider Valley Access.
Basically, this river is stocked with brook, brown and rainbow trout on a put-and-take basis. However, due to its size, length and lack of easy access to long stretches, it offers a much more varied experience than one might expect. Toward the upper end of the river, there are some carry-over and wild fish, while the lower portion of the river is noted for giving up trophy-sized browns that can tolerate the warmer summer water temperatures.
Stocking takes place at several accesses along the flow, but in the fall catchable and sub-adult trout also are planted in remote regions of the river with a helicopter. Getting to those fish can be a true wilderness adventure.
There is a delayed-harvest stretch of water on the Chauga, as well. Those special regulations are in affect from November 1 to May 14 annually, requiring single-hook, artificial lures, and mandating catch-and-release fishing. Outside those dates general trout regulations apply. This part of the river runs from Cassidy Bridge Access upstream to the mouth of Bone Camp Creek.
The delayed-harvest section of the river is well marked.
On a recent visit to the Chauga, the crew from On The Fly South started the first day at Blackwell Bridge on Whetstone Road. Our main purpose here was to hike downstream to a spot called The Narrows. Here the river, which often flows 40 or more feet wide, funnels into a 25-foot drop in just 200 feet, ending with the water gushing through a three-foot wide gap in the rocks. It is the iconic photo spot on the Chauga.
We quickly learned that the half-mile trail to The Narrows becomes very steep and harrowing near its end. Also, our plan to fish back up to Blackwell Bridge was quickly abandoned. Much of the river here is deep, hard to wade and has steep, heavily-foliage banks. Trying to fly cast this section is not a fun proposition.
Polly Dean working just downstream of a shoal at the Grapevine Access. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.
Next, we hit the Grapevine Road (Forest Service Road 764) Access. The parking area at the end of this gravel road offered access to much better fishing conditions, even boasting a handicapped fishing area. Though the action started very slow, as the afternoon lengthened, the trout turned on. We ended our day here after Polly Dean and I landed and released more than 20 rainbows and browns.
Day two found us at the Cassidy Bridge Access in the morning. This is a very popular section for fishing, but also offers a very long stretch that is good for wading. It is composed of alternating shallow shoals between deep runs fringed by gravel or sand bars. Here we each caught slams of rainbows, browns and brooks, while totaling two-dozen trout between us. In fact, at one point, I slammed on a short 20-foot run.
Stalking the trout beneath the Cassidy Bridge.
Later in the day we visited the Hellhole Access, located at the end of gravel Hellhole Road (FS 738). Here we found easy access to several large pools, with more fishing sites up and down stream, though they required a bit more exertion to reach. Also, the trout were quite willing to take our flies.
One last site we targeted was via a gravel section of road at Lands Bridge. This is the most northerly access point on national forest property near the headwaters. A couple of pools near the bridge offered easy access, with the possibility of wading downstream. You also can wade upstream, but only for a short distance, before encountering private property.
Additionally, there are 1/4-mile moderately strenuous hike-in accesses at Double Branch and Spider Valley on the best trout water.
With regard to flies to use, we didn’t encounter any hatches, though we did get a few rises on attractor flies like the Adams Parachute. On the other hand, tying on a beadhead Wooly Bugger, trailed by a nymph pattern as a dropper readily attracted the trout to either of those. Several of the effective trailer flies were Prince Nymphs, Red Copper Johns and Pheasant Tails in size No. 12.
The Prince Nymph was an effective pattern for the Chauga’s trout.
Some of the fish were taken by dead drifting the duo under a strike indicator. More often the best tactic was casting the pair, quartered downstream, and retrieving them across the current. All of the trout we encountered were in the 8- to 10-inch range, with a couple of browns that spanned 12 inches.
The Chauga offers some good trout angling that overall gets moderate fishing pressure. The more popular access points can get crowded, particularly on weekends. Those anglers mostly will be stationary bait fishermen, so wading up or downstream a short way from the parking area ordinarily provides some solitude and good fishing.
For maps and direction to all of the access points on the Chauga, check out the South Carolina Trout Fishing Guide on the Department of Natural Resources website.