The Glory Days of Waters Creek

On The Fly Freshwater

This Georgia trout stream was once legendary for the lunkers it yielded to anglers.

Article and Photos by Jimmy Jacobs.

July 2020

Editor’s Note: In 2022 the Georgia WRD removed all special regulations on Waters Creek, except the size limits of 22 inches for rainbow and brown trout, or 18 inches for brook trout.

Anglers in Georgia are a bit spoiled when it comes to catching big trout. Between the many private trophy waters in the state, the tailwaters of the Chattahoochee River, the delayed harvest streams, and the trophy waters on Dukes Creek, the chances of an individual catching a 20-plus-inch rainbow or brown every year are very good. But, there was a time when catching such a trout in Georgia was literally an event of a lifetime. Most anglers never saw such a behemoth, let alone hooked one. Prior to the 1990s, a fisherman catching a trout that was that size had bragging rights for years and most likely had the fish mounted and displayed above the hearth. The only place in the Peach State where targeting such trout was feasible was on Waters Creek. The stream now is mostly overlooked, but it was Georgia’s first trophy trout water and was once legendary for the fish it gave up.

By any standard, Waters Creek is a small flow.

Waters Creek begins where it drains out of Dockery Lake on the Union and Lumpkin County border in the north central part of the state. The creek flows for 2.5 miles to the southeast through Lumpkin County and the Chestatee Wildlife Management Area. Along this course, Waters is small, never spanning more than 30 feet wide at any point. Eventually, the creek empties into Dicks Creek, which in turn is joined by Boggs Creek to form the Chestatee River. In 1970, the old Georgia Game and Fish Commission, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Trout Unlimited jointly began managing Waters Creek as trophy trout water. Several feeders were set up along the flow to provide extra forage to improve the size of the brook, brown and rainbow trout stocked in the creek. A host of special regulations were introduced as well. Angling is allowed only on Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday during the regular trout season from the last Saturday of March through the last day of October each year. Fishing hours were 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. (or 7:30 p.m. during daylight savings time).

In its heyday, extreme stealth was need to fool its magnum trout.

Anglers could use only single-hook, barbless artificial lures and the hooks could be no larger than No 6. Additionally, landing nets could be no more than two feet in length. The daily limit for trout was one fish. Rainbow and brown trout had to be 22 inches to be legally harvested and brook trout 18 inches. Finally, anglers were limited to harvesting three fish per year from the creek. Up until 2000, anglers showing up to fish were required to surrender their fishing license at the check station on the creek and pick it up upon leaving. The check station is no long manned, but a sign-in sheet is on the front porch, and fishermen are required to provide their names and fishing license numbers. Upon leaving, angler also must record the size of any fish harvested, along with the number of fish caught and released.

The Check Station on Water Creek.

With this plethora of hoops to jump through just to go fishing, one might imagine that the angling would hardly be worth the trouble. Up until the late 1980s just the opposite was true. The creek received heavy fishing pressure in those early years.  The reason for that crowding was the number of trophy trout Waters Creek was yielding. In 1987, anglers checked out 76 keepers from March to October. The vast majority of those were rainbows. That works out to more than 30 fish longer than 22 inches per mile of water! Then, a long string of disasters struck this amazing fishery. Just prior to the 1988 season, poachers using either nets or gigs took more than 100 trophy-sized fish from the stream during a nighttime raid. Those backwoods hoodlums were never caught and they started a long spiral downward for the fishery.

In 1989, only three keepers were recorded, with another dozen caught and released. But the creek seemed to be recovering. Anglers were catching large numbers of 15- to 18-inch trout. Unfortunately, Mother Nature was about to get in on the act. In 1993 a tornado ravaged the creek valley, knocking a large number of trees into the stream. Those blockages caused silting problems. Then in 1994 the remnants of Hurricane Opal pushed the flood of the century down the valley, adding more mayhem.  Finally, river otters appeared in the stream. Biologists said at the time that the otters were only feeding on crawfish and minnows in the creek, but the big trout suddenly became very scarce. The collapse of the fishery coincided with the state’s acquisition of Smithgall Woods and the trophy waters on Dukes Creek, as well as the introduction of delayed harvest on several waters.

All these factors led to angling interest in Waters dropping sharply.

All access to Waters Creek still is by foot only.

Those giant trout of the past have not made a comeback. But you still can find fish of 12 to 15 inches in the creek. The anglers also have not returned to Waters. A recent Memorial Day weekend saw a total of five individuals signing in at the creek. Four were there on Saturday and a lone fisherman had the creek to himself on Sunday. Those anglers recorded catching just shy of 30 trout for the two days.

The bottom line is, Waters Creek is still an above average fishery. But now, it has a lot more competition from other quality waters.