Unicoi Outfitters is north Georgia's premier guide service and fly fishing outfitter, located on the Chattahoochee River near alpine Helen. Look for fishing reports, gear and book reviews, and general musings here from our staff and guides.

Friday, September 15, 2023

Unicoi Outfitters Fishing Report 9/15/23

It’s slowly cooling off up here in Helen. Headwaters are still very low and clear, with south slopes still too warm in the afternoons.  Better bets for wild trout remain the north slopes and Smokies streams. Tailwaters are still fishing well, while our bass rivers are good when clear between the rain showers.  Pond action is picking up with shorter days, cooler nights, and resulting colder waters. Lanier is still spotty for topwater fans, but good for dredgers. And permit, bones, and tarpon cooperated for our vacationing UO duo. Check out our complete intel in UO’s full report at :


Wes’ Hot Fly List:  

(He said last week’s best bets are still good)

Dries:  Elk hair caddis, micro chubby, Royal Wulff.  

Nymphs & Wets: Drowned ant, pheasant tail, Ruby midge, plus one.

Streamers & warmwater: Double barrel popper, sweet baby cray, low fat minnow, jerk changer, polar changer.


Our bluelines are still very low and clear. Stormflows from occasional showers pass within hours, so come up here armed with your drought- stealth game. South slope streams are still a bit warm (66F at 9AM today), so continue to aim for north slope and NC streams til some colder nights hit our mountains next week.

UO manager Jake: “Small stream fishing was great this week with the cooler morning temps we have had recently. The streams are still very low and clear, but the fish seem to be very active in the mornings. Long time UO customer Dave and I had two great mornings flinging a dry/dropper around. We brought about 30 fish to hand in two mornings, and even had double rainbows, which was a first for Dave. Stop by the shop for some fresh intel and flies to help you have a great adventure on the water this weekend!”

UO Helen manager Wes just got back from his trip: “I went up to the Smokies this week for a short backpacking and fishing trip. The morning air is starting to get a little cooler up at higher elevations, which made for very comfortable camping conditions. The fishing on the headwater creek I stayed on was very productive. I caught lots of rainbows & brookies. While I was able to fool some fish on dries, a drowned ant or small stonefly nymph produced the best for me.”

Check out Byron’s daily park intel here:


Stocker Streams:

It’s been two weeks since the widespread holiday stockings, so pickings are slimming down. You can still find some leftovers, especially in the bigger waters, by covering a lot of ground and hitting the pockets. Put 2-3 casts into each likely lie and then move upstream to the next fishy niche.

Remember, don’t give up on stockers for the year.  There is a good possibility of some stockings later this fall. Just sign up for the WRD trout stocking lists and keep an eye out for them in the months to come. Note that September 23 is National Hunting and Fishing Day and GAWRD has traditionally stocked some trout to celebrate the date.  Stop by our Helen open house in the morning and then hit a trout stream that afternoon.


UO buddy Spangler: “Evening Dredger! If you need a little tailwater intel, I spent a couple hours on the Hooch this morning. Close to the dam, seems things have slowed a bit. Where I was managing double digit days consistently, I’m now having to really work to get enough bites to count on one hand. Good chance to work on honing skills though! This is why it’s not called “catching,” right? The wild browns are always the draw,  but I managed a couple beautiful rainbows that had to have given up their hatchery diet some time ago! Small midge imitations still work for the browns, while the bows liked a micro bugger I spun up this week (size 16, fished on a tight line). Note: don’t forget your wading staff in that murkiness!”

Private Waters:  No reports. Larger streams are still shut down for the summer to give their trophy trout a break. We reopen our private waters on October 4. Call 706-878-3083 soon for info and reservations, as our prime weekend dates are going fast.

Warmwater Streams: 

You’ve gotta hit our local rivers when they’ve cleared from these periodic showers. Right now the upper Hooch is fishable, with 3+ feet of visibility and temp of 71F at noon today at Highway 115. 

It’s Hooch YooHoo below the Soque, however. Watch the closest USGS river gauges and wait 2-3 days after each flow spike to find bass-friendly water clarity. This is a shot at Duncan Bridge yesterday afternoon:

New Jacket buddy Will: “

Last Friday, I met with some other 5 Rivers leaders from a trip out west to discuss collaborations between the UGA and Georgia Tech clubs in the near future. Of course, there was some fishing involved. We targeted some shoal bass, and they were readily eating patterns stripped faster. I had action for most of the evening on my white clouser, but the theme was that presentation was more important than pattern that night. Overall, it was a fun time sharing some time on the water with both old and new friends. PS: Go Yellow Jackets!”

UO buddy RSquared: “A bunch of our Cohutta TU chapter members spent 3 days on the Flint River this past weekend. The river was was low & had a little color to it. The endemic Shoal Bass were willing to take our flies. We had some topwater success with poppers and stealth bombers  and caught a few on streamers. However, most fish were caught on hellgrammite & crawfish patterns.  Join our TU chapter and join in our monthly fishing outings.”


Small Lakes: 

Athens Jay: “Pond bass report:

Bass are feeding aggressively in the shallows late in the day. Look for them busting forage like shad and bluegill against the bank. They will hit topwater or shallow swimming streamers in whatever size matches the local hatch. I had good luck with a 2.5” Crease Fly and a white Stealth Bomber.  PS: Go Dawgs!”


UO staffer Ben: Reservoir bass are starting to make their fall transition, so you definitely have to keep on the move. Soft body jerk baits and jigs have been top producers for me.  Keep your eye out for channel swings, either in a creek bed or main river channel. Those channel bends, where they get close to shallower points and humps, are worth prospecting.”

Hank sez: “Nothing new to report... Lanier should fire up in 3-4 weeks as we await the upcoming fall striper season. Now’s the time to book choice dates with me between Oct and Jan. 

Bass fishing is just okay as topwater season starts to slow down some. It’s time to start thinking about tossing a jerk bait on conventional tackle, or game changers on intermediate lines. Key in on herring type baits for fly and light tackle. It will only get better with the cooler days ahead. Lastly, I want to wish all fellow members of the tribe a happy and healthy New Year...”



UO staffers Iz and Joseph honored Jimmy Buffet by trekking far to the south.  Iz reports: “The flats have been fun, as we’re getting 3-4 solid shots at tailing permit a day. Finally got my permit, and picked up some bones. Joseph has been killing it. He got a tarpon the first night, a bunch of bones, and his first permit!  Permit seem to prefer the tequila twister, while bones are liking a spawning shrimp. We’re hanging out in Honduras.”


UO buddy CDB provides a timely reminder to check our waders for leaks now, instead of discovering them in icy streams this fall.


Tech buddy Will: “On Sunday, our GT 5Rivers club held a “Learn to Fly Fish” event for its new members near campus in Atlanta. After a casting demo taught by a few experienced members, the new fly anglers had a blast catching bluegill and crappie on small minnow imitations and dry flies.   Many fish were caught, including most peoples’ first on the fly, and a fun time was had by all.”


Don’t forget about the two free events at our Helen shop next week. We start our Third Thursday Tying nite at 6PM on the 21st,


 then welcome a big crowd of y’all for our Fall Kickoff on Saturday.


Go wet a line early this weekend, before your favorite football games. Then come see us in Helen next week. From trout to bass and from bones to permit, UO staff has got the intel to up your own fishing scores this season. It’s a great time to kick off your fall fishing fun!

Unicoi Outfitters: Friendly. Local. Experts.


Wednesday, September 13, 2023

September 23 Fall Kickoff!

Mark your calendars for September 23!

Our Unicoi Outfitters Fall Kickoff returns on Saturday, September 23rd.  Come up to our Helen shop and enjoy our free activities. We look forward to seeing you once again at UO’s extended family reunion.  Check out our activities:

Free Fly Fishing 101 Class!

If you’ve ever wanted to give fly fishing a try, here is a prime opportunity. Our introductory class will cover equipment, basic knots, flies, and casting. Guests do not need any equipment to attend.  The class will take place on Saturday, September 23rd from 9:30am-11:30am. Space is limited, so please call the shop at 706-878-3083 soon to reserve your slot.


Free, on the water Euro Nymphing presentation by UO guide Ben Smith. Join Ben as he shows you tips, tricks, and tactics to enhance your tightline nymphing game. No wading equipment needed. We have a streamside trail where you can observe Ben’s presentation and ask questions. It will take place from 10:00am-11:30am on Saturday September 23rd.  Space is limited, so give the shop a call to reserve your slot.

Trash or Treasure?

Targeting overlooked & underappreciated fish on the fly. 

UO-Helen shop manager Wes McElroy will discuss tactics and tips for targeting a bunch of unique and native fish you can find right here in Georgia. The presentation will take place at the fly shop on Saturday September 23rd from 1:00pm-2:00pm. We hope to see you there!

Unicoi Outfitters Fly Tie-Off 

Enter 3 rounds of fun fly tying challenges! All experience levels of fly tyers welcome. Bring your own vise and tools or we can provide them for you. The Tie-off will take place during the fall kickoff at the fly shop on Saturday September 23rd from 3:00pm-4:00pm. Come join in on the fun or just hang out and watch. We hope to see you there. 

Plan now to attend our Fall Kickoff. C’mon up to Helen on September 23rd and have fun with Unicoi Outfitters!

Unicoi Outfitters: Friendly. Local. Experts.


Friday, September 8, 2023

Unicoi Outfitters Fishing Report 9/8/23

It’s still hot and dry up here, but air temperatures are starting a downward slide and getting our hopes up.  The lack of rain has allowed our bass rivers to clear again, making them your best bet. Wild trouters will still have to migrate to north slopes and NC higher elevations to find water cool enough to ensure trout survival after release.   Stocker fans can hunt leftovers from last week’s extensive holiday stocking.   Ponds are improving while Lanier takes a nap.  Check out our complete intel in UO’s full report at :


Wes’ Hot Fly List:  

Dries:  Elk hair caddis, micro chubby, Royal Wulff.  

Nymphs & Wets: Drowned ant, pheasant tail, Ruby midge, plus one.

Streamers & warmwater: Double barrel popper, sweet baby cray, low fat minnow, jerk changer, polar changer.


This is a rerun from past weeks: they’re still very low and very warm. South slope streams remain too hot to fish. The two I measured at 8AM today ran 66F before the sun hit them.

Four degrees! That’s what a north slope is worth to our local trout stream temperatures. From 2-3 pm yesterday I visited two streams on each side of Unicoi Gap, above Helen. The south slope duo ran 69 and 70F, while the northerners were 65 and 66F. Until we get cooler nights and consistent rains, hit north slope and higher elevation NC streams.

Smokies trout guide and budding artist Ian Rutter painted a very rosy September prediction for the park. Read it here:


Check out Byron’s daily park intel here, too:


Stocker Streams:

Given last week’s long holiday stocking list, I don’t expect to see one today from WRD.


But there are a decent number of leftovers from last week for this weekend’s pursuits. Just cover more ground to find the wash-downs and swim-ups. They’re real spooky in the low, clear water, so go early, fish the shade, and use light lines and small baits or flies, like soft hackles and tiny buggers. The colder the water, the better the bite, so get on the streams early tomorrow.

Don’t give up on stockers for the year.  There is a good possibility of some stockings later this fall. Just sign up for the WRD trout stocking lists and keep an eye out for them in the months to come.


UO guide Devin and his buddy, Paul, had a good day yesterday chucking streamers on the Toccoa’s high water. He said they landed a nice bunch of smaller browns, with one going 16 inches. They had some follows by bigger boys; thus their return to the river today. He just called in this report while rowing his raft and did not have a third hand to send me pics.

NOTE: the Toccoa is dangerous when TVA is generating. Know the flows before you go and stay away from high water unless you’re with a vest experienced friend or guide at the helm.

Do your homework here:


Pick “lake levels” and “blue ridge.”

The Hooch’s  color from Lanier’s stratification and low deepwater oxygen often makes it a bit easier to fool the wily wild browns. Leftover stocker bows will still eat bright (eggs, squirmies) and/or moving (buggers) flies. 

Private Waters:  No reports. Larger streams are shut down for the summer to give their trophy trout a break. We reopen our private waters on October 4. Call 706-878-3083 soon for info and reservations, as our prime weekend dates are going fast.

Warmwater Streams: 

UO manager Jake has had a good couple of weeks with clients on the river.  He reports: “river bass fishing remains consistent with low flows and clear water. The name of the game right now is to be sneaky and pick your shots. Topwater has been a player when conditions are right, but the most consistent bite has been subsurface.”

UO friend RSquared: This past Saturday, I fished a well known creek near the northwest Georgia town of Cave Springs with longtime TU member Paul Diprima. We were after Alabama Brook Trout. (aka Coosa Redeye Bass) The bass were willing! We landed about 80 between the two of us, with several over 9 inches and a few over 10 inches . They were hitting poppers on the fly rods and Mepps Spinners and curlytail jigs on the conventional gear. I love to pursue these creek bass when north GA trout waters are too warm to safely release trout.

UO owner Jimmy had a nice weekday evening wading the Hooch.  He said all his shoalies were caught on top in just 2 - 3 feet of slow water.  He never changed flies from the white Gurgler-type fly someone gave him a while ago. It was a good choice to tie on!

Small Lakes: 

Athens Jay: “Pond bass are feeding aggressively in the shallows.  Fish seem to move shallow early in the morning and again as the sun sets. They are herding baitfish up against bank but are picky (gotta match the hatch in terms of size). In ponds with threadfin shad, 2.5” white streamers are great. In ponds where bluegill are primary forage, dark streamers including black and purple work great. Try both! But also throw a stealth bomber if you see surface activity! “


Hank sez it’s real slow on Lanier right now. He’s hoping for some cooler weather to kick-start our fall topwater action.


You can catch more lake and trout intel in todays’s WRD fishing report, here:



We’re just glad we made it back alive from our summer Montana trip. But the rewards of those big cutts, bows , and browns is worth the risk.



Don’t forget our September 23 fall kickoff and our Third Thursday Tying nites each month. Both activities will be at our Helen store.

We slowly creep toward a cooler fall here in Georgia. Take advantage of some prime river and pond bassing while you wait to break out that trout rod once again. Call or stop in either UO shop if we can help with hot bugs and hotter intel for your September adventures. 

Unicoi Outfitters: Friendly. Local. Experts.