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.

Sunday, January 16, 2022



How’s it looking at your place?  

Here in Cleveland, it looks like my blueline rig will simply substitute as a snow gauge.  It’s gonna be a tying day rather than a tossing day, with more snowflakes on the way.

Y’all stay safe. Stock up those fly boxes for your breakout trips in the days to come. May the power stay on for everyone, since we need warm fingers to tie our tiny winter flies!

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Unicoi Outfitters Fishing Report - 1/13/22

This week we should “work around the weather.”  Avoid the pending snow/ice storm, be careful on the roads, and go deep and slow on these streams with your popular winter patterns. Unless you spot some risers!  Carry some little black winter stoneflies, blue wing olives, and midges in case you’re lucky enough to toss some dries. Bring a handwarmer to aid the tie-on of tiny bugs.

Public waters rated fair to good last week, while our private waters still fished really well as stormflows receded. Dress in your winter garb, wade slowly and carefully, and make sure you carry a dry change of clothes in case of a misstep. Crowds are down, so enjoy much more water to yourselves.

Wes’ hot fly list and our reports and tips follow on our long version. Catch it on Facebook or by clicking “fishing reports” at unicoioutfitters.com.

Stay safe this week, given the expected storm that might start on Saturday night. Check both road and stream conditions before you come up.  There are some real curvy, shady routes to our favorite waters that may retain some ice longer or surprise you with a downed tree, so be careful on your drives for a couple days after the storm.  

Good luck.  Wes’ hot fly list and our reports and tips are in our long version of this report. Catch it on Facebook or by clicking “fishing reports” at unicoioutfitters.com.

Wes’ Hot Fly List:

Dries: Griffith’s gnat, little black stonefly (or small gray elk hair caddis), comparadun BWO.

Nymphs: squirmy worm, pheasant tail, copper John (black), hares ear nymph and soft hackle, WD-40, rainbow warrior.

Streamers & warm water:

Bank robber sculpin, kreelex, micro changer, polar changer.

GA public waters:


RonW’s friend, Marcus had a great weekend and shared his stories. Here’s the first:

“Saturday (8th)- backcountry wild fish in sight for Channing and me.  Nice brisk morning hike in, then got a small fire going. It was cold, clear, plenty of sun with some residual snow in the shadows. We both got the job done with small #18-20 frenchies and heavy egg patterns. The fish were very spread out, only catching one or two out of the larger holes. All and all a great day in the NGA countryside!”

Smith DH:

John from ATL recently emailed our shop with a 12/30 fishing report. He had a great day on rainbows once he switched over to a Pat’s rubberlegs, and was thankful for that helpful intel in the UO fishing report. Thanks for your trip report, John!

Chattooga DH:

Sautee’s duo gave it a shot yesterday afternoon (1/12).   A departing angler said his morning was cold and slow, but still fun. He had landed just two rainbows on eggs. The duo hiked in with a glimmer of hope.

The water was an icy 39F upon their 1PM river entry.   Flows were good, the river was clear, and the afternoon fishing rated fair.  A lot of fish were hunkered down and refused many patterns. Sautee found a few honey holes and did well there, scoring a handful of bows and browns and brown and pink squirmies.  Accomplice lost one bow on an egg, caught one on a Frenchie, and finally fooled one more fish on top. He had picked a fight with a few sporadic risers that were gulping the occasional black winter stonefly that drifted by.

Despite the slow catch, they had the whole river to themselves and enjoyed their treatment for cabin fever.  That dose should hold them through this weekend’s storm. 

Private Waters:

Our private waters still fished really well for guided folks and our experienced, unguided guests. Here are the Day 2 results from Marcus: “Sunday- Channing and I got right back at it with a full day unguided reservation at the Unicoi Outfitters property. Water was up but nothing we couldn't handle, rain was in the forecast so it was time to get cracking. Channing started catching fish instantly at the "stadium" hole, and I wasn't far behind. We found early success on #16-12 buggy nymphs, eggs, and squirmys. Every hole below Nora Dam is holding large fish in great numbers. They kept us busy all morning long, with average fish ranging from 16-20" about 2-3lbs.  Some of the larger fish pushed 20"+ and  6lbs. 

As the rain persisted, so did we! Nearing lunch the nymph bite was slowing and rain picked up, so we chucked on some euro style jig streamers. That was the play of the day! We hooked so many studs that our arms got tired. 

We needed a break from the rain, and the army of fish. So we walked across the street to the village pizza joint for a hot meal and a dry-out on the heated patio. 

After lunch the onslaught of absolute footballs continued. We felt like we hooked every fish in the river. An absolute slay day! 

Streamers pictured are my custom ties, Channing loved the "blonde bomber". I found my luck on my sculp/craw pattern.

Cheers From Marcus and Channing “

Two unguided clients also had productive Bend trips. Jarrett from ATL found success on 1/7 by drifting squirmies and dark nymph droppers - deep. Jeff from ATL had a slow start on a cold 1/10, but a hot ending as the water warmed in the afternoon and the bows cooperated. His best bug was a small pheasant tail.

For more info on Nacoochee Bend reservations for guided and unguided trips, check out:


Or just call Wes or Israel at our shop.

Flat Water:

This just in from HenryC:

“Lanier is finally looking much more promising.  Surface temp is 52F, the birds are flying, and the fish getting higher in the water column. That's what I need to see!  Check out the pic of my Humminbird screen.”


Good luck, folks. Stay safe and don’t let the black ice catch you before you catch some icy winter trout. Call or come by either UO store for intel, supplies, or a thaw-out.

Unicoi Outfitters: Friendly. Local. Experts.

Friday, January 7, 2022

Unicoi Outfitters Fishing Report - 1/7/22

Welcome to full winter mode. We sure had fun on “dries in December” during the last few bonus days of warmth, but those days are now gone. We’ll make new memories with our strategy  for this new season.

The winter game is now upon us and it’s still a very fun time to wet a line, as long as you’re indeed practicing your winter game. We detailed some tips in our extended version of this report. Here’s a summary for our brief Instagram version: 1) fish the afternoon warmth; 2) get down to the fish, which are glued to the bottom; 3) try a meaty first fly and a small, natural dropper; 4) drop the dropper down, too, with a small shot in front of it; 5) paint the width of each pool with drifts just a foot apart; 6) make bottom-rolling easy by giving Euronymphing a try.

Googling “secrets of the Rabunites” will fetch you more winter loot.

HenryC says Lanier still lags due to warm surface water, but dares innovative flyrodders to forget casting and just drop jigs down to the thick bait schools and the potbellied spots (and some stripers) surrounding those bait balls.

Wes hot fly list and our reports and tips follow on our long version. Catch it on Facebook or by clicking “fishing reports” at unicoioutfitters.com. Good luck and stay warm this week.  And let’s hope those Athens dudes have a great fishing trip to Indy and catch a national championship!

Wes’ Hot Fly List:

Dries: Griffith’s gnat, stimulator, comparadun BWO.

Nymphs: copper John (black), lightning bug, soft hackle hares ear, girdle bug, WD-40.

Streamers & warm water:

Bank robber sculpin, kreelex, micro changer, polar changer.

GA public waters:

UO Helen manager Wes:

“I was able to get out for a couple of hours on new years day and do some wild trout fishing. This was the last day of warm weather before the cool down and the fish were very active. I caught around 10 in a few hours including a couple of colorful browns. Almost all the fish were caught on a stimulator.”

Enjoy his release video.


Smith DH:

I spoke with Smith regular Stan yesterday morning (6th).  He said it was slow in the cold, but he had managed four fish so far on his soft plastic worm, tossed with his ultralight outfit.  Smith ran a warmer 49F at 10AM, thanks to the heat sink of Unicoi Lake. In contrast, nearby Spoilcane ran three degrees cooler.

The holiday weekend and the rain/high water kept many of our regulars off the creeks last week. Hopefully they’ll get the itch soon and resupply us with more great fodder this month.

To fill in the space this week, I’ll offer a few winter tips. First, aim for the sun’s warmth window of 11AM to 4PM.  Second, fish deep and slow. Our freestone stream trout glue themselves to the bottom in the winter and, most of the time, you’ve got to go down to get them. Third, try a double nymph rig of something big or bright (leech, rubberlegs, egg) as your first fly and something small (hares ear, pheasant tail, their soft hackle versions, zebra midge) on lighter tippet 12-18 inches behind your attractor bug. 

Fourth, revisit step 2. Add enough weight to bump bottom. And keep your split shot close to your bugs.  I aim for just 8-10 inches in the winter.  Fifth, try the “dinsmore split.”  If you’re having luck on the first bug, but none on that back dropper (12-18 inches behind), then add a small tin shot (Ex: Dinsmore brand) to the tippet halfway between flies. Tin shot won’t migrate on your line like soft lead does. Sink the rear bug down to fish-eye level, too.  Sixth, paint the slow pools and runs with your drifts that are just a foot apart until you cover the entire pool width.  In contrast to spring’s 50-degree waters, winter’s frozen trout won’t move far for winter food, so you have to hit them in the nose with your menu.  Camp out in a good pool and work it for at least 30 minutes before moving. You might just discover where that pod of trout is camping out. And remember that address for future trips. Seventh, learn and use the Belgian cast to open your loop and prevent tangling your rig. Sidearm back, then overhand forward!

ORVIS - Fly Casting Lessons - How To Make A Belgian (Oval) Cast - YouTube

Last, give Euronymphing a shot. Those tungsten bugs will crawl right along the bottom if you’re fishing them right. Just tie a Euro leader on the end of the fly line of your longest, limber rod, add some tippet, tie on a tungsten nymph, and give it a try. You can specialize later.

Orvis Guide to Euro-Nymphing, Part 1: Overview - Orvis News

For more winter trouting tips, google “secrets of the Rabunites” and enjoy that chapter’s intel. And share your knowledge with new flyfishers who need your helping hand.


Forrest Gump (aka Dredger) ran back up to the Smokies on New Year’s Eve.   He went up higher this time to find pocket water to accommodate his Euro rig. He put on his raincoat and fished through the intermittent showers, since the air and water (50F) were comfortable for both him and the fish. 

Did you ever have an “off” game? Well, he sure did. Let’s see, first there was constant tree decoration (he was getting a jump on next Xmas) and required rerigging, one three-point landing that missed a wet face-plant by mere inches, one buttocks-bounce on the slick, muddy trail back to the truck, and excessive “uncapping.”

That last one, uncapping,  hurt the worst. For anyone not familiar with Rabunite, that term means a lost fish in the thick of battle. He was only two for eight on better (8 inch plus) bows and buttery browns hooked on his Euronymphs.

But it was still a great way to end the angling year. He was in a beautiful national park stream, hooking a bunch of wild fish, landing a lot of little bows and a couple browns, having the entire stream to himself, and enjoying a classic Smokies elk-jam on his way home (video posted on 1/1).

Best bugs in the improved flows were his traditional duo of a sexy Walts anchor and a frenchie dropper. Even if the catching was off a bit, it was still a great fishing trip.  A good dose of humility always keeps so-called experts grounded, too.  He did ask us to pass him 1) a new spool of 6X, 2) a bottle of Motrin, and 3) a trip booking with Wes on how to fight and land trout.

Private Waters:

Our private waters still fished really well for guided folks and our experienced, unguided guests.  We got blown out by high water for a couple days, but sure welcomed the river recharge. UO buddies Becca and Ellie had a great Wednesday afternoon at Nacoochee Bend. They were Euronymphing some “secret weapons” in the heads of pools when I stopped by to chat. That hot fly must have been really hot, as one gal spent considerable time fetching her last one from a tall tree branch growing in the wrong spot. Hint: you can get away with bigger or brighter bugs in the swifter pool heads and runs. Lower down, in the slower flows, fish have more time to study your offering, so go with smaller, natural patterns.

Flat Water:

HenryC said Lanier topwater action is still asleep due to the warm surface water. But he said the fat spots are on fire for anyone dropping a spoon down to the deep bait schools.  He challenged a flyrodder to freespool a spoon down there, too, and see what happens. 

He did give us a heads-up on his forthcoming Facebook Live session with Orvis legend Tom Rosenbauer. He said: 

“On Jan 31 at 3pm on Orvis Facebook I will be discussing my Cowen's mullet fly while Tom Rosenbauer ties it live on Facebook. The mullet fly works in both salt and freshwater for redfish, albies, stripers, speckled trout, largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass. It'll catch everything and if you want to learn how to tie an easy "guide fly", tune into Orvis Facebook on Jan 31 at 3pm.”

Our fishing season has finally changed, so change your own game, from clothing to wading safety to timing to technique. We never catch as many trout in the winter as we do in prime water temps, but the clean air, clear streams, and ample elbow room are a great cure for cabin fever. While the rest of the country is frozen, we Southeasterners are still fishing!  Enjoy this blessing of geography and go practice your own winter game soon. Call, stop in, or check us out online if we can help you further.

PS: speaking of games…,

go Dawgs!!!!

Unicoi Outfitters: Friendly. Local. Experts.

Thursday, January 6, 2022

Winter Water Survival

Here’s an excellent article and actual demonstration of cold water survival by an expert.  Enjoy both here:


We thank Jimmy’s friend, Pickwick Lake smallmouth bass fishing guide Steve Hacker,  for the intel.

Pickwick Lake Smallmouth Services


Stay safe as our air and water temps dive. We sure hope you don’t take one, too. But if you do, this info may come in very, very handy!


Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Bug Collecting

If you wonder why we often suggest hares ear and pheasant tail nymphs, and fish them ourselves right now, just turn over some instream boulders on your next trout trip. What do you see scurrying back toward the water?

On my headwater trek with Sautee last week, these critters were common:


That’s why his hares ear dropper was popular with the blueline bows.

Way back in my undergrad days at VA Tech, we studied these clinger mayflies in Dr. Voshell’s Aquatic Entomology class.  Here in the Southeast, these bugs are growing and preparing for their eventual spring emergence. 

Hint for next spring: their wing pads turn dark just prior to emergence. It’s a good indicator for the dries you’ll need in the coming days.  As is this monthly hatch chart:


On your next trip this month, start by turning some instream rocks and sifting through a few  decaying leaf packs. What trout food do you see?  Have you tied up or bought the right bugs now to “match the hatch” on your next fishing trip? Stock up soon!

You don’t have to know Latin to be a good trouter. Just match size, shape, color, and position in the water column to enhance your odds of trouting success. Or simply  ask Wes!

Good luck from our UO gang during your winter nymphing season.

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Unicoi Outfitters Fishing Report - 12/30/21

Happy New Fishing Year!  As we end ‘21 and enter ‘22, your best friends this week with be your weather app, local fly shops,  and the online USGS stream gauges. Why?

Mother Nature will provide us with quite a variety.   We’ll have a few remaining days of warmth, a couple of stormflow spikes mixed in, and then a big cool-down. Savvy anglers will be flexible.  

Be ready to match your techniques and flies to the water flow, temperature, and turbidity (stain) conditions you face. Come up here armed with your 1) low&warm water, 2) high flow, and 3) winter water games and hit the flow curves with the right game. Our hitting tips, once again, are in the October 2020  edition of The Angler Magazine. 


Check the long version of this report and Wes’ hot fly list on FB or by clicking on “fishing reports” at unicoioutfitters.com, which will take you to our blog. You’ll see how our angler gang adapted their techniques and patterns to the stream conditions they faced.

We’re open 8-1 tomorrow, closed on New Year’s Day, and finally back to regular business on the 2nd.  May your new year start off great and stay that way. Send us your fish pics and stories! Good luck.

Wes’ Hot Fly List:

Dries: parachute Adams, stimulator, Griffith’s gnat.

Nymphs & wets: soft hackle partridge, red dart, tungsten pheasant tail, little black stone, simi seal leech, bead head hares ear, Pat rubberlegs and squirmy worms in high water.

Streamers & warmwater:

Kreelex, muddy buddy, clouser minnow, sweet baby cray.

GA public waters:


Sautee and his photographer hit a high Hooch trib yesterday (29th) afternoon. The water was a balmy 55F at 2pm, slightly stained, and up just a bit from the very low fall base flow from the recent rain. Sautee had a big time on little wild bows to 7 inches. They preferred his #16 beaded hares ear nymph over the #14 Adams dry by a 3:1 margin. “Dries in December” was still a lot of fun during his brief local trip.

Smith DH:

It was running clear and 52F when I checked it at 10am today.  Only two anglers were there.  Shop and online fishing reports suggest it’s still fishing well for experienced anglers with a good drift. Since the stockers have now been in there a while and have seen a lot of flies, we suggest a “something different” strategy. Still toss a tiny egg or squirmy, but be ready to try some small (#16-20) nymphs and wets that have been forgotten in your box. If it’s new pattern or color, it might get more attention and takes.


We had two great reports from Smithgall vets taking advantage of yesterday’s storm surge.

Foothills TUer BobL:

“Only fished it for 2 hours yesterday, but did well. Micro squirrel leech, #14 BWO (2 on this and the big one) and the baby mop were my hot flies on 6x - 6.5x tippet.”

UO buddy Mo:

Rain in the forecast for Wednesday and we were up at Smithgall Woods before 7am,  hoping to walk on. We pull up and there are 4 others before us looking to do the same.   Not looking good.  Luckily we all got to walk on, as many reservation holders didn’t show up for fishing on a rainy day.  

Kurt and I started with a double nymph rig and we were into fish right away. The water was high and dirty, with a lot of debris and leaves,  but that didn’t matter. We picked up fish in every likely hole. We both lost a huge fish each in that first stretch of creek. And I mean huge!  Our 5x tippet just didn’t hold up. 

By about 2pm the water cleared up and started dropping. A Peach egg worked all day, and an olive walt’s worm and Ron’s purple ronco were effective, too. It was another great day at Dukes.”

Chattooga DH:

Sautee’s duo gave it a shot on the 27th and said:

“Monday on The River found the water low, low, low and clear. We thought it was gonna be tough but we brought 15 to hand in the afternoon sun using a brown squirmy trailed by brown soft hackle. Stripped buggers only got a few follows. Our key to success was high-grading the honey holes (deeper water).

Hooch Tailwater:

UO buddy Mo:

Hey Jeff, I hope all is well. Here’s a little fodder from the hooch tailwater. 

Kurt and I fished the lower pool below the dam today (26th). Ron was busy  resting and digesting and couldn’t join us. It was a hot day for December and the river was still a little dingy from lake turnover, but the fishing was on fire.

Euronymphing with a two-fly rig produced over a dozen browns and just as many rainbows. They were eating small bugs today and a size 20 frenchie on a long (10ft) 7x tippet worked all day. We didn’t need to change flies at all.

Midges were hatching throughout the day but fish were not chasing them on the surface. You had to be on the bottom if you planned on catching any fish today. If you got it down to them,  they ate!

The river is still clearing up and it will only get tougher to fool them when it’s gin-clear again at lake turnover. The little cloudiness in the water definitely helped today. 


Dredger ran up to the national park on the 26th and had a decent day on small wild rainbows and one brown that might have hit 10 inches. The water was still low, but a bit higher after recent rains. A few midges and some tiny (#22) black stones buzzed around, but they only rose a few fish in a flat, glassy pool. He struck out on them.

After the slow start, things got better when he moved up to faster pools and changed his anchor fly from a silver sexy Walts to a black-beaded hares ear soft hackle, while keeping the hares ear nymph dropper.  A roadside elk herd topped off his warm day in the Smokies. His pics and tips were posted on 12/27.

He went north again on the 28th and had good luck on a bunch of Nantahala DH bows and two stray browns. Water temp was 52 at noon and flows were a bit better after recent rains. The abundant stockers were partial to his sexy Walts anchor fly, while the four pretty wild bows preferred his peeking caddis dropper. Bugs were scarce (only a few tiny stones) and risers were nonexistent, so he stuck with Euro for the afternoon.

Here’s a pre-Xmas report from RonW that I forgot last week:

“Kurt, Moe and I hit Cherokee on 12/18 and 12/19.  We arrived around 9:30am to a light but constant rain. We had a few hours of fishing before the rain really picked up.  The water came up pretty fast and was stained to zero visibility. We still landed a fish a piece and each hooked into a goodun but couldn't seal the deal. The day seemed to fly by and was over before we knew it. We checked into the hotel and grabbed a quick bite to eat before hitting the rack.  

We hit the water about the same time on Sunday and were pleasantly surprised to see the water came down a little and cleared up considerably.  The bite was slow again to start but we all managed some fish. The guys caught some in the 14- 16" range and hooked into some giants as well but couldn't get them to the net. I only managed about a 12" rainbow but did have a nice brown smash my fly right at the end of my drift while I was lifting my rod to make another cast. He literally jumped right at me about 6' away and spat the hook back at me. 

Around 3pm we ran into a Upstate NY transplant who was slinging streamers via a Trout Spey Rod. We talked with him and watched him work the 2-handed rod for a good 30 minutes. Pretty dang cool and I must say I need one ASAP.  The ease in which he could toss a streamer across the whole River  while hugging the bank was pretty impressive.  While talking with him,  we witnessed 3 very large trout come up and swipe at his streamer, one  committed and commenced to breaking him off instantly.  After seeing that, it was time to throw streamers.  Kurt and Moe started wacking them instantly. Kurt was catching them on a game changer; Moe on the Kreelex.  I had a couple really nice follows and one hookup who broke my whole rig off. 

All in all, it was a  fantastic weekend on the water with mah' brothers and I can't wait to do it again.  Time to go watch some more spey videos! “

Private Waters:

UO Helen manager Wes:

I did a couple of trips on the Bend this week. With the warm water temps and the low flows, the key was to fish in fast water. Pheasant tails, soft hackles,  and streamers produced well in the swift water where resident rainbows  had to make quick decisions. In slower, deeper flows we were able to fool a few fish on small natural nymphs and eggs flies.

Hopefully we will see some increased flows with the rain throughout the rest of the week. That will only help the fishing!”

UO guide Palmer called in a report. He also had a good week guiding clients at Nacoochee Bend. His best bugs were egg flies, small dark nymphs, and even some small buggers in the faster water. His clients even scored a couple of doubleheaders!”

Flat Water:

HenryC says nothing is new on Lanier.  He’s out there now, as I write this at 2pm Thursday.  Some of the birds are heading father back in the coves, so that’s worth a look during your dawn recons. Just beware of muddy water way back in those coves as tributary streams dump their stormflows.

Henry did share a nice pic from his recent FL trip.  An albie from the beach was a nice holiday gift!


UO buddy Darren:

“We got out on Lanier for a few hours yesterday with my friend Michael. Unfortunately, fishing has been terrible for stripers as water temps are still too high. We did find some spots busting bait and fooled four.  Cowen’s Somethin’ Else was the hot fly.”


UO friend RonW:

“My wife and I made a day trip today (12-29) across the border into Tennessee to scout out the Tellico River.. After a quick stop at Tellico Outfitters to pick up some goods, a fishing license, and some local Intel, we were on our way.

 We found the river up and stained upon arrival. I spent the day trying to find any soft water I could, looking  behind large boulders and along the banks. I hooked into a nice 14" or so rainbow on the Ronco in the 2nd spot I tried, only to come unbuttoned  shortly after. Not soon after that I got snagged and broke my whole rig off. I went to swinging streamers after that and that proved to be the ticket. I only managed two snits to hand all day, both on a streamer. I did however raise 3 larger fish, which were pretty cool to see. One was a brown pushing 20". He came up chasing a black Slumpbuster as I was stripping it back to me. I got a little too excited on the take and pulled it right out of his mouth.  The 2nd one was a rainbow about the same size and about 10 yards downstream from the missed brown. He swiped at it a few times but couldn't get a hold of it.  The 3rd chaser was about a 16"  rainbow that came up out of nowhere right in front me. He went in for the kill,  but it was almost as if he saw me at the last second and turned away. 

All in all, it was a great day to spend in a new area with my wife and our dog Zoe. Considering the water conditions and the fact that I didn't expect to catch anything at all, I’ll take 2 fish and smile about it. I can't wait to get back there for a weekend trip and explore some more.”

We hope our intel helps y’all to ring in the new year in style. Call, stop in, or check us out online if we can help you further.

PS: go Dawgs!

Unicoi Outfitters: Friendly. Local. Experts.