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, February 3, 2023

Unicoi Outfitters Fishing Report -2/3/23

We have a fairly nice week ahead as north GA dries out a bit. Today it’s sunny, chilly, and breezy in Helen, while we have a  midweek warmup for anyone who can flex their off days. Headwater stream temps were 46-48F when I checked at midmorning today, so that’s good news.  Streamflows in small and midsized creeks have already dropped to fishable levels after yesterday’s inch of rain. Don’t let the wind scare you off.  Remember that most stream sections are in gorges and protected from the wind by trees and mountainside. 

Larger watersheds like the Toccoa and Luftee are still high and ripping, however, so check the USGS flow gauges before you go.  Have you started your own smart phone notes page yet to document flow vs your wading ability on each trip? That personal intel will sure help your future trip planning.

There’s some hot DH intel in our full report, so DH fans oughta dig deeper to unearth some good nuggets.

Lanier stripers have been hit or miss again, but the hits have been for extra bases!  Landon hit a homer with a 20-pound plus fish from his yak. Henry’s overview and Landon’s fish tale are in our full report.

It’s shaping up to be a fun-filled weekend, from the fly fishing show to stream and lake opportunities. Take advantage of them while you can.   Check out our full report and Wes’ hot fly list via our home page or at 


Good luck in the days ahead.  Don’t forget this weekend’s ATL flyfishing show.

Wes’ Hot Fly List:  

Dries: parachute BWO, Griffith’s gnat.

Nymphs & Wets:

Chartreuse egg, mighty may baetis, Violet midge, WD-40, RS2

Streamers & warm water:

Simi seal leech, sparkle minnow, finesse changer, Clouser minnow. Cowen’s Somethin Else.


They’re clear and cool, with good flows. Spoilcane and Dukes were 46-47 degrees today at 10AM.  Expect more hits on your nymph dropper than your dry indicator. If it warns above 50F, however, have hope for a few fish on top.

UO guide Caleb: “I went small stream fishing for myself. Numbers were a bit low in the bitter cold but managed to bring a few wild rainbows into the hand using midges and small baetis patterns. “

Smokies streams have been a bit warmer than in past weeks, but consistent rains and snow still have most of them high and ripping. You’ll do better at lower elevations and latitudes. Watch the Luftee gauge as a good index of east side conditions, and watch Byron’s Smokies daily intel here:


Delayed Harvest:

Most should fish well. I saw a real good strike indicator at the Smith DH vehicle bridge this morning: lots of wagging tails. A tenkara angler said they’re hitting anything thrown at them. It’s a good time to take that new fly angler on a trip.

Be careful at Ami and Toccoa DH, since their flows are high. Check the gauges before you go. In fact, the Toccoa might only be fishable by raft or boat until/if flows drop in late spring.  It’s not a wader-friendly stream during winter rains.

Chattooga DH is dropping and should be fishable for most folks who can wade well. The mid-January stockers will start smartening up soon, so if your buggers are ignored, try an egg/nymph combo.

Athens Alan broke his own ice:

“Here is my first fish of 2023. It came on Sunday from the Chattooga.  I finally got up there for a couple of hours before the rain and brought several to hand on bead-head pheasant tail with rubber legs. Had a NICE rainbow on that broke me off in fast water. Lots of water, clear and moving. Only saw one other angler up there, with no ice to chop through!”

Be on the lookout for WRD’s February refreshening of our DH streams. Tune in to the agency’s Friday trout stocking updates on its trout web page.  Based on my Smith recon this morning, y’all might read some good news from WRD later today.

(Update: indeed, some great WRD news was posted in their afternoon report:


Private Waters:

UO manager Jake: “Scott, Brad, Collin, and I fished Rainbow Point on the Soque earlier in the week prior to a front moving through. The fishing was great, and Collin landed a really nice brown trout right out of the gate. The water was slightly stained from previous rains, and was just a touch higher, which allowed us to fish some bigger nymphs than I have been the past few weeks. We caught fish on big stones, small eggs, and various flashy attractor nymphs in size 14-16. “

As we reported earlier, the awesome vets from Project Healing Waters-Atlanta had a fun Saturday at Nacoochee Bend. Thanks to some timely tips from their awesome volunteer guides, everyone landed one or more solid rainbows. Best bugs were dredged eggs, squirmies, and small nymphs. The action picked up with the afternoon sunshine, and a few fish even started chasing streamers. A good time was had by all.


HenryC: “.Stripers are still hit or miss... I personally missed them on Wednesday but slammed them on Thursday. Every day is different and you simply have to "go to know".  Fish are in their usual winter places and still eating small 2" threadfin shad. Somethin' else flies are positively your best bet. You'll need to carry both a fast sink and slow sink to cover your bases.  Striper sizes are starting to mix between 3yr old fish and 8yr old fish.”


Henry nailed it. Here are two hits and two misses to validate his report. 

Lanier local Academy Jack has been following bait and predators into the backs of creeks. When he has found those fish schools, he’s had good luck on live medium shiners, fished on circle hooks so the stripers could be released.

Landon went birdwatching last week.  He rode around the lake and pulled out binoculars at each ramp he visited. He finally spotted some diving gulls at one uplake ramp and unleashed his yak from the back of the pickup truck. He paddled out, saw a few scattered, breaking fish, and started tossing a Keitech swimbait on his spinning rod. And it buckled over as this 20-pound plus striper towed his boat. He finally wrestled it in just long enough for a quick pic. Congrats Landon!

UO staffer Joseph: “I’ve been out on Lanier the last two days and it hasn’t been the best. On Monday conditions looked good and there were birds diving here and there but it seemed the fish were more spread out and not as eager to show themselves. Israel and I went out Tuesday and again had no luck. Conditions were not in our favor with higher winds and sunny conditions. Most of the birds were sitting on the water and all of the bait we marked had no fish on it. We finally marked a group of 5-6 fish but they were moving too fast for us to make a solid presentation.”


Athens Jay: “Steadily rising daily temperatures this time of year make pond fish hungry. Watch for a string of warmer days and give your favorite pond a try. I’ve been using a very “wood friendly” fly design. I can drag this streamer over all sorts of submerged structure.”


UO friend Bert from Waycross had a great recent trip to the Okee Swamp. He trolled spinners and landed a new personal best bowfin of 11lb, 7oz, with the next one weighing 9 1/2 lb.  He hopes to chase them with his fly rod this spring, when the water warms.


There’s your post-storm report. The skies are clearing, streamflows are dropping, and some naive fish might be taking up residence in our DH streams. Your biggest dilemma is whether to come up here and fish or go to the Gwinnett show and talk about it. Plan well and do both! Good luck. Holler if we can help y’all further. Pry out some hot intel from our guys working show Booth #436!

Unicoi Outfitters: Friendly. Local. Experts.


Friday, January 27, 2023

Unicoi Outfitters Fishing Report -1/27/23


Right now it’s all about “winter windows.” Crummy weather and high water closed a lot of windows for our winter trouters last week. But gray skies and rain opened some windows for striper fans.  Right now area streams have good flows and rebounding water temps (47F yesterday). Find a sunny day and give them a go. Just have a good game to fool experienced trout. Hint: aim for flood refuges. Why? Three inches of rain displaces naive stockers!

Henry and his lake buddies are having striper and bass success deep. They hope for the opposite winter window, a cloudy day to encourage baitfish and predators to rise toward the surface.

Pick your critter and pick your window, then go cure your cabin fever. Our specific intel and Wes’ hot fly list are in on our full report, accessed via our home page. Folks who click more than once and dig deeper for these nuggets of wisdom catch more fish than one-clickers. Pics are entertaining, but intel is productive! Good luck this week. Don’t forget next weekend’s ATL flyfishing show. We’re in Booth 436.

Wes’ Hot Fly List:  

Dries: parachute BWO, Griffith’s gnat.

Nymphs & Wets:

Peach egg, mighty may baetis, Violet midge, ruby midge, black copper John.

Streamers & warm water:

Simi seal leech, sparkle minnow, finesse changer, Clouser minnow. Cowen’s Somethin Else.


They’re running full, clear, and cool. Spoilcane and Smith DH were 47F at 5pm yesterday. The Hooch in Helen was clear with a healthy flow, so remember your wading staffs.  Small stream fans have a chance here in GA on small, dark, dredged nymphs. The better midwinter bet is hitting bigger, downstream, warmer waters that catch more sun.

The Smokies are still very high and icy, with many high-elevation streams struggling to hit 40 degrees.  Watch Byron’s Smokies daily intel here:


Delayed Harvest:

UO staffer Atticus said the action on local waters had been slow for many customers who shared their fish stories with him at the shop. Many said they were using junk flies, but had some success on rubberleg stones. 

This is the toughest time for trouting success in area DH streams. Cold, high water, experienced fish, and lower stocker numbers due to catch&release mortality and natural mortality decrease angler catch rates, especially for rookies who are still throwing junk flies and having a bit of drag in their drifts. 

Natural mortality, you wonder? Ever seen an otter?  Or their streamside toilet areas?  How about blue herons?  I watch 1 or 2 of them swoop into Smith DH daily during my late afternoon hikes as most anglers depart for supper.

Expected stocked fish loss due to floods and mortality is exactly why DH streams are redosed periodically by wildlife agencies. 


Here’s another reminder: fish for “seniors” and get down to them with a good drift. Revisit our DH column in here:


The one exception right now is Tooga DH, which SC redosed just two weeks ago. It’s still a bit high, so know your own safe wading level before hopping in.

Dedicated UO followers would have caught that hot SC intel in last week’s report.  The good news is that GA usually spices up DH streams the first of each month, so get those buggers, squirmies, and rookie anglers ready for February.

And March gets even better. Here’s some NC DH intel to help your spring trip planning:


One astute report reader was our new UO buddy CDB, who checked in:   “Spent the day chasing unicorns on the Chattooga DH. I have caught Brook trout in NH, VT, PA, WV, VA, TN, and NC. Heck I even caught a few when I lived in CO. After 4 years in Georgia - zippo. 

The action was all on streamers, a bead head grizzly olive wooly bugger w/ black tail received the most action. Takes were on the end of the swing or on the dangle. Keep that streamer in the water as long as possible. Working it down under a ledge or root ball from above got good results. Rod tip in water, drift down, dangle, a couple short quick strips, repeat. A few of the takes were jarring. An additional AB shot just above it to help keep it down increased the number of strikes. 

Once again, all rainbows. Not even a brown.  My GA brookie goose-egg streak continues….”

Ed note: our past UO column has some timely bugger tips to help you now:


UO staffer Grant: “ I took a weekend trip up to Fires Creek with my friends and Dad last weekend. I caught this nice brown fishing the top of a fast moving run. I caught him on a silver beaded france fly. Small flies in darker colors and Euro nymphing with 3.2mm-4.0mm beads seems to be the key to my success at Fires.”

Private Waters:

The crummy weather and high water limited our hosted trips last week. UO guide Israel said that a deep-drifted midge was the ticket for his Hooch customer.

UO friend CDB:  “I used the same (Chattooga) technique on the Etowah Saturday. I got about an hour and half on private water and hauled out a few beasts. That’s why I’m itching to get back on the Chattooga tomorrow and have at it again!”


HenryC: “Last weekend fishing on the pond was pretty darn good. You had to look hard to find the fish but when you found them, that same  "pattern" was found in other areas, too. Last week’s weather was either windy and/or rainy. I'm sure the lake has muddied up some, but I’m hopeful that we can get on the fish again shortly. Welcome to sodium free striper fishing in the winter!  The best news is that we inch a little closer to the great pre-spawn action in March!”


UO staffer Joseph: “Last Sunday I went out with Josh England and Keith Ohrstrom fishing for stripers on Lanier. We caught several fish and lost several more.  We even had a few doubles!  The fish were in huge schools and were only active for an hour or two. We mostly followed birds and even saw multiple fish come up top. Though there were some fish on top, we had the most success on fast sinking lines. We used small clousers fished with short strips with a pause here and there. Most fish we marked on sonar were in the 20-35 foot range with some exceptions.”

UO staffer Ben: “Lake Lanier bass fishing has been good. Both speed cranking and jig flipping have been effective techniques. Dropping down bait size definitely increases the chance of more bites.”

That’s the latest during the dead of winter up here. Compared to the Rockies, we’re still in a sauna! Just pick your preferred winter window and give it a go. And if you don’t want to open that window, stay warm and visit us at Booth 436 during next weekend’s ATL Fly Fishing Show!


Unicoi Outfitters: Friendly. Local. Experts.


Thursday, January 26, 2023

Feb 3-5 ATL Fly Fishing Show!

How about some breaking show news you can use?

The vendor info is up. Memorize these numbers: Booths 436 and 438.   That’s our Unicoi Outfitters campsite, right next to Pond A.  C’mon by!

Also check out the great roster of programs and seminars. For a good start, click on the “Seminars”. and “Theaters” tabs in here to peruse the menu.


Note the show page’s introduction that says the entry fee is cash only at the door, too.  Check your wallets and mark your calendars. We look forward to seeing you there!

Unicoi Outfitters: Friendly. Local. Experts.


Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Your Favorite Fish?

What’s your favorite fish species to pursue with your fly rod? Feel free to simply name one or to tell a fish tale, too.

I’ll help get this started. For me, it’s a hefty summer river Smallie  on a topwater bug. A close second and local favorite is Smallie’s kissin’ cousin, Shoalie.

There’s something special about tossing a leggy stealth bomber up, under the overhanging tree limbs and letting it drift slowly along the bank at dusk. In those skinny, lazy, clear summer flows, most fish will only come up to play as the sun sets. Watching a two-pound plus river bass materialize from the depths, nose up close enough to kiss my bug, and then drift along with it for five feet downstream gives me the equivalent of buck fever. 

Hopefully the bug finally disappears though a hole in the surface where Big Girl inhaled a quart of water with supper.  The hook is set, the fly line dives and then shoots back up to the surface as the  missile launches into the air. Again and again. I pray that each leaping headshake doesn’t propel my bug back at me and break my heart.

If the hook holds and the fish tires, I pull that radius closer as she circles me. Finally, I clamp my thumb on her lower lip and pull her close for a thanks and a quick pic or two. She then slides back slowly into the shadows. And I am left with another special memory for my book of life.

Put me waist-deep in a summer river, with a stout 6-weight in my hand and some topwater bugs in my sling pack, and I’m a happy camper.

How bout y’all?  Pick your own winner and tell your tale.

Unicoi Outfitters: Friendly. Local. Experts.


Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Hank the Yank in our Booth!

Breaking news on the Atlanta Flyfishing Show: we have caught a trophy!   Nationally renowned flyfishing author, editor, guide, and fly developer Henry Cowen will be in our UO booth on Friday (1:30-2:30pm) and Saturday (2-3pm). Come by, buy one of his new books on inland striper fishing, and have Henry sign it for you. Chat with one of the true masters of our sport.  We’ll see you at the show!


Unicoi Outfitters: Friendly. Local. Experts.


Monday, January 23, 2023

Hot Coldwater Bugs

Thanks for your lists of hot mid-winter trout flies. As promised, here are ours! We checked in with some UO staffers and fishing buddies and their favorite bugs for icy trout waters follow.

UO manager Jake: Small black stonefly size 14-16, Rootbeer Midge #18, Mighty May Baetis #16-18, Peach egg #14

UO Helen manager Wes: root beer midge, peach egg, black leech, pheasant tail nymph.

UO guide Israel: Micro mayfly, red zebra midge, twisted sister, parachute BWO on warm afternoons.

UO guide Caleb:  zebra midge, pheasant tail, Duracell jig, peach egg.

UO staffer Dredger: #8 brown Pats rubberlegs, #12 tan mop, #14 peach egg, #18 pheasant tail nymph.

UO staffer Atticus: root beer midge, trout crack, peach egg, black tungsten pheasant tail.

UO buddy RSquared:

“For topwater it’s a Bluewing Olive small as you can get and still see it (Sz 18 parachute for me on a good day) For subsurface, a black stonefly imitation with a pheasant tail dropper work great.  For white bass and crappie, a white wooly bugger is hard to beat!”

UO buddy Ron:

#12/14 egg, #10/12 tungsten girdle stone, #10-16 soft hackle.

#6 olive WB

UO buddy Landon: peach egg, ate rubberlegs, black mohair leech, small black pheasant tail.

UO buddy Splatek:  tan mop, Y2K, sexy Walts worm, zebra midge.

We hope this list steers you toward success in your winter trouting treks. Stop by either UO store if you need a few flies or hot intel on our chilly January streams.

Unicoi Outfitters: Friendly. Local. Experts.