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.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Shoalies on the Hooch

The heat we've been having lately has been pretty uncomfortable but it also flips a switch in those of us who don't have to be trout fishing every time we pick up a fly rod. For me, the logical choice is our native shoal bass which are found naturally only in the Chattahoochee River watershed. These feisty critters are a blast to catch. First, you're fishing moving water and I would rather fish a river or creek over a reservoir any day, even if the fishing is better in the pond. But, that's just me. Secondly, shoal bass, while more closely related to spotted bass, resemble smallmouth in their appearance and their reaction once hooked. The bars and stripes on a shoal bass can range from almost non-existent to brilliantly colored depending upon their localized habitat. Regardless of coloration, they are quick to attack their prey in and around swift water and rocky structure, they'll hit topwater as readily as streamers and they're just as likely to take off tail-walking as they are to bulldog you on the bottom. Superb gamefish for warm weather outings.

Afternoon temperatures have been as muggy and humid as a high school gymnasium locker room for the past week. With this in mind, I crawled out of bed this Saturday morning and hopped in the car for a quick ride over to the river for a couple of hours of fun. What a beautiful day this was. Very mild, steady breeze all morning, solitude and willing fish. In a couple of hours, I brought seven shoalies to hand, with at least four of them between 1 1/2 and 2 pounds. The big fish of the morning was a shoalie that would have gone 3 pounds or better but she long distance released me before I really had much chance to say anything about it. I'll remember where she was though.

My fishing tactics had to keep changing all morning. I started out with Craig Reindau's Harry Fodder in crawdad colors and that got me the first nice fish. When I moved into some shallow shoals, I switched to a white popper and continued to hook up with nice fish as well as some small guys with big attitudes. Finally, as I began my walk back downstream to the car, I switched to a small white Clouser in the deeper water. One of my best fish actually took the fly as it lay motionless on the bottom. Just when I think I may know a little about shoalies, something like this happens. Oh well, guess I'll have to spend more time on the river figuring them out.

Shoal bass are now found in the Chattahoochee River in Atlanta, the Flint River and the Ocmulgee River between Lake Jackson and Macon. If you're looking for an alternative to trout fishing in the summer, this would be my suggestion to you. And please practice catch and release with these guys. They're way too special to only catch once.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Toccoa Tailwater 6/6/09

John Browning, one of our guides, reports on the Toccoa River tailwater this past weekend:

The Toccoa Tailwater fished as well today as I’ve seen in a good while. We were on the water early and picked up a few trout while we let the fog burn off. Once the fog was gone the water came alive. Fish were steadily rising for a good hour and a half after the fog lifted and we saw rises all day, even in the hot part after lunch. Cahills in sizes 14 and 16 with little sulfur emergers dropped off in the film produced the majority of the fish in the morning. Later on, when the number of rises dropped off, we put the same emergers about 18” down and had success. As the sun became more direct we switched to a swing caddis dropped about 2-3’ below a big dry to support the weight and really started crossing their eyes. I was surprised at the amount of takes we had on the size 12 Royal Wulff and size 14 Orange Stimulator. I just wanted a big, stable, highly visible fly, to support the caddis through the choppy water and was not expecting to really catch fish on them but the fish were aggressive and absolutely let the big dries have it. We hooked only one large fish and we failed to get it to the boat. It was a 16-18” brown that finally spit the fly. All the other fish were in the 9-13” range with a few a little bigger and a few a little smaller. The size of the fish was average but the numbers made up for the lack of size. As always, the nervous water below shoals was the most productive, but we found several pods of rising fish in slow water. Each pod was good for 1 or 2 fish before they got put down, if we didn’t slap the water too bad. The water had some color to it and I think that helped us a lot. They did not seem to be finicky at all (for a change) which made for an excellent day. After today, I can’t wait to get back!

Really makes you want to get out on the water, eh?

Happy Birthday Don!

A great birthday report from Don Davis:

I was officially 62 yesterday. I took the day off, and expected to take
Brenda to the mountains for a little bit of fishing, followed by a
really nice lunch in Helen. Before I could leave work Wednesday, she
called to tell me she was sick as a dog with flu-type symptoms. Great!

She convinced me I should go fish and enjoy myself. I left early and
went up to the WMA above Helen. I noticed the campgrounds just before
the check station were closed, and decided to start there. I parked in
the last turn-off, walked down to the third set of steps and went down
to the stream.

When rigging up at the car, I tied on something like a Stimulator with a
white post and was determined to try a dry all morning. The weather was
overcast, but dry, so I left the jacket in the car. Within 3 casts I was
releasing a fresh little rainbow. And on a dry! I felt like a real fly

The fish came slowly but regularly as I waded upstream. As I moved out
of sight of the last campground, I found myself at the beginning of the
gorge. Actually, I guess that's the bottom. Anyway, a really neat rock
wall on the road side of the stream, and a beautiful waterfall entering
the river in mid-curve. After fishing my way up and around that curve,
the weather started to change to a very light rain, and I started
thinking about lunch. I had to sit on a rock and have a smoke while
enjoying the view across the stream. I could have been many places
besides Georgia, but the majesty and beauty of hard rock, soft moss and
splashing water was just magical. In Atlanta, people probably pay $100
an hour to get that sense of peace and contentment. A mighty fine way to
spend a birthday.

I clipped off the dry and tied on an egg fly (lt. brown) for one last
pass thru the deep hole in that curve. As I was pulling it back upstream
after a reasonably decent drift, I pulled it out of the mouth of a brown
whose spots were visible 25 feet away and over a foot deep. And in the
gloom! There was the occasional splat of larger raindrops, but still no
real rain.

I started fishing my way back down to the campground, using the egg fly
and several more "buggy" nymphs, but no more fish. I stood in the water
beside the shore, packed away the fly, then rolled and put away the
leader. [Leader - a furled leader Slowstreamer sold me nearly a year
ago! First time I used it. I like it very much.]

As I walked toward the steps, I realized my shirt was a bit damp, but it
was not uncomfortable. I started up the steps and heard the rain first,
then felt it. Within 3 steps I was soaked to the skin, and I couldn't
see the top of the steps! It's been a long time since I tried to put my
gear away in a driving rain, and I forgot how awkward it is to insert a
rod section into its proper pocket without letting the trunk flood!

I pulled up to the check station to have a coke and snack, and found two
guys already there. They were from Hall County, frequently there during
the week, and appalled at the trash left behind by others. They were
also very well-informed on Georgia's water issues, too. I enjoyed
talking to them.

It's amazing how much I enjoyed a day that I thought was going to be a
total loss.