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.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010


What great weather to fish some of those flies we've been tying.

I'll be out of town next week and so will some of the other tyers I've talked to--thought we would change our "Tie 1 On" session to the 3rd Tues for April--hope that will be alright.

The date will be April 20.

If you are interested in learning to tie your own flies or tying flies that get better results, come join us at 6:30 PM at Unicoi Outfitters in Helen.

Hope to see a lot of you this Sat. at Kid's Fishing Day at the shop in Helen--it will be great.



Orvis Spring Special

A bunch of folks came out for Orvis Day in Helen last Saturday - in addition to all the fun activities and seminars, we had a coupon good for $25 off an Orvis product purchase.  The good news for those that missed it is that the coupons are still good - until April 18, 2010.  Just print off a copy of this coupon and bring into either of our Helen or Blue Ridge stores and you'll get $25 off any Orvis purchase of $50 or more.  Click here to download the coupon.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Tearing Up The Toccoa!

We received this weekend fishing report from The Dredger (aka Jeff Durniak) and his fishing partner, Mark Whitney. The pictures will say much more than my words as they had a banner afternoon Saturday on the Toccoa tailwater. In addition to landing one of the tagged rainbows, they also brought to hand a 16" rainbow, and these two 20" plus beauties. No dry flies on this day but with these results, who's complaining.

Jeff had grabbed Mark at lunch in Helen, after Mark's opening day had already made by a 19 inch Dukes Creek brown that morning. From the same pool, Mark had also long distance released two more big browns with one of them estimated at over 20". The wind on the Toccoa seemed to hold tailwater bugs back, so they dredged a few hours and landed about 10 fish between the two of them. What a great way to spend opening day of trout season!

On Sunday, Dredger couldn't find anyone to go fish with him during the storms tracking across the state, so he watched the radar and hit the Toccoa DH in between storms. Doppler Day as he called it.

Here's his report:

Only fished lower end from island up 200 yards to rope swing hole. Decent action all day long. Dredged buggers to start and had a good steady pick, including one bonus fish, a smallmouth bass that ate the prince dropper.

I ended with 2 hrs of #16 soft hackle hare's ear dropped 2 ft under caddis dry. I had to tried several flies to figure out the risers that came up when air finally warmed. Zero on caddis. All on wet as fish rose, in slow eddies along the bank and behind midstream boulders, to unidentified emerger.

The two hours of fly casting were a nice change to catapulting lead all winter. But for big fish, Mike's mohair leech is still the ticket. The red stripes of Toccoa DH rainbows are outstanding.

It's spring! Look for noses poking thru the water surface.

Thanks to Jeff and Mark for this great fishing report. He's right, it's spring and time to get on the river! Hope you can get out often this year.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Toccoa infects another with "the BUG"

Fly fishing seems to have this overwhelming ability to just consume the minds of the newly "hooked." Duane Miller has fallen victim to it. Duane and I met months ago in the shop. At that time, he was just reintroducing himself to fly fishing. He had learned to fish when he lived in Colorado and had enjoyed it as one of his pastimes, but it would soon become more than just a pastime. After talking to him several times as he would come into the shop, I knew that he would soon be in for it. I had been there (or I guess am there), where all you want to do is fish, that's it. It started with a tying class and he fell in love with that. One thing led to another and he decided to take a few trips to learn as much as possible about the area. We spent a day on the upper Toccoa and then with the recent weather, decided to hit the lower Toccoa. I guess that is where the real story begins.

Last Friday there was an early generation so we planned to be ready to push off when they turned the water off. We rode the high water down for the first little bit so the fishing was a little slow, but it would not be long. About the time the water settled out, Duane was in the groove. One of the first fish that we hooked was a fish that was pushing 20 inches but managed to shake the hook. Then just a few casts later, it was on. As soon as he set the hook, I saw the flash and I knew that this was the fish we were after. Catching any fish on a fly rod is a blast but when you see a fish like that, it's just a whole different deal. The fish made a couple of good runs out in the middle and then headed to a pile of logs on the bank. At this point, things seem to be in slow motion. We went after it and somehow it came back out of the mess a lot easier than I expected. Away it went on another run, this time to wrap a rock. At this point, as a guide, you are about to freak, you just want this fish in the net. Duane played the fish perfectly. We went after it again and the line came off the rock and the fish settled down for a second - just a second. It began thrashing not too far off the boat and in doing so, wrapped the leader around itself. I am thinking if we get away with this, it will be a miracle. The fish settled down and sure enough, the line came unwrapped and another run followed. I can't tell you how long all of this lasted because you just lose track of everything, you are just in another world. The fish finally settled down and decided to give in. When a fish like that hits the net, you just can't explain it. A few pictures and then the fish was back in the water. As we sent the fish on its way, we immediately started playing back the whole fight back between each other. I can still see it in my head. The day had started off with the highlight. In total, we hooked a number of decent fish and three really good ones during the day. The other two big fish managed to get away, but the day had already been made.

Needless to say, the Toccoa is fishing well right now and we can only expect that it will get better as the weather improves and we start to get more bugs out and about. We did see a good number of caddis out and had some fish come up after them. Just a good day on the water.

When I look back on it, what a way to spend the day. Duane has really become passionate about fishing in a short period of time and it was cool for me to be there to see it payoff. After this fish, I am afraid that we may have another that has caught "the BUG."

Preserve Independent Judges for Our Environment

 We received an Action Alert from the Georgia Environmental Action Network this week that we think deserves your attention. Please review and contact your appropriate representatives.

Dear Friend,

Our judicial system is a cornerstone of our democracy. We rely on our courts to create a level playing field for everyone – citizens and businesses alike. Under Georgia law, decisions that affect the air we breathe and the water we drink are reviewed by judges who are expected to exercise an independent review of the facts and judge cases fairly on their merits. Now, a few special interests want to change that—and if they win, it will harm our democracy and our environment.


Senate Bill 486 would unfairly tilt the balance of power toward the state environmental agency and away from citizens and business owners who monitor its actions. This bill would affect permit decisions regarding landfills, coastal development, water withdrawals or transfers, coal plants and more.SB 486 would change the standard by which the state Department of Natural Resources’ actions are reviewed so that an Administrative Law Judge must give deference or preference to technical expertise presented by the government for every permit and every decision.
Our judges should be able to give equal weight to technical expertise presented by citizens in order to make an independent decision on the merits of a case.
Keep the law the way it is now. The current law respects the role of a judge as a neutral decision-maker who will equally weigh the facts presented by citizens or businesses and by the government. The government’s technical expertise should not be given more weight than the technical expertise presented by citizens or businesses.
Action Needed:
Urge your State Senator to vote NO on SB486 to ensure that citizens and businesses get a level playing field when appealing environmental permit decisions in the courts by our Administrative Law Judges. The bill narrowly passed committee by a close 5-4 vote and must be voted on by the full Senate this week to remain alive. Contact your Senator today.
Deadline for responding: Please take action by Thursday, March 26, 2010.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Casting Into the Wind

I thought this short video from Orvis was great. See if this technique won't help you become a better caster.

By the way, the photo at the left may give you an idea of the wind on this Argentine float trip. Thank goodness it didn't last all day. Wish I had watched this video before I went.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Nacoochee Bend 3/13/10

Nacoochee Bend is fishing great - check out this report from Vance Hendon....Vance fished the Bend this past Saturday while on the way to the Foothills TU Hoot on the Hooch - it was his 4th trip to fish Nacoochee Bend:

Al, Brad , Jared and I spent an awesome day on the 13th (yikes, unlucky number) of March fishing the "Bend" on the Hooch thru Unicoi Outfitters.
We were all a little concerned after the week's rain and especially after Friday's storms. Mr John Cross, called me late Friday and told me that the river had risen to 280+ CFM and was still going up, so confidence was low of fishing at all Saturday. We were very pleased with the water conditions when we arrived at the shop around 8:30. The river was a tad high, higher than I had ever fished it, but fishable nonetheless. We got some good info from Rex and Hamp at the shop before we headed out.
Jared and I headed upstream from the shop to fish the "rock wall " and Al and Brad headed down to fish below the mill. I had never fished this stretch before and was impressed with the size of the bend there and the amount of water in the river. We had intended in crossing over and going down to fish the bend right behind the shop, but with the high water levels, we stayed put. On my second drift thru the upper end of the run, I hooked my first of many fish, 16" or so, he was way too lively to get a good measure. This pattern continued for both of us, every 2-3 drifts thru the section. I was using a very special top fly that is tied in secret by an awesome tier who would have to kill me if I told you about it, all I can say was that it is olive in color with a bubble gum San Juan worm on bottom, LOTS of weight! The SJW was the trick ( THANKS..REX !!) although we did get quite a few on the secret fly! IT WAS AMAZING, every fish was 14"ish and up, no small fish.

I hooked a fish that I knew was big soon as I lifted to set the hook, felt like a rock. It started down stream immediately, then as I took up line it came straight at me, so fast that I thought that I had lost it. Once I caught up taking up line I realized it was still on and headed upstream. It was headed upstream at such a fast pace in such strong current that I thought instantly....no way you're gonna land this one! He finally got tired enough to swim in the net, and man what a fish! On the scale from my net he was right at 26" Big Trout. ( pic attached) Between the two of us, we landed 12-13 fish here, and we had only fished for a little over an hour! The day continued like this all day long. We headed down to the Mill pool, have to fish there, just have to. Brad was still there and Al had gone on down stream some. They had been getting some big fish out of the pool there , and we jumped in to get some too! Too many big fish to count here, we fished there for an hour and a half or so, and our shoulders and arms were TIRED when we moved on down stream.
I think the most productive section of the day was from about 50 yards below the mill all the way down to the last pool. I hooked two fish that ran me all over the river, that were never landed. One that straightened out a #10 hook! Biggest trout I have ever seen and that is all I did was see it a couple of times. Al got some big ones in this section too ( see pics FAT fish ) as we just moved from pool to pool going down river. The river was high and made casting in some places a little difficult, but it was worth it once you got the fly in the right place. I never even made it below the first bridge, Al and Brad fished below the bridge for a little while and got good fish. The fish were strong, BIG, healthy and hungry. What a day, I would never in my wildest dreams, thought the day would be so good. I honestly cannot tell you how many fish I caught, all I know for sure is that I needed some Advil for my shoulder when I got home! Y'all probably ought to start branding these pigs with the official UO brand!

Kudos to Unicoi Outfitters for managing such a wonderful place to spend the day fishing. I HIGHLY recommend spending the day on the Bend to anyone who wants a chance to catch nice trout and I mean NIZE!!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Cure for Cabin Fever

I am sure that I am not the only one that has been suffering from a reoccurring case of cabin fever for the last few months, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. Six straight days on the water is just the dose of "medicine" that was needed. Finally the weather has been rather pleasant, considering what we have been through this winter, and the fishing is on the upswing as well. We spent a good bit of time on the upper Toccoa in the last week and one thing is for sure, there are a ton of fish up there to be caught. With the high water and all the poor weather, the fish have had the river to themselves for the better part of the winter. I was told Friday that the stocking truck was seen on the DH putting a truckload on top of what was already there. The wading is still tough, but the extra water has been perfect for float trips. We made three trips down in the last week including a three boat, six man assault.

Monday morning, we headed out with six guys that have fished with us quite a bit over the years for a chance for them to see something new. The upper river is definitely a different look than the lower. You float through sections that have no houses or nothing else around, it's just you and the fish. It was a little chilly when we pushed off but it was not long and the sun was up and things began to heat up. Even with three boats full hammering every inch of the river, everyone was into fish. There were several nice fish in the 15 to 17 inch range landed and then one that was 20 plus (Pictured below). As you get close to the DH section, well then it's on. All of those holes that are nearly impossible to wade are easily picked apart out of the boat. Being up high gives you a completely different look at all those places. You would be surprised at some of the little spots that hold fish that you just never see when you are down in the water. The day was a blast and the guys finished the day asking why they had never done that float before.

Tuesday morning we headed out early to the lower end of the tailwater ahead of the early generation. We were only going to get about two hours in before the generation hit so it was going to have to be quick. It ended up being quality not quantity. There were several above average fish including an 18 incher that made it to the net and a fish that was well above average that didn't make it to the net. The fish that got away gave several good runs before calming down and showing itself. It got close three or four times for a good look. And I'm just estimating, but I would say that it was at least 22 inches. After a pretty lengthy fight, it pulled one of those magic tricks and threw the hook right back at Chris.

So I say all of this because I am sure some of you are itching to get out as bad as I was. There really does seem to be a bunch of fish on the DH and they are willing to eat. The generation on the tailwater has not given as much of an opportunity to fish here lately but with that said, it may make the fish a little more willing to cooperate going into spring. It looks like as fair weather comes it's going to be a good opportunity to make up for some lost time.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Beautiful Rainbow Trout on the Toccoa DH

Becky and I headed to the Toccoa DH to do some much needed fishing this past weekend. The river was running around 513cfs, but we were able to bear it by wading where we could see the bottom and following the gravel areas. The water temp read 40 degrees F. So we knew the fish were in deep pools with small strike zones. We had to put a minimum of two split shot on our lines to get the flies down to the fish. I used a Y2K with a Fergus trout bug and Beck used a Olive Wooly Bugger with Shell Pink San Juan worm trailer. Both dropper rigs were successful.
We caught several beautifully colored rainbows. Check out the red streak!

A significant Black Caddis hatch occurred while we were on the river. I laughed so hard when Beck inhaled one when she turned to yell downstream at me to let me know she another fish on.

We also noted an occasional black stone fluttering around too. However, most of our fish were mostly interested in streamers and nymphs. We had a great time on the river.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Toccoa Tailwater 3/7/10

After hearing predictions of truly spring-like weather for Sunday afternoon in north Georgia, I called a few friends and made plans to fish the Toccoa tailwater that afternoon. The TVA generation schedule was 7 AM until 11 AM which would give everyone a chance to go to church, eat a leisurely lunch and even hang around the fly shop a little while and tell some lies. (Oops, actually, they're more like embellishments). The tailwater hasn't been fishable much recently due to the releases at the dam but a sunny Sunday afternoon was too good to pass up. There have been some black caddis coming off so we stood a good chance of getting into some dry fly action. Well, as is usually the case, the weatherman wasn't very accurate. It was a nice day for early March but the sun never came out and the wind was blowing just enough to make it chilly. We saw a few gray caddis flying about but only a couple of rises. So deep we went. The beautiful 17" brown pictured above fell for a black micro-leech. Earlier a black woolly bugger had tangled with some kind of really big fish that never showed itself and ran almost into the backing twice before finding a rock to cut the line. Our group did catch some smaller rainbows and one with a DNR tag. Considering where we were fishing, the tagged fish must have moved either several miles downstream or several miles upstream since there were no public stocking areas nearby. The award for chunky gal of the day goes to this 17" rainbow. All in all, a great day to be on the river. Keep your ears open for reports of tailwater hatches in the coming days on the Toccoa. It should be great going forward into spring, whenever the weathermen decide to let us actually have one.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Kid's Fishing Day at Unicoi Outfitters in Helen

UPDATE - Kid's Day is full!  We've got 50 young fly-fishers set up and ready to go in two sessions.  We will let you know which session you are scheduled for.  Bring rod & reel and waders if you have them, but if not, that's OK too.  Thanks to all for your interest in this project....We're looking forward to it.  

Fishing For Fun - That's what we'll be doing April 3 at Unicoi Outfitters. This day will be free fishing for all kids age 6-15 on the private waters at Nacoochee Bend in Helen. The fun will start at 9:30 in the morning and each boy or girl will be on the water about 2 hours with an experienced guide. Deadline for signing up is March 27 and this can be done at Unicoi or by calling the shop at 706-878-3083. Fishing times will be assigned after registration is complete.

Equipment will be supplied by Unicoi, but bring your own fly rod and waders if you have them. All fish will be released. Opportunities in fly tying, fly casting, and other activities will be available.

Lunch will be provided by Chef John Cross.

A parent or guardian must be present on the day of the event.

This will be a fun day - what fishing is really about. All the guides are looking forward to it and can't wait to volunteer.

"Kid's Fishing Day" is sponsored by Unicoi Outfitters, the employees that work there, and Foothills Chapter of Trout Unlimited.

Call John Cross at the shop for more information.



Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Dredging Tips From Jeremy Hunt

Dredging with Jeremy Hunt

Guide Tips for March
Making Sense of Split Shots and Droppers

A common mistake that many fly fishermen make is that they do not use enough weight to get their fly near the bottom. Heavy flows on the White River, Norfork Tailwater and Lake Taneycomo are deceivingly slow, and often it will appear that a big split shot or heavy "point" fly (the fly above a dropper) is not necessary. Anglers who are learning how to fish a new piece of water should err on the side of using too much weight when starting out. If they are hitting bottom on every drift, it is time to go shallower with the indicator or lighter with respect to weight.

I have always found it helpful to really simplify my approach when it comes to determining how much weight I will use. Over the years, I have developed a system that helps keep me sane. Keep in mind that the only objective of nymph fishing is to dead-drift a fly near the bottom, and adjustments are almost always necessary in order to stay on the fish all day long. The strategies I utilize work for me, but I encourage others to get creative and try new things.

Heavy water on the White, Norfork and Lake Taneycomo

One of the most challenging fly fishing situations on the White River Basin is when flows are heavy. During periods when lake levels are above normal levels, the dams will usually release copious amounts of water. At these times, it is not only important to use enough weight to keep a fly down; anglers must also find shallow and slow areas where the fish are accessible.

When flows exceed the two unit level on Taneycomo, I will almost always use a 3/0 split-shot. A big indicator is needed to hold up the weight of this size shot. On the White, I will use a 3/0 shot once there are three or more units in operation. I can find places on Norfork to use this size of split-shot on levels that exceed a half a generator of water. As the water gets increasingly higher, the fish will tend to gravitate towards banks, structure and submerged gravel bars. A boat is necessary to fish these rivers when the water is rolling.

Moderate water on the White, Norfork and Lake Taneycomo
Drifting in a boat during moderate flows can be a blast. During these conditions, the trout on our rivers are free to move around in order to find food, and the fish are often aggressive. By moderate flows, I am referring to times when there is only one or two generators running on the White and Taneycomo. On the Norfork, moderate flows are anything less than a half a unit.

Even though the water may appear slow and shallow during moderate water releases, it is still critical to use an appropriate amount of weight. In general, I will use either a #4 shot in really shallow water, and I will use a BB or AB in deep or fast zones. Before I switch to a different size shot, I will first adjust my indicator to see if that makes a difference. The trick to catching a lot of trout on moderate flows is to find the deeper slots where the fish are concentrated.

Low water on the White, Norfork and Lake Taneycomo

I primarily use weighted flies when the water is shut down, but there are still situations where I like to fish with a non-weighted pattern below a dropper or an indicator. Non-weighted micro San Juan Worms, midge pupas and tiny emergers will produce nice fish when dead drifted through riffles and runs during low water. If I decide to use a split-shot, I will go with a #6 normally, but I've even gone as small as a #8 in the skinny water of the catch and release areas on the upper White and Norfork.

Thoughts on droppers

Now that multi-fly rigs are allowed in the catch and release areas, there are many opportunities to use droppers and point flies to fool the "refined" fish that reside in our trophy zones. If you are just learning the sport, or if you have trouble with casting at all, it is recommended that only one fly be used at a time. A single fly works very well on the White, Norfork and Lake Taneycomo. Dropper setups are prone to time-sucking tangles, but they do have a place. Two-fly rigs are perfect for really heavy water when an attractor fly above the dropper will help garner more attention, and they are also helpful in really clear water where the trout are wary of split-shots. Seldom will two-fly rigs catch significantly more fish than one-fly rigs, but it does happen, so it is important to be prepared.

Tackle and tips

There are scores of split-shot brands on the market, and almost all of them are different from each other in one way or another. I prefer the fly fishing shots that are green or black, as these colors seem to be ignored by spooky fish. It is critical to only use round split-shots - the reusable ones with 'ears' will hang up in spots where a perfectly round shot will simply roll along. Round split-shots are the only way to go, no matter where you fish.

Round split-shots are sold by Wal-Mart and other retailers - I did use the big-name brands they sell for many years. There are several issues with these products, but these problems are easy to solve. First off, many split shots are way too silver and bright. If I'm in a hurry, I will simply soak shiny shots in vinegar, which will dull their appearance significantly. I've also been known to paint split shots orange, peach or yellow. This can work really well during high water, and the messes associated with a point fly/dropper are never an issue with a painted split shot.

Another frustrating aspect of fishing with a split shot is how they like to slide around. I solve this dilemma by simply tying my lower tippet into two pieces, and I then place the split shot above the knot. This will eliminate the shot sliding down to the fly, but it is still important to make sure that any type of split-shot is firmly attached to the line so that it will not move around.

Using split-shots and droppers is just part of being a complete fly angler, even though such attachments to a leader make tangles more likely. The White, Norfork and Lake Taneycomo can be fly fished quite effectively using weighted flies during low water periods, but when the water gets high, added weight is absolutely necessary. Those who consistently get their fly down near the bottom are going to experience the most success.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Good Friends--Beautiful Day--Big Fish

Tony Land and Rick Hill were up from Tampa for a few days and couldn't resist fishing on such a beautiful day--the 1st day of March. They called me and we decided to try fishing Nacoochee Bend. Good decision--stoneflies were on the water and the fishing was great. Both were on fish right away and it didn't slow down too much the rest of the afternoon. What a difference a few degrees in water temp can make.

We hooked and landed some big fish just like the one that Rick is smiling at in the picture. Thanks guys for a great day--it just seems to get better every time we fish together.

Can't wait till you come back.