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, December 20, 2019

UO Fishing Report - 12/20/19

 UO Weekly Fishing Report - Special Holiday Edition

This week’s theme is “Holiday Cheer!” We have much cheer headed our way during this very special week: faith, family, friends, and maybe some extra fishing time, too! Let’s pile on even more cheer: higher streamflows, forecasted warm afternoons in between next week’s chilly days,
and some GADNR holiday gifts in our Delayed Harvest waters! One DNR elf also said that Vogel Park’s lake might be a great place for a child to break in his shiny, new Christmas fishing pole. JLT suggested drowning worms under a bobber for little Timmy or Tina’s first fish. For the latest DNR intel, check here late on Friday afternoons:
Given these presents from your state and federal hatchery elves, decorate your fly patch this week with your big, flashy stuff: orange and red eggs, neon Y2K’s, tan and lime mops, and brightly beaded buggers.
For veteran fish, however, you’ll see a common theme among our guides and anglers: a chunky rubber-legged stone as the lead fly, followed by a tiny trailer like a size 16-18 pheasant tail, hares ear, midge, black copper John, or soft hackle wet. Subtle colors are the key to those small trailers. You’re imitating the top three bugs of our winter stream drift: midges, blue wing olives, and little black winter stoneflies. If you try a bead, try a black one. If you only have silver heads in your fly box, carry a black Sharpie pen with you and “adjust on the fly.” 😉
These reports also illustrate that technique trumps fly pattern. With higher flows after rains, everyone’s adding an extra shot or two to get down to the action. Lesson: adjust your shot numbers and the depth (height) of your strike indicator before changing flies.
While stream temps are cold, they’re not yet bone-chilling like they’ll be in the new year. They’re still running in the mid- to high-forties, so trout are still eating well.
The key has been to get the flies rolling along the bottom. During flood flows, drift them through the flood refuges (low velocities). That’s often right along the streambank or behind that big bedrock ledge that runs all the way across the river, perpendicular to streamflow.
Here we go with some fresh intel from this week’s angling elves:
Ben S: Small stream action has been very good, with many fish fondled on his favorite egg pattern, which is top secret. Both DH and wild streams have fished well. He also caught one on top, on his strike indicator - a buoyant hopper!
More small stream reports:
Regular shop guest “TN Tourist” said he took some coveted UO intel and put his GA buddy on his first true speck. He showed us a pic of a beautiful seven-inch brookie. I believe they were tossing Caddis dries inside the Rhododendron tunnels. Where? Well....
Young bucks like Ben S, Trey, and Ben D have also been harassing the abundant, little wild rainbows in the Tallulah. Hot flies were eggs and squirmies, trailed by a #16 or 18 hares ear nymph. Hint: hi-stick to achieve perfect dead drifts and fool these wily “natives.”
Weekend guide Ben D sez:
Water was high and a tad more challenging than usual. Had to run slightly larger flies such as stones, mops and other leggy bugs. Ran super heavy just to get the flies down in the seams. Fish were spread out whereever they could take refuge. Average size was 10 to 12 inches. No tanks netted all weekend. Had two clients break off very nice fish, though.
Private Waters - UO Guide Hunter Pittman’s Report:
With the rain we have had recently and with more rain on the radar, my “go-to” rig lately has been a heavy, two-fly nymph rig. Up top I am using a black rubber legged stone fly pattern or a girdle bug.

If they don’t like it then that will be replaced by an egg or a creme mop fly. My dropper or bottom fly in my rig has been a soft hackle with a dark or tan body, or a hares ear. If neither of those work I’ve been able to catch them on a root beer midge and a trout crack midge when they were being more picky. Even with this rain some places have remained very clear so I have been using 4x to my top fly, and 5x to my lower fly in those places. I also make sure that I have enough weight to reach the bottom. Sometimes I have to use multiple medium-large BB’s to get down there. I always try to add extra weight and change flies before changing spots, that little change can often produce for you. With the incoming rain and rising water levels, I would be focusing on the middle to back of pools.
Tooga: New fly flinger Walter G from Greenville happened upon a random Rabunite while wading the Chattooga DH last Sunday afternoon (15th). He re-rigged with the Rabunite’s suggested “legs and eggs” combo, added two shot, and looped a thingamabobber way up his leader butt. With a few practice casts, he was schooled on the deadly art of the drag-free drift and...
Was immediately into fish, with a nice handful of rainbows and a fat, strong 14-inch brown fondled. To top off his day, he was invited to the Rabun Rendezvous on Jan 18, where 250 of north GA’s trouting fans will gather at Dillard House for bluegrass, BBQ, and a boatload of prizes. You’re invited, too!
Dukes: has been hit or miss. The high batting averages were by veteran hitters who took lots of batting practice through the years and know how to fish that trophy stream. Fish up to 24 inches were reportedly landed. Rookies with crummy averages are striking out in the clear water because they haven’t yet developed their home field advantage. Smithgall rookies can learn by clicking more than once on the internet and reading the scouting reports there : articles and YouTube vids. And then by fishing the place to develop their stream reading skills. We vets call it, “paying your dues.”
Fires on fire: check out Big Browns’ great Fires Creek trip report on NGTO:
UO staffers Wes and Jackson trekked north to throw out their shoulders via ten-weights and huge wet rags known as musky flies. Rumor has it that Jackson connected! Details will surely follow.
Stocking stuffers: need one more? Grab a Dream Trip ticket from your local TU chapter. For ten bucks, you have a shot at winning the March raffle for a summer week in Yellowstone. You’ll be lodged and guided by our fishing buddies, John and Laine McGarity. How about that for a memorable Christmas gift???
Tix will also be available at the Rabun Rendezvous on 1/18.
Thanks for taking a look at this week’s report . We hope it puts a few more holiday fish into your nets. Feel free to share your own fish stories with us. Also, please remind your older web grinches (like Dredger) that they don’t have to be Facebook members to sneak peeks at our UO Facebook page and snag all of this timely trouting intel.
The UO staff sure appreciates our gifts of your friendship and patronage. We’ll be closed on Christmas and New Year’s Day, but open on all others. Give us a call or, better yet, stop by the shop to swap some lies with our Liars Club. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all of you!

Friday, December 13, 2019

UO Fishing Report - 12/13/19

This week’s theme is “go with the flow.” Two separate inch-plus rain events are due today (12/13) and Tuesday, and might blow out our biggest streams for a day or so. The good news is that, since our streamflows have been so pitifully low these storms may only boost streamflows back up to their historic averages (those little yellow triangles on the USGS flow graphs) or just a bit above normal before they fall again. https://waterdata.usgs.gov/usa/nwis/uv?02176930

In other words, fishable flows should return very quickly. A little more water in the channel, maybe even with some stain to it, should also enhance your catch rates. Why? You’ll get some better nymph drifts, and the fish can’t study your offerings as closely. They’re apt to make quicker, careless decisions - much to your delight. Take advantage of better flows while they last.
As we enter mid-December, our best fishing will also happen in that traditional “winter window” of 11AM to 4PM, when daily water temperatures peak. Trout will still eat as long as the mercury is north of 40 degrees, but they’ll eat a lot more with each additional degree towards 50.
Here we go with some timely, local intel:
Chattooga DH: Ted J’s Foothills TU trio had a big time last Tuesday. Red glo-bugs and brown soft hackles did the trick. The Ami and Toccoa DH’s will fish similar to the Chattooga. So will the Nan and Tuck in NC, but their winter windows will be narrower since they run several degrees colder than our Georgia streams. That’s good news in spring and summer, but not so good when we’re searching for warmer water in winter. Reminder: serve them “legs and eggs” on a bottom roll, via a long tippet and adequate shot. Also try a deep, slow-stripped bugger in the late afternoon. Hit the pools, which are refuges from both droughts and floods.
Smith DH: dry/dropper combos have remained the winning ticket in low, clear flows. Residents will, however, eat your bigger flies (Glo bugs, squirmies, San Juan’s, rubberlegs, and buggers) during higher flows, but they’ll quickly return to picky eating habits (#18 and 20 midges and pheasant tails) when stormflows subside. There’s a good report or two on the NGTO small streams forum. Notice that one angler nailed fish through the overlooked riffles! http://www.georgia-outdoors.com/.../n-georgia-small...
Fires DH: armed with a morning kitchen pass yesterday (12th), ATL Chad drove up early and froze his fingers. Despite stiff digits and ice in his guides, he managed a heaping handful of trout, including a 20-inch whopper rainbow, on his dredged combo of a rubberlegs with a small prince dropper. He returned to ATL with a smile, in time for afternoon family activities.
Dukes: rain is good! If you’re lucky enough to have a reservation, or snag a vacant slot as a walk-on, put that raincoat and your barbless squirmy worms to work. Use as thick a tippet as turbidity will allow, so you can win the majority of your fights with the big boys. Big peach eggs, Rubberleg stones, and small black leeches are a few more flood go-to’s for your Smithgall barbless box.
Headwaters: dry/droppers are still working, with a few fish reported yesterday on the dry, despite chilly morning waters on the Hooch trib fished by our shop guest. Bushy tan Caddis, stimmies, and small chubby Chernobyls have served well as hook-toting strike indicators, and any tiny, weighted nymph or midge dropped off the back will entice the shy bottom dwellers.
Private waters: low and clear equals “long and light”. Under the chilly, drought conditions, winter strikes can be very subtle. We call it Zen fishing. Here at Nacoochee Bend, the North Paulding HS Flyfishing clubbers had an ample number of hits last Sunday, but were slow to recognize those subtle strikes and quickly set the hook. Their games will improve with practice. Chestatee fan “Dobbin” reported lotsa success this week on his home waters for friends stripping a black bugger or dead-drifting his customized recipe for a sexy Walts worm. What’s that recipe? Well, I don’t believe he said...
Good luck this week as you go with the flow. Avoid the big storm spikes, fish the moderate ones with chunky flies, and revert back to midge fishing if those flows dry up again. Come by or call us at the fly shop (706-878-3083) for more intel and the hottest flies for your cold-weather trouting. May Santa stuff a twenty-inch bow into YOUR stocking.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Wading Safety!

This morning we received a copy of this letter from Henry Cowen. We can't stress strongly enough the importance of wading safety. Please be careful out there!

Date: December 8, 2019 at 8:50:35 PM EST
To: Henry Cowen <henryc@
Subject: Thank you for the life-saving advice
Not sure if you remember me, but I interviewed you about two years ago for an article I was supposed to do an article for American Angler magazine on a first aid kit for gear. The article was supposed to be about a 1/2 dozen things an angler can have on hand to fix an equipment malfunction. A couple months later a new editor killed the story (said he wasn't interested), I got busy and didn't try to pitch it elsewhere. But I would like to share a story with you that came from that phone conversation.

While we were talking about gear repairs, you at one point brought up personal safety, even though it had nothing to do with the article. You rattled off a number of things a guy or gal can do to keep safe on the water. One of those things was to always put your wading belt over your raincoat or wading jacket in cold weather. This way, as you said, if you end up going for a ride in the current, it will take a long time to swamp your waders. Out of all the things we talked about for the hour we were on the phone, that one stuck for some reason. I own a Simms wading jacket, and since that conversation two years ago, I have always made it a point during my fall, winter, and spring steelheading to cinch that belt over the jacket just in case. Another thing you mentioned is that an angler should always have a bag of spare clothes, especially during cold weather. It makes sense, but I never considered it. I live 20 minutes from a really productive steelhead river, so since our conversation, I have always had a spare bag of clothes in the back of my car, where it sat unused for dozens upon dozens of trips. Until today.
This weekend brought a break from the cold winter weather, so I decided to go steelheading for half a day. We had some really nice weather, so when I arrived at the parking lot, there were a fair number of cars there, as everyone had the same idea as I did. After rigging up, I hoofed it downstream a mile, fishing a few spots that are usually productive, before hoofing it a little more to a hole I hadn't been to yet this fall, but usually produces. When I arrived, I found two large trees had fallen right above the tail out. Foolishly, I didn't scout it, but rather started fishing at the head where I normally begin, as I haven't landed a steelhead in a couple weeks and really wanted to make it happen. As I moved to the 7-8 foot gut of the pool, I hooked a really good bright silver chrome hen right where I thought she'd be. She breached the surface before heading fast toward the tail out and the bend in the river. I figured it was safe to follow and started walking when all of sudden the normally thigh-deep river dropped way, way over my head and I found myself afloat in the current with no bottom to stand on heading towards a tangle of tree branches; the tail out I thought was there had been scoured out due to the fallen trees and I had failed to observe the obvious. At that point, I could still feel the fish pulling downstream as my focus shifted towards how to bring myself closer to shallow water near shore. I could feel the 38-degree water slowly seeping into my waders; it would have swamped me at that point had I not had the belt cinched over my jacket. Instead, I was able to kick my feet and paddle my arms towards shore to keep myself afloat until my feet touched the shelf near shore. After getting my bearings, I realized that my fish had broken off somewhere during the ordeal, but I'm not sure where. I was mostly concerned with keeping myself from drowning. Which I did. And I also somehow managed not to lose or break my fly rod.
After the long hike back to the car, followed by a change of clothes, I was back on the river at a good run near the parking area. I hooked another steelhead right before darkness settled in, but it threw the hook. Despite being skunked, I came away from the adventure with an increased awareness of simple preparation. Had I not had my belt cinched over my jacket, based on where I was, I wholeheartedly believed things could have gotten ugly really fast; I could have been soaked to the bone in cold winter weather over a mile from my car over some rough terrain. Or I might have drowned.
Thanks for the advice. Despite not landing anything tonight, I think I'm going to resurrect and retool my idea about a first aid kit, but maybe try and do something regarding safety. If I hadn't had the conversation two years ago with you, I might not have cinched my belt over my jacket as you suggested. And as a result, I might not be writing this right now. So thanks again. I ran into another angler in the parking lot when I was changing my clothes. I'd never met him before, but he said, "S---...I've always thought about buying a wading belt. I just might have to now after hearing your tale." Hopefully, he does.
Thanks again. And thanks too for talking to me a couple years ago. We all make a difference in the subtlest of ways, and I just wanted to reach out and let you know you did that today.
Robert J. Pales

Thursday, December 5, 2019

UO Fishing Report - 12/5/19

This week’s theme is “winter stealth.” The “winter” part of that term is easy to understand, as December nights have dropped daily water temps and forced fish toward the bottom. “Stealth,” however, seems odd, since we usually talk about the stealth game during summer, not winter. But our streams have been running very low and clear, and trout are reacting to those low flows by exiting the shallows (to avoid predators) and piling into drought refuges: deep runs and pools. With less than a half-inch of rain in the near future, those trout addresses should remain the same for you weekend anglers.

So the key to your weekend success is to fish midday, aim for the pools, approach them with stealth, and get near the bottom. Here are some fresh fishing reports and tips to prepare you for a great week ahead.
Small streams: fish are spooky and, on DH streams, have been beaten down by the high holiday fishing pressure. UO Guide Hunter P and avid trouter Ray V both hit Smith this week. Vic also came in the shop today (5th) and said the same thing about Fires Creek. Big bobbers and flies spooked fish. Best catches were on dry/dropper combos. The dry (stimmy or Caddis) is a stealthy strike indicator. Drop a weighted 18 or 20 hares ear, pheasant tail, or rainbow warrior a couple feet under it, on 6x. If the afternoon is warm, you might still have a shot at a few risers to the dry. Try the small DH streams and even the bluelines if you insist on a few fish on top.

Big streams: BEST BET. Dredger “Gallouped” to the Chattooga DH on Wednesday (4th) and christened his new four-weight Clearwater rod. He ran a Kelly Galloup drop shot rig under his Airlock indicator, with a peach egg low and a brown rubberlegs 18 inches higher on his 5x tippet, with one or two size B shot anchoring the rig. Fish ate the legs twice as often as the egg. Dredge also used Kelly’s “hand towel in wader pocket” tip to dry his hands and keep them warm, despite fondling a ton of rainbows and two browns in 44-degree water. Change the shot before changing your fly pattern! For example, Dredge fished one prime pool and had only two half-hearted hits. He then added a second size B shot and refished it, with about ten bows coming to hand. Technique trumps fly pattern, so get your fly down to them and you’ll have more hookups.
Tooga fish were podded up in the pools, so prospect the pools, leave the “dry” ones quickly, and hammer those habitats where you strike silver within your first dozen casts. The Toog must have been recently spiced up by the Walhalla boys, since the 18-inch brown, that Dredge missed, ate his Airlock instead of his flies! Fish also nailed his stripped black woolly bomber (bugger with dumbbell eyes) as he waded back down the river to end the afternoon. An Athens duo had similar great luck on drifted rainbow warriors and a stripped conehead leech. They showed Dredge a great pic of a 20-inch brown that inhaled their black leech.
These tips should also work on similar streams like the Tuck, Toccoa, and Nan. Use long tippets and enough shot to bump the bottom and the fish noses just above it.
Private waters: They are Jekyll and Hyde, but fish great with a guide! Jekyll peeks his nose out when the water is low and clear. 6x Fluoro and 18 and 20 nymphs and midges are the ticket when those fish are spooky. Right after a rain, Hyde storms out in the dingy waters and inhales squirmies on 3X and 4x. Use your God-given turbidity meters (submerged toes) to tell you whether you’ll finesse for Jekyll or duke it out with Hyde, and rig accordingly. Or just listen to your guide!

Good luck this weekend and next week. With water temps rising well above 4O, it’s still a great time for some catching! Come see us at the shop for timely intel, hot flies, and more lies. And maybe tape a hook to the bottom of your indicator...