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.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

UO Fishing Report - 1/16/20

This week’s theme is “winter mode.” Finally, our local forecasters are predicting a cold spell ahead. We’ll soon see a 20-degree drop in air temps and a similar plunge in water temps. That cold shock may dampen trout appetites for a few days until they reacclimate to “normal” winter water temperatures.

Despite the chill, at least it will be a little drier after the 2-3 inches of rain that fell recently and flooded out many streams.


The rains blew out most of your planned trips as well as our own, so this past week’s fishing reports are rather sparse. That’s okay since the techniques and catches from last week’s warm spell certainly won’t apply to our upcoming, chilly trips. Let’s spend our time looking ahead instead of back.

On the positive side, recent rains have recharged our watersheds. Small streams have already receded to fishable flows, while bigger waters have been slower to drop. The Hooch and Chattooga should see fishable flows in the next day or two,


while the Nan is still high and the Toccoa is really rocking along at 900+ cfs, great for whitewater rafting fans but a bummer for wade anglers.

This combo of high and cold water suggests that we will finally enter full winter mode. Unless we are on the slightly warmer tailwaters, GA trouters will now need to fish really low and slow. That could mean Euro techniques in pockets and runs, and super-deep indi rigs in the big pools, which are winter flood refuges for trout pods.

How deep? During winter, we often retire our tapered leaders and, instead, go to 8-12 feet of straight 6 or 8 pound mono, with 5X tippet knotted to the far end before we tie on a fly. Why? Fat leader butts just catch the current and drag our flies off the bottom. Instead, we cut thru the water column with thin leaders and tippet, and get into the winter strike zone quicker and longer. More details can be found in the “winter tips” articles on the webpage called, Secrets of the Rabunites.” Don’t forget that big bag of split shot and a bobber big enough to still float, despite its burden.

On big waters, the “legs and eggs” combo is a traditional winter go-to. In fact, Hunter says Nacoochee Bend fish are eating eggs right now, as I type this on Thursday at 3pm. If fish get picky, then pick only one of those two big patterns as your first fly and then drop a small (#18) pheasant tail nymph off the back. Other good patterns are small black or olive buggers, little black stones, black zebra midges, a little rainbow warrior, and the ole reliable prince nymph. After all, winter’s colors for natural bugs in the drift are black, brown, and olive, so “match the hatch” of the drifting blue wing olives, winter stones, fish eggs, and misc midges.

On smaller, clearing waters, aim for the smaller, natural flies, as these veteran fish have seen many fly patterns and have now smartened up. Better flows should give you the chance to use some size 14 and 16 bugs instead of the super small (#18, 20) stuff exclusively, since fish will have to make quicker decisions in faster currents. If the natural stuff isn’t working, go to something really off the wall, which the fish haven’t seen. Today it was a chartreuse mop fly for one successful Smith angler! Watch small stream water temps closely. Headwater wild trout may shut down if your thermometer nears that 40 mark.

Our 60-degree January afternoons may finally be history. Get ready for ice in rod guides and numb fingers and toes. And, if you get into full winter mode, also get ready for multiple fish excavated from each deep pool by your low and slow dredging techniques. Good luck. Call or come by the shop if we can help further. Better yet, join many of our UO staff at the Rabun Rendezvous, Saturday at 5pm at Dillard House. We’ll share some fish stories and cheer for each other’s raffle bucket wins!

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