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 30, 2022

Unicoi Outfitters Fishing Report -12/30/22


Happy New Fishing Season, as my late, great Rabunite fishing buddy would proclaim.  As we ring in the new year, it arrives via the Great Rebound. Our arctic  blast has been replaced this week by a warm slug and stream temperatures have bounced back nicely. Most local trout waters are exceeding that magic 40 degree mark for enhanced trout appetites.  Flows are a bit low and clear, but not at the drought levels of a month ago.

Lake stripers are still hit-and-miss, but the hits are homers and those double-digit fish compensate for our strikeouts.  Follow the birds and bait and the intel from our Lanier fans, Henry Cowen and our own UO young guns.

Get outside soon before winter weather returns and slows down the bite. Watch stream gauges and bring a raincoat. Hopefully tonight’s rain will be less than an inch and most streams will remain fishable through the weekend. Tuesday might bring a monsoon, so do your homework or call our shop before driving up. Just take advantage of this warm spell while you can!

Don’t miss our details in our full fishing report, linked at our home page. Wes’ hot fly list and our guide/avid angler reports from as recently as this morning will boost your chances of success. Good luck and go Dawgs!

Wes’ Hot Fly List:  

Dries: parachute BWO, Griffith’s gnat.

Nymphs & Wets:

Jig girdle bug, peach egg, Split case BWO, Ruby midge, mighty May, flashback Baetis, RS2.

Streamers & warm water:

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


No reports, as most here in GA were cold and many in NC had more ice than open water.  The warm spell gives blueliners a bit of hope, though. Yesterday afternoon Spoilcane ran 47F and Smith DH was 44F (colder due to lake storage of icy water). A few we reports suggest that headwater trout have indeed thawed out a bit.

Ian at R and R Flyfishing

(https://randrflyfishing.com/) had some neat pics and vids of iced-over streams in the Smokies. They’ll still be tough due to cold water, but due-hards can find a few fish by bumping the bottom with nymphs in the afternoon.

Subtract a few degrees from this Luftee gauge and you’ll have an idea of park conditions. Honestly, you’ll do better at lower elevations during winter.


Byron’s Smokies daily intel here:


Note the streams are low and cold.

Delayed Harvest:

Make sure you bring a dry change of clothes in your vehicle. If you dunk, you sure want to get out of those drenched, icy clothes before hypothermia bites you.

The Hooch and Tooga gauges are great indices of river conditions in our area. Always check them out before your drive north.



UO Regular RonW:  “Kurt and I hit the Tooga on 12/29  and she was good to us. We had boots in the water shortly after 8am and fished till just after 4pm.  Kurt absolutely wore them out, netting somewhere around 40 fish. Every time I  looked over at him his line was tight and rod doubled over. His hot fly was a weighted egg with a smidge of flash mixed in. He lost an absolute Donkey in the deep stuff that broke him off right after he got him on the reel. He will be thinking about that fish for a while. 

I didn't have near the numbers day but still landed somewhere  around a dozen or so fish, all rainbows with 1 brown mixed in.  Flys that worked for me were an egg, BWO soft hackle, Olive Wooly Bugger and a conehead Muddler minnow.  

It was another great day on "The River.” As a matter of fact, I've never had a bad day on The River! 

I hike along the Smith DH trail almost daily and have seen good catches by the experienced anglers (example: Tuesday’s FB post ). The fat, colorful brookies have been a big hit. The Christmas stockers are still providing good action on a variety of flies, from eggs to buggers to wets to nymphs and even a few small dries.  They’re still naive. Just try something they haven’t seen and you should score. Soon, however, those fish will smarten up and you’ll need to resume your midge game on thin tippet. It was nice to run into DNR wardens Ann and Spencer yesterday as they patrolled the creek and ensured those fish stayed in there for y’all.


UO friend Landon:  “I collected a couple stray bows for dinner after my WMA hunting trip.   I just went downstream from a DH reach and found a few wash-downs. They ate a green pumpkin worm on a jig head. 


Web reports have the Hooch fishing well for both bows and browns.  The Hooch DH got resided before Christmas and should fish well when it isn’t high and muddy. Temps stay in the mid 50’s through the winter, thanks to Lanier’s massive storage.  Check with the local shops like Orvis-Atlanta, the Fish Hawk, and Alpharetta Outfitters for the best intel on the home waters. 

We haven’t heard much from Blue Ridge Tailwater, but local guide posts of nice fish suggest it’s fishing well. It also got a shot of stockers this month.  Check in with the Cohutta shop’s gang in Blue Ridge for good intel.

Private Waters:

UO guide Caleb: “Join me in celebrating my guest’s first fish on the fly! Nacoochee Bend in Helen fished very well during our Gilligan Special this morning. All fish were brought to the net on midges.”

UO Helen manager Wes: “I fished some private water with Stewart on Tuesday. The water was gin-clear and only 33-34 degrees, so the fish were hugging the bottom. The key to success was egg patterns and midges fished deep on 5X tippet under a yarn indicator.”

UO guide Israel’s clients had a real good trip to our Soque Camp property this morning. Iz said that a ruby midge was the hot pattern today.


HenryC: “Striper fishing is still hit or miss. Fishing patterns are changing and no one pattern is "the one". Fish are on top in the creeks and are also deep in the creeks. They are in some super shallow water at times, too. You've got to be versatile in order to catch fish right now.  Your options are to sit tight for hours waiting for the shallow pattern to take effect, or burn gas and look for deep fish or fish near the surface in the creeks. Not easy fishing to say the least BUT if you want to catch a trophy, now’s the time!  Fish are eating somethin' else flies and Clouser minnows the best. Water temps are at or below 50F, which is a good temperature for Lanier winter stripers.”


UO staffers Joseph and Grant : “Striper fishing was on fire today (26th).  We caught 5 total on conventional and fly tackle. Bait is still very abundant and burning gas is the best option for anglers. Another key is birds. Seagulls, herons and loons often will show you where the fish are. For flies, Cowen’s somethin else’s and clousers in smaller sizes fished on sinking lines are the best.

UO friend RSquared: “In our northern reservoirs and larger rivers, the White Bass and Crappie are holding and feeding in the creek mouths. A light fly rod with a white wooly bugger is hard to beat for these voracious feeders. The White Bass I have been catching are small but scrappy and, in my opinion, the Crappie are some of the best freshwater table-fare to be found in our local waters! Thank goodness it is warming up!!!! I will be chasing trout tomorrow!”

There’s more  great trout and reservoir intel in today’s WRD fishing blog:


We hope these latest fish fibs help y’all  ring in the new year with cheer. Wet a line while the weather is warm and you can feel your fingers and toes -  and trout takes!  Just get home in time for the big games.  We’re an SEC bunch at UO, so feel free to join us in rooting on my Vols tonite and Jimmy’s Dawgs tomorrow. May the new year bring you many new fish tales to add to your lifetime of memories!

Unicoi Outfitters: Friendly. Local. Experts.


Thursday, December 29, 2022

Winter Dries and Droppers

While winter trouting on our southern Appalachian freestone streams is typically a deep dredging game, there are some opportunities for trout on top or at least near the surface. Those opps typically happen on warm, sunny afternoons in between  icy days. Here are a few tips from UO to prepare you for these coveted windows of winter surface action.

The key in winter is to hunt before you fish.  Look above the water and on streamside rocks and branches for buzzing bugs.   Watch for rises in shallow, soft, sunlit water, often right up against the bank. Other good, “soft” spots are behind boulders and pool tails before they pick up speed as they transition to riffles.

My experience suggests that brookies are most active in frigid waters, followed by bows, while browns seem to hibernate at temps below 40.

Use those USGS stream gauges, your pocket thermometer, and your knowledge of resident species to enhance your chances of afternoon topwater fun.

The top three bugs in our area that show themselves in the cold are little black stones, blue wing olives (BWO’s), and midges. Here are our patterns and techniques for fishing each.

First, the black stones are usually about a size 17, so we tie some dries in size 16 and 18 long shank hooks. Watch for adults crawling on bankside boulders or snow and fluttering clumsily on the stream surface as they lay eggs. You’ll think they’re gray caddisflies that didn’t learn how to fly.

The dry pattern is simply a long thin abdomen of black dubbing, a long, narrow downwing of gray elk hair, and 3-4 palmered wraps of gray or black hackle at the head. It looks like a thin, flat black stimulator without abdominal hackle. You can try a small black stimmy or can even improvise with a small, gray elk hair caddis. Just mash down the elk hair and trim both sides to narrow its wing.

We’ll tie a simple wet on those same size hooks. It’s just that same black body and 1-2 wraps of soft black hackle (ex: starling) at the head.

Try the dries first on 5 or 6X tippet. If the action is slow, then add the wet dropper on 6X about 2-3 feet behind the dry. First try the typical upstream dead drift.  Once the flies pass you, hold tight and try the wet fly swing below you. Add a twitch or two, too.

Next up are BWO’s. You’ll see these dainty little mayflies softly gliding on warm afternoon breezes. Watch closely, though, and you should see some bugs emerging and drifting along current seams. The first fish to pick up the hatch are usually little wild rainbows. Their rises can be subtle or violent. Your key is to hunt before you fish. Take time to study the water for bugs and rises. Then pick out your target, stalk, and take an accurate shot. 

If the water is flat, we can often use one of these tiny (#20-24) dries alone on 6X tippet. However, a lot of us have had plenty of birthdays and can no longer spot those specks on the surface. Our solution is to drop the BWO 18-24 inches behind a size 16 or 18 parachute Adams. The parachute post can be spotted. When we see a rise near that fly, we set the hook and hope the fish ate our tiny BWO. The Adams is also a great BWO imitator. That bigger fly offers more calories and can entice bigger fish to rise, too.

If you see few fish or bugs on the surface, but don’t wanna dredge, try a #18-20 pheasant tail or Frenchie dropper 2-3 feet below your Adams. You can even upsize the Adams to #14-16 for a more buoyant strike indicator. To sink the ptail better, consider adding a tiny (#8 or 6) tin split shot about 4-6 inches above your nymph.

Last are midges. I hate midges because they’re so darn tiny. How many of you have also been frustrated when fish are on microscopic (maybe size 30?) cream midges and refuse your size 22 bugs that look like a truck beside the real bug?

Regardless, midges are common fodder in the winter. Carry some tiny griffiths gnats, cream midges, and black midges in your winter dry fly box. Again, drop them a foot or two behind a dry you can see - that Adams or BWO.

If no midges are buzzing, their larva are certainly drifting in the flow. Put a small (#18-22) black or red zebra midge or black or olive WD-40 under your Adams dry. Use the same technique you did with the pheasant tail dropper.

Winter fishing is special. First, the fair-weather crowds are gone and you have lotsa water to yourself.  Second, a day outside cures our cabin fever.  Third, when we’re dressed right, we’re actually very comfortable. Fourth, we sleep darn well after a winter day astream.  And last, noses poking through the stream surface really warm our buns!  Hopefully these tips will help you prepare for and enjoy some true bonus fish: trout on top in the winter.

Good luck. Stop by one of our UO shops if we can help you prepare for some fun in the winter sun.

Unicoi Outfitters: Friendly. Local. Experts.


Monday, December 26, 2022

GA Per -Speck -Tive

How about some easy listening while we wait for north Georgia to thaw out a bit?  Tune in to Tom’s latest Orvis podcast. His guest is our own GADNR fisheries biologist Sarah Baker and they discuss our state’s wild Brook Trout resource.  Enjoy.


The Thaw Begins

Here’s a quick streamside report. High Hooch tribs are open, but cold with some shelf ice along the banks. Spoilcane was 39F an hour ago.

I’m here on Smith DH now (Monday at 4PM), which is open and 42F. Folks are having good luck with Xmas stockers on buggers and eggs. Here’s a pic of Matthew from Marietta with a fat brookie he landed while I watched.

The Hooch in town is open. You can get the latest river water temps off its USGS gauge in Helen.


For warmly dressed folks, the fishing has been decent. It will only get better as we warm up through the week. Follow the sun and hope for water temps above 40.  Enjoy your holiday week.

Unicoi Outfitters: Friendly. Local. Experts.


Saturday, December 24, 2022

Merry Christmas!

The holiday season is truly a time of gratitude. Our Unicoi Outfitters family is deeply thankful for all of you who have befriended us and patronized our stores.  You have allowed our UO doors to stay open at our original Helen location for nearly three decades, through our good years and tough ones.  You even enabled us to “spawn” our second store in Clarkesville and have kept it afloat during these last three challenging years for our society.

We are blessed to call you our buddies and hope that you have a great holiday break with your own families and closest friends. May the new year bring each of you many more fine memories astream. 

Thank you, one and all, for your kindness and cheer through the decades.  We look forward to new memories with y’all in the years ahead.  Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from our entire Unicoi Outfitters family to yours!


Jake Darling and Jimmy Harris

Unicoi Outfitters: Friendly. Local. Experts.www.unicoioutfitters.com

How Cold Is It?

Greetings from alpine Helen, GA.  UO staffer Joseph said it might be a bit challenging to get a good drift of your dry fly on the Hooch today. Here’s his video of the river behind our fly shop this morning. Stay warm, everyone!

Unicoi Outfitters: Friendly. Local. Experts.www.unicoioutfitters.com

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Unicoi Outfitters Holiday Fishing Report -12/22/22

Let’s call this Christmas report “frozen fingers, toes, ramps and roads.” The great Arctic Blast is headed our way tonite and will give us a taste of Manitoba winter. With Helen highs below freezing, and lows as low as six (yes, 6!) degrees for a few days, we suggest you hibernate for the holiday with family and friends. And if those air temps alone don’t impress (depress?) you, then add in the strong winds and calculate your wind chill factors.  My rods are staying in the garage while I stay in the house!

Any water that’s left on curvy mountain roads and steep boat ramps will ice up tonite and not thaw for several days. Don’t be a black ice victim: paying insurance deductibles will deduct cash from your fishing budget!

So consider hanging up those fishing rods until we get a bit of a break next Monday or Tuesday. Come out of your den around 11AM, dress like an Eskimo, and cast a few hours while the sun is high.

While our two Hooch tribs (Smith DH, Spoilcane) ran a comfortable 48F this afternoon, those water temps will dive along with the air temps. Be ready to dredge trout streams “low and slow” next week with some egg and nymph patterns. 

Lake stripers and spots should still be a good bet, since big reservoirs take a lot longer to cool down than streams and rivers. Note that we’ve been resupplied  with Hank’s deadly Something Else streamers, so grab a few of these threadfin imposters before we sell out again.

We have some great reports from our guides and angling buddies fortunate enough to wet a line before this icy blast. Check out our full report by clicking “fishing reports” on our home page.

We will be closed from 1PM Christmas Eve through Christmas Day. Hopefully we’ll see you on the other side of this Big Chill.  Have a Merry Christmas and Happy Holiday Season, everyone.

Wes’ Hot Fly List:  

Hot flies:

Dries: parachute BWO, Griffith’s gnat.

Nymphs & Wets:

Jig girdle bug, peach egg, Walt's worm, root beer midge, micro mayfly flashback baetis, RS2.

Streamers & warm water:

Simi seal leech, sparkle minnow, finesse changer, Clouser minnow. Cowen’s Somethin Else (we are restocked!)


No recent reports. They were running clear and at normal flow today (22nd). Water temp was 48F at 1PM, but the cold air will drop temps and slow down the fish. Dredge some small nymphs. Better yet, aim for bigger, warmer downstream waters.

The Smokies are even colder and catching will be slower than action on our lower elevation streams. I honestly avoid the park in the winter and aim for our lower elevation, south-facing streams. A few extra degrees of water temp makes all the difference in the winter.

If you insist on the park, then aim

for slower runs and pools and try rolling small nymphs on the bottom. Euronymphing can be real effective in the afternoon warmth on larger, park streams. Don’t forget a thermometer and pray that you see the mercury creep above the 40-degree mark. Subtract a few degrees from this Luftee gauge and you’ll have an idea of park conditions.


Byron’s Smokies daily intel and safety warning here:


Delayed Harvest:

If you saw yesterday’s post, then you know WRD redosed our GA DH streams for the holidays. Try some small, twitched buggers or some drifted egg and squirmy patterns for the fresh fish. Small nymphs, midges, and soft hackles bounced along the bottom on thin tippet are fooling the more experienced DH fish.

Make sure you bring a dry change of clothes in your vehicle. If you dunk, you sure want to get out of those drenched, icy clothes before hypothermia bites you.

The Hooch and Tooga gauges are great indices of river conditions in our area. Always check them out before your drive north.



Athens Jay had a good day yesterday on the Tooga DH, despite the chilly weather (mid-40’s).  He said a dredged legs & eggs combo was the ticket, with most fish preferring his home-cooked eggstacy egg.


Splatek and his trout-vac son, Spence, had a banner day yesterday (21st) on Smith DH. Dad said: “we tried everything from eggs to mops to worms. Nothing. 

Midges and small nymphs -nothing.  We finally went with large warm water flies, jigs, and copper woolly buggers fished actively and they did the trick. But my biggest tip: don’t go into waste-deep water with only hip waders.”

I ran into Trout Raider this afternoon on Smith. He was having a banner day on a dry/dropper rig. The majority of his 20+ fish were brookies. Most hit his perdigon dropper on 6X tippet, but a few came up to inhale his small chubby dry.


Trout Raider said he did well yesterday on the Hooch Tailwater. He showed me a phone pic of a fat, buttery, 17-inch brown that was a handful on his one-weight rod. 

Lanier turnover should be nearly complete, if it isn’t already, so bring back your clear-water game for the Hooch. Small black stones and midges match the resident stream bugs in the upper Tailwater and are always good bets. Toss some meat for the big boys and girls, who get girth by eating their little brothers and fresh “dumplings” off the Buford Hatchery truck.

Private Waters:

UO young gun Ben: “This week my client, Mr. Don, picked up Euronymphing quickly and caught a lot of fish, mostly on weighted egg patterns and small natural flies. The Soque Camp reach continues to fish well, especially with December’s improved flows.”

UO guide Caleb: “Soque camp continues to produce quality fish. We pulled copper sparkle minnows and drifted double nymph rigs for most of the morning on last week’s trip. Eggs and zebra midges were the best patterns.”


UO friend Landon: “In between Christmas shopping trips, I wet a line for an hour in Lanier and caught a couple LMB’s by dragging a shaky head across the bottom.”

UO staffer Joseph: “Fishing on the pond was exceptional earlier this week. Low winds and cloudy skies made for some awesome blitzing action from stripers. The only problem was the high abundance and of bait compared to predators In other words it’s been very easy to find lots of bait but there’s not always fish with them. 

All I fished was a clouser due to the smaller shad sizes. Henry’s somethin else would also have worked great.  Lanier temps are dropping into the low 50s, so moving the fly with short, quick strips, with a pause here and there, worked the best for me.  I mostly fished a sinking line all day, but when fish are busting an intermediate line is best. It’s smart to carry two rigged rods.”

UO owner Jimmy just got off the water and sent this report: “Very spotty to locate feeding fish. Bait is thick so stripers have plenty of options. Anglers who found feeding fish did pretty well. They’re feeding on small threadfin shad that can be matched really well with Cowen’s Something Else. This 12.5 pounder helped warm me back up this afternoon.”

More great trout and reservoir intel in WRD’s holiday fishing blog:


Enjoy your holidays with family and friends. Let our north GA  roads, ramps, and fish thaw out a bit after this brutal weekend, then come up next week when conditions for fish and their pursuers improve.  We have sure appreciated your business and friendship through the year. Thank you for those gifts to our entire UO staff.  We’ll see you as soon as it’s safe to re-emerge, with renewed hope for a few “last fish of the year” that will come to net.

Unicoi Outfitters: Friendly. Local. Experts.