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.

Sunday, January 16, 2022



How’s it looking at your place?  

Here in Cleveland, it looks like my blueline rig will simply substitute as a snow gauge.  It’s gonna be a tying day rather than a tossing day, with more snowflakes on the way.

Y’all stay safe. Stock up those fly boxes for your breakout trips in the days to come. May the power stay on for everyone, since we need warm fingers to tie our tiny winter flies!

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Unicoi Outfitters Fishing Report - 1/13/22

This week we should “work around the weather.”  Avoid the pending snow/ice storm, be careful on the roads, and go deep and slow on these streams with your popular winter patterns. Unless you spot some risers!  Carry some little black winter stoneflies, blue wing olives, and midges in case you’re lucky enough to toss some dries. Bring a handwarmer to aid the tie-on of tiny bugs.

Public waters rated fair to good last week, while our private waters still fished really well as stormflows receded. Dress in your winter garb, wade slowly and carefully, and make sure you carry a dry change of clothes in case of a misstep. Crowds are down, so enjoy much more water to yourselves.

Wes’ hot fly list and our reports and tips follow on our long version. Catch it on Facebook or by clicking “fishing reports” at unicoioutfitters.com.

Stay safe this week, given the expected storm that might start on Saturday night. Check both road and stream conditions before you come up.  There are some real curvy, shady routes to our favorite waters that may retain some ice longer or surprise you with a downed tree, so be careful on your drives for a couple days after the storm.  

Good luck.  Wes’ hot fly list and our reports and tips are in our long version of this report. Catch it on Facebook or by clicking “fishing reports” at unicoioutfitters.com.

Wes’ Hot Fly List:

Dries: Griffith’s gnat, little black stonefly (or small gray elk hair caddis), comparadun BWO.

Nymphs: squirmy worm, pheasant tail, copper John (black), hares ear nymph and soft hackle, WD-40, rainbow warrior.

Streamers & warm water:

Bank robber sculpin, kreelex, micro changer, polar changer.

GA public waters:


RonW’s friend, Marcus had a great weekend and shared his stories. Here’s the first:

“Saturday (8th)- backcountry wild fish in sight for Channing and me.  Nice brisk morning hike in, then got a small fire going. It was cold, clear, plenty of sun with some residual snow in the shadows. We both got the job done with small #18-20 frenchies and heavy egg patterns. The fish were very spread out, only catching one or two out of the larger holes. All and all a great day in the NGA countryside!”

Smith DH:

John from ATL recently emailed our shop with a 12/30 fishing report. He had a great day on rainbows once he switched over to a Pat’s rubberlegs, and was thankful for that helpful intel in the UO fishing report. Thanks for your trip report, John!

Chattooga DH:

Sautee’s duo gave it a shot yesterday afternoon (1/12).   A departing angler said his morning was cold and slow, but still fun. He had landed just two rainbows on eggs. The duo hiked in with a glimmer of hope.

The water was an icy 39F upon their 1PM river entry.   Flows were good, the river was clear, and the afternoon fishing rated fair.  A lot of fish were hunkered down and refused many patterns. Sautee found a few honey holes and did well there, scoring a handful of bows and browns and brown and pink squirmies.  Accomplice lost one bow on an egg, caught one on a Frenchie, and finally fooled one more fish on top. He had picked a fight with a few sporadic risers that were gulping the occasional black winter stonefly that drifted by.

Despite the slow catch, they had the whole river to themselves and enjoyed their treatment for cabin fever.  That dose should hold them through this weekend’s storm. 

Private Waters:

Our private waters still fished really well for guided folks and our experienced, unguided guests. Here are the Day 2 results from Marcus: “Sunday- Channing and I got right back at it with a full day unguided reservation at the Unicoi Outfitters property. Water was up but nothing we couldn't handle, rain was in the forecast so it was time to get cracking. Channing started catching fish instantly at the "stadium" hole, and I wasn't far behind. We found early success on #16-12 buggy nymphs, eggs, and squirmys. Every hole below Nora Dam is holding large fish in great numbers. They kept us busy all morning long, with average fish ranging from 16-20" about 2-3lbs.  Some of the larger fish pushed 20"+ and  6lbs. 

As the rain persisted, so did we! Nearing lunch the nymph bite was slowing and rain picked up, so we chucked on some euro style jig streamers. That was the play of the day! We hooked so many studs that our arms got tired. 

We needed a break from the rain, and the army of fish. So we walked across the street to the village pizza joint for a hot meal and a dry-out on the heated patio. 

After lunch the onslaught of absolute footballs continued. We felt like we hooked every fish in the river. An absolute slay day! 

Streamers pictured are my custom ties, Channing loved the "blonde bomber". I found my luck on my sculp/craw pattern.

Cheers From Marcus and Channing “

Two unguided clients also had productive Bend trips. Jarrett from ATL found success on 1/7 by drifting squirmies and dark nymph droppers - deep. Jeff from ATL had a slow start on a cold 1/10, but a hot ending as the water warmed in the afternoon and the bows cooperated. His best bug was a small pheasant tail.

For more info on Nacoochee Bend reservations for guided and unguided trips, check out:


Or just call Wes or Israel at our shop.

Flat Water:

This just in from HenryC:

“Lanier is finally looking much more promising.  Surface temp is 52F, the birds are flying, and the fish getting higher in the water column. That's what I need to see!  Check out the pic of my Humminbird screen.”


Good luck, folks. Stay safe and don’t let the black ice catch you before you catch some icy winter trout. Call or come by either UO store for intel, supplies, or a thaw-out.

Unicoi Outfitters: Friendly. Local. Experts.

Friday, January 7, 2022

Unicoi Outfitters Fishing Report - 1/7/22

Welcome to full winter mode. We sure had fun on “dries in December” during the last few bonus days of warmth, but those days are now gone. We’ll make new memories with our strategy  for this new season.

The winter game is now upon us and it’s still a very fun time to wet a line, as long as you’re indeed practicing your winter game. We detailed some tips in our extended version of this report. Here’s a summary for our brief Instagram version: 1) fish the afternoon warmth; 2) get down to the fish, which are glued to the bottom; 3) try a meaty first fly and a small, natural dropper; 4) drop the dropper down, too, with a small shot in front of it; 5) paint the width of each pool with drifts just a foot apart; 6) make bottom-rolling easy by giving Euronymphing a try.

Googling “secrets of the Rabunites” will fetch you more winter loot.

HenryC says Lanier still lags due to warm surface water, but dares innovative flyrodders to forget casting and just drop jigs down to the thick bait schools and the potbellied spots (and some stripers) surrounding those bait balls.

Wes hot fly list and our reports and tips follow on our long version. Catch it on Facebook or by clicking “fishing reports” at unicoioutfitters.com. Good luck and stay warm this week.  And let’s hope those Athens dudes have a great fishing trip to Indy and catch a national championship!

Wes’ Hot Fly List:

Dries: Griffith’s gnat, stimulator, comparadun BWO.

Nymphs: copper John (black), lightning bug, soft hackle hares ear, girdle bug, WD-40.

Streamers & warm water:

Bank robber sculpin, kreelex, micro changer, polar changer.

GA public waters:

UO Helen manager Wes:

“I was able to get out for a couple of hours on new years day and do some wild trout fishing. This was the last day of warm weather before the cool down and the fish were very active. I caught around 10 in a few hours including a couple of colorful browns. Almost all the fish were caught on a stimulator.”

Enjoy his release video.


Smith DH:

I spoke with Smith regular Stan yesterday morning (6th).  He said it was slow in the cold, but he had managed four fish so far on his soft plastic worm, tossed with his ultralight outfit.  Smith ran a warmer 49F at 10AM, thanks to the heat sink of Unicoi Lake. In contrast, nearby Spoilcane ran three degrees cooler.

The holiday weekend and the rain/high water kept many of our regulars off the creeks last week. Hopefully they’ll get the itch soon and resupply us with more great fodder this month.

To fill in the space this week, I’ll offer a few winter tips. First, aim for the sun’s warmth window of 11AM to 4PM.  Second, fish deep and slow. Our freestone stream trout glue themselves to the bottom in the winter and, most of the time, you’ve got to go down to get them. Third, try a double nymph rig of something big or bright (leech, rubberlegs, egg) as your first fly and something small (hares ear, pheasant tail, their soft hackle versions, zebra midge) on lighter tippet 12-18 inches behind your attractor bug. 

Fourth, revisit step 2. Add enough weight to bump bottom. And keep your split shot close to your bugs.  I aim for just 8-10 inches in the winter.  Fifth, try the “dinsmore split.”  If you’re having luck on the first bug, but none on that back dropper (12-18 inches behind), then add a small tin shot (Ex: Dinsmore brand) to the tippet halfway between flies. Tin shot won’t migrate on your line like soft lead does. Sink the rear bug down to fish-eye level, too.  Sixth, paint the slow pools and runs with your drifts that are just a foot apart until you cover the entire pool width.  In contrast to spring’s 50-degree waters, winter’s frozen trout won’t move far for winter food, so you have to hit them in the nose with your menu.  Camp out in a good pool and work it for at least 30 minutes before moving. You might just discover where that pod of trout is camping out. And remember that address for future trips. Seventh, learn and use the Belgian cast to open your loop and prevent tangling your rig. Sidearm back, then overhand forward!

ORVIS - Fly Casting Lessons - How To Make A Belgian (Oval) Cast - YouTube

Last, give Euronymphing a shot. Those tungsten bugs will crawl right along the bottom if you’re fishing them right. Just tie a Euro leader on the end of the fly line of your longest, limber rod, add some tippet, tie on a tungsten nymph, and give it a try. You can specialize later.

Orvis Guide to Euro-Nymphing, Part 1: Overview - Orvis News

For more winter trouting tips, google “secrets of the Rabunites” and enjoy that chapter’s intel. And share your knowledge with new flyfishers who need your helping hand.


Forrest Gump (aka Dredger) ran back up to the Smokies on New Year’s Eve.   He went up higher this time to find pocket water to accommodate his Euro rig. He put on his raincoat and fished through the intermittent showers, since the air and water (50F) were comfortable for both him and the fish. 

Did you ever have an “off” game? Well, he sure did. Let’s see, first there was constant tree decoration (he was getting a jump on next Xmas) and required rerigging, one three-point landing that missed a wet face-plant by mere inches, one buttocks-bounce on the slick, muddy trail back to the truck, and excessive “uncapping.”

That last one, uncapping,  hurt the worst. For anyone not familiar with Rabunite, that term means a lost fish in the thick of battle. He was only two for eight on better (8 inch plus) bows and buttery browns hooked on his Euronymphs.

But it was still a great way to end the angling year. He was in a beautiful national park stream, hooking a bunch of wild fish, landing a lot of little bows and a couple browns, having the entire stream to himself, and enjoying a classic Smokies elk-jam on his way home (video posted on 1/1).

Best bugs in the improved flows were his traditional duo of a sexy Walts anchor and a frenchie dropper. Even if the catching was off a bit, it was still a great fishing trip.  A good dose of humility always keeps so-called experts grounded, too.  He did ask us to pass him 1) a new spool of 6X, 2) a bottle of Motrin, and 3) a trip booking with Wes on how to fight and land trout.

Private Waters:

Our private waters still fished really well for guided folks and our experienced, unguided guests.  We got blown out by high water for a couple days, but sure welcomed the river recharge. UO buddies Becca and Ellie had a great Wednesday afternoon at Nacoochee Bend. They were Euronymphing some “secret weapons” in the heads of pools when I stopped by to chat. That hot fly must have been really hot, as one gal spent considerable time fetching her last one from a tall tree branch growing in the wrong spot. Hint: you can get away with bigger or brighter bugs in the swifter pool heads and runs. Lower down, in the slower flows, fish have more time to study your offering, so go with smaller, natural patterns.

Flat Water:

HenryC said Lanier topwater action is still asleep due to the warm surface water. But he said the fat spots are on fire for anyone dropping a spoon down to the deep bait schools.  He challenged a flyrodder to freespool a spoon down there, too, and see what happens. 

He did give us a heads-up on his forthcoming Facebook Live session with Orvis legend Tom Rosenbauer. He said: 

“On Jan 31 at 3pm on Orvis Facebook I will be discussing my Cowen's mullet fly while Tom Rosenbauer ties it live on Facebook. The mullet fly works in both salt and freshwater for redfish, albies, stripers, speckled trout, largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass. It'll catch everything and if you want to learn how to tie an easy "guide fly", tune into Orvis Facebook on Jan 31 at 3pm.”

Our fishing season has finally changed, so change your own game, from clothing to wading safety to timing to technique. We never catch as many trout in the winter as we do in prime water temps, but the clean air, clear streams, and ample elbow room are a great cure for cabin fever. While the rest of the country is frozen, we Southeasterners are still fishing!  Enjoy this blessing of geography and go practice your own winter game soon. Call, stop in, or check us out online if we can help you further.

PS: speaking of games…,

go Dawgs!!!!

Unicoi Outfitters: Friendly. Local. Experts.

Thursday, January 6, 2022

Winter Water Survival

Here’s an excellent article and actual demonstration of cold water survival by an expert.  Enjoy both here:


We thank Jimmy’s friend, Pickwick Lake smallmouth bass fishing guide Steve Hacker,  for the intel.

Pickwick Lake Smallmouth Services


Stay safe as our air and water temps dive. We sure hope you don’t take one, too. But if you do, this info may come in very, very handy!


Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Bug Collecting

If you wonder why we often suggest hares ear and pheasant tail nymphs, and fish them ourselves right now, just turn over some instream boulders on your next trout trip. What do you see scurrying back toward the water?

On my headwater trek with Sautee last week, these critters were common:


That’s why his hares ear dropper was popular with the blueline bows.

Way back in my undergrad days at VA Tech, we studied these clinger mayflies in Dr. Voshell’s Aquatic Entomology class.  Here in the Southeast, these bugs are growing and preparing for their eventual spring emergence. 

Hint for next spring: their wing pads turn dark just prior to emergence. It’s a good indicator for the dries you’ll need in the coming days.  As is this monthly hatch chart:


On your next trip this month, start by turning some instream rocks and sifting through a few  decaying leaf packs. What trout food do you see?  Have you tied up or bought the right bugs now to “match the hatch” on your next fishing trip? Stock up soon!

You don’t have to know Latin to be a good trouter. Just match size, shape, color, and position in the water column to enhance your odds of trouting success. Or simply  ask Wes!

Good luck from our UO gang during your winter nymphing season.