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, January 27, 2023

Unicoi Outfitters Fishing Report -1/27/23


Right now it’s all about “winter windows.” Crummy weather and high water closed a lot of windows for our winter trouters last week. But gray skies and rain opened some windows for striper fans.  Right now area streams have good flows and rebounding water temps (47F yesterday). Find a sunny day and give them a go. Just have a good game to fool experienced trout. Hint: aim for flood refuges. Why? Three inches of rain displaces naive stockers!

Henry and his lake buddies are having striper and bass success deep. They hope for the opposite winter window, a cloudy day to encourage baitfish and predators to rise toward the surface.

Pick your critter and pick your window, then go cure your cabin fever. Our specific intel and Wes’ hot fly list are in on our full report, accessed via our home page. Folks who click more than once and dig deeper for these nuggets of wisdom catch more fish than one-clickers. Pics are entertaining, but intel is productive! Good luck this week. Don’t forget next weekend’s ATL flyfishing show. We’re in Booth 436.

Wes’ Hot Fly List:  

Dries: parachute BWO, Griffith’s gnat.

Nymphs & Wets:

Peach egg, mighty may baetis, Violet midge, ruby midge, black copper John.

Streamers & warm water:

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


They’re running full, clear, and cool. Spoilcane and Smith DH were 47F at 5pm yesterday. The Hooch in Helen was clear with a healthy flow, so remember your wading staffs.  Small stream fans have a chance here in GA on small, dark, dredged nymphs. The better midwinter bet is hitting bigger, downstream, warmer waters that catch more sun.

The Smokies are still very high and icy, with many high-elevation streams struggling to hit 40 degrees.  Watch Byron’s Smokies daily intel here:


Delayed Harvest:

UO staffer Atticus said the action on local waters had been slow for many customers who shared their fish stories with him at the shop. Many said they were using junk flies, but had some success on rubberleg stones. 

This is the toughest time for trouting success in area DH streams. Cold, high water, experienced fish, and lower stocker numbers due to catch&release mortality and natural mortality decrease angler catch rates, especially for rookies who are still throwing junk flies and having a bit of drag in their drifts. 

Natural mortality, you wonder? Ever seen an otter?  Or their streamside toilet areas?  How about blue herons?  I watch 1 or 2 of them swoop into Smith DH daily during my late afternoon hikes as most anglers depart for supper.

Expected stocked fish loss due to floods and mortality is exactly why DH streams are redosed periodically by wildlife agencies. 


Here’s another reminder: fish for “seniors” and get down to them with a good drift. Revisit our DH column in here:


The one exception right now is Tooga DH, which SC redosed just two weeks ago. It’s still a bit high, so know your own safe wading level before hopping in.

Dedicated UO followers would have caught that hot SC intel in last week’s report.  The good news is that GA usually spices up DH streams the first of each month, so get those buggers, squirmies, and rookie anglers ready for February.

And March gets even better. Here’s some NC DH intel to help your spring trip planning:


One astute report reader was our new UO buddy CDB, who checked in:   “Spent the day chasing unicorns on the Chattooga DH. I have caught Brook trout in NH, VT, PA, WV, VA, TN, and NC. Heck I even caught a few when I lived in CO. After 4 years in Georgia - zippo. 

The action was all on streamers, a bead head grizzly olive wooly bugger w/ black tail received the most action. Takes were on the end of the swing or on the dangle. Keep that streamer in the water as long as possible. Working it down under a ledge or root ball from above got good results. Rod tip in water, drift down, dangle, a couple short quick strips, repeat. A few of the takes were jarring. An additional AB shot just above it to help keep it down increased the number of strikes. 

Once again, all rainbows. Not even a brown.  My GA brookie goose-egg streak continues….”

Ed note: our past UO column has some timely bugger tips to help you now:


UO staffer Grant: “ I took a weekend trip up to Fires Creek with my friends and Dad last weekend. I caught this nice brown fishing the top of a fast moving run. I caught him on a silver beaded france fly. Small flies in darker colors and Euro nymphing with 3.2mm-4.0mm beads seems to be the key to my success at Fires.”

Private Waters:

The crummy weather and high water limited our hosted trips last week. UO guide Israel said that a deep-drifted midge was the ticket for his Hooch customer.

UO friend CDB:  “I used the same (Chattooga) technique on the Etowah Saturday. I got about an hour and half on private water and hauled out a few beasts. That’s why I’m itching to get back on the Chattooga tomorrow and have at it again!”


HenryC: “Last weekend fishing on the pond was pretty darn good. You had to look hard to find the fish but when you found them, that same  "pattern" was found in other areas, too. Last week’s weather was either windy and/or rainy. I'm sure the lake has muddied up some, but I’m hopeful that we can get on the fish again shortly. Welcome to sodium free striper fishing in the winter!  The best news is that we inch a little closer to the great pre-spawn action in March!”


UO staffer Joseph: “Last Sunday I went out with Josh England and Keith Ohrstrom fishing for stripers on Lanier. We caught several fish and lost several more.  We even had a few doubles!  The fish were in huge schools and were only active for an hour or two. We mostly followed birds and even saw multiple fish come up top. Though there were some fish on top, we had the most success on fast sinking lines. We used small clousers fished with short strips with a pause here and there. Most fish we marked on sonar were in the 20-35 foot range with some exceptions.”

UO staffer Ben: “Lake Lanier bass fishing has been good. Both speed cranking and jig flipping have been effective techniques. Dropping down bait size definitely increases the chance of more bites.”

That’s the latest during the dead of winter up here. Compared to the Rockies, we’re still in a sauna! Just pick your preferred winter window and give it a go. And if you don’t want to open that window, stay warm and visit us at Booth 436 during next weekend’s ATL Fly Fishing Show!


Unicoi Outfitters: Friendly. Local. Experts.


Thursday, January 26, 2023

Feb 3-5 ATL Fly Fishing Show!

How about some breaking show news you can use?

The vendor info is up. Memorize these numbers: Booths 436 and 438.   That’s our Unicoi Outfitters campsite, right next to Pond A.  C’mon by!

Also check out the great roster of programs and seminars. For a good start, click on the “Seminars”. and “Theaters” tabs in here to peruse the menu.


Note the show page’s introduction that says the entry fee is cash only at the door, too.  Check your wallets and mark your calendars. We look forward to seeing you there!

Unicoi Outfitters: Friendly. Local. Experts.


Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Your Favorite Fish?

What’s your favorite fish species to pursue with your fly rod? Feel free to simply name one or to tell a fish tale, too.

I’ll help get this started. For me, it’s a hefty summer river Smallie  on a topwater bug. A close second and local favorite is Smallie’s kissin’ cousin, Shoalie.

There’s something special about tossing a leggy stealth bomber up, under the overhanging tree limbs and letting it drift slowly along the bank at dusk. In those skinny, lazy, clear summer flows, most fish will only come up to play as the sun sets. Watching a two-pound plus river bass materialize from the depths, nose up close enough to kiss my bug, and then drift along with it for five feet downstream gives me the equivalent of buck fever. 

Hopefully the bug finally disappears though a hole in the surface where Big Girl inhaled a quart of water with supper.  The hook is set, the fly line dives and then shoots back up to the surface as the  missile launches into the air. Again and again. I pray that each leaping headshake doesn’t propel my bug back at me and break my heart.

If the hook holds and the fish tires, I pull that radius closer as she circles me. Finally, I clamp my thumb on her lower lip and pull her close for a thanks and a quick pic or two. She then slides back slowly into the shadows. And I am left with another special memory for my book of life.

Put me waist-deep in a summer river, with a stout 6-weight in my hand and some topwater bugs in my sling pack, and I’m a happy camper.

How bout y’all?  Pick your own winner and tell your tale.

Unicoi Outfitters: Friendly. Local. Experts.


Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Hank the Yank in our Booth!

Breaking news on the Atlanta Flyfishing Show: we have caught a trophy!   Nationally renowned flyfishing author, editor, guide, and fly developer Henry Cowen will be in our UO booth on Friday (1:30-2:30pm) and Saturday (2-3pm). Come by, buy one of his new books on inland striper fishing, and have Henry sign it for you. Chat with one of the true masters of our sport.  We’ll see you at the show!


Unicoi Outfitters: Friendly. Local. Experts.


Monday, January 23, 2023

Hot Coldwater Bugs

Thanks for your lists of hot mid-winter trout flies. As promised, here are ours! We checked in with some UO staffers and fishing buddies and their favorite bugs for icy trout waters follow.

UO manager Jake: Small black stonefly size 14-16, Rootbeer Midge #18, Mighty May Baetis #16-18, Peach egg #14

UO Helen manager Wes: root beer midge, peach egg, black leech, pheasant tail nymph.

UO guide Israel: Micro mayfly, red zebra midge, twisted sister, parachute BWO on warm afternoons.

UO guide Caleb:  zebra midge, pheasant tail, Duracell jig, peach egg.

UO staffer Dredger: #8 brown Pats rubberlegs, #12 tan mop, #14 peach egg, #18 pheasant tail nymph.

UO staffer Atticus: root beer midge, trout crack, peach egg, black tungsten pheasant tail.

UO buddy RSquared:

“For topwater it’s a Bluewing Olive small as you can get and still see it (Sz 18 parachute for me on a good day) For subsurface, a black stonefly imitation with a pheasant tail dropper work great.  For white bass and crappie, a white wooly bugger is hard to beat!”

UO buddy Ron:

#12/14 egg, #10/12 tungsten girdle stone, #10-16 soft hackle.

#6 olive WB

UO buddy Landon: peach egg, ate rubberlegs, black mohair leech, small black pheasant tail.

UO buddy Splatek:  tan mop, Y2K, sexy Walts worm, zebra midge.

We hope this list steers you toward success in your winter trouting treks. Stop by either UO store if you need a few flies or hot intel on our chilly January streams.

Unicoi Outfitters: Friendly. Local. Experts.


Sunday, January 22, 2023

NC Specks

Here’s some easy listening for your rainy Sunday. Enjoy this podcast featuring my good friend, North Carolina Wildlife Commission trout biologist Jake Rash, who talks about native brook trout and fishing tips for them.


Unicoi Outfitters: Friendly. Local. Experts.


Friday, January 20, 2023

Unicoi Outfitters Fishing Report -1/20/23

It’s clear and cool up here today, with air temps in the 50’s and water temps just a few degrees cooler.  Streamflows are good, as the week’s inch of rain has already run off from all but the biggest streams like Toccoa DH.  Legs, eggs, nymphs, and especially midges are producing well. We have a nice Saturday ahead before Sunday’s washout, so take advantage of it.

Stripers remain scattered, but hefty size is still compensating for scarcity. Henry clues us in again.

We also inch closer to the Atlanta Fly Fishing Show on Feb 3-5. Be sure to mark your calendars. We’ll have a nice batch of flyfishing clearance items on hand for early attendees. Please come by our UO booth!


Read all of our timely intel in the full fishing report, linked at our home page.  Wes’ hot fly list is refreshed weekly, based on what has just worked for our guides and angling buddies.  Good luck as you work around the rain and the NFL playoff games.

Wes’ Hot Fly List:  

Dries: parachute BWO, Griffith’s gnat.

Nymphs & Wets:

Peach egg, Mighty may baetis, purple midge, ruby midge, RS2, squirmy worm.

Streamers & warm water:

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


They’re running full, clear, and cool. All 3 of the Hooch tribs (Spoilcane, Dukes, Smith DH) that I checked at noon today ran 48F. If you’re a blueliner, small Euronymphs, beaded pheasant tails and hare’s ears, and zebra midges should work well under a fluffy dry or small yarn indicator.

The Smokies are still very high and icy.  Watch Byron’s Smokies daily intel here:


UO buddy Landon: “We hit the reservation last week, fishing the “catch and keep” section of Raven Fork.  Fishing was good in late am/ early afternoon with the sun.  Pretty much everything we threw worked. Once the clouds hit and it started cooling off, the bite died down and was nonexistent by 4 pm. Flies that worked for me: cream egg, rubber legs, and a #18 pheasant tail. I saw some winter stones and a couple black caddis fluttering in the sun, but no noses poking through the surface to sip them.”

Delayed Harvest:

New UO reporter CDB:

“While Athens Jay was busy torturing bass and using the handle of his fly rod as a chew toy, I scooted up Smith DH in a light drizzle to try to catch a few trout. By the time I hit Helen, the drizzle and mist had stopped and blue sky was peaking through. 

Most of the standards that work for our DH stocked trout netted nothing. Squirmy worms, eggs, and stingers came up empty. With bright sun and clear water, I dropped to 6x tippet. With the smaller tippet, yellow eggs at least would get a look from the fish - and a rejection. I started cycling through the “buggier” nymphs in my box. Finally, what we decided was a small brown tung-head stone with a yellow collar started picking up a few little rainbows.  

In the afternoon, the cooler water colliding with the very warm air created a pale layer of fog in the water under the Rhododendrons. One could say “ghostly”.  So I decided to match the hatch - that’s right, my Grey Ghost.  First cast, resulted in a nice little brown! Now, I started thinking, surely I should stay until I catch a Brook Trout, right?  

As a note, fishing the grey ghost streamer on a dead drift or swing downstream resulted in one or two takes. Casting upstream to the head of the hole, however, and stripping downstream with rapid little strips was like throwing candy at them. They loved it. 

A couple pools later and a fair number of fish later, I checked the time and realized I was going to miss my 5 o’clock stated time by an hour and half. I put my waders in high gear and got back to the car. Have you tried jogging in waders?  I recommend it. Excellent aerobic workout and the extra fabric helps you sweat out those impurities without saunas, essential oils or fancy baths. So despite no rain this time, I arrive at the car once again in wet clothing (but dry feet). 

As for the Brook Trout.  Well, I’m still zero for life on Brookies  in Georgia. Rainbows galore. Some good browns. No Brook trout. I am assuming the Rainbows go with my sunny disposition!  So, no slam. But you know what Meatloaf said - “Two out of three ain’t bad”.”

UO buddy KenK: “Remember to use two different flies when Euronymphing.  There’s nothing better than a double on the line. I had 6 this past season!”

Most DH streams except the Toccoa have already dropped enough for some wading opportunities.  You’ll need a boat or float tube there.  Take a lesson from the Rabunites and fish with a “net” first.  Use the internet to check flows, water temps, and stocking histories before you go and you’ll have more successful trips, especially through our rainy winter season!  

Hint: fish the flood refuges, where naive stockers have washed into after recent flood events.


(Page ATL-2)


UO friend Splatek: “I took my eagle claw rod on a hike along the Hooch below Buford Dam. I put on two small, dark flies and sank em with a drag-free drift. I caught three fish in just a half-hour of fishing.”

Private Waters:

UO Helen manager Wes: “I did a private water trip on Monday over on the Soque. It fished well. Getting flies deep paid off. Pheasant tails with no beads, midges, and egg patterns were the key players.”

UO guide Caleb: “Midges, midges, midges! I guided the Soque at Rainbow Point and Soque Camp last weekend. We spent both days nymphing the very bottom of the river. All fish were caught on midges and egg patterns.”


Athens Jay:

“In winter you should be on the lookout for periods of 3-4 days when daytime temperatures climb steadily and end up in the 60’s. I had the opportunity to fish for 1.5 hours at the end of one of these warming spells. I fished a big weighted streamer on a floating line and long fluorocarbon leader. I had several eats from fish located 10-30 feet offshore in 4-6 feet of water.”


HenryC: “Striper fishing is still “OK" on Lake Lanier. The fish are scattered, with some big schools being found deep and catchable with sinking lines. There's also fish running the banks shallow and also surfacing some on top. The problem is that it happens less frequently.  While the birds are extremely helpful in finding the fish, you may spend hours on the lake looking for 2 or 3 shots to get your hookups. The good news is the size of the fish is tremendous this year! If you see a DNR boat out you ought to thank them for their efforts in giving us this quality fishery. We continue to put "teen size" fish in the net most trips, but the overall numbers of fish seen and caught are down over the glory days of years past. When it happens it's still very exciting but patience is what is called for while you're waiting for the bite to fire up. “


Aim for the warmer days if possible and, flows permitting, you should have a good week ahead.  Tomorrow looks great, so pack your vehicle tonite and enjoy a great day in nature.  Call 706-878-3083 or come by our Helen store for more great intel and current hot bugs.

And don’t forget your shot at nearly a week of West Yellowstone fishing for a lucky $10 raffle ticket!


Unicoi Outfitters: Friendly. Local. Experts.