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 12, 2024

Unicoi Outfitters Fishing Report - 1/12/24

January was true to form this week, as it’s been either cold or wet or both.  Flooded rivers and chilly air and water temperatures kept a lot of folks home, so today’s report is a bit thin on fish tales. It looks like the same set of limitations will continue, so hunt for some warm, indoor opportunities this week to treat your cabin fever.

I waited to count the raindrops until posting today’s report. It looks like our region watersheds received just under an inch of rain. That means headwaters should have fishable flows tomorrow, while larger rivers will need a day or two to recede. More importantly, air temps are supposed to dive, so the trout bite will slow and your fingers and toes will freeze. 

Dress warmly and fish after lunch if you insist on trouting.  A late start will also save you from most of dawn’s black ice and downed trees after windy nights.  Aim for those “winter windows” of opportunity that we described in Monday’s post and you can still have some great January trout trips.


Lakes are cold and slow. It seems like shallow-running stripers and their pursuers are both hibernating.

Check out our full report at our blog:


Wes’ Warm Fly List:  

(It’s gonna be too darn cold this week for anything to be “hot”)

Dries:  Gray Elk hair caddis, parachute Adams, BWO, cream midge, Griffith’s gnat, small micro Chubby Chernobyl as headwater dry for your droppers.

Nymphs & Wets: 

Sexy Walts, tan mop, squirmy worm after storms, girdle bug, little black stone, slush egg, pink tag jig.

Streamers & warm water:

(Trout) wooly bugger, muddy buddy, (bass & stripers) clouser minnow, Cowen’s somethin else, finesse changer.


They should quickly shed the 3/4 inch of rain that fell this afternoon. They’re just gonna turn very cold in response to the frigid air on its way. Dredge some droppers in deep pools. If the flow is high, use some bigger bugs like a small black bugger, small rubberleg stonefly, or big sexy Walts worm.  Better yet, aim for larger, south-facing streams that get more sunlight and will run a few degrees warmer.

Rabunites Ken and Sheila took advantage of Wednesday’s winter window.  They ran over to Smithgall and caught Dukes Creek stained, but dropping after the storm. They had a great day “matching the storm hatch” with red squirmy worms dredged deep in soft spots out of the raging current.

UO buddy RSquared (GATU Chairman):

No fishing for me this week. However, Vice Chairman for the Ga. Council of Trout Unlimited Jeff Wilson & I spent this morning at the State Capital lobbying for cold-water conservation & trout fishing.”

Public Water Streams:

It’s a good time for rainbow romance and flood wash-downs. Trophy bows from private waters will migrate from January to early March, in search of clean spawning gravels upstream and in tributaries.  Obese fish will also get displaced downstream by high flows. Pick some public lands adjacent to private waters and go trophy hunting.

Delayed Harvest: 

Smith is still a slow pick, with only experienced anglers scoring a few fish from flood refuges.  We had no recent reports from larger streams, which were blown out most of the time. 

When those rivers recede, try my winter recipe: a real long (8-12 ft) 5X tippet between your strike indicator and enough split shot to bottom-bump. A foot below the shot, tie on an attractor like an egg, rubberlegs, or small black bugger. Off the bend of its hook, add a foot of 6X tippet down to a #18 pheasant tail.  Slow-drift this prospecting  combo through the biggest, deepest pools in the stream. Watch for very subtle strikes that barely nudge your indi.  This combo netted me over 30 fish in 3 hours on the Chattooga DH during a January day when I had to break ice out of my guides.


UO buddy Ryan:

“Last Sunday my friends Aristotle & Mike and I hit the Hooch tailwater for a cold day of fishing.  Wind was ripping and the water was super clear & low which made for some spooky fish in my opinion.  With my sighter acting more like a sail than a strike detecting aid, good euro drifts were fairly difficult with lighter flies and I was just happy to get 2 browns to the net! Mike did better using a heavier stonefly and Aristotle unfortunately got skunked.  Tough day for fishing but it was great to get out on the water!”

Private Waters:  High water forced the cancellation of nearly all of our planned trips. But the one that we fit in was epic! Last Saturday we saw a “winter window” lining up for the next day.  Nacoochee Bend flows were dropping rapidly and water temps were hanging in the mid-40s. Athens Jay took up our invitation to show up the next day.

He arrived at 11:30 and we suited up with plenty of warm clothes. He rigged his 5-weight combo with an indicator, long leader, and shot. He knotted a tan mop, cast, and dredged it through the deep, clear pool.

And was into fish immediately. The bite lasted the entire afternoon, as the fish were on fire and hungry, after hunkering down and starving during the muddy flood. They ate mops, rubberlegs, and pheasant tails. They even chased his big streamer, but most short-struck it. He did better when he changed to a smaller bugger.

He wrapped up his trip in another prime pool, where some bigger fish were spotted in the troughs between bedrock ledges. He won some battles and lost a few on the trusty mop until they wised up to it. 

To end the day, he tied on a large, homemade streamer to entice the big boys.  And it worked! The king of the pool inhaled it and an epic battle ensued. After four tense minutes that seemed like an eternity, he finally scooped up a 23-inch rainbow. That last-cast fish was a heckuva way to end his day!

Small Lakes:

UO buddy Athens MD:

“I got in a local outing Sunday afternoon. Reports from some spots in Georgia made me think there might some early crappie action in the shallows in local lakes. No crappie, but pounding the banks resulted in my first few bass of 2024. A black balanced leech pattern fished slowly under a fluffy chubby Chernobyl was the key. Local lakes are now busting their banks!”


No reports from our hibernating flyrodders as they wait for Warner water to bring Shad and stripers with reach. Watch Capt Mack Farr’s weekly reports for some great midwinter intel.


Reminder: stay warm and fish vicariously at Jimbo’s Cumming seminar tomorrow. Chat with Jake and Wes at our UO booth there.


That’s all we’ve got after dodging a few floods and dressing like Eskimos.  If you’re dedicated winter fly fishers, you can do the same. Hit those “winter windows” right and you’ll smile as widely as Ken, Sheila, and Jay.  Stop in our shop for some warm conversations, fly tying materials, and those mops and rubberlegs to entice your own trophy rainbow!

Unicoi Outfitters: Friendly. Local. Experts.


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