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, March 8, 2024

Unicoi Outfitters Fishing Report - 3/8/24

Brace for the storm!  It looks like we’re going to receive several inches of rain overnight, which will briefly sideline us from our favorite trout and bass rivers. We’ll just have to watch those USGS river gauges 

( https://waterdata.usgs.gov/ga/nwis/rt )

and see when larger streams drop back to safe wading levels. 

Next week’s weather looks very good, so flex your fishing schedule if you can and hit a sunny weekday. Keep your eyes open for some March caddis and mayfly hatches, too!  Saturday’s time change will help us out with an extra hour of daylight for weekday fishing after work or school. 

Storm flows will spread out the fresh March Delayed Harvest stockers in GA and NC streams, so be ready to hunt for wash-downs in downstream pockets and pools. 

Weekend warriors who can’t play midweek hooky should still be able to hit some good plan B’s: high headwater trout streams, small ponds, and big lakes where the sunshine hits those stained waters and warms them above 60F. See our reports of crappie, bass, and stripers coming out of winter hibernation and pursuing shad in the warm, discolored shallows.

Check out the trip details from our guides and friends and Wes’ hot fly list here:


 (Link in bio)

Unicoi Outfitters: Friendly. Local. Experts.


Wes’ Hot Fly List:  

Dries:  Rage Cage Caddis, parachute Adams, Drymerger BWO, Griffith’s gnat, yellow stimulator or small micro Chubby Chernobyl as a headwater dry for your droppers.

Nymphs & Wets: 

Jig girdle bug, squirmy worm, lightning bug, Montana prince, holy grail, red tag jig. 

Streamers & warm water:

(Trout) Squirrely bugger, sparkle yummy, micro leech, bank robber sculpin.

(bass & stripers) clouser minnow, finesse changer, crittermite, jiggy craw.


They’re in great shape today, but will take a hit tonite. We won’t know their fishability until we count all the raindrops in the morning. Remember that these small watersheds recover quickly and most should be fishable by Sunday at the latest. Dry/dropper rigs will reign in high water, while sole dries should score well in dropping flows on warm, sunny days. If your stream thermometer says fifty degrees or higher, try the dries.

UO buddy Nan: “Rick and I fished for both fresh stockers and wild rainbows this week.

At Smith Creek, we outlasted the morning traffic jam on the creek to net browns and rainbows on eggs and weighted nymphs rigged under indicators.  DNR deposited some nice-size browns in the creek during the recent stocking.  I also raised a few fish on small dries (gray caddis and blue-winged olives) once the sun came out, but couldn’t hook them.

We also ventured northwest into NC to prospect for wild trout, which readily took small beadhead nymphs and both Adams and BWO dries. Hooking the little speedsters was another matter, and our strike to hookset ratio was about 10 to 1. The fish were holding in eddies, quiet seams on either side of fast water, and near downed trees.”

UO buddy Splatek:  I scouted a new ridge last Monday for some fall hunting in the national forest.  After about 2 miles and God only knows how much elevation and briars, I heard a trickle. Then it got louder.  Aha, a tiny, rhododendron-choked stream.  But it soon converged into a mini sluice, forming a larger (3 feet wide), deeper (maybe 3 feet) pool. The water was gin-clear and I could see all sorts of small fish darting around- gorgeous little minnows.  So I whip out my collapsible fly rod and toss a line in. Bam. About a dozen of these native shiners in as many casts. 

But then I see a dark shadow. And another. Then one of the dark shadows explodes on the surface. 

After several attempts I land a nice brown, a true trophy for this tiny trickle. It was a great way to end my scouting day.”

Delayed Harvest: 

Both GA and NC DH streams got some fresh agency fish. The naive stockers hit about anything thrown at them and boosted angler catch rates during their first week of freedom. They’ll smarten up quickly, so switch from eggs and squirmies to better bug imitators (rubberleg stones, and Wes’ hot nymph list) if you’re not connecting on those junk flies after 30-60 minutes.  Better yet, use a bright pattern first and drop a small, natural colored nymph a foot behind it.

UO friend Andres hit Smith DH last Saturday and shared this tale:

“Best day I’ve ever had at Smith Creek today. The freshly stocked fish plus the overcast conditions in the morning meant the fish were willing to eat just about anything. We landed 22 fish in about 3 hours of fishing between Caroline and me. The majority hit a neon mop, but we also had success on wooly buggers, Pat’s Rubber legs, dry flies and even a popper. I’ll bet those fish have smartened up by now.”

UO friend Hillis: “A couple of fishing buddies and I went up to NC this week hoping to fish the freshly stocked DH sections of the Tuck and Nantahala. Unfortunately due to rain and release schedules we were not able to fish either. Instead, we pivoted and fished the DH section of the West Fork of the Pigeon River. This was new water for us, beautiful stream, crystal clear water and the fishing was good. 

I suspect there was a range of flies that would have worked, maybe most any fly would have worked, but I fished with a black and red wooly without a bead, a beaded black flashy wooly,  a beaded olive wooly, all trailed by soft hackle pheasant tails or a regular pheasant tail with a red collar. My fishing buddies preferred a white wooly and it worked great for them. We caught brookies, rainbows, and browns. 

We drove up on Monday morning, with the intent of fishing the Tuck that afternoon and Tuesday. We knew the water release schedule might be a problem, but we were hoping against hope the schedule would change. Unfortunately it did not, so that afternoon we drove to the Pigeon and arrived just as the stocking was ending. Most of the world was there, but we persevered, found some spots to fish, caught a good number of fish, and met and talked to some really nice fellow anglers. The next day the release on the Tuck  again did not cooperate, so we returned to the Pigeon. We arrived around 7:00 that morning, ahead of the crowd and had another great day. Most of the fish I caught were probably 10 inches or so, a few smaller, a few slightly larger, and one really nice size rainbow. 

Late Tuesday morning I had just started fishing a nice run when an elderly couple (elderly but probably younger than me) walked behind me looking for a place to fish. I gave them my spot. As I said I had just arrived and had not caught anything in this run. The  elderly lady immediately hooked into a beautiful large brown, bigger than my largest of the trip. Her husband netted the fish for her. They were both more than pleased with the catch. She said it made her day. Must admit I would like to have caught that fish, and if I had not given up the run, maybe I would have, regardless I was really happy for the lady, more than if I had caught it myself.

The son of one of my fishing buddies fished with us for a couple of hours after lunch. He caught a beauty, which any fisherman would have been proud of, and he was especially proud considering he was fairly new to the sport. 

Wednesday we planned to fish the Nantahala, but the weather did not cooperate. Perhaps we could have fished in the rain, but it was raining pretty hard where we were and weather forecast did not look promising, so we drove home that morning.”

Private Waters: 

UO Helen manager Wes: “I fished with Dave and Lynn this week on one of our private waters. The fish were fired up in the higher flows in between the rain showers. Squirmy worms, girdle bugs, and streamers were the hot ticket. 

I also fished the high water yesterday with my client, Quinton. We had some real good luck on nymphs dredged deep in any soft water we could find. The rainbows also succumbed to some swung soft hackles.

Spring has sprung! Watch the gauges for fishable flows and get out there and fish when you can!”

UO guide Como said his clients had a big time with hungry rainbows on the Soque Camp property. “Junk flies” (eggs, squirmies, and rubberleg stones) were the ticket in the higher flows.

UO buddy RSquared: “Sunday, Unicoi Outfitters hosted the "North Paulding High School Fly Fishing & Cold-Water Conservation Club" for their annual trip to Nacoochee Bend in Helen.  Volunteers from the Cohutta Chapter of Trout Unlimited 


served as guides for the 15 student anglers. All students were able to hook a trout & almost every student was able to land one or more chunky Rainbows! A big shout out to Jimmy Harris & his amazing staff for allowing us to do this for the past 12 years.”


No recent reports. The gray caddis hatch should be in full swing.

Warm Rivers:

No recent reports from our UO contacts. The best intel right now is coming from the GAWRD samplers. Walleye are in full swing and whites are starting to run.  Electricity even beats live bait! Watch for today’s report here:


Small Lakes:

The sunshine is heating up the shallows and turning in the bass and crappie. Ponds are also a great plan B when our favorite rivers are blown out by heavy rains.

UO buddy AthensMD: “Rivers are swollen around Athens, and local lakes remain high and stained, but I'm undeterred in my quest to hit the "crappie peak" when it comes. One of my top flies for warm water species is the rubber-legged dragon, and light to dark brown versions will get the crappie fired up, especially when they are shallow. Looks like rain is inevitable in the next couple days, so I'll be tying warm water flies and be ready when this latest deluge ends.”

UO owner Jimmy’s grandson, Crosby, has caught the bass bug.  He’s mastering the subdivision lake and shared this pic of his latest big bass. He caught by hopping a shakey craw soft bait along the bottom, and released the fish right after getting this quick pic. Congrats Crosby!

Athens Jay has found the pond bass creeping back up into the warming shallows. He’s had good luck slowly stripping dark streamers. 


UO duo Jimmy and Dredger took a Monday afternoon boat ride on Lanier. They searched three major creek arms on the upper half of the lake, finding some sixty degree water in them. They struck out on the first two stops, but scored on the third. Henry’s somethin’ else streamer convinced two stripers to hit. Dredger’s was a dink, but Jimmy’s 31-inch bruiser put up quite a fight on his 8-weight rod and made the trip worthwhile. Watch for that warmer water and the shad schools it attracts and maybe you’ll score, too.


Our Waycross buddy, Capt Bert, had some great reports of redfish and sea trout action on the coast. You can catch his details in today’s WRD weekly blog, which should be posted shortly after lunch:


That’s the latest pre-monsoon intel we’ve got. We will all likely be fishing our plan B’s (ponds, reservoirs, and high bluelines) for much of this weekend if we get the downpours forecast for tonite. But next week sure looks sweet, so flex your work schedules and prepare your dry and dropper boxes for a midweek hooky trip to trout waters. Don’t forget a handful of Cowen’s somethin’ else streamers if you’re gonna chase lake stripers in the mudlines.  

Enjoy your spring kickoff. Stop in either UO shop for hot flies, vital trinkets, and maybe that new pair of waders, too. Good luck!

Unicoi Outfitters: Friendly. Local. Experts.


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