My family and I are big fans of a good Sunday drive through North Georgia. More often than not, our explorations lead us to water — we may find ourselves following the shoreline of a sparkling lake, crossing over a rushing river or spying the trickle of a creek around a bend.
Inevitably, my husband will ask, “I wonder if I can fish that? ” He keeps a fly rod in his truck, just in case. If we have time to spare and can find parking and public access, we’ll stop. The kids will pile out of the truck with their own fishing rods, I’ll grab a book and a bottle of water, and we’ll traipse down to the water to see if anything’s biting.
Fannin County in particular is touted as the “trout capital of Georgia,” with more than 100 miles of rivers, creeks and streams.
Across North Georgia, rivers like the Chattahoochee, Toccoa and Chattooga are home to both wild fish species such as rainbow, brown and brook trout, as well as those that are stocked by local hatcheries. But many of the region’s streams and rivers run through private property, meaning you have to enlist a guide service or know where to find public access points in order to fish.
Whether you’re a family like ours looking for a riverbank adventure, or a serious angler in search of a new honey hole, I set out to find the best public spots to cast a line across North Georgia.
BOGGS CREEK RECREATION AREA, Cleveland
the whole family. Easily accessible, kids can safely navigate the banks and fish are aplenty, thanks to regular stocking, so you’re chances of catching trout are high—but crowds are low. At press time, Boggs Creek was open for day use only.
CHATTAHOOCHEE NATIONAL FOREST FISH HATCHERY, Suches
Because conservation methods are necessary to maintain good fishing in our public waters, national fish hatcheries play an important role in preserving fish habitats and recreation opportunities. Operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Chattahoochee National Forest Fish Hatchery produces about one million rainbow trout each year to stock in tailwaters, streams and lakes across North Georgia.
The hatchery offers visitors tours that provide a glimpse at fish in various stages of production, as well as ample fishing opportunities in Rock Creek, a tributary of the Toccoa River that runs through the facility. Parking is available at the hatchery, but there are also plenty of places to pull off along Rock Creek Road for a short trek down to the water. The area also offers rustic campsites near the riverbank.
DEEP HOLE RECREATION AREA, Suches
Providing campsites and a canoe ramp, this is the launching point for fisherman floating the Toccoa River Canoe trail, a 13.8-mile stretch of water that offers ample opportunities for trout fishing along with mild rapids and scenic views. You can also fish from the bank at Deep Hole—access is easy, just steps from the parking lot, and fish are plentiful on release days from the nearby Chattahoochee Forest National Fish Hatchery.
TOCCOA RIVER SWINGING BRIDGE, Morganton/Suches
A great destination for anglers and non-fisherman alike, this spot makes the perfect day trip for the family. Prepare for a rather rough drive down a 3-mile gravel forestry road off Highway 60 between Morganton and Suches (four-wheel drive is not necessary but plan to hang on tight!), and then an easy hike along a section of the Benton MacKaye Trail from the parking lot to the 270-foot-long suspension bridge, the longest swinging bridge east of the Mississippi. The spot is also popular for float fishermen along the Toccoa River Canoe trail.
CHATTAHOOCHEE RIVER, Helen
Perhaps the most famed river in our state, the Chattahoochee beckons anglers across North Georgia, from Union County through the suburbs of Atlanta, all the way to the Alabama state line. But perhaps the best spot to fish along its banks is north of Helen, where the waters are cool and the rainbow trout reach up to 14 inches.
There are several places to stop along Hwy. 75 just outside of town, but if you want to escape the crowds of the local tubing companies, head further upstream along Chattahoochee River Road into the Chattahoochee Wildlife Management Area.
CHATTOOGA RIVER, Clayton
Running along the Georgia/South Carolina border, the Chattooga River is a designated Wild and Scenic River, one of the few unaltered rivers in the south. Fish abound in its plentiful waters but because few roads come close to its banks, access points are limited.
One option is the Russell Bridge on Hwy. 28, which cuts across a corner of Georgia between North and South Carolina. Near the bridge, there are parking lots on both the Georgia and South Carolina sides. Upstream of the bridge, the river is under delayed harvest regulation, which means it is catch-and-release, single-hook and artificial bait only from November to mid-May.
Prefer hiking to fishing? This spot also marks the trailhead of the Bartram Trail and a segment of the Chattooga River Trail, a long but easy hike that explores an abandoned homestead as it follows the scenic riverbank.
JACK’S RIVER FALLS, Blue Ridge
If you’re willing to put in the work for an unmatched fishing and hiking experience, this roaring, rocky waterfall in the Cohutta Wilderness near the Georgia–Tennessee border provides a gorgeous destination. Depending on your appetite for adventure, there are two ways to access the falls—the rugged, 16-mile Jack’s River Trail, which begins at the Dally Gap trailhead in Blue Ridge and provides ample fishing opportunities along the way, and the easier, 9-mile Beech Bottom Trail, accessible near Old Fork, Tennessee.
Heed caution—because these trails are remote and challenging, be sure to pack appropriately and take a paper map, as cellular service is unreliable here.
TALLULAH RIVER, Hiawassee/Clayton
Venture north of Lake Burton along Tallulah River Road between Clayton and Hiawassee and you’ll find about 5 miles of public access to the Tallulah River, perhaps best known for its role in forming the Tallulah Gorge in Rabun County. On this northern stretch of the river, you can hop onto the Coleman River Trail, a moderate hike that begins on the banks of the Tallulah and ventures northeast along the Coleman River, or approach the water from the Tallulah River Campground, which offers easy access even for anglers with disabilities, as well as RV and primitive camping sites.
NEED A HELPING HAND?
Check out these local fishing guides for a well-planned adventure.
A premier North Georgia guide service and fly shop since 1994, Unicoi Outfitters offers guided trips for trophy trout, public water trout and warm-water species such as striped bass and shoal bass on both private waters and public streams in the Chattahoochee, Sumter and Nantahala National Forests. Guided trips include rods, reels, waders, boots and flies and can accommodate anglers of all skill levels ages 10 and up. New fly fishers should consider the Gilligan Special, a 3-hour tour that begins with a casting lesson followed by guided instructional fly-fishing. Find Unicoi’s full-service fly shop in Helen and a second location with fishing equipment and general store in Clarkesville. unicoioutfitters.com
REEL ‘EM IN GUIDE SERVICE
Ellijay’s first guide service, Reel ‘Em In offers guided trout fishing trips throughout the Chattahoochee National Forest on rivers like the Toccoa and the Soque, as well as private waters like the Farm on Cartecay, Mountaintown Creek and Noontootla Creek Farms. Choose from half-or full-day trips, as well as boat trips down the Chattahoochee or Toccoa. Trips include wading gear, rods, flies and basic or advanced instruction from professional guides, many of whom are Orvis fly-fishing school graduates. Services are most appropriate for adults of all skill levels and children over the age of 11. reeleminguideservice.com
HATCH CAMP AND ART FARM
Just north of Clayton on a private section Warwoman Creek, a tributary of the mighty Chatooga River, Hatch Camp and Art Farm offers fly-fishing lessons, half-day and full-day guided trips and so much more. Though things look a bit different this year, the farm regularly hosts concerts, art shows and philanthropic events as well, and is working on a schedule of socially distanced shows for fall. All gear is included for guide trips; children age 7 and up are welcome. Find Hatch Camp and Art Farm on Facebook for details.
ANDY’S TROUT FARM
If you’re fishing with pint-sized anglers, set your sights on Andy’s Trout Farm. Located on 325 acres at the foot of the Appalachian Mountains, Andy’s opened in 1965 to offer travelers to the Betty’s Creek community of Rabun County a place to fish and camp. Today, the property provides three fully stocked trout ponds and 13 rustic cabins for a kid-friendly fishing getaway. Visitors pay for the fish they catch by the pound (there is no catch-and-release allowed here) and can opt for additional services like fish cleaning and pole rentals. andystroutfarm.com
KNOW BEFORE YOU THROW
Fishing in public waters requires a valid Georgia fishing license, and fishing regulations vary from stream to stream and may change seasonally. To review Georgia fishing regulations and to purchase a license, please reference the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Resources Division. georgiawildlife.com