By: Chris Shaffer
North Georgia is littered with quality trout streams that are heavily stocked by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. Meanwhile, some of them see a tremendous amount of fishing pressure. The Chattahoochee River near Helen, Rock and Cooper Creek, Wildcat Creek and the Tallulah River are extremely popular with anglers, but can be tough to gain serenity at. Meanwhile, the West Fork of the Chattooga River offers anglers a stream larger than the others that also has good water quality and solid trout fishing.
Fortunately, the West Fork is stocked weekly by the Georgia DNR through at least July 4th and likely through Labor Day this year as higher and cooler flows warrant it. So far this season the Georgia DNR has only planted rainbows, but browns will be coming this summer. We filmed here two weeks ago and caught mostly 12-14 inch fish, all of which were hard fighting and aggressive. Keep in mind the West Fork is part of Georgia big fish program. It does receive a bonus of quality fish weekly.
The West Fork of the Chattooga is a tributary to the Chattooga (which establishes the South Carolina and Georgia border.) It’s about as far from the Atlanta area as you can get without crossing the state line. This is a good thing for anglers hoping to escape city life for a few hours. The river sports crystal clear water and it’s running high for this time of year.
This is a good thing for trout. When the water is low and clear trout huddle in bigger holes and can be picked off quickly by anglers arriving midweek. Fortunately, the recent storms that have plummeted the region have spread the trout out. The West Fork is stocked in two sections, basically at the two bridges. If you look on a map you’ll see roads that cross the river, one above the campground and the other on the main highway just before turning off to the campground.
The lower section (below the highway bridge) receives much less fishing pressure and is stocked with one-third of the load. If you are adventurous and have waders this section might be fun for you. Most of the fishing pressure occurs from the upriver bridge on down through the campground. This stretch is littered with trout and while the pools directly above and below the bridge always have fresh stocked trout walking downriver even 100 yards affords you less fishing pressure.
We fished here prior to the holiday weekend and couldn’t have caught more trout. In fact, after two hours and a few dozen trout we packed up and went to film at a different location. Action was excellent and will likely remain this way through summer thanks to the aggressive stocking program by the GA DNR.
Even though flows are higher the water is still clear. This means you’ll catch more trout with four-pound test. In fact, we used four-pound fluorocarbon. All our baits were fished on size eight to 12 single salmon egg hooks. With the volume the river is pumping you’ll need a few Water Gremlin split shots to get your bait down. We fished bait under a bobber and also off the bottom. In many holes we used both techniques. Some of the trout were grabbing bait rolled on the bottom. Others were more suspended.
All our success came on Gold Label salmon eggs, Red Fire Balls and Garlic Salmon Egg Fire Bait. After catching a dozen trout on the Fire Bait I asked one of our guys to switch to the Red Fire Balls and action didn’t slow. Ironically, we met a fly guy who wasn’t catching as many trout. We gave him a jar of the Red Fire Balls, which he then fished under his indicator and started catching trout on every cast. Everyone who fishes bait in North Georgia knows how well the Gold Label works. Not surprisingly, one of our friends is so confident in it that he refuses to use anything else. He caught and released several limits with those eggs.
Editor’s Note: Pautzke Fire Bait and Fire Balls are available in North Georgia Walmart stores and at Bass Pro.