Fishing the upper Toccoca River in North Georgia
The Toccoa River near Blue Ridge, Georgia has been blessed with some of the best trout fishing in the southeast. It is well-stocked, easily accessible and runs through some of the most beautiful scenery imaginable. While fishing can be relaxing or exhilarating, it can also be exasperating. That’s what makes it fun!
The north-flowing Toccoa stretches about 60 miles from its headwaters in Union County near Suches through Fannin County to where it crosses the into Tennessee in McCaysville, Georgia. About halfway through its course, it is interrupted by Lake Blue Ridge in Blue Rige, Georgia. The lake is what causes the Toccoa River to have two distinct personalities. Above the lake, the Toccoa resembles a typical, albeit very large, trout stream. Below the lake, the TVA dam regulates the river’s flow. The result is a typical tailwater fishery, more easily floated than waded, as water levels and water speed change dramatically. These changes happen fast and affect the fishing. For the purposes of this article, I will deal only with the Upper Toccoa.
The best place to start fishing is at the US Forest Service’s Deep Hole Recreation Area. It is located off GA Hwy 60 about 15 miles east of Morganton and about one hour from Blue Ridge. Anglers can either wade or float the river. Wading is usually easy and fishermen can use any national forest lands to reach the river. If you have a good map and are willing to take a short hike to the more secluded spots, you’re sure to be rewarded. The Toccoa is very popular for tubing, canoeing and kayaking, particularly in the summer. These activities tend to scare off the fish. So, think outside the box. The Toccoa River is best fished from February through June as spring hatches are prolific and water levels are up.
If you prefer to float the river, the Upper Toccoa has several take out points. Starting at Deep Hole, you can float down to Sandy Bottoms, a trip of 13.8 miles. The Sandy Bottoms facility provides van and car parking, toilets and a handicap accessible ramp to the water’s edge. You can also start your float at Sandy Bottoms and travel to just above Lake Blue Ridge. The closer you get to the lake, the more marginal the trout fishing will become, especially in the heat of summer. The Shallowford Bridge is generally considered to be the cut off point for fishing and there is parking there at Aska Road. If you want to keep going and experience an exciting Class II rapid, you can continue to float down to the rapids at Noontootla Boil, at the bend in the river.
***CAUTION: You must have a Georgia fishing license if you are over 16 years of age.
Fishing, camping and entering onto private land is illegal without landowner permission, as is fishing from the river in a boat, tube or any other floating device where both sides of the river are privately owned. These areas are well marked with large signs. Please obey them.
Fishing in rivers and creeks means you’re dealing with moving water and that’s a lot different from the stationary water in lakes or ponds. The fish behave differently. River fish find hiding places and travel anywhere from a few feet to several hundred feet many times a day to eat. When they’re not eating, they are hiding. You have to decide whether you want to try to catch them when they’re eating or hiding. River fish hide in undercuts in the banks, eddies, sunken trees and overhanging trees and bushes. These spots offer protection from the sun and from above water predators. This is where the biggest fish hang out. Places where you can find fish feeding include outside of riverbends (like the rapids along Aska Road), merging streams (like Rock Creek, Cooper’s Creek, Noontootla Creek, etc.), drop-offs of deep water, and eddies of slower water where food collects and sinks. In general, fish found in moving water tend to be a little smaller than lake fish. But, they are fighters, made strong from battling the currents.
The Toccoa River, Cooper’s Creek and Rock Creek are some of the most heavily stocked trout streams in north Georgia. Trout wandering between these connected tributaries are plentiful and include wild browns and rainbows. Georgia Sportsman Magazine suggests carrying along at least two rods since the river alternates between sections that are wide, shallow and swift and those that are deep and still pools. When float fishing the Toccoa, you have to pick your spots or you’ll never reach the take-out before dark. With the available access points dictating a long float, time constraints likely preclude thoroughly fishing every good-looking piece of water. A 1/16-ounce in-line green spinner is a local favorite, and a small gold or silver jerkbait is also a good lure. A sinking jerkbait can be a good choice for reaching down into deeper holes.
Fly casters also love the Upper Toccoa since there is plenty of room to cast their lines. Unicoi Outfitters in downtown Blue Ridge offers guided drift boat trips down the Toccoa for $275/half day or $375/whole day. They take tours year round and would be happy to teach you all about the sport.
If fly fishing or casting spinners isn’t for you, there’s always natural bait. Salmon eggs, corn, worms and crickets work well. You can rent a two person heavy duty raft, shaped like a canoe, at the Toccoa Valley Campground on Aska Road near Blue Ridge. They are open from the last weekend in March, when trout season officially opens, to November 1st when they close for winter. These rafts are great because they don’t flip over like canoes and are geared for amateurs. They can also provide life vests and transportation back to your car.
Some quick trout fishing tips from the Trout University at www.troutu.com are:
- Trout have color vision. Fluorescent lures are best. They also like red.
White is best used in dirty water. Black is best used in low light.
- In the summer, fish feed more at dawn and dusk. They like different varieties of food to satisfy the demands of their high metabolism—so experiment. Walk to more remote areas to avoid loud vacationers.
- Clear streams are better than tea-colored streams.
- Fertile trout streams will have healthy vegetation along their banks and more algae.
- Trout like water temperatures to be around 60 degrees but can tolerate it from 45 to 75 degrees.
- BE PATIENT.
Fishing on the Upper Toccoa near Blue Ridge, Georgia can be a wonderful adventure. It can be a wonderful time teaching your children how to fish; it can be a solitary time to commune with nature; or it can be a jovial trip with some good buddies. Whatever you want it to be, come have fun with us in the North Georgia Mountains!