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Fly Fishing the Chattahoochee River (A Helpful Guide)

Fly Fishing the Chattahoochee River (A Helpful Guide)

The Chattahoochee River is one of Georgia’s finest fly fishing destinations. Among other, you can catch several wild and stocked trout species, as well as the state’s native shoal bass. 

I wanted to learn more about this excellent fishery and asked a local guide for some valuable insider tips and tricks on fishing the Chattahoochee. 

Tad Murdock, who runs the fly fishing guide Service Georgia Wild Trout, was kind enough to share his knowledge and expertise, resulting in this helpful article on fly fishing the Chattahoochee River. 

So if you are planning a fishing trip to this beautiful river and want to read up, make sure to keep reading!

What Can You Catch Fly Fishing on the Chattahoochee River?

a happy Atlanta fly fisherman with a wild brown trout
Chattahoochee River wild brown trout (courtesy of Tad Murdock)

The Chattahoochee River is the lifeblood of Atlanta, Georgia. It passes through the heart of town and provides most of the water to the metro area’s residents. 

Lake Lanier is located about a half-hour north of Atlanta and plays a significant role in the fish species found in the river stretches below and above. 

The cold water effluent from the lake rarely rises above 50 degrees Fahrenheit in the river below. 

The highly oxygenated water from the lake allows trout to inhabit the river where they would ordinarily not be able to survive. 

Below the dam, rainbow trout are stocked regularly, and wild brown trout naturally reproduce throughout the river and are not stocked by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. 

Making your way downstream, the river intersects several small creeks and tributaries, providing warmer water refuge for other fish species on the river. 

Spotted bass, largemouth bass, redeye bass, carp, and suckers can all be found hanging around the confluences of these creeks. 

These species are targeted by devout anglers looking for something different on the river. 

Around the town of Roswell, GA, anglers will find Morgan Falls, another small dam that divides the river, and the species found above and below.

Below Morgan Falls, down through Northwest Atlanta, anglers will find a seasonal rainbow trout fishery (delayed harvest), striped bass, and a shoal bass fishery that has grown in popularity during recent years. 

a fly fisherman with a shoal bass from the chattahoochee river
Chattahoochee River shoal bass (courtesy of Tad Murdock)

Shoal bass are a native bass unique to Georgia and a close relative of the spotted and largemouth bass. You can learn more about this section of the river in this article on Fly Fishing Atlanta.

Moving back above Lake Lanier, anglers can find all three bass species mentioned above, as well as seasonal striped bass, walleye, and white bass. 

These fish move into the upper river each spring on the false spawning runs. Lucky anglers might be fortunate to shake hands with these fish between March and June. 

Wading opportunities in this section of the river up to the town of Helen are limited, but anglers looking to float can cover several miles of productive water during a float trip. 

Above the small mountain town of Helen, GA, visitors will find the headwaters of the Chattahoochee River. 

Here, anglers can find both wild and stocked trout in the main stem of the river and wild rainbow trout, brown trout, and brook trout in the smaller sections of the river and its tributaries. 

Cool temperatures persist here throughout much of the summer and offer a great way to beat the heat and get outdoors in the summertime. 

RELATED READING: Can You Catch Rainbow Trout During the Spawn?

Where Can You Fly Fish on the Chattahoochee River?

a beautiful fly fishing spot on the a fly fisherman with a shoal bass from the chattahoochee river in North Georgia
Courtesy of Tad Murdock

Access on the Chattahoochee is plentiful from Atlanta, all the way above Helen. 

Starting in Atlanta, anglers can find good access and fishing along the Paces Ferry bridge to the confluence of Sope Creek and just below the Morgan Falls dam. 

Anglers looking to wade for trout can find excellent opportunities at the (moving upstream to Buford Dam on Lake Lanier) Island Ford, Jones Bridge, Settles Bridge, Highway 20, and Bowman’s Island Public Access areas. 

Above the lake, anglers can find access to the warmer water species at Mossy Creek State Park and Buck Shoals WMA. 

These areas are where anglers can target both shoal bass and striper during their seasonal run. 

On the Chattahoochee River headwaters in Helen, anglers can access the river in a few spots within the town, but the best access is found on the Chattahoochee tributaries above Helen, as well as within the Chattahoochee WMA. 

The WMA offers many miles of fishable waters where anglers can stray from the crowds and find water to themselves. 

You can learn more about fly fishing the Chattahoochee River headwater streams in these articles on Trout Fishing the Chattahoochee River and Fly Fishing in Helen

Wading in these streams is easy, and many anglers opt to wet wade with quick dry pants and a bathing suit through the small mountain creeks. 

What Are the Best Flies for Trout in the Chattahoochee River?

a trout angler holding a native chattahoochee river brook trout
Courtesy of Tad Murdock

For anglers targeting bass, striper, or other warm water species, baitfish imitations such as a woolly bugger or clouser minnow will receive the most attention from these predatory fish. 

Trout found in the river below Buford dam and the small creeks of the headwater prefer a much different diet. 

Midges are the primary food source for the wild browns found in the tailwater. Zebra midges are the most productive fly when targeting these wily adversaries. 

The stocked rainbows are a bit more liberal with their diet. Junk flies such as eggs, mop flies, and worms garner the most attention from these gluttonous trout. 

Woolly buggers are also a good bet for anglers struggling to achieve a good drift on the river, as aggressive trout will often fall victim to a swung fly. 

In the headwaters above Helen, the stocked trout approve of similar flies to those of the rainbows below the lake. Junk flies remain the staple for anglers looking for an easy bite. 

The wild trout tend to be a bit more choosy but still lean toward the opportunistic side, as the chances to eat in many of Georgia’s streams are few and far between due to low insect productivity. 

Dry flies such as elk hair caddis or parachute adams can be incredibly productive, especially in the summer, as trout often look toward the surface for their meals. 

When Is the Best Time of Year to Fly Fish on the Chattahoochee River?

The winter months are excellent for fly fishing on the Chattahoochee tailwater below Lake Lanier. 

The fly fishing in the rest of the state is typically in a lull in these months, while the regular midge hatches keep the trout active below the dam during the coldest months of the year. 

In Helen, April and May are the most popular times to hit the water, as the river is stocked regularly with new trout. 

In the wild trout streams further above Helen, late spring and early summer find trout eating dry flies with reckless abandon. 

Though these trout are quick to eat, stealth is imperative when targeting these trout. 

Do You Need a Fishing License for the Chattahoochee River?

If you want to visit the Chattahoochee River for a day of fishing, be sure to visit the Georgia DNR website to get your fishing license and trout stamps, as well as brush up on any regulations that may apply to the river section you plan to visit. 

You can also pick up your license and some gear before heading out at the Fish North Georgia shop. 

Best Chattahoochee River Fly Fishing Charters

If you’re not yet confident in your fly-angling abilities, book a trip with a North Georgia Fly Fishing Guide who can teach you the basics and fine points of fly fishing in North Georgia. 

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Featured image courtesy of Mike Gonzalez (TheCoffee) – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0