Ordinarily, you don’t think of wintertime as prime time for trout fishing. Warmer seasons usually come to mind instead.
But thanks to Georgia’s Delayed Harvest trout fishing program, these cold days really do offer some great trout fishing opportunities!
The Delayed Harvest program, as we’ve noted before, targets waters that are on the cusp between “warm” and “cold.” During the summer, those waters are too warm for trout. But come the cooler temps of winter, water temperatures can drop enough to be suitable for trout.
Recognizing that, Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources manages five such waters for “Delayed Harvest” trout fishing from Nov. 1 through May 14. During that time, designated DH waters are catch-and-release and artificial single-hook lures only. Then, on May 15, they switch back to regular regulations and you can keep what you catch — thus, “delayed” harvest.
Georgia’s Delayed Harvest waters are always popular destinations this time of year — perhaps especially now, in the time of COVID, when folks are looking for a safe way to enjoy recreation outdoors. Sections of five different streams — Amicalola Creek, Chattooga River (in northeastern Georgia), the Chattahoochee, Smith Creek and the Toccoa River — have been designated as DH water. You can find the details at GeorgiaWildlife.com.
How are these streams fishing? From what I’m hearing, the DH fishing has been good! Thanks to ongoing stocking in DH streams, there are plenty of fish. Some of those fish will be freshly stocked and provide great catch-and-release fishing for less experienced anglers, while others have been in the water for longer and have quickly wised up. That provides a great mix of fish for anglers of every skill level.
If you’re targeting those inexperienced fish with your fly rod, try various types of egg imitations such as the Y2K or 3-D Sucker Spawn. Pink or red or chartreuse San Juan Worms work well too. So do Woolly Buggers, either drifted like a nymph or actively stripped to imitate a minnow.
Once the fish wise up, switch to more traditional types of flies. A favorite of mine is a small Zebra Midge or Blue Assassin midge, perhaps fished as part of a two-fly rig with a bug, meaty Rubberlegs stonefly imitation or (to target new as well as experienced fish) maybe with that Y2K egg imitation or a San Juan Worm. Such a set-up gives the fish a choice — always a good plan during DH!
What about spin fishing in DH waters? Absolutely! In fact, it’s a great way to introduce kids to the fun of DH trout. Tie on a single-hook Roostertail or Mepps Spinner, then cast across likely-looking runs and reel it in.
Do you have to wade to enjoy DH fishing? Not at all. One good place to try shore-based DH fishing is Smith Creek, where a trail follows much of the DH water and provides plenty of access. This is a fine place to bring young anglers.
Even disabled anglers can enjoy Delayed Harvest fishing, thanks to accessible fishing platforms on the DH portion of Amicalola Creek of Highway 53. These are located down the hill from the main parking area off 53, and there are special handicapped parking places nearby.
There’s more good DH news too. Georgia DNR’s fisheries folks have been stocking the Chattahoochee DH water, and (as water levels permit) that’s giving anglers some good days right here in Atlanta — but the fish wise up fast, and striped bass take a toll on them too.
By the way, if you’re fishing the Hooch DH with a minnow imitation (a streamer), here’s even a chance of having one of those stripers take your trout fly. It’s not the norm, and it only happens every now and then. But when it does? Let me tell you: It really gets your attention when you get a hit and there’s suddenly a 10-pound striped bass on the other end of your line!
So take a look at your holiday calendar. Got an open day? It just might be a great day to hit one of Georgia’s DH trout waters.
And be sure to say hello if you see me out there. I’ll be the one in the hat!