Every year there are certain mileposts: birthdays, anniversaries, and of course the opening of Georgia’s Delayed Harvest trout season!
While trout fishing is now year-round in Georgia, and has been for a while, so-called Delayed Harvest streams are special seasonal waters that are managed specifically to increase angler success (that’s another way of saying “to help anglers have fun!”).
Delayed Harvest waters are portions of streams that are too warm for trout during the late spring, summer and fall. But come winter, the water temperatures drop enough to turn them into comfortable trout habitat. They’re then stocked with trout and managed under a special set of “Delayed Harvest” regulations which have been designed to provide good trout fishing through the colder months of late fall through early spring.
John Lee Thomson, Wildlife Resources Division trout stocking coordinator, notes that portions of five Georgia streams are part of the state’s Delayed Harvest program. During the Delayed Harvest season, which runs from Nov. 1 through May 14, these waters are managed under catch-and-release, artificials-only regulations. Only single-hook lures can be used, and all trout caught must be immediately returned to the water.
What happens once Delayed Harvest season is over? On May 15, regular trout regulations take over, and the trout can be caught and kept — thus, “Delayed Harvest.”
Many anglers eagerly anticipate the arrival of the Delayed Harvest season. I know that I do! I start planning my first trip several weeks in advance.
Where are these Delayed Harvest waters? Starting in far northern Georgia and working our way south, they include the following:
- The stretch of the Toccoa River in Fannin County from 0.4 miles above Shallowford Bridge to 450 feet above the Sandy Bottom Canoe Access.
- A portion of the Chattooga River in northeastern Georgia from Ga. 28 upstream to the mouth of Reed Creek on U.S. Forest Service land bordering South Carolina.
- The section of Smith Creek extending downstream of Unicoi Lake to the Unicoi State Park boundary.
- The portion of Amicalola Creek on the Dawson Forest Wildlife Management Area from Steele Bridge Road downstream to Ga. 53.
Georgia’s fifth Delayed Harvest water, and the one closest to us, is the section of the Chattahoochee River in Atlanta from Sope Creek (located downriver from Johnson Ferry Road) downstream to the Hwy 41 Bridge. This fishery is easily accessed through several units of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area. Most anglers get to the water through either the Palisades West, Whitewater (via Whitewater Creek Road) or Cochran Shoals Units, though access is also possible via the Powers Island CRNRA access point or via the Akers Drive access.
But there’s some bad news for Chattahoochee Delayed Harvest anglers, at least temporarily. This year, the Chattahoochee Delayed Harvest water has not yet been stocked.
“Due to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ need to lower Lake Lanier’s water level for dam repairs,” Thomson says, “and the associated high flows in the Chattahoochee River below Morgan Falls Dam, we will not stock the Chattahoochee River Delayed Harvest section until fishable conditions return to the river.”
However, Georgia’s other four Delayed Harvest streams have plenty of fish and should continue to offer good catch-and-release fishing through the season. These waters are stocked monthly by Georgia’s Wildlife Resources Division and by other partner agencies including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and South Carolina’s DNR. It’s no surprise that this combination of regular stocking and catch-and-release allows for good trout catch rates and generally high angler satisfaction.
One of the neatest things about Georgia’s Delayed Harvest waters is that they offer the potential for a variety of different angling experiences. Looking for easy access and kid-friendly water? Check out Smith Creek. Want to enjoy a midsize stream? Then Amicalola Creek may be for you. If you want a little bit bigger water, then the Toccoa DH (or the Chattahoochee DH, once stocking eventually resumes following dam repairs) may be your cup of tea — and for more of a backcountry experience, check out the DH portion of the Chattooga.
What sort of flies and lures work best? Remember that only artificial single-hook lures can be used. Fly fishers will do well with San Juan Worms, egg imitations such as the Y2K, and buggy-looking nymphs or flashy streamers. Spin fishers can have good success with single-hook in-line spinners in silver, gold, or rainbow trout colors.
If you’d like to learn more about Georgia’s Delayed Harvest waters, you might like to join in on a Zoom presentation I’m offering at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 18. This free program, which is sponsored by Alpharetta Outfitters, will teach you everything you need to know to get the most out of Georgia’s great Delayed Harvest trout waters and will also give you an up-close look at each of Georgia’s five Delayed Harvest streams. For more information on this program as well as details on how you can tune in, contact Alpharetta Outfitters at (678) 762-0027 or via email at AlpharettaOutfitters@yahoo.com.