Catch and Feast: Fly Fishing for Trout in the Chattahoochee National Forest

"let me rephrase that, I really like to eat the trout that I catch."

I have always had a conflicting relationship with fishing. I love to fly fish for trout in the mountains; something to do with casting to an exact spot, allowing the fly to drift as if it was an insect, and the absolute beauty of trout and the mountainous landscapes they live in. But I also like to eat fish, let me rephrase that, I really like to eat the trout that I catch. When I started fly fishing in college up in New England, I was naïve to the conflict. But through interactions with anglers and various media, I realized that there was a serious movement to catch and release trout. Over the years, this resulted in me getting much more into hunting because it is impossible to catch and release an elk or a grouse. So it gradually became that I would fish a few times a year and politely release everything I caught. Every time I went fishing I had so much fun, but I could not justify doing it often if I was not going to bring the trout home to eat. From my perspective, one of the greatest aspects of hunting and fishing is bringing home the animals you harvest and building community among friends and family as you cook and eat nature’s bounty. Having said all that, as an ecologist, I do understand that if all trout fishermen kept every trout we caught there would be none left for other anglers…thus the conflict.

Fast forward many years and I live amongst almost a million acres of public land in the mountains of North Georgia. There are endless opportunities to fish for trout in everything from big rivers down to small mountain creeks. Each year since moving here, I have been fishing more and more but I needed to find a strategy to balance the conflict. How could I fish a great deal and bring home fish to eat while not having a major impact on the trout populations. What I have developed is somewhat of a hybrid approach and the Chattahoochee National Forest is the perfect place to implement this because there are so many and varied opportunities for trout fishing in Georgia. Basically, I divide the time I spend fishing, in space and time, so that I spend time fishing in areas where keeping trout is not impacting other angler’s experiences but to increase the amount of fishing I do, I also fish in places and during seasons where I practice catch and release.

How do I fulfill my need to catch trout that I can bring home to my family and friends? First, there a large number of trout streams in Georgia that are stocked regularly by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. Some of these stocked streams, including locations like Cooper’s Creek and the Tallulah River, are no secret and people come from all over the lowlands to spend their vacation camping and fishing these areas. I fish these creeks and others in the summer. Anyone who has been to one of these creeks in the summer knows that there can be lots of people, lots of lawn chairs in the creek, and tackle strung in every tree, but that type of activity is typically confined to small stretches. I fish these and other stocked creeks by parking and fishing long stretches sometimes miles, when I hit an area dominated by lawn chairs, I simply go around them and keep fishing. I also avoid some of the crowds by fishing during the week. The best part is, I have no concerns about keeping a limit of fish on these stocked creeks, because most of them are going to be caught by someone within a few days. Another style of fishing that allows me to keep fish, is hiking into remote creeks and keeping a very small number of what I catch. There are many places in the National Forest where, if you are willing to walk a mile, you can escape other people and have a great day of fishing for wild trout (you will have to figure out the names of these places on your own). Back in these remote areas if I catch 10 fish, I may only keep one or two. I have had a great day in the in the forest enjoying the fishing, bringing home some food, and leaving most of what I caught.

Georgia is a great place to maximize the amount of time you can spend trout fishing. If someone was much more dedicated than me, they could trout fish all year. There are two primary ways I like to extend my fishing season. In the winter months (Nov 1stto May 14th) Georgia Department of Natural Resources stock 5 different creeks across North Georgia. You need to fish these Delayed Harvest Streams with artificial lures or flies and need to release everything you catch but the fishing is great and they stock some really large trout. The Chattahoochee National forest is beautiful in the winter and fishing Delayed Harvest Streams is a great way to bridge your time in the woods between deer and turkey seasons. The second way I increase my opportunities to fish, is by hitting the small higher elevation creeks in late summer. Once the stocking schedule slows down in August and the waters at lower elevations warm, it is a good time to hike back into some of the higher elevation small creeks. These creeks stay cold and often hold good populations of wild trout. Typically on these creeks, an 8 inch fish would be a giant and most are more in the 4 to 6 inch range but it is a blast being in the backcountry and catching wild trout.

The thread that ties this all together is public land. If you love to trout fish and love to eat some of what you catch, the Georgia Mountains are the place for you. You could literally fish every day of the year, have a great time, and bring some food home to your table. I hope from reading this blog no one gets the impression I am a fly fishing expert, the truth is I am very far from it, but I enjoy being outside year round and I have a strong appreciation for the opportunities our public lands provide. I am also glad that as I have grown older I am less concerned about “the conflict” and more concerned about the future of our wildlife and public land resources. I also want to remind you that you are a Public Land Owner. If you appreciate the amount of and access to your public lands, help maintain those opportunities into the future and become a member of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers today.

About Christopher L. Jenkins

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