By Neil McGahee
As summer makes its final stand before the russet-tinged invasion of autumn, the fly angler’s thoughts turn to one of the South’s best places for fall flyfishing — the Upper Chattooga River.
In the gap where North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia converge, ice-cold water from high mountain springs usher the newborn river along 150 miles of fast rapids and deep pools. One of the last remaining free-flowing rivers in the South, the Chattooga — the “star” of the movie “Deliverance” — boasts legendary wild brown, rainbow and brook trout fishing.
The first 10 miles of the Upper Chattooga is considered one of the top 100 trout streams in the United States by Trout Unlimited. Browns are the dominant species, except for an area from Burrell’s Ford downstream to the U.S. Forest Service campground, which is heavily stocked with rainbows and brook trout. Access to the river above Burrell’s Ford is by foot only but the hike, although lengthy, isn’t particularly difficult.
Downstream from the campground, lies the most rugged portion of the river. In this three-mile stretch, brown trout make up roughly two-thirds of the population. General creel limits are in effect in September and October, but delayed-harvest regulations apply from November through mid-May and anglers must observe catch-and-release fishing only. This section is accessible only by foot from parking areas at the S.C. 28 bridge and Big Bend Rd.
Autumn mayfly hatches — mahogany duns, slate drakes and brown sedges — although sporadic, start in mid-August and may last into December. However, most anglers opt to use terrestrial patterns —grasshoppers, beetles, ants and inchworms — especially inchworms or moth larvae, which occur in large numbers.
In addition to terrestrial and aquatic insects, the Chattooga offers lots of baitfish including crayfish, sculpins and black-nosed dace. Streamer imitations of these and other minnows are especially effective when the water is slightly off color. The ubiquitous Wooly Bugger in black or olive can be especially deadly.
A 9-foot, 5-weight fly rod is tailor-made for fishing the Chattooga. You may hook a tree trout here and there, but the opportunity to make longer casts and have better line control easily atones for that. Try using a nine-foot 5X leader for starters, but bring extra tippet material in a variety of sizes to handle everything from midges to muddlers.
To get there from Clayton, Ga.: From Hwy. 441 turn right (east) onto Warwoman Rd. Go approximately 15 miles to the intersection with Hwy. 28. Turn right (south) on Hwy. 28. Go 2-3 miles then turn left on Burrell’s Ford Rd. Travel approximately 7 miles, cross the Chattooga River Bridge. The parking area is ½ mile past the bridge on the right.