The Chattahoochee River is a true treasure for Atlanta anglers with its freestone roots in the North Georgia mountains. It begins up near Helen, offering anglers solitude and wild fish while it flows all the way to the Metro area where it becomes a formidable blue ribbon tailwater. For the purposes of this blog we will discuss the tailwater portion of the Chattahoochee. There are only three trout rivers located near major metropolitan areas and the Hooch is one of them. There is 38 miles of river that are considered trout water and the state’s largest brown trout come from the Chattahoochee.
Before you throw any gear in the truck call the Buford dam hotline to get the dam release schedule. Normal flows average around 600 cfs (cubic feet per second) but after a release they jump up to over 1,000 cfs. If you notice the water getting cloudy and lots of debris in the water get out of the water as soon as possible because the flows may be too strong for safe fishing. The Corp of Engineers is very reliable when it comes to releases so as always call the hotline. The hotline number is 770-945-1466. The USGS provides graphs for different sections. Here is the link for Buford dam. These graphs are great since they provide more than water height levels, so this will give anglers an idea of what the water clarity and other conditions look like.
Above the Highway 20 bridge a PFD (Personal Flotation Device) is required by law. The shop has waist style PFDs that are low profile and stay out of the way. No need to wear a jet ski sized PFD.
The Hooch has several distinct sections as it carves its way from Buford Dam towards Atlanta. Directly below Buford Dam the river is small, swift, and slick. Due to the close proximity of the water releases nothing can really grow so the rocks are very slick. This section is prime water for a wading staff and felt wading boots. Fly selection is limited in this section due to the releases as well. Midges should make up the bulk of your fly box here. Zebra midges in a few different colors are a solid choice. The dam section is a great option when the Metro area experiences heavy rains and the rest of the river is of chocolate milk consistency.
The middle section of the river widens up and the flows become a little more gentle. Settles Bridge is a good wade access point. Lots of small browns and the chunky stocked rainbow reside in this area. This area has some deep runs and also lots of pocket water. Don’t under estimate how shallow a brown will hold. When you are walking keep an eye out for fish that you spook and try to fish areas that look similar. Bug life increases in this area so this really expands your fly selection. Basic guide style flies like pheasant tails, Pat’s stonefly, and hare’s ear in sizes 12-18 are good starters. Don’t overthink your flies but instead look for the foam near seams and drop offs. During normal non-release flows using a hopper dropper with two flies dropped off can be effective since depths average 2-6ft. In this same section Abbots and Medlock are great options for boat anglers to take out or launch.
The final section we will discuss is Jone’s Bridge. Jone’s sees the most recreational use out of all the access sites. If you’re looking for solitude avoid this area on the weekends when the weather is nice. In the winter or on weekdays Jone’s Bridge makes for a phenomenal after work get away. The island section gets fished hard but there’s pockets of water that get over-looked so reading water is a real asset. There’s a hiking trail that runs south along the river that gives anglers great access. We recommend anglers take the 20 min hike along the trail to get access to less pressured fish. This section of the river really opens up and the fish hold primarily in the many shoals and back eddies. Medium length nymph rigs ride great in the seams. There will be occasional bug hatches but nymphs and small streamers will put the most fish in the net. In early fall there can be great blue wing olive hatches so keep some small parachute Adams in size 18-20 and small pheasant tails handy.
Island Ford is the most southern location for trout on the Hooch but sometimes the summer water temps flirt with the 70 degree mark making it stressful on trout. There is a terrible goose problem in this section as well that causes an overgrowth of weeds, making it hard to fish without getting snagged. Along the main island a population of large, predatory birds known as cormorants perch in the trees looking for unsuspecting trout. Luckily, there’s some very deep pools in this section that hold fish year around. Similar techniques used at Jone’s Bridge will work at Island Ford.
When accessing locations like Jone’s Bridge or Island Ford remember these are properties ran by the National Park Service so you need to pay a daily fee or purchase an annual pass. More information about NPS passes can be found here: https://www.nps.gov/planyourvisit/passes.htm. As always we are here to help you and answer any questions you may have.
We love the Hooch and encourage you to check out the following groups who help support the health of the river for your enjoyment and future generations:
Chattahoochee River Keepers: https://chattahoochee.org/
Upper Chattahoochee River Chapter of Trout Unlimited: https://ucctu.org/
Chattahoochee National Park Conservancy: https://www.chattahoocheeparks.org/
Chattahoochee Nature Center: https://www.chattnaturecenter.org/
National Park System: https://www.nps.gov/chat/index.htm