DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Chattooga River

The Chattooga River that flows from western North Carolina and forms the boundary between Georgia and South Carolina is one of the regions most celebrated wild brown trout streams.

Are you new to the world of fly fishing? Perhaps you’re just trying to figure out how to plan your own big adventure. The good news is that you don’t need a fancy professional guide or a sizable budget to have a great time on some of the best trout streams in the country. 

With our DIY guide, you’ll learn everything that you need to know to plan the perfect fly fishing trip to the Chattooga River. From where to go, when to go, and what to take, we’ve got you covered. First, let’s get to know this river a little better.

Some tips on fly fishing the Chattooga River in near Burrells Ford along the border of Georgia and South Carolina

The Chattooga River is a small to medium freestone stream that runs for 40 miles through North Carolina, Georgia, and along the Georgia/South Carolina border. It is listed on the National Wild and Scenic River list and starts in Cashiers Lake. This remote stream is only crossed by two roads below the NC state line. 

The Chattooga River is famous for being the river where the movie “Deliverance” was filmed, so it does see a fair amount of tourism that might be off-putting to anglers. However, this is only during the summer months, which isn’t the best time to come for trout anyway. 

There is a lot of good access to this stream, although it will typically require hiking. It’s known for its brown and rainbow trout, as well as a section of headwaters that have a lot of quickly-moving pocket water. In the lower sections, you’ll find larger pools, a slower flow, and plenty of riffles along the way. 

Chattooga River Map and Fishing Access Sites

map of fishing spots on the Chattooga River in Georgia

Get directions to fishing access points and real-time stream flow data with the DIY Fly Fishing Map

There is also a Delayed Harvest Area that has been established as a joint effort by South Carolina and Georgia, which runs upstream for about 2.5 miles from the Highway 28 bridge. This area is far more accessible than most and well-stocked with plenty of trout. The “harvest” season runs from May 15 through October 31. 

Those who enjoy moderate to more serious hiking in a beautiful, remote setting will love visiting this river. You can find plenty of areas off the beaten path that aren’t fished as often and enjoy some great hikes along the way. 

Remember to dress to blend in, make sure you’ve got a drag-free drift, and imitate whatever insects and hatches are most prevalent when you visit. You’ll find wade-in access almost everywhere, although some of the larger pools in the delayed harvest area might be too deep when the water rises.

Best Places to Fish the Chattooga River

You can find the best access to the stream from State Highway 28 or Burrells Ford Road, where there are trails that lead into the river. The State Highway 28 bridge where the Delayed Harvest Section starts is also a popular choice and easier to find than most areas. 

Of course, you can get off the beaten path, thanks to plenty of well-marked trails that will take you on a beautiful hike down to the most under-fished areas of the stream. From Burrells Road to the NC state line is where you’ll find the best fishing in the river. 

The fishing is also good in the Sumter National Forest area or the Chattahoochee National Forest lands, both of which the river crosses.

Best Time to Fish the Chattooga River

The best fishing on this river is done between April and June when the aquatic insect hatches are best. The summer can see waters that get too warm in shallow spots, but there’s a lot of shade as well. 

The fall is a really good time to fish when the wild brown trout get aggressive in preparation for spawning and the scenery is absolutely beautiful. In the winter, you can find a lot of luck on warmer days and this is the preferred time to hit the delayed harvest section when the stocked fish are fresh. 

Remember that the delayed harvest section will have different regulations outside of the May-October season, so you will have to make sure that you’re aware of which regulations are in place when you visit the river. 

Remember, too, that summer can get crowded with tourists and kayaks, so you (and the trout) might do well to choose a better time. Ultimately, spring is our first pick, followed by fall.

Stream Flow and Current Conditions

Be sure to check the stream conditions before heading out to fish the Chattooga River. The USGS stream gauge at Burrells Ford near Pine Mountain, GA provide a good indication of current conditions.

The graph below shows the stream flow (discharge) for the past 7-days. If flows are considerably above or below historical norms (yellow triangles on the chart) then fishing conditions maybe not be ideal.

CHATTOOGA RIVER AT BURRELLS FORD, NR PINE MTN, GA

  • Water Temp: 59.9 ° F
  • Flow: 145 ft³/s
  • Water Level: 1.27 ft
.
USGS

Best Flies for the Chattooga River

There's a plethora of aquatic insect hatches that come off more or less year-round on the Chattooga. You’ll find luck with mimicking whatever’s around, including mayflies, caddisflies and stoneflies.

The Blue-winged Olive hatch is probably the most consistent hatch but you will see the usual progression of winter stoneflies, Blue Quill, Quill Gordons, a variety of caddis, Hendricksons, March Browns, Pale Morning Duns, Sulphurs, Little Yellow Stoneflies, Golden Stoneflies, Mahogany Duns and Slate Drakes.

You’ll also find terrestrial insects such as grasshoppers, beetles, ants and inch-worms on the menu during the summer months. And if all else fails, the midges are always around even when nothing else is hatching.

The bottom line? Stock plenty of imitations and you’ll be sure to have plenty to catch the trout’s attention.

Here is list of general fly pattern recommendations for the Chattooga River:

Dry Flies

  • Yellow Sally (#12 - 16)
  • Yellow Humpy (#10 - 18)
  • Parachute Sulphur (#14 - 18)
  • Parachute Adams (#12 - 22)
  • Light Cahill (#10 - 18)
  • Elk Hair Caddis (#8 - 16)
  • Yellows Stimulator (#8 - 14)
  • Chernobyl Ant (#8 - 12)
  • Griffith's Gnat (#16 - 24)

Nymphs

  • Pheasant Tail (#12 - 20)
  • BH Hare's Ear (#12 - 20)
  • Rainbow Warrior (#14 - 22)
  • Pat's Rubber Legs (#4 - 12)
  • Golden Stonefly (#6 - 10)
  • Tellico Nymph (#12 - 18)
  • Zebra Midge (#16 - 22)
  • WD40 (#16-20)
  • Y2K Egg (#12 - 16)

Streamers

  • BH Wooly Bugger (#2 - 6)
  • Sculpzilla (#4)

Need flies? 

Ventures Fly Co. offers a great selection of dry flies, nymphs and streamers that will catch fish just about anywhere.  Set includes 40 high quality, hand-tied flies (see list below) and waterproof fly box. 

Dry Flies
- Adams Dry Fly
- Elk Hair Caddis
- Blue Wing Olive
- Royal Wulff
- Griffith's Gnat White
- Stimulator, Organge
- Chernobyl Ant

Nymphs/Wet Flies
- Rubber Leg Nymph, Brown
- BH Pheasant Tail Nymph
- BH Prince Nymph
- BH Hare's Ear Nymph
- Barr's Emerger Nymph
- Zebra Midge Nymph, Black

Streamers
- Wooly Bugger, Black (Size #8x2)
- Wooly Bugger, Olive (Size #8x2)

Gear Recommendations

A 9-foot 5-wt fly rod with floating line is perfect for fishing dry flies and small nymphs on the Chattooga River. A tapered 9-foot leader, with tippet size 3X to 5X to match the flies you are throwing, is pretty standard.

Need Gear? 

Below are recommendations for essential gear to make the most of your time on the water.

Quality rod, reel, line and rod tube at a reasonable price. Backed by Orvis 25-yr guarantee, a brand you can trust.

High performance nylon leader, great for fishing Dry Flies, Nymphs and Streamers.

Excellent knot strength, stretch and suppleness make this the finest nylon tippet.  3-pack of the sizes you'll need the most.

Heavy duty, waterproof, yet breathable.  If you are tough on waders, these are for you. Backed by Simms Wader Warranty. If they leak, they got your back.

Most durable, yet comfortable, boot on the market.  Excellent foot and ankle support.  Great for rocky rivers. Lightweight and designed for all-day wear.

Sweet pack with ample storage. Unique harness system reduces neck strain. Sleek tapered face improves visibility - you can see your feet when wading!

Durable and lightweight. The carbon fiber frame floats.  Hooks don't get stuck in the rubber mesh bag . Extra length makes it easier to net fish.  Simply the best nets on the market.

Tough, waterproof and priced right. Hold 900+ flies in slotted foam.  If you need more storage - you have too many flies!

Simple, sharp nippers at great price. Clip on retractor keeps this must have gear at your fingertips.

Strong with a fine tip. Perfect for removing split shot and hooks. Simply the best fishing pliers.

The 580 Glass polarized lenses are super clear and somehow relaxing on the eyes.  Game changer.

Note: DIY Fly Fishing earns a commission (at no cost to you) on sales made using the links above. Thank you for your support!

Chattooga River Fishing Report

Area fly shops, guides and websites that can provide a Chattooga River fly fishing report and update on current conditions are listed below:

Fishing Regulations

The states of North Carolina, Georgia and South Carolina requires that all people who are 16 years of age and older have a valid fishing license. There are resident and non-resident sport fishing licenses available.

Downstream of the North Carolina state line at Ellicott Rock, the Chattooga River forms the boundary between Georgia and South Carolina.  A fishing license from either Georgia or South Carolina is required to fish the boundary water that separates the two states.

You can purchase a North Carolina state fishing license and learn about the most current regulations through the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.

Georgia and South Carolina state fishing licenses are available from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and  South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.

Trip Planning Tips

This river is remote when it comes to getting on the water, but it isn’t far from towns like Clayton, Georgia. The river starts in Cashiers, North Carolina, on the edge of town where Cashiers Lake sits. You will want to rent a car if you’re flying in because getting to some parts of the river requires a drive. 

You’ll find accommodations and lodging in both of these towns and along the highways leading to and from them. The nearest major city is Greenville, South Carolina, or Asheville, North Carolina, and both have airports for those coming from out of town.

Looking for more places to fish? Check out our DIY Guide to the Best Fly Fishing in North Carolina and our DIY Guide to the Best Fly Fishing Georgia for more suggestions

Feature image by Dianne Frost

Ken Sperry

About the author

Ken is an avid fisherman of 40+ years who loves to explore and find new places to fish. He created DIY Fly Fishing to help you do the same.

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