Georgia Fly Fishing 5 min read

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Chattooga River

Ken Sperry

Posted by Ken Sperry

June 28, 2024

Chattooga River in Georgia

The Chattooga River, which flows from western North Carolina and forms the boundary between Georgia and South Carolina, is one of the region’s 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 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 you need to plan the perfect fly fishing trip to the Chattooga River. We’ve got you covered from where to go when to go, and what to take. First, let’s get to know this river a little better.

About Chattooga River

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. Only two roads below the NC state line cross this remote stream. 

The Chattooga River is famous for being 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 and a section of headwaters with a lot of quickly-moving pocket water. You’ll find larger pools in the lower sections, a slower flow, and plenty of riffles. 

Chattooga River Map and Fishing Access Sites

map of fishing spots on the Chattooga River in Georgia

Get Directions to the Fishing Access Points shown above with the DIY Fly Fishing Map

There is also a Delayed Harvest Area established as a joint effort by South Carolina and Georgia. This area runs upstream for about 2.5 miles from the Highway 28 bridge. It 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, ensure 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 larger pools in the delayed harvest area might be too deep when the water rises.

Best Places to Fish the Chattooga River

The best access to the stream is 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, you’ll find the best fishing in the river. 

The fishing is also good in the Sumter National Forest area and 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. In the summer, we can see waters that get too warm in shallow spots, but there’s also a lot of shade. 

Fall is a good time to fish, especially when the wild brown trout gets aggressive in preparation for spawning, and the scenery is 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 must know 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

Check the stream conditions before heading out to fish the Chattooga River. The USGS stream gauge at Burrells Ford near Pine Mountain, GA, indicates current conditions well.

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

CHATTOOGA RIVER AT BURRELLS FORD, NR PINE MTN, GA

  • Temperature: 68.18 ° F
  • Streamflow: 50.8 ft³/s
  • Gage height: 0.81 ft
Temperature GraphStreamflow GraphGage height Graph
USGS

Best Flies for the Chattooga River

A plethora of aquatic insect hatches 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, but you will see plenty of others. Hatches include 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.

During the summer, you’ll also find terrestrial insects such as grasshoppers, beetles, ants, and inchworms on the menu. 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 surely have plenty to catch the trout’s attention.

Here is a 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)

Gear Recommendations

A 9-foot 5-wt fly rod with a 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.

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 require that all people 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.

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

You’ll find accommodations and lodging in these towns and along the highways leading to and from them. The nearest major cities are Greenville, South Carolina, and Asheville, North Carolina; 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 in Georgia for more suggestions.

Feature image by Dianne Frost