The Chattooga River is a hidden gem of the Southeast. The rhododendron lined river valley provides its visitors with spectacular scenery during every season. The lower section of the river serves as the state boundary of Georgia and South Carolina while its headwaters begin around the small town of Cashiers, North Carolina.
About The Chattooga River
The Chattooga River is a highly esteemed river that starts in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, runs through the countryside of South Carolina and finally into Georgia. Known as one of the most beautiful rivers in the country, it boasts crystal-clear water and stunning views along its path. The final 20 miles of the Chattooga River belong to both Georgia and South Carolina, and are considered part of one of America’s first national wild and scenic rivers. Additionally, it provides passionate fishermen with abundant opportunities for fly fishing; from trout to bass to bream, anglers have a wide variety of fish species to target. The Chattooga River is truly an unforgettable destination for anyone looking to explore nature!
The Chattooga River has various regulations depending upon the section of the river anglers are fishing. Fishing the Chattooga requires a fishing licence for the state waters in which you are fishing. Where the river is the border of South Carolina and Georgia, anglers can fish with either a Georgia, or South Carolina fishing license.
Fishing regulations vary depending on the section of the Chattooga River in North Carolina. The upper portion from its headwaters to the state line is a delayed-harvest trout stream, allowing anglers to catch and release brook, brown and rainbow trout until November 30th. Below the North Carolina/South Carolina state line, a statewide creel and size limit applies for all species of fish. Additionally, access points are limited in this area and may require permits or special permissions from private landowners. Anglers should also be aware of bait restrictions as certain areas of the river prohibit bait fishing altogether. Taking these regulations into consideration can help ensure that every experience on the Chattooga River is enjoyable and legal.
Best Flies On The Chattooga River
The list below is dependant upon time of year and river conditions, but generally, if you have each of the below in your box, you’ll be able to have success at any time of year. Consult a local fly shop for more specific patterns, or patterns that are currently fishing really well.
Parachute Sulphur (#14 – 18)
Parachute Adams (#12 – 22)
Light Cahill (#10 – 18)
Elk Hair Caddis (#8 – 16)
Chernobyl Ant (#8 – 12)
Griffith’s Gnat (#16 – 24)
Pheasant Tail (#14 – 20)
BH Hare’s Ear (#14 – 20)
Rainbow Warrior (#14 – 22)
Zebra Midge (#16 – 22)
Where To Fish The Chattooga River
Ellicott Rock is the marker for the tri-state boundary and is the destination for many hikers and trout fisherman looking to get outdoors. The most popular starting destination for anglers and hikers to the Chattooga is the Burrell’s Ford Campground.
The Burrell’s Ford Campground is located on the South Carolina side of the river along Burrell’s Ford Rd (FS 646). Hikers and anglers alike can explore up or downstream as the Chattooga Trail parallels the river for several miles to the north and south. For anglers looking for easier fishing, the runs just above and below are regularly stocked with trout throughout the year and heavily in the Spring. Adventurous anglers looking for more solitude and unpressured trout can join the hikers making their way north on the Chattooga Trail. After about twenty or thirty minutes of hiking the winding path along the river, hikers will reach the East Fork of the Chattooga River. This is where anglers can find some of the best fly fishing in South Carolina. The confluence of the two, as well as the other creek confluences anglers pass, will congregate trout during all seasons.
These areas are especially good to wet a line in summer and fall. The East Fork is also a great opportunity for visiting anglers to target wild trout that always seem to be willing to rise for a dry fly. This smaller fork of the Chattooga also feeds the South Carolina trout hatchery further upstream and sees its fair share of stocked trout as well. Anglers and hikers looking for a detour can follow the East Fork Trail for two miles to reach the trout hatchery. Past the East Fork is where anglers can really find seclusion. The waters here cannot be reached by vehicle and are stocked by helicopter each year.
The sharp bends, deeper holes, and soft riffles will all hold trout that have become acclimated to their new home. Whether using spinning gear with trout magnets and in-line spinners or casting small dry flies to imitate the consistent Blue Wing Olive hatches in the cooler months of the year. The tail outs of several holes above Bad Creek see good hatches of midges and BWOs with the occasional caddis hatch and the less frequent stonefly appearances. From Bad Creek, there is less than a mile hike to Ellicott Rock and the North Carolina border. The river is swift through much of this stretch as the elevation drop becomes more drastic. White water and plunge pools begin to become more prevalent. This makes navigating and wading more difficult while finding trout becomes simpler. Trout will take refuge in the calm water between plunges where they don’t have to face the brunt of the current.
From Ellicott Rock, two smaller trails lead further north to Bull Pen Rd. These trails part from the river and leave the scenery of the Chattooga River Valley behind. As anglers can continue to push north the hiking and wading becomes even more difficult from here, but the most adventurous anglers can traverse the faster water and boulders to make it up to the Old Iron Bridge. You can be certain the trout in this section see very little pressure and will likely fall to the first offering that passes by if they are not spooked.
Another adventure for fisherman and hikers alike can begin at the Old Iron Bridge that crosses the river where Bull Pen Road crosses the Chattooga. Upstream of here is a haven for wild brown trout and a challenge for even the most technical of fly anglers. The scenery here is even better than the river valley down stream as the many cascades, waterfalls, and rock outcroppings are a gazed upon only a handful of avid outdoorsmen and women each year.
To learn the best times of year and best flies for fishing the Chattooga, check out this article on fly fishing the Chattooga River. For other ideas on places to visit while hiking the Chattooga, be sure to check out Spoonauger Falls, King Creek Falls, and the Iron Bridge Falls.
Tad Murdock is a North Georgia Fly Fishing Guide and owner of Georgia Wild Trout. He guides many of the private and public water streams and rivers across North Georgia. In his personal time, Tad travels the world in pursuit of catching all of the salmonid species (trout, salmon, char) on the fly.