One of the five largest and longest free-flowing rivers in the Southeast, the Chattooga begins its 52-mile journey below Whiteside Mountain in Jackson County near Cashiers, N.C., flowing south and entering the Nantahala National forest below Cashiers Lake. After leaving North Carolina, the river forms the border between South Carolina and Georgia, flanked by the Sumter National Forest in South Carolina and the Chattahoochee National Forest in Georgia, offering a variety of trout fishing experiences before entering Lake Tugalo in northeastern Georgia.
Designated as a National Wild and Scenic River in 1974 and rated as one of the top 100 trout streams in the nation by Trout Unlimited, the Chattooga is regulated as wild trout waters, delayed-harvest waters and general waters, according to the section being fished.
This 10-mile section of the Chattooga in North Carolina is exclusively wild brown trout country and is regulated as wild trout/natural bait waters. Best access to this area is off NC 107 south of Cashiers to Bullpen Road. The river is a short hike from a state-maintained parking lot.
Marc Hipp, a guide for Brookings Anglers in Cashiers, said, “The Chattooga is one of my favorite places to fish,” rating it 10 on a scale of one to 10, particularly in the spring and fall. “During the summer,” he said, “I’d give it a rating of five to seven.”
The majority of the browns range from nine to 14 inches, with some anglers reporting catches weighing 5 pounds or more. Hipp’s largest is a 25-incher.
The South Carolina portion is wild brown trout waters in the upper section from the North Carolina border to Big Bend Falls. Much of the fishable portion flows through the Ellicott Wilderness, accessible by hiking trails from the Walhalla State Fish Hatchery and Burrells Ford Bridge Road off SC 107.
From Burrells Road to Reed Creek, the river is stocked once a year with approximately 25,000 rainbow and brown trout fingerlings, that, when mature, provide a fishing experience as close to wild trout as can be found anywhere in the river. The fingerlings are released from a helicopter, Access to this area is by foot trail from the parking lot at the SC 28 bridge, Thrift Lake Access and Big Bend Road.
From Reed Creek to SC 28, the river is stocked with brook, rainbow and brown trout and is regulated as delayed-harvest waters, with catch-and-release rules in effect from Nov. 1 to May 14. During the delayed-harvest season, only artificial lures or flies with single hooks may be used. During the catch-and-keep season, the daily creel limit is eight trout with no size or bait restrictions.
Creel limits for South Carolina and Georgia are eight trout per day. Either a South Carolina or Georgia license is valid for fishing waters in both states. North Carolina does not have a reciprocal license agreement with the other two states.
The Chattooga River Trail follows the river for more than 30 miles, offering access to much of the river. Some sections of the river run far below the trail, especially in the gorge or narrows section. Hipp said he does not recommend fishing this part of the river alone.
“It’s extremely difficult to reach and to fish,” he said, “Plus, you can’t get a cell-phone signal.”
Hipp recommends a variety of flies for fishing the Chattooga.
“In the spring, you’ll see good hatches of Quill Gordons, Light Cahills and Blue Winged Olives,” he said. “In late spring and into summer, I’ll fish with a Sulphur or Yellow Sally.” Best sizes run from 16 to 12.
“Trout will hit a Quill Gordon or Sulphur like crazy,” Hipp said.
For nymph fishing, he prefers a Pheasant Tail, Hare’s Ear, Zug Bug or Prince in sizes 18 to 12.
For big water, Kaufman Stone, Pat’s Rubber-Legged Stone and large sculpin patterns such as the Sculpzilla are very effective.
Although the Chattooga is best known for its big brown trout, the river does occasionally yield some large rainbow and brook trout. A 4-pound, 10-ounce brook trout was caught below Burrells Ford in 2010, setting a South Carolina record.
Be advised that the river is one of the top destinations in the Southeast for paddling sports, especially in the South Carolina and Georgia sections, dating back to the 1972 movie, Deliverance.