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Opinion: Delayed Harvest trout season on the horizon

Hard though it is to believe, Nov. 1 is just around the corner.

I’m not quite sure how we got to November so quickly. But we did, and that’s good news for trout fishers. The reason? Delayed Harvest season is about to open in Georgia!

While trout fishing is now year-round in Georgia, and has been for some time, the “Delayed Harvest” season brings a treat all its own. “DH” streams, as they’re known, are special seasonal waters which are managed to provide a unique trout fishing experience through late fall, winter, and spring. These waters are too warm for trout during warmer months of the year. But once cold weather arrives, water temperatures in those DH sections drop enough to provide comfortable trout habitat. They’re then stocked with trout and managed under special regulations designed to provide good trout fishing during a time of year when trout fishing is not the first thought that comes to mind.

Georgia’s Delayed Harvest season runs from Nov. 1 through May 14. During that time, these waters are managed under catch-and-release, artificials-only regulations. Only single-hook lures can be used, and all trout caught must be immediately returned to the water. On May 15, regular trout regulations take over, and the trout can be caught and kept — thus, “Delayed Harvest.”

Where are Georgia’s Delayed Harvest waters? This season, four of Georgia’s streams include stretches that will be managed as part of the Delayed Harvest program. Starting in far northern Georgia and working our way south, they include the following:

• The stretch of the Toccoa River in Fannin County from 0.4 miles above Shallowford Bridge to 450 feet above the Sandy Bottom Canoe Access.

• A portion of the Chattooga River in northeastern Georgia, bordering South Carolina, from Ga. 28 upstream to the mouth of Reed Creek..

• The section of Smith Creek extending downstream of Unicoi Lake to the Unicoi State Park boundary.

• The portion of Amicalola Creek on the Dawson Forest Wildlife Management Area from Steele Bridge Road downstream to Ga. 53.

These four streams offer a lot of variety in terms of the angling experience. Looking for easy access and kid-friendly water? Check out Smith Creek. Want to enjoy a midsize stream? Then Amicalola Creek may be for you. If you want a little bit bigger water, then the Toccoa DH is a good choice — and for more of a backcountry experience, check out the DH portion of the Chattooga.

What sort of flies and lures work best? Fly fishers will do well with San Juan Worms, egg imitations such as the Y2K, and buggy-looking nymphs or flashy streamers. As the DH season moves along and the trout become educated, more traditional types of flies will probably work well too.

Spin fishers can have good success with single-hook in-line spinners in silver, gold, or rainbow trout colors. Small crankbaits will do the job, too, but remember that a lure can only have a single hook.

“But wait,” you say. “Aren’t you leaving something out?”

Alas, yes. In years past, Georgia has had a fifth DH fishery too – the section of the Chattahoochee River in Atlanta from Sope Creek (located downriver from Johnson Ferry Road) downstream to the Highway 41 Bridge. As you can imagine, that fishery has proven extremely popular with anglers in the Atlanta area.

But there’s some sad news for Chattahoochee Delayed Harvest anglers, at least temporarily. This year, the Chattahoochee DH stretch will not be stocked. Several things led to that decision, including the recent outbreak of Whirling Disease among trout in Georgia’s Buford Hatchery. As a result of that outbreak and subsequent recovery measures, many thousands of trout were lost. That had a significant impact on Georgia’s DH stocking plans as fisheries managers worked to figure out the best way to use the fish that were available.

Unfortunately, it takes a lot of trout to stock the Hooch DH in any meaningful way. Typically, the section receives about 50,000 trout over the course of a DH season. But I'm told that this year there are simply not enough trout to effectively stock the relatively enormous Chattahoochee DH. Trying to do so with only a small number of fish just wouldn’t make for a very good DH fishing experience, and if you combine that low number with high wintertime flows plus predation by striped bass, it’s easy to understand the decision to forego the Hooch for now.

According to John Lee Thomson, Georgia DNR’s trout program coordinator, Georgia will draw on its available trout to stock the Amicalola, Toccoa and Smith Creek DH sections. South Carolina will take care of stocking the Chattanooga DH, a section of river which forms the Georgia/South Carolina border. That’s all good!

Even so, I’ll miss that Delayed Harvest fishing on the Chattahoochee. I do dearly love the Hooch DH and have many great memories from those waters over the years.

But these days, I try to look for the good news – the silver linings, if you will. Part of the good news here is that I'll now be prodded into spending more time exploring Georgia’s other great DH waters.

And that sounds like a lot of fun.

I’ll let you know what I find, and I hope you’ll keep me posted on your DH adventures too!