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Trout Fishing in the Blue Ridge Mountains

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Trout Fishing in the Blue Ridge Mountains picture

Who doesn't love mountain scenery and bubbling brooks. My wife and mom had both mentioned wanting to do a mountain vacation, so when a friend of the family offered to let us stay at his waterfront cabin in the mountains, It was a great opportunity for a new fishing adventure/ family vacation.

The cabin was so perfect no photo or painting could capture the beauty. Situated on the inside of a wide bend in fast running tributary of the Ocoee river, the view from the deck overlooks a beautiful rapid framed with colorful trees and boulders. Once you land your first rainbow trout there, you will want to experience fishing the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains again.

Catching the Trout

My first thoughts on arrival were to survey the area with an easy casting and fast retrieving lure. Seeing most of the creek bottom being only inches deep, I was very doubtful this water held any fish much less nice fish, but I was wrong. I tied on a white and pink beetle spin. I then started casting around using a light spinning rod with florescent blue 6lb test that matches the water tint. At about the third little opening I could cast in a small fish swam up to my spinner and took a bite. He got away, but I was getting happier knowing there was fish of some kind in this little stream. I was surprised and thought it might have been a small bass. I cast back to same spot, and seconds later a huge silvery fish rolled up from the blue haze in the middle of the deep spot in the creek and swallowed the beetle spin near the surface. I knew this was a good fish and the fight was on. I didn't even have a net with me.

The large trout fight hard and are difficult to land on light gear without a net. I learned that the hard way after trying to land my first lunker rainbow. I was not prepared to deal with a fish larger than I could get my hands around. After an epic battle on the light line the fish was near the shore in just a few inches of water. I was already thinking of how to cook it. I reached down pick up my trophy trout and he slipped out of my hand. Again I grasped and the trout squirmed away. I tried to work him shallower with a scooping motion like I do with big redfish in the surf back home, but the trout was getting his win back and I lost ground. He was flopping back toward the deeper water when the 6lb test line finally popped. Desperate not to lose my dinner, I am still trying to get two hands on the slippery trout as we move into knee deep ice water Then the trout makes an exhausted run for the deep. Seeing my last chance, I dove toward the fish trying to corral it against my body like a football. Once again the trout slipped away to freedom and I knew I had to get out of the freezing water. After a numb stiff legged hobble back to the cabin to warm up and change clothes, I was ready for round two with a big rainbow.

My family followed me back to the spot to see if there were more fish. Or to make sure I did not get hypothermia trying to catch a trout by swimming in icy water. Either way, I brought my trusty net this time. We were hungry after the 11 hour drive to the mountains with just road snacks to eat and hopes were high. The video below shows my very first rainbow trout catch filmed by my wife.

The trout had great silvery color showing hints of green, blue, and pink tints in the sunlight. At first I thought I had caught brown trout, but the heavily spotted tail indicated that these are rainbow trout in late summer colors. This trout identification chart from "whamz" reassured my guess.

All the trout I caught were on my light spinning rod with 6 lb blue florescent line. Although I tried many lures and flies, all strikes were on small plastic beetle spin baits. The preferred color was white with pink. Strikes on the beetle spin occurred both near the surface and when jigging near the bottom.

The trout are extremely skittish. Every trout that saw me moving raced away instantly. Too much activity in one area scares all of them away. Try to walk lightly as you move towards the water if it is still and quite. Your vibrations will put the fish on alert even if they can't see you. In some places the sound of the rapids and whitewater drowns out your sound so it doesn't matter as much. Stay back from the edge and make longer casts to avoid them seeing you. I was about 10ft off the water's edge when most trout strikes happened. A good technique is to stand behind short brush for cover and cast over it where you can. Be aware of your shadow, especially when shadows are long and the sun is bright. An unnatural shadow moving on the riverbed will reveal your presence and spook the trout. Getting close to the water and wading can work too so long as you can cast to fish far away that can't hear or see you yet. The chilling cold mountain water ruled out wading on this trip.

Of course I wanted to catch one on my fly rod. I have been tying flies for years to catch bluegill and largemouth bass back in Florida. Fly fishing for rainbows in the mountains seems the iconic experience, but was not to be. The dense shore vegetation and near freezing water were too much of a hindrance to cast flies well or wade into position.

Crawfish are plentiful in the Ocoee tributaries
crawfish photo

Live baits on hand were crawfish and caddis fly larvae found under shallow rocks. I also had roe harvested from the first catch. Although I had never been in rainbow trout territory before, I was able to identify the caddis larvae and a few other bait options from having played the fishing simulation "Reel Fishing 2" for Playstation. Drifting some live bait in the stream seemed like a good idea, so a gave it a shot and a bobber. I tried with trout roe attached to a hook by the egg-connector tissue, but I found it too hard to get my bait into good position without getting into the water.

Be sure to take your own fishing gear if you visit to the Blue Ridge areas of GA, as there are not many places to purchase fishing supplies. We stopped at several stores claiming to have fishing supplies only to find out the store had only t-shirts or crickets. The fly shop in Mccayesville actually had the trout net I needed but the shopkeeper refused to come down from the not-so-bargain price of $160, so I continued to scoop keeper trout in my .99 cent butterfly net I brought from home. They had no other usable fishing gear in the store. A special net should be used to catch and release trout unharmed. I did not net any trout I wasn't going to eat in the butterfly net. Also note that a freshwater license and special trout license are required to harvest trout.

This Heron is Stalking Trout
blue heron photo

A noticed a large blue heron was fishing in the same two spots that were producing trout for me. I tried to observe other places the heron was fishing without getting too pushy, but he got annoyed and left the area. The deeper holes in the creek where the water was bottlenecked seemed to be holding the most trout.

Cleaning Trout

Rainbow trout have extra slippery skin, so a tail clamp and a steel glove will make cleaning much easier. They can be filleted the same way as shown in the FishObserver How to Clean a Redfish video. Leave the skin on for broiling, but for frying, turn the fillet over and use the knife to separate the skin from the fillet. Angle the knife blade away from the surface to avoid missing meat near the skin. A dull knife is preferred for skinning because it won't cut through the skin, but should shear away the meat.

Cleaning the trout is a convenient time to see exactly what the fish near you are feeding on. You can look for the bulgy stomach sac and slice into it with a sharp knife so the contents aren't smashed. Make sure to open the stomach after you've taken the fillets so the guts don't contaminate the meat. The trout near this cabin had been feeding mostly on yellow jackets and spiders, as I could clearly see many whole undigested bodies. They also had a large amount of whole tree leaves in the stomach that I think are accidental ingestion. All guts and remains of the fish must be bagged up and secured from raccoons and bears. We used metal cans.

Cooking Trout

Although our cabin was well equipped, there was not many usable cooking supplies. We had to improvise some fish fry out of snack crackers and popcorn flavoring as the oil. It came out crispy and tasty. It is hard to go wrong with fresh caught rainbow trout. We also broiled some with the skin down on a preheated pan with just salt and pepper and that was delicious too.

We were really "roughing it" in the mountain cabin. We spent evenings watching birds from a patio hot-tub in the treetops and then later playing billiards by the propane fireplace. We not only had creature comforts but also saw lots of wildlife and natural sites. Sharing the beauty and wildlife of the Blue Ridge Mountains with the family is as good as it gets for outdoors people. I recommend other anglers make it a point to experience fishing there if they haven't already.

Trout Fishing in the Blue Ridge Mountains photo Trout Fishing in the Blue Ridge Mountains photo Trout Fishing in the Blue Ridge Mountains photo
Trout Fishing in the Blue Ridge Mountains photo Trout Fishing in the Blue Ridge Mountains photo

 

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