Fly Fishing the Chauga River

By James Marsh

The Chauga River is a little known, and far under used, trout stream that’s located in northwestern South Carolina. Recent improvements in the quality of the water, in the middle and lower sections, has helped but the upper, headwater sections offers the most for those willing to put a little effort into their fishing.

The Chauga River is thought of, by most anglers, as a put-and-take fishery and much of it is. The main portion of the river is regularly stocked in many areas. The best sections of the stream are far from any roads. It flows through a wilderness through a very rugged canyon, or gorge like area, that requires a good bit of hiking to reach. The Chauga River has lots of cascades and waterfalls and plenty of white water.

Although the main stream has some stem-bred trout and holdover trout from previously stocked trout, most of the fish that are caught from the Chauga River are those most recently stocked.

The Chauga River isn’t exactly a small stream. Many areas of the stream average as much as forty feet wide. It begins in the mountains near the little town of Mountain Rest and eventually flows onto the Tugaloo arm of Lake Hartwell.

The main part of the river is stocked where there are accessible sites for fishing. The remote areas of the river are stocked from helicopters during the fall. Most of the wild trout reside in the uppermost reaches of the stream as well as the many tributaries. Some of the tributaries are on private land but it is very doubtful anyone asking permission would be turned down to fish the tributaries that are on private property.

Don’t underestimate the effort required to reach these backcountry areas of the Chauga River. It’s wild country that’s very difficult to reach in areas. It requires long hikes on less than ideal trials. The stream doesn’t have a nice trail that follows alongside it like South Carolina and Georgia’s more popular Chattooga River. Some sections don’t have a trail. In most headwater areas where you can reach the stream, you will be limited to fishing within the confines of the stream.

There’s another little known fact outside the local area about the Chauga River. It holds some very large, holdover brown trout in the main part of the river where, during the summer, the water is marginal for rainbows from a water temperature standpoint.

The state of South Carolina has done a great job of improving the Chauga River. They are stocking fingerlings in some areas, fitting lakes that feed tributary streams with bottom release devices to keep the water cooler, and many other things that are greatly contributing to this river’s ability to support trout.

Seasons: The trout season follows the general South Carolina regulations.

Spring: Spring is the best season to fish the river

Summer: The water can get a little warm during the hot summer in the mainstem but it stays well oxygenated and cool in the remote areas of most of the uppermost sections.

Fall: Autumn is a good time to fish the river.

Winter: Fishing during the winter can be good on warm days.