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    We get many comments every year about DH sections being fished out/poached/not stocked/etc. Here's the real skinny, from the Hooch Trout biologist for DNR, Patrick O'Rouke. (yes, without the second "r")

    I’ve recently received a few calls from anglers and I’ve noticed a few questions online about changes in the DH between Sope Creek and Paces Mill on the Chattahoochee River over the past few years. Here’s some up-to-date info in case anyone is interested.

    In the past, we typically stocked fish at the beginning of the month in one big highway run so that the Buford Hatchery guys could get it all knocked out at once and return to their fish production responsibilities. For instance, we would stock a total of approximately 8,500 fish in the DH section in early December, following a heavy stocking to open the DH season in early November. The fishing was usually on fire for a week or two, then would slow down drastically as the trout became more used to natural food items and less likely to hit a junk fly at first glance. This decline in catch was often blamed on poachers or predators, but in reality is just a normal change after hatchery trout are stocked in a river and begin to lose their naiveté that results from a year and a half of being fed trout chow by hand every day. If you’ve ever been to Buford Trout Hatchery and seen the “rocks hate our guts” signs warning visitors not to throw gravel into the raceways, you’ll realize that hatchery trout will usually eat ANYTHING you throw in front of them! Once they spend some time in a natural setting, that behavior starts to change.

    To try to even things out a little, we’ve actually increased the frequency of stocking at most DH sites (Johnson’s Ferry, Cochran Shoals, Palisades, Paces Mill) beyond what it was a few years ago. For instance, rather than stock all 7,062 trout designated for Cochran Shoals in November during the first week of the month, we actually held 1,125 fish back to be stocked on November 24th in the hope that it would provide a little bump for fishing during the extended Thanksgiving weekend. Cochran Shoals has since been stocked another two times with another 2,805 fish, so folks can see that we’re keeping a steady stream of fish coming in to the fishery. Furthermore, for the past three years the Buford Hatchery staff has agreed to taking the extra step of stocking in multiple locations at Cochran Shoals and Paces Mill. In previous years, we used to just release the entire load at the easiest location we could find to pull up a stocking truck and expect the fish to spread out on their own over time (which they will) with dam discharges. Knowing how popular these sites are, though, I’ve asked Buford Hatchery staff to try to spread the fish out a little more where it is feasible so we don’t get a situation where a dozen people are having to compete for space around, for instance, the Paces Mill boat ramp just to have a chance to catch fish.

    Since DH program inception, we’ve shot for a goal of 45-50,000 trout stocked in the Morgan Falls DH section from November through April. That annual target has been met consistently; there has been no significant decline in our stocking commitment to this DH fishery. We usually get around 60% of those in by the end of the calendar year and then finish out the remaining 40% in the new year. To date, we’re right on target for that number, with 28,836 trout already stocked into the DH and one more bucket stocking at Whitewater Creek to go on 12/23. Of all the sites, we’ve sent 9% to Johnson’s Ferry, 34% to Cochran Shoals, 20% to Palisades, 9% to Whitewater, and 28% to Paces Mill.

    Now, there are some other variables that are outside of our control. One of the big things that can hurt is if there is a year when we have lots of high flow events during a rainy fall/winter. The past two years certainly fit that mold, and we think you probably could have found some trout next to the Scream Machine at Six Flags if you made it down there to fish. This year, however, hasn’t been all that abnormal for flow, so we expect that there aren’t as many fish being blown out downstream. The other variable is temperature. Once you start getting below 55 degrees F, trout will start becoming less active, particularly on the surface. We’ve been below 55 in the ‘Hooch at the Atlanta gauge with one exception since mid-November.

    There are a few things you can do to improve your success in the DH with this info in hand, though. Don’t assume that just because you’re not catching trout on your Y2K on every cast while you’re standing next to a known stocking location like you were two weeks ago means that all of the fish are now gone. Think of it as an opportunity to improve your skills to target fish that are behaving a little more like wild trout would. In this cold part of the year, first, forget about catching fish on dry flies on the surface unless you luck up and find yourself in the midst of a mid-day hatch. Get your nymphs and streamers deep where the fish are more likely to be holding. If you don’t catch fish where you last found them, be willing to move. Think like a trout, and look for habitat where you would think they’d like to live: gravel beds, eddies behind rocks, log jams. If a fly isn’t producing after a while, don’t hesitate to change it even though it was working the last time you were out. Fish two flies to increase your chances at finding what the fish want to eat that day. Change the amount of weight you’re using and check to see if your drift is truly drag-free. If you’re spinfishing, you can usually catch fish with the same lures but you may want to slow your retrieve a little to get your lure lower in the water column. In the winter, when fish are slow to react and smarter with their selection of potential prey, an angler’s skill level plays a much stronger role in his/her day’s total catch.

    The great news is that as we emerge from winter and water temperatures warm back up, many of those fish start poking their noses back up again and the fishing picks back up. Even if the fishing is slow in January and February, don’t write off that warm day in March because you may not want to miss it!

    I hope that helps some of our anglers have a little better understanding of the management philosophy for this unique section of the river. I’m always available for questions or suggestions. Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all of our Hooch trout anglers!


    Patrick O’Rouke
    Fisheries Biologist

    Wildlife Resources Division

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