The angler crouches low and observes, pulling together pieces of a puzzle that should be solved before the pool is disturbed with a careful first cast. The world is completely absorbed in this focus until a fuzzy yellow orb arcs over the water. It is followed closely by a panting chocolate Lab, who crashes into the pool and churns frantically after his tennis ball. Every wild thing flees for cover.
Scenes like this give anglers a people problem — simply put, people scare fish. And since everyone has a right to enjoy the natural world in their own way, there is only one solution: You have to outdistance humanity.
Lace up your boots and take a little hike. Each mile on foot reduces the chance for unwelcome human encounters, including run-ins with other anglers. And, with fewer people, there is less pressure on the resource, which means the fishing should be better.
One of the best places in the Southeast to test this theory is at Jacks River in north Georgia's vast Cohutta Wildlife Management Area. There are close to 100,000 acres of mountainous woods that straddle the Georgia/Tennessee border in the Cherokee National Forest west of Ducktown, Tenn. Jacks River runs a steep-sided valley in the heart of it.
It's a gorgeous place to take a hike, and one of the few places within day-trip range of Chattanooga to experience backcountry fishing for stream-born brown and rainbow trout. It can be done in a long day, but a pack-in overnight trip is the best way for an angler to thoroughly explore the river.
With more than 15 miles between vehicular access points, the 9-mile Jacks River Trail parallels and fords the river more than 40 times. There are campsites scattered up the trail, and although you'll likely run into backpackers, other anglers will be more scarce. There just aren't many people willing to work so hard for a few little trout.
Beech Bottom Trailhead (34.990648, -84.587979)
The Beach Bottom Trail is the most popular access point to the Jacks River's trout water. It leads about 4 miles south from a parking area off of Big Frog Road in Tennessee's Big Frog Wilderness Area to intersect the river and the Jacks River Trail. This hike is not the shortest route into the river, but it is less strenuous than some of the other options.
Dally Gap (34.933510, -84.518220)
The parking area at Dally Gap, on FSR 22-2 in Cohutta WMA, gives access to both the Jacks River Trail and the Hemp Top/Penitentiary Branch Trail. The Jacks River Trail falls into the valley 1.9 miles to intersect the river on its upper end, where it is pretty small. The Penitentiary Branch Trail, via the Hemp Top Trail from the parking area, is a 6-mile hike that is nearly vertical in some places. It is strenuous, but leads to some of the river's best fishing water.
Regulations and helpful Information
» The USDA Forest Service map of the Cohutta/Big Frog Wilderness shows trails, topography, access roads and parking areas.
» Fishing is open under Georgia’s general trout regulations. A fishing license and trout license are required.
» Spring and fall are the best times to fish Jacks River.
» A 5-weight fly rod or a lightweight spinning rod are suitable.
» For detailed information and maps for Jacks River and all of North Carolina and Georgia’s best trout waters, pick up Nick Carter’s book “Flyfisher’s Guide to North Carolina & Georgia.” It is available on Amazon or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org for a signed copy.