Unicoi Outfitters is north Georgia's premier guide service and fly fishing outfitter, located on the Chattahoochee River near alpine Helen. Look for fishing reports, gear and book reviews, and general musings here from our staff and guides.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

For A Brief Moment, I Was the Heron!

My friend Jeff Durniak is fond of telling anglers new to the sport that, to be successful, they need to observe the best angler on the river and "Be the heron."  In other words, assume a stealth mode when approaching the area you intend to fish.  It's something most experienced anglers do instinctively...most of the time.  

On Friday, Alan Juncker and I hit the Chattooga DH around mid-day, hoping the sun would have warmed things up enough to trigger some feeding activity.  Unfortunately, after a long afternoon of changing flies, adding split shot, adjusting strike indicators, lengthening leaders, resting on the bank in a small dot of sun-warmed sand and moss, but little catching, I decided the warmth and comfort of my Tahoe was more appealing than watching the sun drop behind the ridge.

Crossing the river back over to the South Carolina side, I glanced downstream to where I had begun the day; that nice deep run below a steep, shallow riffle.  I had struck out there right before lunch.  Was it due to the 43 degree water temperature?  Who knows but it's worth one more try.  Stepping into the top of the riffle, I stop to study the run from above.  Almost instantly I notice a splashy commotion in the riffle.  Some kind of fish is working it's way through the shallows like a spawning salmon.  Standing dead still, I watch as it squiggles through the cobblestones...right to my feet!  As it rested in the small eddy of my right leg, I looked down on a big, brightly colored male brookie.  Does he even see me?  Is he blind?  

For at least five minutes, I stand frozen looking down on the beautiful white-tipped fins, the classic vermiculated worm patterns on his back and his huge toothy kype jaw methodically opening and closing. Everything goes through my mind.  I think I can reach down and grab him.  No, grappling for trout is illegal. If I had my net, I could just dip him up.  But I think seining is illegal also and, besides, I didn't bring a net. This is too weird not to try something.  All this time, my rod is hanging in the crook of my left elbow, reel to the front, rod behind me.  I wonder what would happen if I could drop my fly in front of him?  But how do I get in position without scaring him?  Slowly I unhook my fly from the guide and grasp the handle of my rod in my left hand.  Picture this; rod tip pointing upstream across the back of my shoulders with the leader and flies hanging in the current below my right knee.  Still watching the fish hanging at my feet.  Getting a fly to go where you want it in moving water while pointing the rod in the opposite direction ain't as easy as it sounds.  The little hares ear nymph dropper fly keeps rising to the surface and the brookie apparently never sees it.

Now I'm looking around to see if any other anglers have spotted me.  My contorted body must look like I'm suffering a seizure right in the middle of the river.  Would they realize I'm being the heron?  Whew!  No one in sight.  I'm going to be more aggressive. Slowly I take a step backwards, then another.  The fish, likewise, slowly moves the same distance away from me.  We're about a rod length apart now and I've got more options.  Since he obviously knows I'm not a mid-stream rock, I'm confident he won't take my fly.   What the heck, I'll put it in front of him anyhow.  Holding my rod out horizontally, I watch only my olive woolly bugger drift down in the crystal clear water to within 6 inches of the big mouth.  Like a puppy snapping at a Milk Bone biscuit, he surges forward and  crushes the fly!  Whoa!  Now he's fully aware of my intentions and does not want any part of it.  Only minutes earlier we were the closest of companions, my right boot provided respite from the exhausting path through the riffle. Now we're battling in the current; strong fat-bodied fish against nine feet of bent graphite and 5X tippet.  I give just enough to let him swing out into a calm area where he doesn't have the help of rushing water.  From there I ease the big fish into a puddle of water bounded by humps of golden grass and release the pressure. He's safe and resting comfortably in the small pocket so I dig out my cell phone for a couple of quick photos.  A gentle belly rub and I release him carefully to resume his journey.  What a bizarre vignette in an afternoon on the most beautiful wild river in Georgia.  I think I'll be back again soon.

1 comment:

  1. Jimmy,
    Wonderfully written piece & beautiful (read: please frame & put on wall at the shop(s))
    Congrats on a well-finished day and, in the spirit of Jimmy V...never giving up!
    All the Best,
    B. Dailey