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.

Monday, March 19, 2012

40-Year Old Memories & the Chattooga River

Spring-like, heck, summer-like weather this weekend was too much of an allure to get on the river and I ended up fishing the Chattooga both Saturday and Sunday.  All day Saturday with my friend Alan Juncker and Sunday afternoon with Mark Whitney.  Saturday morning at 7:05 AM I get a text from Alan saying he's just north of Athens and headed to the Chattooga.  Asks if I want to join him.  Forty-five minutes later we're throwing all our gear into one vehicle and Chattooga bound.

For about three hours, we pretty much had the river to ourselves.  What a beautiful morning it was.  My mind flashed back to 1968 and my first trout fishing trip to north Georgia during spring break at UGA.  That first cool morning when I stepped up to a small mountain stream and smelled the aromatic mix of dew and the richness of decaying organic matter.  The cold water providing a chill to the air in the stream corridor.  We didn't own waders back then and only one guy in the group had a fly rod.  The rest of us were spin fishing but I knew right then that this was something special.

Thankfully, I've never lost that feeling over all the years and it was as if I were stepping back into that small stream Saturday morning.  Only this time I had my 4 wt. in hand and hoping for dry flies and rises.  We walked a good ways upstream to one of my favorite corners, seeing only one other angler along the way.  I wanted fish on dries but I hedged my bet with a soft hackle hares ear dropper since no bugs were coming off and no fish rising.

All morning the action was steady with about half coming on my tan caddis dry and half on the hares ear.  Most fish were caught in the shallow riffles, the most enjoyable water to fish in my opinion.  For a couple of hours at mid-day, things slowed down markedly but began to pick back up around 2:00.  With the early start to the day, we planned on leaving around 4:00 to head back home and began fishing our way back downstream.

You could tell that the fishing was going to be picking up as the afternoon wore on.  In another of my favorite riffles, we had picked up several fish on the hares ears that we were now fishing under indicators. At the very top of the run, my orange Thingamabobber was inhaled by a nice fish.  The next cast was a repeat of the first with the fish taking it completely out of sight  before releasing it.  I was sure it was a big brown simple looking for a big wad of protein.

Changing to a hopper pattern with orange foam, I got at least a half dozen follows but no takes.  Okay, we'll go with more orange.  I'm thinking a Stimulator but notice an Orange Palmer in my box and go with it.  Smaller but definitely more orange.  The first cast, just as the fly was about to float out of the zone, and the big fish makes one of those slow motion rises to gently inhale the fly and the tussle is on.  As I catch a glimpse of the fish, I'm thinking "That's no brown." but it doesn't exactly look like a rainbow either.  A few minutes later I slide my net under a big, very pretty brook trout.  What a great way to end the day!

Sunday afternoon I get an invitation from Mark to attend his birthday party.  He planned to spend it standing in the Chattooga.  I can't disappoint my friend on his birthday!  As we pull into the parking lot, the weather goes really bad with lightning and hail pounding the area.  It was relatively short lived and we were soon on the river.  Using Saturday as a guide, I go right back to the dry/dropper rig; a tan elk hair caddis with a bead head hares ear hanging off the back.  This afternoon, there is almost no interest in the dry with only two fish rising to it.  But a lot of fish were caught on the nymph.  Few bugs were seen in the air so I'm sure that had something to do with the fish not looking up.  I used the same hares ear all afternoon, never feeling a need to change to something different.  It was that consistent.  This afternoon we stayed on the river until about 30 minutes before dark and never saw over a half dozen rises.

I think things will continue to get even better in the next couple of weeks as more bugs begin to hatch.  There are small dun caddis, blue dun mayflies, March browns, dark Hendricksons and even some light cahills popping out of the water right now.  It's a great time to be on the Chattooga, early morning or late afternoon.    

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