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.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Old Dogs, New Tricks - "Discovering" the Chattooga

Well, you might say I've been dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century of fly fishing.  And I'll have to admit that my resistance has been due to my own prejudices.  Mind you, I'm a nymph fisherman from way back so getting down has never been an issue for me.  What I didn't like was this new "Euro" stuff with long (really long!) leaders, brightly colored line segments called "sighters", no split shot (NO SPLITSHOT!) and light weight, super long fly rods like 10 foot 3 and 4 weights.  What happened to casting?  I love casting a fly rod!  It's a vital part of my fly fishing experience.  Shoot, if the fish are biting, I can have fun just practicing my cast.  Maybe not quite as much fun as catching but I ain't bored.  Casting a Euro rig is like throwing pumpkins with a catapult.  No beautiful loops unrolling over the river.  No gentle presentation of a weightless fly on the water.  If they had used Euro nymphing in "A River Runs Through It", no one would have ever gone to see the movie.  You just fling that sucker behind you, wait until it almost pulls the rod out of your hand then fling it forward.  At the last second on the forward cast, you abruptly stop the rod tip high so your flies are literally jerked down into the water with more momentum than a .22 bullet headed to the bottom.  THUNK!
 The promised land where more fish than you could have ever imagined are just sitting there amongst the rocks waiting on that Walt's Worm at the end of your line.  Does this sound like fun to you?  Maybe, but it has a lot to do with how old you are.  And therein lies a significant problem.

I'm past the midway point of my seventh decade on this big blue marble.  I've been here longer than I'm gonna be and for considerably more than half of this time I've been fly fishing.  Fly fishing the way you're supposed to fly fish.  No, not that narrow-minded British idea of only fishing dry flies, upstream, to rising fish.  I'm talking about the way we do it here in America.  The right way.  Dry flies when appropriate, dry droppers when you don't have a clue what's going on, or two nymphs with split shot and a strike indicator when you're really serious about rippin' lips.  We all know this.  It's how we've always done it so it's got to be right.

Many of you may recall a few weeks back when Unicoi Outfitters invited George and Amidea Daniel down for a couple of days of seminars based on George's book "Dynamic Nymphing".  I liked these folks from the first time I met them and figured we could give their career a big boost by having them come to Georgia.  Not that I was particularly interested in what he had to say, just wanted to be nice.  Plus, I'm not stupid.  I do realize the younger crowd is enamored with his techniques so it would increase traffic in the shop.  Worked like a charm.  We had a great weekend with them and I got an autographed copy of his book.  Figured maybe one day it would be a collectors item.

So, back to the topic at hand.  I apologize for the long explication but I needed to set the stage.  My fishing pal Jeff Durniak (aka The Dredger) was headed to the Chattooga this past Saturday and invited me to join him.  Curiously, he informed me that he was taking his new Euro-nymphing rod with the intention of trying out some of the things George had spoken about in the seminars.  I'm thinking, "Why?".  You already spend most of your time fishing on the bottom and, as we all know, you're pretty darn successful at it.  You're just trying to act like a youngun but I know you're almost as old as I am.  Maybe a decade or so less but you're old.

The next three hours can only be described by stating, "A whoopin' was a throwed on me."  I didn't have a bad afternoon at all but I have to tell you that Mr. Euro probably caught at least 4 fish to every one I caught.  And, uh, two of the fish I caught were using his rod.  You know, the whole technique is just kind of funky but I have to admit there is something intriguing about feeling those flies bumping along the bottom and, even more, detecting a subtle strike through that tight line.  I'm not really into counting fish or declaring my success or failure based on how many fish I catch.  But I could be convinced to add another club to my bag of trout tricks.  Who knows, maybe I'm not as old a dog as I thought.  Now pardon me while I check my catalogs to see which new rod I want to buy.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Old Yellar - Eagle Claw Performs Like A Champ

Unicoi Outfitters began stocking the old traditional Eagle Claw fiberglass fly rods earlier this year with the idea that it would give anglers an inexpensive way to get into the retro glass rod movement without dropping a paycheck on a new rod.  Little did we anticipate the popularity these classics would find among folks who just love fishing the soft, slow action.  Now, along comes a competition guy who's discovered the value of the Eagle Claw action when battling big fish.  We received this report from Landon Williams: 

Enjoy the pics of putting a Eagle Claw Featherlight 7 ft 5 wt to the test at Noontootla Creek Farms for big rainbows Friday and Sunday. I was doing a 3 day fly fishing competition and NCF was a venue. Many folks in the competition were breaking bigger fish off  in snags, jumps etc. The limberness of the yellow rod was perfect for protecting tippet when those crazy fish surged but had enough backbone to turn them when I needed too. I didn't break a fish off and went 4/5 for fish over 20 inches while there and the one lost was due to barbless hooks. 

Enjoy the intense Bend in the Rod shots/ and the pictures of mentioned fish!

I did very well! Won both NCF sessions and got 8th overall.


Monday, November 3, 2014

It's Not "If" But "When" Redux

Please don't try this at home!
Ed. Note:  Re-published by popular demand
Many of you know that my claim to fame is that I've taken naps on some of the most famous trout streams in North and South America.  It's an honor I accept proudly and hope to expand my resume' in the coming seasons.  But as I bask in the sunny glory of my accomplishments it is becoming obvious to me that advancing years are opening up another category for me; taking unplanned dunks in many of those same streams.

I could blame it on an inner ear thing.  A couple of years back I was climbing out of the Chattahoochee River after some shoal bass fishing and as I got both feet up on the bank I simply began to fall backwards for no apparent reason.  Fell off a four foot bank flat on my back on a big rock in the river.  Ouch!  I honestly thought I had broken some ribs.  And this was about 3 days before I was headed to Yellowstone.  Thankfully, I was just bruised and scraped up a little.  Turns out I did have an inner ear problem so I didn't have to chalk that one up to getting older.

I could also blame it on the fish.  While fishing the Madison River with my friend Don Baldwin in 2008, I hooked a nice rainbow in a riffle just upstream of a section of rapids where the river diverted around a huge boulder and logjam.  Of course the fish immediately took off for the rapids and with the force of the river helping her, it was impossible for me to get her back upstream to me so I decided to carefully pick my way around the boulder while holding on to the log.  It's funny how having a good fish on the end of your line can make you do irrational things.  As I got half way into my maneuver, I realized there was no bottom beneath my feet.  I see Don running to put his gear on the bank and hear another angler nearby yell, "Are you going to help him?".  Don's reply, "Heck no, I'm getting my camera!"

My only other option as I see it is to blame these events on, as my eye doctor told me, too many birthdays.  It's difficult to accept this one but it may be true.  This past Saturday, after a fine low country boil lunch with the Rabunites on the Chattooga River, I hit the Delayed Harvest section about 2:00 for an afternoon on the most beautiful river in the southeast.  It was one of those days where I literally did not care if I caught anything or not.  I really do have those!  I found myself an hour and a half later still working the same pool.  It's one of the deepest pools on the river, the water was crystal clear and I could see several big fish sitting near the bottom.  I got into my hard-headed mode and decided to keep changing things up until I got one.  Never happened.  One dinky rainbow was the only one I fooled.  But back to my story.  I was standing on a ledge on the east side of the river overlooking the pool and turned around to walk out.  In my mind, all this happened in slow motion when my right boot began to slide off the edge.  I suppose I could have thrown my body backwards and landed in 18" of water on the ledge but your mind will trick you into thinking you'll regain control, catch your balance and walk safely out.  Never trust your own mind in these circumstances!

Remember, the pool I've been fishing is a good 8 or 10 feet deep, right off the ledge, sudden drop.  I'm now swimming...in 46º water!  Invigorating but not recommended.  You need to understand, I didn't stumble and catch myself then stood up.  I was FLOATING!  If anyone was near enough to see me, I didn't notice but I'm sure they've got stories of "the crazy fly fisherman up in that big hole up there."  I realized all I could do was float downstream until I could touch bottom but I'm laughing hysterically as I'm floating.  What else can you do?  It had to be a funny thing to see.  Honestly, the only part of me that wasn't wet was the very top of my hat.  The rest of my hat was wet from being underwater.

Easing out of the river looking like a haggard muskrat, I was grateful for the wading pants I was wearing because they were tightly cinched up around my waist and prevented me from taking on a serious amount of water.  The velcro adjustable waist worked equally as well as a belt would have.  That was fortunate.  To give you an idea of how foolish part of your brain can be, I actually considered going back out and fishing more.  That would have been nothing short of stupid!  Sure it was a beautiful mid-60's afternoon but when the sun started going behind the ridge in an hour or so, the temperature would drop significantly.  A clearer mind came to me from somewhere and I walked the mile or so to my truck.

Now, here's the point of this story.  I was unprepared.  During the winter months, I always keep a duffle bag of dry clothes, an extra jacket and even a towel for those really drenching moments as Saturday turned out to be.  But I hadn't switched to winter mode fishing this past weekend and I had nothing in my truck to change into or even dab a little river water off with.  Many of you have heard my diatribe about wearing a wading belt at all times so I wont' get into that topic again.  What I do want to encourage you to do is put together an emergency bundle of dry clothes (preferable something that will help you warm up like fleece) and keep it in your vehicle at all times.  You owe it to yourself and to your family.  I could have been in serious trouble if it had been cold and I was miles up the Chattooga River alone.  Hypothermia is a deadly thing and it doesn't have to be 32º and you soaking wet to kick in.  It could just as easily happen on a 55º day under the right conditions.

And if you think you won't fall in because you never have, think again, Kemosabi.  As the title of this post says, "It's not if, it's when!"  If you wade fish, you will fall in!  So be prepared.  Know your own capabilities, don't hesitate to use a wading staff, always use a wading belt and, above all, keep a set of dry clothes in your vehicle!  This is the voice of experience talking to you.  Listen to it!