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 30, 2015

The Last Opening Day of Trout Season in Georgia

You know, I have been in favor of year round trout streams in Georgia for as long as I can remember but I'll have to admit that when this past Saturday rolled around I did have an unusual feeling that something historic had just happened.  It wasn't that I was having "buyers remorse" for advocating the end of traditional opening day.  It was more of a time of reflection on opening days past.  Admittedly, in the last couple of decades, opening day hasn't meant much to me because I fish year round streams both here in Georgia as well as North Carolina and Tennessee.  No, it reached much farther back into the recesses of my mind to that very first opening day 45 years ago.  My college roommates and I spent spring break camping across the top of the state looking for trout.  It turned out to be a life changing experience, one that I'm still enjoying all these years later.

We were all spin fishermen, rigged with #8 Eagle Claw hooks and red wigglers.  Blue jeans and old tennis shoes and a pocket knife sharp enough to clean our catch rounded out our equipment.  No breathable waders, felt soled boots, polarized sunglasses, 5X tippet, hemostats or even nippers.  And it was COLD that opening day!  No one in my crowd, to my knowledge, had ever heard of climate change.  All but one of us grew up at or below the Fall Line and all we knew was that in April you no longer had to be concerned with cold weather.  So we dressed accordingly.

Edwin, my roommate from Cordele, did own a fly rod and was determined to trout fish with it.  I knew nothing about fly rods but it was most likely an old Berkley or Shakespeare fiberglass 7 wt. with a level line and probably five or six feet of 8 or 10 lb. monofilament as a leader.  If he even had a fly selection, I would be surprised.  Most likely he had some cheap imitations of old timey wet flies
he purchased on a piece of cardboard at his local hardware store.  If he caught any fish, I don't recall but the impression it made on me as I simply watched him fishing was obviously profound.

Just like that bygone opening day, this last
opening day was clear and cold.  Steam rose from the creek as the sun peaked over the ridge much as it had as Edwin stepped into the water that April day, 1970.  Only this time the fly rod was in my hands.  In honor of days past, I had decided this day I would be fishing a fiberglass rod.  My little Orvis Superfine Glass rod was made for this experience.  So comfortable in the hand that it becomes an extension of your body as you cast to and, hopefully, contend with a fish.

We had hoped for some dry fly action and Bryan did tie on a Stimulator with a Pheasant Tail dropper but we both knew the odds were stacked against us.  It was 30˚!  Ice was forming in the rod guides.  Not long into the morning I changed my nymph to a heavier woolly bugger, set the strike indicator at full depth and cast into the same pool I had been working for 10 minutes.  First cast I had a strike but missed it.  On the second cast, I was ready for the brilliantly colored 10" rainbow.  Naive fish may be a small casualty of the new year round trout season but I thoroughly enjoyed this one.

A few casts later I set the hook on something more significant.  My glass rod bent like a wet noodle as the butter-colored brown tried to get back to
the safety of the bottom but that springy resistance helped quickly bring her to hand. Bryan yelled above the roar of the creek to ask what fly I was using.

After some quick photos, I gave him my rod and encouraged him to fish his water again, this time getting deeper with the larger fly.  No more than a half dozen casts and the Superfine is into a major bend.  A big grin is showing through Bryan's beard.  We both know this is a special fish for this small stream.  Everyone gets the idea that you don't break out the camera for a fish like this until you hold it in the palm of your hand.  It's just bad luck, plain and simple.  I couldn't resist and started snapping shots of the struggle.  It was too good to pass up.  As he slid the fish across his hand, my only thoughts were of how glad I was the fish chose Bryan and not me.  He's moving across the country and won't get this opportunity again for a while.

The fish was magnificent; not just for this small stream but for any stream.  Fourteen or fifteen inches, very few but beautifully colored spots and huge buttery fins.  I told her this encounter should make her more wary when the next anglers came through.  Their intentions may not be as gentle as ours.

So, on this last opening day of trout season in Georgia, I made more memories.  This time, like the first, with one of my best friends.  I don't know where Edwin is these days but I think he would be proud that he had such a great influence on my life.  I hope you enjoy these pictures from our morning.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Unicoi Outfitters Recognized as Gold Level Business Member

We know, we know.  This IS The Liars Club.  But this is real and it's a very big deal for us.  It just goes to show that any and all of us can make a difference if it's important enough.  Thank you to Trout Unlimited and to all our customers who have made our support of cold water conservation a possibility.

By Walt Gasson
One of the great things about conservation is that while on the surface it’s about fish and fish habitat, at a deeper level it’s about people. It’s about people who care. And in conservation, as in life, you soon learn that there are people who will never let you down. These are the reliable supporters, the people that always have your back financially and politically. They come from all over the country and from all walks of life. These “go to” guys and gals – the “A Team” - will be there to support the work that Trout Unlimited does year in and year out. So it is with Jimmy Harris and David Dockery and their staff at Unicoi Outfitters in Helen, GA - our newest TU Gold Level Business member.
Consider these words from Alan Folger, TU Veterans Services Partnership Director: “Few individuals have done more to provide healing and rehabilitation to our nation’s veterans.  Whether through their personal and business generosity - or their very important fundraising efforts, Jimmy  and David have always been there for TU and our veterans. Or this testimonial...click here to read the entire article.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Break Out Time!

by Landon Williams

If you have been like me the past few weeks, then you’ve been stuck in a rut. The cold has been getting us down.  Whether it was the ice storm that knocked out power across North Georgia or the five inches or snow, it was just not very much fun to be outside, let alone fish.  Not to mention the fishing was following a rut as well. There were certainly fish to be caught but it mostly was the same general pattern involving deep nymphing with protein in the form of a stonefly or leech while trailing a small nymph or midge behind it in the hopes of bouncing it into the baseball sized feeding window of a sluggish trout hugging the bottom. It certainly can be effective and fun but it can also quickly become boring and repetitive.

Fortunately, this weekend marked a stark change in the weather pattern. We had beautiful blue skies and the first series of days with temperatures hitting the upper 50’s and 60’s in quite some time. And the fish responded nicely.  We hit the Nantahala DH on Saturday and things were looking optimistic from the moment we got on the river.  The water was a little high from the rain a couple days earlier but it was warm in the sun and I seriously questioned my choice of jacket over my waders. The fishing was nothing short of phenomenal throughout the course of the day and my buddy and I easily stuck over 100 fish in the net between the two of us.
We nymph fished exclusively using a Czech setup and caught fish on a variety of flies, although a team of #14 and #16 hares ears caught the majority of my fish. The fish were sitting in the boulder fields the Nantahala is famous for and we often caught several fish out of the same pocket. We even saw a glimpse of what was to come in the next couple of weeks.  Bugs!  We saw a handful of Quill Gordons, grey caddis and what was either a small black stonefly or a black caddis. Unfortunately, I only saw two fish rise all day.  I was completely satisfied with the catching, but still not fully satiated for what I was hoping for, the first dry fly fish of the year.

Well, that changed Sunday afternoon.  I did a walkabout after church at Smith Creek then ended the day with the last hour on the river in Helen. When I got out of the car, I saw a few grey caddis fluttering around close to the water. That’s when I saw it over against the far bank, the all too familiar splash of a caddis-chasing trout!  My #14 grey caddis soon flew towards the seam where the fish was holding and was quickly engulfed.  She wasn’t a big brown but she was wild and absolutely beautiful!  I thanked her and sent her back into the hole to keep doing what she does best. Afterwards, I called it a day, fully satisfied!

The moral of the story of this weekend is to start thinking positive as Spring is finally upon us. The wet weather this week may set it back a bit but it is only a matter of time. Click here for what is to come.  Got Caddis and a big parachute Adams?!