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.

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