Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Georgia Guide to Surviving Michigan Winters

Yeah, so I decided to get out of Michigan for the winter. This winter hasn't proven to be as harsh as the last, but it's a close second, more bitter cold than deep snow. Either way I can't abide it.

I got the invitation from friends to spend a few weeks with them in Georgia so I made my way down to the Peach State. By appearances it is also the Boiled Peanut State, the Biscuit State, and the Fried Chicken State. The local town has no less than four fried chicken fast food joints within sight of each other. It may be more like six, and it's like this everywhere I've been here.

Part of the appeal of visiting a warmer place is the notion of being able to fish all winter, and I have heard that northern Georgia has some trout streams, so I brought my gear and flies along. I sent out a couple of queries to acquaintances in my social media world and was pleasantly surprised when Louis Cahill of Gink and Gasoline got back to me. Not only did he offer up some prime intel, he offered to take me fishing.

We did indeed float last Saturday on the Toccoa River (big system, well-known, no secret). We threw streamers and saw some big fish. I even caught my first ever trout on a dry fly in January, once the air and water had warmed sufficiently to get some midges and caddis hatching.

Yesterday I followed up on a place that both a local fly shop and Louis had recommended. It was a bit of a drive into the mountains, past numerous small towns and tourist traps, until civilization began to dwindle, the landscape got steeper, and the rhododendrons took over. I drove out a narrow, winding mountain road until I reached a bridge and a parking lot. Then I took a walk.

Louis had told me about the trail. It's definitely the path less taken. There were no footprints, just a narrow single track winding off into the mountains, overgrown by bamboo and green vines with wicked thorns.

It takes a measure of faith to wander into the mountains by yourself, to a place you've never been. There is a tendency to look over one's shoulder while hiking in. The lure of good fishing, and the adventure of exploration egged me on. The frost was just beginning to melt as the sun rose over the mountain.

It didn't take too long to reach the river, but it was the kind of spot that you wouldn't find if someone didn't tell you how to get there. I found a rocky, swift river of clear water punctuated by deep green pools, and little sign of human intrusion.

The fishing started out slowly. I expected this, as the water was ice cold and there was still a chill in the air. Eventually as I worked upstream the air warmed, and when I reach one of said deep green pools I hooked a fish, a small brown. I cast again and caught a small rainbow, then a larger rainbow, and yet another brown.
first fish of the day
I was fishing a dry/dropper rig, using an emerger pattern called a Dust Bunny for an indicator. On one of my casts a decent rainbow rose and hit the dry and so I ticked yet another month off of my dry fly calender.

The trail upstream grew fainter. I scrabbled over broken bedrock against the swift current, avoiding the deep ledges, clawing up the banks through the brush and thorns. I fished several more green pools until I came to a swift, deep run that ran next to a low cliff face. On my fourth cast my fly pulled sideways in the current and I was fighting my best rainbow of the day, all of thirteen inches. I caught several more fish before heading back downstream.

I was going to hit the first big pool again before quitting for the day. I dropped into the river below it, and as I was wading upstream a trout rose two rod lengths ahead of me, so I cast well upstream. My fly disappeared and I set the hook on a thirteen inch brown. It gave me a good fight. My next cast was to the left where the river flowed through a slot in the bedrock. My fly drifted five feet before being pulled under, but when I set the hook this time it was met by serious resistance. The fish gave several big head shake and then began racing all over the shallow tail out. It was a good fish, mid-teens, and very strong. Several times I thought it was done fighting, only to have it take off on a fresh run. The drag on my reel had broken first thing in the morning and so I had to fight the fish entirely by hand, my glass rod bent to the cork.

Finally I was able to slide it onto a sandy bottom in shallow water. It was a brown trout over sixteen inches long- not huge, but thick and heavy for its length, and very strong. I snapped a few photos of it in the water before letting it go. It kicked strongly for deeper water.

I landed a few more fish before my watch told me it was time to go. It was a very pleasant day in a beautiful remote place. The only sounds I heard all day were those of birds, the sigh of wind in the trees, and the rush of current over broken stones.

Okay, so also the sound of my own whoops at the joy of fighting a fish, in a sweatshirt, in February.


  1. Welcome to the South, my friend. You have just encountered one of it's many, many joys. But be ready to head back to MI come mid-summer...

    1. Will do. Let me know if we can wet a line sometime soon.

  2. Wish I was down there right about now.

    1. Yeah, the fishing should heat up with the weather.

  3. If you start hearing banjos playing, get the hell out of there.