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Sports Desk: Fly Fishing Fulfillment

The poems of Sidney Lanier, our one-time state poet laureate, resonate with this Georgia Cracker. His lively ruminations on two of our most celebrated natural habitats inspire and humble me as a fisherman: The Marshes of Glynn and The Song of the Chattahoochee.

If you are a Georgian and you have not wrestled with a spottail bass on Georgia’s golden coast, if you have not hooked a three-pound rainbow trout while standing in the rushing waters of the Chattahoochee River, you have denied yourself two of the simplest of pleasures – both of which are within reach of most residents of our state.

Been there and done that? Then you are remiss if you don’t commit for an encore. When you cast for that spottail, Sidney Lanier’s sentimental verse will touch your senses:

As the marsh-hen secretly builds on the watery sod,
Behold I will build me a nest on the greatness of God.

While the marsh experience is something to revere, it could only be exceeded by an excursion to the Chattahoochee. The North Georgia mountains remain virtually pristine, forever enhancing the outdoor experience. You are refreshed in summer even though the trout have run away to hide, but the shoal bass take their place in the interim.

Then comes fall, and you are mesmerized as you fish the Chattahoochee when the leaves are turning, the deer are peeking at you while standing in rhododendron up to their hindquarters and the harmless black bear is getting ready for his winter’s nap.

Jimmy Harris, who has multiple business interests, the centerpiece of which is Unicoi Outfitters just south of Helen, is the unofficial mayor of the Chattahoochee, a gentleman with an altruistic bent, a generous laugh and patience that would turn the head of Job. Jimmy gets as much pleasure out of seeing you catch a three-pound trout as you do. Helping you make your day makes his.

While you can enjoy this experience, by and large, any time of the year, no month offers more serenity and enrichment than October. Move onto the river when there is a reverberating chill in the air, and feel the fresh waters of the Chattahoochee slapping against your waders as you are surrounded by fall color and the musings of Sydney Lanier. As the atmosphere implores you to reflect on the good things in life, you prepare to capture the moment by remembering the poet laureate’s connection to our hearts:

Out of the hills of Habersham,
Down the valleys of Hall,
I hurry amain to reach the plain,
Run the rapid and leap the fall …

There are three species of trout in Georgia – rainbow, brown and brook, the last being the only native trout. Browns and rainbows were introduced to Georgia streams in the 1880s and have been stocked for over a century, according to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

“The stocking of fish takes place from March through August,” says Jeff Durniak, fisheries biologist with the DNR. “If you like to trout fish, you can hardly beat the streams in North Georgia. Trout live in pretty places, and Georgia is blessed with a wonderful environment. We have this 750,000-acre playground, the Chattahoochee National Forest, and the Forest Service has provided this playing field for this game we call trout fishing.”

Georgia has more than 4,000 miles of trout streams, which attract more than 100,000 fishermen each year. Trout depend on clean, cold water, which is why the Chattahoochee and other streams in the state’s northern half are so popular.

One Chattahoochee outing begets another and another. You go home, and your mind’s eye won’t let go. You see yourself standing in the river while casting a wooly bugger upstream. The barely visible fly comes meandering by, and suddenly there is tension.

Your line goes taut, and exhilaration segues into satisfaction as a classic rainbow takes line off your reel with startling alacrity. Soon the trout tires and starts coming your way as you reel in the slack – then he takes off again, but you are now in control. After fatigue subdues his will to resist, you thrill to his homecoming – to your net, his gills expanding and contracting. He’s winded and so are you, but what a trophy to hold and behold.

Nothing like letting him off the hook, setting him free to cavort again in the Chattahoochee and live to make someone else’s day.

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