Waiting On Opening Day: Georgia Trout In February

Opening day is almost upon us and visions of blanket hatches and rising trout are what's on the minds of Georgia fly-anglers.

David Cannon | March 1, 2007

Andy Spencer of Jasper holds one of many Toccoa DH rainbows he caught and released on a chilly day in February.

I was able to spend my summers in high school working for a general contractor. The money was good, and I had the opportunity to acquire some skills that I use around the house today, from duct-work to carpentry.

Some of those days, however, were pretty tough. I have a few memories that involve me hanging on to a ladder, nailing siding into place, or being perched on top of some scaffolding, coating a vaulted ceiling with polyurethane, or hauling 80-lb. bags of shingles up to a white-hot frying-pan-of-a-roof, all on days when temperatures went into the upper 90s.

But, the worst part of that wasn’t the fatigue or the blistering heat. It was the bugs. I hated them. Houseflies, yellow jackets, mosquitos and those darned gnats… they really drove me nuts. Just when I’d get a piece of siding level and a nail ready in hand, one of those pests would fly straight into my eye or my ear. I can honestly remember thinking I wish all bugs could be exterminated from the earth!

My attitude was drastically changed one day. I had only fly fished a few times before when a buddy took me to a place I can’t mention, on a stream I dare not name. In fact, The Ole Rabunite swore he’d kill me if I ever told anyone about this place. And even though he may have been joking, I’m not going to risk it with a guy who, with all his knowledge of the north Georgia terrain, could probably think of a place or two to stash a body.

Anyhow, we had only been there for maybe an hour when I noticed a cream-colored insect about the length of your thumbnail flying gracefully over the waters’ surface. It would travel along the stream for some distance, then drop down and ever-so-gently pat the surface of the water several times. My friend caught one in his hand and yelled, “light cahills!” He ran upstream to me, opened his box and tied a pretty good imitation of this fluttering mayfly to the end of my tippet.

For the next few hours, until it was too dark to see, I learned the importance of a drag-free drift as each time I achieved one, my reward was a riser.

At that point, it was all over for me. It took one good hatch and a few eager rainbows to completely mess my head up for good. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about them since. Ask my wife. She’ll tell you.

Over the winter months this year, I’ve added largemouth, spotted and striped bass and jack crevalle and speckled trout to the list of fish I’ve caught on the fly. And while I can’t get the sight of the tailing redfish I spooked off with errant casts or the mighty tug of the striper off my mind, and even though I’ve yet to go after bonefish, tarpon, salmon or steelhead, I’ve come to the conclusion that, so far, the pinnacle of fly fishing for me is a good hatch and rising trout.

Thoughts of those blanket hatches and leaping trout become more consuming as we inch closer to spring and opening day. So does the anticipation for revisiting a favorite blue line on the Georgia trout stream map which has been closed to fishing all winter long, or perhaps exploring a new one. And I’m not the only one who’s excited.

Jimmy Harris, co-owner of Unicoi Outfitters in Helen and Blue Ridge and life-long Georgia angler had this to say about what he would like to be doing come opening day:

“Upon the opening of trout season, my favorite thing to do is fish smaller streams for wild fish; browns and rainbows primarily, but some brookie streams, also. I like the more intimate settings. I like green moss on rocks and logs and salamanders hiding in nooks and crannies. I like the strange smell of decaying organic matter that to the uninitiated smells almost putrid, but to me smells like life. I like fishing smaller flies with little or even no split shot. I like how early on in the season I find myself stumbling up the creek and spooking more fish than I cast to as I catch glimpses of little dark bullets speeding to another hiding place. I like picking those little guys out of the smallest of pockets. I like the way that my old reflexes are, more often than not, too slow to react and set the hook on those lightning strikes.”

Unfortunately for Andy Spencer of Jasper, deer were no longer in season on a day in February when he bundled up and enjoyed catching and releasing many a rainbow on the Toccoa River DH.

“I like fishing a dry-fly attractor (not too many hatches on those small creeks) on a stream where a 15- or 20-foot cast is a long one. I like the fact that I can get to some of these streams after work and fish for several hours because darkness doesn’t fall until 8 or 8:30 in the evening. I like that the fanny pack I use on these streams weighs about 1/10 what my vest weighs and it reminds me that I never use 90 percent of the stuff in my vest anyhow. I love the fact that my little seven-foot, four-weight Sage Light Line rod is like having a magic wand in my hand. It transforms me, allows me to slow down, to simply enjoy making a beautiful roll cast under the rhododendrons and hemlocks and even a seven-inch fish puts up a battle when hooked — not a battle of brute force or sulking on the bottom of the deepest hole on the creek, but a wild, jumping, head-shaking battle that electrifies that little rod and energizes my soul.

“I like that I can’t recall ever leaving one of these streams without a smile on my face, whether I caught fish or not. To me, this is the essence of trout fishing. If I were limited in my angling opportunities, I hope and pray that this is what I had available.”

Mark Craig, well-known guide and fly-fishing manager for Highland Outfitters in Cartersville, is looking forward to the spring season, as well. Here is what he had to say:

“I really love getting into the black stonefly hatches on the Toccoa, Rock Creek, the Conasauga and Jacks. But a few years ago, I was fishing with Luke Mullins on the ’Hooch tailwater when a light cahill hatch started. They were so thick it looked like snow was coming off the river. It didn’t matter where you put the fly or if you had a perfect drift or not, they were eating it. That has to be my favorite hatch now.”

When trout season opens on March 31, snap out of your winter hibernation and watch for a sunny day that will hopefully bring a good hatch to a stream near you. Just be sure and count your blessings when a pesky bug flies into your ear. Odds are, it isn’t alone, and the trout will be more than happy to do a little exterminating on your behalf.

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