When you hear someone talk about fishing in Georgia, trout in beautiful mountain streams is probably not the first thing that pops in to your head. The southeast may not be known far and wide for its cold water fisheries but those of us who have explored it know that the options are vast and the fishing can be amazing. Full disclosure, I have not taken full advantage of this gem right in my own back yard. When I first started fly fishing I was laser focused on saltwater fishing and thought trout were for weenies that couldn’t handle bigger badder saltwater species. After getting my teeth kicked in on my first few saltwater fly fishing trips, I was beginning to rethink my life choices. That’s when a co-worker became a friend and opened my eyes to a whole new world of fly fishing.
Nick Duke approached me one day at my previous job and asked if I could help him with the basics of fly fishing for an upcoming camping trip he had planned in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Before long I was being invited on camping trips and seeing as Nick is from the Blue Ridge area, he showed me a lot of water I would have never tried on my own. I was more than happy to eat my own words about trout weenies! The streams cutting through mind blowing valleys took my breath away. Stalking these fish with tiny flies and the mind games involved instantly had me begging for more. And to my surprise, these trout actually fought hard and pulled more than I expected. And the best part, I didn’t need a boat or a trailer or an astronomically expensive guide to enjoy it. I could drive a couple hours, walk in to a river and fish. My mind was made up, and although I still love saltwater fishing when the opportunity presents itself, trout quickly became my focus and I was happy to be the newest trout weenie in the game.
Over the next few years I found myself in the fortunate position to do quite a bit of incredible trout fishing. From North Carolina to Tennessee to Montana and most recently Idaho and Wyoming. You might have noticed one thing missing off that list, North Georgia. I can give you a list of excuses but it boils down to being lazy and partially being spoiled by some amazing trips I was lucky enough to experience. Working at Rivers and Glen I am in a unique position to hear a great deal about other people’s adventures and I began to get very familiar with certain Georgia rivers that would come up repeatedly. One such river was the Soque River in Clarksville GA just outside of Helen. I would hear stories of trout that were almost hard to believe until pictures were shown to confirm massive rainbows and submarine size browns. As I investigated further I quickly found out that the Soque River was mostly privately owned stretches of water that was not only heavily stocked, but used feeders to ensure their trout got very big very quickly. Now I’m not even going to begin to poke the bear and go down the rabbit hole of the merits of stocking fish or feeding fish. Everyone has an opinion and everyone is convinced theirs is correct. I know for me, while intrigued, I wrote it off as fishing that was too easy and not very sporting and just a way for guys to pay to get a grip and grin picture with a giant trout.
Despite my personal feelings, I would recommend this river to many customers who came in the shop looking to try their hand at fly fishing for trout. I thought it was a good way to get newer anglers introduced to the possibilities afforded to them right here in our home state and only a short drive away. Finally the day came where I was invited to go with a customer and decided to try my hand at trophy hunting. I figured this would be easy and all I had to do was show up and get my line wet and the biggest trout I’ve ever seen would just be happily jumping in to my net. I know how to trout fish and I’ve been fortunate to do some amazing things so was geared up for a cake walk.
We took off before the sun came up on a Friday morning and headed for trophy trout nirvana, an operation called Fern Valley. Marty and Glad who own Fern Valley are two of the kindest most genuine people I have ever met who truly enjoy seeing anglers of all ages and stages come enjoy their property. We had booked Joe Rose of Soaring Eagle Outfitters as our guide for the day and although I thought needing a guide on a stocked river full of well fed fish seemed like overkill, my friend/customer had been many times and strongly recommended a guide. If for no other reason than to net the fish for you, but he seemed to think it would be helpful in other ways too. Immediately upon stepping in to the river I realized my vision of an easy day was probably not going to pan out. Our guide set up a triple nymphing rig, meaning three flies tied end to end with 12” to 18” of tippet between them. Then add a split shot weight and an indicator, for any non fly fishers that means a bobber, we just like to call them indicators to feel better about ourselves. In any circumstance that is a lot to cast, but the Soque is completely lined with trees and bushes that would love to steal your fly so roll casting was the only option. After a few terrible attempts I looked at Joe and tried to restore my pride by explaining that I really do know how to cast but I had never had to roll cast with this much on my line. He smiled and nodded and began to show me some tricks to improve my roll cast and I quickly understood how wrong I was in thinking I didn’t need a guide. I settled in and got in to the rhythm of how to cast on this river and we proceeded to have a great day. While I didn’t land that trophy fish I had anticipated, my friend who invited me up had an incredible day capped off with a 25 inch 7 pound rainbow trout!
Like I said before, everyone in the fly fishing world has their own opinion of “pay to play” fisheries and stocking fish and feeding fish and this is by no way meant to be a diatribe on the pros and cons. I will only speak to my personal experience with this type of fishery and what I took away from it. I was pleasantly surprised by the challenge of the fishery. While there were definitely fish everywhere and most of them were monsters from being fed, they were not at all easy to catch. For one, they’re fed so they’re not always on the prowl for a meal like a wild fish would be. They also see a lot of fisherman and have seen every fly you have to offer and can be much more selective than I was expecting. Not to mention the fact that things become very different when every hook set means the reality of coming tight to what could easily be the biggest trout of your life. At first I was too gentle and these big fish spit the hook with ease. What did I do next? My best Bill Dance impression and break off the next few fish. Do I think that as a fly fisherman you should only go to privately owned stocked rivers and post pictures of your monsters as if you are the next Bob Clouser or Lefty Kreh? No, I think you should constantly be branching out and challenging yourself and trying new things and new places. But I also don’t think there’s anything wrong with taking a day with good friends and paying a little money to go take a shot at huge fish. It’s a fantastic way for people who are new to the sport to see the possibilities fly fishing can hold but equally as fun for experienced fisherman as well. Let’s all remember what this is all about, just having fun with good people in beautiful places. Whether you fish with an ultralight and a can of corn or you’re a dry fly purist, whether you’re a saltwater or freshwater or warm water or cold water angler, it’s all about the same thing. Having a good time. And no matter what your personal feelings are on the matters at hand there is one thing you absolutely can not argue with, we all had a blast that day in the North Georgia mountains.