The Gulf and flats that surround Anna Maria Island were just a day’s drive to the south, but they felt a world away as we made our way down the steps at Yaz Crossing to the banks of the Chattahoochee River near Sautee Nacoochee in the north Georgia mountains.
Descending the crooked wooden stairs, fly rods tucked under our arms, our guide Wes McElroy chuckled as he told us how the area got its name. It happened when a local angler nicknamed Yaz took an unplanned swim while fording the river on a cold winter’s day. Now for better or worse, the mishap was forever immortalized.
I was spending the day with my good friend Bob Seeger, a North Georgia transplant from Longboat Key. Whenever my wife, Chris, and I vacation in the area, we set up a fishing trip, a tradition now for over five years. There are many local trout streams in the Georgia foothills and mountains that have a mix of public and private waters.
Some, like the stretch of the river we were fishing today, hold trophy trout as well as good numbers of smaller rainbow and brown trout. This trip we were fishing out of Unicoi Outfitters, one of Georgia’s oldest and most respected full-service fly shops.
Once we were by the river, McElroy rigged our five-weight rods with nymph patterns. These flies mimic the aquatic life stage of insects like stoneflies and mayflies that begin their lives in the river. While I have always preferred fishing dry flies, the reality is that most of the time nymphs make up 90 percent of a trout’s diet. The time to switch to dry flies is when the nymphs emerge from the river and fly away as adult insects.
For anglers like me, there is a fallback. Although experienced anglers can fish nymphs and detect a strike when their fly line pauses or stops, most anglers use a strike indicator. This consists of a small cork or piece of floating yarn that is tied above the fly. This gives neophyte anglers a more visual reference when a trout picks up the subsurface offering. My fall back was to use a dry fly as an indicator with a nymph suspended below. Whether the fly is rigged below a traditional indicator or a dry fly, the depth the nymph is fished is calculated by approximating the depth of the water and adding 50 percent to the leader.
We started out fishing a run that tailed out in a pool. Wes positioned Bob along the river and then me about 50 feet further upstream. It didn’t take Bob but four casts to hook a beautiful 18-inch rainbow trout. Three casts later and my nymph was taken by a trout a bit smaller than Bob’s. When either of us hooked a fish, Wes was right there to net them. He was also readily available when we got hooked in a tree or tangled our line around the rod. Besides helping with equipment, he was constantly coaching us on how to maximize a drift or pointing out a particular area that would hold trout.
With my new appreciation of nymphing I put what I had learned into practice, and by being quicker with my hook set, started catching fish on every third or fourth cast. During our afternoon of fishing, we moved no more than four times and probably caught and released 20 plus fish each. The afternoon had started out cloudy with light showers and progressively improved. When we left the water at five p.m., the sky had cleared and the temperatures dropped to a delightfully cool 65 degrees.
If you are new to the sport or unfamiliar with a stream, I highly recommend a guide. It’s money well spent. Some amazing stream fishing for trout is only a day’s drive away from Anna Maria Island.
If you find yourself in the area, give Unicoi Outfitters a call. They have a beautifully stocked full-service fly shop with private water on the Chattahoochee right out their door. They can also arrange trips for native shoal bass and striped bass on nearby streams and lakes. Check out their website at www.unicoioutfitters.com.
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