Memorial Day on the ‘Hooch

During a visit with the in-laws in ATL, I decided to build upon my budding fly fishing skills and do a guided drift down the Chattahoochee River. The “Hooch” runs 430 miles from Lake Lanier (famous for its inland Striper fishery) down to the Gulf.

The Buford dam shoots out 58-degree water at the base of Lanier making year-round trout waters. I met up with Gordon of “River Through Atlanta” guides and drifted for about 6 hours, making a couple runs back and forth. Gordon was game to help me improve my cast, mending, enforce better hooksetting, reading water. A key lesson was “foam is home”, where debris and leaves drift, in that line you’ll find the trout. Gordon also provided some serious local color–ahem–for example commenting on the tube floating college kids, “here comes the Bikini hatch!”

Right from the start we were catching. I christened the new rod with a little 6″ brown near where we put in and then as we drifted down, proceeded to hook up with quite a few rainbows between 8 and 12″, nymphing with a double rig (beadhead pheasant tail on top, the Hooch-special “blue assassin” nymph on the bottom).

My guide educated me how many of the ‘bows were “wild” (we could tell by the white lines on the fins–these are absent in stockies or wear down in stock tanks). The bows were everywhere (there’s about 5000 fish per square mile), and you know I love it when ‘bows jump!

As we drifted by a bridge, I noticed a white pearl gun in the water and we had to go back and retrieve that one. Gordon being a shooting instructor pointed out it was a 25 caliber “Saturday Night Special.” Apparently lots of people throw guns from bridges down South, but this was a first for both of us. As fun as it was to pull out the gun, I was eager to get back to fishing. Later, I realized I should have been a bit more patient. People don’t throw guns off bridges for the hell of it. We turned it in to the park ranger after the drift.

By mid-day the nymph fishing had slowed down and Gordon suggest I learn how to do streamer fishing on a sinktip line. It was cast “strip, strip, strip!” and WHAM watching a trout rise up, flash and slam the fly. Incredibly cool. I missed soooo many fish though because I could not set the hook properly, but finally it all came together. I cast to one lay down and worked it methodically, with the streamer. Off the center of the log, caught a ‘bow, then at the bottom of the laydown 5 min. later, a little brown, then at the top of the laydown, another ‘bow.

Given it was Memorial Weekend, I had to give a little prayer on the water for the fallen and our veterans. My father is a vet, Gordon was a marine, and now his daughter is one. During the day, we talked about a great many things, conservation, the state of the job market–but it was clear Gordon cared greatly for his home waters, and his family. Fishing can be a solitary sport for sure, but its also a brotherhood, and a path to meeting new people and experiencing our fellow man.

The next day I went out, bought some waders to stow in Atlanta for future trips, and then waded the Upper Hooch for a few hours in the early morning in the Settlers Bridge area. The Hooch was covered in mist and we sort of woke up together, the fish, birds, the river. I didn’t have much luck–I just didn’t have the right pattern, but I observed a lot, much more due to Gordon’s lessons. As I settled in to not catching, and enjoying a state of “patience”, I was able to focus on my casting instead, and I could literally see and feel the improvement. Fishing is a system, like learning a new language or how to play an instrument. There are great opportunities for self-improvement through focused meditation.

The Hooch is a great river–one minute its like you’re a million miles away from civilization, its zen and calm, the next its splashy and noisy with college kids drinking beer and floating right by you. I caught three fish right on one side of the bank while kids were belly-flopping into the river on the other! Its full of life and energy. I came away with a new lesson about patience and letting go to enjoy what life gives you. If you’re in Atlanta, you should give Gordon Walker a call to fish the Chattahoochee. I’m certain I’ll be fishing with him again soon.

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