March 23rd, 2009

The Premiere OnLine Magazine for the Fly Fishing Enthusiast.
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Fly Fishing for Trophy Trout on Noontootla Creek in North Georgia
By Wade Blevins (waders)

Sometimes it is hard to describe the long awaited anticipation of a fishing trip. And yet I think every person on the FAOL site has felt a little pinch of pain at the post of amazing stream, creek, pond, lakes, river not to mention the ever so punishing pictures of fish caught at those very locations. You see I have the misfortune of not being on many of the past trips. You read that correctly. I have squirmed in my chair and drooled over the many pictures of large fish caught by my closest friends time and time again from managed streams in North Georgia. Granted I do get my own time in to fish and much like others have enjoyed my share of trips with amazing numbers of fish and beautiful scenery. But the trips I am talking about are the ones most of us only dream about. Trips that make us think of destinations like Alaska, New Zealand, Chile, or Michigan in the fall just to name a few. I daydream about those places but a wife, four kids, and my job are a pinch of reality. Not too mention the cost of such a trip.

My story really begins with an email chime that rings out while I am steadily trying to concentrate on "work" (no really, I do actually work). When what to my wondering eye comes popping up on the screen but a dozen pictures of incredible trout all in the 22-28" range. My friend with his smirk of a smile, dropped into a hallmark post card setting pictured in a series of photos with not one, not two, but dozens of fish.

Ten seconds later the phone rings. I feel a slight sigh coming on when I notice the caller ID. Yep, it's him calling to gloat.

"Hello?"I say while trying not to blurt out you stinking bum!

"Hey Man!"comes blazing out the other end of the line.

"Did you get my pictures?" he asks with that same grin I can hear in his voice.

"Oh yeah, I got them."I reply. The whole time thinking I wish he had proof he isn't allowed to fish on that creek anymore! Wait just a minute I recall a trip a few years back when I snapped a photo.

Aha! There it is, this will put an end to his boasting… nah I can't do it!

Before I can say anything else, a story of every last detail begins to roll off his tongue as if it were being pealed straight off the pages of Zane Grey's journal. Now mind you this is not the first time this has happened. You see my buddy makes a habit of fishing these trophy waters on a regular basis. I think he has been to this particular location at least a dozen times as well as multiple other private sections of water in north GA. The worse part is I get to hear the same story over and over again on different occasions. Not just by him but others who have received the golden gift of fishing "private"water. "Man! You need to go with us…"has left a scar on my ears one too many times.

I think it was December 4th, 2008 when a group of the so called "Chosen Ones"called to inform me an opening was available to go and fish the magical Noontootla Creek. The very creek that had all but been a vision of one fishing story after another of amazing runs, deep plunge pools, log jams that held monstrous fish! Yes an opportunity was at hand. And for once I knew I was going to have the extra money to consider going. "I'm in!"I responded before the next word could even come out of his mouth. Funny I remember a moment of slight shock from his face. "Uhmm, OK, that's great! This is going to be one heck of a trip!"he responded.

For two grueling months all I could think about were the "what if " questions. What if something comes up at work? What if someone gets sick? What if I don't have the right flies? I spent evenings and some weekends tying flies and preparing equipment. Imagining fighting big fish on light tippets and small streams. With each new phone call, email or encounter the anticipation grew like a child before Christmas!

The day had finally come. I was packed and ready to go. Kissed the wife and kids, packed my gear into Chris' Tundra and we were off to north GA. The trip would take a little less than four hours but we were losing an hour due to time change. The plan was to meet up with others at the Tacooa for an afternoon of fishing to hone our skills. It's always been intriguing to me how the twists and turns of a mountain road can get me excited, especially if it leads to water. I could hardly wait! Finally we pull off onto a gravel road and are running along the Tacooa. Oh what a glorious site! The water is running at perfect conditions and fish are everywhere! On a down side the sun is setting quickly and outside temps were plummeting to the teens.

A few handshakes, introductions and tall tales of delayed harvest fish being caught in the range of 17-20 inches only made me that much more eager to get in the water. My buddy and I decided to head down to a section of river that still had afternoon sun shining on the water and quickly get our gear on. A few seconds later we slipping into an incredible section of the delayed harvest area on the Tacooa with a small island in the middle of the river with giant rocks protruding the surface of the water. Logs twisted around some of the rocks and pools of water deep enough to go from crystal clear to teal green. Tiny fools gold and other rocks shimmered across the bottom of sandy areas as the sun began to fall behind the trees. We had about 40 minutes of daylight left to make something happen. Chris worked his way into a stretch of water and began casting nymphs and eggs upstream on the soon to be prized thing-a-ma-bobber. A thing-a-ma-bobber is a new plastic sealed bubble strike indicator. It is by far one of the best indicators I have ever fished with. Extremely sensitive, easy to adjust and floats higher than anything I have found. I have grown to love these odd indicators.

I worked my way behind him across a deeper section of water than it looked and up onto a rock. My toes were already frozen. Did I mention it was 26 degrees and falling? I began to stack mend line upstream trying to adjust to a quick cross current when my indicator went under by about four feet. I pulled in the slack and was too late. Shocked but thinking maybe I'm hung on the bottom. I couldn't see fish. Hmm…let's try that again. A single false cast, a swing of the rod tip and a quick mend upstream. Perfect I have a good drift. I can see the fly. Wow that water is clear. When suddenly I see a fish turn on the fly. The indicator hadn't even moved yet. Strip set and the fish was on. I'm yelling at this point! "Fish ON! Good fish…Big Fish!"You have to know a little history here, the last trout I had caught and released up to this point was a stocked fish at the Elk River that might have gone 10 inches. This fish was a solid, heavy fish that looked to be pushing 20 inches. By the way, what is it with the refraction of light that causes every fish under the water to look bigger than it really is?

A sweep of the net and she's in! Wow at the colors and girth of this fish! I'm stunned, at a loss for words and suddenly feel slightly warmer than the 5 minutes prior. Then it hits me, I was in such a rush I left the camera in the truck. Chris is making his way down stream and applauding my catch. I admired the fish and slowly released the pudgy 17-inch fish not 20, back into the water. We alternated turns catching fish from that hole for about 10 minutes. Climbing over logs and up onto a rock with the sun at my back I made a grave mistake, I stood up. I watched fifty or more fish quickly move out of a holding position in the sun. I felt the weight of my mistake and groaned out loud.

I managed several nice fish out of the hole before it was just too dark to be safe crossing unfamiliar water. What a great start.

Back at the truck and pealing off wet waders and boots with frozen fingers we were both giddy. I was expecting traditional stocked fish for public water and we had managed maybe 8 fish that ranged from 12 inches to 19 inches. Fat, feisty and beautifully colored. With the sun now gone behind the tree line and the river barely lit we ere headed to the farmhouse to meet up with the rest of the gang.

It wasn't much, a quaint little white home set up on a hill with a barn in the back.

But the view was breathtaking.

We unpacked our gear and found our spot to set up camp for the next few nights. Pictures lined the walls with fish much like the pictures I had seen time and time again. Stories began to roll around the table of previous trips; flies were steadily being cranked out from the vices. Excitement was in the air. 8 guys in a cabin can be interesting in itself.

After a few hours someone finally said it, "How are we going to decide who gets to fish what section first? "The trophy water of Noontootla creek is divided into four sections A, B, C & D. Small pieces of paper were placed into a hat and drawn randomly to see who would be fishing what sections the next day. My partner and I drew D and were instructed to fish D in the morning and drive to midday to swap sections. B and C would be ours to fish the following day. I was the only one out of the entire group who had not seen any of this water. Each had their favorite holes and were discussing tactics and options for each section. The whole time I'm thinking, common guys it's only about 2 to 3 miles of river. I broke the conversation with, "How different can each section be?"It was as if time had stopped. I got glazed over stares from everyone when suddenly each began to laugh. A quick reply came, "You just wait!"

Wait? Wait? That's what I have been doing for years now. I could hardly "wait" any longer! It was hard to sleep the first night. Tossing and turning throughout the night wondering what the next day would hold.

With the incessant beeping of my cell phone alarm I was awake. Up and getting dressed with multiple layers. It was 18 degrees to start the day off with temps expecting to reach the high 30's later in the day. A quick breakfast and people in and out the door to start up the trucks and thaw out the windshields. Stepping outside everything glistened since it was cover in thick frost.

I was finally there, on the gravel road with a gate and sign Noontootla Creek Trophy Trout water section D. We talked briefly about flies and tactics and where to start. The creek was smaller than I expected. It looked like skinny water in my opinion, and over run with trees. "Don't let the thin water fool you!" he said. "Big fish down there, I know it's clear and you probably can't see them, but they are there!"

I nodded and we stepped off into the stream. I watched patiently as he took the first cast upstream in a quick run. I watched as the indicator dipped, he quickly lifted the rod tip and small fish came thrashing out of the water. The trout was about 14.5 inches, healthy and beautifully colored. "Your turn"he said with a grin.

I pulled line off the reel and started to pull line from the tiptop when… SNAP! "Oh great!"I screamed out, I just paid to have this rod repaired. Ten inches of my Sage VPS 5wt rod had snapped off the top section. I pulled the broken tip close and noticed ice INSIDE the blank. Now that's not good, I thought to myself. Must have had condensation in the blank from taking it outside the cabin and into the cold. A quick hike back to the truck to fetch another rod and I could hear him squeal with delight as I hiked back. I had left my net at the cabin, broken a rod, my toes were killing me and I about tripped over my bottom lip on the way back to the truck. Not the way I wanted to start off my trip of a lifetime.

I was frustrated and it showed.

A few quick cast later into a small run and I watched my newly purchased w hite thing-a-ma-bobber disappear. I managed to land my first fish on Noontootla, over the twenty inches of stunning colors. At least I hadn't forgotten the camera. I managed to get a shot of the fish holding in shallow water as I released her back into the stream. Why is it the first fish comes easy? But the second seems to take forever.

Not the case for my buddy, who knew this stream like the back of his hand and had hopped up to a long slow stretch of deep water. He was hooked up with a rather large fish and yelling for me to come help with the net. I found out on this trip I am good with a net and with a camera. On more than one occasion I could ever so slightly hear over the babbling water of the creek, "A little help?"

After netting a dozen or so fish and me with maybe three to the hand and one giant fish that I snapped off with an Alabama hook set, netting someone else's fish was getting old quick. It's a catch twenty-two situation. He drove and invited me to come along, was telling me about each section of the creek and trying to be supportive and keep me positive. Remember I had just broken a rod, left my net at the cabin, and having a difficult time catching fish as well as fishing in the trees more than the water. Did I mention the creek was small and covered with low hanging tree limbs? Just checking.

Lunchtime had come and it was time to depart section D and head downstream to section A. This alone was confusing to me. Naturally I assumed section A would be the furthest section upriver not down river. But for traditional fishing it only made sense fishing each section moving upstream instead of downstream. I have spent too many years throwing big streamers down and across.

We grabbed a quick sandwich at the cabin and drove down into the field to find Bart and Alan sitting on the tailgate eating their lunch. "Tough conditions!"said Alan. "Not for Chris," I replied. "Broke a rod this morning!" I stated rather bluntly while chewing on a bologna sandwich. I did manage to pick up my net at the house. After a quick discussion on whose fish were bigger and how many were caught when and where, you know the usual river talk, we worked our way down to the beginning of section A. The sun was beginning to warm things up a little and I decide to shed a few layers. I watched as Chris began working a deep run called the toilet bowl. Swirling currents in a tight turn of the creek made a whirlpool like effect on the water. We could both see huge fish lying down in that deep pool but nothing was moving. Chris had moved downstream to a quicker run when I over heard him say, "big fish!" Ten minutes later he landed the fish and I was there to help measure and take pictures. I had to admit, it was an impressive fish that measured 24.5 inches long and 18.75 inches in girth. A big hen on any stretch of water, this was truly a beautiful fish!

That afternoon as we walked upstream on the far bank I spotted a group of fish holding in a slow, long, calm pool. "Would be a tough, long cast," Chris stated rather abruptly. "I got this one in my bag of goodies."I quickly replied." Distance has never been an issue for me, accuracy on the other hand when trying to avoid overhanging bushes is another story.

I stripped off line and made several roll casts down stream, slowly letting out line with each cast. I gave a slight tug on the line to get the indicator and fly up and with a single haul shot 55 feet of line upstream, low and hard. The indicator hit the water with a slap. Oh NO, I thought as I saw all the fish turn and head off to the left.

As Chris stood up on the bank and watched, the events unfolded on what would be a memorable take. He watched a large fish turn around and come straight at my indicator and eat the fly! "HIT HER!" He screamed! I hadn't noticed my indicator moving off at a rapid pace to the right. I was watching all the other fish leave the scene of the crime I just committed. I strip set and watched the rod bow up with weight. The fish peeled off line and it was all I could do to hold on. Ten to fifteen minutes later I was still trying desperately to just turn the fish. Chris headed downstream to try to position to land her in the net. She was strong and each step Chris would take towards her just made her take more line and head for cover. I found myself praying knots would hold and the barb-less hook would stay in. I managed to get her head above water and skate her into the net.

Chris laughed and gave me the congratulatory high five. Then made a comment about my change in attitude. I could only smile and stare at my fish of a lifetime. My personal best to the net, a female rainbow trout measuring 24 inches long and a girth over 20 inches. What a fish! What an experience! Chris chuckled, "I will remember that cast, that take, and that fish for the rest of my life!"

Although we caught more fish the next day on sections B, my fish on section A was still my best experience on Noontootla creek. One I will cherish forever. Experiences like this one are why we fish, and the very reason we dream about going again.

Drawn to the waters edge! ~ Wade Blevins ~~~waders~~~

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