River relaxation in Georgia town

Published 5:48 pm Friday, June 2, 2017

HELEN – This mountain town of just over 500 hasn’t changed lately, unless another entrepreneur with Taiwan connections has opened a souvenir shop on the main drag.   I like coming here because I remember the pristine Helen, not the one which partnered with the “midway.”   There are plusses and minuses when you discourse about Helen, but there is one redeeming constant—the Chattahoochee River, Georgia’s most romantic waterway, whose natural state makes up for any shortcomings in this White County Alpine-look-a-like-settlement.

The big reason to spend time in the foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains is to return to Nora Mill Granary, which is almost within arms-length of a dam by the same name and its water falls; and to browse the premises of Unicoi Outfitters, an experience worthy of encore.   Fly fishing shops appeal to one’s inner self, the one which reminds you that nature will always beckon with inspirational overtones.   You feel good indoors while waiting to go outdoors on the river.

Fly fishing for rainbow trout has pretty much ended until October.  The trout go into hiding when river temperatures turn warm.  Trout, unlike Marilyn Monroe, don’t like it hot.  When it is cool, even cold in the dead of winter, trout are active and resplendent when they latch on to a tiny fly and give you an unforgettable exercise—your line taught and the fly rod bending into a half moon crescent which leaves you winded but gratified; overwhelmed and fraught with a sense of accomplishment.  It is not like hitting a homerun in SunTrust Park or scoring a touchdown between the hedges.   It is not about muscle and headlines.  It is about a refreshing and soothing communing with nature which leaves you emotionally fulfilled.

You are enveloped in an atmosphere, which brings pause to your day even if you will never be seen in print in Field and Stream or Garden and Gun.  Not everybody can power a baseball 350 feet or drive a golf ball 375 yards, but anybody with patience and the coaxing expertise of a Jimmy Harris, can wade the Chattahoochee and hook a four pound rainbow.

Every spring, I come here with a group which has earned the right, through a bidding process, to “phish” with Phil Neikro, the old knuckleballer who could have made it as a standup comedian.   Come off the river and congregate in a room where libations help set the tone and immediately Neikro will bring levity front and center, evoking knee slapping hilarity.

With a home on Lake Lanier, it is a daily wake-up-get-up-take-to-the-water routine for Neikro that is as predictable as him throwing a knuckle ball in his prime.  As the conversation gathered momentum, Neikro remarked that he recently caught an eight pound striper which he reeled up to the boat only to see the striper spit the hook and wriggle away.   “But not before I could tell he was at least eight pounds,” Neikro said, setting the conversational hook.  “How did you know, it was an eight pounder,” someone asked.

“Well,” Neikro deadpanned, “you know fish have scales.”

With higher temperatures coming about, Jimmy Harris can help you find shoal bass which have been around as far back as the days of the Creek Indians who fished the waters of the Chattahoochee not for sport, but for survival.  Even if you stand in the Chattahoochee, without a fly rod and a net, your life is enriched by the whisper of the river.  I belong to the fraternity which can’t get enough of the Chattahoochee.

Loran Smith is Executive Secretary, Georgia Bulldog Club.