SMITH COLUMN: Fly fishing again on the Chattahoochee River

Published 9:30 am Saturday, October 23, 2021

We’ve got at least six months, maybe seven, to enjoy fly fishing the Chattahoochee, Georgia’s most romantic river, which begins in Union County at a place called Jack’s Gap which is near Hiawassee, a town of 880 at the last official head count.

The Chattahoochee is such a spectacular body of water that flows with alacrity, yet without haste, 430 miles to the Gulf of Mexico — affecting lives in three states. The loudest voice about the Chattahoochee’s waters comes from Atlanta residents who depend on the river for its drinking water — more than 300 million gallons a day.

Most of those Atlantans are only familiar with the Chattahoochee from crossing it in a hurry to get some place. They have never sat on its banks in nature’s chill and marveled at what “God hath wrought.” They have never heard it gurgle, slam into centuries old rocks and crash about at the Nora Mills Granary at Helen, where on occasion they still grind corn meal.

Unfortunately, they have never waded out into the Chattahoochee’s clear waters and fished for a rainbow trout, which can give you the most resonating outdoor satisfaction to be experienced. Most likely, they have never read Sidney Lanier’s classic poem, “Song of the Chattahoochee.”  The first stanza alone should motivate one to spend time in the company of this picturesque stream:

“Out of the hills of Habersham,

“Down the Valleys of Hall,

“I hurry amain to reach the plain,

“Run the rapid and leap the fall.”

The “Hooch” is a river in which you can swim at various points along the way, but also one you can walk across just south of this Alpine-themed town which sometimes has an ambiguous atmosphere. You can be listening to the symphony of the Chattahoochee’s waters coursing over ageless rocks when a motorcycle engine pierces the countryside with its repugnant blasts which makes you wonder what pleasure comes from disrupting nature’s peace and harmony.

My guess is that such emotion would be akin to throwing a fistful of mustard on the Mona Lisa at the Louvre in Paris. It is difficult to imagine someone gaining pleasure out of trashing the Chattahoochee while tubing down the river, but there are the many who do. 

For the record, my sermonizing is over. I rather recount the pleasure of a recent afternoon on the Chattahoochee with my longtime friend, Jimmy Harris, the proprietor of Unicoi Outfitters. Joining us were Gary Bertsch, an Idaho native and retired Georgia professor, who has been too busy in his efforts to reduce nuclear arsenals across the world, to get to fly fishing —until now.  It didn’t take long before we heard a “Wow,” from the classroom alumnus when a three-pound rainbow sucked down his lure, ably attached by Ron Thomas and again the next day with Wes McElroy — guides, who, too, lament that there are those who don’t fly fish and those who trash the river.

Steven Lang, who has taught himself the finer points of fly fishing was quietly reeling in one rainbow trophy after another on an afternoon away from his duties with Cox Broadcasting with such proficiency, that confirms he is beginning to know the Chattahoochee as well as the seasoned locals.

Scott Woerner, the 1980 Bulldog All-American defensive back and College Football Hall of Famer, left his fly rod at home, but brought along his camera.  He is becoming expert with lens and was overjoyed to spot a Monarch butterfly, which, like millions of others are migrating south for the winter. He was as eager to photograph nature’s offerings as he was to snatch an opponent’s ball out of the air between the hedges. A good time was enjoyed by all, especially for the chronicler of the outing.   If you are the beneficiary of such an outing on the Chattahoochee, you can’t wait for an encore. As my new lady friend gasped for breath as she was being released, I began quoting Sidney Lanier, “Out of the hills of Habersham……”