Dan found a great place near Helen, Georgia. The website showed pictures of people holding monster rainbow trout. That was enough for us, so he booked a cottage and two days of fishing with a guide. He also invited Keith McCoy, who is another friend.
We arrived at the Blackhawk Fly fishing camp before sunrise on Friday and were welcomed by the aroma of coffee wafting through the screen door of the hundred year old cabin. Off in the distance you could hear the Soque River rushing southward toward Helen, Georgia.
We drank coffee and chatted with Deb Bowen, who would be our guide. She surveyed our fishing equipment, our fly boxes, and came up with a fishing plan. A few minutes later we suited up in our fly fishing gear and waded out into the stream. The water temperature was 41 degrees, and my feet were soon like giant Popsicles but I was so excited to be on the water, cold feet didn’t bother me.
Both Dan and Keith are more accomplished fishermen than I, so they didn’t spend much time with the guide. I was a different story – with my first two casts, I caught the stump behind me, and a rhododendron bush on the other bank. It was obvious that if I wanted to catch something besides vegetation, I’d better listen to the guide.
Deb was great — she didn’t snicker once as she evaluated my technique. She made a few simple suggestions and after a little practice, I actually started putting the fly in the water. This was good because it made it at least theoretically possible for me to catch a fish.
Deb is a retired IBM computer guru, who is now one of only a handful of certified fishing guides in the state of Georgia. She showed me how to read a stream, and how to put a fly in the best spot to catch a fish. She showed me the lifecycle of the bugs on which the trout feed.
At the end of the day I’d learned a great deal, but I hadn’t netted the first fish. This was unfortunate for the Rickster, because both Dan and Keith caught fish. I was the target of some fish barbs (pun intended).
On Saturday, I felt much more confident. I skillfully placed my flies in the right spots, and I hung a few fish within the first half hour, but I still wasn’t landing them. Deb saw that I wasn’t keeping enough tension on the line, and with a few more adjustments in my technique, I landed a rainbow trout about 13 inches long. It wasn’t a monster, but I was very encouraged. A few minutes later, I hung into a trout as big as a Honda Civic. It got away so I didn’t count it, but Deb and Keith saw it.
I was a fly fishing machine for the rest of the day. We did “catch and release” so all the trout, were released back into the stream, but each time I landed a fish, Deb snapped a picture for my scrapbook. The other guys didn’t catch as many as I did, which made their ribbing drop off dramatically.
The fly fishing rod and reel I use belonged to my dad. He bought them from Western Auto back when Carter was in the White House. He used the rig to fish for bream and crappie down on the Warrior. To my knowledge, he never got a chance to go to a fancy cottage and spend the weekend fishing for rainbow trout. On Saturday when the sun got high in the sky and cotton clouds drifted slowly across the sky, my thoughts turned to my dad.
I know he would have been proud that I got a chance to spend a beautiful weekend on the water and made good use of his old fishing rig — and happy that I caught a few rainbows.