“They’re porpoising,” I thought to myself. “Jesus, they are everywhere!”
I decided to cast my rope fly right in between two of the shapes that had just risen out of the water and dove back into to darkness of the deep cove. Slowly I stripped in the fly; strip, pause, strip, pause, strip, strip, strip, pause… then all Hell broke loose!
“Holy Shit,” I thought to myself, “That is a dinosaur! Do Not Fuck This Up, Slow And Steady, Do Not Give It Any Chance To Throw The Fly!”
Keeping the slack out of my fly line, turning the my rod against the way the fish was trying to go, keeping the line tight as the fish went aerial, slowly and steadily stripping in line I came to face to face with a prehistoric nightmare fish, a true monster with the teeth to prove it – I had finally caught a Gar! Sorry that I am not talking about a musky, I wish I was, but it was most definitely a Gar and it was the biggest fish I have caught to date – a whopping 39 inches (one inch away from a citation trophy fish).
Gar fishing for the most part is frown upon in both the spinning and fly fishing communities, Realistically the only fishermen that fish for Gar on a constant basis are bow fishermen. I think the main stigma of fishing for gar by both spin and fly fishermen comes from the fact that hooking a gar is damn near impossible, their beaks are almost complete bone and the only way to actually hook them is to let them run for 20 or so yards and swallow the lure/fly, then you can hook them.
The only other way to fish for gar is to use a rope fly, it is a simple thing really; to make one use a 2 to 10 inch nylon rope that has been unbraided and combed out, doubled the rope in a small key chain ring, and secured using several wraps of gsp , then coat the wraps with head cement. Basically what these flies do is Velcro the mouth of a gar shut, entangling them so there is little chance of them getting away (however if you don’t let them run first and automatically try to “set the hook”, you will pull the rope flies clean out of their beaks).
Honestly I think the next part is what really makes spin and fly fishermen not want to catch these fish. Once you get the gar in the net and next to boat, you have to get the rope fly untangled and out of it’s mouth. Sounds easy enough… um no it is not. Gar have hundreds of razor sharp teeth, their scales are like razors, and they just don’t sit there all nice as you try to get the fly out of their mouth, to be honest you can see how pissed off they are just by looking into their black eyes… they want to bite the shit out of you. Everything about a gar makes them very unfriendly to spin and fly fishermen.
So how the hell do you get a rope fly out of a gar’s mouth? Well you have to be very careful and patient. First thing you need to do before going gar fishing is to go your local hardware store and buy a crowbar, a pair of very longnose pliers, and some stout leather gloves. Granted you only need one of the gloves, the one that you will be holding the fish with, but you definitely need them, believe me I know! I didn’t use a pair of gloves one time and my hand felt like it had paper cuts all over the palm and fingers of my hand. Trust me; use gloves!
Once you net a gar leaving them in the net like you would a musky, take the crowbar and pry open its mouth (aim for the back part of the mouth where the teeth are the smallest. After you get the crowbar in its mouth and pry it open it is time to try and get the rope untangled. You can use the pliers to try and pull the tangles out, however I have found that if you just use your glove free hand you can get the rope fly out faster, but once again remember these fish are out to bite the shit out of you, you have just became their nemesis. Once they are free of the rope fly, put on the other glove, pick the gar out of the net, get a quick picture, then release them quickly. Always measure them in the water before picking them up, if they are close to citation try and go to a dock or land to get the photo of the gar’s measurement. Once again, take my word, there is nothing scarier than a gar flopping in your boat, teeth just chopping away and you trying to get the damn thing out of your boat or back on to the bump board for a measurement.
So why should an angler fish for gar? Well it is like musky fishing; realistically you are not fishing, instead you are hunting a fish. You have to spot them, cast with precision, and try not to spook them all at the same time. Not to mention watching a gar follow your fly up to your boat might be one of the coolest things ever to watch. I thought initially that these fish were spooked by boats, nope I was wrong. Not to mention there is something primal about catching a fish that is so prehistoric, to see it close and personal, they are truly a wonder of the world. Plus here in the lower Eastern United States what else are you going to fish for that is so close to a musky?
One of the main things as an outsider to Georgia is how similar Georgia is to Virginia. In the mountainous sections the weather is usually cool and mild, while the flat lands are hot and humid. Only when it comes to winter can you tell the true difference between Virginia and Georgia, and realistically this change can really only be felt from the Atlanta Metro area south, everything else is relatively the same as Virginia. As with the weather, fly fishing for trout in Georgia is realistically a lot like Virginia. You have your high mountain native brook trout, wild rainbow trout, and occasional wild brown trout. In other places you have your stocked streams, and in several of the river systems (i.e. the Chattahoochee) you have your dam tail water wild trout. Also both the State of Georgia and Virginia have Delayed Harvest Sections during the Fall, Winter, and Spring months. However there are two main differences that an angler will see between Virginia and Georgia; the first is that the stockings month are backwards from Virginia, during the Spring, Summer, and early Fall months the State of Georgia stock their designated stocking streams. The second difference is that instead of stocking by Counties (like they do in Virginia) the state of Georgia have Wildlife Management Areas. At first it was a bit frustrating to find information on where and how to fish – I knew the fish were there, but like when I started fishing in Virginia the information out there is outdated and the only way to figure stuff out was to talk to local Fly Shops and to explore.
The main reason why I wanted to tell you all of this up front is because this will be the first of many posts about the trout waters here in Georgia. It has taken me a little over a year to get used to these waters and feel comfortable enough to actually talk in detail about them. So without further ado, here is my first Georgia stream recommendation and description of said stream.
The Upper Chattahoochee is a section of water in the Chattahoochee WMA area that extends from Little Crumbly Knob Mountain to the town of Helen Georgia. The first thing you must understand is that some of the water is private, obey the no trespassing signs at all costs. Also make sure that you lock up your vehicles and that they are parked in spot so that others can easily get by you. The last and final thing to know about this water way is that it is amazing. Honestly it is better than most of the streams that I have fished in Virginia; knock on wood, I have never been skunked on this stream and have fished it year round. Though the Upper Chatt is only stocked during the Spring, Summer, and Fall months an angler can always find a hold over somewhere through this freestone creek. Also in the extreme back wood sections, if you are able and willing to make the hike, an angler can find wild rainbows, and native brook trout. Also this stream is one of the few streams that I have found Tiger Trout in, yes the State of Georgia does stock tiger trout, however I have yet to find any wild tiger trout in these waters… but the possibly of finding wild tiger existing here is very high.
Now what can I say about the actual stream itself; if you know me then you know that by far my two favorite streams in Virginia are Big Stony and Little Stony Creek in Giles County, well the Upper Chatt is a mixture of these two streams. Very large boulders protrude from the water, that lead into deep long holes, while in other area there are very fast riffles followed by very shallow runs. Because of all of this different types of flows, fish can be found almost anywhere throughout this stream. However aim for the deeper pools, here you can always find trout rather at the drop, the deep middle sections, or at the rear of the hole.
One of my favorite things to do is use a good pair of polarized sunglasses and watch how the fish are eating, if they are constantly hitting top water I will use a dry/dropper rig or if they are constantly looking like they are going after stuff on the bottom I will fish two heavy nymphs and float the nymphs straight through that area.
Also as a member of the local Trout Unlimited, please be mindful of your trash, if you get a chance please bring a trash bag and fill it up as you fish. Keeping this stream beautiful is a very hard chore since it is a major tourist destination for campers during the stocking season.
There are very few pull off points to the stream, and some of these still leave your vehicle very close to a road that has a ton of traffic on it. Be mindful also of trespassing and take precautions when it comes to little to no cell phone service. Also, and I can not stress this enough when it comes to deep mountain streams, be mindful that you are in bear country, be safe.