How to Catch a Fish

Local Experts Share Tips for Beginners

written by COLLEEN ANN MCNALLY | photography courtesy of CITY OF ALPHARETTA; ALPHARETTA OUTFITTERS; NOONTOOTLA CREEK FARMS

Does a fisherman share his go-to spot for wetting a line? As someone who has never strung a pole, I wouldn’t know where to start. Yet, I was surprised when I asked a couple local experts to share their tips for beginners, and there was no sense of stinginess. Instead, they reeled me in with their accounts. 

Perhaps their free flow of knowledge is a result of our region’s wealth of places to get a bite. With plenty of places for any and all skill levels to wet a line, the question more important than “Where?” is “When?” 

ENDLESS SUMMER

“Way down yonder on the Chattahoochee” river, as Alan Jackson so articulately put it in his hit 1993 country song, you’ll find a year-round fly-fishing destination. The local tailwater, which comes out of Buford Dam from Lake Lanier, is also an ideal place to learn, according to Alpharetta Outfitters Manager Jeff Wright.

“The great thing about it is that there are access points 15 to 20 minutes away from Alpharetta,” he said. “You can wade right into  the water there, so you can be catching trout within 20 minutes of your door.”

When I caught Wright on the phone, he had just returned from a fishing trip to Patagonia. With a worldview and expert opinion on the matter, he explained what makes the Chattahoochee a great yearround spot. “As a tailwater, it stays cool with an average temperature of 50 degrees, even in the summer [when temperatures outside rise],” he said.

Wright also shared that the section, from Buford Dam down to around where Highway 9 crosses the Chattahoochee, is the spot that’s good for trout throughout all seasons.

Still, there’s something special about fishing when the days stretch longer. “During the summer, farther down [the river] you start to have striper fishing, bass fishing and carp fishing as you start to go closer into the Perimeter,” he said.

Need help finding the right place to cast off? Alpharetta Outfitters’ staff won’t only tell you, they’ll show you.

“We offer guided trips that cater to new fly fisherman and we also offer trips that are a little more involved – they might take you to a piece of water that you haven’t experienced before and teach you a new technique you haven’t used like Euro nymphing or streamer fishing. [Trips] are good ways to add to your fly fishing set of skills,” Wright said. 

“We offer free clinics at the shop, as well, but as far as actually getting out and getting on the water, those half- or full-day guided trips are great options.”

In addition to options of time length, you can choose from wade trips or float trips on a drift boat, and if you want to use your own gear or borrow rods, reels, waders and boots. Alpharetta Outfitters can provide it all, including flies and for the full-day trips, they’ll even pack your lunch. 

“Some people may have been gifted a rod or maybe they have a rod they had a family member buy for them at Christmas, from a birthday in the past – we have a lot of people come in that got a rod 10 years ago and just never got out to use it. Now, they’re finally retired or want to set aside some time to start to learn to fly-fish.”

In Wright’s voice, I could hear his passion for educating others about the sport. However, when it comes to the team at Alpharetta Outfitters, there must also be downright generosity in the water. Their stated mission is not only to serve their customers with the best equipment for the outdoors, but also to serve communities around the world. This translates into 100-percent donations of all the company’s net profits and additionally, in December 2014 the shop donated $1,000 each day of the month.

They credit their customers for making the philanthropy possible, proving the Northside is stocked with nuanced and novice fishermans and fisherwomans alike. Regardless of which category you fall into, professional guides can help take you to the next level.

HEART-STOPPING ACTION

According to the website for Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division (georgiawildlife.com/ fishing/trout), there are in fact 100,000 trout anglers on Georgia’s approximately 4,000 miles of trout streams. To meet the demand, stocking and special regulations are used on some streams to maintain acceptable catch rates. With help from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, they stock streams with rainbow, brown and brook trout from late March through August.

Noontootla Creek Farms (NCF) in Blue Ridge is a hidden gem with its own appeal. Originally a privately held, operating farm consisting of more than 1,000 acres, NCF is now open to the paying public with more than 2 miles of quality trout water, excellent quail hunting and a sporting clays course.

NCF’s website describes its fly-fishing opportunities as more technical in nature than many other private trophy trout waters in North Georgia. “This is a high quality trout fishery that is enjoyed by all for both its beauty and the way it fishes,” ncfga.net reads.

“It is a managed trophy fishery and it’s been open to fish for about a dozen years now,” said NFC’s Fishing Manager David Husley. One of the biggest reasons visitors must fish with a guide is the size of the fish. He said some exceed 30 inches, making it hard for one person to handle without hurting the fish. NCF has a catch-and-release policy.

Husley has been fishing North Georgia waters for more than 40 years, and like Wright, has experience in waters across the country, even leading guided trips in Wyoming.

As for local spots beyond NCF, Hulsey enjoys getting out on the nearby Toccoa River. Cooper’s Creek and Rock Creek are also heavily stocked but have wild populations of trout.

“In the winter, the fish aren’t too aggressive; they might only move one or two inches to eat a fly, where in the spring they might move a foot or two,” Hulsey said. In the springtime, there are a lot of insect hatches when bugs come up to the surface of the water, and you can get lucky with dry fly-fishing, he explained.

“There’s nothing more exciting than seeing one of these big browns or rainbows come up and pounce on a fly when it’s on the surface of the water. It’ll stop your heart if you don’t watch out.” 

HOOKING THEM YOUNG

Duly noted. What about Husley’s best piece of advice? “The big thing is not to be intimidated by fly fishing,” he said without hesitation. “It’s probably simpler than fishing with a spinning or bait-casting reel.”

He said that children ages 8 to 12 might even have the easiest time learning. “If kids have any interest in fishing at all, they can learn how to fly-fish,” he said. “They have no preconceived ideas or bad habits yet.” 

When it comes to an age requirement, Alpharetta Outfitters leaves it up to the parent’s discretion. Wright said he recommends the 11- to 12-year-old age range as a good minimum to be able to safely wear a pair of waders and boots and be stable wading. 

“Size is your advantage, to some extent, so that you don’t feel like you’re being pushed down stream,” Wright said. “We had a trip this past weekend with an 11-year-old son and a 13- or 14-year-old daughter. It all goes back to their attention span. At that age range or a little bit younger, some kids have longer attention span than others.” 

He added that fly-fishing has all kinds of applications. “You don’t necessary have to go stand in a river. You can go to a pond and catch blue gill on a fly rod, so you can be very young and go do that to learn how to cast. We have a lot of young kids that come through our intro clinics and come away from that being able to catch blue gill.”

TAKE ME FISHING

ALPHARETTA OUTFITTER’S BUGS AND SUDS! Held this month on May 18 from 6 to 8 p.m., Bugs and Suds is a regular gathering of tiers sitting down to tie flies, swap stories and enjoy a cold beverage. Bring your vice, tools and tying materials and Alpharetta Outfitters will provide the rest. This event will be hosted at the shop. Come one, come all! No reservation required. 678-762-0027, alpharettaoutfitters.com

ALPHARETTA YOUTH FISHING DERBY  Bring your fishing gear, bait and other outdoor supplies and enjoy a fun morning of fishing in the pond near Brookside Office Park on June 3 from 8 to 11 a.m. in Alpharetta. The annual Youth Fishing Derby for children age 4 to 12 years (accompanied by an adult) is a free program, but space is limited around the lake so pre-registration is required. A waiting list will be formed once the program fills. The lake will be stocked with catfish so bring your night crawlers or worms to increase your chance of catching a lot of fish. Prizes will be awarded for the longest fish and the most fish caught. Children must be present at the  end of the event to win prizes. This event is subject to cancellation in the event of  inclement weather. For more information, call  678-297-6130 or email  wprcprograms@alpharetta.ga.us. 

RIVER THROUGH ATLANTA Chris Scalley, owner of River Through Atlanta, grew up on the Chattahoochee River and brings his passion for the river and the trout to his clients. Spending more than 200 days a year on the “Hooch” gives Scalley an unsurpassed knowledge of the river’s ecosystem and the behavior of the trout that inhabit it. No matter the time of year, Scalley and his affiliate guides are ready to share the most efficient tactics for catching fish for their clients. Even if you’re new to the sport of fly-fishing, his expert guides offer group trips, classes and private instruction to have you casting and presenting flies with proficiency by the day’s end. 770-650-8630, riverthroughatlanta.com

COHUTTA FISHING CO. A full-service fly shop in historic downtown Cartersville, Cohutta Fishing Co. carries rods/reels, gear bags, packs, waders and boots, along with a large selection of flies and tying materials. Owner Andy Bowen is a U.S. Coast Guard licensed captain and a member of the Coastal Conservation Association, Trout Unlimted (Coosa Valley Chapter), Bonefish and Tarpon Trust as well as the Atlanta Fly Fishing Club. He combines his 30 years of experience fishing in exotic destinations in the Virgin Islands, Mexico, Costa Rica and Chile and regional favorites like the Outer Banks of North Carolina with experiences from the talented guides on staff. Fly tying and fly-fishing schools are held specific Saturdays of each month (call for class dates and availability.) Their most popular class is a two-hour, $50 class covering the basics for the beginner looking to get into the wonderful sport of fly-fishing, but other options include spending a full, 8-hour day on the water. 770-606-1100, cohuttafishingco.com

THE STRIPER EXPERIENCE If Lake Lanier is on your summer fun list, call Captain Ron Mullins, owner of The Striper Experience. His fishing guide service draws on his 30-plus years of both saltwater and freshwater fishing, as well as his time as a licensed U.S. Coast Guard Captain trained in first aid and CPR, as well as his experience working on a commercial fishing boat off the Florida coast. Mullins decided to transform his passion into a business to help guide others to their ultimate striped bass catch.  678-300-4865, thestriperexperience.com