Peter Brookes: Hittin’ the ‘Hooch: Fishing in Georgia

Peter Brookes fishes on the 'Hooch in Georgia. Courtesy photo

When you think of the state of Georgia, you probably think of things like the epic movie, “Gone with the Wind,” peanuts, searing summer heat, perhaps even the southern start of the 2,000-plus mile long Appalachian Trail.

It’s certainly not trout fishing – at least not for me.

That’s why I was surprised when I heard that there’s some pretty darn good freshwater fishing, especially for brown trout, in the Deep South; in fact, just a throw of a Georgia peach from the bustling capital of Atlanta.

I’m talking like 30 minutes from the Atlanta airport.

So on a recent trip to Georgia, I thought I’d try to get some fishing in on the famed Chattahoochee River, which eventually flows right through “Hot-lanta” before moving south to Alabama, Florida and the Gulf of Mexico.

I booked a half-day trip with A River Through Atlanta guide service (www.riverthroughatlanta.com) out of Roswell, Georgia to float the ‘Hooch – as it’s known – for some of its browns and rainbows.

In fact, the Georgia state record brown trout was caught in this river, weighing in at a net-tearing 18 pounds. Hard to imagine a brown that big.

I met River Through Atlanta owner Chris Scalley on a temperate November morning under the cover of darkness at a boat ramp near the booming suburb of Alpharetta, Georgia.

Scalley is a local and grew up fishing the Chattahoochee. He knows the watershed like the back of his hand. Even in the fall darkness, his texted directions to the boat ramp were spot-on – thankfully.

A great help to an out-of-towner.

We pushed off from the Jones Bridge Boat Ramp on the Chattahoochee at day break. No drift or pontoon boat for this float – we were under power of an outboard for running up and down the river.

A great way to cover and re-cover good looking water.

This particular section of the ‘Hooch is a tailwater that flows out of Lake Sydney Lanier below Buford Dam. It  then runs through the U.S. Department of Interior’s Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area.

The trip started with pounding the banks and other fishy structure (downfalls, large boulders, etc.) for big salmo trutta (brown trout) with big double-jointed “articulated” streamers on 7- and 8-weight fly rods.

These trendy 4 to 5-inch (or more) streamers  often associated with fishing out West in the Rockies – are known for waking up big piscatorial predators with the way they push water around like a real fish.

It’s just got to ring a hungry trout’s dinner bell.

Reasonably happy with my casting, Scalley would patiently remind me to “strip, strip, strip…” that big honkin’ fly quickly through the water column to elicit that fleeing-prey strike.

After a while of doing that, I was pretty sure that I’d be able to skip the gym that night from all the big rod-big fly casting. I imagined how “jacked” my triceps and deltoids must be getting beneath my fishing shirt.

I was wrong about my “buffed” arms…sigh…but more importantly, I’d remembered to pack a big bottle of “Vitamin-I” (Ibuprofen) for the trip to help my upper body recover from that casting workout.

I also did find it hard to believe – when I’d occasionally look up from intensely following the fly through the water back to boat, visualizing that big trout eat – that I was floating through suburbia.

The beautiful Chattahoochee River is lined with well-to-do homes that sit well back from the bank. It’s true: this great fishery runs right through the ‘burbs – and despite this, many browns naturally reproduce in it.

That makes for some lucky local anglers.

Despite my best efforts that morning, I wasn’t able to dredge up a monster salmo trutta, although I was able to bring to hand a number of 12- to 14-inch rainbows and browns while running a nymph rig.

But those bodacious browns are there: a few days after my trip, one of Scalley’s guides landed a 35-inch brown with an 11-inch girth in the same waters. It probably would’ve set a new state record if the angler hadn’t practiced catch and release.

That’s a good thing in the sense of not only being a conscientious keeper of the Chattahoochee River’s incredible natural bounty – but because maybe next time, that big, bad brown will swallow my big, bad fly!

Dr. Peter Brookes is a D.C. foreign policy wonk who escapes to his Fort Valley cabin and the great outdoors whenever he can.