Flying Fish

By Jeff Durniak

It’s early November and you’re balancing waist-deep in a quiet Chattooga River pool. Your only accomplices are your fly rod, a chirping otter, and your high hopes for some fall trout. Suddenly, your solitude is broken by a distant thumping. Then it draws closer. Grouse? Bigfoot? Other infamous river monster? You think you might have even heard a banjo! Time to duck and cover, or run like a deer? You pause.

Suddenly, a U.S. Forest Service helicopter easily clears the tree line. A bright orange firefighting bucket dangles 100 feet below it, but you see and smell no smoke. Where’s the fire?

The copter dips between ridgetops, into the river gorge, and slowly descends upon your pool until the bucket is just a few feet above the water surface. Whoosh! Its load empties through the bottom release and splashes into the crystal clear water. The copter lifts and vanishes, your heart rate drops, and your solitude is finally restored. Within the hour your trouting success rate skyrockets!

You’ve just experienced the annual copter stocking of the Chattooga River backcountry. This remote, 15-mile river reach, from Burrells Ford down to Reed Creek, is often too hot in summer to allow year-round trout survival, but it’s great trout habitat during the other three-quarters of the year!

A grand cooperative called the Chattooga River Fisheries Coalition restores that reach to a prime trouting destination each fall, when roughly 10-20 copters drop and scatter bows, browns and even a few brookies over those 15 miles of hike-in waters. The co-op, launched in the 1980’s, includes the partners of a) the U.S. Forest Service in GA and SC; b) both state wildlife agencies and their hatchery staffs; and c) both state councils of Trout Unlimited, who help pay for the copter time. The co-op’s donated time, trout, and funds make this annual fisheries management program a lasting success story.

So take a friend (for safety and fish photos), hike into this remote wild and scenic river, and have fun this fall, winter, and especially next spring when the aquatic insects hatch and the trout rise. Then give thanks to the Chattooga Fisheries Coalition, where federal, state, and citizen partners work together for the benefit of all river anglers.

If you’re lucky enough to hear some thumping coming over the ridgetop, know that it’s probably not Bigfoot, but Big-Bucket with some flying fish! Join a TU chapter near you and be part of the fun and success of interagency partnerships like the Chattooga Fisheries Coalition. Good luck with your fall “fly” fishing!

You can find Jeff Durniak at Unicoi Outfitters. Stop in or call the Helen shop at (706-878-3083) or our Clarkesville store on the square (706-754-0203) if we can help you further. After all, we are pretty darn good trouting caddies!