|As the old saying goes “the fishing was great but the catching was lousy”…|
…Henry Cowan, our host, good friend and guide extraordinaire, couldn’t have tried harder to put Lefty and me into a good Lake Lanier striper bite. He found us plenty of fish schooled up on just about every point or bank he took us too and he took us to plenty. Lake Lanier is a huge, beautiful lake, full of striped bass and spotted bass. The graph constantly showed us large groups to massive schools of stripers hovering below the boat from 10 to 40 feet deep and everywhere in between. But despite pulling out all the stops and employing every trick in the book - trying every type of fly in every description, color and size - we just couldn’t figure out what would make the stripers bite with any consistency. They were tough for even the live bait anglers fishing with top guides, although they did catch a fair number of fish working the same schools we were. Henry networks with several of the Lake’s top gear and bait guides and he called them in on our fish a couple of times to see if they could make them bite. They did; but it wasn’t red hot for them either.
We were on the water early each day and the weather was great, almost too good, with no wind except for a slight breeze the last day; and except for the nearly full moon, conditions were perfect. In four half-days of fishing Lanier we only managed to land four stripers to about 9 pounds.
The spotties were far more cooperative and we managed a good number of them to about four pounds. We often encountered the spots busting Blueback herring on the surface off points and shoals and we managed a few on top with floating hair bugs and Crease flies. Lefty took a beauty, the largest spot of his career, on a floating, Flashtail hair-head streamer. The take was brilliant and so was the bass. Both Lefty and Henry were ecstatic about that fish as they should be. The spots also ate our striper flies too.
While I tried many different subsurface flies, all fished on a T-14 Custom Tip, my best producer was the Keel-weighted, Jig Hook Rabbit Sea Habit I tied up in Blueback herring colors especially for this trip. I took three stripers and several spotties on it. But like I said, we couldn’t find any fly that rung their dinner bell consistently.
Being able to find lots of fish in very reachable depths but not being able to feed them well was extremely frustrating to Henry as you can imagine. Every fishing guide or host wants his guests to experience the best fishing possible. Henry had never experienced Lanier striper fishing quite so slow with so many of them around. We guessed at a lot of reasons why they had zippers on their mouths but my guess is that we were coming up on the full moon – a big one. There was a ton of bait too; and I’m convinced the fish were feeding heavily at night. In fact one of Henry’s pals fished a night bass tourney and called him to say he saw the stripers busting bait well after dark. Oh well, timing is everything.
Despite the tough striper fishing, Lefty and I couldn’t have enjoyed a better time sharing a skiff together. Henry, in typical fashion, went out of his way to make our experience the best it could be. His Ranger CC Bay boat is impeccable and Henry ran it like the pro he is, keeping us in perfect position to present our flies in the best way possible – trying every angle – ‘uphill’, ‘downhill’ and ‘parallel’ – shallow, deep and on top - you name it. We covered the water like a tent!
The mornings were spent chasing stripers on Lake Lanier and the afternoons were spent pursuing trophy trout on gorgeous, Georgia mountain streams – private water that Henry had arranged for us to fish. Henry couldn’t have organized a better fishing program for us – stripers and spots in the morning, trout in the afternoon. I don’t know of many other places a fly fisher can do that.
The first afternoon of trout fishing was hosted by John and Abby Jackson, proprietors of Blackhawk Fly Fishing on the Soque River. What a hoot this was. We got there around 1:30 p.m. and Abby served us a wonderful southern-fried chicken lunch with all the trimmings. After lunch Abby and one of her pals, Candy Norton, took the three of us fishing on a beautiful stretch of water. Abby and Candy were our personal ghillies/net girls and they were damned good ones too. Abby was assigned to Lefty and Candy to me. Candy, a skilled trout fly angler herself, kept changing my flies and rigging and offered me good advice until I managed to score a couple of nice fish. Abby did the same for Lefty. They both were a ton of fun and Lefty and I couldn’t have appreciated they’re hospitality and help more. I’d recommend Blackhawk Fly Fishing with John and Abby Jackson anytime.
The next two afternoons were spent trout fishing with the guys from Unicoi Outfitters Fly Shop, personally guided by Rex Gudgel and shop owner Jimmy Harris. We fished two different rivers and both were gorgeous pieces of trout water. I’d fished the second river, the Chestatee at Frog Hollow last year with Henry and Rex a beautiful place in every way. It was on this water that I experienced some hilarious afternoon dry fly fishing for trout so big they looked like steelhead holding in the run. I only hooked a couple of them but the follows and false rises from those monsters kept Henry and Rex, who were viewing Jimmy and me from the high bank, in stitches. I couldn’t see as well as they could but it was exciting nonetheless to hear their oozs and awes. I did hook and fight a monster that Jimmy estimated would have weighed eight or better pounds. When we waded out to the bar Jimmy wanted me to cast from, he said to Rex that I was going to hook a monster because he had forgotten the net. We’ll he guessed that one right. Indeed, I finally busted off the fish when it suddenly surged away when Jimmy touched its tail trying to hand-land it. It simply caught me asleep at the wheel. Hey, I don’t get to fish for monster trout every day. I was happy to just have hooked and fought it.
Rex and Jimmy, both superb trout fly-fishers and guides, couldn’t have done a better job for Lefty and Me. Jimmy was my guide and I can’t tell you how many different rigs and flies he tied on for me, mostly because I kept tangling them up – we were nymph fishing with two flies below an indicator and I obviously needed more practice. Jimmy had the patience of a saint. The fishing was tough but we managed to hook a few. In fact, Lefty hooked quite a few but because of his limited mobility (bad knee) he lost many by not being able to follow them up or down the run. A number 20 midge doesn’t hold a big trout too well if you can’t finesse them.
Lefty at 86 is still amazing to me; still one of the best casters with both sinking and floating lines. We put in long days and he hung in there with us from dawn till dark, only taking a few breaks and his normal 15 minute nap each day. I sure hope I can still fish that well should I be lucky enough to reach Lefty’s age. He’s still The Man in my book.
Well I could elaborate more but this is running pretty long. Suffice it to say that while the catching could have been better the fishing and camaraderie couldn’t have been under any circumstances. It was a blast spending time with my old pal Lefty and our mutual buddy, Henry Cowan.
For more information on fly fishing Lake Lanier GA with Henry Cowan, contact Henry at: 678-677-5382 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. www.henrycowenflyfishing.com/guideservice.html
For spectacular Georgia trout fishing within two hours of Atlanta check out:
Blackhawk Fly Fishing www.blackhawkflyfishing.com
Unicoi Outfitters www.unicoioutfitters.com
Thanks again to Henry and folks at Blackhawk Fly fishing and Unicoi Outfitters for making this one of the best, if not the best trip Lefty and I have ever been on.
[click here to display pictures]