Watching the trout rise on a small stream with a North Georgia mountain backdrop creates lifelong memories
The sun is rising, and there is a low fog across the valley. Red and orange clouds highlight the eastern horizon. The acrid taste of coffee is a stark contrast to the smooth, cool mountain air. The smell of Benton’s bacon wafts from the kitchen. Bruce Fox steps onto the porch next to me, a grin on his face, and rightfully so. What we are about to experience is equaled in few, if any, places in the world.
North Georgia is a fantastic place, some might even say magical. What creates that feeling are trout that defy the imagination to exist in such large sizes and numbers in these small waters. They are wary selective creatures lurking deep in the shadows. The High Adventure Company guides are like magical safecrackers, holding the ability to unlock these world-class, double-digit lunkers with seeming ease. Yes, today will be an epic fishing adventure.
This section of the Soque River, managed by the High Adventure Company, consists of roughly four miles of privately owned trout stream. According to HAC’s owner John Burrell, “This section of water is high quality and not like any trout fishing experience elsewhere in the Eastern United States. The fishing must be top shelf all the way, and this stream produces trophy trout, unlike any water this size I have ever fished. But a truly epic trip is about more than just the sporting aspect. We focus on the overall experience, and spare no expense to make sure that happens.” John is spot-on; landing a massive trout on a four-weight fly rod is a grand experience, but put all together, it creates an adventure of a lifetime.
One usually has to travel great distances to find fishing of this caliber. A place not only to unwind, but to feel your soul restored is usually not close by, but the Soque is just a few hours south of Knoxville, near Helen, Georgia.
For me, one of the things that creates that peaceful, soul-healing sensation is fly fishing, and when the fish are cooperating, there is a sense of joy that washes over me like no other when I have a rod in my hand. The rhythm of casting, the challenge of making that perfect presentation on a small stream, and then seeing the fish rise, is like living art. With that in mind, it’s time to get the day moving.
Joining me on this trip are Earl Worsham, Bruce Fox and Gary Chasin. Earl is an expert fly fisherman. He has fished in some of the world’s most desired rivers, and so I am anxious to see just how this little stream in northern Georgia stacks up from the perspective of a world traveler. Bruce is my close friend and regular contributor to Cityview, and Gary is a well-known real estate developer from Chattanooga. Both are avid fly fishermen.
My route here took me through Vonore, home of the world-famous Benton’s Bacon, so I stopped to say hello to Alan and pick up a few pounds and an aged country ham as a gift, partly for land owner Mark Lovell but also because I can never get enough of Alan‘s beautifully aged—as he calls it—“Redneck Prosciutto.” It’s worth the drive to Vonore any day to pick up one of these.
Our guides for the day are George and Chuck, and we are starting out at the confluence of the two smaller streams, forming the headwaters of the Soque. This is the spot where on a previous trip I hooked a trout so powerful that I was never able to bring him to the surface. I am eager for a rematch, but a story I have heard is on my mind distracting me from listening to the guide.
During my trip to the Signature Lodge in South Dakota, lodge manager and expert fisherman Sean Finley and I sat and shared a bourbon as he told me tales of his times on the Soque where monster trout were caught on large, segmented streamers. When a man tells you that he had a fish hit so hard it snapped a 20-pound shock tippet, it draws an image in your mind. I’m ready to put that tale to the test, but I know better than to assume I am the final authority. As John frequently says, “Don’t guide the guides,” and George and Chuck tell us to tie on pheasant tail nymphs with size 18 midges below.
I am impressed as I watch Earl move into position. He is 89 years old, but moves with effortless confidence. It usually follows that a small stream will have mostly small fish, but the Soque is an exception to this rule. Earl smoothly places his cast right into the seam where the currents of the two forks meet. The perfect presentation is met with an almost immediate strike and the battle begins. I watched Earl fish for some time, photographing and enjoying watching the delight on his face. Truly, this is a magical place.
I find myself torn between fishing and taking photos throughout the day, though that story Sean told me about those tippet-snapping monsters just keeps taunting me. So near the end of the day I ask George about trying a streamer. I am prepared with a good selection and quite surprised with what he and Chuck suggest, quite a bit smaller than Sean’s story called for. Again John’s motto rings in my head, “Don’t guide the guides,” so I tie on what George recommends and head into the stream. Standing by myself in a nice run, I make my first cast and wham. The fish hits so hard it nearly snatches the rod from my hand. What a fight. I feel in my heart the same joy I saw watching Earl earlier in the day.
As with all High Adventure Company venues, the food and hospitality are exceptional. Mark Lovell and his team put out quite the dinner spread and we end the evening swapping tales of our exploits across the globe.
After breakfast the next day, I shadow Bruce and his guide, Chuck, with my camera in hand. I position myself on a small rise just upstream with my long lens and capture catch after catch. Soft light filters through the overhanging trees, dancing on the water. The joy of watching my friend catching these trophies is almost as much fun as catching one myself. Almost. Watching him get in that zone, where nothing else matters, free from all else, is like a work of art. These moments are sometimes fleeting so as often as I can I attempt to repeat the feeling. Fish or no fish, the sound of the rushing water, the rhythm of the casts, seem to soothe me like nothing else. Bruce however is far from soothed; he is so excited to have caught over 30 nice trout in a single morning. His parting comment as we left, “When are we coming back?”
For me, moments like these are the most special of all gifts. And sometimes a single phrase or part of a story will touch someone who is there and maybe help them for the better. I think that people who don’t spend time on the water often misunderstand part of what fishing is about. I can recall so many fishing trips with my dad, and remember how happy he was in those moments. The memory is as priceless as the experience right in front of me.
Camera put away, it’s my turn. In a pool where you wouldn’t expect to see much over an average-size trout, I cast right next to a tree hanging over a slight bend in the stream. I promise Chuck then and there that I wouldn’t reveal his secret fly, so let’s just say that to the trout it was like magic. Second or third cast and it is on, the fish stripping line madly as I try to control the run. But with big wild trout and super light tippets you have to be careful. Patience pays off with a marvelous catch, and another, and another. I simply can’t recall a better day fly fishing.
As the day comes to a close, I am reminded that fishing is about way more than just catching fish. There will be good days and bad, but the best ones are those where a river flows through them, singing its song, sharing the secrets of time in the subtleties of its currents.
If you are looking for a world-class fly fishing experience and some superb southern hospitality
then check out the Soque River Lodge. Send an email at
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