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Coldwater

The first three days of our Georgia trip were devoted to bass fishing.  We were able to wrap up our redeye bass slam and as a bonus I was able to get the Georgia bass slam as well.  Now that we had made it to the cabin it was time to switch gears and target trout.

We hit the creek at the cabin early Saturday morning.  I had two rods rigged up; one with a big honking streamer that Blake tied for me and another with my standard hopper-dropper rig.

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I had a follow on the streamer in the first spot I fished, which had me excited, but then things were quiet as I fished subsequent spots.  Blake had an eat from a big fish, but it spit the hook early on in the fight.  It was beginning to look like we might skunk at the cabin that morning, but I finally made it to a spot I could effectively fish and I had another fish follow and even an attempted eat, but I pulled the fly out of his mouth.  I stuck with it though and luckily got another good eat and I stuck him with a strip set this time.

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Not the biggest rainbow we’ve caught at the cabin, but it was cool to get one on the big ass streamer.  I released that fish and went back to work and just downstream of my first eat I got another one.  This one was a little better fish.

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Getting to watch fish chase down and eat a big streamer was very cool, but it was obvious that throwing one was not a great way to fish every spot on the creek.  Hell you couldn’t fish every spot with one because there really wasn’t enough room for it in most places.  For the 3 or 4 spots though where it seems like it will be effective I’ll make to sure to have a streamer tied up every time I fish them from now on.  We headed up for lunch shortly after that and then hatched a plan to fish some wild water that afternoon.  Blake had brought a 1wt on the trip that needed to be fished.

After lunch we headed up the road to what has become our favorite small stream in North Georgia.  We were looking forward to some wild trout on dry flies as we had not had much topwater action this trip.  After a short hike into the stream, we dropped down off the trail and toward the bottom of the valley into the creek.  It was a little disturbing to see as much hog sign as we did on the walk down, but what are you gonna do, feral hog are everywhere now.  I let Blake fish the first good looking pool so I could tie on a nymph dropper and he took advantage of the opportunity and hooked a nice wild rainbow.

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It’s not often you get into wild trout over 10″ on North Georgia small streams, so this fish was pretty special.  We continued working our way upstream catching tiny rainbows in pocket water and nicer fish in the plunge pools and deeper runs.

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I hooked a fish in one pool that gave me a heck of a fight on the glass 3wt.  I was standing on the downstream side of a debris filled logjam fishing the pool upstream of it when the fish came up and hit the dry toward the back of the pool.  He ran all over the pool and under the logjam.  Thankfully I was able to keep the line tight and he wasn’t able to shake the fly.  I was able to pull him out of the logjam and back into the pool to land him.

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It was a heck of a wild rainbow that pushed 12″.  One of the best blueline rainbows I’ve caught in a long time.  We fished for a little while longer hoping that maybe a rogue brown trout would show up.

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No browns showed up, but it was a heck of a trip for 8-12″ rainbows.  The fish looked fat and happy too, which was nice to see because there are other concerning things happening in the valley.  At one point while we fished we saw a small pack of hogs which confirmed the hog sign we had seen.  We saw them again on the hike out.  It’s kind of a bummer they’ve discovered this valley.  Besides the hogs the hemlocks are continuing to die off due to the hemlock woolly adelgid and there is not much we can do to prevent that as treatment involves treating individual trees.  My hope is that other canopy trees will fill in for the dead hemlocks and continue to provide the shade these trout need.

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We headed back to the cabin to catch the Tiger game.  We left Sunday before dawn as it’s a long drive back to Louisiana.  We had a heck of a time fishing in Georgia.  This was the most diverse fishing trip we’ve ever done in Georgia and it was awesome.  I plan to make more of an effort to fish different bass water from the cabin.  Coosa redeye, shoal bass, and smallmouth bass are all fairly close.

I want to extend a big thanks to all the folks who helped us as we completed the redeye bass slam.  I came up with a plan of attack for the slam, but then bounced it off as many people who were willing to listen.  If you listened, thank you.  Thanks to Matthew Lewis, who wrote the book on redeye bass fly fishing.  His passion for the fish is infectious.  He was the inspiration for me to tackle the slam.  He completed it last year and when he and a couple buddies put a formal slam together this year I knew I had to give it a go.  I’m glad Blake was along for the ride.  Thanks to Andrew Taylor, a Georgia boy in Oklahoma, who was very influential in helping us decide where we needed to target these fish.  He has done some really great research on bass in Georgia.  Thanks to Jon Hummel, fellow Jackson teammate, he completed the Georgia bass slam last year and gave some great suggestions on where we could target fish in North Georgia.  We ended up spending most of our time further south, but his help was not in vain – I did get my shoal bass!  Thanks to Chris Lynch, Mark Miller, Josh Tidwell, James Eubank, and Josh Rhodes, these Alabama guys were more than willing to help point us in the right direction as we fished our way across their state.

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This video is a bit older, but it’s appropriate right now as I’m currently working on a presentation for the Red Stick Fly Fishers for their upcoming Red Stick Day Fly Fishing Festival that is taking place Saturday March 3rd at Perkins Road Park.  I’m going to be talking about bluelining North Georgia and shed a little light on what is probably the closest wild and native freestone trout water to Louisiana.  The event is free so if you’re in the Baton Rouge area and you’ve got any interest at all in fly fishing come check it out.

After a peaceful, quiet, and especially good night of sleep we packed up our hammocks for the last time, loaded up the car, and headed down the road and through town toward Bonneville cutthroat trout territory.  For the first time all trip we stopped for a legitimate breakfast at the Woodland Biscuit Company.  It was very good and I’d recommend it to anyone driving through Woodland on Hwy 35.

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The stream we fished was a tributary to the Provo River and like I mentioned before is home to Bonneville cutthroat trout, the last species we needed for the slam.

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The Bonneville cutthroat is Utah’s state fish, they can be found all around the state in coldwater streams that drain into the Great Basin.

We put the AWD Kia Sorrento to the test driving to our destination, but the bumpy dirt road was no trouble for such a capable vehicle.  I’m not being sarcastic either, okay maybe a little, but honestly we had one for both the Wyoming and Utah trips and it made it through everything we threw at it so I’ve got a lot of respect for them.

The stream was fairly small, but had a lot of character, it had lots of different types of holding water and made for great fish habitat.  We hiked down a ways before fishing it and in retrospect we should have hiked down even further because the lower section was far more open than the upper section.  I was first up since I didn’t have the slam yet and it only took one run to catch the fish I needed.

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Slam complete.  Blake was up next and didn’t waste any time catching the fish of the trip.  IMG_3107

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I had no idea we’d run into a cutthroat of that size here.  The pool he lived in was tiny by comparison – see below:

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It was a good thing I was downstream of Blake with a net because once hooked the fish went to flopping and with his size and the strength of the current he was prepared to put up a pretty mean fight.  The current worked in our favor though and took him right to me waiting with a net in a pool below and we were happy to lay eyes on a supersized Bonneville cutthroat.

We spent the rest of the day leap frogging each other and catching more Bonneville cutthroat trout.

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Blake got a pretty good shot-for-shot sequence of one that I put a bow-and-arrow cast to.

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The stream fished pretty well, it wasn’t on fire, but the action was fairly consistent.  Aside from the big fish Blake caught, the size of the cutthroat was about what I figured it would be for this trib, not too big, not too small, they were big enough fish to keep us entertained.  As we moved upstream we moved out of the more open casting water and into heavier streamside vegetation.  It was getting pretty dense in places and we had been seeing several yellow jackets hovering just above the water.  We finally found a nest, then another, and considering how many bushes I had been walking through during the day I was happy we had not been stung yet.  I figured it was best to quit while we were ahead since things were getting skinny and our cutt slam goals were accomplished, so we called it a day, found the trail and headed out of there.

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We made it back to the vehicle, drove down the bumpy dirt road, then hit the pavement and headed back towards civilization.  We stopped in Park City to do the tourist thing and grab some lunch at Red Rock – the Elephino DIPA was pretty tasty for anyone keeping score.

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After lunch we headed to Sugar House to stay with my buddy Eric that night.  He graciously accepted us into his home where we were able to do the one thing we had not done all week – shower.  One big difference in campgrounds in the south and campgrounds out west is the lack of shower facilities.  We are blessed with an abundance of water though.  There really is nothing quite like that first shower after a week of fishing and camping, it’s truly sublime.  After cleaning up we hit the town, another brewpub for dinner, and a stop at the Black Sheep at Epic Brewing for a tasting of some of the best beer Utah has to offer.  I only mention this because I was seriously impressed with the number of beers Epic has to offer and they will let you sample anything for $1 or $2 – whether it’s on draft or in bombers, they will open a bomber and pour you a 4 oz taster without even batting an eye.

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We had a great time that night and I want to thank Eric for his hospitality and letting us crash at his house before our flight out the following morning.  I’ve known Eric since kindergarten and though I hadn’t seen him in a few years it sure didn’t feel that way while we were hanging out.

The trip went incredibly well, Blake and I really enjoyed our time in Utah.  A lot of planning went into the trip in order to ensure we’d have success and with that planning came a lot of outside help from a number of different sources.  Books, maps, websites, forums, social media, people – all were used to put together an awesome trip.

I’ve got to thank a couple of biologists with Utah DWR who were a big help when I was trying to narrow down where we should chase each cutthroat species down, Matt Mckell and Michael Slater.  We probably could have completed the slam without their help, but with it we were confident in the places we fished.

Another guy we need to thank is Matt over at What Are You Wading For? who was a good follow on Instagram (@whatareyouwadingfor) leading up to the trip because his big browns and cutthroat were getting us giddy down here in Louisiana as the trip approached.  He was a big help when we were up in the Logan Canyon.

I really enjoy these slam trips, I enjoy planning for them, and then getting out there having success and accomplishing the goal of catching the slam.  Talking with other folks who are just as stoked on catching native fish as I am is a big plus too.  If you want to do something similar, like go for a slam or catch some native trout somewhere, and you think I might be able to help you, feel free to get in touch with me, I’d be more than happy to try and help.

It took a while to go to sleep the night before, thanks to the noisy neighbors, but once I fell asleep I was out.  It was the only night we would be sleeping above 10,000 ft and I feared it would be the coldest night of the trip, but it wasn’t, it was actually quite mild and I was very comfortable.  I needed a good night’s sleep too as we prepared to hike in about three miles to the lake we wanted to fish.  This time we would be targeting arctic grayling, another new species to us.

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We planned to fish Marjorie Lake, a lake that according to Utah DWR was last stocked in 1952 with grayling, so the population has been naturally sustaining itself ever since.  I don’t think grayling were ever native so Utah, so I’d say that was as close as we were going to come to a natural population – at least on this trip.  Here’s more from Utah DWR about fishing for grayling in the Uintas:

The hike in from the Crystal Lake trailhead was relatively flat, there is one mountain you have to skirt around, but the grade is not killer.  The hike takes you past several ponds, open meadows full of wildflowers, a few creeks, and it has great views of some of the nearby mountain peaks, like Mt. Watson for one.

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About two miles in we ran into some local wildlife, a herd of cattle.  It’s kind of amazing to see them at such a high elevation.  They had a bull with them who was keeping watch, thankfully he wasn’t aggressive and we were able to navigate around them.

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I had some time to think during the hike and I was a little nervous that when we’d arrive at the lake we’d find that it was just like the lakes we fished yesterday and action was going to very minimal – I didn’t know what to expect having never been there.  The good thing was that there are several other nearby lakes so we had options should one not work out.

The lake was so beautiful at first sight that any kind of mild apprehension I had of how the day would go vanished, because even if the fishing sucked, at least the scenery didn’t.

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When we got alongside the lake we noticed several rising fish just at the edge of our casting distance.  There wasn’t any discernible bug coming off the water so I tied on a Griffith’s gnat and hoped for the best.

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After a few misses I was finally able to get one on the line.  They have very quick takes and you really have to be ready to lift the rod when they eat.  I also suspect we were around a lot of small fish and they were just a bit harder to hook.  Catching them was just a matter of casting to a rise ring and waiting for the eat.  If you could get it in the ring shortly after you saw one then chances were good it was still in the area and would find your fly.  Thankfully the fishing here would not suck!

We started making our way around the lake, looking for bigger fish.  Fish were rising all around the lake so it wasn’t like we were leaving fish to find fish.

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I didn’t have to go too far to find the big fish on the day.  I made it to a point that was surrounded by deeper water and cast to a rise out in the deeper water and was rewarded with a good eat from a solid fish.  With the water being a bit deeper any fish with size put a bend in the glass rod and this one was giving me some solid runs.

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I don’t know what his size was, I just know he was the biggest on the day, and he was bigger than I anticipated we’d run into.  I caught a few more fish off that point before I caught back up to Blake.

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When I did catch up to Blake he was catching some nice fish from some old tree trunks sticking up out of the water.  Someone came up here and sawed them off years ago and now they made for great casting platforms.

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After catching several grayling we decided to make a move to another nearby lake that I read had a population of cutthroat in it.

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I had read some good reports from Long Pond so we decided to check it out.  The name is pretty self explanatory, it’s a long pond that is part of the outflow to Long Lake.  There were not nearly as many fish rising here, but we managed to catch a few.

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They just weren’t cutthroat, they were brookies.  It was still a pretty place to fish though.

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As we were fishing Long Pond the clouds began to grow, thunder started to roll, and our once bluebird day turned into one that looked pretty ominous.  Rain started to fall and that even turned into hail at one point so we decided that we should probably hike out.  We caught our grayling, we were currently only catching brookies, and we still had a slam to complete so it was time to move on.

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Thankfully, we got back to the trailhead without getting soaked.  The rain was fairly light and patchy, but the clouds were still dark and foreboding, so we drove on down the mountain to go find the last campsite we’d need on our trip.  We were on the home stretch, just needed to catch a Bonneville cutthroat to finish out the slam.

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With it being Sunday afternoon finding a campsite was a breeze and after setting up our hammocks we headed to a Weber River trib right off the highway to try and complete the slam.  It looked fantastic from the road and I think we both thought finishing the slam today wouldn’t be much of a problem.

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I should have known that if the only fish to attack my fly in a good pool was some kind of shiner that we’d be in for a tough afternoon.

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We covered a lot of ground, fished a lot of good looking water, there just wasn’t many fish.  I have no idea why they weren’t there, the water was a bit on the warm side, that might of had something to do with it.  Blake was finally able to catch one small cutthroat and with that he had completed his slam!  The pressure was off now for him so it was now up to me to catch one.

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I never caught one though.  It was a bummer, but we still had tomorrow.  It would be our last day to fish, so I had to complete the slam then.  We headed back to the campsite, got a fire going (with wood someone had graciously left behind), ate dinner, then called it an early night.  This time there weren’t any neighbors around to keep us up.

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