Burning Wasted Vacation


This trip was highly anticipated, not only because it was a Tuesday trip which meant I got to break away from the desk job, but because I got to combine a few of my favorite friends.  Joining me on this trip is the bass fishing sensei and aspiring fly fishermen; my Father, as well as my long-time adventure compadre and aspiring photographer; Matt.  Outside of weddings, it’s rare I get to combine my good friends and family for a fishing trip.  No seriously, I fished at my wedding reception.

When it’s December and your employer gives you vacation time that disappears at the end of the year if you don’t use it, there is only one thing to do.  Fish.  We planned an overnight get-a-way trip to Smith Creek in Unicoi State Park, just north of Helen, GA.  It seemed a good idea to take advantage of the cheap overnight rates at the lodge.  A 4 bed “loft room” easily slept 3 fishermen somewhat comfortably and dangerously (yes dangerously).   The “loft”, ideally made for children, was 10 feet in the air accessible only by a vertical steel ladder.  This would surely spell pain for the person sleeping below if I had to scale it half asleep in the middle of the night to make my way to the can.  The real benefit of driving up the night before and spending the evening means nobody can be late in the morning.  Smith Creek is a 1 minute drive from the lodge to the valley below the dam.

After registering in to fish at the front desk we headed out on the windy and cool morning.  The previous day’s rain didn’t seem to have much effect on the creek.  Water seemed lower than my previous visits in past years.  Low and clear water made for some very tricky fishing.  Trout seemed to be stacked like firewood in every hole.  Most of them cut from the same mold.  The fish were stockers, rainbows, all of them around 10-14” inches in length.  We did get the chance to see a few male brook trout of similar size sparing for a spot in the creek.  I’m sure there are a few bigger fish holding in one of the many stream improvements put in place.  Water jacks, channel blocks and undercuts have been installed to improve trout habitat.

Fish in the creek are pressured heavily and spook easily.  There is no limit to the amount of fishermen that can fish on the creek daily.  These conditions result in a lot of crawling, kneeling and stalking.  Each pool, run or riffle in the creek is like a puzzle.  Figuring out where the fish are holding, and sneaking into casting distance to present an offering can be tough.   But when you have patience, it pays off.  It feels good to catch a fish you “earned”.  Changing flies, adding weight, changing your indicator setting and getting your drift just right usually results in eventual success.  I only caught 4 fish total for the day.  Although they were not monster fish by any means, I came away feeling successful having “earned” them.

Luck wasn’t on the side of the rest of the crew.  Missing a few fish on the hook set, both fellas came up empty handed in the fish department.  However, I’m sure they did land some lessons on tactical small stream fishing.  For a second year fly fishing rookie like my Dad, fishing this stream is like running a footrace against Carl Lewis.  You might have a chance at winning if you shot him in the leg.

Although this wasn’t a trip filled with great fish stories, it’ll definitely be one to remember.  Sharing a few meals and the stream with these two guys resulted in plenty of laughs.

The sum of the trip left me remembering this quote:

“Many men go fishing their entire lives without knowing it is not fish they are after.” —Henry David Thoreau