2019 Chattooga River
May 3rd-5th, 2019
**Local tips and fly’s catch** **Local trout**
By: Keith Cloud
As I look at our 2019 outings; I quickly noticed we had not ventured to the Chattooga in quite some time. Yep, nearly four years has passed since our last visit and the reason for such a delay is that we have just thawed out from the ICE BOWL trip of 2015. Back then Global Warming made a mad dash to South Carolina and boy ole boy was that a trip to remember. There were lots of takeaways from the 2015 trip and one very important one was NOT to have a trip to the Chattooga in February. So with that in mind; a May Chattooga trip would suffice for our band of trout chasers. No worries about temps for this year; but a thing called RAIN would now be our weather issue for the weekend. Oh well, like a famous Rolling Stones song; “You can’t always get what you want.”
The week leading up to the trip was setting our gang up for a banner weekend. Heavy rains the previous week had elevated the rivers in the area and the week of the trip would see no rain resulting in a picture perfect flow for the Chattooga and Chauga. Speaking of our gang; these terrific ten attendees who made this trip were Mac Brown, Rich Gale, Mike Waddell, Mel Maurer, Mike Greene, Harry Huntley, Reggie Rowell, Bob Grimm, Greg Labyak, and yours truly Keith Cloud.
Before leaving on Friday morning we took in a nice breakfast at The Egg’s Up Grill and before arriving to Oconee State Park we had to stop and see our friends and loyal chapter supporters Karl and Karen Ekberg the owners of Chattooga River Fly Shop. In my years of hosting fly fishing trips, I’ve learned that it is always a good thing to visit or at least call the local fly shop if fishing in nearby local waters. A visit to Chattooga River Fly shop has NEVER disappointed and it always seems that Karl and Karen have that firsthand knowledge of what fly’s are producing on the water. This time the recommended fly combination was a “Pat’s Rubber Leg’s” tan in color with a rainbow midge used as a dropper fly. So naturally based upon Karen’s recommendation that combination would be the first to be tied to the 5x leader on my 10 foot High Stick Drifter fly rod made by St. Croix.
Friday fishing took us to the Highway 28 Bridge after our visit to the Chattooga River Fly shop. We were loaded up with knowledge and fly’s from the CFS (Chattooga Fly Shop) experience. Once parked in the parking lot a couple of van loads of fishermen arrived. I was gearing up (putting on waders and rigging my fly rod) and my thoughts were that I sure hated seeing all these extra fishermen on the water. However once the vans started unloading I heard my name called out. As I looked up, it was several guys from the Chattooga River Chapter who were ferrying folks attending the Southeastern Rally for Trout Unlimited in nearby Dillard Georgia. The guys driving the vans (Tom McInnis and Bob King) are great fellows and my thoughts were that if I was going to be surrounded by other fishermen; then these folks are great to be surrounded by. The excitement in seeing each other was mutual and many of their passengers were newbies to fly fishing; so it was an honor to assist them as well on their first day on the Chattooga and all in all, they blended well with our gang on the river.
From the parking area on the South Carolina side of the river; Greg and I took a little trail up to a point where you must cross over the river and access a path on the Georgia side of the Chattooga. Eventually we made our way to the first set of rapids and began casting. It was not long before I felt the first tug of the day, but no fish and finally after a couple of more bites, I had a nice 9 inch Horny Head to the net. For those who do not know; a horny head is a type of chub fish that inhabits many rivers and streams. It’s primarily a bottom feeder and yep, it does really have horns on its head.
Greg waded up on the South Carolina side and that is a tough thing to do. The lower water level was the only thing that allowed him to do this. The wade up on the
Carolina side is perfect for alefty fishermen and soon
Greg (who is on his second outing) with us; had a nice
trout in hand for a nice picture. The Tan colored Pat’s
Rubber Legs was indeed the fly of choice and although
the fishing was a bit tough and not as fast as I would
have liked; we were at least getting bites. Eventually I
decided to make way to the very top of the rapid and
work an area where the water slowed down before
rapidly picking up more current. My thoughts were to
cast as far as I could and actually try to touch the bank
with my fly. In my years of fly fishing, an area like this is
prime for a fellow like Mr. Brown Trout to hang out and take residence.
A gauge of the distance to the bank and then spooling of enough line off of the Teton reel and a nice peaceful cast toward the bank. Finally the current grabbed the fly combination and the fly began its downstream decent and BAM just like that the line tightened and the rod began to bend and do what it was designed to do. The fish quickly decided that downstream was the way to go and I began to wonder if I was going to have to take a little hike to catch a trout. Finally I was able to get the fish to the net; no hiking involved and a beautiful 12 inch rainbow who by the way did not know he was that size was my 3rd or 4th catch of the day. Another cast to the bank, but this time the fly actually hit the bank and I had to gingerly pull the fly into the water and let the current do the work. Once again the fly began its downstream decent and to my amazement Mr. Big Brown was home and followed the fly out of the shadows and swam with it in its mouth. My heart raced as I attempted to take slack out of the line and provide a quick hook set for Mr. Brown. At that very point and time; I believe Mr. Brown had caught a glimpse of yours truly and decided he did not want any part of me. After a quick turn or two the hook nosed 22 inch brown trout had released himself from my hook and I was left with my Reference Point (the way I choose to remember) the trip. Just like in sports; sometimes you think of the losses more that the wins. In this particular case, I lost the biggest trout I’ve ever hooked on the Chattooga. Big Brown 1 and Keith 0 and soon it was time to head back to the barracks to begin preparation for the evening.
Friday evening’s meal featured Lasagna courtesy of our friends at the Villa Restaurant located on Bush River Road in Columbia. Mr. Scarborough (the owner) happens to be a longtime supporter of Saluda River Trout Unlimited and the Villa’s Lasagna always goes well with the now famous SRTU salad and Garlic Bread. Our gang scarfed the meal down with the gusto of a hound dog and soon the homemade pound cake served with fresh strawberries and whipped cream was out for a fitting end to our Friday evening. As for the fishing for the day; it was not bad at all and for fly’s that worked on the Chattooga, if it was big and buggy then it worked pretty well for our crew.
Saturday morning the smell hash brown casserole and biscuits permeated the barracks. The forecast for Saturday was thunderstorms, lighting and local downpours. With that in mind, it was important to make the most of our time because we knew that later in the afternoon our fishing may end rather quickly. We all packed sandwiches and ventured our separate ways. Bob Grimm would venture toward an area called the Hellhole and the rest of us would fish the Chattooga around the Highway 28 Bridge. For me and my day of fishing; I knew exactly where I was going. Yep you guess it; I was going back to Mr. Brown’s residence and knock on his door. However on the way and at the cross over point on the Chattooga I peaked downstream and saw that Reggie was fishing a great run of water. I decided to fish my way to him with the idea of passing along a secret or two on how to fish that run for it is a run that I know pretty well. Eventually I looked up and Rich Gale was fishing the back end of the run. Another cast or two and Rich had a fish on while Reggie had a big tangle in his line and was out of commission. Reggie (a retired pastor) being the fine fellow he is; invited me to come and fish his spot and with that invitation I stepped in and immediately began catching fish using the Pat’s Rubber Legs fly from the day before. In a way I kind of hated doing that; but he insisted.
Eventually the bite went south, and a couple of things began to rumble. One was my stomach and the other were the clouds that were forming overhead. The morning had given way to the afternoon and the expected rains were on their merry way. Once the light rain began to fall, Rich and I took a trip back to the vehicles and took in a nice lunch after our morning of catching. Eventually Greg Labyak joined us for lunch and by this time the rain was pouring down and Greg seemed to be quite happy that he had left his raingear in the truck before fishing. Yep, his rain jacket stayed dry the whole time it was in the vehicle.
After lunch I left the confines of Rich’s nice new Ford F150 full size truck and took a nice nap in my Toyota Tundra. The rain was coming down and the nap was just the right thing after a nice sandwich meal. Eventually the rain ceased and clear skies were visible; it was time to get back in the water and go and seek out Mr. Big Brown. After hiking the trail back to the cross over point I decided to show Greg (now with his rain jacket) how to fish the run that Rich, Reggie and I fished for the morning. I knew there were fish there and if luck was on our side, then Greg would have a pretty good afternoon of fishing. Now my attention turned to Mr. Brown I quickly decided to cross the river and while in the middle of the river a BIG FLASH of light made it clear that danger was fast approaching. I could feel the electricity in the air and my comfort level while holding a 10 foot graphite fly rod and wearing 4 foot metal wading staff was fast fleeding. Another flash and suddenly the big rain drops began to fall as thunder rattled the ole ear drum and shook everything in the area. Soon and very soon I took a peak at Greg who was about 75 yards away and a minute later, I could not spot him at all. The rain was falling at such a rate that visibility may have been 10 feet and I could not see across the river as I attempted cross as I made use of the metal wading staff. It seemed now it was every man for himself and getting out of the water was the main goal. Once out; getting back to the vehicles and eventually back to our humble abodes at Oconee State Park.
As our folks arrived for Saturday evenings meal and it sure felt good for everyone to get into some dry clothes because we surely had a gulley washer of a rain. The menu for the evening featured homemade BBQ ribs, Corn Salad, Cole Slaw (prepared by our very own Rich Gale), Baked Beans, Garlic Bread and for desserts homemade pecan pie and lemon bars. We also had a special guest (Kes Crumpler) who joined us for the evening. Kes along with her husband Jay were chapter members when they lived in the Columbia area. They have had a life change and acquired a very nice home and property in close proximity to the Chattooga. I encourage anyone if visiting the area to check out their place and thank them for supporting Saluda River Trout Unlimited. It’s a great place of accommodation and its location is perfect for any kind of recreation if in the area.
Sunday morning and hash brown casserole and
bacon along with fruit salad would awake our crowd.
With the fishing for the weekend pretty much done
due to the heavy rains of the previous day and
overnight; it was time to pack up the Tundra and call
the Chattooga trip history. We certainly had a great
time and our usual excellent fellowship. Looking back,
I can’t believe we waited four years to return and
looking forward it will not happen again. We will
certainly be back for another group trip; this time
the wait will not be near as long and hopefully
Mr. Big Brown will be there waiting.
Check out the pictures: Greg Labyak’s first Chattooga Trout and pictures of the scenic Chattooga.