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Chattahoochee a valuable resource for Georgians

The movie "I'd Climb the Higest Mountain," the story of a circuit-riding Methodist preacher in north Georgia, was filmed in these parts in 1951. Little has changed since that time. Robertstown remains a small community with a modest bearing and humble people who lead simple and uneventful lives.

They know about the Internet and cell phones, but more often than not, their exposure to excess comes when they brush up against the wealthy who build showcase homes in Habersham County.

The locals, however, probably take for granted their greatest blessing-the refreshing, pristine waters of the Chattahoochee, which will sing to you if you find a quiet spot away from the traffic of Georgia Highway 75 and listen.

From the bend in the road at Robertstown, you can make your way up the mountain to the Chattahoochee's head waters. With Alex Lunsford leading the way, we ease up the dirt road in his red pickup truck to Low Gap Creek, one of the many tributaries, which empties into the Chattahoochee. Creeks and streams like Jasus, Spoil Cane, Turkey Pen Branch, England Camp Branch, and others, help enlarge the Chattahoochee and give it momentum as it reaches Helen and makes its way to Lake Lanier.

At Low Gap Creek in a small pool of water, formed to the side of the meandering stream, lay countless trout. Although they were plentiful, they seemed bent on insulting any angler who dragged a fabled woollybugger overhead. In the clear waters you could see them ignore the lazy movement of the lure as it drifted by.

"If we went up the mountain for an hour and came back, it might be different," Alex said. "On another day they might bite on every cast." Someday, I will return and hope for that experience, but my trip to the headwaters of the Chattahoochee was not the least bit disappointing.

The word Chattahoochee conjures up many romantic images. However, the river also reflects strength and resourcefulness, as it scurries down the mountain. Some say the name Chattahoochee, which originated with the Cherokees, comes from "chatta" or rock and "hoochie" which means painted river. "River of painted rock" becomes the meaning, but nobody knows for sure.

What we do know is that more than half of our state's population draws its drinking water from the Chattahoochee. On the afternoon I fished here, thunder rumbled in the distance. The day before, thundershowers and a prolonged downpour ran fishermen off the river. After a recent period of dry years, water is not currently a bothersome issue for many in our state-but you can be assured that a dry spell will return. Thundershowers are always welcome. We took oil for granted, but we can walk when the gas runs out. What are we going to do when the creeks run dry?

In the meantime, whether you are a fly fisherman or not, if you aren't spending time on the Chattahoochee, you are passing on one of Georgia's greatest experiences.

On a recent day, Phil Niekro, the old knuckleballer, joined David and Jeb Smith under the watchful eyes of Alex and Jimmy Harris, who owns Unicoi Outfitters, to try their luck. Those afternoon thundershowers presented problems, but the fishing was eventful. Everybody got the thrill of wrestling with a nice rainbow. There's nothing quite like hearing the swish of a fly rod in action with your right ear while the left monitors the Chattahoochee, rushing over the dam at Nora Mill just south of Helen. On the way home, you fumbled for the opening lines of Sydney Lanier's "Song of the Chattahoochee."

Out of the hills of Habersham,

Down the Valleys of Hall,

I hurry amain to reach the plain,

Run the rapid and leap the fall.

A Georgian who doesn't swoon to the sounds of the Chattahoochee and who won't fight for its survival is biting the hand that gives us one of state's most valuable resources.

Loran Smith is affiliated with the University of Georgia and can be reached via e-mail at loransmithathens@bellsouth.net.