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LORAN SMITH: The last fishing outing ... until next time

FEATURES COLUMN: As the temperatures climb, trout swim for cooler waters

HELEN — The week of June 9 was the last week for fishing the Chattahoochee in these parts. If you just have to try your luck, you can fish year round in this refreshing hamlet of the state, but trout look for cool waters, and the water temperatures are not very accommodating to the beautiful and bountiful rainbow during the summer months.

It all changes soon after Labor Day as the temperatures begin to trend downward on the thermometer. We’re talking October, my favorite month. Football, fishing, harvest scenes, and a fire in the fireplace! They all come to the forefront in October.

As I stood in the Chattahoochee, water circulating refreshingly around my knees, several nice trout gained their freedom as I was daydreaming about October. One nice trout took reel off my line but moved in a direction that brought a rock between us. The rock cut the line. Then there was the time on my back cast a small fish took my San Juan worm and then shook free, but a bigger trout grabbed the hook and chose to burn an insult deep into my consciousness. He — ahem, perhaps it was a she — caught me reeling when I should have been giving him (or her) plenty of line. Whichever it was, it got away.

That would happen again. In fact, a couple more times, which meant that by the time we gathered for social hour at the Carol Powell–run Best Western Motel — where in October, when you don’t need air conditioning, you can hear the sounds of the river as you drift off to sleep — it was determined that I was the leader in the clubhouse with hooking trout and letting them get off the hook. Those are the kinds of statistics which bring about world-class put downs by Phil Niekro, the Braves Hall of Fame pitcher who never forgets a faux pas on the river. It is akin to giving up a home run to Johnny Bench. When he comes to the plate again, you know not to throw him the same pitch. If someone falls in the river, Phil will never let you, your friends, or his friends forget it.

Phil and his buddies David and Jeb Smith were casting under the seasoned eye of Ron Thomas, an expert who says that to enjoy fly fishing to the fullest, you need to learn to tie your own flies. Jimmy Harris, the greatest gentleman on the river, was offering a tip or two to Steven Lang, but the latter is developing into an angler who doesn’t need much help. Lang has the makings of a river rat.

The costly distractions — that, in truth, made my day, losing a four-pound trout or two notwithstanding — came when I looked up at one point and saw that I was framed in a setting that everyone should see. All you have to do is seek it out.

When you are anchored in the river with the cool waters lapping against your waders, you see birch trees standing erect and imposing, along with sycamores and beech trees (plus an occasional white pine), and you realize that you don’t have to catch fish to enjoy an afternoon on the Chattahoochee. The mountain laurel hover close to the river, making you appreciate the green world, but the best is yet to come.

As you cast in the shallows where the trout scheme against you, your fly is thrusting forward when in your line of flight appears a mallard, a beauteous greenhead, sailing up river as if he and your airborne fly are companions. Such scenes take your breath away. Soon thereafter as your line extends its reach downriver — and is ready for you to reel in — swimming up river is a brace of Canada geese. You don’t know where they have been and you don’t know where they are going. You are just overwhelmed that they came your way.

You can become immersed in this scene only an hour and away from where you get your mail. Any man guilty of not taking advantage of such experience more often deserves a flogging. Looks like it is time for me to take my shirt off.