Prac­tic­ing the art of fly fish­ing

Guide Louis Cahill pur­sues the sport in lo­cales near and far.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution - - LIVING & ARTS - By Bo Emer­son be­mer­

CHATTAHOOCHEE NA­TIONAL FORTwi­light is de­scend­ing on EST — tiny Rock Creek Lake, a pond in the hills above Suches.

Pink light hov­ers in the trees. The crick­ets trill. Bark­ing frogs send up a ser­e­nade that sounds like a smoker’s cough.

This mild North Georgia moun­tain evening should be a per­fect night for fly­fish­ing. And we’rein a good place. Rock Creek Lake, in the mid­dle of the Chattahoochee Na­tional For­est, is warm on the sur­face, but a few feet down it’s chilly. Twenty feet down it’s cold as hell.

“You can float on your back here,” says our guide, Louis Cahill, “and if you let your legs dan­gle down, they’ll freeze right off.” Trout, who have no legs, like it

cold. So the trout are here. Surely they are here. They are just not in­ter­ested in this par­tic­u­lar woolly bug­ger that I tied my­self and am fling­ing back and forth on the end of a translu­cent line. Or maybe they don’t like me, be­cause I’m do­ing every­thing in my power to scare them off. “You usu­ally don’t want to flog

the wa­ter when you’re cast­ing,” says Cahill, mildly. No, you don’t. Nor should you fish for trout with a march­ing band in the ca­noe, but my tech­nique is no less sub­tle than a salute by 76 trom­bones.

Cahill is help­ing me re­fine my tech­nique with tough love. “You’re not sen­si­tive are you?” he asks. “Now I’m not go­ing to tell you how to fish,” he adds, “but if I see you hold­ing that rod straight up in the air I might start call­ing you Opie.” Opie. Like the young Ron Howard with a cane pole and a night crawler on the end of a line. In other words, like the an­tithe­sis of a fly fish­er­man.

Though I strug­gle to keep the tip of the rod down, it’s not catch

ing me any fish. I’m pretty dis­gusted. But Cahill is up­beat.

“You will catch a fish,” he says. “You just need to be op­ti­mistic .Opie? Keep that rod down.”

If Cahill, 55, has a sunny be­cause at­ti­tude, he it’s has prob­a­bly­ac­com­plished some­thing few men can claim. He has ar­ranged the world so that he can fish for a liv­ing.

A grad­u­ate of the Art In­sti­tute of At­lanta, Cahill was a full-time com­mer­cial pho­tog­ra­pher for 20 years, and still uses his photo skills in his fish­ing blog, Gink and Gaso­line, and in the tempt­ing im­ages he posts to gen­er­ate in­ter­est in his hosted fish­ing ex­pe­di­tions.

Th­ese trips take him (and his fol­low­ers) all over two hemi­spheres. He is just back from the Florida Keys and in the next few months he will be fish­ing in Ore­gon, Utah, Canada and Ar­gentina. His blog from gen­er­ates­gear man­u­fac­tur­ersad rev­enue and tour des­ti­na­tions, plus Cahill’s al­ways try­ing out (and writ­ing about) the lat­est car­bon fiber rod or breath­able waders.

What about Georgia? Yes, there are trout in Georgia. Our hatch­eries stock Geor- gia’s rivers with a mil­lion trout a year. In the moun­tains, wild trout find wa­ter cool enough to sur­vive (70 de­grees or cooler). There is even an Ap­palachian species of brook trout, na­tive to the moun­tains be­tween Geor- gia and West Vir­ginia, stub- bornly thriv­ing against the pres­sures of de­vel­op­ment and cli­mate change.

Cahill is the guru of find­ing th­ese fish. He is a large, bearded, rough-hewn, pleas­antly pro­fane man who un­der­stands trout phys­i­ol­ogy, moun­tain ecol­ogy, Henri Cartier-Bres­son’s pho­togra- phy and the value of keep- ing a .44 handy. He takes me and AJC pho­tog­ra­pher Cur- tis Comp­ton to two choice fish­ing spots in the North Georgia Moun­tains. But first I have to learn how to catch some­thing be­sides my own pants. Cahill, Comp­ton and I set­tle in at a camp­site on the lake-shore, with some vege- tar­ian chili and small-batch bour­bon to take the sting out of my fish-less evening. The next morn­ing Cahill wakes slowly in his Eno ham­mock. “They say cof­fee is good for you,” he grum­bles, squeez­ing boil­ing wa­ter through his AeroPress, “but I say cof­fee is good for the peo­ple around me, ‘cause if I didn’t have any I would have killed some­body by now.” Our next stop is Noon- tootla Creek Farms, a pri­vate two-mile stretch of Noon- tootla Creek south of Blue Ridge. On this 1,200-acre re­treat visi­tors can shoot clay pi­geons, hunt quail and fish for some an­cient, crafty brown trout and rain­bow trout. All fish­ing here is catch and re­lease. Cahill parks in a corn field and walks down to the nar- row, tree-lined creek, which is barely wide enough to cast a line. His part­ner Justin Pick­ett, 33, is al­ready

here and they con­sult on what’s work­ing. “Any­thing black has been do­ing well,” says Pick­ett. “We’re fish­ing to spooky fish.”

The two com­mence tak­ing turns, re­lent­lessly drop­ping flies just in front of some 26-inch beau­ties, some of whom they rec­og­nize from year to year.

Cahill can’t help but of­fer color com­men­tary as Pick­ett fights with a that he’s just hooked: “Sweet talk it. Sweet talk it. There it is!” And, as the crea­ture es­capes, “Oh man. Se­ri­ously? Uh, heart­break­ing.” Cahill and Pick­ett have the ac­cu­racy of Spi­der­man, zing­ing their webs di­rectly at their tar­gets. But th­ese fish are wise. Though their brains are the size of a gar­den pea, th­ese fish know how not to get caught.

Un­til they get caught. “Look at that,” says Cahill, as he nets a rain­bow trout whose iri­des­cent col­ors seem to move and pulse like the pix­els on a Jum­botron. “That’s what a wild fish looks like.”

Then Cahill gen­tly puts the finned mon­ster back in the wa­ter and it tor­pe­does away, to fight an­other day.


Louis Cahill makes a woolly bug­ger fly at Rock Creek Lake in Suches.


At­lanta res­i­dent Louis Cahill (left), 55, hooks a tro­phy-size trout while Justin Pick­ett, 33, of New­nan, spots them on a catch and re­lease stream at Noon­tootla Creek Farms.

AJC writer Bo Emer­son gets a fly fish­ing les­son from Cahill at Rock Creek Lake in Suches.

Cahill re­leases a 23-inch, 4-pound rain­bow trout dur­ing a fly fish­ing trip to Noon­tootla Creek Farms.

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