By Chris Blalock
I have fished my whole life, from sitting on the bank with a Zebco 33 waiting on a catfish to bite to fishing in multiple day bass tournaments hoping to cut a check. Back in those days of my youth, my uncle would tie me to the bumper of his 1950 Ford pick-up truck so I couldn’t reach the water. I learned so much listening to the elders of the day talk about what fishing is and their opinion of different techniques. I carry some of those talks with me every time I wet a line.
I moved to Georgia in 1997 from my childhood home in North Carolina and with the move, I brought my love of fishing with me. I had a new found friend at work who really loved trout fishing. Honestly that’s all he ever talked about. He would go outside on lunch break from work and practice casting his new fly rod. Of course, I had to try this myself. I bought a $29.99 fly fishing combo at the local big box store (at this time I had never heard of a store called an “outfitter” for just fly fishing). After a couple of hours trying to tie the knots the back of the box told me I needed to tie to get the backing on the reel, the fly line tied to the backing, the leader tied to the fly line, the tippet tied to the leader, and finally a fly tied to the tippet material I was ready to cast with my friend at lunch time. Not to brag, but I caught on pretty fast at casting a fly rod. Within a few weeks I was actually casting better than my friend. I enjoyed minimal success on the water until I met this guy named Jimmy Harris.
Jimmy Harris is a legend in the fishing world as one of the very best fly fisherman ever. Of course, if you asked him he would deny those claims, but that is just his modesty and his personality. He has been featured in almost every fishing magazine in publication. He is the owner of Unicoi Outfitters in Helen, Georgia and is an all-around great guy. He invited me to fish with him and of course I accepted. This guy taught me more in the first hour of fly fishing than I had ever learned in my life time of fishing to that point. I was naive as to who Jimmy Harris was then, but was smart enough to know I needed to listen to him. He may not know it, but that day fishing with him forever changed the way I look at fishing. I want to share some of the lessons he taught me that fateful day that not only helped me with my fly fishing, but also helped me in transition into bass fishing.
“Think Like a Fish”. As you approach a spot you want to fish, take a long look around. I honestly ask myself, “If I were a fish, why would I choose this spot?” What does it have to offer a fish? Does it have a place to hide from other predators? Is there a food source close by? Can the fish ambush prey easily from this spot? Is there shade? Why this pocket and not the next pocket? In answering these questions, it allows you to figure out a pattern quicker. If you can pattern the fish, then you can catch the fish.
“Read the River”. Reading the river has to do more with current and water flow instead of habitat. In trout fishing the current is typically how the trout’s food source is provided. Trout typically do not go out looking for food; it waits for food to float by. Knowing how to read the current can mean the difference between a lack luster day and a great day of fishing. For a fishery to be vibrant, it must have some current (even on huge lake reservoirs). Reading the ebb and flow of the current in the back of creek pockets can be critical to figuring out how the bass are feeding and that leads into the next point, presentation.
“Presentation”. Jimmy showed me how you can throw to a trout beside a rock, and the trout never look at the fly. Then he had me take a few steps upriver and re-cast in the same spot. The fish destroyed the fly. He told me it has to do with the angle the fly was presented. Fly fishermen have a technique called “mending” which allows you to present the fly in a more natural flow. It keeps the fly line from dragging the fly down the river at an unnatural pace. In bass fishing, we do not mend our line, but we do have angles of presentation. The angle at which the rod is held is one means of presentation at which the fly or lure is presented. Other presentations in bass fishing have to do with the boat position and the angle of the retrieve to and by cover.
“Accuracy is a Must”. After watching Jimmy roll-cast under a mountain laurel bush that hung down within six inches of the water, I knew I had work to do on my casting skills. In bass fishing, skipping all the way under a dock or hitting that exact spot where to know that big fish should be is mandatory. You will not get a second shot, because you can spook the fish. You must make the first cast count. I have spent many hours throwing a bait-caster at a five gallon bucket or one of my children’s sand pails. This is exactly how I learned to pitch a bait-caster. I set it up at thirty feet until I hit it consistently. I move it back and keep practicing. If you have a problem with backlashing; this will help with that too. On the water is not where you need to learn how to cast accurately and efficiently. Practice does not make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect. I also get my kids involved in practicing. They know if they want to go fishing, they must know how to cast correctly. We make it a fun game. They earn a fishing trip by getting ten or so cast in the bucket.
“Match the Hatch” you must ask yourself “What’s on the menu?” In all types of fishing there are staples that work consistently, the “go to” baits. In trout fishing, a mayfly or a nymph would be my choices. In bass fishing, my “go to” bait would have to be a shaky head with a soft plastic worm. Those are great, but some days other things just work better. Look in the water; is there crawfish, shad, bream, bait fish, or insects? What are the fish feeding on today? Look in the live well; what are the fish spitting up? Not only will this tell you what the fish are eating, but also the size of the bait they are wanting because size matters. The size of the bait you are throwing has a direct effect on the numbers and quality of fish you will catch. Big baits do not always mean big fish. The biggest trout I have ever caught was on a size 22 dry fly. The largest bass I have ever caught was with a four inch soft plastic swim bait after I saw a shad about the same size floating in my live well.
At the end of the day, fishing (no matter what species) should always be about having fun. It’s always more enjoyable though when you are catching fish. I will always cherish the memories and the lessons I learned fishing in the north Georgia Mountains with my uncle and standing in the cool waters of the Chattahoochee River with Jimmy Harris. Some lessons we learn are species specific, but some will carry from species to species. Take what you learn and pass it to someone else. Help our sport grow and introduce someone to the great outdoors.