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"I've Caught Bass Before"

    I had been itching to fish this stretch of river for two years. The upper Coosawattee stretches from north of Ellijay to the mouth of Carter's Lake, and the eight mile float ends with about three additional miles of flat water paddling across the reservoir. This was going to be a full day on the water. Luckily, I found a fishing partner who is as loony as I am and willing to take this adventure on. I met Bill at the takeout ramp on Carter's Lake around seven in the morning and we quickly loaded his kayak next to mine in the truck and headed up the hill toward Ellijay. There were two fellows trout fishing on a shoal when we arrived at the launch site, so I decided to throw a little brown Roostertail spinner to see if I could add a trout to the bream and bass we were sure to catch. We were on the water by eight, and I had already caught a couple fish by 8:15. Both were small redeye bass, but one of the fish had the most brilliant hue of baby blue I've ever seen on it's underbelly (see below).

    The water was green, clear, and rippling. The water flows a bit too fast to really work one spot thoroughly, so Bill and I contented ourselves with running and gunning. Pretty soon we had both caught half a dozen redeyes, bluegill, and redbreast. We knew we could probably catch more and bigger fish by stopping to wade, but we realized that we had a long way to travel, so we kept moving. Keeping up with Bill on the water was tough. His kayak, a 14-footer with a rudder system, tracks smoothly through the water and stays pointed downstream. My 12-footer tends to drift sideways a bit, slowing me down. I'd like to say that this is why Bill ultimately caught a few more fish than I did, since he was able to get to the best spots first. This is not the case, however. Bill stayed on the left side of the river and I fished the right side, and this stretch of the Coosawattee was just wide enough for us to fish side by side while casting to opposite banks of the river.

Bill Bell with the day's first spotted bass.

    By around 10 AM, we decided to see if we could attract some larger fish, and Bill put on a Rebel Crawdad while I tried my luck with a small chartreuse spinnerbait. Pretty soon, Bill had our first spotted bass of the day, a pretty fish of about 12 inches. It was around this time that the river seemed to grow a bit wider and swifter in spots, with huge rock gardens and some larger rapids. Around 11 AM, we hit our first big rapid of the day, a solid Class II that dropped about three feet while curling around a giant boulder. Since my kayak is far more maneuverable than Bill's, we decided I would attempt to run it and Bill would portage and rescue me and my fishing gear after the river chewed me up and spit me out. Luckily, I made it through unscathed. Eddying out after running the rapid, I remarked to Bill how much scarier rapids look from the upstream side than the downstream side.

I swear this rapid looks a lot more imposing from just upstream!

    We stopped for lunch at around 12:30 AM, our first real pause of the trip. I estimated we had traveled between four and five miles, and we were rarely outside the view of someone's house. The upper Coosawattee definitely has it's share of development, but almost all of the houses are extremely nice and the landowners seemed exceptionally friendly. By this point we had caught a number of nice bluegill, redbreast, rock bass, redeye bass, and spotted bass. The Coosawattee had already given us a pretty good day, and we hadn't really even fished all that hard. The paddling had been challenging but not terrifying, and the weather had cooperated nicely. Munching on Bill's smoked trout, we decided that we had been making pretty good time, and would get out at the next good-looking shoal area and start fishing hard. Then the bottom fell out.

    Bill's kayak is amazing. His is a sit-on-top kayak with a front anchor, rod holders, and can hold about four times as much gear as mine despite being only two feet longer. Bill had a flyrod, a big bass rod, two tackle boxes and a cooler stored inside his kayak. He also had rain gear. It rained hard for half an hour, and Bill and I did more paddling than fishing, though we occasionally caught a fish. The rain soon let up, and Bill found a sweet little spot where he caught five redeyes on about as many casts, including one that was as brilliantly colored as mine from earlier in the day. I also managed to catch a pretty nice spotted bass on the spinnerbait. The water by this point was starting to look like it was going to hold some big fish. The shoal areas during the first part of the float were mostly shallow and produced smaller fish. The shoals we were in at this point had huge boulders accompanied with some nice deep-water holes, a perfect recipe for big spotted bass. The river by this point was almost one continuous shoal, and the best way to fish it effectively was by wading. We were psyched and ready. It was at about this point that we heard the thunder.

    After releasing the spot, I looked back upstream toward the thunder just in time to see lightning strike off in the distance. The rapids seemed to grow more fierce along with the weather, and in the few stretches where I had time to put down my paddle, I made a few half-hearted casts, mostly so Bill would think I was more worried about catching fish than getting struck by lightning. I didn't notice Bill casting a whole lot either, but we were both having a great time navigating the rapids. Still, we were paddling through our best opportunity to catch a big fish. By this point I knew we were getting fairly close to the lake and I was in a quandary. I wanted to get out of harm's way as fast as possible, but I hated to be the one to suggest we ditch fishing and skedaddle. "Maybe Bill's not as big of a sissy as I am", I thought. "How can I suggest that we wade in such a way that Bill will say 'no',"

    "Bill, we could probably catch a big bass out of this stretch."

    Bill nodded thoughtfully.

    "We could also get struck by lightning", I add.

    "I've caught bass before", said Bill.

    I think both of us were relieved when we realized we had a mutual agreement to get the heck off that river. The last mile or two was almost continuous rapids, and it was fun despite the threatening weather. We even paused for a bit to watch a bald eagle being harried by a group of hawks. Our forefathers couldn't have done a better job picking our national bird. The paddle across the lake took an hour, and my arms are still sore five days later as I type this. As we neared the boat ramp, the skies cleared and we started making some half-hearted casts on Carter's lake, more to rest from paddling than anything else. Within about five minutes, Bill had lost a nice spot right at the boat and had a catfish attack his lure just as he pulled it from the water, I caught a decent spot also. Suddenly fancying ourselves reservoir fishermen, we pounded the banks for another thirty minutes or so before calling it a day. 

    On returning to our launch spot to get my truck, the river was about a foot higher and looked like chocolate milk. Had we stopped to wade during the float, the muddy, high water would have certainly caught up with us, making the fishing next to impossible. While our trip was certainly successful, it was far from spectacular, but as it turns out we made the most out of the hand we were dealt. We learned that the upper Coosawattee is not nearly as secluded as we thought, but great fun to paddle nonetheless. It's also full of fish, and it ought to hold some nice ones. Next time, we intend to slow down long enough to find out for sure.  


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