By Loran Smith
The North Georgia mountains offer a rich experience anytime you travel to the upper part of our state, but especially in the fall. The gold in “them thar hills” today is the sheer beauty of the landscape and the hospitality of the people.
With Georgia enjoying an open date in football, the timing was propitious to take an overnight trek to visit friends Jimmy and Kathy Harris who live by the Chattahoochee in Cornelia.
Jimmy is a native of Jones County in the middle part of our state and Kathy is a transplanted Texan. She stays connected to her Texas roots, however, often sojourning back to the land of the longhorns to visit relatives. She thinks nothing of leaving home at 3:30 in the morning, which she did last weekend, driving to the Atlanta Airport and flying to Houston for the day. She traveled to “Space City” for a family reunion and then returned home by midnight drifting off to sleep to the sounds of the Chattahoochee.
Then the genial hostess was up before daybreak to cook breakfast for friends who had found their way to these parts to enjoy the remnants of fall color. She doesn’t wear a crown, but Kathy is a queen.
Jimmy owns a small business in Cornelia and is the proprietor of Unicoi Outfitters in Helen. If there is a better fly fisherman in North Georgia than Jimmy, Wikipedia has not discovered him. Although I had tangled lines in Vermont and out west a time or two, it was Jimmy who taught me to fly fish. For the record, I am one pupil of his who has never gotten any high marks for fly-casting.
Nonetheless, I still treasure a day trip up to Helen to fish with Jimmy who has hosted good friends Matt and Jenny Brinkley and Gary Bertsch on Georgia’s most romantic river, best described by the state’s one-time Poet Laureate Sidney Lanier.
“Out of the hills of Habersham, down the valleys of Hall,
“I hurry a main to reach the plain, run the rapid and leap the fall.”
The poet’s “Song of the Chattahoochee,” makes me proud to be a Georgian, happy to live in America but wish for a cleaner, safer environment. Let’s clean up our cities and bring kids to the banks of the Chattahoochee where they can fly fish, listen to the sounds of the river, see the turning of the leaves. There is more to a swing through nature this time of the year: mallards on the Chattahoochee and occasionally, deer in the rhododendron. You might even experience a black bear sighting which most bucket lists can do without.
If you fish the Chattahoochee, you most likely will hook a rainbow trout but if you are lucky, you might catch a brook trout, which is native to our state.
I had that good fortune one day in the company of the aforementioned friend, guide and quintessential gentleman, Jimmy Harris. I had to order a mount of that one. It is not a trophy in size or weight, but because it is a native to Georgia, I had to have a keepsake.
While I am not an accomplished fisherman, I am privileged, because of Jimmy Harris, to have enjoyed memorable outings on the Chattahoochee.
I can recall in my mind’s eye standing in the river near the Nora Mills Granary in Helen and hearing the water, as it plunges over the dam, and casting in its direction. All around you, there is so much to appease the eye, natural beauty which enables you to recall no matter where you lay your head. In those times when sleep is reluctant, I flash back to those river scenes. I have given priority to nature to accommodate my nightly objective. It is far better than counting sheep.
I will never tire of singing the praises of our state’s outdoor opportunities: fishing for three-pound trout on my favorite river, encroaching on a bird dog’s point in the fields and woods of South Georgia and casting for a red fish in the Golden Isles of our coast. And if you are lucky, maybe a round of golf at the Augusta National Golf Club.
We had come this way not only to enjoy a respite with Jimmy and Kathy, but to experience the last of fall color this year. There was lunch at the “Hole in the Wall,” in Blairsville and dinner at Clyde’s in Cleveland. Standing century to the courthouse in Cleveland is the prettiest maple in North Georgia. What a photo-op!
The drive up to Brasstown Bald and back allowed an immersing into fall color which was worth the trip. The view from the highest point in Georgia out over Lake Chatuge reminds you that the wilderness surrounding you is what this entire country once was.
Let’s not forget that and let’s not ruin what’s left.