We were walking a waist-high field of cover frozen hard by the winter’s first real cold front behind an energetic French continental pointer. Baylee, a Braque Du Bourbonnais the other guides jokingly called a French poodle, was doing his job, methodically working one section of the tall grass and briars with his nose, seeking out a bird he knew was there. Then he locked down, erect on the point, but quivering in anticipation of the inevitable flush.
“Get ready,” said Daniel Larose, the dog handler. “He won’t flush ’em, but Rigby will.”
Daniel let Rigby, an English springer spaniel he uses as a flush dog, off the lead and she crashed into the brush, following Baylee’s point and raising a flurry of birds that scattered like feathered rockets. Blam, blam… blam. Picking a target, the shooters swung and unloaded. Three birds dropped to the ground.
“What’d you think of that covey?” Daniel asked, leaning over to retrieve one of the bobwhites from Rigby, who waited eagerly for her praise.
There were four quail in that first covey, and one of them got away to provide sport for some other hunter — possibly the next hunter who shakes the winter doldrums to spend some time at Noontootla Creek Farms.
Deer season is over, quail season is open, and right now is the perfect time to book a wingshooting trip in the north Georgia mountains. And for those of you who are just as interested in the feathers as the breasts on those birds, there is more than just beautiful scenery to be had from the backdrop of low, rolling mountains.
Here, a 2-mile private stretch of Noontootla Creek curls through the fields, staying cool enough under a canopy of rhododendrons to provide ample year-round habitat for some monster brown and rainbow trout.
Flies & Fletching Outdoors, a Blue Ridge company, offers a cast-and-blast package at Noontootla Creek Farms that is second to none. Even with temperatures cold enough to freeze the guides on your rod on every cast, the birds fly and the trout are game enough to strip a reel to the backing. There is no excuse for spending the late-winter months trapped inside, not when there’s action like this to be had.
Watching Baylee work, we meandered through the field to an edge that overlooked a lazy bend in Noontootla Creek. Within a few seconds, my eyes adjusted, and dark shadows arose from the dappled freestone bottom of a deep, clear run.
“Holy cow! Look at those pigs,” I said, watching in amazement as a pod of very big trout spooked and scattered. “Some of those have got to be well over 20 inches.”
“They are, but we’ll get to that later,” answered Greg Long, who also guides wingshooting clients at the farm.
A trout fisherman at heart, I couldn’t help but think of the deep bend one of those fish would put in a 5-weight fly rod, but my attention was drawn quickly back to the field as Baylee was again on point. This time, Rigby flushed a bigger bird, a chukar partridge, that erupted from the brush and made for the treeline. Boom — one of the other hunters on the field, Herman (Herm) Scoggins, dropped the bird.
In about four hours of hunting one of Noontootla Creek Farms’ fields the dogs flushed two more coveys of quail, several chukar and a pheasant the size of a basketball. There are more than 1,500 acres of bird habitat owned by the Owenby family at Noontootla Creek Farms outside of Blue Ridge, and Chris Albrecht at Flies and Fletching said they can accomodate as many hunters as they can book. The company also has Etowah 9, a wing- shooting property with trout fishing on the Etowah outside of Dawsonville.
“We want to offer things that are first class but are affordable enough so you don’t have to be a doctor or lawyer to do it,” Chris said.
Flies and Fletching also offers guided big-game hunts for hogs, bear and turkey as well as guided trout-fishing trips. For a reasonable price, they can also put together a destination package anywhere in the world — destination packages like the Texas trophy-hunting trips Flies & Fletching donated to the GONetwork SEEDS Program for the winners of this year’s Big-Buck Contest.
Back to the basketball-sized pheasant. Baylee dutifully held the point as Rigby jumped in, and the bird exploded red, green and brown from the cover, narrowly missing my noggin to fly off into rows of plantation pines as I missed with two shots.
“You might be better off hunting birds with a fly rod,” Greg joked. Funny, I was thinking about the same thing—fly rods. I was ready see what those monster trout were all about, and after lunch we rigged up our rods to hit the stream.
Daniel was my guide on the creek, and he showed me a trick about tying a dropper rig before we waded into the water. Using a modified surgeons knot to attach leader to tippet, he used the tag end of the knot to tie the first fly about an inch and a half off the main line. He said the fly hanging off the side of the line would help avoid tangles and provide for a better drift. About 3 feet below the first fly, an orange soft hackle, he tied on a small black, grey and brown Wooly Bugger less than an inch long. I tried several different flies throughout the afternoon, including some dries, but the fish were more interested in sub-surface morsels like the bugger which got deep, and the soft hackle, which suspended in the middle of the water column.
We approached the creek upstream of the first hole, and worked our way down — which seemed unusual to a fisherman who has always approached from the downstream side of the fish — but from our vantage point near the bank, we could see the fish in the hole and they didn’t seem to be spooked. I started casting across the hole, first using a standard dragless drift past the fish, then letting the current pull a belly of slack line that would sweep the flies in front of the faces of the trout as I stripped line in short twitches. The first trout hit my bottom fly on the swing, and I raised my rod tip to set the hook.
In one furious run, the behemoth rainbow ripped all the line at my feet through the guides, and I had him on the reel. There have been only a few times that I have had to use a fly reel for anything other than holding line while trout fishing in Georgia, and I quickly realized that the rusty old drag system might not be able to handle this fish. He peeled line off the spool head- ed downstream and only stopped when he ran out of room at the next riffle. Then he came right back at me as I backpeddled, reeling furiously to take up the slack.
Say what you want about fish that have benefitted from a little supple- mental feeding, this fish could fight, and all I could do for the first several runs was let him go and try to keep slack out of the line. It’s a good thing the creek is as small as it is, because that fish would have run me into my backing and kept on going if it had the room to do it.
Barking instructions, Daniel finally got the fish netted — a solid, lean and muscular 20-incher with dark red stripes. We took some photos and released it back into the water before going after the next one. In the mean- time, Chris explained that the fishery is well suited to grow trophy trout. Even during the ongoing drought, when similar trophy fisheries lost lots of fish to the hot summer and low-water, Noontootla Creek stayed high enough and cool enough to keep the fish happy, and there is some natural reproduction.
Also, trout don’t typically grow to lengths above 20 inches in a creek this size without supplemental feeding, but these fish are not the ones that won’t eat anything but trout chow, or trout- chow flies. They space and rotate feeding schedules so the fish don’t get too used to handouts. The trout are keyed in on a natural diet as well, so they are fun to fish for.
I caught a couple more very large rainbows that afternoon but never hooked into one of the browns. Herm, who was fishing upstream, also reeled in a monster bow, but he got his on a 3- weight rod and a dry fly (Royal Wulff).
It was a fantastic day spent out- doors in the cold, and I thought of my brothers, who were probably holed up in the den cleaning their rifles or organizing their tackle boxes. Deer season may be over, but there is still a month left to hunt quail.