Blue Ridge native Hunter Barnes had seen this fish before. He had watched it for two weeks in the tailout of a big run while guiding on the Toccoa River tailwater.
A college student and wrestler at UT Chattanooga, Hunter spent the summer guiding, and in one stretch of river he watched a resident mallard gradually lose all but two of her six ducklings. He’s not saying this fish ate them all, but he knows at least one duck was prey for this massive brown trout.
“I saw the fish eat a baby duck once,” he said. “It was like a stick of dynamite hit the water.”
He guided the stretch almost daily with clients who were unable to hook-up with the 12-lb., 3.4-oz. fish, which he nicknamed “The Sub” because it reminded him of a submarine. On Aug. 3, he took matters into his own hands.
Armed with a fly rod, a heavy leader and a huge deer-hair pattern, he started fishing just before dark. He hooked into the fish at about 9:15 p.m.
“He immediately took me into my backing,” Hunter said, meaning the fish’s initial run stripped all the fly line off his reel.
By the time Hunter finally landed the fish, it was worn out. He spent a long time trying to revive it for release, but The Sub went belly up.
It is the second trout record of the summer on a river that lost 83 percent of its fish due to warm-water events associated with repairs to Blue Ridge Dam in the summer of 2010. The other record, an 8-lb., 9.9-oz. rainbow, was caught on July 8.
“It’s nowhere near where it used to be, but it’s getting better,” said Hunter when asked about the fishery.
WRD Fisheries Biologist John Damer said these record fish are likely survivors of the warm-water events. He said they are indicators of the river’s recovery, which WRD and locals have worked hard on.