Here’s a what a week in Georgia Trout Unlimited’s Trout Camp entails.
By Rodney Tumlin, Trout Camp Director
It is 6:00 a.m. and the loud, piercing sound from one of Will Primo’s crow calls echoes throughout the concrete and tile hallway in the boy’s dorm at Tallulah Falls High School. Slumberous 13 to 15-year-olds begin opening their doors and heading to the centralized washroom in various stages of dress and readiness. By 6:30, campers and mentors are on the soccer field assembling their 9-foot TFO fly rods in preparation for the days casting lesson by certified casting instructor and Trout Unlimited member Hunter Pittman. Thus begins each morning of Georgia’s Trout Unlimited “Trout Camp.”
For the previous 18 out of the last 19 years, (Trout Camp was canceled during the COVID shutdown) each of Georgia’s 12 Trout Unlimited chapters send boys and girls ages 13 to 15 for six days and five nights in Rabun County, which is strategically located in our states most northeasterly corner. Students are taught how to cast a fly rod, to tie flies, entomology, knot tying, stream etiquette, cold-water conservation, ecosystem restoration, stream structure design for habitat improvement, fishing tactics, and more! They put this knowledge and their growing skills to use by fishing for trout in various streams almost every day.
Students begin arriving around on Sunday afternoon, are processed in and assigned rooms by the all-volunteer staff. By 3 p.m., parents have been sent home and Trout Camp begins with various classroom lessons. Those lessons provide a base-line for all of the practical, hands-on applications students will participate in for the rest of the week. The final function on Sunday is equipment distribution. Each student is provided with a TFO fly rod, reel, fly line and case, fly vest, landing net, nippers, hemostats, tippet, extra leaders, fly box, and flies.
Early Monday morning finds the students learning how to assemble their fly rods and then casting them for the first time on the grass field. After a hearty breakfast, the young anglers participate in knot tying, a fundamental skill they will work on for the rest of the week. The afternoon session is an introduction to fly tying. This skill is led by Terry Rivers and by the end of the first class the campers have learned to tie the simple but effective San Juan Worm and the Mop-Fly patterns.
Earlier in the day, several of the adult volunteer mentors had met the Georgia Department of Natural Resources stocking truck at a nearby stream and assisted the fisheries staff with stocking trout for the first fishing trip of the week. Early that evening, with the volunteer mentors now serving as guides, the young fishers put their instruction to practical use in the stream where mending lines, drag-free drifts and roll cast started making sense to the emerging outdoorsmen. This year, every student caught fish on the first trip and many had double digit catches. All fish were safety released back into the cold, clear stream. As darkness approached we broke down our rods, loaded the two buses and returned to our dorms. Students will fish this same stream three times during the week.
Tuesday, after casting and breakfast, the buses are loaded for the day. Students will not return until after dark that evening. The first stop is Dukes Creek at Smithgall Woods State Park, where DNR Environmental Educator Kathy Church divides the camp into groups and conducts a macro-invertebrate study. The emerging entomologist use kick-seines to capture the aquatic creatures and then identifies them to help determine the health of the stream. After a picnic lunch at Smithgall, the camp travels to the newly rebuilt, state of the art Burton Trout Hatchery, where the DNR manager, John Lee Thomson, gives them a tour of his facility and then allows them to help load the stocking truck with 1,600 feisty rainbow trout. Our buses follow the DNR truck to the Tallulah River where the teenagers use 5-gallon buckets to release fish near two of the campgrounds. After a streamside dinner, the students, and their mentor-guides go fishing. Once again, luck is on their side and all campers catch multiple fish.
Wednesday morning after casting and breakfast, the buses deliver the group to a worksite on a remote, wild trout stream. Sarah Baker and Leon Brotherton from the DNA, along with U.S. Forest Service personnel divide the young workers into groups and begin the hard labor of building in-stream structures that will improve fish habitat for decades to come. They also participate in a stream sampling, where DNR personnel use a backpack shocker to capture the native brook trout, take DNA samples and record data such as length and weight. That afternoon students return to Tallulah Falls for another fly-tying lesson. After dinner, they travel to the same creek targeted on Moncay and fish until dark with good success.
Thursday is trophy fish day! Anticipation of massive trout is running rampant among the campers as the buses make their way along the winding mountain roads to the little faux Bavarian village of Helen, Georgia and Unicoi Outfitters’ fabled trophy waters at Nacoochee Bend. The mentor/guides work diligently with the young fly fishers too obtain the lofty goal of landing a trout over 20 inches long. Several students are successful in netting and releasing the large rainbows that inhabit this section of the Chattahoochee River. After a streamside lunch, the students spend the afternoon at the local water park and then fish until dark in Smith Creek at Unicoi State Park.
Friday is graduation day. The campers are allowed to sleep in until 7:00 a.m. The morning hours are spent in a fly-tying contest, where students take the skills they have learned throughout the week and tie a completely new fly using just a picture and the necessary materials.
After the dorms are cleaned and everyone is packed up, parents begin arriving. The students are seated and the past week’s events and highlights are reviewed by the camp director. The fly tying winners are announced and presented with various prizes that were donated by Mack Martin of the Atlanta Fly Fishing School. The best all-around camper is announced and conferred with the Julie Stalnaker Award. Finally, each new fly fisher receives a certificate and then dismissed to go home with a new understanding and appreciation of fly angling and cold-water conservation.