I think I’ve stumbled upon the one thing that brings diehard Alabama fans and diehard Auburn fans together – fly fishing.
For my birthday, my dad treated me to a guided trip down the Tallapoosa with East Alabama Fly Fishing. The Tallapoosa is a hidden gem, with its headwaters in Georgia, it meanders through east Alabama, dumping into Lake Martin and finally merging with the Coosa River to form the Alabama River on the other side of Montgomery. It’s wide and clean. It’s got everything from Class I to Class IV rapids. It’s absolutely gorgeous and this would be my second outing on the river, first with a guide.
In reality, this trip was about 3 years in the making. I first met Drew Morgan, founder of EAFF, in a sporting goods store parking lot in Auburn, Alabama. I was buying some flies from him, despite him being an Auburn alum. Over the years, we’ve traded emails trying to figure out a time for me to come down and fish for the celebrated Alabama Spotted Bass and the Redeye Bass – which really doesn’t have red eyes.
This past weekend, it finally happened. Sort of. Drew wasn’t available. Instead he connected me with another Auburn alum and fishing guru Craig Godwin.
I made sure I wore my Alabama hat.
We met Craig at the Horseshoe Bend boat ramp right under Highway 49 as it crosses the Tallapoosa. The rubber raft was ready to go complete with a cooler full of sandwiches and drinks. The first thing I noticed about Craig was how much this guy loved being on the river. This day he had two trips planned – ours and another in the late afternoon in the heat of the day. All he could talk about was awesome this river was and how he really thought we were going to catch a lot of fish today.
One thing that all fishermen can appreciate is a positive attitude. Especially with a rookie fly-fisherman in the boat in my Dad. Craig was awesome and patient and immediately put us on the fish using top water flies. Dad caught his first fish on a fly rod at 7:47, 17 minutes after we got on the water. That’s pretty impressive.
We kept working the banks and the shoals with the Boogle Bug and it kept producing fish. Dad caught 7 fish but the 4 of those were the biggest spotted bass Craig and I had ever seen. Each of those spotted measured between 16 and 18 inches long, giving Dad’s 5 wt rod quite the ride. Dad even got him a largemouth that went over 18 inches long.
As for me, I was dealing with a partially torn labrum on my casting arm as well as working a short 7 foot, 4 wt rod. I was dreading what was in front of me that day. All of that went away quickly when fish starting hammering the little white Boogle Bug we were working on the banks and in the ripples.
I put 13 fish in the net. Okay… that’s metaphorically speaking as most of them didn’t need a net. Okay…in fact, only two of them needed a net. But I did get to check off the spotted bass and the redeye bass off my list. Nothing of the size of my Dad’s catch (as he reminded me every few minutes) but the fact we caught fish all day made for a perfect trip.
I know some people really hate using guides and I know not all guides are created equally. But I’d do this trip again in a heartbeat. I’d do it tomorrow if I could. Craig was the perfect guide. He knew the river. He knew where to put us on fish, where to avoid the danger areas. He knew how to read the water. He gave timely pointers to us as to how to present the fly, when to false cast, when to let the fly rest and when to twitch it. He helped both my dad and I get better in our casting and our presentations. He could speak to the rookie and the veteran.
Most of all, he loved being there with us. It wasn’t just a job for him, he LOVED being on the water and helping us catch fish. And that made it fun for us all. I think Craig innately understood the secret to a good fishing trip. Yes, it’s about catching fish but most importantly it’s about who you are catching fish with. For me and my dad, it was the perfect day and Craig felt like he was just part of the family. He laughed, poked fun, and high fived like he’d known us all his life.
And the picnic on the ‘Poosa? Was a great Italian sub sandwich complete with chips and a beverage. Can’t beat it.
We pulled into Jaybird Creek after 5 hours of fishing with my arm barely hanging in my socket. It was worth it. My dad and I were grinning ear to ear. We caught fish. We learned some new stuff. We only got cross-tangled a couple of times. We had a new friend in Craig. We were going home tired… and ready for our next trip.