From the 2014 Nov./Dec. issue of Sporting Classics.
On its rush to the ocean the Savannah River fills three reservoirs, flows through history, and provides jobs, recreation, and pretty good fishing to anglers from Georgia and South Carolina. The reservoirs—Hartwell, Russell, and Clarks Hill (Thurmond if you speak with a Carolina accent)—stairstep to the Atlantic, or at least to Augusta where the shoals make a brief appearance and the fish weirs built by Native Americans blend so well with the natural rock it’s hard to tell one from the other. The Savannah also calls my name—especially as summer ends and when most other sportsmen are tuning bows or zeroing scopes and scouting fields and forests.
The entire river doesn’t whisper “Russ,” but a particular spot does quite often. And by spot, I mean spot—not a riffle, rapid, hole, stretch, mouth, glide, or pool—just a rock big enough for my two feet and a chute about 12 yards distant where the water rushes through so fast the fly often washes past before I can make a single strip. Hit it just right though, and something memorable tends to happen.
The first fish I caught up there years ago, a small striper, lit up my insides. And there’s more. I caught a 22-inch hybrid there. On a rainy October day and just moments after I broke the tip-top of an 8-weight rod, I made a cast just left of the heavy current, and something took it, something much stronger than any fish I’d hooked prior. The big fish neared the surface, showed a broad side, took my breath, and ran downstream. I went down with it, scrambling over rocks and slipping into holes, and hanging on for dear life to whatever I could grab, until the fish lodged behind a boulder. I kept the line tight and actually moved downstream of the fish. It tried running upstream, then back down into open water, and I had it. Twenty-two inches. I couldn’t believe it. Still can’t.
But there’s more. I’ve hooked fish I never saw. The first dove straight down and kept going, like I’d hooked a cement block. The water’s deep, perhaps unfathomable—at least that’s how I felt when more than half the fly line disappeared and stretched so tight it could sound a sharp A note. Another cleared the fly line and part of the backing and diminished the reel’s drag. That behemoth swam past all the near-surface rocks into deep water, wrapped around something, and that was that. After 20 minutes and lots of pulling, I reeled in the fly line minus most of the leader. I never had a hope of landing that fish, but I hope to hook another just like it.
And it’s not only the fish, but also everything else. The beauty of the river below the spot always seems like someplace other than Augusta, Georgia. It’s a cheap vacation 15 minutes from home. I’ll find solitude too. Most people aren’t willing to put in the work to get to it.
I haul the canoe in the truck, then on my head a couple hundred yards to the river, then paddle a few hundred more yards upstream to the spot—a voyage that requires paddling through or portaging over shallow riffles and shoals, and braving strong currents and occasional rapids. The wading is rough and dangerous and leaves me feeling beat-up. I’ve never seen another soul at the spot except the people I’ve invited to accompany me.
I love the spot, but loving a place so much that it speaks your name can be burdensome.This silent voice calls me when the water’s too high to wade safely and during familial obligations. It calls me when the temperatures of July and August are too hot even for the fish. And if I happen to sleep too late, it reminds me that I likely missed something grand.
When I’m standing on that rock, however, concentrating on each tentative and slippery step, each cast and false cast, each strip and each strike, the little spot becomes the focus of my whole being. In that regard, heeding the voice leads to a great unburdening of life’s real burdens: raising children in a mean world, getting by, loving one another, and loving someone so much you’d rather tell them goodbye forever than to see them suffer another minute.
A couple years ago I took my best friend to the spot. He hooked a fish that he never turned. Since that time, he’s lost mother and father. He asks me now, “You want to go up there this weekend?” The spot calls his name, too. +++
Be sure to pick up the 2014 November/December issue of Sporting Classics, now on newsstands.