Learning to fly fish in North Georgia rivers, a Conversation with Fly Fishing Outfitter James Bradley

fly fishing north georgia mountains

James Bradley is a fly fishing outfitter based in Ellijay, in the north Georgia mountains who’s been fly fishing North Georgia mountains and guiding fishing trips in Georgia streams for 26 years. For 17 of those, he’s been operating Reel ‘Em In Guide Service, which currently includes six pro guide associates with a total of 150 years of guiding experience in the region. Bradley and his team of guides can operate up to 3 drift boats. Reel ‘Em In runs between 500 and 600 trips a year for guests. Brown’s Guides talked to James about how to get your feet wet fly fishing.

What’s your pet peeve about the sport you love?

Shade Tree Guides. By that, I mean those individuals who print up a few business cards and start taking people fishing.  Just because a person can catch trout on a fly rod, doesn’t mean they can guide or should be guiding. I hear all the time from customers who’ve been intimidated or just given shoddy instruction from one of these kinds of guides. Clients having a good experience and coming back time after time are our industry’s bread and butter. For a beginner, it only takes one bad trip to turn them off on the sport permanently. The state of Georgia doesn’t have any requirements for guides to be licensed, or even have any insurance or permits. If you decide you want to be a fly fishing guide, you are one.

How do I avoid something like that?

Pick a guide who’s got a decent website. Look for a one with experience – the more the better. Read the recommendations on his website from previous customers. Select a guide who’s been to one or more of the certified fly fishing schools – schools like the Wulff School of Fly Fishing for becoming an Instructor or passing requirements from the International Federation of Fly Fishers for becoming a certified Casting Instructor or a Master Casting Instructor. Even schools like Orvis’ Two-Day Fly Fishing can be a great benefit for a wannabe guide. Talk to your fly fishing buddies. Picking the right outfitter for your first fly fishing experience is critical.

What’s it going to cost me to find out if I like the sport?

If you’re smart, just the cost of a fishing license and booking a trip with an outfitter who has some kind of introductory package. Make sure they furnish all the gear and that you’re getting instructions from a certified instructor/guide. Then all you invest is your time, the cost of a fishing license and the trip fee. Reel ‘Em In has a Beginners Special that costs two hundred and fifty dollars for two people. We furnish all the gear – rod, reel, flies, waders, everything except the license. We spend about thirty or forty minutes practicing two basic fly casts and how to fight and land a fish, and then you’re out on the water fishing. We book five or six hundred trips a year and two hundred and fifty of those are Beginners Specials.

What’s the right age to start a young person fly fishing?

If a parent insists on it, I’ll take kids as young as nine or ten. But it’s around eleven or twelve when youngsters start developing their hand-eye coordination. That’s the right age to start. Fly fishing is a hand-eye coordination sport.

Do you see many fly fisherwomen?

Out of the five or six hundred trips that we guide each year, less than five percent are women only. We’ve got a long way to go bringing women into the sport. What’s interesting about most women is that they pick up fly fishing faster than men.  Women fly-fishers are slowly growing.  When I first began guiding, we seldom ever took any women at all. Also, most women really enjoy and appreciate the beauty of where trout live! There is an organization in Georgia that encourages women to get involved in the sport called the Georgia Women Fly Fishers (GWFF).

Can I buy some inexpensive gear to get started in the sport?

I typically tell people to shy away from the eighty dollar Walmart special that has a rod and reel and a few flies. Those rods are heavy, cumbersome and tiring. If you get up to about the one hundred and fifty to two hundred dollar range, you can get a rod that may have a  warranty. It’s will be a  lighter rod and will perform better on the water. Actually a pretty good rod. The rods we use at Reel ‘Em In are in the four-to-five hundred dollar range.

Would you recommend that I shop for gear in a retail store or online

Shop online if you have time to wait for the gear. At a fly shop, you’re going to pay a premium price for the convenience of getting everything you might need in one stop. If you go online, you can always find deals, particularly at the end of the season. Some websites that I shop are Fly Shack,  Sierra Trading Post and Orvis. Bass Pro Shops has some good gear and deals at times.

Is there a rod particularly suited for a beginner

The length should be based on the general areas you’ll be fishing in. If there’s lots of tree canopy, use a seven to seven and a half foot rod. If it’s open, use one that’s eight and a half to nine feet. The “action” or “flex” is especially important for beginners. A medium flex will be more forgiving, unlike the full flex or “tip flex.” A good all-round rod is four weight. It can handle small trout and still has the backbone to land larger fish.

What about waders?

Orvis Silver Sonic waders are a good product for around two hundred and eighty dollars. Simms G3s go for over four hundred dollars. You can get good waders at Bass Pro Shops in the one hundred and fifty dollar range.

Minimum equipment list

If you try fly fishing and get hooked. Here’s James’ minimum equipment list: Fly rod, reel with backing and a good fly line, leaders in 4X and 5X and the same for tippet, waders and boots, mesh vest with lots of pockets, fly boxes with flies, nippers, curved forceps, floatant or ascendant (silicone paste like Gink or Loons), net and a proper license for the state you’re fishing in. Additional items may be needed if you intend on keeping your catch.

What are your three favorite flies

Wooly Bugger, girdle bug or stone fly, and prince nymph.

Give our readers your elevator pitch on why Georgia’s a top fly fishing state

Georgia has over four thousand miles of trout streams. This is more than Tennessee and North Carolina combined! We have eight months of fair weather and you can fish twelve months a year. That alone makes it hard to beat. On the upper reaches of some of our headwaters, we have the Southern Appalachian strain of the Brook Trout. Usually, Georgia has a couple of streams that make Trout Unlimited Top 100 trout streams in North America.

Read More about James Bradley and Reel ‘Em In Guides Servcie

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Brown’s Guides is a website about the top outdoor experiences in America and about the professional outfitters and guides who know them best. Hiking, biking, sea kayaking, rock climbing, whitewater rafting, and over 100 other outdoor activities are indexed on the site. BG has been doing this type of thing since 1972 in books, magazines, maps and on the Internet.

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