Sunday Classic / Gold Nugget

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By Kent Klewein

I’m a big fan of that Gold Rush TV show filmed up in Alaska.

I don’t know what it is about that show but I’m hooked. Go ahead and call me dumb for wasting my time watching it if you will. I’m just dying to see one of those crews dig up a fortune of gold that will give all of their families peace and well being. If there’s one thing I’ve learned after watching Gold Rush for almost three seasons now, it’s that gold mining doesn’t come easy. It requires every ounce of energy and stubborn persistence that one can muster up to have any hope at finding enough gold to come out ahead. Even then, the biggest of crews can get outperformed by one lucky man with a metal detector. Just ask that Australian amateur gold prospector with a metal detector who recently found a 12-pound nugget, worth well over $300,000. Sometimes, no matter how diligent you are, it all boils down to timing, maintaining hope and luck. The entire deal felt eerily similar to a giant 26″+ wild brown trout a client of mine landed last week.

Catching a big wild brown trout of that caliber in my neck of the woods these days is just like trying to strike it rich gold mining.

Every year guiding, I feel lucky if I get the opportunity for my clients to hook up with a handful of them, most of which are quickly broken off right after the hook set. Everyone is trying to catch one of these rare fish and most fail. There’s still a few giants out there who’ve managed to avoid being caught and have kept the gene pool alive, but believe me, there’s a lot of river miles in between them. In most watersheds in North Georgia, there’s less than a handful of trophy browns swimming around. That wasn’t always the case though. From the 1970s through the 1990s, if you were skilled with a fly rod, it wasn’t uncommon to catch three or four 18-20+” wild browns in a day. Sometimes, they’ed even come out of one hole, said Clay Stanley, a Ellijay, GA local who’s literally fly fished just about every mile of trout water in the state. I drove over to visit him at his gas station the day after my client landed the trophy brown to talk about the glory days. I listened to Clay recount the stories of each of the brown trout trophies that hang on the gas station wall. Clay spoke with a pridful tone in his voice saying, “man, back in the day, I could guarantee you I could put you on a big brown trout any day of the week.” Overtime, wild brown trout in North Georgia found themselves loosing the battle of survival, being caught and consumed faster than they could reproduce. In all actuality, the brown trout put up an astonishing fight, considering that no one practiced catch and release in those days. But then like a frieght train, the booming real estate development hit in the 1990s, and the introduction of sediment, from development, quickly destroyed spawning habitat throughout the region. The natural reproduction rate of brown trout dropped to pitiful levels, and they’ve never rebounded back.


Here’s 1 of 12 wild brown trout mounts Clay Stanley has on the wall caught during the 1980s.

That’s why it was such a pleasure the other day when my client landed that beautiful wild brown trout. It gave me an overwhelming sense of pride as a fly fishing guide. It gave me hope that one day if we all worked together, we could once again get my home trout waters back to thriving wild trout populations, just like the glory days Clay Stanley was fortunate enough to witness. I had first spotted that brown months prior when it took a swipe at a rainbow in fight. I’d tell each of my clients about it and we’d dissect the exact area, drifting our flies where I’d last spotted it. No matter how hard we tried, trip after trip, we came up empty handed. It was like the brown trout knew I was coming for him. He always seemed to be one step ahead of us. Weeks would pass with no sign of the brown, and then without notice, I’d spot a flash of gold from the big brown foraging on the bottom. He’d be hundreds of yards up or downstream from where I had last spotted him. I didn’t let it bother me and I kept the hunt alive. I felt just like those gold hungry prospectors on Gold Rush searching for their glory hole. I mustered on despite the horrible odds, coaching different clients day after day to drift their flies threw all the big browns confirmed hang out spots. This past Thursday, a client of mine finally stuck that brown. I can tell you, within reason, I felt very much like that lucky Austrailian hearing the beep on his metal detector head phones, and then running his hand across that 12-pound gold nugget. It was exhilarating, by far one of the most memorable catches in years that I’ve been graced to be a part of. And my client, Gary Rogers, who battled that big brown trout up and down the river for 15 minutes with me nervously barking fish fighting instructions, happened to be one of the most gracious and appreciative anglers I could have ever matched up with that brown. Ironically, it was his first brown trout he’d ever caught, but he made up for it by acting like it was the last brown he’d ever catch, as he gently revived and released it, paying it utmost respect.

What I’ve learned from all of this is don’t be afraid to chase that trophy, even if it seems like it’s a waist of time.

Continue on, in pursuit, even if the lion’s share would agree it’s not worth your time. And by all means, if you do happen to luck up and spot a fish like the one Gary Rogers caught, keep chasing after it until you bring it to net, no matter how long it takes. When you do land it, the reward will change you forever. I’ll never forget that hunt that went on for months and the precious moments I shared with my client talking about the gold nugget of a wild brown we’d just brought to hand. I hope one day, I can find a way to bring back wild trout populations to my home waters so others can experience what Gary got to last Thursday. Most would argue it’s pointless and impossible, but I’m not going to give up the fight.

Keep it Reel,

Kent Klewein
Gink & Gasoline 
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