American Fly Fishing

Deep in the Woods
By Nick Carter

Jacks River, GA

The Jacks River has no stocked trout. The fishery comprises robust populations of wild browns and rainbows, thriving in a gorgeous backcountry watershed. Photo by Nick Carter

“He ate! My God, he ate! And I missed! I missed! Why, God, why?”

These were the opening words of a diatribe Joe DiPietro unleashed upon himself as he dropped his rod and fell to his knees on a Jacks River gravel bar. Miles deep in Georgia’s Cohutta Wilderness, I was the only one to hear what spewed from his mouth. It sounded like heartbreak.

Truly large trout are not an everyday occurrence in this wild place. It hasn’t seen a stocking for decades, and little wild rainbows and browns are the norm. They sometimes eat dry flies with gusto. That’s a lot of fun. But big fish are rare.

DiPietro swears the fish that turned on his big stonefly nymph was at least 22 inches long—an exceptional fish in a stream where a 14-incher is cause for excitement. With someone else, such an anomaly might be chalked up to hyperbole. But DiPietro has seen and caught plenty of enormous trout. He’s spent his adult life guiding where fish grow huge—on private trophy waters as well as on the nearby Toccoa tailwater. His judgment is to be trusted—at least in this matter—and this was a special fish, wild and stream-born, seemingly too large for the pool it inhabited.