Just Another Day on the Wild and Scenic Chattooga

We’d had gullywashers for what seemed the entire spring and early summer. The waters were swollen and dangerous; unfishable. I warned my editor that the fishing was going to go from terrible to smallmouth only and that perhaps we should push for fall but the trout fly fishing in SC story needed to run ASAP. Michael, the writer, was coming down from Charlotte, NC and given our budgets, couldn’t spend the night. It’d need to be an afternoon trip, the worst possible option for July in South Carolina. 

We met up at Karl Ekburg’s perfectly located Chattooga River Fly Shop at the fork in the road for the discerning angler, Delayed Harvest with easy access to the left or go right and hike your way into the infamous Burrel’s Ford campground. After meeting Karl’s partner, Karen, and their dog, Guss, I sat on the bed of my truck, reorganizing various cameras, related gear, water, and snacks into my drybag. I put on my wet-wading booties and laced up my boots. Something didn’t sit right in my gut while Karl and Michael geared up and talked about the day’s plan; “I should bring my rod” my mind uttered. “No, you shouldn’t, moron. You’ll miss out on pictures you’ll need.” I ruminated on this for a few moments. Knowing three lines in the water are better than two, I still resigned to yield to Michael and Karl. “I’ve been skunked plenty of times on the trout stream and Karl’s a pro. He’ll at least catch one fish for the story,” putting it to rest in my mind.  

Michael grinned like a ‘possum eating briars, holding the glorious flyrod in his hands. He’d long dreamed of this day. He’d be Brad Pitt riding the river in chase of a giant brown leaping from the water only to perform aerial acrobatics before diving deep into some logjam and tearing line from his reel in no time. Karl tied up a few little red and tan wooly buggers of his own design, I believe. Editorial Note:: I’ve since lost the couple he slipped me after our trip but not before landing quite a few fish. Great little pattern. 

We jumped into Karl’s Jeep and headed to Burrel’s Ford for some interview time and for Michael to get a lay of the land. We hiked in and  I photographed Karl waxing poetic whilst flipping rocks in the river to reveal stone flies in different stages of life, matching them to the flies Michael would be using later. If you ever need info on Chattooga River bugs, Karl is the man. He’s the poster boy for conservation and entomology in these parts and is incredibly helpful and friendly. 

We scouted some patches of water and decided to head up the gravel road to the delayed harvest section upstream of Hwy 28. We quietly slipped into the drink, a relief from the heat. I glanced a few spooked fish as we waded in further. I immediately noticed a massive crawdad that any self-respecting Louisiana native wouldn’t have passed by. I watched the fresh-water-lobster-cousin as Karl worked with Michael on basic fly casting mechanics, disappointing him with the not-in-the-movies roll cast. The crawdad was there for similar reasons as us, hoping to catch a fish, though we’d be returning our catch. 

Michael started to get the hang of things, allowing the fly to dead drift into a swing and then stripping back, undoing his life-long learning of conventional fishing presentations. Mend, raise the rod tip, lower and point the rod tip, the mechanics can be dizzying to a beginner and downright maddening to a proven conventional tackle fisherman who knows if they only had a spin rod, they’d already have dialed up something by now. After a few missed strikes imitating  Bill Dance on the hook set, Karl took Michael to a rock to rest, review, coach and grab a drink. While they sat talking, all I could think of was “how am I going to turn in a story about fly fishing with ZERO fish pictures?!” I needed one of them to catch a fish. I was regretting my decision to not bring my rod along. I tried to remain patient. It was July and it was hot and the trout were just not having it today. I’d been there before. I voiced my concern to Karl.

The two crept further upstream and took another shot at things. It had gone from hot to hotter and a gentle breeze was starting to roll in. Karl took a rod to try and scare up a photo-op for me. The temp dropped a few degrees as clouds blocked the sun. I dug through my bag and rigged together my GoPro and dome in anticipation of something good happening. I went to put my bags on the bank and turned to see the crawdad still hanging in the same spot. He stepped into a pool of light to pose for his close-up and I pulled a few frames of him on my way back to my subjects. Then it happened. The thunder rolled across the mountain and we all made it to dry ground quickly. I turned around to show the other fellas that the crawfish ended up just like us, skunked. Fishless. 

The magazine ran an “edited” version of the story. Wordsmith Michael Banks wrote the story he wanted to tell on his blog, including a photo I loaned him of a fish I caught on a different SC river, the Upper Saluda. Given the circumstances, Michael did a great job with the story and laid a solid foundation to the beginning of his fly fishing quest. I decided to write this story. This is my account. Getting skunked sucks and there are three different fish stories of the same day to prove it. I know for a fact that if Karl couldn’t catch a fish, there is NO WAY I would’ve caught one. I’m glad I left my rod in the truck so I could say I didn’t get skunked. In the end, I was the one who really needed to catch a keeper and I came home empty handed in that department. I imagine Karl’s version is “just another day on the wild and scenic Chattooga.” 

EDITORIAL NOTE OF HISTORICAL VALUE :: Chattooga is Cherokee for “Stupid white men who suck at fishing think they’ll catch fish here.” 

In the 40th Trip Around the Sun, Things Turned Upside Down

When my wife, Carla, came back outside, I knew the answer before she ever spoke a word. I continued playing corn hole with my 12-year-old daughter, pretending like nothing was wrong. Everything was wrong. Everything was amazing and incredible and exciting. Everything was terrible. I was terrified and beyond belief excited. What on earth was going to happen? Was this even safe? Would this actually come to fruition? How could this be?!

Rewind three years prior, to New Year’s Eve. Scout was reading her list of goals and hopes for the year; “I want a baby brother!” “Ok. We’ll all pray that God would give us a baby boy if it’s His will,” I replied after a moment of wonder. We were still sort of holding on to some hope, secretly. We definitely hadn’t been preventing a baby. It just hadn’t happened. We’ve always believed God gives you what He wants you to have, when He wants you to have it. 

Life went on for the next three years. At some point, we chalked it up as an answered prayer that God didn’t have that us in the cards for us. That ship had sailed. We were totally OK with this. We loved our life and already had our hands full raising a pre-teen and running two businesses. Meanwhile, we’d also been displaced from our home for four months when a tree decided to take a look around our attic one afternoon. Working on the house, trying to make the most of the insurance payout had me working double time, but not on my business. My business, quite frankly, was on the ropes. 

All the while, Scout never quit praying about this. Daily. Even after we’d long forgotten about it really. We waited until we got a green light from Carla’s doctor to tell Scout and our family that we were expecting. To tell her, we purchased rubber gloves, a little gas mask (yard mask with a vent) and some other baby related item that escapes me now. We put them all in a bag and I had her open them one at a time. The following photo is about 10 seconds after she actually realized what were telling her, the rubber gloves still on.

She burst into ugly-crying-joy-tears! Her prayers had been answered. Our prayers, from a long time, that we were cool with not happening, no really, we’re good, seriously, well, ok, let’s do this, I guess, were answered. 

Fast forward a few weeks and we gathered our wits and made it to a sonogram visit to learn the sex, 12-year-old-daughter in tow, who by the way, had just learned how babies make it into the world like three weeks prior to us telling her. We found out the being within my wife was indeed not a bad burrito but was a real life baby boy. We actually named him on the way there and finalized this decision while Carla was getting blood work done or something. 

We’d just bought a new truck and it seated six, and we went to our parent’s and siblings house to show off the truck to them. We’d also gone by some friends-with-a-wee-one’s house to borrow a car seat to put in the back seat with the sonogram in it as our way of surprising our family. It was a thing of beauty. Here’s my sister, Angela, and my mom who we’d gone to pick up so she and dad could see Angela’s reaction, too. The second photograph is of Carla and her folks who were more in shock or disbelief then maybe any of us. Hard to say, we were all pretty dumbfounded.

The days grew longer, and harder and scarier and weirder. Carla had a great pregnancy outside of a condition called “lightning crotch” and the occasional passing out because homeboy was “standing on her artery.” Normal stuff.

The big day finally arrived. We went in to the hospital the night before her scheduled delivery and the next morning we had a healthy baby boy. Charlie Whitworth Carter came in to this world and I sobbed like a baby, because I’m a crier. Real bad crier. Also pictured in this mix is my one and only ever surgical procedure I’ve performed. Notice the use of two hands on the scissors. Steady Mateo. Steady. 

Lots of dear old friends came by to hold the newfangled, marvelous, beautiful, gah-gah manchild. And I cried a great deal more, not pictured.

- First published in our family blog, Postcards and Potholes 


As a personal project I decided to reach out and photograph two people I’d never met but followed on Instagram. I left the platform some time ago but have a number of friends I still keep in touch with that I met there. Pictured are Angie Toole Thompson, a local freelance copywriter and Blair Knobel, editor of TOWN magazine.

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