I like rivers — especially new-to-me rivers I’ve never floated or fished before. Such rivers get harder to find, but one that’s still on the list is the Oostanaula.
The Oostanaula River begins where the Conasauga and Coosawattee rivers merge near Calhoun. It flows south and west for about 50 miles, eventually merging with the Etowah in downtown Rome to form the Coosa River.
There are tales to be told about the Coosa, and one day I’ll tell some of them here. But right now let’s talk about the Oostanaula.
I’d crossed the Oostanaula many times while traversing the far reaches of Highway 140 (yes, the same 140 that’s a rush-hour nightmare in Roswell). The highway crosses the river just east of the community of Armuchee, and a great public boat ramp near the bridge makes river access there easy.
Armuchee, by the way, is pronounced as if it has two R’s — that is, “ar-MUR-chee.” Pronounce it “ar-MUCH-chee” or even “ar-MOO-chee” and you’ll mark yourself an outsider unworthy of knowing the secret handshake. What secret handshake? Wait — forget I said that.
Anyway, every time I drove over that bridge, I’d always think to myself, “One day I’m going to stop and take a look.” But I’d never stopped until a week or so ago.
Here’s how it happened. I’d driven my son the clarinet player to Huntsville, where he would spend the week as part of the faculty at the Tennessee Valley Music Festival. He’s done that for several years now, and driving him over there has become something of a tradition. We have good conversation on the way, and we’ve found a couple of barbecue joints (plus one stellar catfish place) where we like to stop for lunch. I’ll tell you about ’em sometime.
So I dropped Andy off in Huntsville and then turned the car once more toward Alpharetta. It was a quiet drive going back. Huntsville to Scottsboro…Scottsboro to Summerville…then U.S. 27 to Armuchee, where I picked up Highway 140 for the last leg of the trip…driving…driving…and then all of a sudden there it was – the bridge over the Oostanaula.
Should I stop? Sure. Looking at rivers is always good for you. Besides, I had the spinning rod in the car. “Who knows?” I said to myself. “I might even catch a fish.”
Yeah, I know. I really shouldn’t have taken the time. We were in the midst of moving, you see — “downsizing,” some have optimistically called it, but it just made me a little wistful. Moving does that to you.
“Maybe a quick stop would be good for the soul,” said the voice in my head, “for there is therapeutic value in stopping to look at rivers.”
But another voice chimed in right away. “What about,” it said, “those nine million empty moving boxes waiting for you at home?”
I considered the options and decided I liked the first voice better. Then the river called again, and that was that.
I pulled into the boat ramp parking area. It was almost empty. I picked a spot near the ramp and then walked down to the water. The river was beautiful. How had I missed it all these years?
I recalled reading that one popular float on the Oostanaula starts at that very spot and ends at Ridge Ferry Park in Rome, about 13 river miles (roughly 6 hours) downriver. I’d heard that the fishing could be pretty good, too. There was even a chance of encountering a lake sturgeon, a prehistoric-looking monster of a fish that’s making a comeback thanks to Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources. If you should catch one, return it to the water right away. Let DNR know about it, too; they’ll use your report to help fine-tune the sturgeon reintroduction program.
All that thought of fish got me thinking about fishing again, so I hiked back up the ramp to the van to retrieve my spinning rod. I’d have time for a cast or two, wouldn’t I? Sure. But then I realized I’d left all my spinning lures at home.
No worries. I’ll just walk back down the ramp and spend a few more minutes looking at the river.
So down the ramp I went — and then what should I see lying in the mud at the end of the concrete but a four-inch-long crankbait.
“Aha!” I said. “Fate has spoken!”
I picked up the little lure, rinsed it off, and deemed it fully functional. Then I hiked back up the ramp again to retrieve the spinning rod. I tied that crankbait to the line, checked my knot, and then made my way (for the third time) back down the ramp to the river, where I made a cast. The lure sailed smoothly through the air and plopped onto the water. I began the retrieve.
I’d like to tell you that it was immediately hammered by a huge ol’ bass. But it wasn’t — not then, or on the next cast, or on any of the other dozen or so casts I made. No fish at all, in fact. But it still felt good to cast. It always does.
Pretty soon, reinvigorated, I knew it was time to go. Boxes really were calling. So I hiked up the ramp again, tucked the rod back into the van, and headed east toward the trusty old house that was home, but only for another couple of days.
A new house awaited.
New houses, like new rivers, are adventures waiting to unfold. The “house” adventure was about to hit full-force — closings, lawyers, movers, boxes and all the rest.
But since we’re in the new house as I write this, I guess that means we survived.
Sure, I’m surrounded by cardboard and chaos. There’s a ton of unpacking to do.
But the kayak is tucked safely away in the new garage, ready to go — and pretty soon, even I (the most intrepid of unpackers) will need to take a break.
Yeah. And when I do, the Oostanaula will still be calling my name.