Above: Natalie Sharp; all photos courtesy of Sharper Bites
Natalie Sharp’s introduction to fishing came on big boats in the deep salt waters off Florida when she was growing up. But about 17 years ago, when she lived in the Atlanta suburbs, she decided to try something a bit different.
She was traveling a lot then as a consultant to dental practices. She needed a break from the road, so she headed to the north Georgia mountains. Eventually, she bought a home and settled in near Blue Ridge.
She’d always wanted to learn to fly fish, so she hired a guide to teach her how and started walking nearby mountain streams in search of trout. “I just sort of fell in love with it,” she said.
Now the 67-year-old angler is herself the guide, one of dozens salted across mountain communities who teach visitors how to effectively stalk trout in Georgia’s cold mountain creeks and rivers.
Through her company, Sharper Bites, she gives her clients lessons on how to cast a fly, the preferred lure for trout, and then leads anglers to fishing spots along private trout streams on the headwaters of the Toccoa River. And, as part of the deal, she provides lunch. “I used to the be only [guide] who supplied lunch,” she said with a laugh. “Now others do.”
Sharp has taught fly fishing to clients aged 6 to 85, she said. They tend to be “couples, husbands who want their wives to fish, corporate groups.” Mostly, she guides only a couple of customers at a time. Some special corporate events have included up to 10, she said.
She guides fishing trips from March through June and from mid-September through November. The water gets too warm for good trout fishing in July and August, she said. Her trips include a stream-side lunch she serves with silver and plates and linen napkins and sometimes with little fish-shaped napkin rings.
Bob Muniz of Roswell, a 71-year-old who’s been fly fishing much of his life, went out last fall on a day trip with a friend and with Sharp as their guide. “We had such a great day,” he said. Now, they’re eager to return on a second trip with her this fall and they’re bringing along a couple of friends.
Muniz has nothing but praise for Sharp: “She’s got that Southern charm, that Southern lady charm,” he said, and she knows what the fish will bite, too.”
Sharp describes her clients as “people who want to make it a day of relaxation. “It’s about being out on the water,” she said. “It’s all about relaxation.”
And, of course, catching a few fish.
“What I tell my clients is, ‘You’re going to see a lot of fish. You’re going to hook a lot of fish. And you’re not going to land a lot of fish,” she said. “My goal is to always get a fish into the net.”
But that’s not the real appeal for her. Not anymore.
“In the beginning, you just want to catch a fish,” Sharp said, paraphrasing a favorite quote. “Then, the second thing is, you want to catch a lot of fish. Then you want to catch a big fish. Then you don’t care about catching a fish. It’s just being out there.
“What I loved about it was being in nature. It’s the beauty God creates for us.”
Besides, she said, “it’s much more relaxing than being a deep-sea fishing boat.”