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Jimmy Harris holds a bass caught in the Chattahoochee River.

Alumni spotlight: Jimmy Harris (BSFR ’71, MED ’76)

Like a stream that meanders down from the hills, Jimmy Harris’ years after high school followed a rambling path.

Eventually he found his way to the University of Georgia with enough transfer credits to earn a forestry degree from Warnell. (For the record, he wanted to major in wildlife biology but, well, lacked the transfer credits and “my parents informed me I was getting the forestry degree,” he says with a smile.)

After a few years, Harris returned to UGA for a graduate degree. His love of hunting and fishing inspired him to pursue a degree in recreation and leisure studies, the precursor to Warnell’s Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management degree. And by this time, being married and having experience in the working world, Harris was a decidedly more focused student.

His day job was scouting timberland for investment companies, but fishing was his passion. It was a constant activity for him throughout the 1970s and ’80s—even if he couldn’t count on the economy, he knew he could count on a few bites.

Then, in the span of about a day, his life changed thanks to two phone calls.

It began with a small fly fishing shop in White County. “One of the owners was being transferred to Houston, so the other partner called and asked me if I was interested in buying Unicoi Outfitters,” he said. The next day, his phone rang again. The operations manager for Habersham Winery said the investors had purchased 384 acres south of Helen on the Chattahoochee River and wanted ideas to incorporate it into their business model.

“I said they should lease it to someone for trophy fly fishing and he said, ‘You know anyone?’” said Harris. “I said yeah—me.”

Harris became a partner in Unicoi Outfitters and began offering guided fly fishing trips to that section of the Chattahoochee. In the decades since, the shop has given thousands of anglers—new and experienced—a once-in-a-lifetime fishing opportunity.

Along the way, Unicoi Outfitters has also helped teach the surrounding community about the value of natural waterways and recreation. “I feel like we’ve probably done about as good as you can to protect the resource down through there, and educate people on how to protect it,” said Harris.

Harris also organizes regular trips for the nonprofits Casting for Recovery, Project Healing Waters and Reeling in Recovery. While any day out on the water is a good day, these trips are some of the most fulfilling for Harris and his guides, he said.

The path to business owner and fly fishing guide may have been serendipitous, but Harris is grateful for it. “I tell people all the time, I’m either the most ignorant man in the world or the most blessed man,” he said. “My entire world can be falling down around me, but if I can step into a stream with a fly rod in my hand, to think about nothing else for several hours, it’s been a good day.”

Slide/Banner Caption:
Jimmy Harris firmly believes any day out on the water is a good day. Harris serves on Warnell’s Dean’s Advisory Board.

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