ATLANTA — Apart from some phenomenal tourist attractions, such as the Civil Rights Museum and Coca Cola Headquarters, the mediocre attractions such as the Chik-Fil-A College Football Hall of Fame and the attractions so forgettable that “attractions” is a stretch, like the Gravity Research Foundation Monument, which falls quickly from memory, Atlanta is far from my favorite city.
It has confidently above average southern food, but variety is lacking for a city of its size.
Then again, it has some awesome cultural movements and is at the forefront of the rap game, so paired with history and a slowly expanding food scene, it has potential.
It’s just not a place I want to be when the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), headquartered there, inevitably cook up the virus that leads to the pandemic that ends the world.
Little did I know, a pathogen was in my near future one hot Atlanta night during my visit.
The city lives up the “Hotlanta” moniker, but that’s largely because, for a southern city, it has almost no vegetation. It has no major rivers flowing through the city center, and the streams are limited.
Not only does this mean temperatures will be absurdly high, it means a visiting angler there on business has severely limited options.
Even with a rental car, I struggled to find anything to fish for on my one night off to do so. I was limited to a 15- or 20-minute radius from the hotel, and that further limited options.
To make matters worse, I was there during the peak of the monsoon season, and the few rivers and streams I’d been turned on to by fellow Species Hunters like Ryan Crutchfield of fishmap.org were all blown out bigger than a 1980s hairdo.
Torrential rainfall meant fishing was out of the question in most spots. Micros are usually a slam-dunk when fishing new water, but microfishing requires clear water and visibility, and I had neither.
I hiked and drove around to the spots I’d been given, but as night fell, I began to take stock of my situation and realized I needed to grab dinner and get home, so I hopped into my rental car, at once sodden and saddened, completely unaware of what was incubating.
I drove to my restaurant of choice, a Cajun restaurant. I wasn’t about to let the night be a total loss, and I figured stuffing my face with spicy crawfish and shrimp would fix all of my problems.
I was tired, though.
I was ranting like a maniac at no one in particular. I was wet and beginning to shiver. My mind wasn’t clear, and I was disturbed to realize I was coming down with the sickness.
It was pouring rain as I passed over a small stream. It made me stop and think, and after finding a parking lot at a nearby church, I hoofed it through the pouring rain a few hundred yards back down the highway.
Vaulting the guardrail, I climbed down under the bridge.
I had a headlamp on and hoped to find a sculpin or darter willing to play, but the stream, small though it was, was still high and not terribly clear.
My vision was slightly blurred from the combined lack of sleep, intense pace of work and the unbroken staring at streambeds devoid of fish.
My pulse quickened as I noticed a fish right up against the shore. I blinked twice to make sure hallucinations weren’t one of my symptoms. It was still there, some sort of cyprinid, though I couldn’t identify it.
It was behaving strangely, as if diseased.
I grabbed the rod with an ultra-tiny spinner and threw it onto the bank, then dragged it into the water. The spinner must have resembled brains because the fish struck that gold blade with the lethargic lackluster bite you’d expect from a zombie fish.
The fight was pitiful, and I quickly landed the fish, which I immediately recognized as a chub of some sort. It had some horrible fungus or infection on its head and as I snapped a picture for later identification, I cringed.
I sure hoped the CDC was braced for whatever had afflicted this chub because it swam away to spread whatever it was carrying before I realized what I’d just done.
I would later reach out to a local biologist who identified it as a Dixie chub, Semotilus thoreauianus.
The infection the fish was carrying remained a mystery.
That chunky Dixie chub (CDC) never crossed paths with the other CDC, so the mystery remains.
Could I have released the carrier of a deadly pathogen that will end the world in a sweeping pandemic? Perhaps. It could’ve been Patient Zero, but it likely died before doing too much damage.
Thankfully, I washed my hands before eating that night. At least, I think I did. Come to think of it, I’m feeling a little warm, just like I did in Hotlanta.