We (Jonathan and I) headed up to the Tellico River on Friday evening after Jonathan got off work. The hope was that we’d get to the North River campground before dark. That didn’t happen.
Looking at the map, it appeared that County Road 39 left Interstate 75 at Riceville and went straight through to Tellico Plains. We took that exit as opposed to the recommended Sweetwater exit. 39 must be the most convoluted road in Tennessee. Took us about 45 minutes and quite a few miles out of the way. The road went first east, then north, east, south, east, north, and finally took us over about 30 minutes of 20 mph winding country roadway (well, it went something like that; I actually lost count of all the times we changed general direction). It did eventually get us to Tellico Plains, but not as quickly as we’d hoped. Not even sure why you’d build a road like that. Any way, every campground we passed was full of vehicles. I had hoped that most people were staying home watching football. Most might have been, but there were still plenty camping on the Tellico. We finally found an open spot far up the North River.
We unknowingly threw up our tent in a forbidden area. Where we parked there were signs labeled “Boundary Site.” Thinking they designated the campsite, we threw up the tent just behind these signs, had a few drinks, and went to bed. Occasionally a particular stench we couldn’t quite place wafted through the tent. The thought was that it originated with the RV parked just down from us.
Next morning we realized we had set up camp too close to the river. The signs marked the boundar OF THE site. I propose they make signs stating “No camping beyond this point.” Much less ambiguous. We also noticed two portable toilets just outside the tent, camouflaged by some trees — the source of the stench. Beware the dangers of setting up camp in the dark.
Driving down the river that morning after breaking camp, it became painfully apparent that fishing on the main river would be out of the question. Most every pulloff had a vehicle and accompanying group casting bait for the stocked trout. We made an emergency decision to hike up the Bald River in an attempt to escape the crowds.
It worked. Very few people hike up this trail. It’s no wonder. Parts are tough to negotiate, parts are steep, and parts appear to be missing entirely. Still, most of the trail and stream are beautiful in that wonderful South Appalachian way. Once on the trail we didn’t spot another fisherman, though we did see a handful of hikers.
Once above the two largest waterfalls, the stream gradient smooths out to a series of long riffles, runs and pools. We started fishing this water about a half mile above the trailhead. Right away we began catching fish — only problem is they were shiners. The water was so full of them that we couldn’t keep a small dry fly floating for the little buggers dragging it under.
And so we tied on bigger flies and began catching trout. I started with a Royal Wulff and Jonathan with a Beetle Bug. I went into some sort of nature-inspired soliloquy on the use of the Royal Wulff. I explained to no one in particular that I always felt like the trout and I were engaged in some sort of mutual joke when I managed to catch one on the wulff. I knew it didn’t look like anything in the trout’s normal diet, the trout knew it wasn’t real food, and we both sort of got a kick out of the whole deal. The process amounted to an elaborate dance between man and nature.
Jonathan said, “Why don’t you just shut up and fish?”
And so we did. We caught fish pretty steadily all day long, though we probably missed three times the number that we actually caught. They were all rainbows and most were bigger than in most Appalachian streams. By the end of the day, we were both sore, tired, and hungry.
On the way out we passed a small tree with a pink sandal hanging from one of its limbs. We joked that it didn’t look good for the owner. Just a ways further we ran into a lady who asked if we’d seen a couple of thirteen year olds. They had wandered off from their group. Jonthan and I, recalling the lone sandal, gave each other a quick worried glance, then said that no, we hadn’t seen any thirteen year olds. Luckily the two had just been exploring up the hill nearby, and we were saved from feeling bad about our little joke.
We were glad to get out of the waders at the Suzuki, though the accumulated smell trapped in them from a full day of fishing and hiking in the muggy air wasn’t pleasant. We stopped at the Hardee’s in Tellico Plains on the way home. I should be ashamed of how much I ate, but I’m not.