Let’s say you’re in a fine Italian restaurant in a small Southern town. The restaurant’s owner is Tony Soprano. He’s up there right now by the bar entertaining someone’s five year old kid. To your right sits a lovely Native American lady, who at first glance reminds you of childhood stories of Indian princesses, until she hikes her leg up on the table and begins in an extreme Southern drawl to extol the virtues of the tattoo newly inked onto her calf. Her dinner companions are Dr. Frazier Crane, currently speaking authoritatively on classical music, and Fonzi, who against all odds has become a fine defense attorney. On your left sits Colonel Sanders, inexplicably eating GRILLED chicken and wearing a BYU ball cap. Fonzi is taunting Colonel Sanders (you gather they are old friends), but Colonel Sanders hasn’t yet noticed, due to him being hard of hearing.
No, this isn’t the protracted opening to a bad joke. This was the scene (with nicknames added) presented while Jacqulyn and I were eating dinner in Bryson City, NC a couple of weeks ago. Bryson City is one of the more interesting towns I’ve visited, a town of contradictions. Equal parts small Southern town and tourist destination, shaken together with a liberal dose of artistic eccentricity. Bryson City wants badly to remain a typical small Southern Appalachian town, but being situated at an entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, it has resigned itself to a certain amount of outside influence. Luckily the town has avoided the vulgarities of the towns on the Tennessee side of the park. The outside influence mostly consists of an offbeat array of characters ranging from hard luck artists to crowd-shy retirees to Italian-born restaurant owners (the owner of Pasqualino’s might not be Italian-born, but he sure sounds it). If not for these, you’d have trouble distinguishing Bryson City from my home town of Stevenson, AL. More attractive even than the opportunities for people-watching, the town lies near several great trout streams.
Jacqulyn and I decided to head back to Bryson City to celebrate our second wedding anniversary, staying at the same place as last year. It’s a bed and breakfast called the Folkestone Inn. Normally I’d bristle at staying anywhere other than a campsite on a fishing trip, but I do make exceptions for anniversaries, which bodes well for our marriage’s longevity. Back when we were looking at possible destinations, I would toss out an idea to which Jacqulyn would demand, “Looks nice but do they have fly fishing there?” You just gotta love that. So we ended up back in Bryson City, this time with peak fall colors and, hopefully, big brown trout on spawning runs.
It didn’t quite turn out that way, but you can’t be too upset about fly fishing in the fall in the Smoky Mountains for a wedding anniversary. Most days consisted of a comfortable routine. We’d eat breakfast at the inn around 8:00. We’d head up into the park around 10:00. Fish, hike, take photos, and generally bum around until an hour or two before sunset. Then we’d come in, get cleaned up and eat at either Pasqualino’s, Jimmy Mac’s, The Station, or Anthony’s. Pasqualino’s and Jimmy Mac’s are two of my favorite restaurants any where. The former has great Italian food and the latter some of the best burgers you’ll find. Then we’d head back, have a cup of tea or coffee, and either read something from the inn’s library or use the house laptop to keep up with the Red Sox losing the ALCS (hey, at least they made it interesting – congrats on a great season, guys!).
The fishing itself wasn’t great. Deep Creek got pounded by fishermen the whole week. We caught a few smallish fish and drew rises from a couple of decent browns, but mostly it was tough. We had only slightly better luck on Noland Creek. We wasted a couple hours investigating another small stream that didn’t pan out (couldn’t even find access), and we fished for awhile on little Indian Creek. Jacqulyn had a tough time dealing with all the icky spiders on Indian Creek, so I plan to go back and dig through those rhododendron thickets on a solo trip sometime.
I find that the gear I use while fly fishing is becoming almost as important as the fishing itself, so here’s the rundown. On day 1, I used my Lamiglas Spring Creek and Thebault silk line. I really love that silk line. If you’re at all interested in classic tackle, give silk a try. Day 2 brought out an 8′ 2/1 “frankenstein” bamboo rod. The rod was given to me by a friend in exchange for some very poor work I did for him on one of his other bamboo rods. Every time I use it I feel slightly ashamed (to be fair to myself here, I had never before done any work with bamboo or spar varnish). It’s an interesting rod. The butt was built by a gentleman named Ray who worked for Sam Carlson, the legendary maker. Three of the strips were flamed and three weren’t, so you have alternating strips of dark and light. My friend added the tip section (which is all light-colored cane) and components, and Sam Carlson himself added the ferrules. My friend claims the rod needs about 3″ whacked off the butt end. I was inclined to agree with him when I first cast it with my standard Cortland Peach DT line. Later I rigged it up with a RIO WF fly line that I had received in error awhile back from a tackle dealer and hadn’t found a use for, and the rod magically came to life. My friend says the rod is an “extreme parabolic.” That means almost nothing to me. All I know is, it really “kicks” at the end of the casting stroke, zipping a dry fly out like the flick of a snake’s tongue. It doesn’t cast a bluegill popper for crap, but it’s a thing of beauty to cast a St. Vrain caddis with. I love it, both for how it casts and for its irreplaceable sentimental value. Rounding out my repertoire near the end of the trip was the rig that has become my favorite all-around, the 8.5′ Phillipson paired with a Cortland Peach 5wt DT and Bill Ballan reel.
We took lots of photos. On the way home we drove over the Cherohala Skyway. The autumn colors were spectacular. We also stopped and walked the Poplar Cove Trail at the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest. The two photos at the bottom came from there. The trees along this short trail are among the largest east of the Rockies. We were in awe. It felt like walking through a great natural cathedral. Enjoy.