I did quite a bit of fishing last year, but I didn’t write about it much. It was somehow refreshing. But now I’m beginning to feel the urge to write again, so maybe I just needed a good break.
I fished several times with my good friend Eric last year, even convinced him to [...]
This is my accounting of the backpacking and fly fishing trip I took on Memorial Day weekend. I wrote it in a different style than normal. Hope you enjoy!
My camp on the river that shall not be named.
It is Memorial Day weekend, and the lower stretches of the watershed along the paved road are glutted with tourists and local families and teenagers and fishermen. Once I turn off the main roadway and onto the gravel Forest Service road, I enter a different atmosphere. For the first three miles I see no one else at all. I roll down the windows to feel the air cool as I climb higher into the mountains. I turn off the radio which had been blaring the latest Brad Paisley country song. I love the sound of a gravel road under the tires of my truck and the deep silence of the ancient mountains beyond, broken only here and there by a lonely song bird. I’m always surprised at the silence of the deep woods. There are many more songbirds in my tiny backyard. A large pileated woodpecker flushes and leads me down a hollow toward the river for a good half mile. To the chorus of the tires and the gravel and the birdsong is added the melody of flowing water, my favorite music.
I don’t see the well-concealed trailhead the first time I pass and end up on an impossibly narrow dirt road, trying to squeeze by another truck whose driver appears unhappy to see me and my big Dodge. I finally find a spot wide enough to turn back toward the river and park at a bridge. I find the trailhead on the right side of the bridge and there meet a golden retriever attended by two humans, a father and son out for a short hike. They will be two of only five people I will see during my three days on the river. Not bad for a holiday weekend, one traditionally viewed as the beginning of summer in these parts.
My pack feels lighter than in the past. I use an old Kelty Trekker external frame pack, both for its efficient load handling and its versatility in strapping on gear. I worked hard this time to eliminate extraneous gear, and I’ve just bought a pair of waist-high waders which weigh about half as much as my old chest-highs. The work is paying off, although I already miss my pipe and my journal. I don’t plan to go far, maybe a mile or two. It’s getting late, I’m not familiar with this trail, and I don’t trust the pack to feel light for long. Continue reading Backpacking Trip: May 23-25
[S]ome fishing trips are almost preordained disasters, but you learn to love them as good yarns in the making or occasions for feeling heroic — the things that keep you from giving up fishing for something tamer and more comfortable. -John Gierach, At the Grave of the Unknown Fisherman
Ronald surveys the next run on the Tellico.
That quote from John Gierach adequately describes my latest outing. Well, except for the good yarn part. Or the heroic part. But it was a fishing trip, and it didn’t feel comfortable, and it sure as heck felt like a preordained disaster on more than a few occasions. Still, because it was a fishing trip, it was better than most anything else.
The plan was to slip into the Tellico River drainage in the mountains of East Tennessee for one of those in-between-the-seasons trips where you stand a good shot at a big fish and an even better shot at catching pneumonia or freezing to death. My hope was to catch a few of those legendary Tellico Browns of Unusual Size (or BUSes) in a post-spawn feeding frenzy. Fishing reports from the mountains had been positive with some nice fish caught during the previous two weeks, but the forecast wasn’t good. Highs in the 30s, sunny, lows in the teens for a couple nights. Records lows actually.
This was supposed to be one of those throw-back “Guy Trips” like we used to take back in the day. Five days on the Tellico River. We’d take a couple of these short trips every year. We’d camp out or backpack, do some fishing, smoke a few cigars, nip some bourbon, talk some football, complain about politics. The whole male-bonding thing. Like everything else (including, perhaps surprisingly, cigars, whiskey, football and politics) our lives have gotten more complicated as we’ve gotten older. Things were so simple in the old days. You had a few days out of class for spring or fall break, you took a fly fishing trip. You smoked cheap cigars and drank stuff that was bourbon in name only. Now there are wives and kids and real jobs and bills. And there are Nicaraguan puros and single malt Scotch and don’t even get me started with the BCS or bailouts. So, we don’t do it much any more. In fact, it had been several years since we’d all gotten together as a group. Continue reading Run Over by a BUS
The Hiwassee at low flow after a thunderstorm.
This summer Jacqulyn and I will again be traveling to Yellowstone. The group will be different from last time. Gina will be the only other returning member from the ’06 trip. Replacing Insane, Ronald, Casey and Jonathan will be our parents. Jacqulyn’s parents have become hooked on travel. They’re already talking about a fly fishing/camping trip to the Florida Keys next year. My own parents have always wanted to see the West. My father even plans to join us fly fishing. He’s genuinely excited about it. I’m building him a 6 wt fly rod for the trip. All of these plans are, of course, dependent on gas prices leveling off at some point. I saw a sign this weekend proclaiming “$144 Million!” There was a moment of overpowering nausea before I realized the sign was for the Tennessee lottery as opposed to the latest gas prices.
The parents going on the Yellowstone trip is good and well (we all, thankfully, get along wonderfully), but we’re talking about folks who haven’t done a lot of (any) camping in years. Yellowstone will involve ten straight days of camping. We’re attempting to break the parents in with a few short acclimation trips. Trip No. 1 came this last weekend at the Hiwassee. I suggested the location figuring, in a thrilling display of characteristic genius, that I could get in a little fishing in the process.
Hawgdaddy surveys the terrain. Our basic tactic was finding rising fish in the channels with flowing water.
We arrived on Friday and set up camp with time to spare for a little afternoon fishing. In what can only be described as “Vintage Hawgdaddy,” a spring-time monsoon commenced the moment we parked the van at the chosen fishing location. We decided to take a look at the swinging bridge and waited for the thunderstorm to pass. Then we started fishing just downstream. A variety of bugs were in the air. Trout were jumping clear of the water chasing caddis and mayflies in the braided channels. I managed to catch two rainbows, including one nice one over a foot long, stockers both. I hooked three others that came off, and I missed the hook set on two more half-hearted rises. I was using a size 14 dark brown/olive St. Vrain Caddis (which I hoped would be near ‘nough to the caddis I saw fluttering around) with a size 16 grouse and orange soft hackle trailed behind (which I used because I like it). They worked well enough, although I had a lot of trouble keeping fish hooked. Continue reading Spring on the Hiwassee
One of the dumbest fish you'll ever see, or else he just felt sorry for me.
For the past two weeks I’ve noticed an unusual number of smashed skunks scattered about our highways. In fact, I began to suspect that the sheer number of dead skunks must be some sort of omen. Not something you want to contemplate when your first fly fishing trip of the year is coming up. Fortunately, the skunk didn’t come for me. Unfortunately, he came for my companions, and didn’t miss me by far.
I’ve learned something about myself that seems a little unusual. I have little trouble catching wild fish in natural streams, whether it be on small Appalachian mountain streams, larger and more pressured Southern waters or the heavily pressured streams of Yellowstone. Oh, I have my moments of difficulty. It took me awhile to figure out the cutts in Slough Creek’s lower meadow, and I’ve been skunked during winter in the Smokies. But, on the whole, I’m a fairly successful fly fisherman when it comes to wild fish in a natural setting. A little inexperienced yes, I’ve only got ten years of fly fishing for trout under my belt, with only a handful of trips each of those years. But I’m not too bad. However, when it comes to heavily stocked tailwaters, I have all sorts of problems. Most of my success has come on nondescript, working class wet flies and buggers. There have been days where I caught these fish until I tired of it. Most of my early tailwater trips went this way, leading me to a low opinion of these “stocker” trout. My last two tailwater trips have featured hordes of rising stockers, no visible bugs on the water, and fly shop owners saying, “The river is full of stupid fish right now. You won’t have any problems catching fish. Just throw something flashy.” On neither of those trips have I found any measure of success. The old tricks didn’t work. I admit it. I can’t catch stupid fish. Continue reading I Think I Smell a Skunk