All posts by Marc

Marc writes and fishes the cold water streams of East Tennessee, North Carolina, and North Georgia. When not chasing trout, he can be found chasing his four children…and sometimes his wife. His writing can be found at http://theperfectdrift-marc.blogspot.com/

Walker Camp and the Power of Place

I don’t think this place would classify as a river. During times of extreme rain it is little more than a high running creek. The water most days is an endless series of pools accentuated by small rushes of channeled white water. Its life is narrow and thin as it finds its beginnings atop the higher peaks of the Smokies. But this small stream is a sanctuary, a sacred place. The spirit here is profound and thick and it is amazing the amount of clarity you can find if you will allow yourself the opportunity to settle down to its pace.

The canopy of trees and laurel bushes drape over the water as if to protect it. Dark shadows given by the hardwood can be disturbing to those who don’t understand, but for those who see the bigger picture, these sentinels and the shade that they create speak of ancient times; of times we will never know. The moss-covered rocks, the smattering of tiny wildflowers, the deadfall scattered about in wonderful and divine chaos surround this stream. And within this blessed cacophony of nature, I find rest.

I was first introduced to Walker Camp by my friend Jeremy. He didn’t bring me here because of monster trout, or superior angling opportunities. He brought me to that place simply because, like him, he knew I would “get it”. He and I have fished multiple tailwaters throughout the southeast, and though the fishing in those places was good and sometimes downright amazing, the fish were stocked. These expansive southern trout rivers were a result of the great depression and the Tennessee Valley Authority. The small streams of the Smokies were a result of creation itself, and the fish who live their lives here are native. They never knew a stock truck. They never had fins rubbed raw by hatchery walls. They were not relocated to this place; they are this place.

I remember standing at the edge of a large deep pool watching Jeremy moving on upstream, and considering my mortality as my footprints mingled with multiple bear tracks, tracks that were recent and defined. I began roll casting Yellow Sallies to the head of the pool at the point where the water rolls and foams as it falls from the pool above it. The water of Walker Camp is clear, amazingly clear and seemingly devoid of anything but rocks that perhaps began as boulders before the hydrology of the stream, over time, reduced them to stones of brown, grey, and bronze small enough to cup in your hand.

Then, as if by magic, a fish appears. Its bright orange fins tipped in the purist white show up in places where just moments ago you would look and find nothing. Life is hard in the high elevation streams, and the opportunity to eat is not to be squandered, so when the fish commits itself the attacks are swift and sure. It is easy to miss these strikes because once the moment has passed, the fish disappears and you are left looking at an empty stream bottom once again, astonished.

Here in the steep mountains, you must also be aware of the danger of acoustic shadows. Echoes of thunder may reverberate around you so loud that you can feel the vibration in your clothes, yet the sky overhead is cloudless and blue. Storms at this altitude are harsh, and with the sound bouncing from every peak and rise, the bad weather could be many miles away, or just over the next ridge. On this day, the rain came and I found quick shelter beneath one of the stone bridges that traverse the stream. Soaked to the bone I huddled tight against the walls of the passage way until, as quickly as it sprang upon me, it was gone.

The leaving of the rain always brings heavy fog. Fog that gave this place its name crept slowly down from Newfound Gap, draping itself around the treetops, settling into the low places. First you feel the air around you cool, then, within the fog you become invisible and the fishing is easier. You are no longer a foreign shape hovering above the water. You are a formless part of a larger backdrop.  Stealth becomes effortless when you have no need to hide.

I cast my fly, the bright yellow hackle glowing like a beacon through the mist. It drops softly on the surface, and I am not looking for a strike, the visibility is to poor for that. I am just waiting for the moment when the fly vanishes. Then I know of the take.

I lose sight of the fly, hear a splash of water, and raise my rod tip swiftly to the sky.  Setting the hook, I feel the transference of energy up the line, through the bamboo, and to my hand. Violent and urgent, the trout struggles against the unknown, until finally it is pulled from its world into mine. Gold lines meander across the green of its back, the orange of the fins, the dark mouth. It is healthy and large for this stream.

“Nice.”

Startled I wheel around to see Jeremy who had been behind me for God knows how long.  He is soaked and crouched under a mountain laurel leaning the tip of a cigar into a flame.  The earthy smell of the blue-gray smoke mingles with the decay of the forest floor and does not seem out-of-place.

“Amazing.”, I say, lifting the brookie up for closer examination.

“I knew you’d like this spot.” he says with a sly smile.

No more than thirty feet from where I am standing, the steady rumble of traffic echos through the trees.  Windows rolled up tight, air conditioners on, they traverse this magnificent place oblivious to the amazing fish I hold in my hand; a fish whose lineage here goes back to the very foundation of time.  Jeremy snaps a quick photo and I lower the trout back into the pool where it glides from my hand as soft and delicate as a whisper.

In the years since that first trip, I have gone here many times with Jeremy.  We don’t speak much while on the stream.  Most of the time we don’t even see each other till its time to go.  Now, I am making preparations to take my four-year old son to Walker Camp.  The first trips with him will not place fishing on the agenda, that is still a year or so away.  I feel that before he looks at the place as a location to fish, he should first see it in its entirety.  Bugs, animal tracks, the unique stones, imaginary creatures these are the things that make a place more than a means to an end, they will hopefully make Walker Camp a familiar friend, which in itself is the beginning.  For me Walker Camp is more than a fishing hole, it is a place to be protected and sustained, and I hope to teach my son what it means to have more than a passing investment in a blessing such as this.

I take very seriously the responsibility of keeping our native trout waters healthy and safe.  It is of utmost importance to people like myself, my friend Jeremy, and hopefully my son to protect these sacred locations wherever they may be found.  The impacts of air pollution, litter, poor personal practices by visitors, commercial irresponsibility, and the ongoing struggle against climate change, are daunting.  But there are those who are its watchmen.  A great deal of thanks are in order to people like the Fisheries Management staff of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and the Little River Chapter of Trout Unlimited who work diligently to insure that the clear waters of this important tributary are preserved in the manner in which it is so worthy.

Each year the Little River TU chapter holds Troutfest and much of the monies raised go to protect and maintain the myriad of fishable streams within the park boundaries.  When I go to these events it is almost like a family reunion, because we are all linked deeply to streams like Walker Camp.  When we discussed these waters during the festival, you can see a similar look in the eyes of those in the discussion.  Just as Jeremy said to me long ago…”they get it.”

 

Freak Show Flies

I have so much junk in my fly boxes.  I have a collections of odd flies I have tied that have never been used, and unless I have a chance encounter with a trout that is fond of the works of Salvador Dali, it is doubtful that I will ever use them.  Most of these freak show oddities were tied at the end of a late night when I was tired; and it shows.  Flies tied with every type of material known to man, these missing links contain bits of Care Bear fur, Parakeet feathers, even some puffy stuff that fell off of one of my kids shirts.  Like I said, these things are odd.

But occasionally, when the fishing has been so exceptional that it really doesn’t matter if I hook another, I will tie on one of these flies from The Island of Misfit Toys.  And once in a very blue moon…one of them will actually catch a fish.

Case in point.  I was on a trip to the Nantahala Gorge in western North Carolina and the fishing had been epic.  Nearly every cast brought either a fish or a good natured attack. I had pulled the Nantahala Hat Trick (Brown, Bow, and Brook), and it was getting late in the day.  As with most trips that I take with my friends, the point in the afternoon had been reached when the conversation started to override the need to catch anything.  So, I tied on this ugly fly that was made with black Ostrich and hot pink marabou from a Barbie evening gown (the advantage of having three daughters) with a crystal flash beard and red rubber legs.  Honestly, it was gaudy and gross.  As I recall it was tied on a size ten hook.  No weight.

I couldn’t keep the Brook Trout off of it.  I guess they were trying to induce a mercy killing.  Strikes prompted by pity.  The fish hit it so hard, and so often, that by the end of the day it looked more like something that had been coughed up by a very sick cat than a fly.  As a matter of personal principle, I did not tie another one.  Actually, I don’t think that I could duplicate the thing.  Sometimes when you play Dr. Frankenstein at the vise, you only get one shot.

I have a few other knick knacks in my box that have worked quite well.  One is called a redruM (those who saw The Shining will get it) Black marabou tail, red wire body, black marabou at the head.  That fly saved me from getting skunked on the Caney Fork River two years ago, and later on that year it hooked the largest brown trout of my fishing career (26” but who’s counting).  People all around me were casting to these monstrous Browns with no success.  I cast maybe three times and got the hook up.  When they say that sometimes it is better to be lucky than good…they speak truth.

Then I threw together something that I called The Church Fly.  I really don’t feel comfortable saying I came up with this pattern because it no doubt has other names and I have seen variations on the theme in fly fishing catalogs from everywhere.  It’s nothing more than a soft hackle zebra midge using starling as the collar.  This fly caught fish for me on a day when no one was catching anything.  It was so successful that a gentleman came up to me on the river and asked me what I was using.  I gave him a couple.  He caught the heck out of the trout too.  Several months later my buddy Brad called to tell me that some guy was in his fly shop asking for Church Flies or if Brad knew how to tie one.  He laughed, told the gentleman that they were not a stocked item, but he was kind enough to provide the man with everything he needed to tie his own. Now my Church Fly is legendary, even if I can only take credit for the name. I first used it while fishing in front of a church on the Clinch River in East Tennessee.  Not very creative in the naming department, but, for me at least, it fits.  With this little fly I have pulled trout from nearly every tailwater in my area and in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Proof is in the pudding.  I always have a bunch in my box.  The odd thing about this fly is that I have experimented with different types of soft hackle material and not one time have I caught fish on anything but the original.  If you are going to tie one, you must have Starling.  If not, you might be in for a long day.

A local angler has a pattern he calls the Smoky Mountain Blackbird.  He guides throughout East Tennessee and at some point in the trip, he’s bound to tie one on for his customer, and it isn’t often that they fish it without success.  This fly uses the same theory as the Church fly, but still a different and unique pattern of its own merit.  This gentleman is a master at the vise and he has created more original patterns than I could fish in a lifetime.  The Blackbird and the Church fly both use Starling, it is in the application where the two diverge, but the premise is basically the same.

T-Dub, one of my fishing friends, fishes with flies he has made up almost exclusively.  He will be catching fish like crazy and if you ask him what he is using, he won’t be able to give you a name.  There are beautiful little twists in his tying that make them his own.  The one fly that he has made legend is called the Pink Harlot and it is without a doubt one of the wildest looking fish attractors I’ve ever seen.  Hot pink, body made of glass beads.  Looks more like it should be hanging from a spinster’s ear as she sits in front of a slot machine in Vegas than in a mountain trout stream; catches some big fish though. He wisely maintains that as much pressure as the trout streams in the Southeast receive, you almost have to show the fish something it hasn’t seen before.  T-Dub is an exceptional fisherman and I have watched him take these flies and absolutely rock the socks off the river.

The purist in me wants to fish only with tried and true patterns that are tied with the utmost of skill; flies that have earned their place into nearly every fly box in the known world.  The purist in me wants flies that are proven and no matter where you are, if the water is cold and trout are on the prowl, you can take it to the bank that these age old fly patterns will work.

The Pheasant Tail nymph, The Hares Ear nymph, Adams dry, Blue Wing Olive dry, Elk Hair Caddis.  If you were to go right now to your fly box and inspect its contents, I would venture to guess that you have some form of each one of these flies in stock, and in a variety of sizes.

The Nonconformist in me however, loves to have fish in hand, spectator close by, and engage in the following conversation…

“Nice fish.  What do you have tied on?”

“Size 10 redruM”

“A what?”

It is at this point in the discussion that I free the fish and show the fly to them.  I have heard the following statement several times on the stream.

“What in the world is that?”

I now have several fishing buddies who have redruMs and Church Flies in their boxes, which is something that brings an odd feeling of pride.  It’s kind of like having a dog with three legs that is an expert at catching a Frisbee.  It is doing what countless other dogs do…it just looks a little odd in the attempt.

In a recent discussion with some friends about our fly boxes and what we use the most, I commented that if I could boil my box down to what I use the most, I would have nothing but Pheasant tails- weighted, unweighted, soft hackle, Sulphurs- soft hackle and comparadun, Zebra Midges, Church flies, Adams and Elk Hair Caddis and a few redruMs.  There are situations where I might wish I had something other than the aforementioned, but year in and year out I use these patterns more than any other.

I may, by this writing, imply that I am a traditionalist who does not deviate from the established form of historically productive patterns, but no matter what, I will always have the few odd balls.  Who knows, one of those unfished oddballs may someday get rid of a skunk or become a local legend.

I Suck At Dry Flies

I suck at tying and fishing dry flies. If you want a nymph, I can fix you up. Soft hackle? No problem. But if it is a dry fly, you can forget it.

Dry flies are congruent, poised, and angelic. Nymphs and soft hackles are chaotic, archaic, and wild. Perhaps this speaks volumes about me.

A dry fly is pretty much predictable. It floats, with a few exceptions can only be fished one way, and represents the end game. Maybe that is why I have never been much of a dry fly angler. It requires a level of grace that I dream of but never quite achieve. Its movement across the water, barely dimpling the surface film, is a ballet of sorts. Nymphs/ soft hackles are always working under the surface. You can only guess what is going on, and the predictability of its meanderings down the river is purely conjecture. You can dead drift it, swing it, strip it, but in the end you have only limit control and you have to watch your line very carefully because anything could happen at any time.

Dry flies dance to Mozart, George Winston. Nymphs and soft hackles dance to Coletrane, Muddy Waters, and The Allman Brothers. And while I am making this comparison, it should be noted that streamers dance to anything that would be found in a mosh pit, college frat house, or sleazy strip joint.

I do not like streamer fishing. Perhaps it is just a little more aggressive than my style will permit.  These flies, monstrous looking piles of fur and flash with hooks just come across as menacing.  The unhidden splash they make as they find the water only to by yanked back to the rod tip.  To be certain, if you want big fish, or if you want to cover a lot of water, streamers are the way to go.  But for me…it’s just not my style.  If I wanted to fish like that I would hang up my fly rod and throw jerk baits with a spinning rod.

I have fished Dries, and on some occasions I have fished them exclusively with much success, yet the whole time I felt like a kid in a new suit for Easter.  I just never can seem to settle into the comfortable rhythm or pace of the dance.  I have friends who, when fishing with a dry fly, look as if they were part of a painting by Michelangelo.  I watch them and think to myself…”There can be no other way for this man to fish…he has reached perfection.”

I guess at the end of the day, I am a nymph/ soft hackle guy who hopes someday to have the grace to be a dry fly guy.

But then don’t we all?

Grace is a pursuit that we may touch, but will never fully achieve. It is the point where all the poor mechanics and technique are put aside. Grace is a gift. One we don’t deserve in our fallen state. But with a little help, we may find ourselves granted its music. And then we not only dance, we fly…..

A Brush With Death On The South Holston

We had anticipated this trip for weeks. Three days with my buddy Brad on the South Holston River, camping and fishing. It was late summer and the reports had told us that the large browns were feeding actively on surface patterns. The thought of hooking into a 20+ inch brown on a dry fly is something that any red blooded fly angler lives for. This was going to be our weekend for greatness.

We arrived at the camp and set up our site which was right on the bank of the river. Drift boats came by one after another and with just about every one that passed, a fish was caught. It was late in the afternoon and the generation schedule was going to make the river unwadable till morning so we loaded up our pontoons and headed upstream with the thought of floating back down to the camp site.

We went to a put in that was about two miles from the camp and our one man toons into the flow. The water was pushing pretty hard and I remember thinking to myself that it would be a quick float back to the camp. I had cast my line out as I rounded a bend in the river and saw a huge elm tree that had fallen into the water directly in front of me.

I tried desperately to row away from it but the current was swift and I hit it head on.

What happened next seemed like an eternity, though it was mere seconds. When the pontoon hit the tree, I was thrown deep into its branches, being plunged down into the water. I remember opening my eyes and seeing the bubbles rolling round my head and hearing that awful submerged roar of the water. To make matters worse, my legs were bent at the knees and wrapped under the trunk of the tree.

People talk about their lives flashing before their eyes; this was one of those times. I knew that panic was not the thing to do so I first oriented myself by letting my arms go limp so that I could detect the surface. My arms floated upward so I knew that I was upright, but still completely submerged. I thrust my hands out of the water and felt the sweet warmth of the surface touch my hands. It was then that I felt a branch of the tree and in what could only be attributed to the assistance of the divine; I pulled my 250 pound body up enough to free my legs and get my head above the water.

When I finally oriented myself, I saw that I was sixty feet or so from the bank, and several drift boats were trying to rescue me.  The problem they were having was the water trying to pull them into the same predicament in which I found myself.  I white knuckled the tree and watched boat after boat float helplessly past.

For over an hour I clung to the branch as icy cold water filled my waders and tried to pull me under. To make the problem more severe, the front of my pontoons had lodged under a branch about six feet in front of me and was loosening. It was obvious that they were going to break free, and when they did, the metal frame of the craft would hit me square in the face.

On the shore, Brad stood watching.  He had brought his craft to ground and was trying to figure out how to get me to the bank.  I tried talking to him but the sound of the water was so loud that verbal communication was pointless.

Finally, a father and son, riding in a home made drift boat, had the wherewithal to come up behind the tree.  They laid their oars across the branches and I slid over them into the boat.  The legs of my waders were bloated with river water, and I couldn’t stop my arms from shaking.  I had clung to the tree for so long that I could hardly open my hands.  Much the worse for wear, but I was safe.  They dropped my off on shore and stayed with Brad and I till they were sure I was okay.

Not ten minutes after I was saved, the pontoon broke free and totally ripped the limb I was clinging to to shreds.  My one of a kind Heddon Bamboo which was reportedly made for R.J. Reynolds of tobacco fame was splintered.  I was able to save the butt section with his name on it…but that is all.

Just like falling from a horse, I knew I had to get back in the water, which I did later that evening and thankfully my return to the river was met with much success.

The story of my plight spread round the local fly fishing community.  Evidently, I was not the only one who encountered the deadly sweeper, but I was the one who got the worst.  Almost a year after the event, I received an email from a guy who owns a fly shop near the river.  He asked a few questions about my perdicament and then told me that he had the frame to my pontoon in his store room.  I have yet to go pick it up…just not ready to deal with that.  I still will stir with panic when I allow myself to relive that afternoon…but who wouldn’t.

I have been to the South Holston many times since that day, and plan on an extended trip there in the fall…but I won’t do it in a boat.  I don’t think I will be ready to jump that hurdle for a long, long time.

 

Clinch

How It All Started

On the Clinch River in East Tennessee, west of interstate 75 as it bridges the water at breakneck speed is a mass of T.V.A. power lines that keep the City of Knoxville and points beyond supplied with electricity. The water beneath these lines is deep and clear, full of large rocks and twisted deadfall.

Wading isn’t an option in this stretch of the river, but the bank is often cluttered with corn cans that linger until high water flushes them further down stream. If you want to work the river from the bridge to the power lines a water craft of some sort is mandatory.

The Clinch isn’t a world class span of water, but it does hold a respectable population of browns, rainbows, and recently they added brooks to the foray. The size of the fish caught is usually in the mid sized variety though an occasional leviathan is spotted. This river in all its normalcy is special to me because it was in this place that I discovered my love of fly fishing.

It was the summer of my 40th birthday. Up to that point in my life I had been a basic bank fishing worm dunker. The most exotic angling I ever ventured to do was cast a Jitterbug or Hoola Popper to pond bass.

The overall vision of river fishing in my mind was sitting on the bank pitching chicken liver for catfish.

My best friend had been fly fishing for a while and despite his persistent urging that I give it a try, I remained resistant. It seemed like to much work to catch a tiny fish, and frankly it just looked to hard to be fun. His consistent assurance that I would love it was respectfully dodged till my birthday.

With some money I had been given as a gift, I bit the bullet and purchased some gear. The rod was a nine foot five/six weight Phlueger combo with double taper line that I got for thirty five bucks at Wal-Mart. This seemed to me like a total waste of money, but I guessed that I could put a spinning reel on it and bluegill fish.

When I got home I called my buddy and set the fishing trip for the following Saturday. He told me to pick up some flies, we set the time, and my fate was sealed.

Selecting flies for my first trip was the equivalent of trying to translate the Magna Carta into Mandarin. The Friday before my trip, I went to a fly shop on the west end of town. It was a small place tucked at the very back of an old strip mall. Several trucks were parked out front, I pulled in along side them and peered through the mosaic of stickers adorning the window.

Gathering my nerve, I walked in the door and was immediately greeted by and old black lab who bumped me with his graying muzzle. I rubbed his head and walked on in, trying to look like I knew what I was doing. I am quite sure that I looked as lost and out of place as a Nascar fan at a performance of Swan Lake.

“Can I help you?”, the guy behind the counter asked. He was polite enough, but his voice held a hint of indifference which implied either I had walked into the wrong store, or I was as lost as a ball in high weeds. It didn’t take him very long to get me figured out.

“I’m heading up to the Clinch. What are they hitting?” Let me just state now for the record that if you go into a fly shop and ask that question, you might as well have a red flag dangling over your head. I am sure the guy behind the counter could see the donkey ears and buck teeth protruding from my face.

“Pheasant Tail”

He may as well have said Pig Ears.

“Do you have any?” Oh, this was getting bad. By now the donkey tail had emerged from my back and a Hee-Haw was welling up in my throat.

“Over there in the flies.”

“What size?”

“Twenty.”

I looked around and found the tray that said Bead Head Pheasant Tail size twenty. It was the only slot that was nearly empty. Just a small was of very small hoods with tiny gold beads.

At this point I was sure that this guy was playing me. I could hardly see the eye of the hook let alone try to fish with this thing.

Embarrassed, I picked up a few, put them in a cup, paid my money, and walked out with my donkey ears drooping and my fly swatting tail tucked meekly between my legs.

The lab looked up at me sympathetically from his spot by the t-shirt rack. I felt like he had seen this all happen many times before.

I am an information junkie. When I get interested in something, I devour as much as I can to learn about the intricacies of whatever the subject might be. I had spent several days scowering the internet on everything i could about fly fishing. I watched videos of Joan Wulff and Lefty Kreh as they showed the basic mechanics of the cast. I would sit at my desk with a thick highlighter and practice ten and two, ten and two.

So, returning from the debacle at the fly shop, I strung up my rod and went outside to practice. The one thing I remember is hearing that awful crack each time I came forward with my cast. My research had informed me that unless I carried a suitcase of flies to the river with me, I needed to fix that issue. I slowed down my ten and two and finally reached the point that I could lay down a solid ten feet of line in front of me without issue. By nightfall I felt okay with my cast much in the same way a teenage boy feels okay around a girl that he knows is way out of his league. He likes it, he enjoys it, but in the back of his mind he knows that once she sees through his charm to the large zit on the end of his nose, the whole gig is up.

I guess in retrospect, it was a blessing that we were fishing from a boat. I had fished area lakes in a boat many times so I kinda know the score. This also meant that I didn’t have to buy waders, but I had seen enough about fly fishing to know that I had to have a vest to hold my gear. Downstairs, in a bag of old yard sale stuff, I found a cheap khaki hunting vest that would have looked good on Marlin Perkins or Jack Hannah, but me? Not so much. Of course I had nothing to put in it but a plastic cup of Pheasant Tails and a three pack of leaders. Minimalism at its finest.

Saturday morning. The big day had arrived. I was up and gone before daybreak. The boat ramp that was our rendezvous point was about forty minutes away from the house and as I drove I tried to run through what I had read. I was actually getting nervous! Not about the fishing part of it, I had been catching fish my whole life. I was nervous about how I was catching them. I hate being labeled a greenhorn.

Its funny how odd things linger in your memory. The first thing I noticed when I reached the boat ramp and stepped out of my ride is how much colder it was right at the river, and I thought to myself that the water would have to warm up a bunch before the fish would feed. Shows you how much I knew.

Neither my buddy nor I are small boys. Our collective weight would bring top dollar at a cattle auction, so when he showed up with our watercraft I began to get worried. The “boat” was a hard plastic kayak kinda thing that was small and light enough for him to load in the back of his truck, and when we shoved off and headed upstream it did not escape my attention that we were mere inches from taking on water, yet remarkably it moved our middle aged spreads across the surface quite well.

We rowed upstream for several minutes through a thin wisp of fog that hovered inches above the water. Occasionally I would see a ring of a fish on the surface but other than their interruption the river was smooth as glass. I was amazed at how quiet everything became as we headed toward my date with destiny.

When we stopped rowing and set the boat free, I cast and fixed my gaze on the orange stick on foam indicator. I really didn’t know what to expect; then it happened. I have no real recollection of the hookset, or the fight, all I remember is that the indicator went under and then I was holding a 12″ brown. I was amazed at how smooth and cold it was, and how this was the prettiest fish I had ever seen.

“Meet your mistress.”, my buddy said with a twinkle in his eye.

Another boat, a real honest to God boat with room and a trolling motor came downstream to us. I knew the two guys from highschool and after a few pleasantries it was suggested that I get in with them so I could stand up and cast. That is when things started to get interesting.

I made an ungraceful but successful transition from the tiny craft that required my friend and I sit and cast to a large boat in which I could stand.  This made things much easier.

I was placed in the center of the craft and after some good natured ribbing targeted at my buddy and the realization of just how rediculous we must have looked going down river in something that looked more like a bath toy than something two grown men would ride.  The trolling motor was engaged and we headed back upstream and my new guide gave me some ground rules; Don’t get your feet tangled in the fly line, make sure that when you land a fish, you don’t lean over the side of the boat to far, and when you are casting make sure you say “casting!”.  This last one was of particular importance with three grown men in the boart and it did not escape my notice later on in the morning that when I said “casting!”, they froze and kinda leaned away from me.

We had a brief conversation about how the day had gone so far, what fly I was using, what I had been up to since high school.  Looking back on it now, I am sure that he made a quick inspection of my gear and no doubt rolled his eyes.  I mean this guy has one of just about every Hardy rod known to man and here is this 40 year old greenhorn standing in his boat with a yardsale hunting vest, a Wal-Mart rod and reel combo, and this bright greenish yellow double taper fly line.  I am sure I looked smoooooooooth.

These guys were laying out forty or fifty feet of line with ease and I would frail about like I was one step away from turning a cartwheel and might occasionaly get twenty feet of line out of the rod tip.  These guys were also catching fish.  A lot of fish.  I on the other hand was slowly being induced into a hypnotic state by the orange indicator that bobbed along unhindered in the current.  I watched helplessly as hookset after hookset occured on either side of me.  I was amazed.  All three of us were using pretty much the same fly but thus far the results had been desidedly different.

I don’t know if there is any information out there to support the impact of high tension power lines and their effect on the feeding activity of aquatic life forms, but as bad as I was at this fly fishing stuff, I can only attribute what happened next to the genius of Thomas Edison and Ben Franklin.  As we crossed under the power lines, the indicator I was staring at, the indicator which had indicated nothing but my ineptitude for hours…moved.  It wasn’t aggressive, it just slowly and steadily began sinking deeper and deeper in the water.  I had hung up on rocks and tree limbs all day and was down to just two or three flies in my plastic cup so I gave a quick tug to try and pull it free.

Then, from the bottom of the Clinch River, under the shadows of the power lines, not ten feet off the side of the boat, something pulled back!  A wave of nausea washed over me as I felt the strong pull of something that was fighting for its life.

“FISH ON!”, I cried.

“My God, I’d say so!” came the reply.

My rod was bent midway and whatever it was, was big and had swam under the boat.  I began shaking and honestly could not feel my legs.

The fight seemed to go on forever and when the net was dispatched a huge rainbow trout was brought on board.  The biggest fish of the day for all of us.

I would love to say that after a gratuitous grip and grin photo op, I gently placed this football with fins back in the water and watched as it settled into its natural place.  But I didn’t.  I kept it.  Not so much for the meal that it would soon provide, but for my ability to show it to my wife.

“Oh my gosh! That is a trout?”, she would say a few hours later.

She had the same misconception about these cold water gems as I did.

As I dressed out the fish that evening and prepared it for the oven, I caught myself planning my next trip.

Those power lines may not hold any valid effect on the fishing, but for me it is a magic place.  A place where passion was born…three feet under a little orange indicator.