Bees Balm along Rough Fork in Cataloochee Valley
Some of my favorite experiences in the Smokies over the years have involved camping trips with a healthy dose of fishing thrown in for good measure. When some time was freed up a couple of weeks ago, I decided to make a last minute run to the Park for my first camping trip in quite a long time. The destination was Cataloochee Valley, one of the places where elk are again roaming wild in the Park after their successful reintroduction several years ago. The elk are just one of the reasons I love camping in Cataloochee although I must say that they have increased the crowds there a lot.
When people ask me where my favorite place to fish is, I always have to pause and think. Little River would probably be at the top of that list, but the rest would shake out differently each time depending on the day and my mood. Cataloochee always deserves a place near the top of that list. The reasons are much more complicated than great fishing and in fact if fishing was the main goal, I probably would not choose Cataloochee for a trip. The fishing is just about as good as anywhere else in the Park but certainly not better. The remote nature means there is more water available per fisherman which is beginning to come closer to the truth of why I love Cataloochee.
For my most recent trip, I decided to take the scenic route and drove in from Big Creek which is a good enough fishery in its own right. On the drive over, I stopped to sample a couple of small tributaries ranging from very tiny to just barely fishable. I was happy to discover brook trout just where they were supposed to be although getting a fly to these fish was challenging to say the least.
Continuing my drive, I arrived at the campground and quickly ate my lunch. I headed back out to fish again and stayed close to camp. In a couple of hours of fishing, I didn't catch anything particularly noteworthy or memorable but did experience one of those moments that seems to always happen and make my trips to Cataloochee exciting.
I was headed down to the creek and was close to bushwhacking but had found a faint path to follow. When the sound of water grew louder, I looked up and realized the path I was following dipped under a bridge. A flicker of movement soon materialized into a doe which stared back with little apparent fear. A brief moment of anxiety over whether she had a fawn close by caused me to quietly talk to her while moving slowly around to give her plenty of room. She watched with big dark eyes but soon couldn't stand the close encounter any longer and bounded off through the rhododendron. The same rhododendron that would take me hours to navigate I might add. I watched as she contorted her body in each jump to slip between the branches and was amazed at the body control she was displaying. The moment was fleeting, and soon I was staring at an empty spot where she had disappeared.
That is why I like Cataloochee. Special things always seem to happen there. Being a good fisherman, I was there to fish as well. It was time to quit staring at the brush and try to catch some trout. As it turns out, the fishing was good just like I remembered it being. Could I have caught just as many fish closer to home? Probably, but it was nice not competing with other anglers and don't even get me started on all the swimmers and tubers on Little River right now.
The fish seemed keyed in to terrestrials with the best action being on inchworm imitations and beetles. Caddis were also out and about and a caddis pupa was like candy to these fish. In fact, on day two, the caddis pupa worked even better than the terrestrials for the most part.
Soon enough, my time came to an end, and I had to head back home to the responsibilities of life. I was refreshed from my time camping in Cataloochee and ready for the six straight days of guiding fly anglers the next week.
Here is my stay at Cataloochee in pictures, which to me does a better job at capturing the essence of the fishing there than words ever can.
Brook trout from a high elevation tributary
Tight quarters but willing brook trout
Green Weenies were on the menu
Cataloochee Creek is a gentle, largely low-gradient stream.
The trout liked beetles as well...
...including the brook trout...
...and this little brown trout.
Bees Balm was seemingly everywhere...
...providing bursts of color upon the stream banks.
Morning in Cataloochee breaks forth on Cataloochee Creek in blinding shafts of light.
Some of the rainbows were nice sized.
There were even a few rhododendron still blooming along the streams.
For now I'll have to wait, but I'll be eagerly looking forward to my next adventure camping in Cataloochee.