One of the crazier fishing trips I've taken this summer happened just a short week or so ago. Now, I know I've already taken some crazy trips this summer. The thing about this trip is that it was not intended as a fishing trip, but like a good angler, I decided to carry a rod. One of my Tenkara rods seemed like a good idea.
This trip came together quickly at the last minute when my brother-in-law was visiting. We wanted to visit a local river system that has large sections that go dry in late summer. The upper Caney Fork River is somewhere I've never been in the summer to see it dry but have seen it flowing full in the cooler months. This would be one of those rare once in a lifetime trips, but we didn't really know that going into the trip.
That Sunday morning, after a hearty breakfast that included breakfast burritos, we threw some food and water into our daypacks and hit the road for the drive to the trailhead. I was also carrying my good camera, a water filter, and some other odds and ends just in case of an emergency. The first mile or so of the trail led through a nice wooded section with a good clear trail. By the time we were getting to the two mile mark and beyond, the grass and weeds were taller than was ideal. Both of us started watching carefully for snakes while thinking nervously about ticks and chiggers.
Surprisingly, we didn't notice any of those critters until our first stop. I say surprisingly because it was such good habitat for all of those.
The first stop was at Screw Cliff Overlook of the river gorge that I had stopped to eat lunch when I last did this hike last winter. I was starting to think about food and definitely needed a water break after walking two and a half miles in the late summer heat. My pack slid to the ground and I quickly went to the edge of the overlook to check the rock overhang below for snakes.
Sure enough. My first thought was that they were copperheads, but I didn't linger long enough for a positive identification. Tim, my brother-in-law, came over and looked and decided quickly that they were something else. About the time he started thinking that they might be juvenile rattlesnakes, I noticed some previously unnoticed snakes laying in the grass a couple of feet from Tim's pack. Thankfully, we had already discussed how I would deal with bees and snakes respectively if we ran into problems, so when I told Tim "Don't move," he had a good inkling as to what was going on.
I moved back closer with my camera to get some pictures while Tim moved away from the snake den. The worrisome thing was that we didn't see mom. Apparently young timber rattlesnakes hang out with mom for a while so lurking somewhere nearby was a much larger snake. My guess is that the rock we were on was actually a snake den. It was obviously hollowed out underneath and there is no telling how many more were down there hiding.
By this time, we had both forgotten entirely about food. I did happen to take a few swallows of water, but then we were quickly on our way, hoping none of the small snakes had snuck into our packs when we weren't watching. Walking away, it occurred to me how the overlook got its name. Probably someone got bit by a snake here one time and announced to everyone, "I'm screwed," after which it was always called Screw Cliff. Of course, there are other possible explanations as well...
Moving on out, we were soon tromping through grass on the trail where it followed the tree line at the back of several large fields. A time or two, we could hear deer blowing and snorting a warning as the invaders passed, but otherwise there was nothing too exciting. The one exception was a butterfly that paused on top of a thistle flower just long enough for me to slip the phone out and take a picture.
Thankfully, we were back in the woods before long. The temperature seemed to drop several degrees just getting out of the sun. Our next goal was where a tributary called Clifty Creek hit the main river. Here I hoped to find some of the last water for several miles as you head downstream. We finally broke out of the woods and into the streambed. Sure enough, a trickle of water cascading over the rocks fell into a large pool that obviously harbored a good fish population. Casting about for snakes, we soon settled on a good lunch spot on top of a large flat rock where we could watch for danger approaching before it got too close. Those rattlesnakes were still on our minds but other troubles were brewing.
I had just sat down and started digging out food. Tim also sat down but was intently looking at his legs and ankles. I took a quick glance at mine before starting to eat. Finally, I turned to Tim and asked what he was up to. "Oh, I have a lot of ticks," was the reply. When I told him I didn't have any, he told me how small they were and showed me an example. That was when I got nervous. Sure enough, I had quite a few, but nothing compared to the well over 100 that Tim pulled off of his pants and ankles. They were everywhere, including walking up our arms. I hated to think about the chiggers that had also probably found me. After battling the ticks for a while, I was ready for some food.
I finished my meal about the time Tim was starting his and quickly threw together the Tenkara rod and added a hopper. The smallmouth bass were waiting practically at our feet, obviously hungry, and I knew it wouldn't take much. Sure enough, I quickly picked up a small fish. The exciting part was the larger fish trying to eat the little guy I had hooked!
Letting the little guy go, I moved slowly down the pool. Soon another fish hit and this time some much larger fish tried to eat it! The pool was too low and calm, however, for this commotion to not bring about some caution in the rest of the smallmouth bass population. I tried some other flies, but the shadows were already growing and we had several miles to go.
We packed everything, picked off a few more ticks, and hit the trail again. Somewhere along the way, we lost it and had to bushwhack along the side of the hill overlooking the river bottom. It was a dry and rocky streambed we saw. Further down, we finally made our way down to look at what will probably be a raging torrent in a couple of months. These Cumberland Plateau streams and rivers are waterways of extremes. From nothing to perhaps 10,000 cubic feet per second or more in the wet winter months, these streams feature hardy fish populations that are primarily smallmouth bass but sometimes even muskie show up on these streams. They do for sure in the lower reaches off of the Plateau...
The rest of our hike was more or less non-eventful other than the brutal climb back out of the gorge. I was glad to get a hike in though as the cooler months are hiking season for me. Before long I'll be prowling the trails of the Cumberland Plateau and Great Smoky Mountains again, enjoying both the hike and maybe even some fishing...
FISHING REPORT AND SYNOPSIS: 3/23/2017
The fishing has been great lately! This spring has been phenomenal in the Smokies. Long hatches have produced dry fly fishing lasting for hours every day. The Caney Fork has been producing some great fish on high water.
In the Great Smoky Mountains, the spring fishing has started early this year. Quill Gordon (#12-#14) and Blue Quill (#16-#18) mayflies are starting to transition into Hendricksons (#12-#14). On foul weather days, the Blue-winged Olives (#18-#22) have literally poured off of the river. The recent cooler weather actually enhanced the dry fly fishing. The bugs have been having a harder time getting off of the water, so despite the cool water temperature, fish have been rising lazily through an extended afternoon hatch. Little Black Caddis (#18-#20) have been hatching well along with some Early Brown Stoneflies (#12).
On the tailwaters, the fishing has been decent to good. The Clinch is fishing well along with the Holston. The Caney Fork continues to be my river of choice, however. Streamer trips continue to produce and we are doing some high water nymphing as well. This is as good a time as any to have a shot at large rainbow and brown trout on this tailwater!
I still have some open dates for guided trips in April and May, but the calendar is filling fast. I've been turning away trips because people wait too long to book. Don't make that mistake!