Featured Photo: Northern Lights in Tennessee

Featured Photo: Northern Lights in Tennessee

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Epic Day

This week started just as most weeks do during the summer with me going to work on Monday to make some $$$ to pay for school next fall. However, I had two days off, Thursday and Friday. I planned to make the most of my time by making another trip to the Smokies. Most likely I won't be able to go again for awhile so I wanted to do something slightly out of the ordinary. A backpacking trip fit that bill well but I got lazy and decided to just car camp at Elkmont instead.

Thursday found me at Elkmont campground setting up camp in the afternoon and then off for the evening hatch. Despite casting over numerous risers and hooking up several times, I only managed a couple of fish. During a stop at a nice hole that I hit for large fish, I lost my last large Tellico to a big rainbow that snapped the 6x like a twig as the fly hit the water. It would have probably gone an easy 16 inches and perhaps 18. "At least it can't get much worse in the catching department" I muttered to myself. Surely the next day would yield different results, it just had to.

A great nights rest in the woods found me completely refreshed the next morning. I woke up and finally crawled out of my sleeping bag, then put together a quick fire to ward off the morning chill and sat enjoying the cool mountain air. Easy enjoyment when you have a nice hot fire. As I sat there, something clicked. Today was going to be like no other. Each year I have some good days and some great days. This would be one for the ages. I tied a few Tellicos in case I would need them but I was hoping the fish would hit dries.

After a quick breakfast and packing up the camp, I wandered over to the Little River Trailhead and started hiking. Just a short distance into my hike, something else clicked. I would see a bear for the first time while out hiking and fishing. I've seen plenty from the car but none while out fishing and hiking before. This was a strange revelation because there was really nothing to make me think this, yet the thought persisted and was so strong that I really just had no other option than to believe. With this in mind I kept hustling up the trail at my usual fast pace. I passed many fisherman on my way and was doubly thankful that my plans involved a good hike.

After hiking for about an hour and 15 minutes, I finally was in the vicinity of where I wanted to fish. I slowed down and watched for a good place to get in the stream. An opening in the solid thicket between me and the creek finally showed itself and I quickly scrambled down to the stream. I sat down on a rock to look around and make my first fly selection. A yellow stonefly buzzed by about that time so I pulled out an imitation. As I was tying it on, I eyed the little pool just below me. There it was, the obvious rise of a fish taking something on or very near the surface. I slowly moved down and made the short cast with only a couple feet of line out. The very first cast rewarded me with a chunky little rainbow. Slight nervousness set in as I snapped a picture of the first fish of the day. A fish on the first cast is NEVER a good sign. But then I remembered. I KNEW I was going to have a good day. I made another four casts before the next fish hit, just on the other side of the little pool beneath the other main current tongue. Relaxing, I allowed myself to take in the moment and just enjoy the day.

I kept working up the stream and surprisingly caught a brook trout before any browns. "Just one more fish for the slam" I thought. Then it was rainbows again for awhile, constantly falling to the dry with reckless abandon. Finally, at fish number twenty I saw the buttery brown flash I had been watching for. After a quick picture for documentation, the fish slid back into the current and was gone.

Moving quickly, I covered a lot of water before I decided to take a break for snacks. It was great to take off the small hydration pack and relax beside the stream for a few minutes. The brilliant green hues of spring merged with the foaming white water above the small plunge pool to paint a perfect picture. A few minutes were spent trying to recreate the scene with my digital camera but in the end, I knew you just can't reproduce a picture like that. While I was eating, I noticed some bugs starting to hatch a bit more consistently.

If the fish had been looking up before then, they were doing so even more now. Once again I started moving quickly up the stream. A couple of casts here and three there and it was time to move on again. I didn't want to miss out on this golden opportunity of perfectly stupid trout. And the number of fish just kept rising, 30, 40, 50. Somewhere in the forties I surpassed my best fishing day in the Smokies and with my 56th fish it was officially my best day ever personally. I don't know why but for some reason I kept fishing. I've had other days where the pace of catching was just as good but I quit fishing after catching 40+ fish or moved elsewhere to seek a greater challenge. Today, I just enjoyed the moment. At one point I jokingly wondered to myself if I was going to get to 70. When fish number 60 came to hand it became a legitimate possibility. Finally, as I was approaching the point where I would get out and hike back, number 70 hit and came to hand.

I couldn't believe it. My best day of catching (notice I didn't say fishing, its not all about the catching always...) was finally done, or so I thought. In the end, the fishing part was done and in the excitement, I forgot that I was going to see a bear. Or maybe I was just hoping it was a silly thought. Regardless, when I rounded a bend shortly into the hike back, I was still surprised to actually see the large bear wandering around in the trail. IN THE MIDDLE OF THE TRAIL... "What now" I wondered. I had to get back to my car and I was exhausted. Seventy fish in 6 hours is hard work on anybody and I still had to make the two hour drive home. I thought for a couple of minutes and remembered that you should make noise so the bears know you are around. He was still around 200 feet off so I started whistling and then slowly waved my arms so he could see me. Bears have poor eyesight so I bent down to pick up a couple of rocks to toss in his direction. When I stooped over, he realized how big I was and took off up the hill. Glancing nervously at the spot where he had evaporated into thin air, I hurried on past and back towards my car. As the last bit of daylight was leaving, I made it back to my car.

I still can't believe everything that happened yesterday. Some of it is just too crazy. Even the 70 fish and especially the bear, the part where I knew I was going to see one. That's the way the mountains are though. They always provide great moments. You can just count on it. That is probably why I keep going back. The fishing is a great excuse though and next time I get a chance, you'll find me hustling up a trail away from the crowds to find the pristine wilderness experience I left up there somewhere.


  1. Anonymous3:49 PM

    Sounds like a truly great trip! You know, I've only seen bears in the Smokies on a single trip my brother and I took up there about 5 years ago, during which we saw three. Two of those were while we were hiking to or from streams. I suppose it's good we don't often see them, but it sure adds something to the trip when you do. Take care,


  2. Hawgdaddy, it is amazing that this was my first time to see one while hiking/fishing, especially considering how much time I've put in up there doing just those things.