Featured Photo: Native Colors

Featured Photo: Native Colors

Friday, April 24, 2009

Bear Trouble

For the last few weeks I've been looking forward to a backpacking trip in the Smokies. The upper Little River watershed is one of my favorite areas to fish, not so much because the fishing is great as because it is really where I learned to fly fish. My plans for this trip included 2 nights at backcountry site #24 and then up the trail to #30 for another night. I intended to hit Fish Camp Prong and upper Little River over the course of 2-3 days of fishing.

Heading up to the park Wednesday afternoon, I stopped by Little River Outfitters to pick up some tying supplies (thinking about West Trip 2009). After chatting with Byron Begley for awhile, I headed on towards Elkmont. After filling out my backcountry permit, I took off up the trail. There were only two hours of daylight left and I wanted to get into camp and have time to eat supper before dark. I made it in plenty of time and after eating supper went to bed. Sleeping right by the creek is extremely peaceful and relaxing. The sound of a rushing mountain stream is one of natures most soothing sounds and I enjoyed it to the fullest.
Thursday morning I woke up ready for a long day of fishing. As I ate breakfast, I contemplated about how much money it takes to get started backpacking. While I don't have great gear, it still represents a decent investment monetarily and I thought about how terrible it would be if someone took all my gear. I never even thought about Mother Nature destroying anything. After breakfast I was ready to go. Day one was going to be Fish Camp Prong and I hoped to get the Smoky Mountain slam of a rainbow, brook and brown.

The lowest stretch of the stream is the place to catch brown trout so I started there, working my way up slowly from Little River. Things started out a little slow, but finally I picked up a rainbow on a Tellico nymph. Little Yellow stoneflies started making an appearance and I decided to try a Neversink Caddis. This proved good for several fish including a nice brown that ghosted up out of a deeper run to inhale the fly.

After catching the brown, I got back on the trail and started walking to get into brookie territory. I've caught brook trout within a mile of Little River but they seem to be a bit scarce in the lower sections. Finally I got tired of walking and decided to try my luck. As I moved up the stream, the fishing continued to be very inconsistent. It seemed that every run, pool, and pocket required a different fly. I would catch a few fish on one fly only to have it seemingly quit working. Different sections of the stream had different bugs hatching and overall it seemed that a Parachute Adams or Neversink Caddis was a fair representation of most of the adult insects. I fished a double nymph rig as well with a Tellico and one other nymph. After several rainbows, a brookie finally took one of my "secret" soft hackle patterns fished deep as a standard nymph and the slam was complete.

I was fishing through a bit of a gorge and fished until I thought I could scale the high bank back to the trail. Back on Little River I decided to fish up from the Goshen Prong trail bridge to #24. Here the dry fly fishing really picked up. I fished a Parachute Adams for awhile and then switched to a yellow Neversink. The fish liked both equally well it seemed and I caught several nice rainbows and one more brown. After what seemed a short distance, I saw my tent and decided to call it a day.

As I approached my tent, I did a double take. Something didn't seem quite right. My tent was all lopsided and as I got closer, I saw gashes in the side. Upon closer inspection, 2 out of the three poles were broken and the third was bent. Some of the broken pools had tore through the sleeves and there was another gash in the bottom corner where the stake loop used to be attached. Dirt was on the side of the tent and I quickly realized that a bear had stopped by while I was gone. Greatly annoyed, I saw a pile of trash and a hole in the ground and realized that someone had buried trash near where I set up the tent (before I was there). The bear had come through and dug up the trash. Not finding anything to eat, it apparently decided to make my tent uninhabitable on its way through. Maybe it was angry since there wasn't any food. Regardless, I'm now in the market for a new tent. It was ironic that a bear would tear up my tent just hours after I had considered how bad it would be if something happened to my gear...

After taking in the whole situation, I decided it would be in my best interest to pack everything up and head out. I would have to really hustle because it would be dark soon. I got everything in my pack and hit the trail by 7:30 Eastern time. One hour later I had made it back to my car.

Shortly after leaving camp, probably about 300 yards below #24, I saw a fairly large bear feeding near the trail. I clapped to try and scare it away but it just stared back at my completely unconcerned. Bears without fear always make me nervous and I was glad that I was heading out for the night. On the way back down I ran into a guy from the Wildlife Division who was out hunting wild pigs. I told him what had happened and he asked for my name and phone number so he could do a bear report. He mentioned that #24 would probably be closed in the next day or two.

Overall I had a great trip. The fishing was good although I can't quite call it great. I caught a lot of fish but was working a little harder for them than I sometimes have to. There is even a blessing in disguise about my tent being ruined. I could have been in the tent or in camp when the bear decided to show up or it could have more thoroughly destroyed my tent. While the tent won't work for camping anymore, it could have been much worse. The bear could have shredded it and then got the sleeping bag and thermarest inside. That would have made things even worse for me. Replacing a tent is bad enough, but the rest would have been very hard to do anytime soon.


  1. Enjoyed your report. Sounds like great trip even though the bear encounter short circuited things. Glad all ended well. Nice looking fish.

  2. Heck of a trip report - thanks for the details too. Little bits of information (particularly the fly pattern) really help a newbie learn about what to try under different situations. Sorry to hear about your tent! That's a great story though - especially since you weren't hurt!

    If you're looking for a good backpacking tent - I've been really pleased with my Sierra Designs Clip-Flashlight.

  3. Nice pictures Dave. Steve is on a one day trout fishing trip today. Check troutu.com to see how he made out. Should be interesting, I hope.

  4. David, I really like your photo journal-blog entries, they are always so well done.

    Sure looks like you had a nice trip in the works before it was cut short by the bear. You may want to consider bear spray if it's legal in the park.

  5. David,
    Nice report, and sorry about your tent. Crazy how we were just talking about this last week. Did you manage to make it over to Edisto?

  6. Doug, I have bear spray from my trips in Yellowstone although its probably getting old now. I recently heard a rumor that it is illegal to carry in the Smokies but it might be worth carrying anyway based on what happened a couple of days ago.

    Travis, I didn't go down to Edisto. The Smokies trip was the alternative and in retrospect I probably could have avoided a lot of trouble by going to Edisto...regardless, it has been good to just be lazy for a few days!

  7. Chad Crayton (Green Weenie)7:23 AM

    Damn dirty apes....er, bears!

  8. i dont see why you left.... you can take 'em!

  9. That's a big bear no doubt. I woulda slapped him in the butt with a #8 hares ear.