Ever since getting involved in Project Healing Waters I have had the great pleasure to experience some of the finest fly fishing in the southeast. In fact, a little over a year ago I posted a recollection entitled “Who Needs Montana?” referring to the quality of fishing that can be had within a short drive of my home in western North Carolina...and I meant it! The fishing in this part of our great land is fantastic.
So fantastic that it has me spoiled. As I’ve mentioned before, when we take out the Wounded Warriors we want to get them onto fish, and preferably big fish. Many of our local fly shops have graciously given us time on their private waters, and without exception we have caught fish. Big fish. Like I said, I’m spoiled. I’ve been hung up on catching big stupid fish. Shame on me.
Sunday was the cure. My friend Jimmy Harris from Unicoi Outfitters and I were scheduled to meet up in the Smokies for a day of fishing, and when I suggested that we head for the Trophy Waters Jimmy had another idea. Rather than test the strength of our equipment on the local bruisers he suggested that we try something a little more soothing and serene. Jimmy wanted to try the Oconaluftee up in the park.
Fifteen or so years ago, right after moving to North Carolina, Shirley and I camped at Smokemont in the park and I tried my luck on this little stream, but being totally unfamiliar with the area I didn’t fare very well. My Ozarkian tricks didn’t cut it with these locals, and I haven’t been back. Shame on me again.
Jimmy and I met at Rivers Edge Outfitters on Sunday morning and headed up into the park. On this Mother’s Day weekend we found a gorgeous North Carolina day with temperatures in the seventies and surprisingly, we had the river to ourselves. Through the day we met a couple of other anglers in the parking area, but on the stream it was just Jimmy and I. We leapfrogged up and down the stream catching mostly native rainbows. Back at the shop, owner Joe Street had warned us that there was a good amount of fly activity on the stream so we stocked up on his favorite dries, hoping to have a bit of top water action. But try as we might, the ticket was down and deep.
It was a “back to the basics” type of day, and it was just what the doctor ordered to correct my “big fish, easy catchin” condition. Stealth...reading the water...fly selection...depth determination...casting accuracy...all the things that go into making a memorable day. All the things we learned in days of old. And all the things that I have been missing. The largest fish would have been lucky to go twelve inches, but man, were they beautiful. The stream was crystal clear, the spring flowers were in full bloom and the companionship could not have been better.
Just downstream from the Smokemont Campground I eased my weary butt down on a fallen log with the pretense of changing flies. Huge boulders surrounded this bend in the river and the log was positioned with others on an immense slab of rock reaching to the water's edge. As I sat I imagined this place before the white man came and turned it into a tourist destination. I imagined a campfire and an Indian brave setting on the same slab. There might have been a few kids playing in the water, and perhaps their mother cooking a few brookies over the open fire. Had I been here many years earlier I might have found an arrowhead or two, or maybe just a pottery shard. I looked around and all I found was myself. God was good to me on Sunday.