Nov. 21, 2008
By Roger Emile Stouff
(Part II of IV)
I’m prone to motion sickness. Have been all my life. The trip to Pigeon Forge was therefore made with an ample supply of less-drowsy Dramamine. Even with that, I still felt queasy at times, slept a lot when not driving, of course, but made it to the mountains intact if unsteady.
We were standing at the Little River near Elkmont Campground in Great Smoky Mountain National Park. I had acquired a dozen and a half of the best flies for the time of year and conditions from the local fly shop, and I sat down on a boulder to set up.
I hadn’t paid much attention while Daniel – the fly shop guy who was helping me out and who gave me a map of good places to fish in the park – was putting dry flies and small subsurface flies called nymphs into a little fly box. I sat there with my little eight-foot Diamondback four-weight, one of my all-time favorite fly rods, and reached into the little box to retrieve an Elk Hair Caddis. That’s a fly made to resemble a caddis fly, composed of elk hair, i.e., Elk Hair Caddis. Aren’t we fly fisherman brilliant and creative?
The first one I picked up stumped me. I looked at it from several angles, squinted, put it up to the sun, put it up to the shade and finally proclaimed, "They forgot to put the eye on the hook on this fly!"
So I put it back and grabbed another one.
"Well, dagnabit, this one don’t have an eye neither," I growled.
It took me a few minutes and a few more flies to realize my error: The flies did have eyes on the hooks…I just didn’t have good enough eyes on my face to see them, even with my glasses.
What followed was a half hour of cussin’, fussin’ and general all-around conniption fittin’ as I tried to put a 5x tippet…that’s the monofilament leader size, roughly 3 or 4 pound test line at the end…through a hook eye no bigger than a gnat’s behind. I finally got it through by putting a foot on the boulder, crossing the other over it, propping my left elbow of the arm holding the fly on another boulder and looking at a 36-degree angle from the sun to find the hook eye.
Rigged and ready, I stepped off into the Little River and realized I was in for a battle. As I said last time, my only trout fishing experience to date was four days in Montana, on creeks and rivers that, at least where we fished them, were certainly boulder-strewn, but had ample flat, gravel beds below the water to wade comfortably. Not in the Smokies. They were sunken boulder fields. Big ones, small ones, round ones, jagged ones, slick ones, rough ones, you name it.
I made a wobbly, barely-balanced transit to the center of the river, where a pool of slower water near faster water awaited me. That’s where you work trout: At the seams of fast and slower water. I was a nervous wreck by the time I got there, but wiggled out a few feet of line from my fly rod, lifted it for a backcast and snapped it forward to make the forward cast and –
The rod made it to the 12 o’clock position and halted suddenly. I looked behind me to find I had snagged a tree on my back cast. In all my anxiety and frazzled nerves wading to the middle of the river, I forgot to check what was behind me. So I tugged, the line and leader came down, the fly stayed about 20 feet up in the tree.
Wobbly, off-balance transit back to the river bank to tie on again, another half hour of noisy conniption fit.
At last I was ready to fish. It was the last fly I lost. I fished the Little River up a long way, and the experience was nerve-wracking. The level of the river, being so low, made it hard to find water to fish, and when I did, the falling leaves were tough to allow good presentation of a fly. I got not even a strike that day.
Tuesday afternoon, we took off again. This time to the middle prong of the Little River at Tremont. These rivers split several times coming out of the mountains, and are often identified by their subsequent paths and the location you are on them: The upper prong, middle prong, lower prong, or the east fork, west fork, and so forth. There the paved road ends, and we drove gravel for a good ways. I had set Suzie up with a spinning outfit, certain she’d do well with it, and I set up again with the fly rod.
The sky was gray and overcast. There was a chance of rain, and it would be growing over the next few days. But the park was exquisite. Beside the road we drove were steeply inclined mountainsides of spruce and fir, their feet socked by a quiltwork of fallen autumn leaves. Chipmunks scampered between tree trunks, gray flashes of leaping virility. When a breeze tickled the stands, maple and oak leaves drifted down and circled, danced, swirled to the ground, road and water.
We headed to the water. Suzie took up position casting from a large boulder and I went a little farther downstream to a pool I saw, just a dozen yards or so. I stepped off into the river, and found solid footing, a relief after the day before’s unsteadiness. Confident, I went to sidle around a particularly large boulder in my way to the pool, tried to put my right foot over my left, the two snagged each other, fought, both lost, and down I went into gin-clear, icy water.
I came up at once, pulled myself up by the boulder I was trying to get around. I had gone in to my chin. I regained my footing easily, popped out of the water with a tremor of icy cold, put my rod on the boulder and proclaimed, "I HAVE HAD ENOUGH OF THIS!!!"
There I was, soaked from the waist up (my waders fit tight enough around the waistband no water was able to get into them) and cold as the dickens. I was dripping. I reached into my fishing vest pocket to retrieve my camera, opened the battery lid and popped them out, and drained three or four ounces of water out of the camera body. Ruined. I had 80 photos on it already. I was beside myself.
So what did I do?
I went to the car, got my fleece jacket, put it on over my soaked T-shirt, and got back in the dadgum river to fish, that’s what I did.
(To be continued…)