Showing posts with label Not Secret Water. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Not Secret Water. Show all posts

June 27, 2023


Fish are meant to stay in the water. No, I'm not preaching for you to "keep 'em wet." It's an actual truth, or so I'm told, that fish belong in the water. Something about gills and breathing. It's only our questionable oversight as anglers that chooses to remove them from that sanctuary. Be it permanently for tablefare, temporarily for sport, or these days, egotistically for the 'Gram.

After a week of catching some hefty brown trout in the meandering spring creeks of southwestern Wisconsin, I switched gears and redirected myself to the sanctum of the Georgia headwaters, seeking a reunion with its much smaller, wild, resident rainbow trout.

The day was gorgeous, with just enough warmth from the sun to occasionally pierce the crisp air that can only be found at altitude during the heat of the southern summer. And even better, the trout were in a good mood, or at least a hungry one, their metabolisms likely jumpstarted by the pleasant weather.

While the fish weren't particularly picky, repeatedly succumbing to any and all sub-surface offerings, they immediately reminded me how slick and slithery they can be, once wrangled from the water, fooled by their eyes and stomachs. 

See, those Driftless browns tend to stay put after the throes of battle. Once conquered, they gently lay down their flag. This submission allows you to hoist them from the water momentarily to get a closer look, dress their wounds by dislodging the hook, then if you choose, return them from whence they came. Their captive behavior resembles a form of situational awareness, as if they understand the war is almost over and their time as a prisoner will be brief.

However those rainbows... Oh, those plucky little Georgia rainbows choose not to go down without a fight. While they may be brought to hand faster, it's only a ploy. A Trojan horse approach to combat in which they strategically get as close to their adversary as possible before unleashing a full artillery of spasms, gyrations, and convulsions. Anything to jettison the hook and then return to the water defiantly and without exploitation. As anglers, we're the Russians and they're screaming "Wolverines!"

That's why those little mountain rainbows have earned a special place in my heart. They may not be the biggest fish, but they never surrender. They never quit. Fight on Wolverines.

May 6, 2023

On the Tennessee Side of the Smokies

A few weekends ago I made the trip up to Gatlinburg, Tennessee to meet up with some friends for the 2023 TenkaraCamp at Elkmont Campground. While it wasn't my first time to the Smokies, it was my first time to that specific section and associated water. It ended up being a nice weekend, although the weather was a bit bi-polar. More on that in a bit...

I kind of associate the Smokies with rainbow trout...

I made the long trek from Florida to Tennessee early on Thursday morning. Fortunately, the drive was relatively uneventful, shooting up I-95, over into South Carolina on 26, and then up into Tennessee on 40. Traffic was light, and I was able to arrive at my destination at around 2:30 in the afternoon. I honestly think the biggest delay was caused by dodging pedestrian tourists while driving down the main strip in downtown Gatlinburg. Yikes. If you've never been, well, there are no words. And if you have, you know what I'm talking about.

In any event, once I got past that bit of chaos and down the road a couple of miles to check in at the Ranger station, it gave me just enough time to set up my campsite and then get a line wet for a few hours.

Little River runs right through the campground and made for some really easy access. I fished for maybe two or three hours and caught a little over a half dozen fish. Not a ton, but good enough to start the trip off on a good foot. I was actually surprised that the first three fish I caught were brown trout. I kind of associate the Smokies with rainbow trout (and in the far reaches brookies)... so that was also an interesting way to lead off.

That evening, about fifteen of us that had come in for the TenkaraCamp gathered at one campsite, telling stories by the fire. If I recall, I spent most of the time talking about Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and other things I can't (and probably shouldn't) remember with my friend Matt. After the early morning wake up, long drive, and afternoon of fishing, I was kind of on fumes at that point. Certainly made falling to sleep very easy that evening.

In my head it sounded fine...

Okay, Friday was glorious. It was also painfully exhausting. But really, it was glorious.

For some reason I thought it might be a good idea to go back and fish one of the tributaries of the Little River. Get away from some of the crowds that were in the campground and general vicinity and maybe bump into some brook trout. I had mapped out a plan to hike back about 5ish miles, fish all day, and then hike back to return around dinnertime. 10ish miles round-trip. In my head it sounded fine. By the end of the day my feet had a differing opinion.

Fortunately, I made new friend at camp the night before, and Paul was more than willing (he actually volunteered) to accompany me on this hike. In retrospect, I probably would have quit hiking long before I did if Paul wasn't there. But conversation was lively, and it made the time go a little bit faster. After about two and a half, maybe three hours of hiking, the two of us split up to cover different sections of water. I went upstream, Paul downstream, agreeing to meet back on the trail at around 4PM.

After a quick snack and drink of water, I popped into the stream and began to fish. And spoiler alert, while I didn't find a single brook trout that afternoon, I did find tons of rainbows. They were super eager too, bringing 3 to hand on maybe my first 5 or 6 casts. They took nymphs, they took wets, they even came up to smack a few dries.

Eventually a pretty steady wind started kicking up and I'm not sure if it was a coincidence, but the fish started shutting down. I was able to pick up a few more here and there, but defintiely not with the same frequency. In all, I think I brought a little under twenty to hand, and played with at least a half dozen more before finding a spot to climb through the brush and back on to the trail to meet up with Paul who I found beaming after catching himself what was essentially a "last cast" trout.

Pleasantries aside, I think we'd both admit that the walk back sucked. I mean it really suuuucked. It seemed at least three times as long as the hike out. Conversation was also a bit more sparse. I think we were both beat and focused on getting back so we could get our boots off and just relax.

Back at camp that evening there was another campfire get-together, this time with a larger turnout circling the fire pit. I sort of remember talking to my friends Bryan and Amanda for a bit, and getting introduced to her friends Rachael and Brock. Brock is a relative newcomer to tenkara fishing but quite versed with a fly rod and reel, so it was fun talking to him about both styles of fishing.

As for that evening... That bit of wind I felt while out fishing was the precursor to a stormfront rolling through the valley. It was a very windy and rainy overnight. While my campsite and tent survived the conditions just fine, I didn't sleep quite as well with that howling wind keeping me company.

It felt good to do nothing...

Not sleeping too well the night before, I decided I was going to take it easy on Saturday. The rain had stopped and it was moderately warm and sunny. It was actually the main day of the limited TenkaraCamp organized activities, with a gathtering in the morning at one of the campsites, a meet and greet, and some streamside clinics before everybody broke out to go fishing.

I basically just hung out at camp. I met and chatted up different people, recorded one of the educational sessions conducted by my friend Rob, and largely just watched people fish. I even took my folding camp chair streamside and just sat back with a cold drink and chilled out, dozing off briefly more than a few times. After running (and hiking) around the prior two days, it felt good to kind of do nothing. Fishing trips aren't just about the fishing.

Oh, then maybe around 2PM it got cold and increasingly dark and windy again. Uh oh.

The morning was sunny and warm enough to allow my tent to dry off... but that was suddenly under threat. Knowing I was going to leave first thing on Sunday morning anyway, I decided to break down camp a little bit early while things were dry. I just didn't want to risk everything getting soaked again. Nobody likes packing up a wet camp. 

Everything packed, and kinda dreading the 8.5 hour drive that awaited me the next day, I decided that I was going to forego the evening's campfire chats, and just head home, grabbing a hotel for the night somewhere along the way to split the trip in half. So I said goodbye to the folks that were at camp, and headed a few hours to Flat Rock, NC where I stayed the night.

A very good run up to the Smokies...

I'm a little bummed missing out on that evening's campfire, I always get a little case of the FoMOs, but I did hear it was a little on the cold side on Saturday night and Sunday morning, so I probably made the right decision. Plus, I was able to get back home to Florida with enough time to actually enjoy my Sunday at home, decompress a bit, and get myself mentally ready for the work week to come.

In all, it was a very good run up to the Smokies. I enjoyed Elkmont Campground quite a bit. In many ways it's a lot like Deep Creek on the North Carolina side that I really had fun at the year prior. I can see myself being back to both at some point in the future.

April 11, 2023

The Warmth of a Greasy Burger

"I like fishing in the rain..."

I knew it was going to rain. I had watched the conditions on my phone's weather app for a week. No matter how many times I checked, it still said it was going to rain all day on Saturday. 100% chance of precipitation, sunrise to sunset. No window of clear skies, and not just a drizzle, a persistently steady rain all day long. 

"I like fishing in the rain," I lied to myself. It's not blatant dishonesty, I don't mind fishing in the rain. You're pretty much guaranteed to not encounter another angler, which in April on a trout stream is a rarity. But that enjoyment pretty much ceases once that drizzle turns into a downpour. I don't live in the Pacific Northwest. I'm not a steelheader. Wet is fine, soaked is another story.

All that being said, the misguided internal voice in my head was convincing enough to drive my body up to North Georgia last weekend for my first trip to the mountains in 2023. Seven hours later, I was in a hotel room, turning the light out and looking forward to Saturday morning.

Let's check out the stream...

Upon awakening and looking out the window, the weather app was accurate. Damn android weatherman. It was in fact raining. Smart people would have taken that as a cue to go back to bed. Delusional trout anglers disregard such common sense and head off to the stream anyway. At least I was correct in the fact that there were no other anglers to be found.

What I did find was high, fast, and almost blown out waters. Not the worst I've ever encountered, but the kind that aren't exactly the safest to wade when you can't see anywhere near the bottom. Whatever, I'm here, might as well fish.

3 inches of fish...

Well, what happened the rest of the day was a sloppy, off balance traverse upstream, a half dozen lost flies, and three foolish little rainbows to hand. One of which earned the distinguised title of "Mike's First Trout of 2023." I mean what trout wouldn't want that honor?

There's a point in time when even the best rain clothes start to soak through. That time was about 1:30 PM. After fishing for about 5 hours, I decided to call it quits early. Being wet, cold, and hungry isn't a great combination. And the catch rate of 3 inches of fish per hour wasn't proving incentive enough to stay out in those conditions.

After retreating to the car and drying out while driving for a bit, I asked Google to find "food near me." The phone directed me to the warmth of a really good burger and onion rings. It kind of took the hard edges off the day and turned around a soggy mood after a few greasy bites.

A full 180...

After a non-eventful evening I found that the next day, Sunday, lived up to its name. Instead of being dark, chilly, and wet, it was bright, warm, and beautiful. It was a full 180 when compared to the day before. On my typical weekend trips to North Georgia, Sunday has always been the day to drive back home, which I usually choose to do relatively early foregoing fishing. But this time, hoping for a bit of on-stream redemption, I chose to head back to the water instead of south toward Florida.

Boy, was I rewarded. It's amazing what a few hours of clear skies can do to a high gradient mountain stream. The flows had slowed, the murkiness had cleared, the bugs were out, and the fish were rising. The coincidence of seeing rainbow (trout) after the rain was not lost on me.

What played out was another handful of hours of fishing, many more wild visitors, and just an enjoyable day on the water. The kind that erased any of the previous day's mishaps. It was an ideal way to close out the weekend and made the long drive home go by just a bit quicker.

But Sunday...

In retrospect, it was still probably, no... definitely stupid to convince myself that it was a good idea to go fishing on Saturday. Much less spend half a day on Friday driving to do so. There were no signs indicating that the conditions (nor the actual act of fishing) would be good. And if I was being honest, I'd tell you it wasn't. I caught fish, but it was extremely forgettable. And did I mention wet?

But Sunday... Oh, Sunday's success wouldn't have happened without Saturday's mess. And I guess that made it all worth it plus some. Fish after fish, each release creating a new memory and getting 2023's trouting off to a wonderful start.

While the sun certainly played its part changing the waterlogged tones, no matter how much you try to tell me otherwise, I think my trip's fortunes turned with the warmth of that greasy burger.

Oh, and if you're ever in the area, stop by Sue's. It's worth the trip.

November 5, 2022

Off the Grid in the Tennessee Mountains

Last weekend was one of those fishing trips that just goes by way too fast.

Spent a few days with my friends at a campground in the Tennessee mountains. The weather was unseasonably warm during the day, and a bit chilly for this naturalized Floridian at night. We spent the better part of four days hitting many of the streams in the area, from larger, easy to access stocked water to off the beaten path bluelines full of wild fish.

A side note was that we were really off the grid, meaning no cell service (or even running water). While that may have interfered with me keeping up to speed on the World Series, that's not why I was there, and the evenings around the campfire more than made up for it. Oh, some of the stories that were told!

In looking back on this trip, I found I didn't take many photos. I guess that's okay with me... the memories remain vivid. This was my first time fishing this specific area of Tennessee, I look forward to getting back again at some point.