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.

January 8, 2023

2022-23 Issue of Tenkara Angler

Who reads magazines anymore, right? Everyone seems to consume their daily reading online. 

Well, personally, even though I don't get a ton of them, I still do enjoy magazines. There's just something nice about turning physical pages. And I like getting mail, so when that monthly subscription appears in the mailbox it always brings a smile to my face.

That's why I've been editing and self-publishing a magazine for the tenkara community for the past 7 years. Last week we released our 2022-23 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine and I couldn't be happier with the results.

It's great to be able to bring articles to life that are written by fixed line fly anglers, many people who have become good friends over the years. Let's face it, we're an often overlooked (and if we're being honest, often ridiculed) group. I love tenkara, and this 144 page print issue is one of the personal highlights of my year.

Am I tooting my own horn? Maybe a little. I'm really just proud of this issue and want to show it off.

January 5, 2023

New Year, New Bluegill

The first fish of 2023...

Drumroll please...

Standard issue Florida retention pond bluegill!

Needed to knock that out before heading back to work this past Tuesday. Ugh, holiday breaks are far too short.

At least we're on the board! 

January 2, 2023

Return of the Classic

Over the years, I've gone through a lot of phases (and gear) as a fisherman. Spinning, fly, tenkara, fiberglass, saltwater, and eventually right back to tenkara and fly... one can call it an evolution... while in reality it's more likely a delusion. We've all been there, I'm certain you can relate.

Even though it wasn't fancy, my first "real" fly rod was a 7'6" Redington Classic Trout 3-weight. It was a Christmas gift from my wife back in 2010 and I fished the snot out of that rod for a few seasons. Up and down every nook and cranny of my homewaters, Valley Creek in Southeastern Pennsylvania. For two years we battled lots of fish all up and down the East Coast. From stocked rainbows to wild browns, to native brook trout, Classic Trout had seen it all.

An eager and willing fishing companion, I almost took it for granted. Until that fateful day when I snapped the tip during an unfortunate 2012 on-stream nymphing mishap in North Carolina.

No big deal I figured, and sent it off for some R&R and a warranty repair. Unbeknownst to me, it turns out that at the very same time Redington was having a bit of an identity crisis with the Classic Trout rod line, temporarily discontinuing it and replacing it with rods called the Tempt. So when I received my warranty claim back, my trusty companion was not what I found in the rod tube. Rather, I received a brand new Tempt.

I fished the Tempt a few times and it just didn't feel the same. It wasn't as if the rod didn't try, but we just didn't get along. I honestly doubt they changed the rod much other than the name (and cosmetics), but something was just "off". Maybe it was all psychological, I certainly wouldn't doubt it if it was. 

Coincidentally, I was also really starting to enjoy tenkara, and began using those rods for small stream fishing. So the Tempt was relegated to the corner of my spare room, sitting quietly in a rod tube, out of action for quite some time. Fast forward nine years, I finally decided to put the Tempt out of its misery and sell it in 2021. Figured someone should enjoy it, even if I never warmed to it. 

Around that same time I moved on to a Orvis Superfine Carbon rod of similar weight and length for my small stream fly fishing. (I mean you can't sell a rod without buying a new rod, right?) I've found the Superfine to be a rod I really like, and have made a point to use when I go on multi-day trips into the mountains, albeit to the resentment of my tenkara rods. 

But you know what? There was just something that didn't sit right. For all the polish on the new Orvis, I still missed that Classic Trout.

So, about a month or so ago, I went out and re-acquired a lightly used Redington Classic Trout I found available at a good price through a Facebook group. (Note, not the old 2010 version, but the newer version Redington has re-issued in the years following their misguided flirtation with the Tempt). 

Upon receiving, and after a few backyard casts, all seemed right in my fishing world again. I'm really looking forward to making some memories with this old friend again in 2023. Now I just hope the Superfine doesn't mind...