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Started by Yallerhammer, October 17, 2021, 12:57:14 PM

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As my truck winds its way up the mountain and around the curves of the gravel road, spitting rain pelts the windshield, and dead leaves skitter across the road in front of me when I round the points of the ridges. Patches of fog hang heavy and thick in the backs of the deep hollows where the wind can't reach. The defroster is on for the first time in many months.

It's a cool, gray, heavy day. The first day I've been out on my own in over a month and a half. Mom's stroke changed my life. I've had to adjust to role reversals. Being there. Forgetting my own priorities. Doing things for her that she once had to do for me. It's not been easy, but she's still here for now, one of the last firm constants left in my life.

It's my birthday. Fifty-four years ago today I entered this world. For much of that time, I just lived, taking a lot of things for granted, and assuming that everything would go on as it always has. Overall, that's true. But, the devil is in the details, as they say. My sister is at Mom's today. I have free reign to do what I wish. So, this morning, I packed a couple fly rods and some other stuff into my truck and headed across the ridge into the national park. It's been way too long since I've been here, but the sudden freedom feels strange. I feel almost guilty.

After a week of warm bluebird days, a cold front has descended on the mountains, the first hard, sharp front of fall. The one that starts the annual process of the death of the year. Chilly north winds will strip the trees bare, and killing frosts will come with the darkness when the wind lays. The world that was green and vibrant a few weeks ago and is now brilliantly colored with yellows and reds, will soon be cold and gray until the first warm front of spring begins to breathe life back into the world. Transitions. Changes. The true constants of this world. Nothing stays the same, but it will rhyme next year.

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I leave the gravel and hit pavement again. Rain still spits against the windshield. The original plan for the day was to hike to the headwaters and spend some time with the native specks and little wild rainbows. The arrival of this weather has changed that plan. The rain, the cold, the wind, and the millions of leaves coming down don't bode well for dry flies. If any fish are to be had today, they will have to be dredged up from the depths. And that's not a given.

I pull over to the side of the road at the upper end of a stretch of water I have fished countless times over the years. I will hike a mile or so down the road and fish back up. I rig up my nymph rod with two flies heavily weighted with lead wire and tungsten beads, and pinch a split shot between them for good measure. It isn't as easy as it used to be to pull on the neoprene wading socks and boots. What used to be a mindless, easy chore, I have to work at nowadays. As I'm rigging up, a straggling monarch butterfly floats by, fighting the wind and raindrops. The last week of pleasant warm weather and the last of the asters and goldenrods have seduced it into staying longer than it should have. This morning has reminded it that it should be in Mexico by now. It has a long journey, over thousands of miles of mountains and swamps and open ocean. I doubt if such a fragile-looking creature will manage to survive the trip out of this valley in this weather, much less the rest of it. But I wish it well and watch as it floats out of sight over the creek and the treetops on the other side- a tiny speck of orange among the countless blowing yellow and red and orange leaves floating around it.

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I climb down the bank to the run where I usually start fishing. This isn't going to be easy. The tongues of current in the creek are thick with leaves flowing downstream. Mats of leaves float in the calm eddies and line the creekbanks. There seems to be almost an equal ratio of leaves to water. How in the world can a trout pick out a tiny imitation of an insect larva floating downstream through the tons of moving debris? I don't know, but they usually do, and that's just another one of the mysteries of trout that makes pursuing them even more wonderous. In the end, they operate on their own rhythm. My job is to get myself into that rhythm, instead of trying to force them into mine. If I do, it will work. If I can.

Since I left home, the temperature has fallen several degrees, and the clouds have lowered even more. I'm not wearing waders, and the first step into the cold water almost takes my breath. I realize how long it's been since I've held a fly rod. My casts feel awkward, and my feet slide on the slick rocks on the creek bottom. My first back cast snags a dead weed on the bank. I wade over to free it, and try to slow down and feel, to adapt. I begin fishing slowly up the run, trying to find my way into the rhythm of the day and the trout and the trees and the leaves and all else that surrounds me. I have been working outside of it so long that it takes awhile to find it again. Every couple of casts, my leader will twitch, and I set the hook and skewer one of the millions of leaves that are moving downstream en masse. After working my way through a couple of runs and trying to calm down, quit thinking, and purge the impatience and frustration, it happens. The leader twitches, I set the hook, but instead of a soggy leaf, there is vibrant life on the other end of the line. There is a flash in the middle of the run, and my rod bends as a fish takes off downstream. I work it to the side and net it. A nine-inch hen brown, fat and full with the eggs it will soon deposit in the stream bottom gravel, starting a new cycle of life even as the year dies.

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I slowly work my way upstream, gradually finding the rhythm of the day. I catch a few more small fish, lose some fish, and hook less leaves than I was in the beginning. I am starting to let go and let the creek tell me what to do instead of trying to fight it. Time disappears, and I am there. I've missed and needed this place. Unlike the eager trout of spring, these trout of the dying year are slow and methodical. The strike, if it comes, comes only after drifting the flies repeatedly through the same slot in the run. But, I don't have anywhere else to be, so I can wait them out. It's the rhythm of the day. As I drift the pair of flies for the tenth time through a deep sluice beside an overhanging boulder where I hooked and released a 17" brown a little over a year ago, the leader stops and I set the hook to solid weight. I think I'm hung on the rock, but then the weight shakes its head and slowly starts swimming downstream. I catch a great flash of gold in the depths, and then the rod goes slack. The hook has pulled out, just like that. I stand there a minute, peering into the water, then take a few steps upstream, and cast again.

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A little further along, I come to a deep bend pool with a log jam along one side. Back last spring, I hooked a huge fish here that bored under the log jam and broke my leader. I approach it carefully, and position myself near the center of the tongue of current coming in from the head of the pool, with my back to the logjam. After drifting the pair of nymphs down the seam in the edge of the current tongue several times, the leader flicks sideways. I strike, and I am connected to pure energy. No head shaking and slow swimming with this one, it bores straight for the logjam. I apply heavy side pressure. If this one breaks me off, it will be in open water. After stubbornly fighting against the bend of the rod, it suddenly reverses direction and shoots upstream past me. As it does, I see the crimson stripe from ten feet away. I wade out and position myself so that I am blocking the escape route, and reach for the net. A couple minutes later, it's struggling in the bag of the net, and I wade ashore. It is a brilliant, big rainbow, an anomaly here in a small national park stream where the big fish are almost always browns, and the rainbows seldom top 10". It reaches along my outstretched arm almost from my fingertips to the bend of my elbow. Its thick, heavy body is wide as a handsaw blade, with a bloody crimson stripe nearly an inch wide running down its side, and gill plates glowing bright scarlet. I put it back in the net, put it back in the creek for a moment, then pick it back up to admire it again. This is a fish that would be considered a pretty nice fish on most of the fabled western rivers, much less here. I hold it beside my rod and mark its length. When I later tape it, it is over 16." A rainbow of a lifetime for a small-stream Smokies angler. A good birthday present, indeed. I gently hold it in the shallows a moment, and then let go. It rests there a few seconds gently waving its fins, seemingly confused; and then, with a flick of its tail, it is gone in an instant as though it had never existed.

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I sit there on a rock for a few minutes, reliving the experience. I fish on for a while, catching a few more trout and drinking in the day. By the time I am nearing my parked truck, I have had enough. I have gotten what I came for. I have to cross the creek to get to my truck, and the current is fairly deep and swift. I set my fly rod down on a mossy rock and walk into the woods to find a stout stick to cross the creek with. I didn't used to do that. I do now.

Before I climb up the bank to my truck, I stop to clean my fish. I have kept four trout, two each for myself and my wife. Their guts and blood go back into the creek in which they were spawned, to feed the crawling and swimming things that their descendants will later feed on. I am not alone in this valley today, by a long shot. Tourists drive the roads, ride bicycles, view the wildlife, hike the trails, and look at the leaves. They see, but they don't really participate or belong here. I learned long ago that to truly belong to a place, you don't just walk around and look at it- you have to participate in the rhythms and cycles. Yes, all of them. You don't watch from the outside; you participate from the inside. I will consume part of this place, and it will then continue to be inside me, the way I am inside it.

On this anniversary of the day I sprang to life decades ago in the throes of a dying year, I have taken life. I have also given life back. And I have lived life. It's what we do. But, as we live, we fade. And sooner or later, we all stop swimming upstream, and we will all drift downstream in the current along with the season's spent leaves. I didn't used to think much about things like that. Now, I do.

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Women want me, doughbellies fear me. - Little Debbie Prostaff


Most excellent reportage, writing, pics, and an especially fine wild rainbow!  'c;


This was one of the finest reports I've had the privilege of reading in quite some time. Thank you for taking me with you on this journey.
"Why, he wondered, did rich people call it sushi while poor people called it bait?"   -- Same Kind of Different as Me

Woolly Bugger

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Thanks so much for posting this report, that's a Spectacular Rainbow!

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ex - I'm not going to live with you through one more fishing season!
me -There's a season?

Pastor explains icons to my son: you know like the fish symbol on the back of cars.
My son: My dad has two fish on his car and they're both trout!


That's a fine fish.  'c;
"Why don't you knock it off with them negative waves? Why don't you dig how beautiful it is out here? Why don't you say something righteous and hopeful for a change? " -Oddball, 1970

"I don't wanna go to hell,
But if I do,
It'll be 'cause of you..."
Strange Desire, The Black Keys, 2006


Quote from: brownhunter on October 18, 2021, 08:47:43 AMThis was one of the finest reports I've had the privilege of reading in quite some time. Thank you for taking me with you on this journey.

What he said!

Thanks for sharing for us.


Big J

Great read.  Awesome bow.  And I see that Damascus Blade and mosaic pins, look at you being all fancy  V:;


Quote from: Big J on October 18, 2021, 14:52:23 PMGreat read.  Awesome bow.  And I see that Damascus Blade and mosaic pins, look at you being all fancy  V:;
A good friend of mine made that for me a while back. The handle is from an old cedar on his farm that we cut up a few years ago. I was down at his place, and he pulled that  knife out and showed it to me. I admired it and told him that I really liked it. He said, "Good, I'm glad you really like it, because it's yours and I put a lot of work into it."
Women want me, doughbellies fear me. - Little Debbie Prostaff


The older we get, fishing is less about the catching. This report certainly touches
on this important part of why we need special days like this. But, occasionally bringing home a few
to eat only makes it better.

Trout Maharishi

Yea, dead fish and hot grease. Should have kept that big one, he's on his last leg anyway :cheers  That is one more nice pig sticker!
Sic semper tyrannis


This can't be beaten. Great report!


Nice bow!

I always get excited when I see one of your reports.  You certainly have a way of drawing me in and taking me with you. 
Jeremiah 17:7


Damn good report. A pleasure to read !!!



My best wishes to your mother, I hope she'll improve.

I'll take a rainbow like that ANY day! It was bound to be a solid battle.

After studying (however menial) the cycles of birds/butterflies and their migration routes, I'm blown away. It seems an impossibility to triumph over such a feat. Kenn Kaufman has produced several bird-based works that I've enjoyed. These have really opened my eyes. In the future, I hope he'll put out more publications.

joe friday

What tremendous color on that Bow!   thanks for the report!

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