Category: Fly Fishing

To the Brookies, Browns & Rainbows

To the Brookies, Browns & Rainbows

My friends Bill and Leleah

One hundred fly fishing outings in the past 18 months was celebrated with two friends that joined me in the creek where it all began. It was a very warm November day (77 degrees) and the water was a balmy 60 degrees…that’s an increase of 10 degrees in the last two weeks. I wet waded. In November. In the Smokies. In short sleeves. And was completely comfortable.

My first day on the water fly fishing

My first fly fishing experience was with guide Travis Williams of Trout Zone Anglers. Travis has since taken over operations of the Gatlinburg hatchery but I’ve gone fishing with David Knapp of TZA three times, since my beginning days as as fly angler, and every time I work with him, I gain skills in reading water, casting, wading, and deepening my love of this way of being.

A composite image I created from the creek and this amazing rock.

I don’t think of it as a sport, although many do. Fly fishing is a way of being in the world, for me at least. It teaches me how to relax and deepen with Nature. But something I noticed today…it gives me confidence in myself and my body.

Aside from casting, tying flies, and reading water, wading in these mountain streams is no joke. Yesterday I spent the day in a river on the Tennessee side of the national park and there one has to negotiate huge boulders and deep pools with a steep gradient. On the North Carolina side of the park, the gradient is less, the streams more gentle and one particular area has the longest flats I have seen around Western North Carolina. And the monstrous, bus-size boulders are rare in NC park streams. The skill of wading is valuable and necessary when fishing these places. Aside from water flow, deep pools, waterfalls, and downed trees, the rocks can be snot-slick. Seriously bust-your-bootie slick. Yoga is the best wading training for me.

Today I noticed vast improvement in my casting from 18 months ago; yet, my wading skills have improved just as much. I now move with confidence across streams and have learned to find safe routes through puzzles of pools, trees, and flow. A wading staff is a very valuable piece of equipment.

Photo of Simone by David Knapp

Perhaps, kind reader, indulge my passion for a moment or two more as I share a few of my favorite memories over the past 18 months of wading wonder.

There was that time the mother otter brought two babies very close to me as I stood in the middle of a still pool. Or the differently marked trout I caught that was solid silver with red spots (probably a brown trout with different coloration). There was that time last autumn when I was sitting on a rock in the middle of the creek and lost myself in the golden reflection of leaves on the water’s surface and drifted into the ‘gap’. Just a few weeks ago, I was fishing with David Knapp in Tennessee and the autumn colors lit up the water like fire….that was amazing! Or that time ice was floating on the water’s surface as I waded and saw two trout sunning in shallow water. And then there was the time I caught a brook trout, released it, and waded up the gorge to find a still-dripping bear paw print on a rock.

Photo by Simone

Fly fishing is a way of life for me because it combines so much of what I love: physical intensity (hiking and wading for miles), creativity (tying flies), athletic ability (casting and wading), sleuthing (reading water, finding trout), meditative stillness (taking in the beauty).

I practice catch and release and keep the fish in water as I remove the hook…which has no barb. I learn from trout and consider them some of my most important teachers on how to live, move, and be in the world. To the rainbows, browns and brookies….thank you my friends.

And….special thanks to the amazing guys at Little River Outfitters. They have welcomed me into their fly fishing family and continue to be a source of great information, gear, and fishing friendship. And to David Knapp of Trout Zone Anglers for helping me deepen my skills and love of this amazing way of life.

Remember

Remember

Words take me to a linear part of my brain and I want to stay in the fullness of the experience— watery curves of water flowing over stone; crashing sound of white water finding itself after falling.

Agitation, due to separation from wading mountain streams in lush forests, is resolved. Other things kept me from these sacred experiences, these holy times with Nature. But it couldn’t be helped.

Today, after nearly a month apart from my Beloveds, I waded again. My soul drank deeply from living waters flowing through an ancient river, an ancient creek. My entire body is re-set as is my energy and mind and emotions. 

I’m back with myself after 62 degree water caressed my legs and feet for three hours. It feels good to be home in my body once again. And to remember….

Another Way Around

Another Way Around

This pool was calling me…

The large stack of logs looks the same as it did the last two times I stood here but that pool above it is calling me. Their position in the river, with large rocks, rushing water, and overhanging branches, makes it appear impossible to navigate. But the water is just 25 yards above this mess….and I really want to cast the fly I tied yesterday into that pool. But….can I do it?

I walk to the upstream side and the moss-covered rocks offer a steep approach. Nope. I walk back downstream and look again. Maybe I can wade around the logs, downstream, and navigate the swift water near the far bank. I stand here….comtemplating, studying….and then the thought comes: Get down on the level of the water and see what it looks like. Maybe the different perspective will help me decide.

From water-level, it looks so different, so doable.

Carefully, I make my way down the slippery bank, again grateful for my wading staff. Once I am downstream from the log jam and see the water on the far side, I realize that it’s definitely doable. 

The first cascading pool comes quickly and I cast a fly. BAM! Dance and release. I wade a bit further upstream and cast into a delicious pool from the lower pool. BAM and it tossed the fly. Then immediately another hit and connection as the rainbow dances over the ledge and into the pool where I’m standing. Carefully, the fly is removed and off she swims, with a beautiful, feisty attitude.

I wade on, stopping before the bottom of each beautiful pool. The dancing is fine. One especially clever rainbow dives under a limb caught under a rock. It’s a deep little pool but I can’t leave a fish on a fly and line, tangled under the limb. I ease into the butt-deep pool and reach under clear water and pull the limb up. The fish removed the fly and left the fly hooked on the limb. I laugh out loud and blow on the fly to dry it before I step up the rocky ledge to move upstream.

Beautiful pools as far as I can see offer more opportunities to dance but I’m in a good place to stop and bushwhack through woods to the trail. I walk up the trail another mile but mostly just to enjoy the morning, the green and reflect on the wisdom offered by Nature.

What if I hadn’t taken the time to really look at the apparent blocked way? What if I had given up without trying? How sad to contemplate missing all that beauty, interaction with trout, and the rocks and water that made me work hard to achieve the goal of visiting these amazing pools where cold water nurtures my master teachers as they swim with wild abandon.

When faced with obstacles in our lives, do we give up and turn around or do we take the time to explore and wonder? The choice is ours to search and find another way around.

Wading in Wonder

Wading in Wonder

This little creek was waiting for me…for months.

Heavy fog envelopes my home and everything near the Tuckaseegee River. But that river isn’t the one calling me in the gray, pre-dawn light. A small prong in the national park has been calling me for months now. Two days ago it was roaring with heavy rain that fell in a flash flood event so I couldn’t visit it. Today, I think it will be sweet.

I feed the critters and myself in record time and load the gear. Fog clears as I put the Tuckaseegee behind me and steer towards the national park. It’s too early for tourists so the small town I drive through is quiet The energy of the park feels still, with elk grazing serenely in the mountain meadow.

On I drive, passing beautiful pull-outs along the river. And finally, I arrive at a small parking area where I’ll begin my wade up. I check the water temperature…sixty degrees. Air is 58 degrees. I think I’m in heaven even though the first step into the rushing, clear water sends shocks up my body. But wet wading connects me more completely with water. No separation. 

I check the Gaia app and get my bearings as to where the little prong is located along the trail. And finally, I head up to meet this little body of water.

I bushwhack a bit, asking permission from the creepy crawlers and creatures of the place to allow me passage. As I step out of the dense foliage on to the moss-covered, rocky bank, I am immediately transported into a place of bliss within myself, in harmony with all life. I am embraced with welcoming beauty that brings spontaneous laughter from my depths. Soul laughter

In a creek this small, fly fishing is challenging; so is navigating rocks and rushing water and steep, rhododendron-covered banks. A first visit always brings a sharper edge of adventure and wonder. Part of the appeal is working the puzzle of wading upstream—navigating rocks, eddies, small rapids.

There’s a nice, quiet spot of water….I do a vertical cast and BAM! A rainbow dances with me for a few moments until I gently release it back into the rushing water. Such a mighty sister!

Up and up I wade, marveling with the mystery of this place; grateful it is protected protection.

Wading a small creek and working hard physically to navigate its structure brings me closer to it. It becomes a visceral opening–me to it, it to me. There is no conquering, only unity of movement. Respect.

Sparkling rainbow graces me again as I cast into another calm hole. Sweet teacher, spirit friend…thank you for helping me learn more about your home, my home. My soul-skin, now consciously expands to include all of this magnificence.

After a couple hours, I’ve greeted a couple more rainbows and am in a good place to hike back down the trail. As I wander back to the car, I feel the soft, green moss on gray boulders moving through me. Likewise, clear, clean water moves through me even as I sit here, hours later, reflecting on this life I am so grateful to inhabit. 

Great Spirit, light of creation that unites us all, thank you for life that expresses in such amazing beauty—flowing water, flashing fins, flowering shrubs, singing heart. Tears flow with love for all creation, as the creek flows onward from the heart of the mountain, to the river, to the sea.

Big Adventure, Small Creek

Big Adventure, Small Creek

Photo by Simone Lipscomb

Mists of the morning filtered light rays as we entered the creek. The sight and sound of clear, rushing water was the focus of our attention, but every tree, moss covered rock or flower added to the beauty. But perhaps even more beautiful than all of that, was the colorful glistening shimmer of pink, silver and dark green of rainbow trout or the bright orange-red fins and dots of native brook trout. 

Photo by David Knapp

When leaving the pullout parking area on this busy mountain road, it’s like walking into another dimension. Heavy foliage hides the road, the sound of rushing water filters out traffic noise. It’s like walking through a doorway into another world…of Nature, of magic.

Newfound Gap. Photo by Simone Lipscomb

Higher elevations call when the July fry begins in the mountains. This summer seems hotter than usual here in the Smoky Mountains. Melting hot. Stay-in-air-conditioning hot. Icky hot. 

Photo by Simone Lipscomb

In fly fishing catch-and-release for trout, warmer water is not good. Trout are a cold water species and they thrive in water temperature is between 55 and 65. If a fisher catches and releases a trout in water much above 65 degrees, their recovery time increases and their chance of survival decreases. This also depends on how long they are on line and how quickly a fisher is able to release the fish. Quick landing, quick release, cool water are important pieces of catch-and-release practice for trout.

Photo of Simone by David Knapp

I had been looking forward to a guided trip with David Knapp, owner of Trout Zone Anglers, for many months. I chose July because I’m off the entire month from my usual job and thought I’d be doing lots of fly fishing this month. The heat and thunder storms have made that challenging, but on our day of fishing, we had higher elevation temperatures and no lightning. And trout. And beauty. And rocks. And clear water.

David scouting for trout. Photo by Simone Lipscomb

I thought I had fished a small creek before but I found out that small is relative. And what I had thought wasn’t fishable without great difficulty, while looking at the water along Highway 441 through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, I discovered was indeed fishable and fun and beautiful. 

Photo by Simone Lipscomb

Like many places in the Smokies, entry and egress points are scattered along the roadway. In between those points are dense rhododendron thickets, nearly impossible to push through, along steep banks, nearly impossible to climb. So going with a guide who knows the area or scouting and marking places on a GPS app is important to safety and peace of mind. In fishing a completely different type of water, it’s important to go with someone who knows the area and can guide through it, not only for safety but for instruction on learning to fish this very different environment.

Photo of Simone by David Knapp

When one thinks of fly fishing, those big loops might come to mind…the graceful back cast and forward cast where the dry fly lands like a kiss on the water’s surface. Forget all that in a creek that might be 15 feet wide with heavy vegetation on both sides and overhead. New skills are needed. Thankfully, David is a wonderful teacher so I learned two new casts and techniques that broadened my skill set. From reading the water, to a modified bow-and-arrow cast, I came away with new tools, but more importantly I came away with memories of cascading water, flowers, trout and wading cool water in one of the most beautiful places on the planet.

Photo by Simone Lipscomb

On a small, mountain stream at high elevation, the mundane fades away and the mystical realm of mists, rocks, rushing water take over the senses. Trout become the teachers and jesters, the humbling masters. We’re lucky just to have a few hours to be in their presence.

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Featured image of Simone by David Knapp. Check out Trout Zone Anglers for more information on booking David and the guides that work with him. The level of learning and fun is a perfect balance.