Category: Fly Fishing

Rock in the River

Rock in the River

One of the reasons I enjoy fly fishing is experiencing the deep connection I have to water. In particular, wading the mountain streams creates an opportunity to be totally present and viscerally connected to the clear, cold water.

With moving water and slippery rocks, it’s imperative to pay attention. A wading staff helps as does regular yoga practice, but it’s still very easy to succumb to gravity and the constant force of moving water to become more viscerally connected than I want. Wading with intention.

It’s not just intending to stay upright. It’s also purposefully noticing each rock, gravel bed, root, overhanging branch, movement under the water, insects hatching, and rising fish kissing the surface. Every part of who I am becomes engaged in the process known as fly fishing.

But to be honest, the time spent in the creek never feels complete unless I sit on a rock in the creek just to observe and breathe. Those are the sweet moments when I can let go and be present—meld into the elements and recognize the Oneness of all life.

This past Christmas day I delighted in several hours of visiting my favorite little mountain creek. At one point, my back began to complain and I felt compelled to sit on a rock. After securing the fly line and hook, I found a nice rock and commenced to enjoy true stillness of body and mind. As if often the case, a teaching began to emerge.

I noticed the rushing water swirling around the boulder, around my booted feet. How long have you withstood the force of rushing water? Look how connected to Earth you are. You let everything just go around you without being moved. You are an amazing rock!

My mind needed that lesson. Too often I allow the calmness and stillness I practice cultivating within my mind to be interrupted by thoughts that come and go. Ever since then, when I find my mind distracted or going down some ridiculous rabbit hole, I ask myself, where is the rock? I laugh and report, way back up the river. It’s a way to monitor the mental chatter and multitude of times that old habitual thoughts and worries take me far away from being grounded and centered; take me far away from myself.

The rock in the river has become a touchstone, pun intended, to see if I am present with myself or if my mind has wandered downriver to some swirling eddy filled with debris. 

Long After

Long After

The clear, cold water moves through me still. Long after four blissful hours are over there remains inner clarity and flow. My cells were changed, cleansed, and made new. The trout swim within me; I am part of the river, still with them. 

I close my eyes and sense the inner sparkle. Things were laid down in that river; burdens left behind to be carried on the currents of flowing water…down, down, down over rocks and waterfalls, scrubbing away the heaviness so that by the time they reach the sea, those burdens are only sparkles of light, released from constriction, freed from bondage.

I give thanks for wild places.

The One That Got Away

The One That Got Away

Thanks Shawn for taking this photograph of me fishing.

It was a day of extremes. BIG fish and tiny fish. But it was epic!

For months I’ve watched four trout I call the trout magi. They live at a place I walked frequently. In the spring, they stayed in a certain place and have moved to more hidden places as the seasons have progressed. How do I know? Well, my friends, that’s the tale of the fish story.

I’m relatively new to fly fishing but am going into my third season and have done okay as a catch-and-release Nature lover. I wade in cold creeks to connect with the beauty, to learn from wise creatures and to generally exercise complete presence of focus and intention. These trout magi have schooled me in what it means to be a trout…at least as much as I can grasp it as a human. Observing for half an hour or so many times over several months (walking, not fishing) I have become a diligent student.

Bambi fresh out of the tying vise.

A week ago I stood behind a log at the upstream edge of a deep pool and cast across the rushing water to the other side where flat water hugged the bank. I had a feeling…… As soon as my fly kissed the surface, water erupted in a huge splash, my fly was hit and then, as I tried to set the hook, I saw that nothing was left. The fly had vanished. My custom-tied, made-up fly I named Rudolph had flown away courtesy of a trout magi.

Today, a week later, a friend from Arkansas walked up to the same area with me. She fished downstream a bit as I started wading, intent to make it back to the log. And eventually, ever-so-slowly, I made it back to this tricky place and began casting. 

Bambi wet.

I was aiming for some rough riffles. I don’t know why…because it felt fishy there today. The new fly I made, named Bambi, was sinking due to the rough water but I just let it sink. And after a few casts, it felt like a huge, underwater troll had grabbed the end of my line and was bending my 10 foot 3 weight rod nearly double. 

I set the hook and started stripping in line with my left hand, anchored the fly line briefly with my right middle finger so I could grab my net and let it hang behind me then kept stripping line as the fish was shaking her head, leaping and bucking like a wild bronco. My adrenaline level skyrocketed. And I screamed with wild abandon.

I kept a nice bend in the rod and as I directed the rainbow trout magi over into my net, I realized I couldn’t land the fish with the silly log in the way and a lot of deep water on the other side (if I slipped). So I decided to try and bring the fish around the end of the log. With net ready, I shifted my weight on the rock where I stood and turned. 

As soon as I dropped the tip of my rod a fraction in that move, the wise trout shook her head and the barbless hook went flying. Bye bye wise elder.

My knees were knocking and my hands shaking as I brought in the fly for a look. It was fine except for the golden pheasant tail feathers on the rear. Mama trout took those with her. Everything else looked just fine. The deer tail hairs were still there, the grizzly hackle and elk fur wing…all just fine. 

My friend Shawn fishing upstream

We moved upstream another half mile or so and fished. She caught a nice rainbow and released it, I landed a little brown trout and released it. When I say little, I’m not sure how it managed to bite the size 14 hook it was so small….but we had a brief meeting and off it swam.

On the way back, we stopped at a big hole. My friend fished upstream from me and I wanted to try a nice structure on the far side of the creek. It had a beautiful rhododendron sheltering the nice rocky, underwater ledge. It was so fishy I was almost certain there was a big one living there.

After several casts into this tricky area, I was able to float the fly just over the hole where the suspected trout lived. Sure enough, a big fella swam out of hiding to investigate (thank goodness for clear water so I could watch this). After the fly floated past and begin to drag, I cast into the same area and BAM! The Bambi fly did it again! This time I missed the set and the fish swam off in a huff. 

It’s not so much about landing the trout as it is letting them teach me about their lives. It’s learning to trust myself wading in really slippery conditions (these rocks were the slickest I’ve ever walked on). It’s deepening my connection with Nature. And today, deepened a friendship.

Bambi dried out and ready to fish again.

My Garmin watch said I walked 6.46 miles and fished 4 ½ hours with 13,963 steps and 326 floors climbed. My body agrees with those stats.  It was rainy and chilly with the temperature hovering around 52 degrees. The water was 52 degrees. Thanks to great gear, I remained dry and mostly warm. It was worth every step, every incline climbed. 

I’m gradually progressing in the lessons my trout magi teachers are imparting to me. Today, one almost allowed me the honor of netting her….alas, I wasn’t quite ready. But I’ll always remember….the one that got away. And I’ll got back to try again another day. 


Yesterday I bought this little fishing line waste container and hooked it to my vest. I hate losing small pieces of tippet in the water and even if I put them in my vest pocket, they get pulled out when I go back into the pocket. Today, after two casts, I found a HUGE wad of fishing line and a lure left by a spin tackle fisher. It took me 10 minutes to untangle the mess from a wad of wet leaves. I was so very glad I spent $12 for this little canister.

Time Stood Still

Time Stood Still

It was 45 degrees when I arrived at the gravel parking lot, just as official sunrise happened. Just as the mist was rising over the 52 degree water. Just as the colors were beginning to show in the trees. The magic space between darkness and full light. On the West Fork of the Pigeon River, the sun took a few more hours to peek out from behind the mountains. Those minutes could have ticked off very slowly, waiting for the warmth of the sun to kiss my face and hug my body, except time stood still. Cold didn’t matter. Discomfort of holding one position a long time didn’t matter. Nothing mattered except the magnificent beings I encountered.

Time might have first stood still when I watched the huge, fat brown trout—just two feet from my boots—for almost an hour…or two…who knows when you’re in no time.  Or perhaps when that trout’s friend arrived and both hulks gazed at my flies as they floated overhead. They didn’t want a dry fly, a nymph or a wet fly. I’ve never tried so many flies working one fish, two fish. But what an amazing experience to drop into fish time, which is really no time, and merge with water, flow, leaves, rocks in that space of Oneness. 

As the sun topped the mountain, the colors became so intense!

It reminded me of diving in Bonaire, my favorite dive destination, and stopping in a place where a fish or sea turtle was there and just hovering in no time while observing as part of the underwater community. Today, I was a gray rock. Only moving my arm to gently toss the line…it wasn’t a cast really…upstream of the small gathering of the trout giants. It felt like I was standing there hanging with friends. No need to talk, just hang out and enjoy the day. And watch the silly fly fisher’s flys float down the river.

Thanks Shawn for sharing this image of me trying to remove the hook…

Once I let the fly float past and kept watching the big trout. A smaller trout downstream grabbed the fly but I was too slow, my attention being on ‘brown beauties.’ It flipped off the hook. But I cast to the far side of the river and after two or three casts had a nice little brown trout on the line. I landed it in the water at my side and I knelt to remove the barbless hook but it wouldn’t come out of its lip. I reached for the hemostats and the fish swam off, with the fly. (It was a good lesson in using my net. Usually I can reach down and just touch the hook and it falls out but today the net would have helped contain the fish and then I could have removed the fly and released it. I have been told the fish can rub the fly out of their lip and the secretions from their mouth dissolve the hooks within a couple weeks. But I don’t want any fish to suffer because I was not diligent with my fish-handling skills).

I turned my attention back to the big brown trout and they wanted absolutely nothing to do with me. So I moved from the center of the river to the bank and switched flys. I sat on a large rock and for a lark tossed out the fly. A nice rainbow trout bumped it, took it under, and generally played with it every time it floated past. It was that kind of day. Yes, we see your amazing fly. No we don’t want anything to do with it.

Always check with your wading staff to see if the leaves are on the bottom or are floating. This one almost led to a good dunking.

The fish, for the most part, were just not that interested. A guide we passed said they had the same thing happening. Some days trout play, other days they won’t. But for me, when I can stand in a river for an hour watching two trout, that’s as close to bliss as I can be unless I am diving.

There were other trout and attempts and they all said, meh. But what a fabulous morning. Almost five hours fishing, standing in flowing water. 

My vibe when I drop into ‘no time.’

I suspect brown trout are masters of time for they led me into no time. In their world, I spent hours of being present with beauty, abundant beauty, that is magnified exponentially by forgetting everything else except what unfolds each moment.

Shout out to United Women on the Fly for having such a great forum for gals to meet other gals interested in fly fishing. Shawn’s hubby works at NOC as a raft guide. When he works, she plays. 🙂
I Was A Leaf Looker This Weekend

I Was A Leaf Looker This Weekend

The sweet smell of balsam fir trees hung in the thick fog. Every droplet that kissed my face seemed to anoint me with Nature’s most amazing scent.

I arrived early at the parking lot at Clingman’s Dome, hopeful for fog. Most people that visit want clear skies for the long-distance views. And they were there at the parking lot, but the top of the mountain was blanketed with cloud cover.

It’s a steep, 1.2 mile walk up to the observation tower made a bit more challenging because I was on Day 2 of my ‘Play Tourist’ weekend. Why I chose this weekend—when the leaf lookers were out in full force—I’m not sure. Maybe I wanted to see color. Perhaps I wanted an excuse to visit my favorite fly fishing store in Townsend. But most likely it was due to the rivers and creeks I fish running very high due to several days of rain. I wanted to let them drop before wading.

So, I got out the Big Mama Nikon and tripod and grabbed a telephoto lens as well as my wide-angle zoom—heavy equipment that I normally don’t hike with and reserve for special photographic endeavors. But the weather was finally rain-free and the temperatures very nice so on Friday I headed to Townsend, through the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

I wanted to photograph some of the creeks and rivers since the water level was high. Water…the element that balances me, heals me, directs me back into my soul skin without fail. In my wandering, I had a perfectly timed encounter with three kayakers running a big rapid that’s normally not a kayaking river. After that, I decided to head to another watery place near Cades Cove but traffic was at a stop almost two miles outside of Cades Cove. No thanks. I turned around and went to Townsend.

I’ve been fly fishing since April and over the past month started tying flies, which has opened an entirely new, creatively amazing, journey. Little River Outfitters is where it all began for me and the staff there is beyond amazing. And their store…it feels good just to walk in there. I hadn’t visited their second story which is all fly tying goodies. Threads, equipment, furs, feathers, hooks of every imaginable size and kind and an artist’s dream. Color! Parts and pieces to create small versions of insects, or in my case…insects from Wonderland. Alice would be pleased. I had fun…way too much fun.

A drive back through the park, stopping at beautiful waterfalls and creeks and letting my Nikon play, added more fun to my day as I wound my way up and over the ridge through the park, and finally to my home. A late afternoon walk at my usual trail ended the day beautifully.

Saturday, I intended to go to the Upper Nantahala with the Nikon, but when I got in my car it headed to Clingman’s Dome. I explored the magical, foggy, balsam fir forest on top after the walk up. It felt like I was in another realm, like the fairy dimension opened and invited me to explore. Even though it was early, there were other humans there so I headed down to the parking area to leave before the insane crowd developed. But I got to Forney Ridge Trail and decided…what the heck.

The trail was downhill through beautiful moss-covered rocks and boulders. I was surprised at the number of people on the trail, but it was not nearly as crowded as the main trail. Unfortunately, I didn’t bring a water bottle or put the heavy telephoto lens in the car so I had quite a grueling hike. But it was worth it just for the beauty. There’s something very special about hiking through terrain that’s over a mile high. The trees are different, the air is cooler, and it seems somewhat removed from the chaos of the parking lot and everywhere really.

While I appreciate the opportunity to do short day trips in the national park—it is the most-visited national park in the country—I generally stay away from highly visited tourist areas until January or February, when visitors aren’t as numerous. When I finished my hike and came back to the Clingman’s Dome parking area, there were hundreds of people milling around, walking, blocking the way. It felt like entering a chaotic, alternate reality. I quickly walked to my car, dodging stopped cars waiting for parking spaces, gulped half a large bottle of water and left the chaos. There was a line over a mile in length just to get into the parking area. And cars were parked all along the side of the roadway. I was glad to be headed to my cabin in the woods.

Finally, Sunday dawned chilly and I took a chance to fly fish at my favorite creek. The water was up but running clear. While I couldn’t wade some areas due to high water, it was amazing to be in 51 degree, crisp air, standing in a mountain creek. 

I chose to fish a fly I tied and it was a huge hit with my trout friends. The first cast got a strike. But they carried it underwater without biting the hook…several times. I’ve never fished a fly that got so much attention from trout. One trout even came up under it, opened its big, white mouth, and acted like it was going to take it but then just backed away. It was the best entertainment I’ve had in a long time. It was amazing that something I created brought entertainment to the trout as well. But they didn’t engage in anything but playing with the fly…and that’s okay with me. I saw a couple of mistakes I made in tying it that created a crippled insect appearance. Sometimes they go for a crippled fly, but it probably makes them more suspicious. And our wild trout in the national park are spooky to begin with.

After nearly three hours of wading and standing in the creek, casting a line, and generally losing myself in the non-linear time of Nature, I felt like a reset button had been pressed and I was back inside my soul skin. 

The leaf looker season is just getting started. Today (Sunday) over 2000 people went through the Oconoluftee Visitor Center—I wasn’t one of them. I’ll be seeking the quiet places, the hidden places, and avoiding the crowds and chaos for the next few weeks. But you can bet I’ll be wading and playing with trout and allowing the creeks to keep me in balance.