Category: Fly Fishing

Rhodo Hell

Rhodo Hell

The old timers called them rhododendron hells. Today I found out exactly why that is as I crawled through one with fishing gear. Thank goodness for cave diving training and experience. And I’m not kidding. At one point I couldn’t go forward, or sideways and backwards wasn’t looking too promising. But let’s start at the beginning.

I arrived at the parking lot just before two sets of two fly fishers were heading up the trail. One guy asked the other group where they were fishing. (And no….nobody asked me. I guess my camo hoodie was working well for me. Or they weren’t taking a woman fly fisher serious). Whatever the case, I listened as they described where they were going. And I decided to take my time and fish up the creek, from the lower portion at the parking area, to give them time to do whatever they were going to do.

At one place, instead of exiting the creek at the usual spot, I decided to continue past the familiar exit to wade and fish pockets. The water level made it perfectly suited for wading and wading and wading. Much easier than exiting on a creek bank with no trail. The wading was awesome but I wanted to push further up the trail, so after 200 yards or so, I saw an egress point and took it.

That set the tone for the day. It lit a fire for adventure in me….why not just enter and wade instead of popping in and out of favorite spots!?! Maybe there were new favorite spots to discover!

I knew the guys said they were headed up, as they gave each other an approximate place of entry. In order to avoid both sets of fly fishers, I decided to enter a little lower than my favorite place, and just keep wading. The thing about this place is…once you commit to wading upstream, you pretty much have to keep going or turn around and backtrack downstream. The reason? The trail and the creek are sometimes level with each other and sometimes the trail goes up a steep slope, leaving the creek far below. I knew about how far my favorite spot was, so I committed. I kept wading.

A few trout gave a shove or push of interest, but it wasn’t great fishing. The scenery, however, was amazing and beautiful so I was happy….until I saw a new can of Copenhagen tobacco ‘dip’ swirling in a eddy. Seriously!?! Somebody had to have dropped it recently. And then….I saw the wet footprint!

OH, NO! I was fishing behind one of the teams and knew that the fish would be spooked. It’s a small creek. I looked towards the trail. I was already in an area where the trail was far above the creek. I looked back…no way! Too far to backtrack.

So I continued. It became more of a scouting expedition for future fishing. I continued to cast, but knew it was pretty much just casting practice.

Eventually, I smelled smoke and glanced down at a nearby rock. Dripping wet boot print. I looked upstream and there they were. The bank was crazy-steep so I continued on, stowing the line and fly and just trying to catch up and go around them without messing up their fishing.

But they weren’t at all friendly when I said I wasn’t trying to cut them off. Great. I just wanted to go around them and not fish. They didn’t budge, didn’t reply. Nice, guys. 

There was a huge strainer to the right of the guys. A pile of logs that was 12 feet high isn’t safe to crawl over and the bank around it was jammed with rhododendron. Since they wouldn’t even acknowledge my request to go around them on the other side of the creek, I decided to crawl through the thick growth of twisted branches and exit the creek, rather than just stand there and watch them fish until they moved on. 

They have beautiful flowers, but these plants are unforgiving.

First, I took my 9 foot rod apart. At least in two shorter pieces, I’d have a better chance of making it through successfully. Then, I took my net out of the holster at my back and unclipped the wading staff. All the while, I was asking for safe passage from the snake brothers and sisters.

My rod in my left hand, net and wading staff in the right hand, I got on my knees and began the crawl. Rhodo’s don’t just grow straight. Their branches intertwine and create a barrier that goes from the ground to however tall they are….15 feet, 20 feet…or more. 

At one point I couldn’t move. The way forward seemed blocked…meaning I couldn’t crawl forward. The sides were blocked and my fly line caught on a leaf. Great. Just great. I wondered if they’d find my skeleton. No way my satellite communicator would work under the dense cover.

I crawled backwards, unhooked my line and crawled forward. I made it to a bit of an opening where a downed and rotted tree blocked my way. It was getting better and better…if the thought of being stuck in a thicket was appealing. But, I had looked at my Gaia trail map app and knew the trail was close.

After clearing the downed tree debris…there were two trees blocking my path…I finally saw the bank in front of me. It went straight up. I didn’t have a choice. It was up or stuck.

By some miracle of green plant beings, the place I scrambled up had zero poison ivy. None. How was that possible when the entire side of the trail is covered in the plant. I was amazed and side-stepped up the bank, trusting my legs and feet to propel me the final few feet up to the trail.

There were many words said aloud, but they are not words I’d repeat in public. But there were words of gratitude, as well. I made it out of rhodo hell! WOO HOO! Now on to my favorite spot.

As soon as I reassembled my rod, I noticed the tippet and fly were missing. That’s what was holding me up in that tight spot. No worries. I stood at the downstream end of the upstream run and claimed the space, just in case the slightly obnoxious guys arrived before I could get the tippet and fly attached.

But I had the place to myself. Just me and the trout. As soon as I got out from behind the other fly fishers, trout started dancing with me. I fished a while, filtered some water and then ate my chocolate and almonds.

After ‘lunch,’ I pushed on and decided to keep wading above nice pockets I’ve fished before. The fish kept dancing, I kept wading. But this time, I had intel that directed me to exit points.

One day last winter, I left my fly fishing gear at home and hiked the trail. I did several walks from the trail to the creek and if the egress points were good, I’d mark them on my Gaia app. Just in case.

Today, as I waded in magnificent waters and around pools filled with trout, I’d occasionally get out the phone and check the app. Perfect. I knew exactly where I wanted to exit.

This deep pool held several trout who ‘sniffed’ the fly and swam away. Beautiful to watch their intelligence at work.

And finally, after over 5 hours and over 4 miles, I left the creek after saying thank you for a wonderful day. I blew a kiss to the trout and rocks and water and trees and headed across the woodland to the trail.

During the two-mile walk down to my car, I reflected on the day. Epic adventure, no doubt. Rhodo hell….conquered (this time). The guys….one had a red beard with upturned ends of his mustache and with the sun reflecting off his face, he definitely took on the personality of a lesser demon. His gnome side-kick, well….nothing much to say. As my feet carried me downhill, I thought of funny ways to describe them and embellish the story I knew I’d write. Then, when I got to the car, they were at their car, loading their gear.

The gnome and I started talking and we had a nice conversation. And the other guy really wasn’t a devil. They were rather new to fishing and really didn’t know what to do when I said I needed to walk around them….or so they said. We had a nice visit.

Major lessons learned? #1. Scouting and marking egress points is a great idea and next winter, I’ll do more of that at my favorite creeks. #2. Rhodo hells really are hell, so major lesson #1 is a MUST before wading sections I haven’t scouted. #3. Don’t assume people are asses because they appear to be. #4. Persist! Keep crawling. Keep going. Keep wading. Keep climbing. Keep casting. Keep loving this beautiful world! 

This is Living

This is Living

The air temperature suddenly drops. I wonder if there is a thunderstorm approaching. The canopy of greens makes it impossible for me to see the sky. The stereo of rushing water in riffles downstream and in a small rapid upstream make it impossible to hear anything else. Dapples of sunlight are still creating light diamonds on the 60 degree water…I’m gonna wade more.

The hike to my entry point was graced with a elk cow, standing alone in the green forest. She guarded the gateway, the threshold, into that other realm of rocks, water, ferns, trees, and trout.

As I wade, memories of a recent casting lesson from a favorite mentor at LRO seem to click in and suddenly my casts are smooth, the fly floats and gently kisses the surface and multiple times my rod bends as wild trout teach me the arts of balance and patience. Their multi-colored bodies glisten in the creek water as they come close and then flip off the barbless hook. Better than having to handle them to remove the hook and release them. We find an agreeable way to be together…my teachers in trout form.

Because of the easy creek slope, I find myself wading without having to exit around rapids. The water level is perfect: low enough to make it safe in deeper areas but high enough to provide great habitat for trout. Fly fishing opens me to flow—of water, line, breath. It turns me inside out and brings out the profound calm of my deep, inner water and gives healing in ways nothing else has…except maybe scuba.

Nearly four hours pass and I still wade upstream. The only word that comes close to describing the experience is magic. But wait…was that thunder? I can’t tell but decide to exit the creek and see if I can glimpse the sky. I move closer to the meadow and there are some dark gray clouds in the distance. I decide to head back up the trail, toward my car just in case. 

About a quarter mile from my exit point, I find another beautiful area that begs for a dry fly. I climb down the rocky bank and toss a fly and sure enough, a beautiful rainbow trout finds me whispering words of gratitude as I gently remove the hook that is barely even engaged with the fish. I wade up and up and up more. I lose track of time but notice the sun is no longer visible. I pay closer attention to sounds…is that thunder again?

I remain in a state of Oneness and bliss as I continue to wade and cast. I munch on dark chocolate, cheese, and almonds. I stop and filter water to drink. And then continue wading, celebrating beauty.

The exit point comes and goes, I continue on, but the fish have disappeared. I think it might be time to go, they are urging me back to my car. And then…BOOM! Yes, it’s time.

I reel in the line and stow the fly. Backtracking to an easy egress point doesn’t take long and then I’m only a quarter mile above my car.

As I emerge from the cover of woods, dark clouds are mixing with white, puffy clouds. I set a steady pace across the meadow and breakdown the gear within minutes. By the time I drive past the overlook, rain is blanketing the next ridge over and skies are dark.

Deep calm envelopes me still. The trout do this to me…they demand I find my deep center. The rocks demand I be grounded. The water demands I stay alert. Words escape me now, hours later, as I try to express how I feel…still embraced in the flow, still in that place of calm, deep water within the depths of my being. A wood thrush is in the woods, just outside my home. The flute-like, sweet song makes me smile.

Oh, yes. I love experiencing a life where there is no need to escape for a vacation. This is living. This is bliss.

Fun on the Fly

Fun on the Fly

As twilight descends, yellow mayflies swarm around me. They had been hatching throughout the 5 mile walk/wade, but just as light fades the little faery-like beings begin to swarm.

Recently, I decided to combine my daily walk with fly fishing. I’ve always been a morning hiker, cycler or whatever outdoor urge calls, but lately I’ve been drawn to twilight, that mysterious threshold between light and dark, where the mystery of the creek is experienced.

The air temperature is 72 when I start walking. Unencumbered by wading pants (but wearing hiking pants), the hike is so much more pleasant. When I first step into the 60 degree water after walking 25 minutes, it feels magnificent. Fish are jumping…no, leaping out of the creek. Insects are falling from limbs and emerging out of the water. And so it goes for the entire three hours.

At one pool, a big brown trout leaps after my fly and makes me squeal. I know she’s probably still laughing her trout laugh. A little farther on, a trout leaps. I cast to the trout and it grabs the fly and spits it out before I can even react. But how much fun! Serious fun.

It’s challenging to describe the peaceful spirit that hovers over the forest and creek as the day begins to end. Light is warm and inviting. Cool air caresses my face with tenderness. Everything seems to exist in a deep harmony. 

As I stand at the shallow edge of a deep hole, I feel the energy of water as it chills my feet and lower legs. Wet wading…the absolute best way to fly fish because the connection to the fish and forest deepens for me with no separation between my body and the body of water.

Nearly everyone else is home eating dinner or tending to kids or whatever. I find profound balance comes from this quiet time, with hardly anyone else around…well, except for the trout and insects. 

As I listen to my body after hours spent in the twilight of the creek and forest, I feel such relaxation and peace. My energy is strong yet sweetly in harmony with Nature. Gratitude bubbles up from my depths, the flow within is strong. For the yellow mayflies, the midges, the trout, the creek and rocks, the trees and green plants and lush ferns, the strong body that carries me outdoors and for an open heart that can take it all in…I am grateful.


On a side note, a song I haven’t heard in decades started playing in my mind as I walked, but I could only hear one phrase: Here I am baby, come and take by the hand. I couldn’t remember the group or other lyrics so I sang this to the forest and the creek and the fish for three hours. And even to two other hikers who passed me. Upon returning home, I found the song! UB40 was the reggae group and it’s an awesome tune. Here are some of the lyrics: “I can’t believe that it’s real, The way that you make me feel. The burnin’ deep down inside, The love that I cannot hide. I know it’s you I need, baby, And it makes the world go round. I’m keeping’ you in love with me, baby, Laying all my troubles down. Here I am, baby, come and take me. Here I am, baby, come on and take me. Take me by the hand. Ooh, show me. Here I am baby.”

Seems very fitting to sing this to Nature as I walk in bliss and wonder.

Rainbow Shaman Trout

Rainbow Shaman Trout

A tunnel of green reflected off the water’s surface as I stood in awe of the beauty: rocks, water, trees. Green. Intense green that shows evidence of life, of living.

As of yesterday, it’s wet wading for me…nothing separating me from liquid bliss. The wader pants are stowed, awaiting cooler temps in autumn. When I gently stepped into the 60 degree water, I felt the chill but soon appreciated the connection of skin to clear mountain creek.

I’ve always thought this particular place is magic. So many times I’ve dropped into an altered state of deep stillness as I communed with the energies of the creek and forest and mountains. Today, I met a trout that was one of the magical beings that reside here…or so it seemed.

I’d been standing about an hour in a favorite pool and finally found a fly the trout liked. I had several strikes within a few minutes and then BAM! A beautiful rainbow trout dove for the bottom. I watched her dive and rub her mouth on the rocks, attempting to shed the tiny, barbless hook. I reached out with the net and kept her in the water. I looked away for a moment to tuck the fly rod under my arm so I could attend to the hook removal. She obviously had other plans.

When I turned back, the fly was left, hooked in the net, and the fish was gone. Gone!

I checked the net and it was fine. The fish was too big to fit through the soft, silicone mesh. I must have tipped the edge under the surface, but honestly, in that moment it seemed as if the trout was a shape-shifting shaman trout.

The shimmering emerald water captured my attention as I paused and pondered the missing fish. I smiled as I wondered if I had slipped into an alternate reality of faeries and gnomes and magical fish. 

Clouds covered the sun and after an hour of standing in chilly water, I needed to warm up. Since I was over two miles up the trail, I decided to head back down in case the storms started early. I stopped at a few places and then decided to hike up the rapids above a favorite deep hole. I didn’t catch anything there, but it’s one of my favorite places. When I get above the little rapid, I feel enclosed by massive rocks, deep water, and green…luminescent green. 

We all need a special place in Nature where we feel the magic. Where’s yours?

These butterflies find their magic in a pile of horse poop….you never know where magic will be found.

The Geek in Me

The Geek in Me

After 65 fishing days in the first year of fly fishing, I decided to try some higher performance equipment. Not to catch more fish, but to take myself to another level of skill. Or maybe because I am a gear nerd. A total gear nerd. Fly fishing, cave diving, mountain biking…a total geek about gear. I love activities that use specialized gear.

I’ve been thinking about the upgrade for a while. I haven’t traveled anywhere in almost three years, except to visit my daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter, so my travel budget has been invested in a pastime I enjoy weekly, instead of once a year….or once every three years. (Yes, I realize I am justifying the investment).

After many weeks of pondering and asking advice and reading, I headed over to my favorite fly fishing shop in Townsend, Tennessee, and tried out several rods. It seemed the high-performance rods accentuated, magnified, highlighted all my bad casting habits. It was a bit embarrassing. But Dave, one of my favorite mentors at the store, worked with me and really helped me develop better muscle memory of the right skills. It felt like starting over.

As we stood in the bright sun in a grassy area behind the shop, I cast horribly. Dave gently offered correction. It reminded me how in life we learn unhelpful habits and have to revisit the basics of effective living to mend those habits, so our lives move on a better trajectory. 

Each time the line unfurled behind me in a straight line, I saw how subtle and correct movements of my body made that happen. As we refine our behaviors and thoughts, our lives can move into greater alignment with our Path of Heart. The adjustments we make may be small, but they can have major, positive change in effective living.

I took the new setup to an area not far from the shop, in the national park. An open area…easy to wade. Casting new gear where I usually fish–small, tight creeks lined with rhododendron–felt like inevitable disaster, thus the reason for choosing the open area. I needed more space.

I saw how my old habits are going to be difficult to break, yet the coaching had taken root and I began to implement Dave’s suggestions with some pretty sweet success. But only in terms of casting, not catching fish. Small trout played with the dry flies and one cast had four little rainbows chasing the fly as I retrieved the line. As I stood in the water, some nice-sized trout came toward me and found safety near my wading boots. I’m happy they feel so cuddly towards me, but it doesn’t say much for the dry flies I was casting. 

By giving myself space, I was able to correct old, ineffective habits and begin to build skills that will better serve me. I can’t think of a better metaphor for life.

After an hour and fifteen minutes, I decided to switch to a nymph, or underwater fly. Just as I got the fly tied on, but before I clipped the tag end of tippet, thunder boomed. The heavy, dark clouds I’d been watching, started to create safety concerns.

I reluctantly retreated to the car and after stowing all the gear, the rain began to move through in sheets. I will fish all day in the rain, but lightning is my cue to find shelter. Plus, the major highway across the gap in the national park often closes when bad weather moves through. I didn’t want to have to do a long drive-around should that happen. 

Several years ago, I was at a yoga retreat in Ireland. I walked many miles, over the time I was there, in the rain, wind, and cold. The retreat leader commented that I was so prepared and had figured out the gear I needed for any condition. If you have the right gear, it supports the outdoor experience–hiking, cycling, fishing, paddling. Maybe my being a gear nerd simply reflects the ability to support myself in what I want out of life….growing into a clearer expression of love and kindness.

I don’t see fly fishing and my personal growth and development as separate. The same goes for hiking, cycling, stand-up paddleboarding, nature photography. These experiences are simply part of the way I expand and work through blocks to living fully, to allowing the Medicine that wants to flow through me to have a clearer channel to do so.  Nature is my best teacher and healer.

A friend of mine recently commented that whatever I do, I aim to do it professionally and with perfection. I thought it was a helpful observation and one I’d never considered. But then I remembered my first time in the pool during scuba lessons when I knew I’d become a scuba instructor…and I did become one. Since then, I’ve learned I don’t have to reach that level of professionalism to excel and enjoy a sport or activity. But it does explain my tendency to be a gear nerd. And my love of having the right tools to do a good job whether they are outdoor gear tools or inner tools and skills I develop to live more effectively.

Many thanks to my mentors at Little River Outfitters for always being supportive and welcoming and to Dave for braving the wilds of the grasslands and my backcast to offer some really great coaching. You can’t get that from ordering online or visiting a store that wants to charge you for casting coaching. That’s why it’s worth the drive across the gap, through the peaks, and worth the frustration of getting behind super-slow-driving tourists.