Tag: Little River Outfitters

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.

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.

Beyond the Fish

Beyond the Fish

A trout dinner gifted to me by a friend visiting from coastal Alabama is to blame. This trout changed the course of my life. We sat on my front porch enjoying delicious fish from the Bistro in Bryson City after a nice walk at Deep Creek and chatted about life and women traveling and the sort of things middle-aged wild women talk about when they gather. But the trout, now a part of my body, began speaking to me. 

Around that same time my neighbors and I went to Forney Creek and hiked. They are fly fishers and have grand times on the many, many creeks and rivers here in the far western corner of the North Carolina mountains. The beauty of that creek was profound…one of those places that takes a while to allow the depth of its magnificence to sink in. As we sat on the boulders of the creek eating lunch, I observed her listening to the water but not so much with her ears as with her other senses. She was in tune with it, a part of it. There was a shift in her energy as she sat with that creek, a deepening. I wondered if her love of fly fishing didn’t have more to do with the connection to the water and beauty as much as to the fish.

After those two experiences something in me asked the question: why don’t you try fly fishing? That same ‘voice’ asked me that same sort of question many years ago about scuba diving. Following through with training led to amazing adventures with Nature and people that totally changed my life and led to me become an instructor and cave diver and underwater photographer. So when I hear that ‘voice’ I pay attention.

The stimulus money bankrolled the gear and I still had some cash left to pay for essentials…dog and cat food…for a few months. Then I started watching fly fishing videos and reading and did this for many weeks with one casting session in the driveway.

My springtime walks to Deep Creek and Smokemont and other places in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park became wildflower pilgrimages as well as something else. There was some sort of magic happening around the water. I would stop and watch everything…the water movement, the still pools, the insects flying over the water, the shade….everything began to merge into a beautiful whole as the many aspects of the creeks were observed. I found myself dropping into a deeper stillness and my focus was perfectly present. You don’t have to pick up a rod to begin. For me the beginning was learning to pay attention, to let the creeks teach me.

Only then was I ready to pick up a rod. I needed a class as videos and books only go so far; however, nobody was offering classes due to Covid. The shop in Townsend, Tennessee where I bought most of my gear, Little River Outfitters, suggested Trout Zone Anglers and they connected me with a guide who was willing to instruct. So we booked a six hour trip on Bradley Fork and the Oconoluftee River.

After Travis took me through the steps of setting up gear, he took the time to show me larvae on the rocks and explained the insects that lived part of their life cycle in the creek or around it and how their lives were intertwined with the fish. As we stood in the creek looking at insect larvae casings I realized that fly fishing was learning about the entire ecosystem. It wasn’t about catching fish…at least not for me. It was going to teach me how to truly learn the connections of life in a mountain creek…to learn more about Oneness. How life is truly interdependent.

We did catch and release rainbow trout, brown trout and I even caught myself with one of the hooks. But the biggest catch of all was to gain understanding in the interconnectedness of life. And to know that fly fishing goes way beyond the fish.