Tag: Trout Zone Anglers

The Green

The Green

Intense green seemed to ooze from every expression of Nature. Grass growing in the creek, trees gracefully arching over moving water, trees with newly unfurled buds—all of these elements joined together to create a glowing green realm that quite honestly seemed otherworldly, as if I had wandered into the faery realm.

It was a rainy day that started with heavy, gray clouds. Being prepared with the right gear made the rain a non-issue. Fish tend to like the rain. Or perhaps fly fishers like the rain because the trout aren’t quite as able to discern hand-made flies from naturally occurring insects hatching. It wasn’t a disappointing day wading, casting a line, and generally enjoying what I think of as a typical Smoky Mountains perfect day—cool, rainy, foggy, and beautiful.

Generally, I fish alone and enjoy it immensely; however, I fished with guide David Knapp, owner of Trout Zone Anglers, and was able to explore and wade places I wouldn’t generally go by myself. We went off the trail and made our way upstream using the creek and rhododendron thickets and moss-covered banks to navigate. The only other indication that others used the area was fresh elk droppings. The road wasn’t far away, but it felt as if we were immersed in a magical ecosystem of cold water, rocks, moss, trees…and trout. Lots of trout.

In past writing, I’ve said it’s not about the trout. But it is about the trout—and everything else, too. I occasionally fish another river, outside of the national park, and it’s pretty and there are many stocked trout, but it’s not magical like these remote areas that require extra effort to traverse, extra miles driven down bumpy gravel roads, and a capacity to enjoy beauty that stretches one’s ability to take it all in.

I won’t go into detail about what I learned about fly fishing, which was a lot. I’ll simply state what a pleasure it was to fish with someone who enjoys the whole experience of fly fishing, not just counting trout that are landed. Wading, stalking, casting, listening to birds, noting insects, watching trout rise to flies—these elements and more absorbed, appreciated and celebrated. 

April 29th of last year, I started fly fishing. Almost a year to the day, I was able to feel the confidence I’ve gained and skills that have improved as I’ve enjoyed over 65 fly fishing experiences, most of them in the national park and most of them solo. I’ve come to appreciate the intricate innerworkings of these cold, mountain creek ecosystems and am so grateful they have received me into their beauty.

Initiation on the Creek

Initiation on the Creek

Since having my first experience fly fishing I was ready to get back on the water. Admittedly, when it finally happened today, it was like learning to ride a bike without training wheels. It started out a bit shaky. 

The first time out I hired a guide from Trout Zone Anglers. Travis gave me a wonderful introduction to fly fishing and ever since then I’ve wanted to get out on the water again. So, ten days after that day, I found myself putting on my waders just to warm up a bit. 

It was 51 degrees and I wouldn’t normally don the waders before preparing the rod, reel and fly…oh, wait. There isn’t really a normal yet since this was only my second time on the water with a fly rod/reel. Anyway…the waders really helped with the early-morning chill. I assembled the ten foot rod…not the 8.5 foot rod that was suggested I initially purchase by various outfitters and even Orvis….but the ten foot rod that’s perfect for fishing the streams of the national park. (Note: I think fly fishing is really a financial whitewater hole that sucks money into it). 

After assembling the rod, I got out the reel to attach it. Hmmmm. It was a different attachment than the other rod but it should work. Everyone said it would work and I could use the same reel I purchased with the 8.5 foot rod. I tried every way, looked at it upside down, upright and eventually just gave up, disassembled the rod, put it in the case, took off the boots and waders and then drove back to my home. It’s only 25 minutes. 

Part of me said, this is ridiculous. What was I thinking? But another part reminded me how much fun I had fishing with a guide. If you get bucked off a horse, get right back on and ride that sucker again.

So, I got the shorter rod at home and drove back to the creek…another 25 minutes. Thus far I had an hour and 15 minutes invested in just driving. And when I got back I didn’t put on the waders as I was a bit heated by then.

After assembling the shorter rod, I heard that little voice inside that is always wise, There’s a way for that reel to work on the ten foot rod. So….I put on my glasses (if all else fails) and saw exactly what I needed to see and quickly attached the reel to the base section of the longer rod. Quite a way to start the day.

After taking the short rod apart and stowing it back into its case, I got the longer rod set up, line threaded and the strike indicator (come on…it’s a bobber for goodness sake) attached and a nymph fly. I didn’t want to fish with two flys…two hooks…which is the traditional method of ‘nymphing.’ I’m a newbie and it takes enough effort to keep one hook out of my skin and the trees. Then I put on the waders and boots and hat and polarized sunglasses, sling with tippet, flys, nippers, hemostats, fishing license, grabbed the wading staff, locked the car, stowed the key in a dry pocket and walked to the creek.

The creek was crystal clear, the flow just about perfect. I waded into the water using the staff. After my first fly fishing experience I invested in a staff and fell in love with it while doing underwater photography a few days ago. It made such a difference.

I settled into the first place to cast. And it was good…I mean the casting was really good…landing right where I aimed. WOW! How exciting! After several casts and a couple of strikes, I looked to my right to pick up the staff where I expected it to be tethered and it wasn’t there. WHAT?!!!

I was NOT happy about losing the wading staff…fly fishing already seemed like a whitewater hole sucking money into it.

I quickly reeled in the line, secured the hook and ran under the big culvert hoping the pricey stick floated there and got stuck. Nope. Then I climbed the bank and ran downstream hoping to find it. Nope. I was ready, after losing the costly wading staff, to pack up and go home. But then I heard that inner voice again, So, you give up now and just walk away? This is make-or-break time. Are you committed to fly fishing? Or will you give it up because of a little setback?

I climbed out of the creek, where I had been watching for the staff, and looked at the blue sky through bright green leaves. I’m all in, I said. Let’s go fish.

I walked back to my original entry point, stripped out a bit of line and started casting. It was great! I was in the woods, standing in a creek, casting and it felt really good. I heard Julie Andrews start singing, Getting to know you, getting to know all about you. I laughed. Yep, that’s about right. Not only getting to know the creek and fish but getting to know myself a little better. (I’m not kidding…that song really did pop into my mind…and I only knew those few lyrics).

I carefully walked up the creek without the aid of the staff. I had to really pay attention to where I wanted to go and look for a safe path without the aid of that darn metal stick. I think it really made me connect deeper with the rocks and flowing water. I had several strikes and only one really interesting tangle…with the line and rod wrapped around itself. But I got it undone and kept fishing. Upstream. It was fun, especially engaging a lively trout that gave a quick fight before it slapped its tail at the surface and spit out the hook. And then danced a bit on the surface as if to say…I am so much smarter than you human. I will teach you if you will pay attention. My reply, Yes, Jedi Trout. I am willing to learn.

After two hours I started to get hungry and kept fishing another thirty minutes and then remembered the staff. If I wanted to spot for it downstream, I’d better make haste as it was getting busy around the campground where I was fishing.

I thanked the fish and water and trees, climbed out of the water and walked back to the car to stow all the gear…except for the waders. I had hope that maybe that darn expensive stick would present itself.

The place where I lost it is where I began. I followed the flow of water, guessed which way it went and started walking downstream. But before I began any of that I asked the spirit of the creek to please give me the staff back with the promise that I would always respect her little finned children. 

At one point I had to climb the bank and continue the downstream hunt from shore. I almost walked past an entry point but again heard the inner voice, The webbing on the strap is orange. Look for that instead of the black staff. I walked down to creek and caught a flash of orange. There, waiting at the edge of the water was the Simms wading staff. I laughed out loud and said a big thank you! as I lifted it out of the water. The original knot tie from the factory had come loose and I hadn’t noticed. 

It made quite a journey downstream. And just as I got back to my car people started walking where I found it…chances are it would be in someone else’s possession now if I hadn’t found it when I did. 

My wading staff was returned to me by the creek spirits…or the flow…or a rock…

Driving home I had time to reflect on the morning. It sure felt like some sort of initiation with a series of tests I had to pass. I felt like a kid trying to ride a bike without training wheels for the first time. I was a bit wobbly. I made mistakes. I lost stuff. I missed little grooves that hold reels. It was sketchy. But as I was fishing I kept hearing the guide’s voice in my head…along with Julie Andrews….good cast….set the hook…look for the calm water…good cast…don’t try to go too fast wading…rod tip up…keep your wrist straight…aim right there…follow the fly as it floats downstream.

The creek and trout and I were….

“Getting to know you; Getting to know all about you; Getting to like you; Getting to hope you like me…”

Even with all the quirkiness of the morning, I had a blast. As I wrote in my first blog about fly fishing, it’s so much more than the fish. Today I passed the tests given and sit here reflecting on the day and am already awaiting the next time I go back out on the creek to learn from the master teachers…the trout.

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.