Wednesday, September 29, 2021
50° at 4:00
Batteries at 51%
Charlie Roberts, the fly tier I met at Chasteen Creek, told me to try Kephart Prong and to start fishing where the stream makes a big turn away from the trail. My plan was to fish this all day. I’ve been distracted by other things, and the fishing has taken a back seat. I have fished every day, but today, that was all I was going to do. Two cars were parked in front of me when I arrived at 8:00. Now maybe that sounds late, but the sun doesn’t come up until 7:20, and it was only 50°. My guess is they were hikers. There are lots of hikers in this park, and why not? There are tons of trails that are well-marked and maintained. There are backcountry campsites all over the park. If you are a hiker, this is paradise. Of course the Appalachian Trail goes right through the center of the park along its highest ridges.
I didn’t bring the Garmin GPS, telling myself, “Why would I need it?”. I did bring the InReach, which is a satellite device that allows me to send messages and track where I go. Martha had sent a message on it asking where I was. It also has a map I can access with an app on my phone. Trouble was it wasn’t giving me any detail. Seems I need to download a map. OK, I was going to walk up the trail until I could see the stream turning away from the trail (a road really).
After crossing the beautiful stream a couple of times, I thought it turned away from the trail, so I started fishing. I came here for 9 days of fishing because I had seen so many beautiful streams on my previous trip, and this was another one. It’s the perfect size. With huge boulders, plunging pools and crystal clear water, I could see why Charlie recommended it.
I had on the purple fly with white hackle that had at least produced some interest. I don’t know what it is – maybe a purple haze. I got some small fish splashing at it, but after 40 minutes of that, I decided to switch. There was a serious hatch of tiny brown bugs, yet I didn’t see any fish rising. I was not going to fish anything that small, but I put on a # 16 brown Caddis. 20 minutes later with zero interest, I went to a Royal Wulff. Nothing. Climbing this mountain through one beautiful pool after another, there HAD to be fish in here!
It was not easy going, climbing over and around boulders, going up a steep mountain. I had to get out once to get around a waterfall, but that wasn’t so easy either. Wandering around the forest, climbing over logs and fallen trees, I watched every footstep for a moving stick. I don’t hear so well, and with a pounding stream beside me, I would never hear a rattlesnake trying to warn me. At least I didn’t want to step on one. I was relieved to get back in the stream.
I have never seen so many hatches – constantly, all day long, and different kinds. I switched to a Light Cahill. First cast a hit! A voice said, “And now the fun begins.” Like the Purple Haze, little fish hit it, but not much else. One nice fish took it as the fly went under a rock. I thought I was caught on something, but it moved, wiggled and then it was gone. It was probably a good thing, as I would have kept it for dinner. It would turn out to be the only keeper I caught all day.
“What’s the deal?” I thought. Are they full from eating all these bugs? Certainly, I have never seen so many hatches on an eastern stream, and with such variety. Was someone fishing in front of me? I didn’t think so. I hadn’t seen any footprints, although it’s all rocks, and most of those are covered with beautiful, soft moss. Or were there just too many fishermen and women in this park. I mean it’s the last place I know of where you can keep five fish over 7 inches. When I was growing up, five was the limit, but they had to be 8 inches. We used to catch and keep our limit every time out. But then, we only fished April 1st until June when the snakes came out. Summers were for smallmouth fishing or golf.
Hardly anyone walked 45 minutes up a mountain and fished all day for five 8-inch fish. The vast majority fished lower down, where the fish were stocked. Then a movie changed everything – A River Runs Through it. Now everyone fishes for trout. Still, most people are attracted to the bigger fish – trophy fish.
The stream was getting smaller and steeper with fewer pools, so I got out when I could see the trail and walked up. The shelter couldn’t be far. Usually shelters were for the Appalachian Trail, but I wasn’t sure the Trail came through here. When i arrived, two men and a woman were talking and welcomed me. They were all hikers. One man was staying at Mile High Campground “where they have showers”, he said. He likes to stay there and hike a variety of trails.
The husband and wife were staying in a hotel where they have showers. He had knee surgery just 8 weeks ago! He said two fishermen came down earlier and hadn’t caught anything either. One said he had been fishing this stream for 30 years, and had always caught fish. He noted there are now over 100 fishing guides in the area, and it has hurt the fishing. I must say I felt better hearing that. I had worked hard all day, and although I am not the greatest fisherman, I thought I fished fairly well today. I had changed flies, tried to match the hatch and cast pretty well, but hadn’t produced a thing.
There have been articles questioning, “Are We Loving Our National Parks to Death?” Certainly, this park gets a ton of visitors. There are really only two roads in this huge park, and the traffic is heavy. The trails I have been on are well-traveled, and the campgrounds are booked solid. I could not get a site at any other campground in the park. They are booked solid, and the leaves are just starting to turn. In two weeks it will really be busy.
I love it here. These are beautiful mountains with lots of gorgeous trout streams. Yet, I caught two keepers in nine days. Kelly would have caught a lot more, but still, it is not what I expected. I had read stories of catching 50 or even 100 trout in a day. Hell, I bought a counter so I could keep track! I admit I don’t fish rainbows well, mostly because I’m not good at fishing under water. I prefer dry flies, and I prefer brook trout. I mean they smash the fly, then leap out of the water several times, run all around until you think you have a monster. Then it turns out to be an 8-inch fish. There is no better eating fish. You can clean one in 30 seconds. All you need to cook them is a pan and butter, and they are done in 5 minutes. They have a handle on each end, and when you are through eating, there is nothing left but a skeleton. Simply delicious! It has been a long time since I ate one. Even if you catch one, you can’t keep them – except here, and after a week of fishing here, I wouldn’t keep one if I did catch it.
My opinion is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park should join the rest of east coast and make the park catch-and-release, barbless fly-fishing only.