"Grinnin' like a mule eatin' saw briars."

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Give Me Three Steps, Mister

Relatively obscure in the world of fly fishing magazines and the fly fisherman photog's picturesque panoramas, the Smoky Mountains are known for, among other things, leaving the average (even experienced) angler befuddled. Never fear, however, your local mountain guide and fly fisherman extraordinaire, moi, shall help you become a better Smoky Mountain fisherman in three easy steps. Is this possible? If you're from Ohio or the Northeast, probably not. But the rest of you contiguous staters, pay close attention.

Number one: Stealth.
If nothing else I say sticks, remember stealth. With eight-hundred miles of gin clear water at your beleaguered feet, tread silently as possible. Trout are prey and you are among one of their foremost predators. Shadows, disturbances, splashes, and even a false cast can drain a pool of potential targets with speeds equivalent to a T1 Internet connection. With an overabundance of boulders and other natural cover, your best bet is to enter the water as little as possible -- meaning, fish from the banks as often as you can. Stay low, wear that drab olive and khaki that every store from Bass Pro to your local fly shop sells. They're there for a reason. And mind your casts. False casting scares more fish than you'd think, a nice roll cast, or a short cast with as little floating line as possible will help tremendously. Stealth, stealth, stealth. Hide, sneak, crawl, pretend you're not even there if that helps. Blend in and fish on.

Number two: Fly selection.
Here's where I smile and say, Thank you God for the Smoky Mountains. Matching the hatch is about as important as what you had to drink that morning. Though I will say this is true of almost any high country stream in the country, we're not talking about the rest of the country, here I am again, being terse.

That being said, just remember the time of year you plan to fish. Summer time, all day long, Adams, Wulffs, yellow or orange stimulator,  tellico nymphs, copper johns... have at it. Winter time, big nasties. So, essentially I'm saying don't be too picky about fly selection, you can over-think it. Many do. By the way, I don't fish droppers, I find it tacky. If I fish a nymph, I fish just that, or a dry fly, etc., all separately and alone. Though I may drop two nymphs at a time.

Number three: Patience.
I was probably around four years old when I first saw my papaw dap a ten foot cane pole over boulders and catch 12 to 18 inch brown trout in the Smokies. Not too long after that I was tossing the micro lite spin caster, and on my 12th birthday I got my first fly rod, a beaut of a yellow fiberglass Eagle Claw and Martin reel.

I think I was 14 when I first caught anything over 10 inches in the park, it was a 17 inch brown on a olive wooly bugger. But that just whet the appetite and it wasn't until I was in  my late teens until I could catch anything that size consistently (and consistently means about once every four or five trips to the water).

So keep that in mind, if it's your first time, or even fifth, keep hammering away with stealth-like presentation and be patient. Learning these majestic and misunderstood waters takes time and plenty of failure. Failure is an option when fishing the Smokies, one that only makes you stronger and smarter and a better fly fisherman.

Sure, there are many publications that would say, Hold on, Griz, there's a lot more to it. But I'll say in return, Show me the fish. These three steps are the easiest and by far the best steps to catching more and larger fish in the Smoky Mountains. Keep it simple, stupid. That's a motto beyond many fly fisherman that spend thousands of dollars on gear and wind up like that proverbial idiot, "standing in the water waving a stick."

Until my dying breath I'll contend that if you can master (or even become an accomplished novice) the waters of Southern Appalachia, you can fish absolutely anywhere in the world. That may be a bold statement, but I've seen it. Western waters are no match for the southern mountain fly fisherman's ingenuity and triles by far (trials by fire for you Yankees). 

Earlier when I said that magazines seem to leave out the Smoky Mountains and Southern Appalachians when it comes to their target audiences, I couldn't be happier. Let not the masses tread on majesty, a little ignorance goes a long way.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

An Essay of Memories, by Brandon Robinson

The following contribution to The Sevier County Fisherman is by Brandon Robinson of onebugisfake.com (you can follow Brandon on Twitter @OneBugIsFake). Brandon sheds light on the eschatological mystery of Smoky Mountain fly fishing and family -- passion and pursuit. When it's in your blood, it's never gone, no matter the waters you fish.

"There does not exist in this world, a place that owns as much of my soul as the Appalachian Mountains.  As far back as I can remember, when my family ever took a vacation, we went to Eastern Tennessee or Western North Carolina.  People oft use the tired phrase, “God’s Country” but surely though, as the Creator was divining our world and his: He gave that area to showcase what awaited.  I am certain that when I get to heaven, it will be lush and fertile, with old-growth forests, and cool clear streams.  I’m willing to bet the Creator has a “See Rock City” birdhouse on his front lawn too.

As an adult, when I travel to the Blue Ridge or the Great Smoky Mountains, there is an ancestral stirring deep within me.  As if long forgotten kin are speaking to me.  The feeling itself is indescribable, but as comforting as a mother’s embrace.  My grandfather used to call me “Smoky”.  A crude joke aimed at my parents, derived from his knowledge of my conception.  Maybe that’s the reason those hills talk, maybe the call is from something else.  Legend has it, I am Scotch-Irish.  My mother’s a Montgomery (Scottish), my father a Robinson (Irish).  In the early 1700s there was a large Scotch and Irish population that migrated to the Southern Appalachians, feeling what I can only imagine was a similar attraction to these mysterious mounds of rock.  Perhaps the blood in the soil, perhaps it’s the ghost in the trees; something knows when I come home.  Every trip back proves to me that this is where I want to be when the end of my run comes.  When my last breath has been expelled, don’t worry about family plots.  Mix my blood with that of my ancestors.  Just make sure it is near a stream.

Photo by

The first vacation I can recall was when my Father was still Active Duty at Charleston AFB. We went to “camp out” in a cabin trailer in Franklin, North Carolina.  This was of course, my Mom’s version of camping. My Dad’s stepdad (my Grandstep-father?) Papa Ben gave me a bow and arrow set that trip. Apparently I was a natural with the arrow because even at just seven years old, I remember that as being the first time where I felt his love and pride in me.  I would only feel thin tolerance from him for years after that, and would be an adult before I felt anything else.  He was very excited that I found fly fishing, and we bonded over the lifestyle.  I felt the love and pride from him again before he passed on.  I don’t know what happened to that boy and arrow but I never really picked it up again. The bullet-shaped practice tips didn’t seem deadly, so I might have tried to test my skills on a moving target… and was caught.  Mothers tend to frown on such behavior, especially since by “moving target” I mean my sister.
A few years later, we stayed in some chalets in Maggie Valley; this time with the Montgomery tribe.  The stand out memory then involves hiking with my Dad.  I remember literally trying to walk up one of the mountains, and searching the streams for arrowheads.  I was convinced I found one, and I can still see it my mind’s eye.  It was a triangular river rock, with a rosy granite hue when it was wet.  I remember my Dad light-heartedly trying to dissuade my conclusion, but gave it up when he saw the determination behind my proclamation.  This was the same guy who had me completely believing in the legend of the Cherokee outlaw who was still on the lamb named, Chief Falling Rock.  I really wasn’t a bright child, and I remained vigilante watching for Falling Rock.

My Dad’s father (Grandpa Robbie) used to take me to Sam and Andy’s in Knoxville, and sometimes I wore my University of Florida clothes to needle my grandfather. The burgers there were amazing.  When I graduated high school, my Gemaw told me she would take me on a trip anywhere we could drive to as a graduation gift.  You can guess where I chose.  That is when I walked about three hundred feet of the Appalachian Trail and found what I think is the most heart-stopping view in the world.  There is a sign to the right as you leave Clingman’s Dome pointing out a footpath that leads to the famed trail.  Take it and it will meet up with the actual Appalachian Trail.  Hang a left at the junction look for a small pathway on the right.  It leads to a rock jutting out from the absolute apex of the mountain’s side.  Stand as close to the edge of that rock as you can on a clear-ish day and look straight ahead.  Your peripheral vision has nothing in its field to anchor you to and you begin to feel like you are floating. 
As a kid I was in the water, it didn’t matter the season, I was enamored by the mossy granite streams and could not be kept out.  There was a certain calmness that came over all the parents that allowed the kids to get away with things never imagined at home.  We couldn’t break the forcefield of the bathroom with a wet head, lest we get pneumonia but could play in the streams and creeks until our lips turned blue.  I built dams and eddies, skipped rocks, and splashed stones.  Some things will never change, and my inner child “Trevor” is ecstatic that there isn’t an adult anymore to force me out of the water.  I don’t build dams anymore, but I still harass nature, doing my best to make fish late to their appointments.  The mountains of the Pisgah National Forest gave me my first trout, first trip out.  A treasure I might add, that Texas waters resisted for months after.  Fly fishing deepened the affinity for the region, though my love for those hills goes back further than that.  When I have kids, they will experience it too.  The magic, the cool damp “smoke”,and just maybe their long forgotten cousins will speak to them as well.  I just hope they can hear the whisper."

Thanks, Brandon. You're an honorary Appalachian for sure, just don't wear the Florida gear!