I’ve badgered Charlie C. enough times that he’s finally come through with a fishing report of one of his fishing trips to Tennessee. Maybe it will generate enough interest for others to join him.
For me there is no better fishing than the big waters of the TVA Dams tailrace waters of the South Holston (SHO) and the Watauga rivers of extreme eastern Tennessee. A straight 8.5 hour shot down I-81, 20 minutes south of Bristol Virginia/Tennessee, near the Cherokee National Forest and the Great Smokie Mtns. It is every bit as good as fishing the Rockies or other places out west. It’s also about one third the cost. Bottom release TVA Dams insure year round 55 to 65 degree water and the Trout Management Plan by the Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Agency insure huge and prolific trout populations. SHO is not stocked and the Watauga only has to be stocked because of a chemical spill in 2003 that killed all the fish (not macro-invertebrates) down stream from Elizabethton. Populations in the Watauga are better than ever and stocking may soon cease.
I run the trip three times a year ( March, April and September), but the last week of April is a special trip. For ten years, five of my classmates from high school (Blue Mountain HS, Schuylkill Haven,Pa.) and I have conducted a fishing reunion in Elizabethton, Tennessee. The oddity is that none of us fly fished in high school and most of us had not been in contact in 30 years. One classmate lives in Tenn, one in Charlotte N.C., one in Houston, one in Chicago and one still lives in Schuylkill Haven. My TV fly fishing show brought us all back together in 2003. The brother of the classmate from Charlotte saw the show on TV in Schuylkill Haven and made a VHS copy and sent it to Charlotte, NC. He subsequently sent it to Chicago and Tennessee and the one in Chicago sent it to the one in Houston. We found out that all of us who bait fished together in the 60’s were now fly fishermen. A reunion was planned and the most central point was Tennessee.
I have been fishing Tennessee the last week of April every year for ten years. Three out of those ten years I ended up in the hospital. To say the least my wife is very skeptical about our return to Tennessee. Perhaps the word should be, annoyed. She goes with me in March and September, but April is the Blue Mountains Fly Fishers men only retreat. She is trying to establish what about the April trip makes it so much more dangerous.
That being said, April started off no different than any other year. I picked up Larry (Jim’s younger brother) in Schuylkill Haven and we headed south for the entertaining drive down I-81. We talked about the other guys the whole way down. We arrived early Wednesday morning to find out that the area was drenched in rain for the past two weeks. Even though the sun was shining, we could not fish the big rivers. Water levels in the Watauga dam had the shore line water level up to the picnic tables in the state park campground. The dams were releasing and generating 24/7. We had not scheduled any drift boat trips, which it turned out, was the only way you could fish. Wading was impossible. Half the group decided to try the Watauga in an area that when not generating left the river very shallow at that point. Perhaps with an extra 3 ft of water it could be waded very close to shore. (it did not work for them) My group decided to head further south and try the Nolichucky River near the North Carolina border. The Nolichucky is not a tailrace water and we figured it would be high, but not as high as a tailrace when water is being released. Where I-26 crosses the river it was very wide and very deep. We meander up dirt roads until we found a white water rafting company parking lot right at the base of the Nolichucky Gorge. The rushing water at that point was scary. We got back in our vehicles and head far up into the Nolichucky Gorge hoping to find the smaller tribs that entered into it. We spent the remaining time fishing in a downpour, but were able to pick up several rainbows but no brookies. After we returned it was discovered that we were fishing in North Carolina without North Carolina fishing licenses.
On Thursday morning, after checking the release schedules of both dams, it became apparent that they would be generating 24/7 for the rest of the week. Again we split up and Tom (Chicago), Jeff (Houston) and I were going to head up into the Cherokee National Forest, more specifically, Roan Mountain State Park and the Doe River tribs, which are known for their brook trout. The sun was out off and on with intermittent showers. We fished the lower section of the park and caught rainbows and brookies, but the rock climbing was strenuous. By supper time we were both tired and starving as I had eaten my lunch by 10 am.
Friday morning was a beautiful morning and the sun was shining as it would stay all day. We decided that we would head even further up Roan Mountain and hit the really small streams. I spent most of the day hopping from boulder to boulder and was getting more sore and tired and I was starting to slack off and was not being careful. Fishing was tremendous at this point, if you like 6 to 8 inch fish. I decided to head back down stream to the bigger pools that I had fished earlier, picking up two really nice rainbows in the 13 to 14 inch range. Then tragedy struck. While jumping from one boulder to another my knee popped out of joint (I was not wearing my knee brace) and I fell down into the rocks below. I had to walk myself out a quarter of a mile to the car. Later, I found out that I had torn the meniscus in my left knee and had a partial tear of the ligament in my right hip.
It was an agonizing walk out, but I fared better than another fisherman. In the same area another fisherman on Thursday night had gotten his car stuck in a ditch and decided to abandon the car and walk out. It is not known why he left the road other than the possibility that he thought it would be a shortcut to cut through the woods. It rained all night and the temps went down into the 30’s. They found him right around the same time that I was trying to get back to my car. He had taken shelter under a dead fall and had succumbed to hypothermia.
I spent the next day in our cabin while the others fished. I kept my knee on ice all day and used the last Oxycondone I had left from my last kidney stone attack.
Some trips are exceptional and others are not so, but in no case is a trip ever a disappointment. Good times with my best friends.
Wow, that’s quite a story. Maybe it won’t generate interest for others to join you. Could it be you’re jinxed? Thanks for the story.