View Full Version : Rough Trip to Little River (Long)

10-20-2009, 08:05 PM
I just got back from a really short trip to the Park-- one night at a campground and two nights in the backcountry up Little River. When I was packing up my tent and other gear Sunday morning I was planning on making a post lamenting my lack of "luck" the past several trips to the Park. Since that day quite a few years ago when a friend put a fly rod in my hand at the Norfork River in Arkansas, I knew I would probably never take another trip to the Park without a fly rod-- and I haven't.

My first flyfishing trip to the Park was hiking up to CS97 on Eagle Creek in May a few years ago. I received alot of good advice and tips from members of this board, and had what so far has been my best fishing trip ever. The weather was warmer than I usually backpack in; but seemed to be exactly what the fish wanted. I suppose I came away from the Park overconfident in my fishing skills; and not as respectful of the challenges of flyfishing for trout in general, or the smaller streams in particular. The rainbows were as eager as any fish I've ever seen. (The stapps in my avatar are as greedy at feeding time as fish can get-- even breeching the surface to eat from my hand. This accurately describes the trout on my first Smokies fishing trip.) They struck everything I threw at them and things I didn't-- leaves, twigs, flourescent pink strike indicators, dry flies, nymphs. Fly selection was unimportant. With a dry and nymph, I caught two fish on a single cast more than once. (Seriously-- not a fisherman's exaggeration.) I came away thinking that trout fishing in the Smokies was easier than scooping koi out of Japanese-landscaped 100 gallon pond.

Since then, I have been to Forney, Straight Fork, Bradley, Oconaluftee, Abrams, back to Eagle, and my most recent trip to the Little River. The sum total of trout caught since that first trip is ONE! I usually have at least one hiking/fishing partner with me; and the sum total of their catches since that first trip is also ONE. I have seen one thing on every trip except that first one to Eagle-- snow. I am hoping someone will stroke my bruised ego and tell me that the fishing is exponentially more difficult when the mercury is below about 40. I like to think I am at least competent at getting a dead drift-- although it is alot harder in the pocket water than in the bigger waters of Arkansas. I can roll cast with ease, and don't spend an excessive amount of time picking flies out of the rhodo. I understand the concept of stealth and like to think I apply it correctly. But none of this seems to translate into the much sought after tight line and arc in the rod. I plan on giving it one more try in warmer weather some time and then will seriously consider hiring a guide for some constructive criticism and any other advise he or she could give. In my experience talking to other anglers on these trips, their "luck" has been on par with mine over the same time periods. Is my laying the blame on temperature partly justified or is it time to get an on-stream evaluation of my skills and techniques by someone who is more knowledgeable and experienced?

As I stated in the opening paragraph-- this is the post I was planning to make as I packed up Sunday morning. Only a few steps on the hike out would change my area of focus. As many of you probably know, there is a small stream crossing just before reaching CS24 (or just after leaving CS24 if hiking back to the Litle River Trailhead.) It is a small, innocuous crossing that is probably just a three or four rock rock-hop most of the time. The non-stop rain (another thing I could blame my lack of luck on?) added another one or two rocks to this rock-hop. Since I had on fairly new hiking boots with a still-slick sole, I was worried about slipping and falling on one of these rocks as I jumped across wearing a pack. I noticed a convenient log laying across the small stream-- it was only about six feet across and not more than eighteen inches above the water, which was only about eighteen inches deep. I rubbed the soles of my boots across the log to make sure it was not too slippery, and bounced up and down to make sure it was strong enough to support me. As someone who has backpacked for years, made all the stream crossings on Eagle in high water more than once, crossed logs probably dozens of times (many much more hairy than this one), and even has several 5.11b rock-climbing routes under my belt, I took one more step onto the log. I could even reach the bottom of the stream bed with my hiking poles (I had two) for extra balance. I had three, maybe four baby steps and this simple crossing would not even register as a stream crossing in my GPS.

That's when I heard the "crack" of the log breaking and then felt the "crack" of my right foot/ankle as it landed awkwardly, under the full weight of a pack, on some rock in the stream bed. I probably only fell two feet; but suffered the worst foot/ankle injury I've ever had. My first thoughts were "I need to get out of the creek" and "I hope I didn't ruin another camera." Fourty-two seconds later, as I was laying on my pack and vomiting from the pain, I realized I had bigger problems than a water-logged Nikon.

After about ten minutes, the dizziness and nausea had subsided; and I did the only thing I could do at the time-- put on the pack and start walking. Adrenaline is a marvelous thing! I believe it was 5.2 miles to the car. It soon became obvious that I was not gonna make any new speed records; so we decided that my friends would hike out ahead of me, drop their packs, and return to get my pack and assist me. I made it all the way to the Junction with Cucumber Gap or Huskey Gap (I don't remember which, but I do remember the sign said 2.4 miles to trailhead.) At this point, two guys with their kids came by and insisted that I let them carry my pack. They had offered on their way in; but I refused. This time, they would not take "No" for an answer, and took turns carrying my pack for about another mile until my friends made it back in to me. I did not have a pen or paper with me; so I was unable to get their addresses. Although I thanked them profusely at the time, I wish I could send them a written "Thank You" note. Two people willing to give up family time and expend extra effort to help a total stranger is, sadly, not commonplace these days.

I made it another seven or eight tenths of a mile before I could not take another step. My GPS said I was 0.8 miles to the trailhead. My friends carried my pack out while I laid down on the log bench and enjoyed the alternating hot/cold flashes and waves of nausea. I knew I literally could not take one more step. Adrenaline and Darvocets be ****ed! That's when my friend's son said "I see a car." It was a park ranger. He said several groups had reported my predicament and he decided to check it out. That was the first, and hopefully the last time, that I was grateful for logging roads. The ranger drove us back to our car, examined my ankle and wrapped it up good. He was very nice, friendly and helpful. I regret that I cannot remember his name. He seemed very hesitant to let me leave without some real medical attention; and I assured him I would go see a doctor. I know at least one park ranger reads this board (Sam-- I think his name is). Perhaps he heard of my predicament through the dispatch and can relay my sincere thanks to the ranger that picked me up. Also let him know that I did go to the doctor and, thankfully, nothing was broken. I just sprained everything you could sprain, as badly as you can sprain it, plus some torn ligaments. Good times!

My minor accident highlights the need for being prepared when heading out into the backcountry. An easy two mile hike in jeans, tennis shoes and a windbreaker could turn ugly if you fall in a creek, twist an ankle and have to spend an unexpected night in 38 degree weather in wet clothes without food, water or matches.

Anyway, the Little River was gorgeous; and I can't wait to go back and hopefully catch one of those elusive trout. After I get some film developed, and do a little post-processing on both my film and digital pictures, I'll post a link. I'll leave you with a pic of my injured ankle/foot. I should get some kind of prize for the blood blister...


10-20-2009, 08:29 PM
Good lordy!

That could have been a serious issue if later in the year, with very few people on the trail. I'm glad you gout out alright. As for your issues with lack of fish on previous trips. Yes, In my opinion your biggest problem has been temperature. Indirectly air temp and directly water temp. If you don't have mid fifties in the water things slow down. At around 50 it is still okay but definitely below that, you are looking at very sluggish fish and dredging nymphs on the bottom with very few takes is the norm. On tailwaters you can catch fish somewhat easier in cold weather but it is still slower than during warmer months. So in short, yes temps is your biggest problem.

10-20-2009, 08:59 PM
I'm very glad you were not hurt worse than you were. Like has been said, it sure could have been a lot worse.

I'm glad folks stopped to help. I know I would have helped you had I been there on the trail as I'm sure most of the folks on this board would. I may be naive but I honestly believe there are far more good people than bad and far more people who will help someone in distress than there are ones who would just walk on by. There are uncaring jerks out there, but I believe they are the minority.

I don't see how any human being could see a man struggling with a heavy pack obviously injured and not stop to help.

Sometimes 10 minutes of kindness can make the difference between a bad situation and a VERY bad situation.

Thanks for sharing your story with us and for reminding us that if we see someone in trouble, stopping to help can make a huge difference.


10-21-2009, 12:34 AM
Jeff-- I didn't mean to sound jaded with regards to people being helpful. I agree with you that the "uncaring jerks" are the minority. But you know what I mean, if I was broken down on the side of I-75, a few thousand people would drive by before anyone would stop and help. I find most people I meet in outdoor endeavors are kind, genuine souls. I'm sure most of the posters on this board would have offered to help in any way they could. I did get offers of help from many of the people I encountered on my way out; but most of them probably couldn't carry me or my pack. Not that I'm a very big guy or that my pack was very heavy-- just that most of the people I encountered were the elderly, retired, touristy sort. Rest assured, while I certainly don't wish any injuries on anyone, I will gladly "Pay It Forward" and would have helped any of you even before this experience. There are still plenty of good people out there...

Hans-- thanks for telling me what I wanted to hear, LOL. I know the temp is important; but I was just wondering if I could realistically use that as my excuse. I can count the number of days the air temp has been above 55 (when I've been there) on one hand. I'll have to plan more summer trips...

FWIW-- there were a good many caddisflies attracted to my LED lantern at CS24. Most of them were tan, brown or mottled and pretty good sized-- like 14's to 10's.

10-21-2009, 09:04 AM
Man,I'm glad you made it back.
As a person who strikes out alone all the time I try to be prepared as best as I can be...I'm also a survivalist at heart....but at my age I wouldn't have made it out if I had been as hurt as you were.
Everyone needs to read your post and be very careful out there.

Rog 1
10-21-2009, 10:15 AM
bmc....don't give up on the LR...CS24 is my favorite location...that Rough Creek crossing can be tricky in wet or dry weather....from that point up through the little glade next to the camping area you can usually pick up a brown trout or two....if you can get up there in the middle of June that whole area is aglow with the synchronis fireflies...makes for a magical experience....from 24 you can fish so many areas that it would take a week to cover them all...from 24 upstream you stand a good chance of scoring a slam without changing streams....hope your recovery is quick with no long term problems.

10-21-2009, 12:42 PM
dadgum! that's bad right there!!!

When i went on first hiking trip (4 days some on the AT) I was soooo afraid I would break my ankle on some ridge top. I didn't, but every little stream crossing I had the thought of my ankle rolling in the back of my mind. I'm glad you made it out ok!

last November I had walked through the bottomland mud and knee deep water for nearly 3/4 mile to a my hunting spot. I was...um...relieving myself and one duck comes in. I jump up and turn to get a shot and rolled my ankle. I could feel it swelling inside my neoprene. luckily I hitched a ride 1/2 way out on a four wheeler.

The after affects of an ankle injury really really suck!

10-21-2009, 02:30 PM
I had the same luck on Sat and Sun and had tried every combo I could think of from dry with dropper to two nymphs in two different colors. I did manage some takes/rises, but didn't catch anything. Like you, I will wait for warmer temps. Looks like I will have to catch one on a local stream to get my fish of the month.

10-21-2009, 09:59 PM
Rog 1-- don't worry, I have no plans of giving up on anything or any specific area. The thing that is funny (or peculiar) is that the crossing is nothing that would register on any normal trip. (We all made it across in the dark on the way in.) The crossings above CS24 were a little more involved-- but nothing to get your feet wet in. Little River was gorgeous-- I have no intentions of giving up on it, the Smokies, backpacking or flyfishing. My biggest concern is if my ankle will heal in time for my planned Thanksgiving trip. I'm tired of crutches already-- my triceps are still burned from all the use they got on the hike out.

BRF-- we met several groups of fishermen on the way in and they all said the fishing was great until about 2:00PM on Friday, which curiously was the time I arrived at the trailhead. Perhaps the trout and hiking gods are frowning on my breaking a promise to my springer not to take two consecutive trips to the Park...

I'll be back to my daily running in no time...

10-22-2009, 08:28 AM
It was so disappointing. I spent a lot of money on a cabin to stay three nights and fish. Oh well, I'll be back in the Spring. I'm going to take the time to fish and discover some local streams.

The Principal
10-22-2009, 12:34 PM
I am glad you got help. My Cousin and son and I were hiking the Old Settlers
Trail and planned to hike through to Cosby and I slipped and Badly sprained
my ankle. We had to hike out at Jellystone camp ground. We couldn't get
any help. We had left a vehicle at Cosby Campground which was several
miles away. I won't call any places of business by name but we couldn't
get anyone to help us even after offering to pay someone. We started hiking
along the road to Cosby. It was obvious we had a problem. A little lady who
lived at Cosby stopped and offered help. We were three dirty large guys
who all weighed over 200lbs, but she stiill carried my son and Cousin to get
our vehicle. We did not get her name either. I am sorry we didn't.

10-22-2009, 11:35 PM
Great story, thanks for sharing I have heard the fishing has been off "high water" is what I keep hearing I went last Saturday and I couldn't fish it, but of course I have no clue how to nymph fish yet. Little River near Elkmont is a nice area my favorite so far. I wish you a speedy recovery I am just curious what's your pack weigh?

10-23-2009, 03:47 PM
Rog1 I think the synchronous flashing works its way upstream because I have seen it up there on the 4th of July and they were not happening down at the cabins the night before.Maybe a week later the could be fashing around three forks?

Bmc,I have decided that if it looks iffy to rock hop I dont try to keep my boots dry.I would rather have a wet foot than take a chance on breaking a rod or a bone.Glad to hear you made it out.

10-23-2009, 04:51 PM
I guess it is a little late to suggest some ice for that bad foot injury.
I fish close to the car as I am about one more bad fall from having to call the glue factory to come and get me. You were lucky to get out. Another problem this time of year is slick fallen leaves.

10-23-2009, 06:02 PM
Spotlight-- I didn't weigh my pack before I went; but it was definitely the lightest pack I've carried on a trip in a while. I took my solo tent and an ultralight down sleeping bag. And on the way back out I had already consumed: most of the fuel I packed in, 2 nalgenes of tea and 1 16 oz Coke, as well as much of my food. I did pack out as much of others people's garbage as I could; but the heaviest part of this was an assortment package of plastic knives, forks and spoons that someone had left at CS24 (sorry if anyone was planning on their "cutlery" being there). I would guess my pack was less than 30lbs on the way out.

mora-- As I've sat here on the couch trying to decide between reruns of "Keep Up With the Cardashians" or "The Real Hos (oops-- that should be housewives, LOL) of Whatever County" I've often wondered if I should have just gotten my feet wet or even better, put on the waders and wading boots I was carrying. And to think, I was just trying to break in a fairly new pair of Vasques...

rivergal-- my springer has been enjoying her new bowl of foot-flavored ice water that resides in front of the couch.

The mice at CS24 were as crafty and determined as at any shelter on the AT. Anything warm and fuzzy left unattended for more than three minutes became shredded-- they especially loved the expensive Smartwool socks. After two days and one night of Rodent Shock and Awe, we were forced to defend ourselves and our property, sending a few of the Hantavirus taxis to that great hunk of cheese in the sky. Humans must underestimate the cognitive abilities of mice, as we never saw another one after that.

We also saw deer, quite a few turkeys, a raccoon fishing for a meal, a couple of chipmunks and several leeches. (No, there were no "Stand By Me" moments.)

My few days of "sabbatical" have reinforced my disdain of the idiot box. Thank God I can already limp to the bathroom or the kitchen without the crutches.

10-23-2009, 10:11 PM
WOW! That's gonna leave a mark:biggrin: Glad you made it out OK, all things considered that could have been much worse. I had a fishing partner one time that fell off of some rocks and broke his neck and killed him. That was the worst fishing trip every, make a couple of cast, drag the body, make a couple of cast, drag the body, make a couple of cast, drag the body. Took 3 days to make our way out:biggrin:

10-24-2009, 10:30 AM
The worst fishing trip in my life involved a large friend of mine falling and having to be carried out to the ambulance,that was an ordeal in itself because he was a 200+ pounder.
We were highschool kids who were trying to take a shortcut out by climbing a bluff,(go figure),and he slid about 50' down with his hard head bouncing off rocks all the way,with me watching wide eyed.:eek:
It was a traumatic experience for both of us,much more for him and if he had not been so hard headed or lucky,they would have taken him to the funeral home.
True story.
Any bad experience that doesn't end up at the embalmer's table,has a good ending.