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...