Ok so i'm a little late but finally getting a report up. We had planned a trip for early may before the wedding to get out and do some good fishing and the first weekend in may was our only option. Weather threatened our trip and i think our plans changed so many times i couldn't keep up with them. Our original plan was to stay at 53 and fish but we decided a few days before we left to head over to 61 and fish first before crossing the ridge to 53.
After an early start, we struck out up clingmans dome road and climbed up to the trailhead. Once we got a hundred yards up or so it started raining steadily and was a prelude for things to come. We parked at the pulloff and then the deluge of rain began as we got out of the car and started to get our packs situated. We hopped back in the car to see if it would slack up some, and it did a little, but eventually we just bit the bullet and put rain covers over our packs and our jackets on and struck out. The temperature was pretty chilly at this high of an elevation, especially with the rain, and was definitely a little cooler than expected. The hike down the noland ridge trail was simply spectacular! A small trail wondered through an explosion of bright green coming from the evergreen trees and grass, nothing like you see at the lower elevations. The trail was pretty steep downwards, although we didn't much notice it at that point as it was still raining and we were making the trek quickly, but it was a sign of things to come later on.
We made the scenic and seemingly short 4+ mile hike down noland ridge to 61 in less than two hours and the rain let up and the sun came out as we got close to camp. We quickly took advantage of the opportunity to set camp up and make a shelter out of a tarp i brought so we would have a dry place to cook if it rained. Wet and excited, we quickly got into our fishing gear and walked downstream just a bit and started fishing. I started with a neversink caddis with a bwo dropper nymph and my buddy used a light cahill. We quickly began getting into fish as the sun popped out consistently and warmed things up pretty quickly. My buddy was having a hard time hooking fish as he is pretty new to fly fishing, but he was quickly catching on and he eventually was hooking fish with regularity. The stream in this section was of fairly good size, although there were spots where the rhododendron choked down the stream some.
As we made our way back up closer to the campsite, we came across our first spec for the trip as it had been all rainbows up to that point. A pleasant surprise as i didn't expect it until further above the campsite. A few small streams ran into the main stem and the creek seemed to become smaller every hundred yards or so before it became more like small stream fishing than anything else. Above the campsite we actually had close encounters with several larger fish, with one by buddy hooked appearing to be around a 14" rainbow. He unfortunately (like the old adage goes) got away, but it was exciting nonetheless. We continued upstream of the campsite a good ways and got into more specs the further we went, as could be expected. Most of the specs were on the smaller side, although there were some over 7", however there was a good mix of larger rainbows mixed in.
About 6:30, we heard thunder and figured we better head back to camp so we quickly slogged down the streambed back to camp. Upon arriving, we headed straight for the stove and food as we were starving. I tried a new brand, backpackers pantry, and it was really good for anyone out there who has seen it. It started raining while we were eating, although not heavily, and by the time darkness fell and we were ready for bed the rain had come in full force. It rained for several hours but it was nice to listen to it and helped put me to sleep.
We awoke the next morning to dry conditions, at least for the time being. Our itinerary was to hike over the ridge to 53 so we could fish that day and hike out the next morning via the fork ridge trail. We quickly tore down camp and set out only to run into a quick downpour about 5 minutes into our hike. Temperatures were pretty warm and the rain let up almost as quickly as it started and our hike up to the ridge was a pretty tough one. Once we made it to the top we headed back down the other side in what was a welcome change to the uphill climb we had just done. The hike was around 8 miles to get to 53, but a relatively easy one. It had begun raining again during the hike and was still raining when we got to camp. Not knowing what the weather was going to do, we opted to just hang our packs without setting up camp and fish for a while.
We started off with the same setup as the day before above the campsite and just like the day before began getting into fish despite the rain. The water had just a little bit of color to it and was running a little high but still fishable by all means. The fish were a mix of browns and rainbows and were coming steadily despite the increasingly tough conditions. The rain came harder and the water had some more color to it so i changed to a large stonefly nymph and hooked several nice fish above 12" and one around 15" that decided for a self release when i reached to grab him. The heavy rain never let up and the water quickly became muddy and rose to a point where we decided to head back to camp. Since the rain appeared to be set in for the day and we were just going to hike out the next morning anyway, we decided to head on back to the car and started our hike back up to the car.
This leg of the trip was by far, one of the most if not THE most difficult trail i have been on in the smokies. The hike was a relentless uphill climb with very few resting points for almost seven miles. The hike started out at 3000' and ended up around 6000' and although it was beautiful, it was a tough one especially in the rain. Once we made it to the evergreen tree line we were once again treated to some vibrant colors to help ease the pain of the hike. The seven mile hike took us about four and a half hours of pushing ourselves as we didn't want to stop. The trail emptied us out on clingmans dome road and we actually had to walk up the road just a bit which was a welcome change to dodging rocks and bear scat on the trail and marked the final leg in our completion of the almost 20 mile loop.
The rain never let up even as we headed down the mountain but finally slacked up as we headed out 74 back towards home. The trip wasn't quite what we expected, but we got to explore lots of new areas and see some interesting things. For anyone in this area, it appeared to have lots of bear activity as we saw a large number of prints and scat, although we never ran across one. If anyone is thinking of doing this definitely bring some good legs. The hike back up was much tougher than the small excerpt i had done up and down the deep creek trail from 441. Despite the deluge of rain, it was good to see based on the last couple years we have had.