At the risk of committing the sin of blasphemy against the purist form of fly fishing, let me first say that the love of my life (fly fishing anyway) has always been and always will be a nine foot, four to five weight, fly rod with reel and a dry fly or nymph at the business end. There is nothing so graceful as watching a well placed, long, gentle cast to a rising fish and certainly nothing as fulfilling as the feeling it brings when accomplished.
In anticipation of a return trip to GSMNP in the next few months, I began thinking about my boyhood days back over sixty years ago and the thrill of that first spring outing on the river, passing the time trying to fill my stringer with a few nice fish for supper. Back then I used a fly rod nearly all the time, forsaking the bait casting ways of my fishing buddies amid their jabbing remarks about my "trot rod".
Not having enough room for a proper back cast always seemed to be my nemesis that presented itself when least needed. Sometimes a roll cast would suffice, but at times, when some distance was needed, the roll cast also came up wanting. It was after a few of these experiences that I came up with this idea, although I never claimed it as my originality. I thought there were probably others that had the same idea, nearly simultaneously with myself. I called it the "Indiana rig". Perhaps locals from many areas of the country use this same exact setup and have their own pet names for it.
It consists of a short fly rod (seven foot light action is ideal) and a light or ultra light spin cast reel, that is convertible for left or right hand use, 4 lb. test line, a small clear bubble (bobber) that has the line going through it with a center peg (which pops out to adjust the length of leader to the bait and reinserted to hold the line), and a dry, wet, or nymph fly tied to the business end of the line. I still have the Johnson "Century" reel I bought all those years ago, and it is my favorite ultra light reel for this rig, not to mention, it is still in great condition. Many of you younger folks probably have never heard of this reel but I bet more than a few of the old timers among you, like myself, have indeed. Perhaps you even owned one.
Now, I never quite understood, why, with a fly rod and reel, as well as a spin/bait casting rod and reel, a person would cast with the right hand, switch the rod to the left hand and crank the reel with the right hand. This never made any sense to me and always seemed rather awkward. Then there is the possibility of missing the strike of a nice fish while switching. So I have always fished "left handed" and do so even now with fly rod and reel.
So, picture this: the fly rod, in your right hand with the reel mounted on the fly reel seat, hanging upside down, handle on the left side. But, with the gearing reversed so it can be cranked with the left hand the same way you would crank a spinning reel. The push button of the reel being fully exposed to the rear, the line is grasped between the cork and forefinger. A "bump" of the push button against the upper thigh or wherever "cocks" the rig. Then, with a flick of the rod, release the fore finger. The weight of the bubble and split shot if used, "shoots" the fly out to the intended spot on the water. Choreography of the cast and the release goes hand in hand for different casting scenarios, but isn't difficult to master after a little practice. For those folks who are left handed, the right/left conversion of the reel is not needed, so just about any spin cast reel will work.
This rig can get your offering in the smallest of places, it can be dead drifted just like with a fly line, but without the need for mending, and will produce an effortless and remarkably accurate cast to any spot, once you have practiced it a little. You can also just drop the (bubble, leader, fly) in the current mend letting the fly drift as far as you want through riffles and other suitable locations. You can also shoot it straight forward across a stream to the quiet water of an over hanging bank. You can use a weighted nymph or un-weighted nymph with a shot, fished along the bottom the same way as nymph fishing with fly line. You can use a strike indicator instead of the bubble if you have enough weight to make a cast. Incidentally, the bubble creates enough counter force when a fish strikes, due to its buoyancy, so missed strikes are somewhat minimized. A tippet or tapered leader can also be used by attaching it to the monofilament in much the same way as you would a fly line. You can work more water with less chance of spooking the fish while wading and you can get as low and stealthy as you want. And, its a great rig to take back packing since its light weight and fully collapsible. You also save a lot of time recovering from hang casts in the tree limbs or bushes (one of my specialties), not to mention lost flies snapped off on the forward part of a fly line cast.
This is in reality, fly fishing without a back cast. It isn't my favorite way to fly fish the Smokies; that would be (for me) a nine foot graphite rod as I mentioned earlier, but a long gentle backcast to a gentle landing of the fly right over the feeding lie of a hunger trout is seldom the case in the GSMNP streams I fish. The method I have described is every bit as productive as spin casting but still retains the feel of the fish on a fly rod, especially when playing it. If I am fishing rhododendron covered streams, especially small pocket water streams, I'll go with my Indiana rig every time. But now that I think of it, "Smokie Mountain Rig", becomes a more appropriate moniker. Give it a try, if you haven't already!
Blue skies, warm gentle winds, and trout filled wters to all!