Nice description of this forum..."Share your backcountry hiking, fishing and camping adventures." Well, this post doesn't really fit into any of those categories, but it certainly belongs here.
I took off Sunday morning thinking I might go fish the Hiwassee - since Plateau Anlger wrote such a glowing report on it. And, yes, we might as well get it out of the way up front... I'm going to blame this entire debacle on you, David, so there .
As I was passing thru Madisonville, it occurred to me that I hadn't seen the North River since early Spring. I also seemed to recall someone posting a favorable report on the North, so I hung a left and headed for the North. I couldn't find it. I found a few miles of practically dried up stream-bed where the North River used to be. And I think the skinny trickle below it had once been the Tellico. On the entire stretch I passed one fly fisherman (on the road, since there was little to no water) and two bait fishers perched on a boulder where the stream had once been. Saw lots and lots of Fall color. Come to think of it, there just may have been some water under the leaves in the boulder bed... I just didn't see it.
I decided to pass up the North River and head down to the Hiwassee. I'm driving along and decide to consult my handy National Geographic Digest-size U.S. Road Atlas just to be sure I know what I'm doing. I steal a quick glance as I'm negotiating my way around a couple hairpin turns and I make out a bright yellow line going straight from Tellico Plains down to the Hiwassee. Yep, good old route 68 - hang a left. A little while later, as I'm blowing through Coker Creek at about 70, I'm thinking, Yeah, I remember seeing Coker Creek on the map between Tellico Plains and the Hiwassee... should be there shortly. About 45 minutes later I turned left at the sign for the Hiwassee Dam.
Now I'm thinking... That doesn't sound right -- shouldn't it say Powerhouse road?? There's no dam there... At about that point I passed the big sign that says "Welcome to North Carolina" and another one that says "Hiwassee Dam 11 miles ahead"
A quick U-turn sends me back to Rte.68 and a few minutes later I turned at the sign indicating the Appalachian Powerhouse was only 11 miles ahead (What is it with things being marked in 11 mile increments? I noticed this returning from Kingsport... every sign listing mileage to Knoxville is 11 miles from the previous one?!) Well, shortly after turning onto the AP road, I found myself climbing into the mountains on a narrow gravel road. I'm looking at 11 miles of this?? Yep. I was in the canopy the whole time. Red, yellow, gold, orange, green... Fall is in full bloom in the Cherokee National Forest, I can vouch for it. I had no spectacular vistas. I had no glorious views of the Fall foliage. I was in it up to the top of my Rodeo. And I couldn't enjoy it on 11 miles of bone-jarring Forest Service fire road.
I finally crested a mountain top and spotted the towers from the powerhouse jutting up out of the canopy. Yay! As I slewed my way to the bottom, I was brought up short by a Railroad Crossing sign. What the **** was a railroad doing on this side of the HI?? As I made my final turn out of the mountains and into the clear, I crossed the railroad tracks and sat staring at the Powerhouse. And the narrow footbridge to the other side. No way I was getting my Rodeo across that.
I was on the wrong side of the river.
I got out of the car and tried to figure out how in the **** I had managed to cross a river I hadn't even gotten to yet... Well, there was only one thing to do. Get back in the car, turn around and head back up that 11 bone-jarring miles of mountain fire road. And enjoy the Fall foliage all over again. Oh joy.
As I turned around in my seat to back up, I noticed the corner of my DeLORME Tennessee Atlas and Gazetteer sticking out from under some junk on the back seat. I pulled it out, opened it up to pages 26-27 and the mystery was revealed. Yeah, Route 68 goes to the Hiwassee alright... the Hiwassee in North Carolina! Hwy 315 goes from Tellico Plains to Reliance!!
Now I know what all those teeny little squiggly red lines mean. They mean you're going to be stuck in the mountains for a very long time and probably not get to go fish and probably die of starvation and expect your car to break down in the middle of Fall-foliage-****...
I decided to head back to Turtletown - that quaint little mountain burg in East Polk county where I made that fateful right turn up the mountain. And if I made it that far I'd probably just go home since it was 4:00 pm and the light was already getting thin. Then I noticed Lost Creek campground on the map and I remembered passing the turnoff for it just a ways back. It looked like if I could find it, I could go past it and end up on Rte. 30 below Reliance. Hey.. why not. After all, there was so much more color to see . And if the signs were right, this would only be another 19 miles or so. Besides, at this point I was becoming one with the color!
Pulled off at the Lost Creek Campground and had a look around. Nice little campground and very remote. Not much of a creek there but that probably had little to do with the drought since the sign clearly stated that it was lost. Thought briefly about getting my gear out and trying to fish there but there was no "there" there so I moved on down the road -- sorry, I moved on up and down the fire road.
Before too long I found pavement and nearly got out and kissed it but the traffic was too heavy and going fast! - much faster than the 15 to 20 mph I was averaging in the mountains. That entire time in the mountains, I encountered one Chevy pickup, one Jeep Wrangler, and two moto-cross bikers... all headed the wrong way... or was I the one headed the wrong way? Must have been me because they all seemed to be enjoying themselves and the Fall foliage!!
Within the half hour I was thru Reliance and headed up the Powerhouse road - this time on the right side of the river. I was actually able to gear up and get in the water about a mile up from the Big Bend parking area. I saw only one other fly fisherman on the whole stretch. The water was a bathwater warm 66.2 degrees! Undaunted, I headed out toward the Island and before long I had my first (and what would turn out to be my only) fish of the day on! He fought mightily! all 3" of him!! If you take a look at jeffnles recent post of the year in pictures you can see him! A stunning 3" war paint shiner---
After about 40 miles of bone-jarring mountain fire road, a 3" war paint shiner is priceless.
It's also enough to make a grown man cry.
I was only glad that, by now, the light had faded sufficiently that I could barely make out all those glorious Fall colors.
Can't wait to watch the ice freeze in my guides...