Another Thanksgiving has come and gone, and I have come full circle; last year at this time, I came up to the Smokies (alone - the kids were with their grandparents), and I caught my first Smokies trout. Since then, we've made 10 trips up to the mountains (mostly for just a few days at a time), and we learned something from every trip. Now, I found myself in a similar situation - the kids were with their grandparents in Pensacola, and I was in my car, heading Northeast. Last year, the weather was cold, but sunny; the forecast this time wasn't so promising. A strong cold front was heading east, and it forced me to make my first decision of the trip. Normally, I would wait to leave until 9PM or so to leave - no sense on getting up there too early, only to have to kill time waiting for the sun to come up. However, I wanted to get "ahead" of the front, before the bad weather reached I-59...I also figured my fishing window of opportunity would be pretty narrow, limited to the time before the front blew through. So, I rushed out of town a few hours early, and it paid off - I didn't run into bad weather until I reached Chattanooga. The interesting thing was the temperature - from home all the way to Knoxville, the temperature (per my dashboard thermometer) was pretty much the same. It didn't drop until I got into the park at Cosby. It was still fairly warm, mid 50s, and it had just stopped raining. I got rigged up and went off in pursuit of some brookies, which had eluded us on our trip in October. I started at the nature trail, and soon had this fine fellow to hand:
I apologize for the poor picture quality - I've gone through 2 cameras this year, and this was my cheapie backup camera...the colors were far more vibrant in person. I didn't get any others in that section of stream, so I headed further upstream. I ended up picking up a nice rainbow, and a few dinks. I was using a #16 Mr Rapidan, and while I was getting some action, I also noticed one fish eyeball it for what seemed like 10 seconds before refusing it. I switched to a #18 Para Adams, on 8x tippet. I reached a nice pool, and soon had two gorgeous brookies to hand (sorry, no pics on them). I ended up with about a dozen...a lot of them were dinks, but 4 of them were quality fish. In the meantime, the rain returned, and the temperature steadily dropped...I soon found myself soaked, and more than a little cold. I wanted to try a couple of other areas in the park, and I also had to start moving toward my hotel in Maggie Valley, so I headed back to the car. Before I left Cosby, I tried the area just before the stream leaves the park. I saw a really nice fish, at least 10", not more than 5 feet from me - it was oblivious to me. I drifted a nymph right to his nose - he took it, and I had about a pound of dead weight on my line...no fight at all. I got a hand on him, and only then the fish realized he was hooked, and took off - enough to snap the tippet. I tied on another nymph and fished the run ahead of me...I soon had a clone of the first fish on, with similar fighting characteristics. As I was bringing it in, another trout came up and tried to steal the nymph from the hooked fish. This one I semi-beached on a rock, and it flopped off and the hook came out. These fish had to be recent stockers from outside of the park, and I wish I could have gotten them - I have no qualms about keeping stocker fish for the frying pan. In frustration, I fired another cast upstream...I soon had a fish on, and this one actually hit the reel, peeling off line. I soon had a 7" wild rainbow to hand, a beautiful fish with a dark crimson stripe that I was happy to release.
I headed over to Cataloochee, and checked out the Little Cataloochee area...it is simply beautiful. I tried a few casts without any hits, but I was running out of daylight, and I was getting a bit nervous about the falling temperatures and the gravel and dirt roads. I headed to Maggie Valley and my hotel, where I had my Thanksgiving feast of cold fried chicken, then passed out. The next morning, I was up early. It was snowing - not heavy, but enough to accumulate on the cars. It was very pretty, and being from bayouland, the novelty never wears off. I headed to Joey's Pancake House - a fine restaurant that I heartily recommend - great food and even better service.
I wanted to fish Little Cataloochee, so I started on the road up the mountain. The snow continued, and I took it very easy as the road turned to dirt - as Byron said on the fishing report, I have a healthy respect for ice. I do have some experience driving on it, but not on switchback dirt roads. However, it seemed ok - no ice on the road - until I got to the park entrance, where I found this:
Very pretty, but at that elevation, the snow was accumulating on the hard-packed dirt. I got out, and it felt like a rough skating rink. I decided discretion was the better part of valor, and headed back down - that area of the park is so isolated, if I ran into trouble, I might still be there.
I headed back to Cosby, not really expecting much. On the way in, I took this picture of the Cosby Creek valley - my land is down there somewhere:
The tops of the mountains were in the clouds, and those clouds were bringing snow. It was snowing as I fished Cosby again, too...but not heavily. I went straight for the area above the campground, and I found this deep pool below this waterfall:
I fished a small nymph, and I saw a dark figure shoot out from under a ledge...good thing, because I felt nothing as it took the nymph. As I brought him up, I couldn't tell which species it was...all I could tell is that it looked almost black. It was a rainbow, and again the picture doesn't do it justice:
I picked up a few dinks, and tried the stream at the entrance again - the stockers were no where to be found. I then headed through the nightmare known as Gatlinburg, then up to the WP Little Pigeon. I tried a section fairly low down the mountain, and found it a bit high and pushing quite a bit of water - I had to pick around the edges. No takers there, and I headed for Elkmont. I tried Jakes Creek, and all I got was some casting practice. I headed for Townsend and LRO, to replace some of the nymphs I lost (BTW - Byron: I meant to drop off K's reel that she damaged in a fall back in August, but I was a zombie by then, and I realized after I left that I had forgotten to leave it with y'all...I'll ship it up there soon). I drove back (cautiously) over the mountains back to N.C.
Today, I didn't have much time, so I decided to go back to Cosby. This time, I didn't bother with my hippers, as I wanted to hike up the Low Gap trail a bit, to see what the stream looked like higher up. I found it to be a lovely collection of plunge pools. I eased down to one of them that I could reach from the bank without getting wet, and dropped a nymph in - to my surprise, I soon had a nice bow on. It was totally unexpected, since the water temp was now in the low 40s. The main thing is, I know where to head once Spring arrives.
I am very thankful that I was able to catch some fish, particularly given the weather conditions. More importantly, I was able to spend time at a place which has rapidly become my favorite spot on earth. This is probably it for us for a while; it will be hard to wait until Spring.