“The remnants of Tropical Storm Tammy are producing heavy rainfall over Western North Carolina and East Tennessee. The rain will continue throughout tonight and into the early part of the morning for much of the area. Flooding is possible in the lower….” the Weather Channel Girl’s voice faded as I woke Friday morning and tried to clear the cobwebs from my head. I need a cup of coffee I thought to myself. Wait I don’t drink coffee, but if I did, a cup to jump start the last full day of our family vacation in the Smoky Mountains would be in order.
All week we’ve vacationed in Gatlinburg and experienced most of the tourist traps that a visitor could be expected to enjoy in only a week. We received our instructions from the twenty four hour visitor channel. People tune into the visitor channel when there is nothing to watch on the sixty available channels of cable TV. It seems we’ve watched that channel too much during the week.
When we lived in Knoxville our neighbor and I made fun of the tourists who clogged the roadways, hotels and walked the streets of Gatlinburg. Now I find myself doing most of those things, except we found a cabin in the woods, with a nice view of a man made pond. We remember the back ways into town and around town, which I guess still makes me somewhat of a local. I don’t feel comfortable complaining about how much things have changed, because the only time I spent in Gatlinburg was passing through the narrow streets to fish the streams of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
My focus is back to the TV where elevator music has replaced the verbal predictions of the weather channel girl. The five day forecast is showing for Knoxville. Friday, seventy five degrees and raining, also the picture has a lightning bolt through the block. The block for Saturday shows one half rain and the other half clouds. A late autumn tropical storm and 75 degrees combine for a wet and muggy day in the mountains.
The temperature “guess” for Saturday is a cool sixty two degrees. A cold front is coming tomorrow, so today should be a good day to fish or today could be a bad day to fish. I try to remember which one it is supposed to be. The moon phase figures into it somehow, or did I read that on the Internet message board? I think to the day ahead and call for my daughter Delaney.
Today, Delaney and I are supposed to go fly fishing for trout in the mountains. I can't wait to see her to catch a trout on a fly rod before we head back home and I jump on a plane for week long meetings in Chicago.
The sky is pouring buckets of rain now. I ask her if she still wants to go trout fishing. “Yes. We need stop and buy me a new fishing pole, because my fishing pole is for little girls and I am almost seven. Daddy, girls who are almost seven do not fish with little girl fishing poles. So, I need a big girl fishing pole. I will get dressed” She says and moves toward the stairs. I tell her I brought her fly rod, which is a “big girl fly rod” as she disappears downstairs.
As far as I am concerned a fly rod is much different than a fishing pole. To her it doesn’t matter, she just doesn’t want to be seen with a pink fishing pole that has a cartoon character printed on the reel. I hear her footsteps on the stairs as she comes back into the living room. She is wearing a t-shirt with a cartoon character printed across the front and I realize it is the same cartoon character that is printed on the reel of her now “old” fishing pole. This would be the same fishing pole she was just talking about replacing because of the cartoon character. I am not sure how a cartoon character printed on a t-shirt and a cartoon character printed on the pole are different. It all seems complicated to me. A “big girl” who is almost seven is a complicated thing and I realize I need some fresh air from the mountains and we head out the door.
The rain is letting up so we jump in the truck and head down the ridge toward the local fly shop. When we stop at the first stop light I ask her if she is excited about trying to catch a trout. “I am excited, but what if I get wet?” she asks.
I don’t mention the fact that she has on flip flops so wet feet are a given, she is almost seven and I know she will figure it out on her own. I just want to find a poncho that covers her entire body, so Mom doesn’t get mad at me for bringing a soaking wet child back to the cabin.
“We will buy a poncho for you so you don’t get wet. We need to pick up some flies to replace the flies I lost while I was fishing alone up in the mountains earlier in the week” I tell her. She nods her approval. We pull up to the local fly shop. She says “I want to fish where the big girls fish, not where a little girl would fish”.
We walk into the fly shop, the gentleman behind the counter smiles as he asks if he can help us. I explain we need a dozen #10 Thunderheads and directions to a fishing hole where a big girl, who is almost seven, can catch a trout. He says he has a map for us that would lead us directly to a very likely spot where a big girl could catch a trout. “The flies are right back there in wooden cabinets". I head toward the cabinets of flies and she moves toward the fly rods that are standing in the polished wood displays.
Just as I select the proper Thunderheads she decides on a fly rod. “Daddy, I believe this is the one I need”. She says. I know better than to ask, but sometimes it is interesting to find out her thought process on the selection of an item. As I walk toward the display of fine rods I ask, “why that one”?
“Oh it is so pretty and look at the brown handle, see the little cracks and holes in the soft spongy stuff here on the big end.......that is the one I need.” She explains.
“It doesn’t have a cartoon character on it. And by the way do you have $695.00”? I ask
She puts her hands on her hips and looks at me out of the corner of her eye. I make a mental note to discuss her current posture with my wife. She begins to pout as I grab two ponchos, a spool of tippet and we head for the counter.
The man behind the counter has the Gatlinburg Trout Fishing brochure in hand when we get there. He shows me the “hot spots” that are stocked on a regular basis. Then takes a look at her flip flops and says Mynatt Park has the best access. He explains that the city stocks trout every Thursday and sometimes they stock some large fish for the kids. I thank him for the information; pay him for the flies, tippet, and ponchos. She takes one last look back toward the fine rods on display and we head out into the rain toward the waiting truck.
The drive up the main street through the Gatlinburg reveals people walking in the rain, riding trolleys and in the bumper to bumper traffic. We turn onto a side street and head up to Airport Road. I wonder if there is an airport up there somewhere or was the name of the road just a snipe hunter’s cruel joke.
We arrive at Mynatt Park, which we’ve now labeled the secret fishing hole and we are the only people there. Maybe it really is a secret? The rain is coming down in sheets and sideways too. We put on our ponchos, which are really green extra large garbage/leaf bags with a hood and we start down the hill toward the water.
As we walk along the creek we see a nice 11" rainbow relaxing at the back of a pool. We climbed down the rocks and get her into position to catch the trout. She expertly, if I do say so, cast that Elk Hair Caddis just above the fish and let it swing down in the current. The rainbow bolted from his position, took a run at the fly and missed it. After several more passes over the fish we change flies to a Tellico Nymph. Again the trout tried its best to eat the fly, but each time she pulled it from the trout’s mouth before the fish could get a firm grip.
The decision is made to change positions and let the fly swing directly through the pool and into the feeding lane. We move, don't forget the rocks were wet and slick. Imagine trying to get an "almost seven year old" who is wearing blue flip flops, to move 10 yards up stream in the pouring rain. After two falls and one tearful “I want to go back to the cabin" we are in position above the pool and just in time I might add.
I snip off the Tellico and tie up a Huber Gnat. Just as I get the fly l tied to the tippet she points into the run above the pool and says “Daddy look at that leaf". That was no leaf, there it was, a rather large trout, fanning in the run. I tell her to cast into the run and we would try to catch the bigger fish instead. I thought this was a great plan as I show my hunter/gatherer instinct. She doesn’t notice and says she doesn’t want to hurt the fish. After a few minutes of convincing her I wouldn't hurt the fish if she does catch it, she cast over the fish, under the fish, beside the fish, on the other side of the fish. Finally she cast that Huber Gnat above the rainbow; the fish moved from its feeding position and grabbed the fly. She wants to hand me the rod, but my guiding instinct takes over and I make her fight the fish and get him on the reel. After a couple of minutes she brought the line to me and I grabbed the fish by the belly. This is one time I wished I hadn't left the net at home. I picked up the fish, which is a fat and healthy rainbow. We snap the necessary photos, none of which she would get close to the fish. Also, none of which developed as anything other than a white blur after we got home which is caused by the humidity from the approaching storm.
I cut the tippet at the tip of the fish’s tail to measure the length later. I tie on more tippet and another Elk Hair Caddis. “Do you want to go downstream a little further and try for another fish?” I ask “No that's OK I caught a fish. So we can go back to the cabin and see what Momma's doing". Is her reply. I wanted to fish the rest of the day, but I knew even two more minutes would be out of the question, much less the rest of the day.
When we got back home today I took the line out and measured it. Sixteen inches is the length from the Huber Gnat to the end of the cut tippet. That is the length of Delaney’s first rainbow on a fly rod. That Huber Gnat and tippet will go into a scrapbook. It took her 30 minutes to catch a fish that some people fish all year to catch.
“The cold front from the Northwest will bring with it colder days on the streets of Chicago. Look for clear skies and strong winds until later in the week when….” the Weather Channel Girl’s voice faded as I woke Monday morning in the hotel room in Chicago morning and tried to clear the cobwebs from my head I need a cup of coffee I think to myself. Wait I don’t drink coffee, but if I did I would need a cup to jump start the first full day of meetings in the Windy City. Last week was pure quality time.
David owns Southeastern Fly Guide Service. Here is his website.