First Timers by David Knapp

The trout was rising in a small, nondescript pocket.  Moving quickly through the stream, you would not notice anything special to indicate that it was home to a 13 inch brown.  Upon closer inspection, you might realize that the slow flow and two boulders to funnel the food to any resident fish were perfect for a nice trout.  The rhododendron branch lying across the two rocks made it a tricky drift unless the goal was to snag the leaves.  Many fishermen would have completely passed up the spot, but Nathan knew better and threw his fly in just in case.

Nathan, his buddy JR, and myself were all fishing a section of Little River.  Nathan fishes with me regularly, but this was the first time JR had joined us and his first time in the Smokies.  One of the great joys of fly fishing, to me at least, is to take someone out for their first time on a Smokies stream.  The excitement and satisfaction they experience of catching that first Smoky mountain trout is contagious. 

On this day, I was sitting on the rocks across the stream helping JR out with his rig.  A shout made me glance up to see Nathan’s rod bent and a look of concern on his face.  “Is it a good one?”  I asked.  He shook his head vigorously in the affirmative.  I saw the flash of the fish surging across the stream and started wading over to help land the fish and take the necessary pictures.  The fish made a hard run downstream with Nathan following in pursuit.  Finally, after a lot of commotion and a few tense moments, we landed the nice brown and snapped a couple of pictures.  For the rest of the day, Nathan kept reminding me who had caught the largest fish on the trip.  Try as I might, I just couldn’t quite catch one as large.

The exceptional job he did of fighting this fish showed me just how far he has come as a fisherman since we first started fishing the Smokies.  In contrast, JR was currently experiencing his first trip.  The rapid progress he was making told me that he also would be catching larger fish soon.  I only had to tell him to be stealthy once, and for the rest of the trip, he was probably the sneakiest one between the three of us.

JR’s first fish came from the very first pool he fished.  I pointed out the basics of reading trout water and told him to cast into a nice deep pocket across the current tongue.  On about the 4th cast, his indicator twitched, and I said “Fish!”  The set was way too slow so he tried again.  Two casts later, the indicator twitched again, this time so subtly that I barely noticed.  JR had already caught on to the game though and quickly set the hook.  Immediately a beautiful rainbow rocketed out of the water.  Soon we had the fish corralled and took a couple of pictures.
JR's First Fish

Over the course of the trip, I would periodically take a few minutes to observe JR and offer suggestions.  Each one was implemented immediately, and soon he was catching fish out of nearly every likely spot.
Watching these two guys reminded me of my own growth as a fisherman.  Looking back, I realize just how far I’ve come.  Now I understand that part of the joy of the sport comes from passing on the things I have learned so that others can gain the same enjoyment that I have. 

This was reinforced on the last day of our trip.  JR still had not caught a brown trout despite catching around 30 fish on day two.  I really wanted him to catch one on his first trip so I took him to a pool that I know holds plenty of browns.  He fished up through the pool without catching any and on up into the pocket water above.  I finally went about my own fishing only to hear him yell.  Hurrying back, I found him fighting his first brown.  When I asked how he caught it, his reply was “Well, you told me that brown trout like slow water so I cast over to that slower water and there he was.”  At that point, I knew that JR wasn’t going to need any more help.  He was well on his way to being a competent Smokies angler.

If you haven’t been fishing with someone new to the sport in awhile, find someone that wants to try it out and take them for a day on the water.  In particular, we need to get young people into the sport.  The future of our sport depends on us as anglers.  Without more participants, the sport will eventually die.  Take a day or two to pass on some of what you have learned about fly fishing.  I promise it will be time well spent.

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