Monday, September 24, 2012


A view of the North Carolina side
Letters are dead.

In my archives, such as they are, there are no bundles of various sized envelopes bound with twine and filled with yellowed paper; remnants of relationships maintained over distances. Our generation, and the ones behind us, are mostly writers in the electronic form. Our words are bits and bytes trapped on some computer that will only be found by our heirs if they have the right password.

I wrote Marc and Mike after our fishing trip last weekend. It was a short thank you to two dear friends for a beautiful day of fishing on one of Tennessee's best tail waters. Their replies, archived forever in Google's virtual vault, will be a small treasure of a day well spent. Of course, the words below will also remain, yellowing as memory fades.

I came to North Carolina for the Trout Unlimited National Conference. It was what one would expect of any such gathering. A convening of the loyal to celebrate past successes, plot new ventures and to generally mill about, drink bourbon and embrace our shared passion for the organization and its mission.

During the weekend I tracked down a few folks I knew from the northeast, managed to spend some time with Kirk and Brennan, and spent a few bucks on raffle tickets and auction items. I did win an auction on a DeYoung print; one of those artists who's unique perspective is a real joy. Now I just need to find a place to hang the thing.

Of course, I had an ulterior motive in venturing south. There's some mighty good fishing to be had in the neighborhood of Asheville and both Marc and Mike live within a reasonable drive. It was a good opportunity to rekindle friendship in the manner that angler's do; a brief conference stream side and then going our own ways to find trout. The day is wrapped with a post-game chat that plumbs the deepest meanings of sport and life as well as tales of day's past.

This was the first time I had met Mike in person though I felt like I was well acquainted with him through his writing and reports of adventures with mutual friends. He came up the previous evening and suffered through TU's awards banquet so that we could get an early start the next morning. Hanging out and talking until the wee hours we cemented the common foundation that I am sure will be a friendship to last through many future trips.

The river Marc chose for us to fish was a tail water with a well published and reliable generation schedule. Fortunately the schedule called for a one hour pulse of water at eight a.m. This meant is was fruitless for Mike and I to try and make the drive for first light fishing so we awoke at a reasonable hour and headed west.

Mike and Marc plying the angle.
Mike drove so I had the opportunity to take in the landscape from the shotgun seat. For those who have gazed upon the Rockies and Tetons, the mountains of the Blue Ridge barely deserve the moniker. But driving through them you get a sense for their understated scale and magnificence. These wooded, rounded humps have a drama in lighting and topography that is both familiar and alien. They have a gravitas that the young'uns out west cannot match.

Practically every fold in these mountains holds running water but it was the wide valleys that we sought. A few legendary rivers carve broad swathes along the mountain's flanks and on the Tennessee side Marc told tales of thousands of fish per river mile; eastern waters along time worn mountains with trout measured in western terms. That's something that got our attention.

Walking to the banks of this river it was difficult to sense the magic of the place. Of course, that could be due to the stink of dead animal that greeted Mike and I at the parking lot. The river looked much like several I had fished most notably the Housatonic. But I soon learned that appearances had deceived me.

Upstream a guide herded several sports about. Obviously they were all new to fly angling and flogged about much like I did close to a decade ago. Downstream a long run was open and Mike and Marc moved into position. I took up residence in a slow pool where Marc had modest luck earlier and where he told of particularly finicky trout.

As many of these as you dared catch.
These trout were particular but using intel gleamed from Marc plus some past experience on a similar stretch of the Housy, I soon had takes on a variety of Sulphur dries and brown WD40. The trout were mostly Browns and a few Rainbows mixed in. In the space of an hour I took as many fish as I would normally take in a day of fishing back home. While I'd like to think that this spoke to my skill as an angler, this result largely spoke to the aforementioned density of trout in the water.

After missing two large fish from the deepest portion of the pool on an ant pattern -- one was stung in an brief hookup and the other lost to drag just at the moment he was about to strike -- I wandered upstream to find easier fish. I foul hooked the largest trout of the day, somewhere in the fourteen inch range at the first pool I met and Mike did me the kindness of netting the energetic Brown.

The pace of the fishing then slowed with fish coming regular enough to make it interesting but not the stupid good fishing of the first hour. I began to doubt the "thousands" number when a splashy rise upstream caused me to look over my shoulder. I was treated to a magic trick of light.

Along the sandy bottom of this pool clumps of algae created a mottled pattern. In the few brief moments that the sun poked through the cloudy gloom that had pervaded the day I was able to see a trout hovering above each clump. Before the light shifted I had counted a dozen, all within two rod lengths of where I stood. I no longer doubted the thousands claim. And I eyed each clump of algae with a new sense of respect.

There must be big fish in here somewhere.
The day was to end early due to another, longer generation surge at mid-afternoon. I decide to make my last stand at a quick run that was thick with rising fish. I tied on a large Adams Comparadun as the top fly in my WD40 rig and managed an eager Rainbow on the dry on my first cast. That led to a few hookups on the dropper but none to the net. What followed was close to an hour of frustration as I worked through the fly box to find something that would change the pattern of refusal and half-hearted strikes. No luck.

When the siren from the dam warbled through the air I had a dozen or more ineffective flies hanging on my lanyard drying. Fish continued to rise in front of me. I continued to dream of landing each.

The walk back to the truck with Marc and Mike was accompanied by the easy banter of old friends. I am still amazed at how this notion of friendship has changed in this new age of letters.

Our circles have grown geographically bigger. From Dunsmuir, Boise and Idaho Falls east to Guilford, Weston and Knoxville I've met folks, both virtually and in person, who really are friends, but not in the way that we once knew. We don't gather in front of the television to watch the Broncos game. But we do gather regularly to read. And we exchange letters of a sort our ancestors would not recognize.

And as a treat, we occasionally gather in person, usually near water, with beer handy, to kindle and rekindle these friendships.

Also, don't forget to throw your hat in the virtual ring for the Simms hat and stickers.


  1. I am constantly intrigued by the connections we make across this crazy electronic medium. Friendships are well formed before the first handshake occurs. Common ground is thoroughly trodden before boots share the trail. Inside jokes and "just between you and me" confidences are deeply seated before the sound of another's voice is heard for the first time. Distance is nothing.

    But still, it's always a joy to look a pen pal in the eye and share a stream for the first time.

    And that's what it was, my friend. A joy.

  2. I totally agree with Mike. I feel a closer connection to people I've never met face to face than I do some folks who live close by. I'm all caught up in this electronic medium, but I still carry a notebook and pen.

    1. It's funny, I carry a pencil and a small notebook just in case my batteries die. Pencils, they're the new backup device.

  3. Wonderful perspective and I agree heartily about friendships forged on-line. That's how I met all of my kayak fishing friends and have found all but one to be great. The only problem the "one" had was that she wanted to take a break about an hour after hitting the water, then break for lunch, then go back and take a nap, and expected me to do all of this as she did. Damnit woman, I went there to fish! ha! Oh and btw, I've been internet scouting waters all over TN and can't wait to start testing those trout waters.

    1. You should head over to The Perfect Drift. Marc is based in Knoxville and can help with intel on fishing in TN.

  4. I had a dozen or more ineffective flies hanging on my lanyard drying. Fish continued to rise in front of me.


    1. Reminds me of a trip in March. Except there was no sleet.

  5. Nice report Steve...sadly, letters are becoming a thing of the past. We just need to be sure of kids know our passwords to keep the blogs alive :)