|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.|
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.|
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.|
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.