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Little T, Big Rain

by Bo Uzzle (aka Bingo)

    Saturday, I got to the Lil T about 1:00 in the afternoon. The previous night’s rock show and leftover honey-do's put me off my timetable, and  I ended-up driving around for the next hour and a half assessing the relative merits of the few campsites not already occupied by holiday revelers. I settled on one on a large island that could be accessed only by wading across a 20ft braid of calf-deep water. After setting up my tent and tarp, finally I took off in the car to find good water. It was 4:00 and I was shaking from my need to “get my fish-on.”

    I brought my float tube on this occasion to enable me to drift and fish a quarter mile section that I had always thought looked too deep to wade but too featured to ignore. The water was up from it’s summer time norm but at 650 cfs it was entirely fishable and only had a slight stain to it. I strung my rod up, tied on an Olive Wooly Bugger and pushed off into the flow. Nine times out of ten, this is the only fly I need on this river. There is a huge population of damselflies on the Lil T and the smallies key on them most of the summer. An hour later and only one dink to show for it, I concluded that this was going to be one of those “tenth” times. I switched up and tried three or four different streamers before I noticed the first rise.

    I say “rise” because what I saw reminded me so much of the delicate way trout sip mayflies off the surface. I clipped my streamer off and tied on a yellow stonefly pattern (Kaufman Stimulator) and hooked up on my first drift. I half expected to reel in a trout but was pleasantly surprised to see a smallie in the 3/4 to 1 lb. class tailwalking across the current. Fish began to dimple all around me. Since I only saw random adult bugs on the surface, I concluded that they were eating bugs as they emerged and that I was having success with the Stimulator not because of the imitation but because the presentation was on the surface. I quickly clipped off the fly and replaced it with a more durable popper. No retrieve -- that put them off. Just dead-drift, slurp, and ka-boom! For the next 3 and a half hours I sight-fished to 20 or more smallies and caught several additional ones blind casting. The biggest one was probably just shy of 2lbs.. I went back to my camp a happy boy.

    Camping solo can be a little spooky at times but I always enjoy it. I wish that I could say I was completely alone but there are 2 campsites on that island and my neighbors’ pitbull dogs came down the path three times that night to check up on me. The first encounter was a little tense, but after that we all settled down to sleep. About 5:00 in the morning it began to rain.

    As I made my breakfast I kept an eye on the water. My campsite was nice but it occurred to me that if the river rose significantly, it might make getting myself and my gear off the island a little tricky. But by 10:30 the rain stopped and the water looked measurably higher and definitely more stained. I was a little leery but after probing the braid with a muddler and catching a couple of nice ones, I decided to drive upstream this time to fish a shoal above a bridge I had passed on the way in.

    There is a tiny island just north of the Tellico Rd. bridge and if you want to check it out you’d best ask permission of the large Canada goose that has staked it out as his domain. At first I barely noticed him as he glided around the corner but as soon he made his first charge, I wondered how I managed to miss him. He went directly for my head screaming with murderous intent. I swung my wading staff at him causing him to swerve at the the last moment and splash further downstream. A second later, he was back charging me with redoubled fury. Once again, I altered his flight plan enough to avoid his attack. This scenario replayed itself over and over again as I gradually managed to wade my way out of his territory over the next 10 minutes.

    When I finally settled down enough to fish, I caught around a dozen including one in the 3lb. class all with the same muddler I had used earlier that morning. I paused for a moment to scan the surface for rises, and that's when I noticed that the little shelf I had walked across an hour or two ago was now underwater. By the time I got back to my campsite, the formerly calf-deep water was now kickin’ it over my knee and the color of a frothy mochachino with extra scuma. I bugged out and spent the next night in a cheap hotel thinking that in the morning I’d go hit a trout stream.

    That night it stormed. Damn good thing I got off that island! Monday morning I drove to one of my favorite Smokies streams thinking that the upper elevations might drain quicker or not get as messed up in the first place. They were blown too. It wasn’t a total loss. Mother Nature decided to give me a consolation prize and on my drive I saw three wild turkeys, a couple of woodchucks and what I think was a badger. Then I turned for home.

    I had been blessed with a great trip but as an avid (no -- who am I kidding) make that freakishly obsessive fisherman -- I couldn’t help but be a little disappointed by having my journey cut short. As I crossed the state line, I told myself I would make a little detour go just to check on a tiny little trout stream I used to fish years ago but but had given up on after years of drought. It was high (of course) but well within its banks and I thought still fishable. Better yet, no one there. I strung my rod up as quick as I could and slunk off the road to scout some pools.

    On my 3rd cast I was amazed to catch a nice 10 inch brownie. This would have been the fish of the day most days when this stream was in its prime. An hour later I pulled a 16+ inch brown out from underneath a logjam. Never would have thought it possible. Not there. I ended up catching and releasing 6 quality fish in about an 3 hours out of a stream I had given up for nearly dead 6 years ago!

    I’ve caught more fish on a trip before. I’ve also caught bigger fish. But I can’t say that I’ve had many trips that top last weekend. It was just the right blend of adversity and success that makes me glad to be alive and able to swing a flyrod.


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