Stream Bites

 

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One of the fun things about fishing on a new stream is the thrill of seeing trout water for the first time. A smart fisher man knows that taking the time to look, really look, at the stream will pay dividends in terms of finding the good spots and observing trout going about their daily rituals of eating nymphs and hatches. And, so, when I recently found myself on the Chattooga River, just on the SC/NC line, I knew that 15 minutes spent studying the stream and its occupants was the smart thing to do. But since trout fishermen resemble their prey in that both are possessors of very small brains and very strong instincts, I could not do anything other than find a way into the water so as to immediately get my parachute adams into the riffles, runs, and pools.

Scrambling down a bank covered with mountain laurel and rhododendron that provided a 15 foot barrier between the trail and the trout, I emerged on the edge of the stream. Looking left and right, with nary a thought for stealth or subterfuge, I chose the downstream option and waded into the freestone stream and started putting out line with a series of casts that would make Lefty proud.

To no avail.

After 10 minutesof casts and mends and drag free presentations, it became clear that what I had on the tippet or where I put it in the stream was of little interest to the trout. Gradually, the idea of moving began to generate a series of thoughts which eventually coalesced into a decision. And so, I began to move upstream, the better to catch those wily fish facing into the current and thus unable to see the large shadow that my hulk was throwing onto the water.  From the tail of the pool to the top of the riffle, I made my presentations and missed on hits. The knowledge that trout were present and available for the taking pushed me farther upstream. 

Pausing to establish my footing in a piece of fast water, I noticed that the stream had a subtle bend, on whose outside edge I stood. Further, the stream side had turned into a large slab of thrust faulted sedimentary rock which now lay between me and the deep pool that I knew with total certainty held large, wild rainbow and brown trout. That is, fish 20 times larger than the puny native Brook trout who were hitting my fly with abandon and impunity.

Like a tea-partier entering the voting booth to pull the Republican lever, I gave no thought to the process of getting closer to the fish; I wanted to do battle with the BIG FISH.

Standing knee deep in my waders, I marched towards the slab. The water got deeper. It occurred that I might have to leave the water to reach the water, if that makes sense. Just climb out, and like the Spanish ibex, clamber across the rock face to the other side.

Bad idea. I have neither cloven hooves nor balance nor dexterity. Unable to stand up on the face, and hindered by my waders and rod, the best I could do was a kind of full body shift that covered a few inches at a time. After a few humps, more resembling a bull sea lion chasing females, I realized that the plan was doomed to failure. Whilst pondering the next step, my grip on the mountain side gave way, and I began to slide down the rock face; my fingernails bit at the very last moment, as my legs and torso slid into the bottomless pool.  To proceed upstream was now impossible; the way back was just as challenging. Getting out of the water was problematic. I was well and truly stuck. My fishing partner was upstream, safe, dry, beyond hailing distance and of no possible assistance. I was all alone, and if I didn’t get myself to safety, well, then, I would likely drown in the deepest part of the Chattooga, only to rise, like Christ, in 72 hours, but with a lot less interest and excitement. No, sir, it was up to me to pull my bacon out of the frying pan.

Which, obviously, I did, but not without a lot of straining, patience, and luck. Somehow, I levered my lower half out of the water and, using any square centimeter of lichen or any tuft of grass as purchase for my hands and feet, I managed to reach the mountain laurel and rhododendron that would save me. Once inside the glorious copse, I paused to rest and catch my breath and calm my beating heart. Recovered, it was no matter to reach the trail, which I used to move upstream to my fish buddy, who was still unaware of the near tragedy.

Sharing bits of talk about missed opportunities, the beautiful setting, and the growing hunger in our bellies, we agreed to call it a day and return to our cabin for an afternoon of football.

That night, lying in my bed, the enormity of my brush with disaster washed over me.  The slab nearly got me; indeed, in hindsight I was lucky to have been able to climb 10 feet of a 45 degree angled rock face in waders, holding my precious fly rod, without taking the big sink.

But when I got up the next morning in the pre-dawn darkness, all I thought about was getting to the next unexplored stream before anyone else.

I told you we had small brains and powerful instincts.

 



 

 

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One thought on “Stream Bites

  1. Rebekah Walker

    I’m very glad you made it back in one (dry) piece…and thanks for the story, that was well worth a lunchtime reading break 🙂

    Reply

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