I lived about two and a half hours away from the Cherokee Reservation entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. That drive was one I had been looking forward to for some time as the group camping trip date was coming up. What a cool thing to have loosely organized by individuals simply saying “yeah, I want to go,” the registration was simply “show up and enjoy”. The invitees were among the members of the Appalachian Tenkara Anglers (ATA) Facebook group. Online tenkara friends meeting in “real life”, some for the first time, imagine that. We need more of these.
I’m referring to the first gathering for the “Tenkara Campout” series. The Smokies seemed like a good place to hole up for a few overnights with hundreds of miles of fabled water all around. We cycled through thirteen tenkara anglers over a three day period. Several campsites held us together and functioned as a meeting point in the mornings and debriefing zone in the evenings. The campfire was perfect and the conversation even better.
What I really want to get into here is something that I experienced on the Oconaluftee River at the edge of the GSM National Park. Late one of the afternoons I found myself out along trying to put in another hour on a different section of water. I hit the trail head of a well worm path and took off toward the water. When I got to the riverbank I popped out at hostile water. I mean, there was little room to cast right here because I was hung in the treeline. The river narrowed considerably too, which made a crossing here a poor decision. Instead of bushwhacking through the dense stand of rhododendron I just turned and headed downstream. I like to fish downstream a good bit of the time anyway, so not a problem.
I worked the water pretty good for about forty minutes. Riffles were not offering up anything. The eddies held nothing interest in biting. The slow deep drifts into the bottom didn’t stir any action either. Pocket water nestled in the shallow rocks were zilch also. Nothing was happening. Even then I was smiling because as I looked around, I was reminded that I was not in the office on this Monday. I was in a tucked away hidden corner of Utopia. The sun had fallen behind the hills of Clingman’s Dome. The temperature had dropped eight degrees in minutes and the fantastic fifty five degree afternoon was loosing the battle with the twenty eight degree night that was coming. It was time to get off the water.
I made my last few casts into the swift flow of the ‘Luftee and once again saw nothing stirring. The gig was up. Time to pack it in. Time to go. My one last cast was complete. With my line flowing downstream from me, I began collapsing my rod. The twelve foot Iwana was shrinking in my hands has it had done a thousand times before, nothing new here. Then I fixed my fingers to begin the wrap for the furled line to grip my cork handle. With everything in place I started my spiral turns of kevlar like I have done a thousand times before, nothing new here. This is where it changes up a bit. The line snags something and some tension forms. I gave it a light tug and the line came forward, but with slack it carried away again. What was going on?
I got back into making my line turns on the cork assuming that I had picked up a stick and that was what was causing some resistance. Then at about six feet away I saw a splash. The jerky action of my wrist movements had caused the perfect dance for that beadhead to draw out a fish. I continued to “reel” in the fish one turn at a time until I got it to hand. Now here I am holding a fish on my last cast of the day. A sweet Smoky Mountain brown trout. That was a great way to end the day.
This article originally appeared in the Winter 2015-2016 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine.
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