Trip Report by Rob Worthing
Don’t be fooled by what you see on TV. The Winter Olympics are not in Beijing. They’re in the southern highlands of Tennessee. That’s where you’ll find an intrepid band of tenkara anglers, lurking behind the rhododendron, stalking Southern Appalachian brook trout. The problem with this band is the weather that seems to follow them on their adventures in the woods. Without fail, it will rain, hail, sleet, snow, blow, and generally be miserable. One might even say these anglers take suffering to Olympic proportions in the hope of getting a line wet. Most just think they’re idiots. This is the story of a couple of those idiots on a winter trip to Tennessee.
Sitting on my couch, in the middle of the kind of heavy ice storm that hits the Southeast every few years, sipping coffee, wondering if this is a good idea or not. Last night, I got a call from Jeff Lomino at Riverworks Rod Co. My new nymphing rod, the ZX4 395, is ready to go. I’ve waited a long time for this rod to get just right, and I need to fish it.
The weather in Kentucky is bad, but a couple hours South things look a lot better. Tennessee will see middle 40’s during the next few days with only a 5% chance of precipitation. That’s like zero, right? So, we made plans to meet up and break in my new rod. There won’t be any brook trout on this trip. We’ll target larger specimens of rainbow in heavy water, confirm the production blanks offer everything their prototype predecessors did. I’m so confident in the weather, I even spent two hours de-icing the truck so I could pack.
I finally get my weather window around noon, load up, and take off. The wife is worried. I promise to call and update her on road conditions. Getting out of the city proves rough, but just an hour into the drive the pavement is clear. No sign of the storm I just left. Boosted with confidence in the mystic powers of local weatherpersons, I make the call and reassure the wife. This trip is gonna go off without a hitch.
What an idiot.
What the hell? Why is there snow? Why is it 9 degrees Fahrenheit? I met up with Jeff at our camp an hour before dark last night. The water was blown from heavy rain on Thursday, so no fishing Friday night. It didn’t matter at the time since the weather would be so nice on Saturday. This isn’t nice. This is miserable. Still, I’d rather make a brew in my truck on a cold day than sit at work. The sun is out and lights up the icy ridge above us. I’m grateful both for the view and for the fact that we aren’t up there chasing brookies on this trip.
The day warms up enough to plaster on waders and pry on half-frozen boots. We try to fish, but the snowmelt is just enough to keep the water up and the best runs buried. The ZX4 is casting brilliantly. I end up using a #1.5 level line with 6x tippet and two 2.3mm tungsten beaded flies on the sharp end. Despite its 13-foot length, the rod is light in hand, a naked blank of Japanese carbon with grey accents and Jeff’s signature carbon handle. We manage a handful of small fish in the heavy water before calling it quits. None of the bigger bows we came for, though. And no fish pics. Better to keep them in water in this cold.
I didn’t bring any adult refreshments on this trip. This was supposed to be game day. I wanted to be in peak form. We’ve got a lot of time on dry land now, so we drive down to the nearest town for some beverages. Choices are slim. Natural Light, Busch, some margarita-beer thing, and a single sixer of Yuengling. Having attended college on the Maryland-Pennsylvania border, there’s a clear winner among the bunch. A quick glance around the place makes me wonder if that lone six pack isn’t planted for profiling purposes. May be best to hide my “Northern” upbringing and settle for Bud heavy.
Jeff wins gold for procuring a metric ton of firewood. Under clear skies, Saturday night is even colder than Friday. We burn it all in one go, no regrets. The cold bites quick when you step away. Bed will be brutal, but we should be used to it by now. This trip is turning out a lot like the last few. The fire lasts long enough to cut up some sausage for dinner and down the beer. Nothing to do now but sleep.
Much warmer. No more snow. The flows look perfect and the water gin clear. Jeff heads home after passing some hints on a honey hole. The sun de-ices the truck and dries my camper by ten. I waste no time hitting the water. Jeff was spot on. By eleven, I land a few good rainbow trout, even hastily pull one or two through the main current just to put my new rod through its paces. The ZX4 gives up nothing in the fight. It might have taken a long time to get just right, but the rod proves worth the wait.
I take off just as a local guide pulls up with his client. The trip ended well enough, but we paid a cold price for a little bit of fishing. Might reconsider fishing during the next arctic sink. Probably not, though. I wonder how many of the crew will show for the next round of Olympian suffering?
Despite Rob’s gruff appearance in this last photo, his expertise in guiding and teaching fixed line fly fishing methods is without peer in the United States. Learn from Rob first hand in Oni Tenkara and/or Tactical Nymphing this June in the Wisconsin Driftless. For more information, see this post, with registration opportunities to come.
Rob Worthing has had a fishing rod in hand for over 20 years. An avid angler, world traveler, backpacker, and wilderness medical professional, he enjoys going off the beaten path to find the best fly fishing possible. He is passionate about fishing tenkara in remote mountain streams. In addition, Rob takes great pride in combining techniques learned while fishing six continents and four oceans to create hybrid fixed line fly fishing styles that simply catch fish. He is one of the founding partners of Tenkara Guides, LLC.
Do you have a story to tell? A photo to share? A fly recipe that’s too good to keep secret? If you would like to contribute content to Tenkara Angler, click HERE for more details.