Trip Report by Matt Fields
Full disclosure: I’m relatively new and green when it comes to tenkara. By new, I mean I have been learning about tenkara intermittently from my friend for the past few years and ever slowly falling in love with learning about tenkara and gaining experience by “spending more time with fly in water.” My friend is not your average “fishing buddy.” He owns his own tenkara fishing guide service and is well respected in the tenkara world. I realize and understand that I am extremely fortunate to be able to learn from someone so knowledgeable and accomplished in tenkara, so whenever he talks… I listen.
It was a little over a year ago when Rob asked if I’d be interested in going on a trip with some people I’d never met to camp and go fishing. I’m usually intimidated by such activities and a little socially awkward. My mind was racing between thoughts of “What if I do something to look dumb? What if I don’t have the right gear? What if I don’t fit in? What if, what if, what if…” But I kept hearing something echo in my mind that I’ve heard before, “you need to spend more time with fly in water.” So, I put in my leave for the dates of the trip and listened to my gut. Tellico Plains, here I come.
Flashback to a year earlier, Rob and I had camped in this area a year ago for a couple days. It was in the middle of summer and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was a rain forest—it was muggy and rained more than it didn’t. During the start of that trip, we unrolled a local map on a damp campsite picnic table and decided to set our sights on targeting native Appalachian brookies on a well-known, classic brook trout stream. We’d heard legends of the area and knew we’d have to hike well into the mountain elevation to get past the stocker rainbows for the native brookies. The next day we set out.
We hiked hard and eventually made it to a large waterfall we thought was likely the natural barrier for the segregation of these two species. Upon fishing, and to our dismay, we landed rainbow after rainbow. We decided to go farther up but Mother Nature had other ideas. Suddenly, we were hit with a downpour of, as Forrest Gump put it, “big ol’ fat rain” that was unrelenting. The water in the stream was visibly becoming stained and rising at a quick pace. Visibility was zero and safety became a concern.
We decided to call it a day and returned to camp disappointed, but with a great fishing story feather to add to our caps. The trail did not disappoint with many unique wildflowers and scenery. For the next year, Rob and I would reminisce on that trip from time to time and say “man, next time, we’re going farther and finding those brookies. We had to be so close.”
Fast forward a year later and I’m driving back to the same campground to camp and fish with my friend Rob and his group of fishing buddies. I was the second to arrive at camp and began setting up my tent immediately so that I could hopefully get some afternoon fishing in before dusk. One by one, members of this group of fishermen began arriving. This allowed me the opportunity to meet each person individually and get a sense for their personalities and learn about them. With each interaction I could tell these are some solid dudes and they love to fish. Then I heard phrases like, “slicker than snail snot” and I knew that I had found my tribe.
Much the same as a year prior, we began talking about different streams and species we could target close to the area. Rob and I immediately suggested we return to the creek that we had unfinished business with. The stream and hike that left us so fulfilled and yet unfulfilled at the same time. Rob sold the story of the prior year’s hike and scenery. He may have also slightly (or largely) embellished the difficulty of the hike to get to where we wanted to go. “It’ll be like our warmup hike for the next day. We could’ve made it last year, but we got rained out.” I thought to myself, “am I crazy or was that not one of the most difficult hikes I’ve ever done?”
We successfully persuaded a few others into joining us on our quest. Truth be told, even if no one else had volunteered to sacrifice themselves for our mission, we would’ve still gone. This was an itch that had to be scratched. We set out that morning after a good breakfast—you know, the type of breakfast you make on first morning of camp and use up ½ of what you brought for the week. The weather was surprisingly perfect for late October. No clouds, indigo blue skies, upper 60’s with a nice breeze.
We began the two-mile hike up (straight up) the mountain trail to the first rest stop. Still another mile or so to go. Straight uphill and over boulders. “Damn,” I thought. We trudged on and eventually made it to the familiar waterfall we stopped at the year before. We decided to hike up one more hole and begin fishing there. In a group of four of us, we began playing “golf” or “leapfrogging.” In the first hole, our friend set the hook and landed our target species: brook trout. Bingo! Brookie after brookie was caught as we took turns fishing up the rest of the mountain. I was able to catch my first brook trout (and second and third) for a very satisfying mission accomplished.
On the way back down the mountain, our group of merry men decided to stop and make some coffee and reflect on the day’s hard work and rewards. We stopped about ¾ of a mile before the mouth of the trail at an abandoned backpacking camp and began brewing our coffee, licking our wounds sustained from falls on the slick, moss covered mountain stream boulders, and trading stories about the day’s adventure.
For shits and giggles, a member of our party decided to fish the stream running beside our borrowed campsite while the coffee brewed. “Brookie!” we heard him yell out. You’ve got to be kidding me… a brook trout, ¾ of a mile up the trail. Then he caught another and another… and another. Each one larger than the fish we had found up the mountain. We looked at each other and decided to just laugh. Each of us happy and satisfied with the day’s time spent in nature “with fly in water” enjoying our camaraderie and chasing small, native, beautiful, fish in picturesque, small mountain streams using a simple rod, a fixed line, and a fly.
Matt Fields was born and raised in the Appalachian hills of Eastern Kentucky. It was there he fell in love with fishing small creeks and rivers at a young age. Matt has interests in kayak fishing for everything from smallmouth bass in creeks to pelagic species in the gulf to wading blue lines for trout. Follow him on Instagram @rabbithimself.
This article originally appeared in the 2022-23 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine.
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