Thursday, November 11, 2010

11 month waiting period for trout

It was all going to be perfect. We were taking a nice road trip to visit old friends, attend a conservation conference, and we would top it all off with a stopover on the way home for a little Smoky Mountain fly fishing. This little fishing detour was going to be very special. It was to be Kelly's first time to fish for trout.

I had only recently introduced Kelly to fly fishing, and there was a definite expectation that we would be fishing for trout at some point. Even though I believe there is much more to fly fishing than just trout... when you tell people that you fly fish, they assume you are chasing Salmonids. I always feel like I have to explain fly fishing for other species, but somehow fly fishing for trout is understood, accepted, and expected. Kelly needed to catch a trout so she could be a "proper" fly fisher... no need for explanation.

Since we lived around 350 miles from the nearest trout stream, a trout fishing trip would require some strategic planning. When I found a way to include it in a work related trip to a conference, I really thought everything was going to be perfect. If only I could have foreseen the outcome.

The trip was planned, and we were both excited about our winter weekend getaway. We were making the long drive to Asheville, North Carolina from Jackson, Mississippi for the annual meeting of the Southeastern Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (SEPARC). Along the way we would stop in Knoxville, Tennessee to visit my old friends at the Knoxville Zoo and so I could give Kelly a tour of my favorite place of previous employment. We also stopped at the Bass Pro Shop in Sevierville so we could buy Kelly her first pair of waders and boots. All of our fly fishing up to this point did not require waders to keep warm.

The trip through Knoxville to Asheville went just as planned. It was the trip back that became interesting.

First, we ended up leaving the Asheville area a little later than expected. Our destination was the Tennessee side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. As far as we knew the weather was going to be great, albeit cold. We expected cold, it was February after all.

Around the time we crossed the state line high up in the mountains, the snow began.

I knew unpredicted wintertime snows were quite common at the higher elevations of the Smokies, so I didn't think much of it. I just wanted to get to our campsite before it got to be too late or the snowfall got too heavy. This is the point where I should mention that this was also Kelly's first winter camping experience. It would be a good inaugural cold weather camp out with low temperatures hovering around 20°F.

I had hoped to camp at the Elkmont Campground, but much to my chagrin I had forgotten that this campground was closed during winter... a sad discovery at 10:30 PM on a cold winter night. We would settle for the Cades Cove Campground. It's a bit more off the beaten path and further from the Little River where we were going to fish, but open for camping year round.

We arrived around 11 PM and there were still some snow flurries falling, but it was nowhere close to a blizzard. I still had high hopes for our fishing the following morning. We were delighted to see that we had the campground almost to ourselves. There was only one other brave camping party, and they were already settled in for the night. We picked our campsite, deposited our fees in the honor box, and set up our tent. I gave Kelly some tips on staying warm as we got ready to go to sleep... and I quietly wondered how much snow the night would bring. I hoped for the best.

We awoke to a winter wonderland. It wasn't a lot of snow... maybe three inches, but it was pretty. Kelly was excited to find and photograph some Cades Cove Whitetails that were still bedded down when she woke up at around 6 AM.

We began packing up for our day of fishing, and took a timer photo of ourselves to document Kelly's first winter camping experience.

Kelly and Jay at Cades Cove Campground, February 3, 2009

A few minutes after this photo was snapped, we got a visit from our campground neighbors... the only other people in the whole campground. Very timidly, they asked if we wouldn't mind driving them into town because they had locked their keys in their vehicle.

This was not going to help us get in the river any quicker. The trip into town is around 20 miles one way, but I guess it would have been inconsiderate to leave them there.

We decided to do the right thing and help them out. They were a very nice couple, both of them in medical school at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. They had planned on doing a long day hike that, much like our fishing, was not looking very promising.

On the way into town, we passed only one vehicle so I imagine our new friends would have had a long wait for help to arrive... or a long cold hike into town. On our way out of the park, we also noticed that the snow was beginning to pick up. This did not look good for our fishing either.

We sadly made the wise decision to give up on fishing that day. Our brief window of opportunity had passed. I knew it would be a bad idea to head back into the mountains with snow falling and the roads getting more treacherous by the minute.

We stopped to take one last look at the trout holding waters of the Little River just outside of the national park. It was a beautiful sight in all of its winter splendor.

Thanks to the winter weather, our camping neighbors in need, the fact that we didn't live close to a trout stream, and two subsequent trout fishing trips with very difficult conditions, Kelly would have to wait almost a year before catching her first trout.

Kelly with her first trout. January 15, 2010

It was a great relief when she finally did, and it made that first trout that much more special.

“This Blog entry is my submission to the Sportsman Channel and Outdoor Blogger Network writing contest.”


  1. nice post and pics Jay. My folks live in Chattanooga and we spent a summer vacation in Cades Cove area when I was a youngster. Good luck in the contest.

  2. Thanks for the comments all. I'm glad to know somebody other than my girlfriend is reading.

  3. Jay, I love the Smokys! I try to get there every other year. I try to fish the Middle Prong, Big Creek, and a couple others every time I am there. Thanks for the read.

    The Average Joe Fisherman

  4. I'm hoping she never has to wait 11 months again.