Time: 11:30AM – 2:30PM
Location: Cherokee National Forest above Shady Valley
Fish Landed: 6
My son’s graduation from Fuqua Business School, my niece’s wedding, and visits to my sister and friends were all in the plans as I boarded a U.S. Airways jet and made the flight from Denver to Tri Cities, TN. While working at Air Products and Chemicals I became acquainted with David Luther, the owner of an industrial gas distributor business that was acquired in the 90’s, and we discovered that we both had a passion for fly fishing. David L. vacationed in Colorado several times since my departure from Air Products, and we met on the stream several times. David L. offered me an open invitation to visit him in Tennessee to sample some of the local quality rivers, so I decided to accept his offer, and I added three days to the front of my southeastern U.S. tour.
David picked me up at the small northeastern Tennessee airport and transported me to his beautiful home on the edge of Bristol, TN. After dinner at Quaker Steak and Lube, we returned to the house, and David L. called the information line for the South Holston River. Unfortunately he discovered that the operators were releasing water all day on Wednesday, and this made flows too high to effectively wade fish. I read articles about the sulfur hatch on the South Holston, and I was quite anxious to experience the quality fishing that was described. David L. was undeterred, and he suggested that we would float the tailwater in his john boat, and he was confident that we would have success.
Because our day now involved a two pronged approach that included wade fishing a nearby Appalachian freestone waterway called Beaver Dam Creek and then floating the South Holston in a boat in the afternoon, we were delayed a bit with the task of hitching the boat to David L.’s Suburban and then dropping it at his brother’s house near the river. We then continued without the burden of the boat trailer over a high mountain ridge to a town called Shady Valley, home of an annual cranberry festival. David told me that Shady Valley was the farthest south that cranberries could be grown, and he pointed to an area to our right that used to consist of bogs formed by Beaver Dam Creek.
We turned left in Shady Valley and proceeded along the gorgeous stream until we entered Cherokee National Forest, and then we found a nice wide parking space among the dense trees and rhododendrons and prepared to fish. David had a neat way of marking the entry points to the stream that facilitated playing leap frog. He pulled a wide yellow tape from his bag, and then we found a suitable stick to which he knotted the highly visible yellow ribbon. When the upstream angler entered the stream, he planted the stick along the bank. When the downstream fisherman arrived at the marker, he simply removed it and then walked upstream to a point above the upstream fisherman and planted the marker again.
The weather was ideal with sunshine and high temperatures in the low 80’s, but the thick forest canopy along Beaver Dam Creek blocked the sun’s rays, and the air temperature was comfortable in the shade. The size of the stream was also ideal with a width that was somewhat larger than Brush Creek in Colorado. The flows were high but clear and probably perfect for early May in eastern Tennessee.
I planted the yellow marker and waded into the stream below an inviting pool, while David L. hiked along a faint path to a position farther downstream. I assessed the circumstances and decided to launch my southeastern tour with a Chernobyl ant, ultra zug bug and hares ear nymph. This trio of flies have been my most productive imitations over the last year, so why not see if they worked in the southeast? Unfortunately the strategy did not pay dividends, and I fished for twenty minutes and through several nice holes with only a refusal. If they refused the Chernobyl, could this mean they were looking to the surface for their food? I noticed a few caddis buzzing about near the surface, so I switched to a size 14 gray stimulator.
The bushy single dry fly changed my fortunes and yielded two buttery wild brown trout. The second fish slurped the attractor dry after I spotted a rise in a run near the head of a deep pool. Catching the brown on a high floating stimulator on a swollen crystal clear mountain stream lined with rhododendrons was exactly the vision I had when I began fishing. Unfortunately I could not get comfortable with this style of fishing, as I covered more very attractive water with no results. Doubts crept into my mind over the effectiveness of a dry fly in high cold spring flows, so I decided to convert to a nymphing approach.
I knotted an ultra zug bug to my line as my top offering and then added the hares ear nymph as my point. This move paid off, and I began catching fish. One especially delicious deep run yielded two nice rainbows and my best fish of the afternoon; a thirteen inch chunky brown trout that tugged the ultra zug bug at the very top of the run. By 2:30 I landed six feisty trout from Beaver Dam Creek; two rainbows and four browns. At this point David L. caught up to me, and he suggested that we should find our way back to the car if we hoped to sample the South Holston River.
The three hours on Beaver Dam Creek turned out to be my favorite outing for the Tennessee and Virginia portion of my southeastern United States trip. The ice cold clear mountain flows, the thick mountain vegetation, and the bright green of fresh spring growth supplemented the brightly colored wild trout. It was a sensory delight.