Fishing On Holiday

September 4, 2020

Growing up, my dad would take us fishing. He wasn’t especially good at it, but he enjoyed it. I suppose that I’m a chip right off the old block. We are fortunate enough to live amid excellent trout fishing in the mountains of East Tennessee.

I was staying at a local cabin near Damascus, Virginia. These mountains at the Tennessee-Virginia border offer great views, and weather that’s hard to beat in the middle of summer. I left the town, reminiscent of Mayberry, North Carolina from the Andy Griffith Show, traveling toward Backbone Rock, also called the “World’s Shortest Tunnel.” The feature is a rock outcropping that was excavated for a railroad tunnel around 1901. Now a road goes through the tunnel. Backbone Rock Recreation Area is complete with hiking trails, picnic pavilions, a primitive national forest campground, picnic tables, and Beaverdam Creek.

Probably my favorite place to fish for trout in the tailwaters of the South Holston Dam. Mostly because of it being closer to home, and it is full of trout and easily accessible. One reason I seek more remote waters to fish, not that Beaverdam Creek is hard to get to, is that the South Holston River is very accessible, and there are lots of guide services and locals who come there regularly. It gets quite crowded at times.

It’s just after daybreak. The morning fog has not even fully risen from the area, yet a few climbers are preparing to ascent the rock face as I pull my simple gear from the trunk. I look to see the bear-proof trash cans looking no worse for wear, and no signs of wildlife are charging toward me. You never know… I was once charged by a couple of squirrels! Okay, it turns out they were actually chasing another squirrel, but I didn’t know it at the time.

My vintage K-Mart fishing vest, sandwich, and flyrod in tow, I made my way to my favorite fishing spot around the bend from the famed tunnel. The waters were crystal clear, cold, and easy to get navigate using the streambank. As I basked in the tranquil atmosphere, I was one with nature. My line floated effortlessly across the waters and into the stream. I saw quite a few nice looking trout. The fishing was spectacular. Thank goodness for polarized glasses! The fishing was great but the catching sucked. I did manage to get a nibble or two. The mesmerizing waters and tranquil atmosphere lend one to philosophy.

One of my favorite writers, Patrick F. McManus, explained in his writings that philosophy if the sole of a fisherman. Communing with nature is the epitome of fishing. Why in the heck else would we stand out there all day trying to catch a fish that can’t see the bait right in front of their noses? When you aren’t catching, you might as well do some thinking or philosophizing.

As my hunger pangs began, I made my way back toward a suitable area to set my rod down and… almost made it. No one likes a soggy sandwich, me included. I would say I’m sure-footed as a goat, but I have goats slide off of perfectly good standing spots before too, but I digress.

The fishing improved after that incident, now that I didn’t have to worry about stopping to eat. It turns out peanut butter and bread dough-balls attract trout, even when they are gobbed on your fly. I managed to pull in at least four lunkers that afternoon. They were brown trout with excellent markings. I contemplated taking them home for dinner or catch and release, but my slippery fingers made the decision for me.

The day was getting hotter and the afternoon sun began to peak in the sky. I decided to head back and have a snack on the road. There is a small store in Shady Valley at the cross-roads at U.S. Highway 421. I was careful and managed to navigate the shoreline back to the car without falling in (again). Only the slight rattling sound near me brought me out of my trance of enjoyment. Did I mention I hate snakes? Well, I don’t hate all snakes, just the ones who come upon me unexpectedly or that I didn’t see in time to safely walk around. Though it was one of the nicest looking rattlesnakes I’d seen in a while. It was about as thick as my forearm and a little longer than my leg, and nearly black. There is nothing that will get your adrenaline pumping like a near-death experience, and this one was no exception. I was lucky. I managed to back away from him (no, I didn’t check to see if it was a boy or girl snake… it’s just an expression).

As I arrived back at the car and put my gear away, I found it odd that I was experiencing such a cold-sweat when it had to be near 90 degrees. It must be those mountain breezes I told myself.

Fishing is such an enjoyable pastime. I enjoy fishing in the local mountains, rivers, and streams. In Northeast Tennessee, we have some of the best fishing and best scenery anywhere. We also have lots of wildlife, some of it may even sneak up on you, or you may sneak up on it- unexpectantly.

Things sure are different near the dams. My dad had taken my sister and me fishing at the South Holston Dam once when I was younger. 

He was fishing for something big. Anything that would hit, would be preferable to him as he isn’t picky. He must have had chicken livers and worms on his hook because I remember the big gob of stuff he always liked to fish with. He made his cast into the water discharge near the dam and waited, while I managed to put a worm on my little rod. I heard his drag engage on his reel and jerked my head to look. It was just in time to see his line shoot toward the deep water and the rod bent almost like a horseshoe. Then it snapped like a twig. Wow. That’s all I could say… Wow.

With my years of fishing, I’ve never hooked anything the size of what must have been on his line that day, but I have been able to tell about the one longer than my leg that got away when I was fishing for trout near Backbone Rock. Technically, I’m the one who got away, but when fishermen tell stories, those are insignificant details.