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The River Journal

The River Journal is my email newsletter and blog of sorts. It contains fishing reports, news of interest to East Tennessee fly fishers, photos, how to articles,  and the occasional story from my experiences. If you'd like to sign up click on the subscribe link. I will be posting articles and exerts from the most recent one here.

Sack Lunch

My first job as a guide was for a newly opened Orvis shop in Gatlinburg Tn. I  met the owner Tom, through a mutual love for cane rods and eventually progressed into working for the shop, building cane rods, and guiding in the Smokies. The other guide in the shop was a local guy from Cosby who had a reputation as a colorful character, and an accomplished mountain trout fisherman. Both of which were absolutely well deserved.

Bobby felt the only way to truly give the guests a real Smoky Mountain  experience was to keep a few of the trout from the morning’s fishing, and  cook them in a cast iron skillet he carried along with him on the creek. Although he encouraged me to do the same,  I never felt comfortable with either the conservation issues, or the benevolent cooperation of wild mountain trout. I mostly opted for ham sandwiches and chips. My reluctance was finally rewarded in the form of a man and wife from Atlanta named the Gustafsons.

The Gustafsons were a middle age couple who had  recently seen the movie,

A River Runs Through It, and decided to take up fly fishing as a hobby they could do together. They found us through a listing in the Orvis catalog and booked a trip for mid Summer.

The morning of the trip,  they arrived at the shop and after the usual greetings and introductions,  gathered their gear and set off with Bobby for the day’s fishing. Although the weather was pleasant,  the creeks were pretty low due to a lack of recent rain, and the fish were being particularly spooky. Since they were new to the sport, most of the morning was spent with casting instructions, lessons on stalking and presentation, and pulling flies out of branches from overhanging trees, and although every effort was made,  by lunch time, and a little beyond, no trout had been landed. Since they had progressed pretty far up the creek Bobby instructed the by now hungry clients, to take a seat on a nearby rock, he would then fish his way up the creek alone a short distance, and catch enough trout for lunch. The couple thought that seemed like a reasonable idea , and chose a nice flat rock in the sun. A few minutes passed, and then a few more. Thirty minutes, then forty five. After nearly an hour they began to call out for Bobby but could hear no reply. That’s when things began to go wrong.  What if he had fallen in and drowned? What if he’d been eaten by bears? What if he’s never coming back? We could die out here!

Now  you have to understand these were brand new fly fishers,  and had never spent much time outdoors, and it was also before the age of cell phones. Even if they had cell phones , it’s pretty doubtful they would have had a signal. Concern turned to panic, and instead of backtracking down the creek in the direction they had come,  they made the fateful decision to climb the ridge, since they could occasionally hear traffic, and thought a road must be nearby. There was indeed a road, but between them and the blacktop, lay over a mile of nearly impassable brush, known locally as a rhododendron hell. By the time they reached the road several hours later, cut, bruised, and completely exhausted,  I feel certain the Gustafsons fully understood how the mountain people who lived in those hollers, had come up with the name. After walking a short distance down the road, they were able to flag down a passing car and hitch a ride back to the shop in Gatlinburg, where Bobby, Tom, and local national park and law enforcement personnel were waiting!

For his part Bobby explained he had fished up the creek for what couldn’t have been more than thirty minutes,  although he never wore a watch, had caught a few trout, and returned to find his clients gone. He searched up and down the creek, calling out for them,  but not hearing any reply, he assumed they must have returned to where the truck was parked, since no one in their right mind would attempt to climb the ridge,  straight up through a rhododendron hell! After he realised they weren’t at the truck, and nowhere along the creek, he returned to the shop, called Tom, the owner, and they both called the Park Service so a search could be organised. That’s where things stood when the Gustafsons pulled up.  I’ll spare you the full details of what transpired other than to say apologies and refunds were given, along with some free Orvis clothing, and from that moment on, cooking trout on the river was never again discussed. Long live the sack lunch!

All these years later,  when I’m floating with someone and they mention a fishing trip to Canada,  where the guide pulled over and cooked fish for lunch, I always think of Bobby, the Gustafsons, and take another bite of my ham sandwich..

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