On the Clinch River in East Tennessee, west of interstate 75 as it bridges the water at breakneck speed is a mass of T.V.A. power lines that keep the City of Knoxville and points beyond supplied with electricity. The water beneath these lines is deep and clear, full of large rocks and twisted deadfall.
Wading isn’t an option in this stretch of the river, but the bank is often cluttered with corn cans that linger until high water flushes them further down stream. If you want to work the river from the bridge to the power lines a water craft of some sort is mandatory.
The Clinch isn’t a world class span of water, but it does hold a respectable population of browns, rainbows, and recently they added brooks to the foray. The size of the fish caught is usually in the mid sized variety though an occasional leviathan is spotted. This river in all its normalcy is special to me because it was in this place that I discovered my love of fly fishing.
It was the summer of my 40th birthday. Up to that point in my life I had been a basic bank fishing worm dunker. The most exotic angling I ever ventured to do was cast a Jitterbug or Hoola Popper to pond bass. The overall vision of river fishing in my mind was sitting on the bank pitching chicken liver for catfish.
My best friend had been fly fishing for a while and despite his persistent urging that I give it a try, I remained resistant. It seemed like to much work to catch a tiny fish, and frankly it just looked to hard to be fun. His consistent assurance that I would love it was respectfully dodged till my birthday.
With some money I had been given as a gift, I bit the bullet and purchased some gear. The rod was a nine foot five/six weight Phlueger combo with double taper line that I got for thirty five bucks at Wal-Mart. This seemed to me like a total waste of money, but I guessed that I could put a spinning reel on it and bluegill fish.
When I got home I called my buddy and set the fishing trip for the following Saturday. He told me to pick up some flies, we set the time, and my fate was sealed.
Selecting flies for my first trip was the equivalent of trying to translate the Magna Carta into Mandarin. The Friday before my trip, I went to a fly shop on the west end of town. It was a small place tucked at the very back of an old strip mall. Several trucks were parked out front, I pulled in along side them and peered through the mosaic of stickers adorning the window.
Gathering my nerve, I walked in the door and was immediately greeted by and old black lab who bumped me with his graying muzzle. I rubbed his head and walked on in, trying to look like I knew what I was doing. I am quite sure that I looked as lost and out of place as a Nascar fan at a performance of Swan Lake.
“Can I help you?”, the guy behind the counter asked. He was polite enough, but his voice held a hint of indifference which implied either I had walked into the wrong store, or I was as lost as a ball in high weeds. It didn’t take him very long to get me figured out.
“I’m heading up to the Clinch. What are they hitting?” Let me just state now for the record that if you go into a fly shop and ask that question, you might as well have a red flag dangling over your head. I am sure the guy behind the counter could see the donkey ears and buck teeth protruding from my face.
He may as well have said Pig Ears.
“Do you have any?” Oh, this was getting bad. By now the donkey tail had emerged from my back and a Hee-Haw was welling up in my throat.
“Over there in the flies.”
I looked around and found the tray that said Bead Head Pheasant Tail size twenty. It was the only slot that was nearly empty. Just a small was of very small hoods with tiny gold beads.
At this point I was sure that this guy was playing me. I could hardly see the eye of the hook let alone try to fish with this thing.
Embarrassed, I picked up a few, put them in a cup, paid my money, and walked out with my donkey ears drooping and my fly swatting tail tucked meekly between my legs.
The lab looked up at me sympathetically from his spot by the t-shirt rack. I felt like he had seen this all happen many times before.
To be continued…