Saturday started out like what seemed to be any other day on the South Holston. As my best friend and fishing buddy cruised from Greeneville towards the river, we were full of excitement and nervous energy. Knowing that all the other streams in the area were gonna be off limits for the day, the South Holston offered two trout bums the chance to float high water, deep nymphing the clearer upper river then swapping over to big nasty streamers in the deeper darker water.
When we got to the launch at Emmett Bridge our hearts sank. There were so many boat trailers in the parking lot that after we launched I rowed across the river to pick up Jake Mullins, from the parking lot at the grates.(which itself was nearly full of raft and drift boat trailers) Once on the water Captain Jake guided his Clacka in and out of boat traffic. A lot of our prime spots already taken and boats waiting to take them again. So I was forced to nymph fish other seams and holes that weren’t as familiar to me. I was running a 9ft 5x leader with a huge SG shot nearly 10 inches above a Cream colored caddis larva. Below the rock worm hung a SZ 18 pheasant tail, which seemed to work well in the upper part of the river. Pulling a few fish on board and watching countless others disappear as they flashed as if to say “goodbye boys you should have been watching that indicator, instead of telling that tale”.
After we floated past the cul-de-sac my streamer itch just had to be scratched. So I asked Jake to hand me the “big stick”! The 7wt Hydros was ready for deployment. I had chosen a super nasty Kelly Galloup pattern, that we had picked up last July in Wyoming. After the Galloup’s TA Bunker went to work, Jake and I were back where we seem to be every weekend, chucking big nasty streamers to our East Tennessee brown trout. And within minutes it paid off! Two fish swirled and refused the pattern before a nice, solid browny took the fly. We were like two little kids with a new toy, and the dark deep streamer water had just began. A nice 18 incher inhaled the Bunker just off the bank above Rivers Way. After a 20 minute fight in heavy current, and a boat chase that ended just upstream of Hickory tree bridge, we had another but quite a bit larger sample of the South Holston’s brown trout population in the net.
After floating past Jack Prater’s house, Jake couldn’t take it anymore. He gave up his seat at the oars, which I gladly took, after my morning I was perfectly content to row the Clacka the remainder of the day. He swapped the fly for the soon to be famous “trashy pole dancer” patent pending. And we were amazed as brown trout gave chase to this brain child of Jake’s that had worked beautifully a few weeks before on the Watauga river. After a few short strikes, and tons of interested but wary fish, Jake went back to the bunker. The solitude of pre-spring on the river was shattered by a shout from the front of the boat. “HOLY @!#$”, I sank the oars deep and pulled back hard to try to slow the boat as the hydros bent double! No sooner than we realized what had happened….. the leader snapped. And we stared helplessly as one of the largest brown trout I have ever seen, slipped backwards into the depths of the dark water. Shaking his head side to side with the Bunker inside his mouth. Jake quickly said “Hurry dude I need another one”! I replied, “Man I think that was my last one”. After a desperate gear search we managed to find one more Bunker hidden in a secret stash, well used to be secret stash in my boat bag.
He fished the Bunker hard for the rest of the float. Fighting the strong wind and the nagging taunts from his oarsman that kept reminding him of the one that got away. A couple of very nice brown trout later, and countless curious fish that wouldn’t fall for the bunker, we arrived at Rock Hold. Which was our scheduled take out for the day. However the excitement was far from over! A snapping turtle had decided to make the ramp his place of choice, to soak up the last few rays of sun, before the shadows took over the river bank. After a few fun snapshots and stories of the monster still lurking in the depths, we decided that it was time to travel back to Greeneville.
Days on the river are always an adventure. Whether it be mother nature or swarms of fishermen instead of flies. Sometimes the obstacles that we look at as a challenge, force us to explore other sides, seams, and parts of the water. A beautiful day with a friend like Jake, will always be a joy. And a friend as crazy about the sport as I am makes it easy to always find a reason to hit the water. I am reminded of a famous quote that seems to sum up all the excitement and wonder that March Madness on the South Holston brings. “Perhaps fishing is, for me, only an excuse to be near rivers”. -Roderick Haig-Brown-