Back in August I spent a weekend down in Tennessee visiting the in-laws and my father-in-law and I tried (surprisingly for the first time) to go fly fishing the South Holston River. Unfortunately we didn’t know about a lower section we probably could have fished and the water that we did scout out was high and fast below the South Holston Dam due to unusually high amounts of summer rain. In fact, several streams we drove past looked too high and murky to do much good fishing. That weekend wasn’t a total bust, however, because I settled for fly fishing for blue gill on the farm pond and did rather well!
The last weekend of September we made another trip to the Volunteer State and this time had the beta we needed to successfully fish the South Holston River. We knew where to park, we checked the generation schedule, heck, we even made sure our women were occupied for the day with a bridal shower (or did we get to go BECAUSE they were occupied? Chicken or the Egg, anyone?). Everything was set for a good day of fly fishing and we even got my sister-in-law’s fiance out to wet a line.
When I first got to the river, it was not what I was expecting. It was wide, but not very deep, and the bottom was primarily rocky ledges. I expected the river to be a lot deeper and have to fish heavy flies to get down to the trout. Fishing was slow for the first hour or so as I worked my way across the channel and kept getting frustrated by seeing the guy using the spinning rod above me catch fish after fish. Oh, and about the people- when we arrived at the river it was almost challenging to find a suitable spot to fish. I could look both up- and downstream and see 4+ people each direction. Fly fishing is more of a relaxing, experiential learning sport for me so I typically avoid the crowds, but at densities of 5000-6000 fish per mile I think the odds of catching a fish were still in my favor!
As the gent upstream of me moved back across the river I slowly worked my way up a run near the far bank that was just down from a long, calmer run of water that looked like it had some promise. I caught a decent rainbow trout shortly after casting into the pool but was hoping to catch a much talked about SoHo Brown Trout. I don’t know if I am just unobserving or what, but at one point I looked upstream to the left where I was casting and about 15 feet from me was a group of nice (20″+) browns in a deeper part of the run. Not only that, but to my right was a pod of smaller trout in a shallower section. Call it an inquisitive spirit or hardheaded determination, but I immediately knew my plan of action- I was going to try to catch one of those big browns if it meant not catching another fish all day.
Given my understanding (or lack thereof) of brown trout, I probably could have predicted the impending outcome from the start, but hey, you can’t blame a guy for trying! What I had set up I feel was a rather ingenious plan– I would tie on a new fly, and cast it over to the right to see if the smaller fish expressed any interest in the fly. Based on their reaction, I would try to fish it across the bed of larger browns, but to no avail. Hoppers and stimulators were not working on the big guys, so I tried anything I could think of that would get down in the water– a hare’s ear, a pheasant tail, an orange beaded rubber worm, 2 different egg patterns, a copper john…. you get the idea. I was not going to accept defeat with at least making an effort. I was rewarded with the successful catches of several trout, including two browns around 8″-12″ each. To be honest, my sights were set extremely high, because that day was the first time I actually caught any brown trout!
I never did catch one of those big SoHo browns, but I’m still young and new to the sport and it gives me motivation to improve my casting and presentation, learn what educated trout are looking for, and to continue to come back and someday enjoy the thrill of playing out one of those fish. Looks like I know what my winter project will be!