- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
There has to be something good about a world that can produce such a marvelous vest. All those flaps and ingeniously zippered compartments, pockets within pockets, brass hooks, eyes and rings glinting in the strong sunlight, not to mention the patch of lamb's wool stitched conveniently over the heart, drew from me a powerful surge of gratitude. I filled the pockets with boxes of flies and boxes of nymphs. A few Terrestrials went in, too, Jassids and Black Ants. A leader case came next, followed by clippers and two spools of 4X and 5X tippets, aerosol dry fly spray, polarized sunglasses, a bottle of insect repellent, a ham sandwich wrapped in cellophane, tobacco and matches. Amazingly enough, there was room for all of this and more. What a garment! When the vest was fully loaded, I slung a pair of waders over my shoulders, picked up my rod and with Wayne Kinser, president of the Asheville chapter of Trout Unlimited, started down the mountainside.
Much of the way we walked on the rear of our heels, pitched back against the sharp slope. The soft loamy ground was matted with old leaves and ferns, smelling of long years in the shade, a cool, damp aroma. Falling swiftly, the trail led us under pine trees, hemlocks, maples and poplars, all of them in full leaf. We passed through a small clearing occupied by a skeletal structure, a sort of lean-to without any sides or roof, which was furnished with a few benches and lopsided tables and what looked like an empty bookcase standing against the air, well ventilated, in one corner. After that the trail seemed less anxious to reach the bottom. While it still went down, it did so more gradually, and my sore legs welcomed the change. We spend so much of our lives on ground which machines have leveled for us that the day is coming when we will no longer have the necessary muscles to get around on rolling terrain, should there be any hills left by then. Our calves will have wasted away, like the mouths of certain insects whose lives are too brief to need them.
A stream joined us midway down the mountain, growing in size as it descended. We crossed it several times, meandering through rhododendron and flowering mountain laurel. We were headed for Slickrock Creek, a native-trout stream buried in a fold of the Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina. Remoteness and inaccessibility had set Slickrock apart from the other streams in the region. Not many fishermen were willing to walk the three miles that separated it from the nearest road, especially since the same distance, all of it uphill, had to be covered again on the way out. Instead, they went to Santeetlah Creek, the Big and the Little Snowbird, the West Buffalo, all of which had loads built beside them and could be fished from a car if that is what a fisherman wanted to do.
Along with inaccessibility Slickrock has something else working for it. That is a watershed all its own. Over 10,000 acres drain into a narrow, deep valley with nearly vertical sides. Slickrock receives water from a network of streams such as the one which accompanied us down the mountain and carries it north through the woods, through gorges, over fallen trees, over ledges, between boulders, between the roots of rhododendron and eventually, after a journey of seven or eight miles, into Calderwood Lake on the Little Tennessee River. Not one road had been crossed on the way, not one house passed. Water pure enough to drink when it fell from the sky, bursting from a black thunderhead, could still be drunk when it reached Calderwood Lake. Wonder of wonders!
In fact, drink was the first thing we did when we got to Slickrock, greedily gulping down foaming white water as it gushed between two moss-covered rocks. An icy, mellow taste. Sunshine and rain dripping from hemlocks. A water spider skating into the shade.
"Drink all you can hold," Wayne said. "It may not be that way for long."
I knew what he was referring to, but didn't want to think about it, not now, although the thought had been hanging at the back of my mind all morning—the threat of an approaching disaster. "Look close," it kept whispering to me as we were coming down the mountain. "Take it all in. A memory may be all that is left of Slickrock in a few years."
Wayne went off to fish downstream. I dug into my stuffed vest and found a leader with a 4X tippet and tied a fly to it designed after caddis larvae. I learned as a boy, don't ask me how, that trout were fond of the small doughy lumps I used to find in stone and twig cases fastened to the underside of submerged rocks. With fingers numbed by the cold water I would break open these cleverly designed houses, from which eventually pupae would emerge, place the larvae on the end of my hook and send it off on the rippling current, hoping it would encounter a rainbow during the course of its brief voyage. My knowledge of aquatic insects has advanced little since those days, but fortunately the flytier's has soared. His imitation was much better than anything I remembered.
I fished upstream, casting from the middle of the creek to avoid the branches. The water was radiant, as though it drew light from some underground source as well as from the sun. A thick, green moss covered the rocks. The current carried my fly over ledges and into brimming pools cupped out of the gravel. Caught briefly under the falls, it swung back and forth, pulled one way by the leader, another by the current. Freeing itself at last, it floated the length of the pool, bouncing along the bottom, and exited through a small gap a short distance from where I was standing with my rod raised to keep the slack out of the line.
My first trout—a small brown—came from such a pool as this; the fish rushed out from under a rock and snatched the fly drifting past. It was too small to offer any resistance, although with its jumps and miniature runs it showed what it would be able to do one of these days. Its beauty, however, had fully matured, and I had the pleasure of admiring that—a rich golden brown splashed with rose and black spots—before returning it to the stream, where it found a passage through the rocks and vanished in the riffles.