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Low Water and Flies

5 Mins read

Fishing trips are wonderful. Pre-trip preparation, planning, tying flies, daydreaming and pre-fish anxiety are part of the adventure recipe. Remembering past trip laughs, camaraderie, the fish, and the new adventure itself boil with anticipation and focus. Besides all the pretrip hyperbole, one factor must be considered, and it’s usually the last, is the weather. The weather and low stream levels can lead to apathetic fishing thoughts.

Lack of rain, a six-inch deficit in Southern Appalachia, created extremely low flow conditions and warm waters. Many trout rivers and tributaries are now merely a trickle of what they once were. I know several guides on the bigger rivers who replaced fiberglass drift boats with inflatable rafts due to the once-covered rocks protruding through the surface.

Low water is always a challenge. When macro currents are flipped into micro currents, it’s time to be sneaky. Being a person whose glass is always half full instead of half empty, I look for opportunities in gray and dismal circumstances. One of the benefits to low water is the ability to learn the river bottom contours and wade sections that once could only be drifted.

Now they can easily be walked and waded. And besides, most folks think negative vibes since the river has such a different appearance than what they are commonly accustomed. That’s alright, too. It keeps them home, complaining about how bad the fishing is, leaving me alone and the river to myself.

Being bored and having the fish itch, my buddy and I decided to wade a local stream. We knew it to be warm and were hoping to catch at least a few suckers, horny heads, red-eye bass, or just about anything that would bite a 16 Adams Parachute. Today, any fish stupid enough to bite would be treasured as a true trophy.

After parking the car, we decided to hike up about a mile. I don’t know why we did that. During normal conditions, we usually have to go at least two miles upstream to have some solitude. With the parking lot empty, we could have just jumped out and started fishing. But we all have this sense of adventure, and I agreed to go one mile. I was happy I didn’t have to talk him out of the two-mile walk.

The plan was to fish early and quit right after noon. Taking turns fishing downstream would put us back at the truck around 1:00-1:30 pm. A cold beer and sub sandwich would be next on the agenda.

According to my buddy, today would be called 3-weight Tuesday. Except that I had brought an old Orvis 7’9” 2-weight I had built in the early 80’s. The unsanded, black graphite blank brought memories and ensured that all fish caught would feel big. I paired it with a nicked-up Hardy “Flyweight” reel. The little clicker resonated perfectly when the line was peeled off and I wanted a fish to unravel the line instead of me pulling it out to cast.

Other than the low water, the heat and the mosquitos, it would be a perfect day. As we crossed over one small mountain and began the downward path back to the river, we both began discussing and arguing about why one of us didn’t man-up and refuse to wear waders. Instead, we just put them on habitually without discussion and took off walking. I guess the sun wasn’t high enough to make a difference then.

After about a thirty-minute hike, I would have swapped 12 ounces of water for some 99% pure DEET. But as long we concentrated on talking about fishing, the mosquitos would be a minor distraction, especially if the fish would cooperate.

We stepped into the river and looked downstream. Granite tips protruding around the eddies and shoals revealed a landscape that once looked smooth, watery and flat. We walked over to the head of one run where the river split north and south around a boulder and then converged again in twenty yards. The boulder edges were sharp, and distinct, like someone starting to create a knife factory.

We both laughed and began to investigate the boulder. Surely we could capture some of the flies broken off during years past and lodged on the sharp edges. This boulder owed me flies back—a bunch of them. With the water down it should be easy with the number of flies it has robbed. Any rusted hook flies found we could give away to someone who asks, “What are they biting today?”

I looked down at my watch and we had been gone from the truck for almost two hours and neither of us had thrown the first fly. This is why most folks say, “It ain’t always about the fish.” In the middle of nowhere were grown men sweating in waders, carefully rubbing a rather large rock like we were examining for scraps from the Taylor-Burton diamond.

After a short break, we decided to start fishing downstream. Happy hour started at 2 pm at the deli in town, and we didn’t want to miss that.

It was decided that one of us would fish with a long 6X leader and small Adams Parachute while the other tied on a size 12 Stimulator. It was time to catch a fish of any kind. Bragging rights were at stake with our buddies back home, who whined about it being too hot and chose to cut their grass instead. It’s all about priorities.

On the first riffle he cast to the far bank foam line and the Stimulator began bobbing up and down listlessly along the current. A splash and it disappeared. I laughed as he pretended this seven-inch sucker was a tarpon on his 3-weight. It did fight well for its size. At least the “skunk” was off and we could fish pressure-less now. No need for pictures, our buddies wouldn’t believe us anyway, so we might as well stretch the fish out to at least twelve inches.

Now it was my turn. It was all about letting the “Adams” do the talking. We walked down a bit to where the water had a bit more current.

It looked inviting. Sycamore limbs branched out several yards and created shade and cover. I knew this run held fish if only they would cooperate. It would be a tight cast with little room for error, but I had done it many times before when the water was much higher and was confident. Casts like this deserve a fish. Accolades from my buddy are nice but they don’t make the rod bend. But the cast and a fish will, especially if it’s big enough. I couldn’t wait to hear,
“Well done.”
“Nice un.”
“Good fish and cast!”

Nevertheless, I didn’t hear anything but a giggle. The fly landed into the back pocket of the eddy beautifully. An unseen microcurrent immediately took it at about the same time a fish rose to eat. I could tell from the rise it was a nice one too, maybe even eight inches long. But the current wrapped the fly and tippet around a submerged root.

Finally, I had to break it off and start retying the leader and tippet. We fished a few more runs and my buddy did an outstanding job on those suckers. I managed to snag a couple of minnows and finally catch a small bream. So the day was a success after all.

This trip will be remembered and laughed at for years to come by everyone we tell it to. But then again, “It ain’t all about the fish anyway.. or is it?”

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