By Paul Lewis
As fishermen, we are blessed with opportunities to chase fish around the world. These places are all unique, with different and exotic species, tactics and styles that are the most effective to hook the target species. Working in the sports industry takes me far away from home for months out of the year. As much as I love exploring new fisheries, sometimes a fix of fishing water that reminds me of home is necessary to fill the void of missing my home rivers, lakes, and the great Puget Sound. When you fish the great Pacific Northwest waters almost every day either as a guide (like me) or as a hardcore angler when you are in Washington, you truly get spoiled by the quality, species, and scenery that encapsulate our area.
Work has had me stationed in South Carolina for the past few months, and after chasing Red Drum, Speckled Seatrout, and flounder on the gorgeous 95-degree days in the low country as much as I could, the mountains were practically screaming my name. So, it was time to break out the ultra-light rods, 1000 size reels, and head for the gorgeous Smoky Mountains to chase cold-water fish around again. From my location, it is nearly a 5-hour drive to the riverbank, and although it had to be a day trip, every mile made me feel closer to home.
In South Carolina, there are only a few places where habitable waters exist for trout, and my journey took me to the Georgia border in the far West corner of the state, where I was finally able to float a setup on the Chattooga River (for you movie buffs, this is where the film Deliverance was shot!). The South Carolina DNR does an excellent job keeping these waters stocked with beautiful rainbows and brook trout, as well as a healthy population of wild brown trout. When I travel for work, I always bring a tackle box of ultralight setups with floats, small spinners/spoons and plastics, some salmon eggs, and scent to chase fish in the local rivers. After looking at the water for a while and chatting with a couple of local anglers, it became clear the preferred setup was small spinners or floating bait off the bottom and either plunking or slowly drifting with the current. The locals said fishing had been a little slow with storms moving through, but the water was still clear enough to fish. One thing I noticed about their setups was their line size, which was probably 8lb test. The area I was fishing had a decent amount of angler traffic, which indicated that the fish may have been a little more wary as they will have seen lots of bait pass their way. Since I was just given great local knowledge and invited to fish a while with the couple of locals on the riverbank, I started my day with the exact setup they recommended, bouncing a small natural colored grub down the current into pools that I could see held fish.
After my first few casts, I noticed the trout would initially show interest, then after a quick look they would turn away immediately. A couple more casts, and at this point they were completely ignoring the bait. So, it was time to switch tactics. With the local anglers still around, I did not want to blatantly go against the advice they had just kindly given to an outsider, so I snuck back to my tackle bag and made a little soak solution containing some bait oils I brought with me and started drowning some salmon eggs and vibrant colored Trout Magnets (small plastic grubs) in it, then went back to fishing with my new buddies. 15 more minutes passed, and they concluded these fish had lockjaw and were not worth targeting. They were kind enough to invite me along, but since I could see fish, I decided to stick it out a little longer (and wait for them to leave so I could try my methods). Like many of you, I am a stubborn son of a gun when it comes to fishing. If I see fish I know will bite, I will sit on those slimy suckers until their secret is unlocked! After saying a fast thanks and goodbye, they headed to their next spot, and I changed my gear as soon as they were out of sight. As stated earlier, these fish were used to seeing setups very regularly. So, I switched to a reel loaded up with 10lb braid, a micro slip-float, and a mosquito hook with 2lb leader to trick the line-shy fish. The goal was to have a float presentation to offer a much more natural bait just drifting down the current, then a salmon egg or brightly colored jig that smelled delicious and was unique to their regular offerings. On my first cast, it was on! I landed a gorgeous little rainbow on the float, and after a few pictures he was released on his way.
Nearly every cast after that was a bobber-down, and the micro-steelhead float setup was killing it! After catching my fill in that hole, I moved down-river to some more fishy looking water, and the same setup made for a day that was filled with more fish than I could count. As my trip was winding down (I had to drive the 5 hours back down to the low country, so the trip was a short one) I ran back into the same folks that helped me at the beginning of my adventure. After comparing notes, they said they had a few fish, but nothing explosive to talk about. So, I cut my setup off and handed it over to them with a spool of 2lb test as a thank you for their advice. As I walked away, they hooked up on two gorgeous fish and gave me a holler to show them off. It was certainly a warming feeling to see their fish and smiles as they learned a new tactic and had instant success. As we all know, fishing is about the community and when we can help the anglers around us experience the joy of hammering on fish, we always should. Especially after they were nice enough to talk to a complete outsider marching on their home turf!
Finding waters that bring back memories of our favorite areas brings on an incomparable feeling of warmth and joy. This feeling is even higher when we can reach into our angling knowledge and unlock the key to fish that are pressured or not in a biting mood with techniques that are not common on the waters being fished or that we brought with us from the other side of the country. These may not have been big summer run kings or steelhead taking a big bobber down and peeling drag, but I was just as excited catching these little trout as I am when chasing kings and steel. Fishing is about the experience and taking all of it in. in situations like this, size doesn’t always matter, especially in a place as beautiful as the Smokies.
When you travel, I highly recommend attempting to find waters where you can try your tactics and find success. I have even brought my steelhead setups to the saltwater creeks in the Charleston area and nailed fish when the regular setups aren’t working. There is just no comparison to the feeling of diving deep into your fishing knowledge and bringing a tactic to a new area, or even species!
Tight lines all!