Sunday, March 23, 2014

South Holston Fish Camp

Back in my younger days, before kids were in the picture, we would do at least one fish camp trip per year if not more.  During that time we discovered a little jewel of a location up on the South Holston River, that allowed us to camp right on the river with access to some phenomenal midge and sulfur hatch water.  Unfortunately, two years ago I discovered that the property owner had passed away, and the property was in the middle of some legal and insurance disputes.  So, I figured that my opportunity to go back to this place was long gone.  Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the original owner's daughter was trying to commercialize the farm and allow camping.  I looked up her website, and saw that she had implemented a whole new pricing structure and that she had lost a large parcel of river frontage in the aftermath of the death.  Regardless, I was seriously needing to get away for a couple of days for some serious fishing before turkey season starts up.

Buzz and I made the drive up on Thursday after taking the afternoon off work.  It was a beautiful sunny day with temps in the 60's.  When we arrived at the river we had it all to ourselves and there was a nice little midge hatch coming off with the sporadic Baetis emerging.  About 30 minutes after I arrived Buzz pulled in, and the temptation to fish was too great.  So, we abandoned some of the camp setup procedure and got geared up to hit the water.  

I made my way upstream to a section of river that I enjoy fishing, and started swinging a Baetis soft hackle with a BHPT dropper.  Within a couple of minutes I had a tug on the end of my line and pulled in my first colorful brown trout.  Little did I know this would be the largest trout of my trip at right around 12".  

I immediately began to question my decision to leave my DSLR back in the car instead of bring it with me, as the sunlight glare was not allowing me to capture the bright coloration of the fish.  

I fished for probably another hour before going back to camp to get my dry fly box, which I also left in the car.  While at camp the property owner came by and I spent a lot of time there talking to her about how much things had changed and her plans for the property going forward.  All this time Buzz continued to fish and bring in some trout for himself.  

Eventually, the beautiful day lead way to the evening and the fishing began to slow.  Although the sunset was very nice.

The weather forecast had showed a high of 65 on Thursday, and an overnight low of 43 degrees.  However, as we sat around the fire roasting our sausage dogs we began to question the accuracy of that forecast as it began to get cold quickly.  We both got a little chilled during the night, and I discovered that my Big Agnes Insulated Air Core pad had gone down to about 1/3 full which allowed cold air to come up from beneath me through my MH Ultralamina 15 bag.  This was not because of a leak, but the reduction of air volume as a result of the cold temps.  When we rolled out of our bags Friday morning around 7:30 we discovered that everything was blanketed with a hard frost, and learned that the temps had dropped down into the 20's!  Also there was a large smoke cloud coming from just across the mountain, and appeared to be up near the lake.

Buzz quickly got a fire going to help with the chill and get some hot water for breakfast.

Breakfast of Champions
The river was still high from the pulse, so we just fished from the bank near camp.  Surprisingly Buzz found a nice little pod of young brownies willing to take his offering.

Once the water came down I took Buzz downstrean to another previously productive area, and we found the motherlode of trout sitting in a small depression about 10' in diameter.  We probably landed between 15 and 20 trout out of that one hole.  

After wearing out this pod of fish we went back to camp for a quick lunch, and the fish in front of camp continued to take midges while we ate.  While we ate we watched a couple of other people get on the water and begin to fish in front of camp, so we chose to go upstream and fish some other water.  Not only did the water look fantastic, the overall scenery was not too shabby either.

You can barely see Buzz in the photo on the far right of the picture.  He got into a pod of fish up there and probably caught 12 to 15 out of that one little run, with rarely a fishless cast in between.  It was quite a display.  So, he invited me to come on up and give it a go, and I managed to pick up a few like this guy as well.

Eventually our backs and eyes began to hurt after so many hours of fishing, and I imagine Buzz's arm was starting to get sore after catching probably 40 fish by this time.  So, we went back to camp for a snack and to just relax.  During that time we continued to question the smoke just over the mountain top, so we decided to drive up to the dam and see if we could see what it was.

It turns out that the forestry service was doing a controlled burn over an area greater than 3,800 acres.  By far the largest controlled burn I have seen in my lifetime, and quite impressive considering the gusty winds we had experienced all day long.  We then returned to camp and found the river all to ourselves again, and fish taking midges in front of us was too tempting.  So we geared up and went back after them.  Once again, Buzz had the magic fly that the fish were just crazy over.  I picked up a couple here and there, but his midge was easily collecing 5 fish to my 1, if not more in some spots.  Upon later examination, while I thought we were fishing the same fly as we both referred to it by the same name, it turns out that his fly was significantly different than mine.  Needless to say, I will be tying up some just like this for future trips, as it obviously was what they preferred.  I have had days like that on the South Holston before where the trout were so selective that they would only take a #22 stripper midge with a brown bead.  If I tried using a #22 stripper with a black bead, my strike rate would easily be reduced to 1/3 or less...  This trip Buzz had the fly and the technique that allowed him to have a phenomenal day on the water.  I would guess his fish count at somewhere around 50 for Friday alone.

By the time dinner came around we were both exhausted, but I had planned something different for dinner that night.  Original plans was for there to be 3 or 4 of us on this trip, but David Knapp was unable to make it and my other buddy Dave had to cancel at the last minute for personal reasons.  However, I had planned to make deer steak fajitas for everybody, and I was going to make them for Buzz and I.

The final product turned out pretty good if I do say so myself.  Although, next time I will tenderize and marinate the meat at home so it may be a little better for fajitas.

That night we both slept extremely peacefully, and the temps only got down to probably the mid 30's so we were much more comfortable.  Buzz actually got a little warm in his sleeping arrangement, and for the record that was the largest sleeping pad I have ever seen...  :)  Saturday morning we woke up to smoke choked valley and increasing cloud cover.  Also, apparently TVA had changed the generation schedule from what we thought it was supposed to be and our fishing chances were dramatically limited.  So we chose to just break down camp and start our drive back to Knoxville.  All-in-all it was a very nice trip, with lots of fish brought to hand.  I really wish David and Dave could have made the trip as well, and Buzz and I found ourselves joking the first evening about WWDKD (what would David Knapp do) while trying to figure out what they were taking.  Unfortunately, this camping area has dramatically declined from what it used to be.  The area available for camping is easily 1/3 of what it originally was, and there is no longer a bathroom.  While this would not normally be a concern, it is when you consider that you are camping basically in the middle of a field with houses on both sides of you.  So, you can't just go do your business anywhere.  Additionally, there is no longer running water available at the campsite, unless you want to do your dishes in river water...  Although, these inconveniences may be too much for some people, I think the proximity to the river with quality water nearby outweighs these negatives.

I hope you have enjoyed this report, and stay tuned for more reports.  Turkey season opens this coming weekend, and I hope to have some early reports from those trips with my two kids to share with you.  Until next time, tight lines and God bless.


Bill Trussell said...

What an eventful trip with some nice trout as an added bonus. Enjoyed the read!

Adam Wilson said...

Looked to be another great camping trip. Thanks for sharing. I always enjoy your photography.

meklog37 said...

This is nice post which I was awaiting for such an article and I have gained some useful information from this site. Thanks for sharing this information.
Best bait for fishing

19" Clinch River Brown