The Dead Dog Pool was just that --- dead. But Secret Garden surrendered a feisty little smallmouth bass, giving us hope that the second day of float fishing would be better than the first.
It was better, but not much.
Fishing two great Appalachian rivers during the prime of the spring season should have yielded good numbers of hefty smallmouths for my friend John and me. But for whatever the reason, they just wouldn’t bite. Floating with guide Judson Conway, we managed just 4 fish on the first day and 14 on the second, with no bass longer than 12 inches and most in the 8- to 10-inch range.
No, not a great trip for catching bass, but it was a great fishing trip nevertheless.
The weather was pleasant, the scenery spectacular, and the companionship first-class. Both John and I enjoyed ourselves immensely, and I suspect that Judson did as well--- except for when the anchor hung under a rock ledge and he was forced to strip down and jump overboard in a vain attempt to free it. He finally resorted to cutting the rope.
The truth is that trips such as this are more common for most of us than those in which we catch big numbers of big fish. Most are somewhere in between. One of the reasons that I wrote Why We Fish was to explore how fishing is about so much more than what we bring to the boat.
On the first day, we fished the “Swine” River, a fishery that Judson prefers not to publicize by its real name because his clients catch so many large bass there during April and May. Starting in June, it typically becomes too shallow and warm to be productive. For the fish to be so uncooperative so early in May surprised both Judson and John, who have fished together for years.
During the 13 years that he has been guiding there, Judson said, he has yet to see another guide on the river. On our all-day float, we saw only one other angler, who was wading.
On the second day, we switched to the Nolichucky, a scenic stream for white-water rafting that rises in the mountains of North Carolina and then flows into eastern Tennessee, right through Davy Crockett country. We caught a couple of fish early and then a dozen after our shore lunch.
By the way, Judson, who has guided in Chile, the Florida Keys, and much of the West, is one of the best that I’ve seen at fixing a fast and tasty hot lunch. We enjoyed tuna steaks on the first day and crab cakes on the second.
We saw a few more people the second day, including “sirens” sunbathing on the rocks just below some rapids. But only one person was fishing. Most were riding kayaks or rafts down this fast-flowing stream that offers a variety of great smallmouth habitat, including deep pools, rocky shorelines, and backwash pockets in and below the rapids.
The big fish are there, as well as in the “Swine.” I have no doubt of it, and, if I did, Judson had plenty of photos to show me of hefty smallies caught by his clients recently in those waters.
My best guess is that the big smallmouths in both rivers were experiencing brief postspawn doldrums during the days we floated them. But who really knows? It’s not really that important.
Sometimes you catch them and sometimes you don’t. And catching is only one small part of what makes a great fishing trip.