TWRA stocking trucks are on the roads again; the drift boat navy that plies the waters of the South Holston and Watauga Rivers is out in full force, and local fly shops and other fishing retailers are stocked with the latest gear, garb and gadgetry, claimed by their marketers to make fish virtually jump into your net.
There are a few troutish trends that seem to be continuing this year. Fly fishing appears to be alive and well, having netted (sorry) a large number of young'uns in the past few years, eager to learn the sport of fooling waterborne quarry with tiny hooks, cleverly disguised with feathers and fur. There are more young women entering the sport, too, including several here in our region that are making or supplementing their livings as fly fishing guides and instructors.
Another growing trend is in the advancing technology of modern fishing gear. Todd Boyer, who runs Mahoney's fly shop in Johnson City, says, "While many serious, long-time fly fishermen still prefer the top of the line, American-made rods and reels, many others are discovering the incredible quality and value of the new American-designed/South Korean-built products; gear that is comparable in quality, but one quarter or less of the price of the top-tier stuff. As a top fly shop, you gotta have both kinds or you're going to miss sales"
Getting to the trout has evolved a good bit, also. Once upon a time river fishers simply waded or used canoes, jon boats or rafts. Now local rivers are highways for high-priced, western-style drift boats and, yes, even jet boats, capable of running upstream over rocks submerged in mere inches of water. Kayaks are all the rage now, too. And even stand-up boards, which look exactly like a surfboard, but require the rider to use a long, single-blade paddle.
Here in the Mountain South there is more than one way to trick a trout. You don't have to have the latest, greatest graphite-boron-uranium rod with a CNC machined kryptonite reel. Heck, if you know what you're doing you can pull it off just like our forbears did, with a cane pole, a string and a hook. Many a youngster started out with a cheap spinning rod (was yours a Mickey or a Minnie?) and a cup of worms or other such bait and quickly learned to fool a few fish.
Several major watersheds drain the highlands of Northeast Tennessee, including the Holston, Watauga and Nolichucky. The Nolichucky Watershed alone comprises more than one million acres—that's twice the size of Great Smoky Mountains National Park—and is fed by countless mountain streams that are home to both wild and stocked trout. But before you jump in the truck and head out after them, you'll need both a Tennessee resident hunting and fishing license and a separate trout stamp (which is not actually a stamp anymore). These can be obtained online at gooutdoorstennessee.com and at most outdoor retailers, such as Mahoney's or Bass Pro Shops.
Whether you like casting the long rod with weightless imitations of a trout's favorite aquatic entrees, or flipping a time-tested rooster tail on a lightweight spinning outfit; whether your favorite species is rainbow, brown or brook, or whether you prefer to float, wade or sit on the bank in a folding chair with a Coleman full of Dr. Enuf, Northeast Tennessee has a lifetime worth of opportunities for the springtime pursuit of the wily trout.
David A. Ramsey is a regionally and nationally recognized outdoor photographer and writer from Unicoi, TN. His recently released book, Rocky Fork: Hidden Jewel of the Blue Ridge Wild, is available at Mahoney's in Johnson City and online at www.ramseyphotos.com