“Cant be bothered with ‘em” the young one said as he twisted on the shaft of the 1970’s trolling motor desperately trying to keep the undersized and rusted Jon boat out of the current as it filled up with chilly, East Tennessee rain.
“ We’s just come for bass and them damn things eat ‘em all. Even if ya’ hook one ya’ can’t catch it.”
His partner now heading down the ramp, much older by the looks of him, began to take notice of our conversation as I sat waiting for my fishing partner to return from the shuttle mission to take our vehicle downstream to the take out.
I informed them that we had been coming up here for 6 or 7 years, knowing full well that their knowledge of the river and its inhabitants was much longer and although not necessarily aligned with mine, much more informed.
“ We’ve seen a bunch of them “ I started in about our encounters “Even hooked a couple that were probably 20 pounds”.
“20?! You said 20?! Ive seen ‘em go 100 pounds…”
Now I too had begun taking more notice of our conversation. I skeptically and sheepishly grinned as they pushed off upstream in to their world that was not bound by skepticism or perhaps realism. Leave all the musky for me they promised they would as they putted upstream over a blown down and out of sight.
The waters of this river are no longer a mystery. Publications even similar to this one have in the past brought attention to this corner of the southeast previously unknown and un-considered by the fly fishing world, perhaps even the world in general. Still, despite its run up in popularity and the increased familiarity one cant help but wonder what is really going on here. The caution signs riddled with bullet holes and all those copper pipes running down steep cliff faces in to the aqua marine water below instill an eerie skepticism that perhaps there are still those indigenous to this place that might not be all that impressed with our new found adoration for exploration – or exploitation.
And so it goes for the river inhabitants too.
We have seen the river high – we have seen it low. Off color and silky blue. Way too hot and slushed over with ice. Full of fish and well, empty too. This particular day it was – all of those. Too early in the year to know that the water temperature had gotten to equilibrium ready for migrating big girls coming up from the big water, not so low as to have and grind through the canyon section pushing at every turn but also not high enough to have confidence that you or the fish could move freely and unencumbered. Clear enough to see 20 fish – many more than normal – all barely eye the behemoth slab of fur feathers and flash tease by them in lies of various clarity and depth leading to formidable frustration time and time again. Dingy enough after the rain on the mud banks to wonder just what was hiding and when that thing might makes itself known.
The days here are long – sunrise to sundown type adventures filed by hope and a whole lot of beer. When I get bored I usually turn on some Hendrix and blare it so loud that more than likely all chances of turning a fish is decimated at the cost of “freeing the mind”. My fishing companion although normally not gullible enough to fall in to this trap had begun doing his best impersonation of Dianna Ross, ad libbing on whatever subject happened across his alcohol ridden brain stem. Distraction and boredom at its finest.
And so the day grinds on. A bass! Momentary relief from monotony but really – nothing doing all day. A sense of disappointment. The setting sun. Too many beers. A pectoral fin?
Yes, in the shadowy depths my eye caught a glimpse of something white-ish sliding beside a rock and then nothing for a few strips.
“Did you see that? I think that was a …”
Morphing up from the bottom was the creature that had taken 6 years to find with any certainty. Sure, when a fly is bouncing the bottom one cant be entirely sure what it has seen or almost been decimated by, but this time, what we were seeing, was real. From what started as a questionable fish part sighting to sheer unbelief and terror our collective chests tightened and our breathe escaped the prisons of our lungs as the fish began its pursuit of the fly that once looked so large, now dwindling in the light of a creature that couldn’t be measured by inches or pounds.
Strip. Pause. Strip strip strip. Figure 8. She’s turning. Follow follow follow. Gone.
Disappointment is always on the menu of emotions when humans encounter something that their heart has desired for a long period of time only to lose it or have it turn out the other way – but I believe that if the pursuit is righteous – hope accompanies it. So that is all we have at the end of this story.
Musky are too fickle to be trusted and too evil looking to love. When we catch one the joy is real and the anticipation of another is almost immediate. But when we miss, especially on the one that we have worked for year after year it can lead to doubt and fear. Except for that hope I mentioned before.
Im not sure that biology or history would have have confirmed our buddies at the ramp in their estimation of weight of some of the beasts that they couldn’t be bothered with. After that day though, that encounter, I might not be inclined to challenge them.