Staff member
Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote,
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licóur
Of which vertú engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours y-ronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open ye,
So priketh hem Natúre in hir corages,
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes,
To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes
.......Geoffrey Chaucer, 1380 AD

Mid to Late April is an amazing time in the Smokies. The early part of the month still belongs to gray, lifeless winter; but sometime about the middle of the month, life begins to wake up and stealthily take over, seemingly overnight. I have been watching the annual Awakening for over half a century now, but it still amazes me how quickly and vigorously life regains its hold on the mountains every year. It is a time of extreme transition and variability, where one day is frozen and snowy, while the next may bring warm sunshine, or violent storms of downpours, wind, hail, and lightning. Regardless, in a period of about two weeks every year, the world goes from gray, silent, and lifeless to a loud green riot of life and activity. And it is always a surprise when you see it happening, even though you well know that it will happen. I realize that it is basic science, Climatology 101, but I still prefer to experience it as earth magic, witchery of nature. In a long-ago time and life, I would have perhaps been one of those old mysterious figures sitting on the hill above the village every morning at daylight, plotting the daily northward trend of the sunrise, marking its progression with stones and sticks; trying to make sense of it all while waiting expectantly for the Awakening.


I was sitting on the porch as daylight slowly gathered, sipping coffee and listening to the smale foweles maken melodye. It was warm and breezy. Earlier in the week, there were two hard freezes, frosty nights, and a couple inches of snow. But on this fine morning, it is hard to remember it, even though it was only a few days ago. The neighbor's rooster crows, answered by a thunderous gobble from a turkey in the woods up on the ridge. As the sun starts to peep over the eastern ridge of the holler, I can hear the twitter of flying swallows that have only returned within the last couple days. A hummingbird buzzes up, investigating the feeder hanging from the porch. It perches, and drinks deeply.

I need to hit the woods and get out among this. I have a new fly rod that has never been cast in anger or any other way, so that is as good an excuse as any. I pack it in my truck along with my wading boots, my fishing pack, a couple bottles of water, a summer sausage, some crackers and cheese.

By the time the fog is starting to burn off, I am far back in the mountains at the end of a long, rough forest service road. This is a remote section of national forest where almost nobody except for a few locals ever ventures, but it has always a special place to me, a place of good memories, peace, and tranquility. I come here most years at this season. A few yards from my parked truck is a small, roaring creek that is full of spunky little wild rainbow trout, with some native specks in the higher reaches. The creek spills off the side of the mountain through a steep gorge, and is mostly a long series of interconnected plunge pools. It is an incredibly rough, but incredibly beautiful place. A perfect place to come participate in the annual ritual of the Awakening.


I put on my boots, rig my rod, tie on a section of 5x tippet, and a dry fly. I grease the fly carefully with Gink, fasten it to the hook keeper of the new rod, and head up the trail.


I can't walk far without stopping to look. It is an absolute riot of life. It bursts forth from the ground, fills the canopy and the air. The trees and shrubs are alive with birds. Butterflies flutter by. Impossibly bright metallic green tiger beetles fly up the trail in front of me, landing and waiting for me to catch up again. I can see salamanders peeking out from under rocks as I pass. Huge orange, black, and yellow millipedes crawl across the trail. I stop and catch one in my hand and shake it, bringing it to my nose to smell the sharp, strong scent like maraschino cherries that they exude, a startling, pleasant odor that you wouldn't expect to originate from such a source.

Wildflowers are everywhere. The Southern Appalachian region has one of the greatest diversities of them on the planet. Many of these are spring ephemerals, plants which burst out of the ground early each spring, growing at a furious pace to bloom and set seed while they can gather their share of precious sunlight before the canopy of leaves closes overhead. By midsummer, most of them have disappeared into dormancy, storing and saving their energy for the race for light next spring.

Along the trail is an amazing variety. Among many others are patches of purple Phacelia, foamflower, yellow sessile Trilliums, white wakerobins, dwarf crested Iris, and beautiful little purple-and-white showy orchids.





I keep stopping to admire them. The creek is calling, but the fishing today is mostly just an excuse to get out here in the woods anyway. I take my time as I walk, occasionally stopping, sitting, watching, and just absorbing. It is good to be here, and I have waited months for this day. I mean to drink in as much of it as I can.

There are also other treasures to watch for. It is morel season. By the time I have walked a mile or so up the trail, I have picked a couple from the edge of the path, and made a couple short forays into likely hollers for more. They are not plentiful, but after looking around awhile, I have enough to go with supper tonight.



As I walk further up the trail, a swarm of black gnats collects around my head, trying to fly into my eyes, biting me on the forehead and neck. I ignore them. They are just the little tax collectors of the woods, the price of admission that the woods demands for entry and participation in the Awakening.


The creek beckons below me, and I do have a fly rod in my hand. I walk a little further, until I find a place where I can safely negotiate the slope from the trail down into the creek gorge. I wade out into the tail of a pool, at first shocked by but also enjoying the bite of the cold water after a long walk up the trail.


I cast into the pool, trying to float my fly down the seams at the edges of the current and into the pockets behind the rocks without letting it drag. I have fished several times already this year, but it has mostly been a matter of dredging heavily weighted nymphs through deep, cold water for sluggish fish. This is the first time I have cast a dry fly since early last fall, and my timing and accuracy is off. After a few casts, I get the feel back, and lose my awkwardness. I am also trying to get the feel of the new rod, which is light as a feather, responsive, and a joy to cast.

In two different spots in the pool, trout come up and slap at my fly, but don't take it. At the next pool, the same. I change flies. The trout come up to look at this one, but also don't eat it. I switch once more, and in the next pool, the fly is inhaled on the first cast. I bring the trout to hand, admire and release it, then catch another one from a slot beside a rock in the head of the same pool. Life is good. Trout are rising, and I have figured out what they want. I work my way up the creek, catching the little rainbows from almost every hole I fish unless I screw up and spook them with my shadow or snag my fly on an overhanging rhododendron branch or witch hazel twig. After months of waiting while the whole hemisphere laid dormant, it sure feels good to be among the awakened again. Two weeks ago, this creek would have been slate-gray and seemingly devoid of life, but today it sparkles and dances over the rocks, and the trout, seemingly spontaneously generated from the water itself, are darting and flashing as they feed. As if to affirm that life as usual is back in business, a little garter snake swims across the creek and crawls up beside my foot, looking me over and trying to figure out what strange sort of thing I am. I am probably the only human he has ever seen.



I don't really understand Winter People. Those who wish for cold weather and prefer cold gray death to warm green life and activity are a puzzlement to me. All the seasons have their magic, but as I get older, I find less magic and more tedium each year in the long, frozen, gray days of winter, and long even more for the days when the shadows of rustling leaves dapple the ground, warm breezes blow, birdsong is in the air, tomatoes ripen in the garden, insects crawl from under the rocks of the streambed and make their way to the surface to metamorphose, mate and reproduce- and the trout rise.


I fish on awhile, and soon a long stretch of creek has magically faded behind me as time vanishes the way it only does when you are on a trout stream and totally locked into the rhythm of fishing. Looking up, I notice that the sun is now almost resting on the ridge forming the other side of the gorge. I see a nice hole ahead of me, where the water slides down a chute and deflects from a cliff, coming toward me in a deep, slow run between two boulders. I cast my fly into the head of the run. It swirls once, then starts floating down the seam at the very edge of the bubble line. A fat trout comes from the dark slot between the rocks and inhales the fly in a perfect classic head-and-shoulders rise, then burrows back down to his home under the boulder. I let him run a circuit of the pool, bring him to hand, release him, then snip the fly from my tippet and break down my rod. It is enough, and a perfect stopping point. The fish are still hitting good, and there are still a few miles of good water above me; but sometimes it is best to not rush, but to work your way gradually into a new season- just as spring itself comes to these old mountains in fits and starts each year, resting between its days of life-giving work to give the earth time to adjust to the great Awakening.
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Staff member


Senior Member
Good read. Love the Smoky Mountains. Have been going there since I was a youngster in 1958.


Senior Member
Great read and pics NCH, I enjoyed that. Is that a Classic Trout? I had a few hours yesterday morning so I ran up to Cherokee NF and fished a tributary of East Tennessee's most notable watershed. I only took my dry fly box with no intentions of slinging anything that doesn't float. It was a cool but comfortable morning and wild spunky Rainbows attacked my #10 Thunderhead in most every hole where I did my part. That first fish was unfortunate enough to miss the fly but still end up with a hook in him.

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trad bow

wooden stick slinging driveler
Great read. I love the sounds of a trout stream, the smell of the mountains and the feeling of being wrapped up in nature’s bosom during the spring. You bring those memories back very clearly for me.


Staff member
Great read and pics NCH, I enjoyed that. Is that a Classic Trout? I had a few hours yesterday morning so I ran up to Cherokee NF and fished a tributary of East Tennessee's most notable watershed. I only took my dry fly box with no intentions of slinging anything that doesn't float. It was a cool but comfortable morning and wild spunky Rainbows attacked my #10 Thunderhead in most every hole where I did my part. That first fish was unfortunate enough to miss the fly but still end up with a hook in him.

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Good deal! That's a fine looking creek and some colorful bows. Yeah, that's a Classic Trout-8'6" 3 wt. I'm loving it so far.


Senior Member
Great read. I really enjoyed your observations. It is the same up here, love to see the life of of spring. Just now is it looking like Spring up at camp. Got a 5 day weekend coming up, will be my first ever attempt at fly fishing. Should be interesting.


At home with a two week old and really feeling the draw to a cool, cold stream to chase some wild trouts, so thanks for this story allowing me to live vicariously through your experience. Great looking fish for you as well @whitetailfreak
Hopefully, the whole fam will be able to get on a camping trip later this spring/summer, before the wife's maternity leave is up.