My family, travel, sports, music – these are my passions in life and if you’ve been reading my blog for any amount of time, you already know this. But what you might not know is that there is another “love” in my life. Opportunities to spend time with this love are rare so when they do come my way, I do whatever necessary to make it happen. I was ecstatic to learn I could spend time with this love of mine while I was in Bristol, Tennessee. It didn’t take long for me to decide that I would leave my family for a day in Bristol so I could…. go fly fishing.
Yes, the love I’m speaking of is fly fishing. I fell in love with it almost 20 years ago when I worked in Yellowstone National Park. My grandfather gave me his old fly rod to take out there with me and I pretty much taught myself to fly fish in Yellowstone. I fell quickly and I fell hard. Upon my return home to Chicago, I introduced my father to this newfound love, and he also was enamored. Dad and I attended a fly-fishing instructional school together and we both proceeded to spend much money on rods and other gear. Problem is, quality fly fishing spots around Chicago are scarce. We’d have to travel a bit to find the right kind of streams and, for a while, it wasn’t exactly feasible.
And then came the opportunity for my family and me to visit Bristol. During the years I spent researching and dreaming about fly fishing spots, I learned that there were plenty in the Appalachians. But what I didn’t realize is that some of those spots are in and very near Bristol! So, along with attending Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion, going fly fishing was placed at the top of the list of things I needed to do in Bristol.
Since I hadn’t been fly fishing in some time, I didn’t exactly feel comfortable going out on my own. I hooked up with local guide, Carl Brickey, of North Fork River Outfitters. I spoke to Carl prior to my arrival in Bristol to set up logistics and discuss what gear of my own I’d need to bring, which turned out to be minimal. Carl had it completely covered, though I chose to bring my own set of waders. Carl tried explaining to me via email that we would be fly fishing the Holston River and that what time we set out depended on the generating schedule. I had no idea what he meant but he explained that the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) operates a a dam on the South Holston to generate power and provide flood control for the region. The TVA posts a schedule every day, outlining the water release times for the following day. It was in our best interest to be out on the water well before the first release time.
Carl picked me up well before dawn at my hotel in Bristol and we drove out to our first stop. I didn’t even mind being up before the sun. It was so quiet and peaceful on those winding country roads, and watching the light fog lift and dissipate was mesmerizing. At our first stop, we had to hike in a bit along the river’s edge to reach the spot that looked most ideal to Carl. We hopped over downed logs and trudged through squishy mud. It had been far too long since I got to enjoy the outdoors so I loved every second of our short hike. When we reached our spot, we realized we weren’t alone; there were a few other anglers on the river but we were no bother to one another. Carl tied a fly on my line, sprinkled some magic dust on it, and I began casting away.
Well, trying to cast. Turns out I was a wee bit rusty but Carl patiently refreshed my memory and went over the basic mechanics. I had a few hits but, again, my rustiness prevented me from properly hooking the fish. I didn’t really care, though, because in between casting and mending, I was basking in the glow of the sun rising over the Holston. It was absolutely glorious.
A little while later, Carl suggested we try another spot on the other side of the river. Hey, he’s the guide; who am I to argue? I turned to walk back up the way we came, thinking we were going back to the car, but – oh no, we were fording the river! We walked across the width of the river and climbed out on the opposite bank. It was so fun – what an adventure!
Carl took me to a few more spots, one more scenic than the other. My casting was improving and my waders were holding up, keeping me warm and dry in the chilly Holston River. I still hadn’t caught any fish, though. We were nearing the end of my guided fly fishing adventure when Carl suggested one more spot. Like any excellent fishing guide, Carl was determined to exhaust all options to make sure I caught at least one fish. Honestly, I wasn’t bothered at all; I was having a blast. But we made one more stop and waded into the deepest water we’d been in all day. I was in almost to my waist (which isn’t saying much, I guess, since I’m so short) and it was COLD. But I kept on casting and, sure enough – BAM! I remembered everything Carl had told me that day, put it all into action, and reeled in a gorgeous rainbow trout. It’s quite possibly the smallest fish I’ve ever caught but, you know what? It didn’t matter to me. It was an already-perfect day and catching that fish was just the so-called icing on the cake. I was happy just to be outdoors in beautiful surroundings, listening to the soothing sounds of the rushing river instead of being stuck in Chicago rush hour traffic, listening to cars honking and brakes screeching. I could have caught zero fish and would have been perfectly happy.
A little bit more about Carl… That guy is a true sportsman and he knows his stuff. We spent several hours together so, naturally, we chatted a lot. Carl takes anglers out on wade trips (which is what I did), as well as guided canoe and kayak fishing trips. He’s a bow hunter, too, and I was even more impressed to learn that he makes his own arrows and has even started working on building bows.
I know I’ll get back to Bristol at some point, and when I do, I’ll be calling Carl to go fly fishing again. To book your own guided fly fishing trip with Carl, give him a call at (276) 780-0846. You won’t be disappointed, I promise.
Reminder: If you plan to fish the South Holston, be sure to check the TVA generating schedule ahead of time and plan accordingly!
My fly fishing adventure was set up and provided by the Bristol CVB. I genuinely enjoyed the entire experience and was not swayed in any way to write positively about it. As always, all words and opinions are my own.