“Why is turning 50 such a milestone?” Was my question to my close friend, Dan Crockett, while on a flight headed to Tennessee recently. Dan is an editor and writer; a word smith with a scalpel sharp mind and didn’t hesitate with his answer, “It’s when you know that there is less ahead than is in the rear view and you’d better get things done!” Getting things done to him is not making as much money as possible (as he says “Working for a non-profit is often just that.”) or spending time off to manicure a lawn. Getting things done does include spending as much time as you can with great friends, hunting further and longer, floating new rivers to fish for anything that swims; and on those excursions ringing out every second of every day. Crockett is my kind of guy.
Knowing he was turning the big 50 the end of April and with a pile of air miles stacked up on my card I invited him to head down to TN with me. One of our long time guides, James Johnsey, grew up in Tennessee and is considering starting a up a fly fishing guide service there. He asked me to come down and give him my assessment of its feasibility. His vision is floating rivers in western style fishing rafts but the quarry is wildly different. Bass. Yes, there are plenty of tailwaters holding trout there but after guiding in Montana it is hard to get excited about them. Bass on the fly on the other hand – there’s reason to rig up your 7wt! And considering the number of fly anglers that are in Nashville alone, the client potential is limitless. Ya, we’ll come down and have a look.
With only three and a half days to fish, James picked us up from the Nashville airport with boat in tow and an hour later we slid over the bank into the Duck River. As advertised, it resembled a river out West. Running bank full and green with a light rain falling it couldn’t look more promising. The put in still in sight, Crockett put his new Orvis H2 to the test tying into a heavy bronze back. This is my kind of fishing – all streamers, all day – swinging across long riffle drop offs, slow stripping through deep back waters and twitch trolling under cliff walls. Eight species on the fly later, rain coming harder by the minute we rowed the last three miles in the dark. As per usual, stretching a half day into a full.
The rain didn’t stop. In fact, it couldn’t rain much harder. We were in our waders even before stepping off the cabin porch the next morning. Any crease in the terrain that could drain water into the Buffalo river did. A waterfall plunging into the river every 100yds looks nice but does little for the fishing. We got our asses kicked. The day’s highlight coming in with whiskers. That’s right, my first channel cat on the fly and straight into the fryer that evening. Southern style! (when in Rome…)
The Buffalo blew out while we were on it. The Duck, a river about the size of the upper Clark, jumped from 3,500cfs to over 25,000cfs in 36hrs! Mother nature always bats last. Initiate Plan B “Lets go hit the big water with the bass boat.” James advised.
Waist deep just to get out on the dock? Looks like we won’t escape the high water. For the next two days James manipulated a 20′ Ranger further up in the trees and creek mouths than most folks could pilot a canoe. He led the foot control trolling motor like a set of oars in the hands of a seasoned guide but the fish were hard to come by. Only through tenacious perseverance were we able to put a few good large mouth in the net and a couple more channels in the live well. Just the crew you need to fish with in tough conditions. Dark to dark and treating every cast like it will connect to a 10 pounder.
Would I go back? Oh yea. Is this a viable fly fishing destination? Yep. But as goes guiding in the West on freestone rivers, James will continue to search for some sweet little creeks and ponds as a back up when the rivers go out of shape. Did Crockett fish with any less focus or commitment than he did at 20? Not at all… but he did get one more thing done.