We left early enough that even with an 8 hour drive, catching the evening hatch was still a possibility. The only problem was that we didn't know what the evening hatch was, or where it was happening for the matter. We also didn't know where we were going to be staying, err, parking. Rather than do anything rash, we figured we'd better get the lay of the land from the guys who knew it best. It began with standard shop talk and a request for some information. In fairness, we didn't really give the guys much direction...
"Where were y'all wantin' to fish?"
Mmm, we're not really sure... we have a boat though!
"Well, what were y'all wantin' to fish for?"
Well, we came down here to catch carp, but we hear the trout fishin' is pretty good. And you guys have good smallmouth fishin' too, right? We love smallmouth fishin'.
We danced in circles for a bit before deciding that trout fishing was a good place to start. And then somebody mentioned something about some 30 pound streamer-crushing battleships that were hanging out in the lower river, which got us all screwed up in the head. Not surprisingly we fished with a severe case of ADD on the first day, torn between casting giant streamers or trying to feed dry flies to the oodles of trout that were set up on the surface, gorging on sulphurs. At day's end the results were proof of our lack of direction.
On day two though, with a little help from our friends at the fly shop, we set out with a solid plan: Big flies on sinking lines for big fish. I'd never caught a striper, or even seen one in the water. I had caught their white bass cousins though, and I figured if the aggression/power/size ratio translated.... I shuttered at the mere prospect of such a fish. We angled with focus and patience, re-rowing sections in order to cover both banks, casting to all the likely holding water, working the flies slow and deep and moving a few nice trout. As evening came on though, we'd yet to find any linesiders and with a thunderhead moving in we decided to take a break for dinner and let the storm pass. We hoped that the dusk hour would change our fortune.
The rain came in buckets. We tried to take shelter under an old railroad trestle, which did little to keep us dry. The dogs shot me looks of resentment as the rain spattered against them relentlessly, as if this was my doing. I wanted to tell them that, save for the cold Budweiser in my hand, I wasn't faring much better, but I don't think it would have changed their minds. After 20 minutes or so the heavy stuff had passed, and fishing seemed like a feasible option. We bailed a couple inches of water from the boat and Alex went back to casting as a dense fog settled on the water.
The river was losing it's current as it was swallowed up by the reservoir downstream, and we crawled along at a snails pace. The fog seemed to muffle all the outside noise, and as the day light continued to fade, it captured and reflected the oranges and yellows of the parking lot street lamps that marked the end of our float. It all had an eerie feel to it. I looked left while Alex cast right, looking for some sign of fish but seeing nothing. We weren't waiving the flag yet though. Everyone we'd talked to said if it was going to happen anywhere, it was going to hap-
I snapped my head back to the right just in time to see a massive swirl of silver and iridescent purple all twisted up and thrashing on the surface, the 8-weight rod jolting toward the water. Victor, who'd been sleeping quietly in the back of the boat most of the day, vaulted the rowers bench to get a better view of the action. He knew - we all knew - that this was a big fish.
When it finally came boat-side, I couldn't take my eyes off of it. The twilight seemed to make the faint purples and blues and greens glow against its mirrored silver sides. I broke my daze long enough to net the half of the fish that would fit, and corralled it into the boat.
It was just one fish, but after a summer of hearing "you should have been here yesterday," it would feel pretty good to feed somebody else that line the next day; The heavy rains persisted throughout the night and into the following morning, and a hundred miles down the road we learned from our new friends that the rivers we'd left behind were running red with Tennessee mud. Heading for high ground seemed like the best thing to do...