She's remeniscint of the girl you loved to hate in high school. Beautiful. Mysterious. Everyone wanted her. To spend time with her. To feel her affection, boys and girls alike. If you were fortunate, she would gaze upon you every now and then, instead of looking through you like you didn't exist (which was ninety nine percent of the time). You're embarrassed by how many times you've tried to talk to her or even smile at her in class. Secretly hoping that someday she'll want to be your friend.
And then it happens. One day, she walks across the noisy, crowded lunchroom and asks if you want to sit with her and her friends. She doesn't even wait for your answer. With a flip of her perfect blonde hair over her shoulder, she saunters back to her table, knowing you're already grabbing your lunch tray and tripping over yourself to catch up.
As you shyly sit down, you try to melt into the chatter surrounding you, but all you can manage to do is wonder if this is some sort of joke. Any minute she's going to dump her tray over your head or make a cruel remark about your clothes. But to your surprise, she starts talking to you. And laughing with you. Offers you a piece of gum before you walk to your next class together. Deep down, you know there is bullshit ahead, but why not bask in this moment? You know it's short lived...
She's the Clinch River.
Most of you familiar with this stretch of water have probably heard her nickname, which I use more than her real name. The Grinch. And much like the Grinch of fables and lore, she is a cruel mistress. Over the last three years I have spent hours trying to figure her out, as have many other East Tennessee anglers. But she has as many faces as the diamonds in blondie's tennis bracelet from high school. Every day she's a new bitch. Some days she'll tease you with bites or shadows of trout that dash away from your fly right as you prepare for a hook set. Or maybe your buddies in the next drift boat are hauling in fish after fish and it's all you can do to not chuck your rod into the current. You stare at the swirling riffles and swear on your life you won't be skunked that day. But the stink follows you home, well after you've swilled the last lukewarm beer and packed up your gear.
But every now and then...once in a very great while...she'll turn her favor on you.
I had little expectation Sunday as we ran our shuttle vehicles to the ramp. Hurricane Irma was on our tails and the wind was whipping through the sycamore branches along the banks of the river. I could already see all the nymph rigs I'd be untangling throughout the day. I had my favorite 5wt at the ready though, and I'd be damned if I was going to have a bad time. Generation was mild, with a second generator cranking up a few hours after we put the Hyde in the water. We thought maybe we'd have a few good hours to try to fish, and spent the rest killing beers as we floated downstream.
To my annoyance, Jamie wanted to stay near the put in and throw "a few casts" in a spot he swore held good fish. We could barely speak to each other though as a local group of bait fisherman cackled over the banks, trying to launch an old johnboat off a trailer that looked to be from the age of Adam. The motor choked to life, spewing fuel and a noxious blue cloud over the water. I figured any trout that stuck around to watch that shitshow were now suffocating on the fumes. It was all we could do to keep from laughing loud enough for them to hear us, and then it happened. My indicator dove deep and I almost missed the set. What felt like a monster turned out to be a very feisty 8 inch rainbow. Well, damn. A fish in the first 15 minutes seems like a fluke. I snapped his picture, knowing this might be my only catch of the day, and let him slip through my fingers back down to the deep. Got the stink off! I was ready to find quieter water and move downstream, but we decided to throw a few more good drifts before pulling anchor. Minutes later I pulled in a pretty footer. Was I smiling? Released.
"Ready to move?"
"Just one more cast..." (famous last words)
I tossed a sloppy, surface-slapping cast and immediately moved to re-cast in shame when the line ripped through my fingers. Hot line! Big fish! It dove, zigged, zagged, and launched out of the water, trying to throw my hare's ear. I was cackling like a little kid as I slowly worked him towards the net. This was the biggest rainbow I'd caught on this river to date with a flared, and I threatened Jamie with physical harm if he couldn't net it. Once in the boat all I could do was admire it and screech. Seventeen-ish inches of rainbow just starting to show it's fall colors. I could still see the boat ramp and was tempted to call it a day right there. What else could top my first hour?
Not the next three. I caught maybe a fish every 45 minutes after an intense staring contest with my indicator. This is the Clinch I know. At one point when the sun peeked out, I felt myself nodding off. My head lolled back and I snapped myself awake at one point. I gave up for about 20 minutes and rested my head on my knees and napped. Sunburnt and satisfied with my day, I was happy to just sleep back to the take out.
The last mile offered dirty water, swirling cross-currents, and unpredictable wind. I had caught six fish, which I considered a great day. I figured, why the hell not, let's wet my line again. When I got another bite, my spirits lifted. "Get another," Jamie prodded. It was an average Joe, ten inches or so. Another fish landed. Average Joe again. And then another. And another. And then I was at thirteen. I was beside myself. SHE LIKES ME! SHE REALLY LIKES ME! *insert mad cackling here*
In total, I gave sixteen trout a remarkable story to tell their friends later that night. For them I'm sure it was a alien encounter that other had experienced before, but kept hush-hush about. And I secretly feared no one would believe mine. Even Jamie was a little thrown off by the Ol' Girl's sense of generosity. Basking in the afterglow, I have to remind myself...this feeling is fleeting. It won't always be this way. But I'm going to enjoy it now.
The truck ride back to the shuttle point was pretty quiet. What else was there to say? A few times I halfheartedly apologized to Jamie about not rowing and he waved them off, telling me it was just as fun to watch somebody doing it. As we loaded up, I knew this was not a day I would see again for a long time. Because what the Grinch giveth, the Grinch taketh away.