On The Fly (well, not really) Freshwater
Editor’s Note: When our article Bryson City’s Downtown Trout appeared in the December 2021 edition, we received the following note from Jim Casada, the Sage of the Smokies. Though his story did not involve a fly rod, it still was well worth the read. He graciously allowed us the reprint it for your pleasure.
Just wanted you guys to know that you were wading in sacred waters when fishing in the Tuckaseigee (I spell it that way because it is the traditional spelling) delayed harvest area adjacent to the island.
The photo of Polly Dean shows her at the edge of an area once known as “Devil’s Dip.” Presumably that’s because there are some pretty strong hydraulics there with something of a resemblance to a whirlpool. It lies just downstream from where my beloved Grandpa Joe had his little farm (his was the nearest house upstream, just opposite where Deep Creek enters the river). One of my grand boyhood adventures occurred there when both of us were rock hopping while fishing for knottyheads and fell in.
By Jim Casada
Photos by Jimmy Jacobs
In many ways my Grandpa Joe was a boy trapped in an old man’s body. Full of tricks as a pet ‘coon, tough as a seasoned hickory sapling, and imbued with seventy-plus years of wisdom accumulated by living close to the good earth of the Smokies, he possessed an unflagging sense of adventurous spirit when it came to outdoor pursuits such as hunting or fishing. On many of these sporting outings I enjoyed the great good fortune of being his sidekick.
Somehow Grandpa had a knack for turning something such as an afternoon’s fishing in the Tuckaseigee River, which flowed by his home, or a day spent in pursuit of squirrels, into grand adventures involving the two of us as a dauntless duo. For all our boisterousness and bravado, those escapades didn’t always work out as planned. Often as not we came home from a day in the autumn woods without more than a bushytail or two between us. Our fishing outings were somewhat more predictable in terms of fish on the stringer, but the day which brought one of our finest catches ever turned into something approaching an unmitigated disaster. It involved an early spring afternoon trip to a big pool, locally known as Devil’s Dip, in the nearby river.
Deriving its name from powerful hydraulics and a strong backwater that gave it the appearance of a whirlpool, Devil’s Dip lay just a short walk downstream from Grandpa’s house. We had fished it many times before, and almost without exception the south side of the pool, on the same bank as Grandpa’s house, was good for a number of knottyheads (a small member of the sucker family found in cool water streams). On this particular day, however, yielding to the Siren-like appeal of a growing stringer of fish, the two of us ventured into uncharted territory. Hopping from one rock to another, we went farther out on the shoals adjacent to the turbulent water of the whirlpool than ever before. At one point, scared a bit by the nearby torrent, I commented to Grandpa: “If we aren’t careful we’re going to fall in.”
He nodded in agreement before settling matters as far as both of us were concerned. “You might be right, but every time we move we catch more knottyheads.” It was difficult for a small boy to argue with that logic, especially given the fact that Grandpa was completely accurate. It seemed that whenever we hopped from one rock to the next, two or three more knottyheads graced what had become an impressive catch.
Alas, my prophecy came true. I’m not sure whether I slipped and grabbed Grandpa or if he fell and reached out to me. Whatever the case, both of us were fully immersed in the frigid waters of Devil’s Dip. We scrambled out immediately, shaken and chilled but no worse for wear other than the fact that Grandpa had lost his straw hat. Purchased just the day before with hard-earned cash money, the hat made four complete circles in the circling current of the whirlpool with my erstwhile mentor trying to snag it with his long cane pole at each passage. The fifth time around the hat caught the current and headed downriver to Fontana Lake, never to be seen again.
By that time both of us were shivering and dreading the coming confrontation with Grandma Minnie. My paternal grandmother was a tiny woman, weighing 100 pounds at most, but she had a 300-pound temper and when riled up a tongue that could flay the hide off a razorback hog. The family in general, and Grandpa Joe in particular, stood in a constant awe of her wrath. Everyone did their level best to avoid being the focus of one of her periodic eruptions, and for the most part all were successful except Grandpa and me. We had a seeming knack for evoking her ire. Muddy shoes, being underfoot at the wrong time during cold weather, and a spouse who seemed to delight in acting like he was still a boy were unquestionably contributed.
As we walked to the house, still dripping water and chattering from the cold, we passed the hog pen and chicken lot and then made our final approach along the path intersecting Grandpa’s expansive garden. We both knew that each step brought us closer to impending doom. Showing up on the doorstep looking like a pair of half-drowned muskrats was going to earn us a tongue lashing of the first order. Grandpa acknowledged the inevitable by muttering: “They ain’t going to like this one bit.” The “they” to whom Grandpa referred was Grandma Minnie. Somehow in situations such as this he found it comforting to use an impersonal pronoun rather than her name.
I nodded in silent agreement with his foreboding and followed close on his heels. Sure enough, Grandma met us at the door. What I now realize was a millisecond of relief immediately gave way to rage. For some reason she directed her initial verbal sally towards me. Punctuating every word by poking me squarely in the solar plexus with her gnarled, arthritic index finger, she said, “The only thing worse than a young fool is an old fool.” Then, having switched suddenly to prodding her spouse with the same finger but with added emphasis and impetus, she quickly added, “Here stands a matched pair.”
At that moment I dared chance a glance sideways to see how Grandpa was reacting, only to discover he was slowly retreating while never breaking eye contact with Grandma. I wasn’t about to be left alone to face her wrath and forthwith moved to join him in what threatened to turn into full flight. As we backed through the doorway and out of sight, Grandpa grinned, winked at me, and whispered quite softly: “I reckon they won’t be cooking any fish tonight.”
We had cold cornbread and milk for supper.