After working at Viobin USA 12 months, I qualified for 5 days PTO which Sarah and I anxiously had plans to burn ASAP. The end of May we packed our bags and headed east to see friends in Knoxville, TN, photograph a tuberculate River Chub, and in a subsequent post, visit family in Virginia.
Adding both weekends, we had 9 days total.
In coordinating with Ed Scott in Knoxville, I tagged Casper Cox from Chattanooga in our email string to see if he would, by chance, be in the area. As luck would have it, his brother, Chris, recently moved to the Knoxville region. A couple days and a few email exchanges later , our GPS gave us the glorious announcement that we had arrived at our destination – Casper’s brother house. We were quickly greeted by Chris and joined the rest of the group–Casper, Ed, Dave “Hammersmasher” Herasimtschuk of Freshwaters Illustrated, and the lovely ladies–Vee, Connie, Cerulean, and Cyan. After some much needed catching up, a fabulous dinner, and a beautiful sunset, we felt like home and retired for the night.
Bright and early we awoke to the smell of breakfast. Said hello and goodbye over a quick bite as Casper, the Snorkelmiester, already had a spot picked out for the day. Early in the week we were watching the weather and the temps and timing looked primo. Excitedly, with all the snorkel gear in tow, we marveled that is was finally time for a snorkel adventure. We suited up. This was Sarah’s first time wearing the dry suit. She was the only one that looked like a fish out of water. Unfortunately, as we made our way to Knoxville, we must have brought cold weather with us as it was evident a recent cold snap had just passed through and muted the action. There was very little activity on chub mounds past some faint oranges and small groups of Warpaint Shiners. Some chubs were still building, which was encouraging. So Dave, Sarah and I decided to explore other locations for mound activity and to start the challenge of reeling in a tuberculate male River Chub. After the scouting, more scouting, and yet more scouting, it was time to eat lunch with Casper. We stood on Star Bridge and gave the agreed upon two armed wave signaling it was time to nourish. And off we went.
The high gradient streams of Eastern Tennessee are a bit different than streams in Central Illinois. Water is liquid air and the current is fierce. I’m used to casting a slightly weighted fly in a ribbon channel around nests and with a little patience, can catch a silver back mound builder. Large male chubs spook easily and in crystal clear water, this becomes a real issue. It didn’t take long to learn my casting was not cool to them. Not to mention my weighted flies were not weighted enough and would drift out of the strike zone before persuading a bite. I had to do some rethinking, but was not currently outfitted to satisfy my ideas.
In the meantime, we enjoyed Warpaint Shiners. With strange facial markings, their name suits them well. This species occurs in high quality streams, where they fill a similar niche as Striped Shiners.
Returning to Casper’s location, we found he had not moved much. We employed the secret code and filled him in with our minimal findings. There happened to be a chub mound immediately downstream of our bridge. We watched 2 chubs carry stones to and fro. I was curious if they could see us way up here….
My fly was dangling in the water from 3 stories above while I pondered just how desperate I was to be doing something so silly. Within minutes, I had managed to grab one’s attention. Shortly after, a River Chub was swinging back and forth like a clock pendulum as I reeled it in, or up, in disbelief. I was so not confident in this endeavor, I didn’t even have water in the bucket!
While I photographed, Casper used his fish whispering abilities only the Snorkelmiester possesses and bucketed the elusive Mountain Shiner. This Lythrurs, appears to have a frosty blue head when spawning to the underwater observer. Its noggin is jam packed with tiny tubercles. A Bluebreast Darter, appearing much as they do in Illinois, and the iconic Redline Darter, a banner fish occurring throughout the Tennessee River basin. The Chattanooga Chub was showing us how it’s done!
That evening we found a 5 course meal laid out for us at Chris & Vee’s. Our hosts had cooked the most amazing chicken souvlaki dinner and Ed had brought his guacamole to die for. We spent the rest of the evening celebrating our time together swapping stories that we’ll remember for many years to come.