Allen Gillespie has a lot of schoolin’, as he constantly reminds us. I do dig his writing though…just don’t tell him.




By Allen Gillespie
Photos: Phil Savage   (other photos courtesy of the Library of Congress)
Southern Culture On the Fly
Issue NO. 6: Winter 2013

“The dam is bare, and immobile, and lonely, just standing there. Norris Dam is what it should be: finished, unromantic and working.”  –  Ernie Pyle

A TWRA officer once confided in me that the devil dances in the gravel lot at Peach Orchard Access after dark on summer nights. This time of year don’t nobody dance along the banks of the Clinch River except for a few hardheaded fools chasing imagined glory dredged from the swift currents belched from the belly of Norris Dam. It’s not that our Southern Appalachian winters are overly harsh, they’re not. It’s just that the same humidity, which thrills the devil in July remains long after the kudzu has been rolled up to reveal all of East Tennessee’s warts and scars, and it chills you to the bones on the short January days that descend upon us like an epidemic. What’s worse, the hills surrounding the Clinch River valley in Anderson County reach skyward and grab any eastern bound weather front and wring it of its contents making humidity a bona fide fact in the form of precipitation, which lingers for months on end.

A scant six miles upstream from the devil’s dance floor at the Peach Orchard ramp, Norris Dam sits in silent occupation; a coldwater factory built on the back of President Roosevelt’s New Deal. The first project of TVA, construction on Norris Dam began in October of 1933 and was completed some 886 days later as concrete evidence of Weber’s central tenant. Norris’ linear façade sits in stark contrast to the natural lines of the surrounding hills. Its speckled and streaked surface now resemble the belly of a shoat hog laid out in an early spring sun. Trapped behind the concrete is a catchment area of 2,912 square miles with a capacity of over 2,552,000 acre-ft. Some 3,000-odd souls were displaced by the rising waters, which covered one of the most fertile valleys in the area, a fact which still finds its way into our conversation nearly 100 years later. At 265 feet high, Norris is not the tallest of the regions’ many dams, but it is sufficiently deep to churn out a conveyor belt of oxygen-infused water, which is chilled year-round to a near constant 50 degrees by the darkness lurking at the bottom of Norris lake.

I grew up fishing the Clinch and have seen it in every season and color. Perhaps due to this intimacy I have always viewed the Clinch as the most manufactured of TVA’s Southern tailwater fisheries. At low flows, the Clinch consists of ten miles of pools interspersed by perpendicular monolithic shoals. It is nearly devoid of any resemblance to the freestone rivers one typically associates with prime trout waters, and as such can test the abilities of even the most seasoned angler. It may also be the most productive water you’ve ever fished, depending on the day, and that’s what keeps you returning for more.  If the Clinch had a more constant flow it would arguably be the best tailwater fishery in the country. Unfortunately for us tortured souls, TVA isn’t in the business of growing fish and the river ebbs and flows with the vagaries of the valley’s power demands. While bucolic in nature when off, at full pull, with both turbines turning, the steady relentlessness of the flow belies its industrial origin. And at 8,350 cubic feet per second, it’s a fool’s game to even attempt to chase trout, particularly with a fly rod.

Fools and optimists still abound in East Tennessee. On cold, dreary January days they make their ways to the edge of the Clinch in twos and threes, emerging from trucks with hippopotamus-colored bags slung over shoulders and overflowing with monumental yellow boxes and bottles of bonded whiskey. Tin sleds are loaded in the muffled silence of the swollen river and a routine set about in order to pay penance for the sins lying in the darkness upstream. On most days even well placed offerings go unnoticed and so the whiskey serves as a condolence, and to ease tired shoulders and sore elbows. Every so often, however, golden absolution is ripped from the slipstream and the river becomes whole again in the exuberance of the moment.






Another oldie but a goodie to start your SCOF week off. With winter, hopefully, in our rearview mirror we figured one last irreverent look at winter would be an appropriate way to lay it to rest. Thanks again JEB for all you’ve done for SCOF and milk sandwich awareness.


milk sandwich_scof2_2012_seinberg

By Jeb Hall
Photos: Steve Seinberg and Jeb Hall
Southern Culture On the Fly
Issue No. 2: Winter 2012

When it snows in the mountains of North Carolina, things shut down. All the way down. As soon as there are reports of flakes falling from the sky, people leave work, schools close and milk sandwiches suddenly dominate the menu of every mountain household. Yes, milk sandwiches.

To the rest of America, the milk sandwich is a virtually unknown dish, but to the hearty souls who endure the harsh winters of Western North Carolina, it is the food of survival. When the Zombie Apocalypse comes, it will be the milk sandwich that keeps the last of humanity bravely fighting the undead. The need of WNC residents to procure the makings of the milk sandwich can be witnessed at any grocery store as soon as snow is forecast. Old cat ladies can be seen with a gallon of milk in each hand rushing for the express lane. The bread aisles become scenes from The Day After as distraught shoppers squabble over the last loaves of Wonderbread. Shopping carts are left to roll into the icy streets as store patrons quickly rush back in the door to stand in line for the Red Box, only to find that all the copies of The Best of the Blue Collar Comedy Tour have been rented. It is during this time, The Milk Sandwich Time, that true locals venture out to explore the Davidson River.

The Davidson River is listed as one of North America’s top 100 trout streams by Trout Unlimited. It is this prestigious designation that causes the river to be crowded, fickle and undesirable to most local anglers. Summer’s warmth brings with it an onslaught of tourists escaping the sweltering hell found in the states to the south. By Memorial Day, luxury SUVs fill every possible pullout along the river and sunlight is virtually blocked from reaching the water’s surface by a canopy of Tilley hats, fedoras and straw gardening bonnets. As long as the air temperature remains over 50 degrees, anglers stand shoulder to shoulder in the low, clear water trying to convince themselves that they enjoy fishing as much as playing a round of golf. Winter, however, is a different story. As the flakes fly and the milk sandwich cry goes out across the land, the Davidson becomes an empty playground. The tourists have long since left the comfort of their 25,000 square foot luxury cabins and returned to the land of the box people. The opinionated gentlemen who can be observed fishing the same 20 feet of water all summer long, are caught up in the aforementioned bread aisles trying to fill the pantry before inches of snow pile up on the roads. Even the elite anglers of the Davidson River Social Club disappear from the hatchery parking lot, possibly fearing the icy weather could damage the official wooden license plates attached to their front bumpers.

Winter fishing on the Davidson is not for the faint of heart. The water is typically high, cold and clear, making deep presentations a necessity. Leaders of 12 feet in length ending in 6x fluoro are standard, and fishing a rod shorter than 8’6” is asking for an impossible day. Winter flies should match hatches found on the Davidson. The most commonly fished hatch is the pellet hatch that occurs near the fish hatchery. On a normal day, anglers typically post up in lawn chairs until the hatchery tanks are flushed and the hatch be- gins to make its way down the river. On a snowy day, the doctor’s office style waiting is non-existent, and the hatch can be enjoyed by a single group of anglers from the time it leaves the pipes until it disappears into Horse Cove. Other hatches, such as the tube hatch, don’t occur in winter months allowing anglers to carry a more basic selection of flies.

The harsh conditions faced while fishing the Davidson during winter storms create a need for careful planning and specialized gear to make the day comfortable. The river can be fished in winter with a standard fishing kit, but being unprepared can spell disaster when nature unleashes her chilly wrath. When preparing for a trip to the “D”, remember these four words: transportation, acclimatization, floatation and libation. Transportation means that you don’t drive a two-wheel drive SUV or a rear wheel drive truck into the Pisgah National Forest in a snowstorm. While all the “look at me” girls outside the sports bar might think you drive a burly vehicle, a trip up Highway 276 in a driving snowstorm will soon prove that looking cool doesn’t get you very far outside the Charlotte Metro area. Acclimatization is something that most fly anglers should do regardless of whether or not they are going to fish in winter. The concept here is that it sucks to fish with lots of clothes on and that the less you can wear, the better. To properly prepare your body for winter fishing, wait for a cold night and proceed as follows. First, put on cotton underwear and a t-shirt. Then, take a cold shower. Without fully drying off, grab a Rubik’s cube and head out on the deck and find a chair. Sit on the deck and attempt the to solve the cube until you are shaking too badly to hold it. Finally, come on back inside and take a warm shower.

After several weeks of this routine you will have both readied your body for cold weather fishing and hopefully solved a Rubik’s cube. Floatation refers to the need for good indicators to handle the massive amounts of split shot
you will be fishing in front of your egg patterns. Last, but not least, libation is the need for warming beverages on the river. Hot coffee or tea in a Thermos never tastes as good as it does when you can’t feel your digits. Adult beverages are also a good call. Just make sure you aren’t behind the wheel on the drive home.

This winter, when you see that the upcoming weather forecast is sponsored by the local grocery store, don’t panic and rush to the dairy case. Grab your rod, layer up and head on over to the Davidson for a frosty adventure. Even if the fish aren’t cooperating, you will find more to sustain your soul by watching the snow falling softly on the water than you will between two slices of enriched white bread taking a lactose bath.

Essential Gear for Davidson River winter fishing:

4×4 or All Wheel Drive Vehicle
Warm Hat
Hand Warmers
Polarized Glasses with yellow lenses
Pellet Flies
Egg Patterns
Crazy Streamers
Carrot (for impromptu snowman building)

Fishing Is Fun

Someone once told me that when you throw your proverbial Tilley hat into the fly fishing industry ring, you will fish less than  you ever have. I hate it when someone is right. We took a SCOF field trip to the S. Hoslton yesterday, and it turns out the trout are still there. We even got to touch some of them. We like touchin’ em.

– Dave