December 30th, 2002

The Premiere OnLine Magazine for the Fly Fishing Enthusiast.
This is where our readers tell their stories . . .

Introduction to Bliss
By Steven Medford (wcuboy)

As I was reading the Reader's Cast section of Fly Anglers Online this week, I was reminded of my first fly fishing trip.

I was invited by a sweet gentleman in my church to go with him and several other fly fishing friends to the upper section of the Ravens Fork River in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Before the trip, he took me in his backyard to teach me how to cast a fly rod. The exercise was to cast a piece of yarn on the end of a leader into a bucket of water approximately twenty feet away. The tool to use for this exercise by this ambitious middle schooler was a "state of the art at that time" Eagle Claw fly rod. What a wonderful way to introduce one to this craft.

Early on a spring Saturday morning, we drove to Cherokee, North Carolina. We had a wonderful, hefty pancake breakfast with all the trimmings at a restaurant there. Needless to say, the meal was a physical encouragement for a backpacking experience that my body would never forget. Our fly fishing party proceeded up Big Cove Road up to its fork in the road. I do not remember exactly where the trail that we hiked began. It could have been the Breakneck Ridge trail beginning at Round Bottom Gap or the Old Railroad Crossing Trail. However, I vividly remember how strenuous the hike was. We climbed up to the top of the mountain and hiked ten miles back into native trout water.

Once we arrived, we set up camp and fished the remainder of that Saturday afternoon. I was left alone to explore these beautiful trout waters where native trout abounded and rattlesnakes sunbathed on the rock ledges adjacent to the streams. Being a novice, I caught more trees than I did fish that afternoon. However, it did not seem to concern me because I was in this most wonderful spot in God's creation where time meant nothing. The true blessing was experiencing the solace of the moment.

That evening at camp, we gorged ourselves eating those wonderful native trout that I had not helped catch. Alluding to the finer things of life, eating native trout around a campfire with a can of pork and beans somehow rivals any steak dinner that I know. We slept under the stars that night. As a young boy, somehow I kept awake throughout the night just wondering if a rattlesnake was going to crawl in my sleeping bag and take up abode.

The next morning we arose early to fish. I had the same problems learning the mechanics of casting the fly rod as the day before; however in this beautiful trout water, I was star struck by the experience. My frustrations did not seem to matter. The next thing I noticed was this wonderful man who meant so much to me came down streamside to assist this beleaguered angler who was having difficulty. He calmly stated "let me help, son." I became mystified as if God himself had put his arm around me and was going to help me catch one of those wonderful native fish.

It was getting close to noon that Sunday and we needed to depart. My mentor and I cast a few more times in that same pool. We caught only one fish-a small 14" rainbow. It was all right. I had experienced what mattered. We headed back for camp. My dear friend who was a deeply spiritual man insisted that we conclude our trip with a small worship service at the campsite with the reading of scripture and prayer.

Even being a minister in a church today, somehow I met God that day in a way that no sanctuary experience could ever duplicate. We began the long ten-mile hike out from camp toward the place we had entered only a day before. This memory of my first fly fishing trip was now over too quickly. We climb steep boulders to depart from camp. We slide down the opposing mountainside, which would tire any remaining spirit we might have had. Fly fishing in the wilderness must be the closest earthly connection to a heavenly experience.

Almost thirty years later, I have traveled numerous times to explore the exact point of the initial trail in the Great Smoky Mountains Park to try to reacquaint myself with that wonderful time in my life. But because of normal landscape changes in the last thirty years, I only have suspicions where the exact place of entrance might have been.

More importantly, I did not get to thank the wonderful gentleman who took his time to teach his art to this mountain boy. He introduced me to the art that can change your and my life forever. He passed from this world approximately eighteen years ago. Because of my career, I was not able to visit him before his death and thank him for that precious two-day fly fishing trip in the deep, secluded Smokies. I deeply regret that. I hope to redeem that circumstance when I shall see him in heaven. Even on this particular trip we took together, he stated many times emphatically that he firmly believed there would be "trout streams in heaven." I hope I will be one of the first in heaven to cast a line with him and thank him for this earthly gift that he invested in me.

This holiday season let us be mindful that we need to say thank you before it is to late to those who took time to introduce us to this world of endless bliss that we know as fly fishing. ~ SM

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