This December my brother-in-law and I set out to get some urgently needed winter flyfishing done. We were roaming the interwebs for suitable locations in the Smokies and that’s how we read about Hazel Creek. Hazel Creek is a relatively big stream in the Smoky Mountain National Park that runs into Fontana Lake. It’s famous for it’s supreme trout fishing and gets quite a lot of visitors in the summer. We primarily picked it because it is only accessible via boat or foot and therefore not very crowded during that time of the year. As a matter of fact the only living things we saw during this trip were deer, trout and squirrels.
To get to Hazel Creek we had to go to the Fontana Lake marina and book a boat shuttle. After getting dropped off by the boat we hiked about three miles to our backcountry campsite. We initially planned to go even further up Hazel Creek to make sure we had our solitude and wouldn’t run into other fishermen or hikers all the time. But we got reassured by the captain of our boat shuttle that there was noone up there around this time of year so we just went for the first one. 50-something-pound backpacks and office-grade leg strength were also factors that led to this decision.
We were delighted to find Proctor Village, a historic settlement with a lumber mill that was created to cut down the forest. After roughly a hundred years of being left by humans we could see the forest destroying the village that was created to destroy it. Quite a nice sight.
After setting up camp, I jumped in my waders to catch some protein for dinner. Unfortunately it had rained for the last two days so the water was high, fast and cold – a combination that makes trout lazy and lie around in deep pools. That made fishing during the whole trip very hard. In fact the only catch in four days was this drop-dead gorgeous brown trout. But since my hands are about average in size that fish does not just look small – it was.
This was my first time fly fishing in the winter and so I had a hard time getting my nymph deep enough. I wished I had watched this video on winter flyfishing before I left. But nevertheless the fishing was great fun. Hazel Creek is a gorgeous river and fly fishing was never just about catching fish for me. As much as I love nature I always seem to need a reason to get out there. Fly fishing is perfect for the job. It’s addictive, keeps you learning forever and get’s you to some of the most gorgeous places in the world. When I don’t catch fish for a longer period of time my brain seems to stop thinking and I reach a meditative state of mind, casting along in a harmonic pace. That state of mind is just as good as catching fish. It shuts up my busy brain and get’s me closest to being „one“ with nature. Thats usually when a deer walks up to drink from the river. Yeah. It’s not just about fish.
I really like the backcountry campsites in the States. In Germany campgrounds are horrible places for nature enthusiasts. They are inhibited by people in RV’s with electric grills, garden gnomes and satellite-tv-dishes that are very particular about „ze rules“ being followed. An open fire? You nuts, son? Backcountry campsites in the states are usually just a spot of level ground with a fireplace and a ropey-thingy to string up your food out of the reach of bears. I highly approve.
This is how our home for those four days looked like. The river is just behind the rohodendrons. Rohodendry. Rohodendronses. Whatever. Im German – I don´t have to know.
Fortunately the weather eased our pain by throwing tons of rain and high winds at us when we had to leave. After getting hit by some falling tree branches and getting soaked in rain we actually didn’t feel to bad about being back in civilisation.
A place to come back to…
Even though we had four days to check out Hazel Creek and it’s surroundings there are many things still to be discovered. Next time we will definitely go up the river further and check out some of the other creeks and tributaries. And in the summer we actually might catch something.
Here are some more shots from our trip:
Proctor Village getting eaten by the forest.
Some red plant provides nice color contrast.. we found a huge bear dropping right next to it.
Our boat shuttle to Hazel Creek.
Me being all vintagy with plaid shirt, sepia effect and everything. I wish I would have had a girthy trout to make a cliché vintage fishing shot but I guess there is always next year.