Watauga River Lodge (Premium Trip) Report
Oct 26th-29th, 2019
Watauga River Lodge (Premium Trip) Report
You hooked him!!!
Oct 26th-29th, 2019
The 2017 trip to the Watauga was one of my most memorable trips. However my memory of it is somewhat twisted. In fact, it’s the one trip I remember the most and on the other hand it is the one trip that I did not attend. Now that I have you totally confused I will get to the specifics regarding my memory and attendance or lack thereof. The story is that about a week before departure on the 2017 trip; I was a pretty sick fellow and in a serious health crisis. Never in a million years would I have thought that spinal meningitis would remove me from one of my favorite trips. Instead of fishing I spent most of my week in Parkridge Hospital being poked and prodded and dreaming of my buddies catching many trout and having a grand time.
The 2019 Watauga River Lodge trip featuring four
nights’ accommodation, three days of guided
fishing, and the famous SRTU family style meals
would be a great experience for those who
participated. In fact, we had the whole lodge to
ourselves and I could not wait take a look at our
accommodations since it had been a while since
my last visit. On hand for this trip we had a grand
total of 12 fishermen; Steve Storick, Mike Strong,
Harry Huntley, Howard Pendley, Chuck Cornwell,
Bob Grimm, Mac Brown, Mel Maurer, Roy Tryon,
Mike Greene, Ted Tsolovos, Keith Cloud and one
very important guest to accompany our gang. Yep,
THE BRIDE Sherie Cloud would be on hand and make sure our attendees would not go hungry while on the trip.
The lodge is located on the trophy section of the Watauga River and as we arrived on Friday with desires of fishing, we were brought down by a thing called reality. The generation schedule for the river was producing a swift water flow and to fish the waters around the lodge would require risky wading at best. I was able to text Brownie Liles the manager of the lodge who suggested that our gang venture up to the Wilbur Dam and fish once the release stops and that is what most of our gang decided to do.
As most folks who are familiar with SRTU outings know; the host does not fish the most and coordinating a trip of this magnitude creates quite a bit of work for your’ s truly. Upon arrival we (Sherie and I) had to decide on storage of the food we hoped our attendees would take care of as the trip proceeds. Yep, the ole black Tundra was loaded down pretty well with supplies and items needed for the trip. Sherie was able to drive her car (Chevy Malibu) “chuck wagon” which was also packed full with cookware needed for our stay. Also upon arrival; one other very important aspect of the trip takes place. Cabin assignments as well as fishing assignments take place. One thing I always remind attendees of; is represented in this statement “I do not know of a problem unless you tell me there is a problem.” I need the participants help in making the trip the best it can possibly be. I ask them to “give me an opportunity to resolve the problem and remedy any type of situation.” With those statements and deep desire for communication; I want our attendees to know that there is comfort in communication and nothing is more important than their happiness and having a FANTASTIC Saluda River Trout Unlimited Outing to tell their family and friends about.
As our SRTU fly fishermen arrived back on Friday evening; they quickly learned the Range Cabin would serve as our dining establishment for the entire trip. The cabin has the largest kitchen and ability to host our 13 participants for meals. The kitchen took on the smell of a nicely prepared meal and our guys were already into the fishing reports for the day. Colonel Chuck Cornwell was the man of the day as he ventured up to the Wilbur Dam section of the Watauga. Chuck had an amazing report; one that everyone would hope to have for a late October trip to the Tennessee Mountains. He lost count of the number of fish he caught and quit counting at 25 fish. All of his fish were caught on the dry fly (blue wing olive) and although the fish were small, the tug of the rod and sight of the fish taking the fly was a sight to behold.
Shrimp Linguini would soon be served and if one does not know by now, your SRTU outings coordinators (Keith and Sherie) are serious about the business of eating, especially on our Premium Trips. To accompany the Shrimp Linguine we had roasted garlic lemon asparagus garnished with fresh parmesan cheese and french bread topped with a buttery garlic flavor, and a fantastic Apple Pie (whipped cream optional) sure made our bellies happy. To sum up our first evening; although the water level was not forecasted, the smiles on the faces can be predicted with 100% accuracy anytime our gang is taking in a wonderful meal prepared by Mrs. Cloud.
At 7:15 am a great breakfast for the big day ahead greeted our senses. A wonderfully prepared hash brown casserole, with biscuits and fruit salad would start us for our day of catching. At 8:30 am we met down by the river with our fishing guides. Now that I had our guys paired up with who would fish with them (as per the preceding day), it was now time to assign who was going to fish with which guides. It was at this time that I discovered that the guides who worked my previous trip to WRL in 2016 were not the ones who would be working this trip. I guess I never thought to inquire about that; but its fishing and this just means we get to make a great batch of new friends. So we paired up and ventured to various destinations to depart for floating the Watauga on our first day.
Ted Tsolovos and I had the opportunity to fish with a fellow named Travis and we departed on a beautiful sun filled morning after a middle of the night rainstorm. The river showed no signed of discoloration and looked perfect for fishing as we departed. Travis began to coach us on how he wanted us to fish and how a good drift was supposed to look. Another aspect and very important one at that is how to recognize the strike and bite of the fish as we fished a large streamer with a small size 18 pheasant tail nymph trailing the large fly. Almost immediately Ted had a bite and was onto a fish. We had an excellent run to fish in the drift boat; but a bit of another hatch had occurred. A hatch of wading fly fishermen were suddenly making things a bit more difficult to fish and we decided to move on. Looking back; I would venture to say that on most fishing opportunities the drift boat fishing has some excellent advantages; but for this bit of time fishing, the wade fishermen had the advantage in this case. They were hunkered down in essential and prime spots to catch fish and with that; we would have to drift thru the run with no chance of a return to fish the prime spots. Note to self; if I ever return to this spot one can rest assure that I will be wading and hopefully catching a lot of fish like these fellows were doing. In fact, I hooked a very nice fish (over 20 inches) that schooled me pretty good and got away. Oh well, the day was still young and as the day proceeded we certainly had our opportunities to catch fish. Certain times of the day got a little sparse as far as catching fish and it was at those points that Travis would swap fly’s and search for the perfect fly combination in an attempt to get Mr. Trout to the net.
Saturday afternoon we arrived back to our humble abode for a bit of happy hour and relaxation before our nightly meal of homemade Beef Bourguignon, steamed broccoli, mashed potatoes, buttered noodles, cucumber salad, croissants with honey butter.
As for deserts; Mrs. Cloud had cooked 3
homemade pecan pies that would be served with
whipped cream if someone needed an extra kick
of sugar. The fishing reports were encouraging;
but there was one report that was not pleasing.
Harry Huntley and Howard Pendley did not have
a good day of fishing. Harry who has been fishing
with us for a long time; felt that a change of guide
specifically a change to a guide who was
passionate about teaching would make for a
better 2nd day of fishing for Howard. As we were
discussing; Mac Brown indicated that while he
and Mel Maurer were fishing it was their guide Max who had a passion for teaching fly fishing and enjoyed taking someone with little or no experience and having them to catch a few trout was complete joy. So much like a manager of a baseball team it was important to tweak the lineup (so to speak) and see if we could find the winning combination. It was nothing personal from Harry; but his concern about Howard not catching fish meant that we had to make the change. Therefore a swapping of guides along with anglers took place. I along with Mel decided to swap and fish with guide Sam. I paired Harry and Ted up to fish with Travis. Mac and Howard were paired with Max and we would see how that strategy worked on day 2 of our fishing. To sum up our Saturday evening discussion; Howard is the type of fellow that the outings are designed for; in that he is looking to gain confidence and experience by attending an SRTU outing. Zero fish for Howard on his first day was not what I wanted to hear and we as a group were not going to settle for that.
Sunday morning breakfast was a SRTU first and boy ole boy will it be a fixture on future trips. Sherie out did herself on a wonderfully prepared tray of breakfast sandwiches of ham egg and cheese croissants. Our guys took to them with the gusto of a hound dog as they took in some excellent starter fluid (coffee) to get our day of catching going. As I looked around the cabin I noticed one fellow not with us and that was Mel. I thought that to be kind of strange; and that is when his roommate Mac stated that Mel was not feeling well and would be unable to fish.
As we met down by the river for another day of fishing; I introduced myself to guide Sam and we began our day of fishing without Mel who was not feeling well. Our strategy for the day was to start at the Wilbur Dam and ultimately take out at the Siam Bridge a few miles downstream on the Watauga. On the previous day those that began at the Wilbur Dam had a successful day of fishing and a variety of fly’s worked well. Our forecast was for a fantastic day with bright skies as I began fishing with my 5 weight 8’.6” foot Winston Boron II rod. The bite was extremely slow and for a while; I wondered if the Friday story of Colonel Chuck and his early success at the dam was a big fish story. Finally after a couple of change of fly’s I was able to hook up on a nice recently stocked trout. As the day proceeded; the fishing picked up a bit and before I knew it I was approaching a recorded catch of 10 to 15 for the day.
One thing I have come to really enjoy when Sherie goes on the trips; is that when I arrive back to home base; I quickly realize the blessings of having a great trip co-host. Tonight’s meal of Chicken and Dumplings has permeated the confines of WRL. The meal is prepared in our quaint little cabin down by the river and soon we will transport the meal to the RANGE cabin located just a short drive across the WRL property. While Sherie tends to the meal; my attention turns to a bit of relaxation after a hard day of fishing with very little catching. Soon and very soon; I would turn my attention to a great nap and wait upon the order from Mrs. Cloud on loading up the Tundra with homemade chicken and dumplings, sautéed cabbage, baby lima beans, Pillsbury biscuits, along with a scrumptious peach cobbler with optional whipped cream for dessert.
Our meal was fantastic and as we gathered I could not wait to hear the fishing reports and my concern for Howard was front and center. Basically everyone had a great day and some big fish were caught mostly on large indicator dry fly’s followed by various nymph patters of midges; pheasant tails and prince nymphs. We had to go tiny on the dropper fly’s and as I look back on the day it was a wide variety of fly’s that caught fish with no particular fly standing out. Howard was all smiles as he spoke of his day and our strategy worked to perfection in that he caught well over 20 fish for the day and some quality fish at that. In fact, he bested Mac on his day of fishing and Mac was quite happy with the results of the day and proud of Howard for being such a great student as he took in every tip offered by both guide Max and Mac.
Our last day of fishing (Monday) after a breakfast of ham delights, hashbrown casserole, fruit and etc would start with another picture perfect postcard day. This day would take most of us back on the Watauga for the 3rd day of fishing while Steve Storick and Mike Strong with guide Travis Brotherton would fish the South Holston for a change of scenery. As for me and Mel, who was feeling better and ready to get um; we would have the honor of fishing with Brownie Liles. As Brownie likes to say “we drew the short straw and had to be paired up with him.” Brownie is the manager of the lodge and someone who I consider a very dear friend. I was more than excited to fish with him and my buddy Mel as we started fishing at the Hwy 411 Bridge. Also beginning at the 411 bridge was Bob Grimm and Chuck Cornwell fishing with guide Travis France. It was not long before the rods were bending in their boat and since imitation is the sincerest form of flattery; Mel and I got in on the rod bending business ourselves. Over the years; I have had the honor of fishing with Brownie and it is always a blast. Lots of great qualities make for GREAT guides and I must say that if after a few cast without fish; Brownie is going to have none of that and begin changing fly’s. Brownie has so much experience and his knowledge of the river is beyond measure and I must say that he surely knows how to handle a drift boat like no other.
With the morning fishing turning into afternoon; we broke for a nice shore lunch at a park alongside the river. The shore lunch of chicken salad, chips, summer sausage, cheese slices, pickled okra, fresh fruit and cookies refueled us for the rest of the day of catching.
We were certainly catching our fair share of trout to
sum up our morning of fishing and once again I was
looking forward to a fantastic finish to the day.
Privately in my mind; I was hoping for a great catch
that would make my Reference Point (my way to
remember the trip). It was not long after we departed
that we begin to pick up more fish. Before drifting into
a great run of fast water with a canyon look of high
ledges to our right;
Brownie explained(like he always does) the strategy
we were going to implore as we approached.
Mel was the point man in the boat and would make
the first cast and I would soon follow with a cast of my
own. Once Brownie called out to cast; Mel made the cast and quickly hooked into a quality fish. Not long after; I made a cast and was hooked up also. I was able to get my fish in and now turned my attention to the battle between Mel and a nice rainbow. Eventually Brownie netted the 18 inch dark colored rainbow with a bright reddish bow running down the center of the fish which fought hard and was a professor in net avoidance tactics. Soon the camera was out and it was time for a nice picture with Mel and Mr. Rainbow and it was a perfect picture with the background of the canyon ledge and hints of fast water in the shot and I must say that the fish was quite photo shy in that it managed to escape Mel’s grip a time or two.
As our day ended; we were approaching the take out point at the Lodge just below the Smalling Bridge. Brownie once again provided much needed info on how to fish the area indicating that some big brood fish (from the hatchery) had recently been stocked. As we begin to make the approach I discovered a problem with my line and was unable to make a substantial cast without fixing my line first. At this point I was out of commission and unable to fish until I solved the problem. Meanwhile Mel had hooked into a fish and was in the process of landing the fish. Eventually I made the fix on my line and Brownie suggested the area for me to cast. After making the cast I heard Brownie say “you hooked him”. As I looked to the area that I was casting to; I was unable to locate the indicator fly and I felt no tension on the line. I asked Brownie; do you see my fly? Yes replied Brownie; you hooked Mel. Upon hearing that, my heart sank and sure enough I looked up and Mel had a nice big fly embedded into his cheekbone just below his right eye and our fishing was done. Brownie dropped anchor on the boat and begin to examine the wound. He then decided that he could remove the hook and believed that little damage would result from the wound. I was relieved that Brownie had such a good opinion about the situation; but I could not help but replay in my mind what I did so wrong in my cast and felt guilty about rushing to get back into the fishing zone after messing up my line. With the boat steady Brownie took some monofilament line and made a loop at the bend of the hook embedded in Mel’s check. He indicated to Mel that on the count of 3 he would pull the hook out. Meanwhile I grabbed a bit of tissue in case of a bloody outcome. Finally Brownie began the count; one two and pulled.
The result was a perfect exit of a hook from Mel’s cheekbone and in all my years of fishing with Brownie; I never knew that he could not count to three. There was a small two inch streak of blood and if it had been more; yours truly would have passed out. Yep, I am a weenie when it comes to blood or any other kind of injury. In fact, I am surprised I did not fall out of the boat upon realizing what I had done. My Reference Point (how I choose to remember) the trip had arrived on my last cast and in my excitement to catch a big brood trout; I caught a newly retired judge.
Our last evening together provided ample opportunity for our gang to opine on their Watagua River Lodge experience. It was all smiles as we shared stories of fond remembrances of this trip and fun times relating to other SRTU trips and events. Sherie did her usual and provided a nice wonderful meal of Baked Ziti with Garlic Bread and the now FAMOUS Saluda River Trout Unlimited Salad. Brownie stopped by to thank all of our attendees; remind us that we could stay and fish the property all we want on the following day.
The next morning we slept in a little later as we all moved a bit slower than when we arrived to the Lodge. For the last time; the range cabin kitchen would take on the smell of a wonderful breakfast of ham delights, creamy grits, biscuits, eggs and sausage prepared by Sherie and I. The four nights of accommodation and three days of guided fishing was just enough for our gang. We certainly had a fantastic time and as we began to settle our debt to Watauga River Lodge no one complained (not that they ever do) that they wished they had not participated. On this trip; I tell folks to budget $1500 for the trip. The Watauga River Lodge trip has become quite a successful addition to our outings program and this year’s cost of $1295 fell well within the budget recommended for this trip. In fact, our 2020 trip is already booked and over capacity; so we must be doing something right. Hopefully if this thing called retirement can ever come my way and most importantly if Mrs. Cloud is willing; maybe two Watauga River Lodge trips a year is in our future.
Hoping you will join us on a WRL adventure or take in an adventure on your own to WRL.
Come go with me; it’s Troutober in Tennessee!!!
Saluda River Trout Unlimited Outings Coordinator
Cost of trip: $1295.00 each
4 night accommodation for 12 fishermen
3 days guided fishing
Tips for Guides