I had slept on the ground with the stars winking above, crashed inside the car during a rainstorm and found a cabin with air conditioning during my experiments with camping out near trout water.
Best of all, I spent a couple of nights on the banks of the South Holston River with a camper to sleep in and a stack of firewood to burn. I was so close to the water I could hear trout rising to eat little yellow bugs.
On the hottest day of summer, I selected the cabin as the best option. It remains so.
The riverbank site conjures the best memories. There, I would arise with the sun, check out the water, go eat breakfast at one of the two country stores, return to the site and fish until noon, eat lunch, then fish the early afternoon sulphur hatch until the water began to rise with roiling water released from the dam.
One day TVA did not generate, so the water stayed safely wadable.
The river itself is wide and open. I fished under mostly cerulean skies, rimmed with puffy clouds that reminded me of piles of popcorn.
I caught a ton of fish.
My most recent trip to the So Ho reminded me that in fishing, as often it is also in life, timing can be everything. You grill the local fly shop operators, tie the correct flies, arm yourself with a stout flyrod and use 25 years' of trout fishing experience to get out there and rip some lips.
None of that matters if the timing is off.
There had been a heavy rain the night before I arrived. The lower end of the river, the part I usually hit first before fishing near the dam, resembled cafe au lait from you favorite coffee house. I zoomed upstream, only to find every flyfisher from three states standing knee-deep in the river slinging flies into a vicious wind.
There was even a squadron of blue heron between the anglers.
I had to hike a bit to find an unoccupied stretch. The hatch was on, trout were rising here and there and everything was perfect ... except for that damn wind.
My timing was off. I should have arrived hours earlier. There probably was plenty of gusty wind then too, but I could have had my choice of places to fish. Although I didn't know it at the time I waded out from the bank, I picked the worst spot of all. It was scary wading, with some really deep dropoff punctuated with little ankle-breakers in the rock formation that made up the river bottom.
So, I could not wade far. And the different currents dragged my fly across the water like a berserk bass boat, scaring every fish in Tennessee with its wake. When I thought I had a good cast, that pesky wind would rev up and take my fly for a wild ride to someplace else.
I got a couple hookups, a few handshakes so to speak, but no fish. I skitted the fly over the surface and got some good rises, but missed them each time.
Two hours went by. No fish. The afternoon wore on. The wind wore me out.
I was on the verge of packing it in but thought, just one more cast, and I punched the fly upstream 25 feet into the gust. The water was a little choppy with the wind, so my sloppy cast didn't scare anything.
And a trout smacked that fly.
Another few minutes and I would have been out of there and that brown trout would not have a sore lip.
Talk about timing.