(Editor's Note: This is a "rerun" of a column previously written by Richard Simms eight years ago. The message, however, is timeless and we believe entertaining enough to read again for the few who might have seen it in 2011.)
If you enjoy exciting stories of an outdoorsman's travels to exotic, faraway places, catching more fish than a shad has scales... this story is NOT for you. Just click "Back" on your Internet browser and move along. There is nothing to see here.
If, however, you enjoy stories of real life... which often include miserable failure, embarrassment, and abject humiliation... I'm your guy. Read on.
On this particular weekend my friend Randy Holder and I desperately needed a good excuse to avoid going to a weekend wedding with our wives. Well... not really. Truth is they wanted to go do "girl stuff" so it was okay if we went off and did "boy stuff." The end result is Randy and I set off on a weekend targeting big fish... specifically musky, stripers and/or trophy trout.
Now anytime you set out after trophy fish you run a high risk of failure. Do it during the Dog Days of Summer and your failure rate can increase logarithmically. But we had great guides... good friends actually who were willing to help lead us on our own little "Hunt For Big Fish."
We started with Dwayne Hickey. From McMinnville, Dwayne is well-known as one of the premier musky men who has prowled every mile of every musky water in Tennessee. Collins River, Caney Fork, Calfkiller, Cane Creek, Obey, Dale Hollow and points beyond. If musky live there... Dwayne has fished them, and usually successfully (emphasis on "usually").
There is no such thing as a 100 percent success rate fishing for musky. It ain't going to happen and if there were any question... we proved it. We fished hard Saturday... between the three of us we may have made those famous "10,000 casts" said to be required for each musky catch. We were in the very upper reaches of the Caney Fork River, and a tributary, Cane Creek. And we were there under perfect conditions... surprisingly cloudy, cool weather with a drizzling rain. The sum total for our effort was one "follow."
I got one glimpse at a single musky which followed my lure to the boat, and then quickly sank from sight like a submarine blaring "Dive, dive, dive!"
Dwayne felt bad, but Randy and I were not distressed. We knew the score on a musky hunt and as we repeated to ourselves regularly, "At least we're not at a wedding."
We left Dwayne and moved North to meet up the next day with another friend, Chad Perry and his friend, Rick Farr. Chad and Rick regularly ply the rich, green waters of the Caney Fork River for stripers and trophy trout. While Randy and I were chasing musky on Saturday, Chad and Rick "scouted" the Caney with three stripers to show for it... two 10-pounders and a magnum-sized 30-pounder.
On Sunday morning at first light, the four of us were mining the same water. Wikipedia describes the mouth of the Caney Fork where it empties into the Cumberland River as "a world class striper fishery almost directly opposite the Smith County seat of Carthage."
If you have fished for stripers, especially "skinny water stripers," you know the first magic hour of daylight is your best bet. As the minutes ticked by without sign of a fish, I began to question my manhood. But I thought, "At least I'm not at a wedding."
The four of us managed to rake the water until the sun burned away the fog without a single striper on the line. Randy and I still had high hopes however. The part of the plan, Plan C if you will, was to relocate upstream 26 miles and drift down the prime trout water of the Caney Fork beneath Center Hill Dam. Chad and Rick had perfectly timed our mission so that we would be back on the water with perfect flow and we would "ride the wave" back downstream.
As we left the launch ramp near Carthage however I noted that Rick's trailer tires were treadless. He commented that, "Yea, I'm going to have to break down and buy some soon."
And as we pulled out Rick apologized for his dirty truck, saying, "It's a wreck, but trust me, if anybody breaks down I guarantee I've got whatever it takes to fix it."
Twenty minutes later we are weaving through the backroads... I really have no idea where we were... when we heard, "Pop, whoosh!" Rick glanced in the rear view mirror and said, "Hmmm? I've blown a trailer tire."
I glanced in the back of the truck and asked, "You got a spare?"
To which he answered, "Nope."
"You got a jack," I asked next.
He answered, more sheepishly this time, "Nope."
So much for having "whatever it takes to fix it," I thought. Well, actually I didn't think it, I said it out loud, several times until I'm sure it rattled around in Rick's ear like a broken record. I think, or at least hope, he knows I was laughing with him, not at him.
It is 9 am on a Sunday morning in the hinterlands. Where to find a new trailer wheel?
iPhone to the rescue... we actually located a Tractor Supply store in Carthage with trailer wheels. Chad and Randy (who had been kind enough to return and share in our misfortune) beat feet and rescued us with a trailer wheel. We actually made it to Center Hill Dam before they shut down the generators.
We were all throwing big jerk baits. Our plan was not to fool with the little stocker rainbow trout. Remember this was a trophy fish mission. Our goal was a trophy brown trout.
In the first 30 minutes of our float hopes were high. We each had several "follows," and even hooked one medium-sized brown which promptly came "unhooked." No matter... we knew it WAS going to happen.
An hour later that little man in my brain was back, once again questioning whether or not I indeed had the primal ability to provide for my family, and suggesting perhaps I should take up farming rather than "hunting & gathering."
Rick and I were entertained by a mink frolicking along the shore, as well as turkey gobbler... and the occasional brown trout "follower."
At one point I saw a fish flash on my Yo-Zuri that stopped my heart. He screamed from depths like a Polaris missile and when he turned on the lure broadside, he looked to have the girth of a football. But he pulled up short and shot back to the depths so fast I wondered if I had really seen what I saw. My racing heart confirmed, however, it was not a mirage.
I will stop with the details which you already know are going to lead nowhere. Midway through the afternoon my mission switched from trying to catch a fish to wondering if indeed, Randy and I could fish HARD for two solid days and manage to NOT catch a fish. That almost became the mission itself.
The night before we had eaten dinner with Chad at the Red Lobster in Cookeville and we all had scoffed at the high price of rainbow trout. Shortly before the end of our float I almost fell from the boat laughing as I heard Chad mutter, "I think I see now why Red Lobster is charging $18 for rainbow trout."
Chad did provide some salvation when he convinced a Caney Fork striper to eat his lure. Randy, who helped him land it, told me later, "At least I got to touch a fish this weekend."
If you measure success based on the number of fish brought to the boat, this trip was a dismal failure.
But if you measure success based on time spent with good friends doing new things, new ways in beautiful places... this was two days I can't wait to repeat.
As we neared our takeout ramp there was a large gathering of a local church holding an old fashioned Baptism in the cold, but crystal clear water of the Caney Fork. Like the old boy in the movie, "O Brother Where Art Thou," I started to climb out of the boat and go get in line to get dunked.
It was clear that on this particular weekend, I needed some high-powered help to catch a fish.
But at least we weren't at a wedding.