It was a quiet afternoon in early Summer and I was working as a manager and guide at a fly shop in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Since the release of the movie A River Runs Through It, earlier that year, traffic had nearly doubled in the store, and people new to the sport of fly fishing were a welcome daily occurrence.
I was in the back room getting some fly tying materials that had just arrived , when I heard the bell on the front door ring, signaling that someone had come into the shop. I came out and spotted a rather slight, dark haired man, probably in his mid thirties, hovering around the fly case with the look of unease that comes with not being sure of exactly what you’re looking for. So, I greeted him with the universal fly shop opening line , “ Been doing any fishing?” He seemed glad that I had broken the silence, and said that he had been fishing most of that morning without much success, and was wondering what fly might be the best to use. I did a quick rundown of the most popular flies in the Smoky Mountain National Park and we finally settled on a few Thunderheads, a bushy dry fly I had been using on a guide trip the day before, with good results. I pulled out a map, showed him the area we had been fishing, and since he was unfamiliar with the park, tried to give him a few tips on technique and presentation. He left the store excited about tthe next morning’s fishing.
The next day, a little after lunch I looked out the front window to see the same man crossing the parking lot and as he walked through the door I could tell he seemed frazzled. Before I could say a word, he allowed that he had been fishing all morning, lost all the flies he had bought, fallen in the river, and still not caught a single trout. He said he was only going to be there two more days and asked if I could guide him the next morning. I had the next day open and told him I’d be glad to. We arranged to meet at the shop at 8am, and when I arrived early that morning he was in the parking lot waiting to get going. We chatted a bit on the way to the stream and I learned his name was Paul, he was from Cincinnati, Ohio, and he had just recently taken up fly fishing. When we reached the stream we suited up, rigged his rod, walked a little way up the trail, and eased into the water. It quickly became apparent why Paul had been struggling. He waded up the middle of the stream like a bull moose, staggering, and pushing water in front of him with enough velocity to spook trout on the next drainage over. He then began swinging the fly rod through the air like an Indian woman beating a prayer rug. I called an all stop to the casting. We stepped out of the river, walked a few hundred yards upstream and began again. After about an hour of instruction we were ready to resume fishing , and to both our amazement, Paul began to catch fish. First a little rainbow, then a colorful brown, and after about another hour when we stopped for lunch, Paul had landed half a dozen small, wild, Smoky Mountain trout! However where I expected to see jubilation, his mood actually seemed to be deteriorating, so I mentioned as we were eating our sandwiches that I couldn’t help but notice his concern, and if there was something wrong, or something else he was expecting from the day? That’s when the truth came out! Paul, his wife, and her entire family were staying in a nearby campground and he had been promising for the past two days to bring back a trout dinner for the entire group. Every evening when he returned empty handed he had to endure jokes about his fishing prowess, or lack thereof. And although he was thrilled to have actually caught fish, he was hoping they would be much bigger and numerous enough to take back to his in laws for supper. After considering our predicament for a moment , I made a suggestion. We were only about twenty minutes from a trout farm in Cosby that could sell him whole trout, we could then put them on a stringer, I would show him how to clean them, and he could return to the campground and finish the job in front of his surprised relatives and admiring wife. He was like a new man! We fished for a couple more hours, caught and released several more beautiful, wild trout, and headed over to the trout farm in Cosby , before returning to the fly shop. I never heard from Paul after that, but I feel certain both he, and his ravenous relatives were happy. And I learned a valuable lesson that would serve me well for the next twenty years as a guide..everyone comes to the sport with different expectations, make sure you understand what those are before you begin a guide trip, secondly, never take your in laws camping.