THE SILVER TORPEDO
On January 1 Greg Shuler came to pick me up at 5:00 a.m. We were off to Graham County in his old ramshackle truck to look for a very special fish.
According to Greg, there were two lakes near Robbinsville that were home to the steelhead trout—a species found much more commonly out West than in the East. However, according to Greg, there were only a few lakes east of the Mississippi that harbored this large silver trout. And once a year, in late December or early January, they would leave the depths of these two mountain lakes to migrate up the streams that feed the lakes to spawn the next generation.
“Son,” promised Greg, “this is some of the sweetest fishin’ known to man. The steelhead is rated one of the top five sport fish in North America because of the hard fight they put up. The difficulties of landin’ a hooked steelhead in a swift, rocky river in winter are legendary.”
We stopped in Robbinsville at a café. It was already packed with men—hunters and fishermen—smoking and drinking strong, black coffee. Greg was not a man of many words, but I had grown to like him and dearly enjoyed our time fishing together. He knew these mountains, and, more important, he knew their people.
As we ate a hearty breakfast of scrambled eggs with smoked bacon and ham surrounded by grits and biscuits smothered in butter, he shared a bit of his family’s history. His great-grandfather had come into the area on the back of a wagon, and his family set up a farm west of Almond. His grandfather and father had been born on that farm.
Greg’s voice slowed measurably as he told of the government coming in and taking over the farm, clear-cutting the land around the barn and home place as the men in the family took both buildings apart, board by board. The lumber and all of their belongings were loaded onto a flatcar and hauled via rail over to Bryson City to be reassembled on what would become the new home site— where Barb and I purchased our live Christmas trees every year we lived in Bryson City. Then the valley was flooded to become Lake Fontana.
“My daddy still tells the story of when he were a young’un, how he done sat on the back of that train when it pulled out. He were lookin’ back at the valley that would become the lake. All them trees done been cut back. The river were flowin’ through this terrible scar in them woods. Daddy just whittled on a stick as the train pulled out. He said all his dreams were left behind in that there valley.” Greg took a sip of coffee, his eyes looking away to another time, another place.
“He’s ne’er been well since then. Has to git his medicines at the VA hospital in Asheville. But don’t git no carin’ there. Just gits prescriptions.” Greg emptied his mug. “He done left his dreams and his heart in that valley.” We rose to leave. There was laughter echoing off the walls of the café—but it wasn’t Greg Shuler’s.
We drove west from the town and then up a long dirt road, finally pulling off the road as far as we could get. Greg turned off the truck, and we hopped out into the predawn silence. The air was cold and so fresh it almost burned in my lungs. Up the valley,
I could hear the hoot of a great horned owl. Light was just breaking as Greg opened the back of the truck.
“I ne’er asked ’cha, Doc. You done got a fishin’ license?”
I smiled, thinking back to the first time I had gone fishing in this area. Don Grissom, one of the EMTs, had taken me fishing in the national park without a license. He told me I didn’t need one— which is true—but only if a law enforcement official doesn’t ask to see it!
“Yep,” I responded. “I purchased a lifetime license.”
Greg looked aghast. “A lifetime license? Why?”
“Well, two reasons. One, you’ve paid for it after only five years. And the way the state’s running up the prices, it could pay off even quicker.”
“What’s the second reason?”
“Well, Greg, I hope to live in this area my entire life.”
Greg nodded. “Folks around here gonna look on that real good, Doc. None of them docs what came here before you done ever bought a lifetime fishin’ license. That’s the shore ’nuff truth!” He pulled out two small rods and a tackle box. “Doc, them trout are swimmin’ upstream to spawn. They ain’t thinkin’ of eatin’, just thinking of spawnin’. So we gotta use somethun wit colar on it—what to attract ’em.” The lures he pulled out were called rooster tails—colorful yellow lures with a petticoat of brightly colored rubber bands. As the morning light was bright- ening, we started upstream along a small rushing creek. At each hole, we’d stop to fish the hole. “Doc, they just won’t bite in the shallow rapids. ’Bout the only place to git ’em to bite is in the holes. They pause to rest a bit.”
Greg was working ahead of me as we circled along the edge of a wide, deep hole just off the road. I flicked the yellow lure across the hole. As I quickly reeled in the lure, I first saw it out of the corner of my eye—a glimmer deep in the water as the fish rolled on her side to eyeball the lure—exposing her silver side to the reflection of the light. She rolled back, exposing her dark top and erasing the glimmer deep in the hole. I didn’t see her mad rush to the surface, the strong flicks of her huge tail, the puff of the sandy bottom, as she exploded off the bottom of the hole—instinctively pursuing a prey she wasn’t hungry for.
My next memory, occurring in an instant, was seeing a silver torpedo racing toward the surface—a mouth as large as a #10 can, expanding even wider as the lure was sucked in. In my shock, and not yet registering what was happening, I barely heard Greg’s frantic warning as he watched the drama unfolding. “Don’t set the hook! Let her do it!”
However, I instinctively pulled the rod up as fast and hard as I could, setting the hook of the lure but also causing the torpedo to whip around 180 degrees as she erupted out of the water in an explosion of splash, violently shaking her head and body—throw- ing all of her strength and energy into her escape—and snapping the delicate line in an instant.
I fell backwards onto the shore as the torpedo shot to the bottom of the hole.
Greg was running up to me. “Oh my goodness. That was a monster! A monster! Oh man! You didn’t nary need to set that hook. That monster’d a done it for ya. Oh man!” He collapsed by me — speechless.
I was feeling nauseated. That was the biggest fish I had seen in these hills.
“How big was she?” I asked.
“Musta been narly two feet long. That were a monster.”
He laughed. “Well, there’s more of ’em. Let’s git goin’.”
We stood to leave. I turned to look at the woods, and then I heard Greg let out a whistle. “Looky there, Doc! Looky there!”
I turned back toward the hole, and my eyes, I’m sure, widened like saucers. At the downstream end of the hole, almost upside down, was the torpedo, swimming slowly toward the shore—until she lodged herself in the sand of the shallow water.
I ran down and gently lifted the huge fish out of the water and onto the shore—with no fight—not even a flicker of muscle movement. She was sleek, shiny silver, and slippery—a real beauty.
Greg and I stared in disbelief at the huge fish. He leaned forward and opened her jaws.
“There it is. Looky there, Doc!” Greg was pointing at the lure lodged in the top of her mouth. “That lure done lodged in her brain. That’s why she was actin’ that way. Just swimmin’ till she’s dead. Ne’er seen nothin’ like this.”
Nor had I.
Back at the Shuler place, we cleaned our catch—several nice-size brown and steelhead trout, but none like the trout with the lure still in the roof of her mouth. Greg’s pappy came down to look her over. He didn’t say a word but just lifted her and looked her over. Then he smiled, and then laughed—and continued to laugh.
We joined in with him. Laughter’s like that—almost like when you see someone yawn—you just can’t help but join in!
As we cleaned the fish and split up the fillets, Greg’s pappy sat back and whittled. At one point, he stopped and sighed. I turned toward him. He smiled and began to whittle again, then muttered, “I’m a proud of my boys. You’uns done good.”
I paused to look at him and smiled.
My boys, he had said. My boys.
TO BE CONTINUED
PAST STORIES FROM BRYSON CITY SEASONS
- Dead Man Standing (Part 1), (Part 2), (Part 3)
- Eyes Wide Open (Part 1), (Part 2)
- Auspicious Accidents (Part 1), (Part 2)
- Answered Prayers (Part 1), (Part 2), (Part 3), (Part 4)
- Rotary Luncheon
- Death by Emotion (Part 1), (Part 2), (Part 3), (Part 4)
- The Invitation (Part 1), (Part 2)
- Barbecue and Bacon (Part 1), (Part 2)
- A Touchy Subject
- Family Time (Part 1), (Part 2)
- Chicken Pops(Part 1), (Part 2)
- Swain County Football (Part 1), (Part 2)
- Hospital Politics (Part 1), (Part 2), (Part 3)
- The Bobcat Attacks (Part 1), (Part 2)
- Dungeons and Apples
- A Tale of Two Surgeons (Part 1), (Part 2), (Part 3)
- Tanned Feets (Part 1), (Part 2), (Part 3)
- Wise Counsel (Part 1), (Part 2)
- An Anniversary to Remember (Part 1), (Part 2)
- Mrs. Black Fox (Part 1), (Part 2)
- The Littlest Cherokee (Part 1), (Part 2)
- Christmas Firsts (Part 1), (Part 2)
- The Silver Torpedo
PAST STORIES FROM BRYSON CITY TALES
- The Murder (Part 1); (Part 2); (Part 3)
- The Arrival (Part 1); (Part 2)
- The Hemlock Inn (Part 1); (Part 2)
- The Grand Tour (Part 1); (Part 2)
- The Interview (Part 1); (Part 2); (Part 3)
- Settling In (Part 1); (Part 2)
- First-Day Jitters (Part 1); (Part 2)
- Emergency (Part 1); (Part 2)
- The Delivery (Part 1); (Part 2)
- The “Expert” (Part 1); (Part 2)
- The Trial (Part 1); (Part 2)
- Shiitake Sam (Part 1); (Part 2)
- Wet Behind the Ears (Part 1); (Part 2); (Part 3)
- Lessons in Daily Practice (Part 1) — Anal Angina; (Part 2); (Part 3); (Part 4)
- White Lies
- The Epiphany (Part 1); (Part 2)
- Becoming Part of the Team (Part 1); (Part 2)
- Monuments (Part 1); (Part 2)
- My First Home Victory (Part 1); (Part 2)
- Fisher of Men (Part 1); (Part 2)
- Fly-Fishing (Part 1); (Part 2)
- Something Fishy (Part 1); (Part 2)
- A Good Day at the Office
- An Evening to Remember
- Another New Doc Comes to Town
- ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas (Part 1); (Part 2)
- A Surprising Gift
- The New Year (Part 1); (Part 2)
- The Home Birth (Part1); (Part 2); (Part 3)
- The Showdown (Part1); (Part 2); (Part 3)
- The Initiation (Part 1); (Part 2); (Part 3)
- Home at Last (Part 1); (Part 2); (Part 3)
© Copyright WLL, INC. 2017. This blog provides a wide variety of general health information only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from your regular physician. If you are concerned about your health, take what you learn from this blog and meet with your personal doctor to discuss your concerns.