Bryson City Tales — Fly-Fishing (Part 2)

This is from the twenty-first chapter from my best-selling book, Bryson City Tales. I hope that you’ll enjoy going back to Bryson City with me each week, and that if you do, you’ll be sure to invite your friends and family to join us.

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“Doc, how’d ya do?” he shouted as he stood to greet me. “I’ve filled my creel. We’re gonna be eating well at my house tonight. How ’bout you?”

I showed him my creel. “Can’t believe you caught so many brookies. My man, brookies—they’re the sweetest-eating trout ever created. All I got was rainbow. You done well, Doc, you done well!”

He slapped me on the back, and off we went to return to the car. Back through the woods and across the Oconaluftee. But as we looked both ways before crossing the road, I saw something that made my blood chill. Coming down the road and slowing to a stop was a patrol car driven by a local law enforcement officer. Come on, I said to myself, you’ve done nothing wrong. Nevertheless, perhaps based on some reckless times when I was a young man, I still harbored a primal fear of the uniformed authorities.

“Don Grissom, how in the dickens are you?!” shouted the officer.

“Jim, you old coon dog, what are you up to?!” replied my friend.

“Just keeping our envir’ment clear of the criminal elements and our roads safe for the law-abiding citizen, my friend. ‘Justice for all’ is my cry for the day.”

Both laughed deeply and long as they shook hands—clearly good friends.

“Hey, Jim, have you met the new doc in Bryson City? This here’s Doc Larimore—one of the best I’ve ever seen. You shoulda seen him last night—nearly pulled someone right out of the grave, I’d say! Jim, if you’re ever planning to have a heart attack, then I’d recommend you get under his care, lickety-split!”

The officer, now freed from Don’s massive paws, extended his hand to me. “Mighty glad to meet ya, Doc. My pleasure.”

He turned back to Don. “Hey, son, what you all doing in this neck of the woods? You’re not taking all the fish from our streams, are ya?” He winked. “How’d you all do today?”

For some reason I felt sick. Somehow I just knew I needed a license, and there must be a limit on either the size or the number of fish or the type of fish I was lawfully allowed to catch.

“Aw, Jim, we did just as bad as we usually do. And worse yet, the streams were murky, the sky gray, and there was no hatch. Not hardly worth going out today, if I do say so myself.”

“Well, you let me know if you ever want to learn how to really fish, and I’ll be glad to give you some lessons.”

“Jim,” chortled Don, “you’d have trouble catching a cold!” They both laughed again.

“Tell you what, Doc,” Jim said to me. “My wife’s been looking for a good doc. I’ll bring her over your way next time we need to see someone. In the meantime, watch the company you keep!” He pointed a thumb toward Don and erupted in a belly laugh. “You all take care. I’m off to catch criminals.”

He revved up the patrol car and took off down the road. As he drove off I breathed a deep sigh of relief. For some reason I felt I had just been the recipient of the gift of mercy.

“Doc, that’s one nice guy and one good officer. They don’t make many like him.”

We climbed into Don’s truck, and on the way home he once again explained his favorite way to prepare the trout. “Doc, these guys are too small to fillet—and you don’t need to anyway. Their bones are too small and too soft to matter. So here’s what you do. Just rinse them off real good with clean water. Don’t even have to scale them or take off the head. Then slit open the stomach and remove the guts. Clean ’em out well and then wash out the cavity. Should be no problem for you, Doc. After all, that’s what you do every day!” He laughed at his picturesque characterization of my profession.

“Then you take some lemon pepper and sprinkle it over the entire fish, inside and out. Then take a pat of butter—don’t use that margarine stuff—just a pat of butter, and place it in the cavity. Then wrap each fish in aluminum foil. Get your grill going at about medium heat and grill the fish for about ten minutes on each side. Boy, oh boy, you are going to eat like a king.”

I thanked him for his kindness and for a wonderful day. While waiting for Barb and Kate to return home from their Saturday errands in town, I began to clean and prepare the fish. That night we had our first meal of genuine Smoky Mountain trout. Barb cooked green beans and corn, along with yeast rolls. The wonderful aroma in the house matched the sweet evening we spent as a family—an evening of storytelling and laughter, an evening that defined what family was all about. The warmth of that evening wafted through all of Sunday and on into the evening.

First thing Monday morning, however, the feeling completely morphed into horror. The radio clicked on at the prescribed 6:00 A.M., and then I heard it—from the mouth of Gary Ayers himself.

“Good morning, folks. Boy, law enforcement over in Cherokee was busy, busy, busy yesterday. Seems a bunch of tourists were caught coming out of the woods with creels of illegal trout. Yep, folks. These guys had caught a bunch of brook trout. Not only did they catch an endangered species, but all of the fish were under the eight-inch minimum, and they went over the six-fish limit. Worse yet, these guys didn’t even have licenses. And if that’s not enough, they were found to have used kernel corn—and you all know that the park only allows fishing with artificial bait. Well, folks, law enforcement will be buying some new patrol cars this week. They arrested these guys, and they’re in jail, without bail, over in Sylva. Looks like they’ll get a $1,000 fine per rainbow trout, $2,500 for each brook trout, $2,500 for fishing with bait, plus $1,500 for trout fishing without a license. Folks, we’ll need an adding machine to figure out the damage. Not only that, officers have confiscated the criminals’ cars. Now for this morning’s weather report…”

I was mortified. I felt a cold sweat break out on my brow.

“Honey,” murmured Barb softly, as she lay curled up beside me in bed, “didn’t Don tell you that you didn’t need a license?”

“That’s right. But he also told me there was no limit on the number of fish or the size of the fish or the type of fish. He also told me that we could use bait.”

I paused to consider the implications—and then the headline in the Smoky Mountain Times: “Local physician buried under the Sylva jail after murdering ten endangered brook trout caught without a license and with illegal bait.”

I barely made it through morning rounds at the hospital. The first thing I did after arriving at the office was to give my fishing mentor a call.

“Don, did ya hear ’bout those boys being arrested over in Cherokee?”

“Yep, sure did. Mighty unfortunate for them. Mighty unfortunate.”

“For them? For them?! How about for us? Grissom, that could have been us! Are you nuts? Why didn’t you tell me about the license? Why didn’t you tell me about the size limit? Why didn’t you tell me about the maximum number of fish we could take? Why didn’t you tell me that only artificial lures are allowed? Grissom, we could be in jail!”

“Now, Doc. Just calm down a bit and let me explain.”

I’m sure he could hear my angry breathing. This had better be good, I thought. It had better be good!

“Doc, those guys are foreigners. They were catching fish that weren’t theirs. Those of us who grew up here—we know what’s ours and what’s not. Doc, those fish belonged to us before they belonged to the park. The park knows that, and so do we. We don’t take what we don’t need, and we eat all we take.”

“But, Don, if Jim had looked in our creels, we’d be in jail.”

“Doc, you don’t think he saw our creels? You don’t think he knew? It’s just the way things is around here. Jim knows it. I know it. Now you know it. But if it will make you feel any better, I’ll come up there at lunchtime and help you apply for your license. And, in the future, we’ll catch us some bigger trout, OK?”

After I hung up I didn’t feel any better at first. But as I thought about it a bit, I began to understand the feelings of the locals a little better—especially those whose parents and whose parents’ parents had grown up in Swain County, especially those who had lost their property to the government when the national park was formed. Many still considered it, in a way, their land— and land that still provided them food.

After that day I didn’t ask where the turkey or deer or hog or bear meat I received in payment for medical services came from. I just accepted it with a grateful heart. And I was thankful for an afternoon in the woods, seeing and hearing some things that refreshed and invigorated my spirit and soul. I wouldn’t have been there except for Don. I was thankful for one of the best meals of my life. I wouldn’t have enjoyed that except for Don. I was thankful that at least this one local fellow was starting to consider me one of the “locals.” I was also thankful for the mercy shown to me by a law enforcement officer who understood the spirit of the law as well as the letter of the law.

Louise and Mitch had begun to teach me the ways of mountain medicine. Don began to teach me the way of the land. Jim showed mercy. I thought of the words of wise King Solomon in the Old Testament:

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:                              a time to be born and a time to die,                                                                                                  a time to plant and a time to uproot,                                                                                                a time to kill and a time to heal,                                                                                                       a time to tear down and a time to build,                                                                                          a time to weep and a time to laugh,                                                                                                  a time to mourn and a time to dance,                                                                                              a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,                                                                        a time to embrace and a time to refrain,                                                                                         a time to search and a time to give up,                                                                                            a time to keep and a time to throw away,                                                                                        a time to tear and a time to mend,                                                                                                   a time to be silent and a time to speak,                                                                                            a time to love and a time to hate,                                                                                                      a time for war and a time for peace.

A time to die, a time to live. A time to learn, a time to be thankful. And, I thought to myself, That’s just the way it is!



  1. The Murder (Part 1)(Part 2)(Part 3)
  2. The Arrival (Part 1)(Part 2)
  3. The Hemlock Inn (Part 1)(Part 2)
  4. The Grand Tour (Part 1)(Part 2)
  5. The Interview (Part 1)(Part 2)(Part 3)
  6. Settling In (Part 1)(Part 2)
  7. First-Day Jitters (Part 1)(Part 2)
  8. Emergency (Part 1)(Part 2)
  9. The Delivery (Part 1)(Part 2)
  10. The “Expert” (Part 1)(Part 2)
  11. The Trial (Part 1)(Part 2)
  12. Shiitake Sam (Part 1)(Part 2)
  13. Wet Behind the Ears (Part 1)(Part 2)(Part 3)
  14. Lessons in Daily Practice (Part 1) — Anal Angina(Part 2)(Part 3)(Part 4)
  15. White Lies
  16. The Epiphany (Part 1)(Part 2)
  17. Becoming Part of the Team (Part 1)(Part 2)
  18. Monuments (Part 1)(Part 2)
  19. My First Home Victory (Part 1)(Part 2)
  20. Fisher of Men (Part 1)(Part 2)
  21. Fly-Fishing (Part 1); (Part 2)

    © Copyright Walter L. Larimore, M.D. 2020. 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.

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