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Fire And Water

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Published on: Apr. 2, 2002

Last revision: Nov. 12, 2010

mainly because difficulty of access keeps the pressure low.

At Fiery Fork Conservation Area, the river continues to deepen and widen. The pool above and below the public access gets fished hard. As tempting as it is to cast to all those fallen logs and brushpiles, it's best to ignore them and float through the first two pools.

When you get to the third pool downstream from the Fiery Fork access, the river changes character entirely. At the tail of the riffle, there's a massive gravel bar on the right side of the river. It's the last big gravel bar before you get to the lake. For the next mile or so, both banks rise high and steep, exposing dark soil, rock and assorted root wads. About halfway down the pool, the streambed is heavily silted, from which the remains of some big trees poke skyward. This area resembles something you'd expect to find in a Mississippi River oxbow.

Lining both sides of the river at this point are long, wide beds of water willow that extend several feet into the water. In the blistering heat of early July, this is where I enjoyed three of the best fishing days of the year.

With a small box of grubs and crankbaits crammed between my knees, I floated downstream on an open-top kayak while my nine-year-old son, Ethan, tried to set speed records in a traditional kayak.

As I cleared the riffle into the lower pool, I dropped a plastic grub to the bottom and drifted with the current. As often happens, I got a wrist-rattling strike at the precise instant my boat caught an eddy and began spinning. I struggled to control the boat with the paddle in my right hand. At the same time, I held my rod high in my left hand, struggling even more desperately to keep tension on the line with the remote hope that I had actually hooked the fish. When my arms crossed, I knew I was doomed.

The fish dashed to the stern as I twisted to stabilize the boat. Knotted up like a pretzel and in peril of capsizing the boat, I was powerless to do anything more. The arc left my rod, and my line went limp.

As a consolation prize, I caught three tiny smallmouths in rapid succession which, if laid tail to tail, may have measured an aggregate 16

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