River Reflections – ‘The Great Tug’

The view from Matt’s seat, in his Old Town canoe, during a recent day trip on Tanasee Creek Lake in Jackson County, NC.

By Matt Mittan

I recently had a couple days out fishing on my canoe, on two very different bodies of water here in WNC. The first was on Lake Julian in Arden, just south of Asheville, with the lady that I love. The second was on Tanasee Creek Lake, a remote, high elevation body of water in Eastern Jackson County, by myself.

Lake Julian is smack dab in the middle of Asheville’s most densely populated and busiest corridor. It has popular parklands, a power plant, manufacturing, a yacht club, a waterfront restaurant that you can pull your boat right up to the front of, and also residential and commercial properties. The hustle and bustle of I-26 and an increasingly constant stream of air traffic, landing and taking off from nearby Asheville Regional Airport, hang their sounds on the air here.

Tanasee Creek Lake, on the other hand, which is mostly surrounded by dense wilderness, does not allow motorized boating, only has one road that comes close to its edge and that’s all the way up at the top of the lake. Other than the hydro dam at the lower portion of it, you can cover mile after mile of shoreline without seeing anything manmade. It meanders down a steep, narrow gorge. Some sections of it are bordered with steep rock cliffs. The only common sounds here are the echoes of trout breaking the surface, cracking sticks from wildlife moving behind the dense tree line, small creeks spilling over shoreline rocks, and your paddle pulling softly through the deep and dark water.

At Lake Julian I was able to catch some pretty nice Spotted Bass, but I had to work for them. On Tanasee Creek Lake it was a steady stream of Brown Trout, Rainbow Trout and Brim that came with relative ease. Which sounds more serene to you? Tanasee seems to fit the bill better, right? In fact, there was even one stretch of my day where I went about three hours without a single scrape of evidence that another human being even existed on the planet. But here’s the funny thing, I found absolute serenity on both days.

On Lake Julian, I set up Cleopatra-worthy seating in the bow of my boat for my girlfriend of four years to sit comfortably on a makeshift, air-cushioned recliner on the floor of the canoe, facing back toward me. The entire day on the water we were able to enjoy conversation, laughs, singing, and romantic moments while sharing an appreciation of the hypnotic feel you can only get when on water.

I got to show off my craft of fishing with her in a way I never have before. Fishing, for me, is more than just going out to try and catch something for the sport of it. It’s a way to connect with nature, and, in turn, connect more with myself. She loved every second in that world with me, and I with her.

Matt shows off a Spotted Bass caught on a recent day on Lake Julian in Asheville, NC. Photo: Michele Scheve”.

Here’s the thing, she is fighting through major health challenges and has been for a years now. We first met back in the 90’s and were friends and collaborators on numerous community projects for years before becoming a couple. I have seen the strength it takes for her to do what she does. Those realities had been an excuse for me to spend our together time where we could more easily access help, if needed. That meant never having been out on a canoe day with me. But a few months ago, she made the decision that she wasn’t going to sit back and wait for a transplant in order to live out new adventures and create epic memories anymore. So we’ve spent the summer traveling, creating art, growing as individuals and as a couple. She’s reminded me, by her inspirational actions, that the gravitational tug in your spirit is a good thing to explore. You have to trust it.

So, seeing her in that sustained state of serenity on Lake Julian, despite all the noise, the development and the busyness, gave me a feeling of gratitude and bliss that I could not have imagined before we went. The shared, new memory we created put her right there with me on Tanasee Creek Lake and any other wild areas I may explore, from here forward. We are already looking forward to our next day on the water together, with her resting on her Cleopatra throne, letting her spirit fly as free as any bird, as I paddle us across shared serenity.

As I reflected back on my two days, on two very different lakes in Western North Carolina, it occurred to me that nature, no matter where it is or how remote or developed it may be, connects all of us together and connects every location to every other one.

John Muir once said, “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” He was right. Go tug at a single thing in nature. And bring someone you love.

Matt Mittan is the daily afternoon host on Biz Radio Asheville. You can also follow his outdoors activities and photography at www.Facebook.com/MattsFishingDiary. Email comments to MattsFishingDiary@gmail.com.