Sooner or later, someone will mention a recent trip to a "blue line," where the trout were agreeable, the hike was difficult, and the scenery was spectacular.
Blue lines refer to the thin, crooked blue wrinkles on topographical maps that represent small streams, creeks and remote mountain headwaters.
But in addition to pure geography, a blue line represents a state of mind as well - an escape from the rigors and demands of modern life and the crowds that flock to the more popular fishing locations. When a fellow angler says he is going "blue lining," sympathetic and like-minded anglers know exactly what he means.
These sinuous blue lines also have small, wild trout - rainbows, browns and brookies. They're not large by any standard but are coveted by anglers for their rare beauty and wild spirit.
Chuck Patterson of Foothills Fly Fishing in Greenville is a blue-line aficionado.
"You might not find the technical fishing to trophy fish in these small streams, but they're challenging in their own way," he said. "Fly fishing is called the 'quiet sport,' and I don't find that solitude at the more crowded, popular rivers."
Fly anglers will guard with their lives the secrecy of their favorite blue lines. Plenty of sweat, blood (literally), and tired, aching legs are invested in discovering these little slices of wild trout heavens on earth. These finds are only shared with the closest of friends and trusted fishing pals.
The term "blue line" carries with it an implied anonymity and an angler's variation of "don't ask, don't tell." If that guy down at the fly shop really wanted everyone to know where he caught that 11-inch brook trout, he would have given the name of the stream, right?
This miserly attitude will be rationalized by saying that half the fun is finding these places on your own.
And that would be true too.
The Right Stuff
Having the right tackle can make that fly fishing trip into the backcountry more productive and comfortable.
There are two schools of thought about whether a shorter or longer fly rod is best for small blue-line streams. The first theory contends a shorter rod will be more maneuverable in tight spaces. It makes casting under overhanging branches and around obstacles much easier.
However, a longer rod will have more reach across rocks and boulders, making it easier to mend line and keep as much fly line off the water as possible.
"I like using a longer rod at small streams," Patterson said. "It gives me more reach and leverage in getting the fly to the productive currents."
A longer rod also makes "dappling" much easier. Dappling is a technique used in smaller streams that keeps the line and leader off the water by holding the rod tip high and above the water. The rod is used to dance or skim the fly across the surface, often producing vicious strikes from trout.
When confronted with an extremely tight casting space, there's always the option of breaking down the rod and casting with only the tip section. The reel isn't needed to help fight a fish when caught in streams this size.
A rod in the three- to five-weight range is ideal for most small-stream situations. Blue lines are not the places for 12- to 18-foot leaders. A 7 1/2-foot leader is the perfect length for most small streams. Delicate tippets also aren't needed. The 6X spool should be left at home and the 4X or 5X carried to the water instead.
Wild trout from small blue-line streams won't usually be tippet-shy, and the extra strength is helpful when retrieving flies from the trees and rhododendron leaves.
A fly reel is unimportant while doing this type of fishing. The only reason a reel is needed at all is to hold the line.
Waders aren't an important consideration either. Small blue-line streams aren't usually deep and many easily can be walked without getting wet. During early spring and late autumn, hip waders are a good option. Otherwise, shorts or a pair of fast-drying micro fiber pants work well. Chest waders are overkill and not fun or practical for hiking any distance.
Shoes, with or without waders should be comfortable for walking long distances as well as giving good support for negotiating rocks and uneven terrain.
Casting can be difficult at these small remote streams.
A heavy canopy of low-hanging tree limbs and rhododendron thickets help keep water temperatures cool but are a constant hazard to fly anglers.
Casts must be accurate, and there's rarely any room for a back cast. In order to be successful in this environment, anglers need to learn three casts to get a fly to a fish.
Roll cast. The roll cast is one of the easiest and most effective casts when obstacles are behind the angler or there's no room for a back cast.
With the roll cast, the rod is moved into a nearly vertical position, with part of the line bellied behind the angler. The front end of the line, plus leader and fly, remains on the water in front of the angler. A forward and downward movement of the arm and rod unrolls the line forward on the water and propels the line, leader and fly toward the target.
Side-arm cast. Casting sidearm and keeping the fly and line close to the water allows the line, leader and fly to be delivered underneath overhanging limbs and rhododendrons. Sidearm casts should be kept short for accuracy.
Bow-and-arrow cast. To perform the bow-and-arrow cast, all the line should remain on the reel except for a rod's length of line and leader. The fly should be held by the bend of the hook between the thumb and forefinger and pulled back flexing the tip of the rod.
When the fly is released from the thumb and forefinger, the flexed rod tip propels the fly in the direction that the rod is pointed.
Wild trout that live in small, remote mountain streams are often considered naïve because they're opportunistic feeders.
The streams these trout inhabit are relatively sterile and food is scarce. A well-presented fly put in front of a trout will usually be successful. So fly choice shouldn't be an agonizing decision.
The fishing isn't technical, and match-the-hatch scenarios occur rarely. Big, bushy dry flies that have some color and float well in the frothy, fast-moving water always seem to work well.
Some favorite flies that consistently take trout from small streams include Adams (sizes 14 and 16); Elk Hair Caddis (in black or light brown, sizes 14 and 16); Royal Wulff (size 14); and Royal and Lime Trude (size 14).
A simple black or brown ant pattern is deadly on wild trout at small streams.
Any nymph pattern that mimics a Mayfly larva or caddis pupa also will take fish consistently. The Pheasant Tail, (sizes 14 and 16) and the Gold Ribbed Hares Ear (sizes 14 and 16) are proven successful nymph patterns at small streams.
A productive rig is a high-floating dry fly with a nymph dropper. The nymph is tied to a piece of 16-inch tippet material, then tied to the bend of the dry fly's hook. Trout will hit the dry or the nymph - and the dry fly acts as a strike indicator for the sub-surface nymph.
Anglers should cover the water quickly. One or two casts to a good-looking lie is all that's needed before moving to a new spot. A good cast and presentation usually will take a fish the first cast - if a trout is lurking at the spot. If the fish doesn't take the fly the first look, it's doubtful it will during the second or third look.
A sloppy cast will spook every fish in a small pool, another good reason to move to other water.
Casts should be kept short. Long casts at small mountain streams rarely yield positive results. Flies tend to end up in trees, excess line on the water produces unnatural drag on the fly, and strikes from trout are missed. Casts of 10 or 15 feet usually are all that's needed to get the fly to the fish.
Stealth is the most important consideration when fishing a small blue line stream.
"You must tread quietly and keep a low profile," Patterson said. "Success is all about making a good presentation without spooking the fish."
Move slowly and deliberately when getting into casting position. Small-stream trout are more sensitive to water disturbance than those in larger rivers.
Making casts from the shady side of the stream, wearing drab-colored clothing, and wading only when necessary, are all good ideas when stalking wild trout.
When venturing into the mountains for some solitude and wild trout, certain safety precautions should be taken.
A compass, flashlight, first-aid kit and rain gear are recommended items for a fishing trip into the wilderness.
A canteen of water or filtration system is a necessary item. It's not recommended that anyone drink water from the stream - no matter how clean it appears.
A fishing partner may be the smartest accessory for the adventurous angler. A slip or fall that results in a broken bone or serious injury, miles from the nearest road, can spell serious trouble. If anglers fish alone in the backcountry, it's extremely important someone knows the general area where the adventurer will be. Most true blue-line streams don't have cell-phone coverage.
Blue-line trout fishing is obviously not for everyone. A certain level of fitness, sense of adventure, and a love of the wilderness are prerequisites for having a rewarding fishing experience at a small, remote mountain stream.
Leaving the crowds behind and having a stretch of water where no one else intrudes is priceless.