Sometimes amazing fishing is just around the corner, but then it seems impossible to know ahead of time when that will be. Then there is the periodic cicada hatch, a solid guarantee of good fishing once every thirteen years. At least, that’s the guarantee here in middle Tennessee. Other broods of the periodic cicada hatch at different intervals, but our brood XIX crawls out of the ground once every thirteen years for a month of deafening activity.
The average American who lives in the same vicinity as these cicadas decides very quickly that they are a major annoyance. To fishermen, the constant humming is perhaps the most exciting sound of all. 2011 was the first emergence since 1998, and fisherman throughout the range of this cicada took advantage of the opportunity to find fish gorging on the huge bugs.
My introduction to these insects happened on a drift boat on the Caney Fork River. Subsequent trips would produce some nice trout up to 20 inches on big dries, but the trip that stands out the most to me is not because of the trout (even though we did catch some large ones) but because of the carp. Some fisherman disdain carp fishing, and for many years I have considered them more of a novelty that one pursues only when there is a distinct lack of anything better to do. The cicada hatch changed all that in a hurry.
My buddy and I started our float around 9:00 in the morning and were hoping to find some monster browns feeding on the floating banquet around us. Dead and dying cicadas littered the surface and occasionally, one would start twitching across the water while trying to emit the raspy hum they are so famous for. Whenever this happened, we immediately turned our attention to the hapless bug, expecting at any moment to see it disappear in a watery explosion.
The trout fishing did not let us down, with my buddy sticking a 22 inch brown and I followed up with a 17 incher soon after. Amazingly, I barely remember those two fish. Continuing down the river, I suddenly saw a dark shape gliding along just under the surface against the bank to my right. Ripping line off the reel and executing a solid double haul sent the big fly sailing 70 feet to alight a few feet in front of the target. Sure enough, the mysterious fish gently sipped the fly, and I was immediately involved in an epic battle. The fish obviously knew all the tricks and soon made an ominous beeline for a huge mass of downed trees. Reeling back the limp line, I wondered in awe what kind of fish it was. To this day I’ll never know for sure, but not far down the river, another dark shadow was patrolling that would give me a better idea.
An explosion rocking my fly soon eased the sting of a nice lost fish. This time I did everything right and turned the fish out into the middle of the river away from structure. Again I was impressed at how hard this fish was pulling. The only thing that tops it for me is striper fishing. Thankfully, I managed to tire the fish rather quickly, and once my buddy had the net under it, I could relax and enjoy the moment. As soon as the requisite pictures were completed, my buddy wanted a turn in the casting brace, and I moved to the oars.
Later that evening, as the boat slid downriver into the deepening shadows, I returned to the front of the boat and started casting again. The fish were no longer visible but the rise rings were. The fishing now had the added suspense of having absolutely no idea how big a fish you were casting to. When I set the hook for the final time that evening, a monster was on the other end of the line. After an epic battle that featured the rowing skills of my fishing buddy as he maneuvered up, down, and across the river in pursuit of the fish, I finally leaped out of the front of the boat and beached the fish. Netting it was pointless because it wouldn’t have fit.
For now, I can only dream of the year 2024, and while I still pursue trout first and foremost, whenever the cicadas start singing you can find me hunting big carp along the rivers of middle and east Tennessee. Twelve and a half years and counting…
Author - David Knapp is a fly fisherman who also happens to enjoy most everything else associated with the outdoors. He chronicles his fly fishing adventures through the Trout Zone, a blog covering anything remotely connected to fly fishing. In addition to fly fishing, he likes to hike, backpack, climb, and storm chase. To pay the bills, he teaches high school math and social studies. The common thread behind all his hobbies is a love of photography. Regardless of the activity, you will always find a camera close at hand.