Some of my earliest outdoor memories are fishing and camping at Fontana Lake in western North Carolina with my dad, my uncles and their sons. The creeks flowing into Fontana Lake, with names like Eagle Creek, Hazel Creek and Forney Creek, are forever etched in my mind. All of these creeks form part of the southern border of the Smoky Mountain National Park but the lake belongs to the TVA, which built it during WWII. It buried at least two notable towns in the process, something fewer and fewer people remember as time passes.
One should be careful when fishing on Forney Creek, which has the slickest rocks on this planet. But it has some great places to camp and good trails leading all the way up to Clingman’s Dome if you are able to walk that far. We used to walk from the lake to the remains of an old 1930’s era CCC camp about five miles north from where Forney empties into Fontana; and then fish the good holes back down to the lake. The trout in these lower waters were almost always Rainbow in those days and probably still are. If you took any of the small creeks that forked off Hazel or Forney and didn’t mind some steep climbing, you could catch as many Speckled Trout as you wanted. We used to joke that the only reason Speckled Trout were on the endangered species list was because the census takers couldn’t climb that high. Still, Speckled Trout are perhaps the only true native American trout so we didn’t mind throwing them back.
I had not been back there in twenty-five years so my dad and I made a trip to Fontana Lake this past weekend to see how things have changed. Dad remarked at some point along our journey that we had not passed a single vehicle since we left Bryson City. This was one of the reasons we liked this isolated part of Fontana so much. There just don’t seem to be any maps of this part of Swain County, we agreed. We went to the first of two of the old marinas where we once put our boats into this cold, deep lake. The first, Greasy Branch Marina, no longer exists. But it was never much of a marina anyway. It now serves as a private and quiet cove for a few house boats lashed in place with ropes and chain.
The other marina was not really a marina but only a road leading to the lake with a ramp at the water’s edge. We called it, “Wilderness Marina,” because it consisted of a gravel ramp at the end of a gravel road, miles from anyone or anyplace. People could put their boats into the water without aid or fees. There was a small area above the ramp where you would park. Sometime in the 1980’s someone put a floating marina there and the place seemed to flourish with business for a time. We were surprised to see that it was once again a wilderness marina but with a new name. It is called Flat Branch Boat Ramp. But all of the signs posted there are filled with bullet holes so I may have misread the name. Then again, that may have always been its official title. My dad and his brothers tended to make up their own names for places that they enjoyed. I have always thought it was because when they talked about these places, no one else could find them.
Anyway, here are a few photos I took this weekend of Fontana and the Smoky Mountains. I saw every close relative who ever enjoyed this lake, but they can’t be seen in these pictures.
Mouth of Greasy Branch on Lake Fontana
My soon to be 86 year old dad!
View of Fontana Lake from Wilderness Boat Landing
View of Forney Creek which is on the other side of the lake from where I am shooting.
It isn’t hard to guess how the Smoky Mountain Range got its name!
The last three photos were taken with a infrared converted camera so I can remember what it looks like in winter