You name it, he’s fished it: Australia, check. New Zealand, check. Alaska, check. South America, check. Canada, check. Tanzania, check. The Caribbean, check. Ireland, Scotland, England … check, check, check.
Bill Feisler has wet a line in more countries than an Alabama rig has hooks. But one river in upper-east Tennessee keeps Bill and his wife Carol casting away more than any other—the South Holston—and it’s a darn good thing, as some young fishermen found out late last month.
Bill and Carol, natives of Greensboro, N.C., proclaim the South Holston as “arguably the best trout river in the eastern U.S.” They make the four-hour journey two or three times a month to fly fish for browns and rainbows in the tailwater stream.
“The water coming out of the dam stays cold year-round," Bill said, “allowing the trout to constantly grow, as there’s always an available food source.”
This same cold, swift water that grows big trout almost cost two teenage boys their lives.
Bill and Carol had fished the Big Springs Road section of the river on May 29, concentrating on what Bill calls “fishing the sulphurs.” As the water generated out of the dam begins to rise, it triggers the hatch of some creamy, yellowish-orange mayflies better known to the locals as “sulphurs.” These precious few moments are a fly fisherman’s dream come true. “When the sulphurs lay on the water’s surface and you can see the big browns coming up for a strike, it’s the pinnacle of fly fishing,” Bill said.
Rod Champion, owner of South Holston River Fly Shop, points out that after the river starts flowing at a tsunami-like rate of 2,700 square feet per second, you have four minutes to get to safety before facing the consequences. Two young men nearly faced the consequences.
Bill and Carol had checked the water-generation schedule, knowing that the current would reach this stretch of river in two hours and 45 minutes. Like clockwork, it was right on time. Heading for their car, they passed by a parked vehicle with some teenagers standing by and three others still in the rising river.
Bill said, “I hope your friends are good swimmers.” Getting the proverbial “I don’t know” response, Bill waded into the raging stream.
One young man braved the current, managing to make it to safety on his own, while another headed for shore only to turn back for his gear. By this time, the water was already waist deep and quickly rising. The two remaining boys were about to become victims of the river’s deadly force.
“One of the kids was in trouble,” Bill said, remembering watching a friend of the boy's trying to push him through the torrent. “Water that cold and swift can render you helpless in a hurry."
By the time he reached the victims, they were so disoriented that they were actually heading upstream. Locking arms, Bill and the boys fought the fierce, cold river every stumbling step of the way. One of the boys had almost given up because the frigid water had rendered him nearly motionless. He asked to stop and rest, but Bill knew that wasn’t an option … if they lost their footing, they would likely end up as statistics. Persevering through, they struggled to the shoreline and collapsed.
Bill and Carol parted ways with the unknown young men amidst a stream of “thank yous” as flooding as the South Holston River.
TWRA Director Ed Carter plans to recognize Bill Feisler for the heroic rescue by presenting him with a certificate of commendation.
"When an accident takes a life, it is exceedingly sad to see the number of persons that event touches," Carter said. "The agency, the family and all those who would have been impacted in such a negative way owe Mr. Feisler a great deal of gratitude. While he may not consider himself a hero, his selfless intervention certainly places him in that role for the rest of us.”
Bill and Rod offer this advice for anyone fishing dam-generated rivers, especially those with little river knowledge:
—Contact TVA for water-release schedules of dam-generated rivers (1-800-238-2264).
—Check with local fishermen and bait shops for advice.
—Watch for flowing trash. The river carries trash down as it rises.
—When the river rises, fishing will pick up, and your feet will get cold. Although the fishing may be good, get those cold feet walking, and head for the shore immediately.
—If you get stuck on the wrong side, remain there until the water recedes.
Bill’s No. 1 piece of advice? “Lay a $100 bill on a shoreline rock. You’ll get out of the river to keep from losing it.”