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Though small, darters are among the most common and most beautiful species of freshwater fish in the United States

COURTESY PHOTO: LUKE OVGARD - Fall Hollow is a small, tiered waterfall in southwestern Tennessee. Compared to Oregon, there are precious few waterfalls of any size east of the Mississippi, but Fall Hollow is worth a trip. Just don't climb it.LAWRENCEBURG, Tenn. — In an instant, I was living that part of the movie you don't see coming but find yourself watching in mortified horror. You know, that part where the rapture of a beautiful moment is shattered in slow motion as a main character faces an unexpected but almost certain death.

The idyllic grotto below the two-tiered waterfall was wrapped with a dirt footpath, corkscrewing around the saturated shale to the small catch pool at its base. My descent was hurried by the light rain, a result of the humidity tipping the scales into precipitation on that warm summer day, threatening to become a downpour. I wanted to beat the deluge, and I half-walked, half-jogged down the path. It was well-worn and an easy climb to the bottom. I took the obligatory pictures, checked for fish in the catch pool (no dice) and then proceeded to climb back up.

Halfway up the circuitous route, I wandered over to the ledge in between the two segments of the waterfall. There were people coming down the narrow path, and I didn't want to wait, so I figured I'd climb up the stepped landing from the ledge to the top of the waterfall. From the ledge down, it was about 20 feet, but the ledge up? Maybe 10. Not only would it be faster, but it would be slightly badass to scale a waterfall, I told myself.

With my tenkara rod collapsed in one hand, I began walking up the slope. I'd had the foresight to take off my flip-flops and used my bare feet to grip the wet rock. I made it all of three steps before I slowly started sliding backward, and the terror wracked my bowels in a way typically only fast food can manage.

COURTESY PHOTO: LUKE OVGARD - Luke OvgardIn stunned silence, I slipped down, inch by inch, careful not to shift my weight because I was convinced in that moment that it was like quicksand, and struggling would make it worse.

So I just froze, dumbly sliding down the hill at a glacial — nay, governmental — pace, unsure of what to do.

Just then, a small child from the group who'd been racing ahead of the pack made it to the part of the trail that came up to the ledge upon which I was standing. She waved at me, innocent of the slow demise that was taking place before her very eyes. I waved back and slipped back another step. Fortunately, a wayward stick provided traction and I capitalized on my good fortune, quickly retreating off the death trap, heart racing.

The sky opened up and dumped rain, but wet beats dead, I told myself.

COURTESY PHOTOS: LUKE OVGARD - Clockwise from top left: Fantail darter, greenside darter, rainbow darter and Tennessee snubnose darter.
Rainbow darters are the most widespread species in the country and also among the most beautiful. Fantails are on the other side of the color spectrum, but make up for it with their aggression. Greensides are relatively common, but very skittish and tough to catch. The Tennesse snubnose blurs the line between 'cute' and 'beautiful', but they are usually willing biters.Darters

After almost putting the 'fall' in waterfall, I put several miles between me and my shame, making my way west. I drove downslope of the Appalachian Plateau to the town of Lawrenceburg, Tenn. The quiet little village is the birthplace of Senator Fred Thompson, the iconic Law & Order actor and the man for whom I intended to cast my first vote in a Presidential election until he lost out to the late Senator John McCain in the primaries.

None of the 10,000 residents were out in the rain, and though it was far less severe at this altitude, it was still enough to keep people indoors. Most people, that is. I was still riding the near-death adrenaline high, so I proceeded to fish several small streams in the light rain.

My target fishes were darters, a family of species closely related to yellow perch and walleye that is more numerous in North America than any other — save the minnows. Darters range from about two to eight inches in length,with most being around four inches long at maturity. They are found in almost every cool and coldwater river and stream east of the Pecos.

Male darters are unbelievably beautiful — perhaps the most beautiful fish in the United States — and can sport garish combinations of colors not typically seen outside of EDM concerts.

I managed to catch several gorgeous specimens of fantail, greenside, rainbow and Tennessee snubnose darters in my ultimately ineffective quest to find a new species. Still, wet wading streams and dropping a tiny tanago hook baited with a miniscule fleck of worm in their faces proved to be just what I needed to recover from yet another self-inflicted near-death experience.

To be fair, I should've known what to expect at that waterfall, given its name. Wait. I didn't share that, did I? It's called Fall Hollow.

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