Saturday, November 29, 2008

The beavers know there's trout there

Monday was a miserable day in my neighborhood. The air was cold enough to force me to switch hands carrying the rod every minute or so, and a rain as steady as life’s miseries spit in my face. There were no insects hatching over the Davidson River’s surface, but that was no surprise since winter is almost here. And, I saw no rise rings dimpling the smooth pools.

On the plus side, there were few other anglers to crowd the river. I think I saw three, and they were near the visitors’ center next to the hatchery.
I pretty much had the place, dreary as the weather was, to myself.

I set out to find new water. I left the three lonely, fishless fly fishers and strolled along a soft carpet of leaves soggy as cornflakes. The path, when I could see it, felt like a thick rug.
Bundled in fleece and thermal and vinyl, I kept dry and warm mostly.
I walked where I had never gone, past the usual stops and campsites that just a few weeks ago had been alive with voices and laughter. These are easily accessible and popular places to spend a night or two outdoors.
I kinda like it quiet. Even the leaves, now drowned with the cold drizzle, were mute. There was a little breeze, just enough to throw my fruitless casts astray.

I tied on a yellow fly I could see easily while searching for reclusive browns. I had no luck.
After a half-hour trek, I veered off the beaten path, down a slippery slope and through some rhododendron to find the river.
When everything opened up, I found myself carefully stepping through a bog surrounding several dammed beaver ponds.
Hey, I thought, this is the stuff of magazines. I’m sure to find some trout in these waters.

As engineers, beavers have few peers. While their abodes did not impress me with their aesthetic qualities, they were sturdy.
It really looked like somebody spilled a truckfull of sticks.
It was pretty though. After a couple tries with the yellow fly, I sat back to drink all this in. Tall brown grass rimmed the ponds. The mountains were smoking through the mist. The sky looked like a freshly painted battleship from my hometown of Norfolk, Va.

And the air tasted sweet and clean.
I asked Kevin Howell of Davidson River Outfitters if there were, indeed, trout in those ponds, and he assured me there were but that late spring and early summer were the best times to fish there. Come back later.
Elsewhere, fishing has been best on cloudy days, with dark caddis dry flies No. 14-18 doing the trick. With a high sun and clear skies, the trout are just too spooky this time of year, Kevin said.

I had a heck of a time getting back to the path, which had completely disappeared from the face of the Earth during the hour or so I wandered around the bog dodging beaver holes and stumpy grass. When I at last found the path, it felt like a triumph of will and determination. Or relief.
Back near the hatchery I stopped, looked over the cold, cold water and spotted a splashy rise near the far bank, so I inched my way into the water, let out some line and let the fly sail.

It was a pretty cast, an almost perfect roll cast, and the fly floated exactly where the trout was supposed to be waiting for his next morsel. I waited and waited. The fly floated and floated.
And the trout just ignored it.
Miserable, huh? Not really, for I know where the path leading to the beaver ponds is and I’ll be back in the spring.
For now, I’ll just leave it to the beaver.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Leave it to beaver

I was stumbling around in the cold rain Monday, wandering along the banks of the Davidson River. I veered off the path.

When I looked up, I found the beaver ponds. Looks like just a pile of sticks holding back some slow water, creating some nice ponds that had no trout in them at the time. Well, they weren't feeding. There were no rise rings. It was cold. It was raining. No insects hatching, either.

And then I came across the front door of Beaver's home. I started to ask if Wally was home, but The Beav did not answer.

Oddly, the cold rain warmed about 2 p.m.. I was wrapped pretty well, so I stayed relatively dry and warm.

But I never caught a fish.

Didn't step in that big hole in the ground either. I left that to The Beav.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Delayed Harvest, instant joy

The sky had a deep blue to it, with the clouds wiped off to the side. Only a few white streaks remained, and the sun felt good when the wind died for brief periods. It wasn’t too cold, either.

It was a perfect day to attack one of the Delayed Harvest Streams where you are guaranteed between October and June to have trout to fish in the water waiting.
Now, there is no sure bet you are going to actually catch one of those fat rainbows they stocked a couple of months ago, but it’s always fun, especially as winter approaches, to get out before winter stomps all over our weekends.

The Delayed Harvest designation was a great idea. Between October and June, all fish caught must be returned. None can be kept. When June rolls around, the stream goes from catch and release to catch and keep. This ensures that the water is not fished out during the cold weather.
There are other fishery designations where you can keep trout and there are year-round Catch and Release waters where you cannot keep any trout.
There is a good balance.

But the Delayed Harvest may be the most popular, especially in winter. They are sprinkled around the area at the Pigeon River in Haywood County, the East Fork of the French Broad near Rosman and a portion of the Laurel River in Madison County and they are all full of trout.
I hit the East Fork about 2 on a Sunday afternoon, which was a little late to take advantage of a warming sun that can sometimes get the water temperature up enough to stir some trout appetites. Before lunchtime would have been ideal, like just after a lazy morning watching my breath puff clouds in the chilly air. As the chill eases, the fishing can pick up.

I fought through a jungle of rhododendron to get to the river and, along the way, managed to lose a battle with a broken branch, which stabbed my eye. And that reminded me of an old saying I heard 20 years ago.
When you asked old timers in the mountains, “How’ya doing,?” they would answer, “Better than a sharp stick in the eye.”
Always wondered where that one came from.

I took a few photographs, focusing with my one workable eyeball while the other continued to tear up, then got down to business. I rigged up with a big ole Sheepfly, a popular wet fly for the nearby Davidson River, and hit a few likely spots. Trouble was, of course, it was a Sunday and everybody and his brother was also out there pounding the water, spooking all the trout.
I got no hits.

In the past I found that yellow flies really work great on the DH waters. I also discovered that changing flies after every catch seemed to keep these hatchery-bred trout interested in my floating buffets. It has been a rare day for me to fish the same fly, dry or wet, all day. It happens, just not often.

It’s also nice to know that there are some whoppers out there waiting, probably under that ledge by the big boulder or by a big ole tree root. Last year on the East Fork I spent a couple Sundays just trying not to break off the fat big-uns that snapped my tippet easily as spider webs.
Later, I got the hang of it.
Sunday afternoons fishing on DH trout water are sweet as Thanksgiving pie.
But you know what? Weekdays are better. Those others guys went back to work.
The trout are waiting.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

What's with the house addition?

I just can't seem to get it into my head that the newest addition to our montain home is a good thing.

Now, it does adds something to the cabin's appearance, something akin to FEAR and LOATHING.

Cabin of the Monster Bugs. Enter at your own risk.

Funny thing is...nobody noticed.

I'm glad for cold weather, for now we (I) can take care of our little addition.

It is time for the little buggers to move. They do not pay rent, do not contribute to the upkeep of the lawn or take out the trash and they sleep at night so there is little chance of them stopping a burglar.

I've decided to evict them. Goodbye bugs.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Going for the snow

This is just a sprinkle of snow we had in October, which is pretty early for the Southern Applachian Mountains near Rosman, N.C. It melted before lunchtime. All that was left was this little dusting.

Well, that was then and this is now. They are calling for some piles of snow today and I am off to the mountains for two days of shivvering fishing fun.

The snow won't stop me, but it may teach me a few new slipping and sliding dance steps that the leaves forgot last week.

I may need a sled.

Sliding and shuffling to the creek

I'm having a love/hate affair with autumn leaves, that stuff all shades of brown that’s buried the landscape and covered the surface of my favorite trout streams.
The hills resemble rusting cannonballs amid a pile of bare sticks, where just a couple weeks ago these mountains were ablaze with some of the most dazzling color in years. And everywhere there are leaves in yards, on cars, along dirt roads and clogging the flow of my favorite trout streams.
At least I can say I get a hookup with almost every cast now, though mostly I'm sticking my flies into dead brown leaves instead of lively brown trout.Last week I hiked to the headwaters of the North Fork of the French Broad River, up along tiny Courthouse Creek and past the waterfall and the last campsite. I didn't quit until the trail turned vertical and I was ready for horizontal.
Still, the trek was nice. The air had a quiet sweetness away from the highways. Like brown birds resting their wings, the leaves bobbed on the little balsam fir and appeared to be ready to take flight as I passed.I saw very few trout along the way, though I did try from time to time. Mostly, I just enjoyed the fall sunshine and shuffled through the crackling leaves that crunched under my boots like corn chips.
It all brought back memories of boyhood and diving into piles that Dad had raked.The next day I foolishly decided I was once again young enough to tackle The Gorge on the North Fork. I tumbled down a narrow path to the water, and this time the path was hidden by … you guessed it … dead leaves. It's a half-hour hike in perfect weather. This took longer. I lost the path. I was huffing pretty good, sliding and slipping down the steep incline, and hanging on to every tree and branch along the way. I fell three times.
On the third fall I stayed on my butt, pushed off a little and slid about 30 feet downhill like a kid on a sled. It was better than slipping and busting bones on rocks. I did it three times, each time it felt like a ride at the county fair.
At the bottom at last, I was worn out. I fished a while before realizing I had made a colossal mistake. Rain threatened. It was an impossibly steep climb back to the troutmobile. I still had not caught any trout.Halfway back, grasping at saplings for help, I realized a person could actually die of a heart attack here and not be found for days. I considered that it was perhaps a fine place to die, but not today.With my heart pounding my chest like a bill collector at the door, I reached the top. Still alive.
So, I have to admit sliding on a soft cushion of fluffy leaves was fun. And shuffling up the forest road, kicking leaves this way and that, brought back fond memories.But it would have been more fun if I had caught some trout. This weekend's forecast is for snow, which calls for a different style of slipping and sliding.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The worst day fly fishing ...

The sky was swept clean of clouds, with even the tiniest wisps tucked away behind the horizon. The sun was shining hard and bright enough to bounce off the granite and hurt. Leaves were falling like huge flakes of multicolored snow. The air was mild.

It looked like a great day to get on the water and fly fish for trout.
Well, I knew it was going to be tough. The solar/lunar tables predicted the slimmest of chances of finding hungry trout and, like I said, the leaves were beginning to fall heavily, clogging the streams and creeks in the Pisgah Forest where I hide on my off days. The forecast was so bad, in fact, that I almost didn’t go. On a scale of one to 100, my two off days registered in single digits.

Of course I went.
I turned off on a dirt road, driving through a tunnel of sparkling color to one of the tiny creeks that help swell the French Broad River. Some beech trees were bare, resembling a skinny old man’s hands reaching to the sky.
There was, though, enough color to give the feeling of driving through church. Red and orange and golden light poured through the hemlocks, dappling the service road with splashes of light.
I could have just pulled over to take a nap.
But the urge was too strong. It kept pulling at me, like a big dog on a leash that wants to play.

I gave in.
After getting rigged up, I gulped what was left in the beverage bottle to wash down lunch and walked downstream to get to the water.
I nailed a fish early, a tiny wild rainbow about the size of my thumb. It may have been the littlest fish I have ever caught on a fly. It belonged in an aquarium, but a big guppy probably would have eaten him. I let him go.

Upstream, I caught another little guy, popped him off the fly into the water and moved on.
It all went downhill from there.
I was soon getting hookups on just about every cast. I hooked up with rhododendron, hemlock and pesky floating leaves that seemed to go out of their way to attack my fly. I popped off several flies.

I got nasty tangles in the whispy tippet that rivaled anything my mother could crochet. My language grew more colorful.
I slipped twice, busted my thumb enough to cover the rod’s handle with blood and knocked off my brand new sunglasses, an event I didn’t notice until after I got back to the car, which meant I had to struggle back up that little creek to search for them.
I had a few more tangles and stumbles and cussed some more.

But I made it to the smooth pool where the creek opens up. I let out a soft cast, watched the fly float for what seemed several minutes before the water expoded and brought in a brightly-colored rainbow trout.
I had him in the net so I could get a picture, while keeping the fish in the water. The rod got stuck in a tree branch, I stumbled and dropped the rod and the fish got away before I could snap the photo.

Dang. (Or words to that effect)
The sun slipped away as easily as that last fish, and the air got suddenly cold.
I slipped away with the headlights on, wondering how on earth it could have been worse.
Later at the cabin, the answer came to me … I could have stayed indoors.
The worst day of fishing is still better than the best day on a couch.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Let's go fish, Mr. President-Elect

“One way or another, after this presidential process is over, whether–because I lose or because I win–and I’ve got a little vacation time coming, I’m going to learn how to fly fish.”

All I want to know, Mister President-Elect, is...what time are you coming?
It just turns out I have a couple days off and the fishy/moon/sun calendar predicts pretty good chances of catching some trout Monday and Tuesday.
Monday is Mrs. Koontz's birthday too. Your visit would please her.
If we're lucky, we can fish midges and catch lots of big brown trout in the mountain streams of western North Carolina.

If it goes slowly, we can toss streamers and wooly buggers on the Delayed Harvest portion of the French Broad River near Rosman and catch rainbow trout big around as footballs.

Or, for a nice hiking/fishing escape, we can go to one of my favorite brook trout streams and catch leaves, bushes, trees and perhaps a hornets' nest (just kidding). And brookies.
I work nights so I generally sleep in, but if you let me know ahead of time, I'll set the alarm and the border collie will lick my face early.

I got some rods and flies. You bring the beer.

Trout takes photo for fly fisher

So, I gave the camera to the rainbow trout and this is what comes out. I thought he caught the dazzling fall colors pretty well, which is the highlight of the fishing year up here in Transylvania County.

Naturally, I got hookups on almost every cast...and some were trout. Mostly, I shook off wrinkled, dead leaves and cussed a lot.

I gotta work on that. The leaves, not the cussing. I got that down pretty good.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Loving fall colors

Just some shots of the French Broad's North Fork and the Davidson River in western North Carolina
Colors are dazzling this year