Saturday, December 27, 2008

Winter's sparkle

It was the kind of winter day you’re almost embarrassed to admit was unexpectedly cold. It was, after all, officially winter. It was almost Christmas. Smoke curled from neighbor’s chimneys.It’s supposed to be cold.

But, up until this past Monday, it had been wonderfully temperate, even warm. There had been some great days to fly fish for trout and have pretty good success while wading with just a light shirt and cap. No need to bundle up too much.Monday’s weather turned like an angry beast. The wind howled.

I had an extra cup of coffee, wrapped in fleece and wool from head to toe. Our storm door was covered with a thick sheet of ice, giving it a fancy, old-timey window appearance. Sunlight struggled through the thick crystalline crust.Well, against my better judgment I left the cabin. I had a couple of hours to kill.

I rode around trying to spot some trout from the banks, but nothing stirred except trees in a brutal wind. Gusts gave the air a razory touch with enough punch to slap you back into the warming car. I checked the usual bridges too, but abandoned the water along the main road to head up into the forest.Up the dirt road the air calmed.

Hovering on either side trees blocked the wind like protective grandmothers with large, wrinkled fingers. A little sun came through.

But the air still had that cut to it and by the time I had the rod out of its tube and the reel screwed on my hands felt like they were being squeezed in a vise. I got back inside to tie on the fly.

After a few minutes I had soaked enough warmth to attack the water. I wasn’t ready to splash around but I could flip a bushy fly from the riverside rocks without getting wet. Everywhere there was ice. It wrapped itself around mossy rocks like fine lace, and ringed others with the sparkle of diamond necklaces. Drooping rhododendron leaves dripped pendant-like globs that reminded me of earrings Elizabeth Taylor might have worn in her heyday. One particular boulder sported a tiara, with icy jewels the size of grapes spaced evenly around its top.

Everywhere it dazzled and sparkled.Not getting any hits at the first campground, I warmed myself with a short ride upstream to the little wild creek, hoping those little rainbow trout were stirring a little.I always get some action there, I thought. It may just be a splash and a miss, but I at least get one or two shots at catching a trout and I don’t have to get into the water to do it.

Steep slopes on both sides held off the roughness of the wind. I could get a couple of good casts in without worrying much about where the fly would land. Ice dripped all around. In winter my creek becomes even more beautiful, with an added quiet that lends it a certain degree of grace and charm not found in the summer.

Within ten minutes I realized the fish were not interested in anything but hanging out under rocks, retreating into their winter mode where the metabolism slows. Trout eat less in winter. I eat more. That got me to thinking I should be taking Mrs. Koontz to lunch. Something hot and wintery.

It’s that time of year.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Pretty cold but pretty just the same

Everywhere I looked along the banks Monday there was crystalline sheets, needles, blocks, coats, drooping globs like diamond ear bobs...

But it was way too cold until I got up the dirt road and lost the wind. The sun felt good on my face. Soothing.

It was still cold enough to hurt.

And the fish hid.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Release and catch not for me

An angry rain beat the metal roof with ferocity, like someone had just dumped a truckload of gravel on our cabin, and I rolled over under the blankets hoping to sleep through it. Outside the sky bubbled with dark clouds.Well, we’ve had a week of rain in the mountains, the rivers and creeks are up again and I was ready to get out and catch some trout. I struggled out of bed slowly, for I feared the water would be muddy and hard to fish. It turned out to be clear as jar whiskey kept in a freezer, just not as cold.I wrapped up well, rigged up with a black wolly bugger that usually works in high water and crossed the street to the front-yard stretch of my river.
Surprisingly, I caught nothing. Not even a bite.You could tell how high the water had risen by the flattened grass on the banks. The North Fork of the French Broad had gotten rowdy during the week. Downed trees blocking the water had shifted or moved on. Most of the trash had been swept away.
Overhead, a bald eagle circled the neighbor’s pond four times, then disappeared as I reached into the car for the camera. He was fishing also and not having any luck, neither.I moved to the fire station hole, changed flies after that black wooly bugger failed to get even a bump, and began to catch fish on the yellow Tellico nymph. Boom, boom, boom.The relentless drizzle continued to kiss my cheeks, but the air stayed warm. Over the bank an old barn rose ghostlike through plumes of mist. I was having more fun than the law should allow.Then it happened.
While photographing one of the trout I caught, I unhooked the net because the cord was in the way. Dumb move. I dropped the net, cussed and lunged as it scooted downstream like a frightened duck.I began to run along the bank, trying to get a little ahead of the bobbing net.
After about a couple hundred feet of running with waders and rain gear and wading boots too large for my feet, I splashed into the river, stumbled over river rock round as bowling balls and reached for the net that was one foot beyond my reach. And missed as it sailed by.More colorful language followed.
And I began to run again with those boots flopping like clown shoes. They are great for gentle, cautious wading. They are, however, not New Balance running shoes. I leaned the rod against a tree and ran harder.My lungs were burning like fire. Again I splashed into the middle of the river, got downstream of the approaching net that was picking up speed like Michael Phelps on the last lap.
I reached for the wooden frame, stretching my arm as far as I could ... and caught it.
That catch felt almost as good as landing a huge trout. What a triumph.Normally, with a few exceptions each summer, I am a catch and release type of fly fisher. Monday, I tried release and catch. It sucks.
I’m going back to the old way.
My knees still ache.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Catching trout in the rain

Well, we have plenty of water now. There was a steady and relentless drizzle Monday and the water, though a little high and rough, remained clear as whiskey in a jar.
When I switched from black to yellow, I began catching trout, rainbows and one nice brown. The Tellico nympth did the trick when all else failed, which now that I reflect on the matter makes perfect sense.

High and muddy, fish dark flies...
and fish something bright and yellow when it's high and clear.

It never got too cold all day.

Just wet.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Time's fun when you're having flies

Sunlight sparked off the water in the silver winter air. It was cold enough to sting your fingers in the shady spots, but in the open it was a nice day, too pretty to stay inside.
The fog that had draped the mountains during the morning had fallen off, way back behind the ridges, so even though the forecast for fish activity was poor, I headed down the mountain to the “Delayed Harvest” waters.
It’s a dizzying ride down my hill to Rosman, with more twists than a plate of linguini. Then, you follow another little curvy road. Once there, though, it’s usually worth it. And it gets easier.

It is so easy that you can just about stop your car, roll down the window and cast a fly from the road.
It is that accessible.

And, it is guaranteed that there are at least some trout in that water to fish for. You may not catch them. But they are there, for from October to June the fishing is entirely catch and release. After the second Saturday in June, you can keep ’em, gut ’em and cook ’em if you like.
Sometimes, I do.

But this is December. I toss ’em all back, if not because of the law, then because it is too cold to hold a trout, dress him out and stuff him in the vest for later. By the time you finish all that fuss, your hands are numb as river rock.
The air had a briskness to it earlier, then warmed a bit into the high 40s, but I saw no fish rising in the usual spots.
Since it was Monday, I had most of the water to myself, and I took my time. There was really no hurry. It was early in the afternoon.

But nothing was hitting, bumping or even for all I know looking at the two-fly rig I drifted through the riffles and runs. At least the waterfall was pretty, and the air around such falls always makes me feel good, for which there is a scientific explanation but I did not care.
All was well in the world. I was at peace.
But I was determined to catch some trout this time, so it was more than a little encouraging to see rise rings downstream.

I eased within casting distance of the first feeding trout, figuring they were either gobbling up blue wing olives or dark caddis flies from the surface.
I changed flies. The little olive CDC flies seemed to be just the trick, floating low in the film because of its lack of hackle. The first fish sipped the fly as it drifted across and down the river, jerked his head, cut a zig-zag pattern with the line through the water and even jumped once.

I caught a handful during the next hour, all fat and pretty for hatchery-bred brook trout. I fell into a mindless groove.

I had intended to return to the cabin after about an hour or two but managed to kill the entire day.
Was there something I was supposed to do for Mrs. Koontz at the cabin?

Like they say, time’s fun when you’re having flies.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

It was cold but.....

I tried to get some photos of myself fishing near the falls, but the camera counted to 10 faster than I did.

Fish pictures turned out nicely.

It started cold, then warmed a little in the sun, then the sun disappeared and, lo and behold, trout began to rise...I caught four with a BWO dry. About 2:30 to 3:30.

Full report Sunday after my column gets written.

There's a bunch of rain coming down outside. Augers well for the weekend, and I have Sunday, Monday and Tuesday to fish next week.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

They said it was cold

Ice on the rocks, and this is DOWN the mountain near Rosman.

Few people, and no fishermen, there Monday. All to myself and I caught all the fish in the river, though they looked suspiciously similar...all hatchery raised brook trout about 12 to 13 inches long.

All hit the same BWO dry fly late in the afternoon, from 2:30 to around 4.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Cloud ate the blue sky

With a couple of hours before Mrs. Koontz was ready for the drive into the big city, it seemed only natural to ride up the road to my favorite little creek. The sky was clear as new glass. The sun was achingly bright. And I had the itch to get outdoors.
It seemed foolish to do otherwise.

You know such conditions do not auger very well for trout fishing, for those little wild fish I like to catch are more than spooky in the gin clear water under the sun’s spotlight. They are near impossible to catch. Cloudy days are usually better.

There were no insects hatching but, hey, this is winter. It was an in between type of day that was not quite warm to get the fish dimpling the surface with their rise rings but not cold enough to keep a fly fisher inside tying flies for next year.

Yeah, I bundled up and went.
Out of the path of the wind, the sun felt soothing. I took my time, in no hurry for anything since I had at least two hours to kill. I lazily got my stuff out of the truck … waders, boots, rod, vest. As I began putting on the waders I felt a little chill and looked up.

Aghast, I realized that a cloud black as a new Bible was eating my blue sky sunshine in one big voracious gulp. Within a minute the entire afternoon changed complexion and the temperature dove like a falcon after a rabbit.
I wrapped up some more, adding a sweater and a fleece jacket over my camo jacket.
The air snapped at my fingers like a hungry dog. I decided to get back into the Troutmobile, fire up the engine and defrost in the dragon breath roaring out of the heater.

It got colder, it seemed, when I emerged from the car to string up the rod.
A thin snow fell like petals. The only sound was the creek dancing over rocks.

I tried the old favorite spots where trout had hit the fly in the past. With a little dark caddis tied on, I flipped it into the little pools and puddles against the bank. I caught a tree and a bush, but managed not to lose the fly. This was no time for changing flies with numb fingertips. I almost cried when I dropped my pliers into the water. My hand came out numb.

The creek opened a little, allowing a full-throttle cast to the gentle water upstream. There was plenty of air be-hind me and no trees to reach out for my fly. It felt good to let a long cast loose on this little creek.
It would have felt better to catch a trout.

But there are times when you just go fishing because you can. Life never promises to let you catch the fish, so you go out and just try and breathe deeply. That cold air seems to have a healing effect, and it makes a heart merry.
The snow kept falling like little mayflies boogeying in the air. The dark cloud hung overhead.

That night while driving home from a big city dinner, the sky opened just a tad, almost like a curtain drawn back from a round window, and presented one of nature’s rare visual treats, a light show with a cosmic theme as Jupiter, Venus and a sliver of the waning moon grouped tightly.

Perhaps they meet to catch up on solar system gossip. It doesn’t happen often. And it won’t occur again for many years.
For a moment, it was there for us. The clouds took away my sunny afternoon but returned to give us something special at night.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Great fly fishing gift for Christmas

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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Let the chips fall where they may

These buck-toothed critters are really something. They just let the chips fall where they may, along with trees.

The stump shown here once held up a pretty tall tree, which now blocks the path by the Davidson River just below the visitors' center parking area.

Not much of an obstacle, though. You can easily walk around.

After I shot this photo, I checked out the smooth, glassy pool. There was one flyfisher a little upstream, but nobody else. It's getting too cold for some folks, I guess.

I saw a nice splashy rise, let out a few casts and decided I really did not want to handle any fingers already were like popcicles.