Saturday, November 28, 2009

Change tactics for winter fly fishing

There is no such thing as bad weather when it comes to fly fishing … just bad equipment.
It’s a lesson mostly learned the hard way but it’s one that’s never forgotten, because winter fishing can hurt. It can get bone-crushing cold along the banks of my favorite little trout streams. But with the proper accouterments and layers of fleece and wool, the avid winter angler can spend a quiet afternoon casting flies in relative comfort.
Think layers, and I’m not talking about chickens.
The report today is there is no snow on the banks. I won’t have to worry about slipping on ice. And the sun is expected to warm the air.
Still, it’s the time of the year to switch to winter fly fishing mode.
Over the years, I’ve learned the best times to fish in winter are during the middle of the day, preferably with some sun out to warm the water a bit and kick up some dry fly action.
Trout slow down their dining habits during the cold months; they still eat, but their metabolism slows way down and they don’t eat that much. Bouncing a nymph on a big trout’s nose will entice hits. The fish are unlikely to chase a fly any distance, so fish those nymphs slow and deep.
I try to find spots of slow water warmed by the sun, then swing a heavily-weighted fly through the deepest water. During the winter the trout will be hanging out in the deeper pools, leaving the riffles and pocket water for the spring and summer, so it helps to be more selective about where to cast.
The ideal temperature for trout fishing is 63 degrees in the summer. As the thermometer approaches that magic number, feeding activity increases. If it gets hotter, the fishing slows.
The water is not going to get that warm again for some time now that winter is just weeks away. According to the Web site, if the water temps get below 38, the fishing will be very slow. Above 42 degrees, and activity increases.
Fishing a wooly bugger or streamer like a nymph, letting it drift naturally into a deep, is one good cold-weather tactic. I use a 4X tippet and fish with little line out so I can feel the soft hits better without a strike indicator. Using dry flies as strike indicators usually works most of the year, but the fly doesn’t always get deep enough.
Another thing to keep in mind is that stocked trout don’t slow down as much as wild trout during the cold months; I find myself hooking into fish more regularly on the Delayed Harvest rivers than on the little wild waters. No one has a scientific answer for this, but subscribes to the theory that stockers continued to seek out food when the wild trout know it’s just a waste of time since there are no insects floating around.
The No. 1 way to improve your winter trout fishing is to add split shot to the tippet, usually 6 to 8 inches from the fly. It is the hardest lesson to learn for fly fishers, especially those of us who revere the dry fly to almost religious status. Most of us hate using such weight, but that soon disappears when we hook into a big trout.
I use a 4-weight rod, so slinging flies with heavy shot on the tippet can be awkward, or even dangerous. I mash the barbs on my flies, so if I do hit myself in the back of the head slinging heavily-weighted nymphs, I can get the hook out of my ear with relative ease. On my last excursion, I pinched on a split-shot the size of a marble and could barely get it out into the current. Switching to a smaller size, I compensated by casting upstream with a lot of slack in the line to get the fly deep in the water. It works.
And, if with the sun in your face, have some fun catching winter trout.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Joy of a one-trout day

The mountains look like piles of Chevy pickup trucks all reddish-brown and tan with rust and age. Most of the bright color of fall is gone. The November sun felt good when it slipped through the trees along the path.
The air was cool but not biting cold, so there was no need for a jacket. In fact, after a half-hour hiking gradually uphill along the river, I got warm. Perhaps, I thought, the fishing would be better up and over the hill confronting me. At the bridge where I left the car, the trout failed miserably in hitting my fly, so I caught nothing.
But it was a good day to be out, and the path had softened to a thick comfortable carpet of wet, dead leaves. The air was full of the rich smell of rotting wood, decaying leaves and at times a hint of a smoky campfire.
I never made it to the top of that hill. Those three prongs that feed the Davidson River would have to wait another week at best, for my legs were giving out. Finding a sun-softened rock to sit on, I skinned lunch by ripping the foil off two granola bars and then killing a nearly-cold beer I had in the fishing vest. Refueled thusly, I returned to attack the river, only to be met by indifference and perhaps even a little scorn by the wild rainbows and browns.
For the next hour the fish ignored my hopper, scoffed at my nymphs and greeted by dry flies with utmost scorn.
Fish, like people, can be hateful.
It was my own fault for arriving at the water in late afternoon, even though it’s well known that the best fall and winter fishing often comes during the height of the day when the sun is the hottest.
But it got colder. I slinked home without having caught one trout and pulled into the driveway in no hurry to quit, pulled out the flyrod and slid down the bank across the road. There, I hid behind a tree so I could flip the little yellow fly into the current without scaring what I hoped would be a big fish hiding close to the bank.
He was there. As the fly began to move toward the bank the fish hit, jumped and ran with the line slicing through the water’s surface like a knife through a tender steak. He was a fat handful at 16 inches .
And he made my day.
Getting out a little earlier the next day, I met a friend at Avery Creek close to where it empties into the Davidson. Both are catch and release streams, so you know there will be fish. You also know they will not be easy.
We caught several little trout, wild rainbows no bigger than a bass lure.
Switching to a dry fly, I tossed it into a little swirl next to a rock where the water was quiet. It was a tough place to put the fly, for as soon as it landed, the current would grab my line and drag the fly like a water skier, leaving a tiny plume a spray in its wake and scaring all the trout.
But not every time. Something splashed at the fly and missed, so I put it back in the same spot with lots of slack in the line, watched it settle from just a second and then disappear as a fine wild rainbow nailed it on the run.
Not as big as my homey trout, it had twice the fight.
And, you know what? That fish made my day.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Taking the path less traveled by

I had no idea where I was headed. There was a little parking lot, but there were few cars on a Monday afternoon. Upstream from all the commotion at the fish hatchery, my map says the Davidson River splits, then veers off to the north and then splits again into three little tributaries that originate close to the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Adventure beckoned. New water and wary trout waited for my fly to float by.
I crossed the big bridge and really didn’t expect to find much. It was just such a perfect day for a gentle walk through the Pisgah National Forest under a canopy of gold and orange. After a week of unsteady rain, the cushion of leaves had softened, making the trek a lot like walking on thick new carpet.
But it was not a leisurely stroll. It was uphill, with steep banks stretching deeper and deeper with each step on the rapidly narrowing road, which turned into a trail which then turned into a skinny path.
It was way too far to slide to the water. I kept walking. A strikingly bright sun knifed through the beech and maple. There was a shy breeze whispering through the hemlocks. The air was perfect.
Normally, all my fishing activity is confined to the water downstream, near the hatchery or just below. That’s where the humungous trout big as hound dogs fin lazily in crystal clear water within sight of hundreds of tourists and fly fishers. Occasionally, I have caught some of those monsters, and at other times the bigguns broke my line. Mostly, those trout ignore anglers’ flies, for they have seen every imaginable type and size and color. They are, in a word, educated fish. They see a lot of fishermen, too, and don’t spook easily. They just hunker down and stare at you.
That portion of the Davidson is Catch and Release. Past that section and the hatchery, there is the part known as "The Gorge," which is not for the faint at heart or feeble of body. The water roars over boulders big as cars. It’s much tougher to get out than it is to get down the bank to the river.
But, like I said, there was adventure beckoning. I went farther up, past Cove Creek to where Long Branch Creek goes left and the Davidson wanders to the right where it later splits into three little creeks — Right Fork, Daniel Ridge Creek and Shuck Ridge Creek.
I walked forever.
When I came to what was left of an old bridge, I considered sliding down the bank to get to the other end of the road, but then I realized I would hve to climb back up that same bank.
So, I took the path less traveled by.
This little path, which followed Right Fork uphill, was just as steep with a gorge almost as deep as The Gorge. I found one place that was easily accesible to the creek, slipped down a gentle bank and caught a little wild rainbow surrounded by loud, rowdy water tumbling over huge rocks.
I leaned my back against a smooth, warm rock just to let the day soak in. I could have fallen asleep and decided it was too late and I was too worn out to finish the trek to the end of this little path.
The walk had taken its toll. And I still had the return hike to the car.
For the next week I walked with a little less bounce . It was Friday before the aches faded so I could consider finishing the exploration.
Yeah, I took the path less traveled by and it certainly made all the difference.
I ached all over.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

How does one define the perfect fly-fishing day? The one day on the river that you never, ever forget. It could be a day when you catch all the fish you want, or it could be a day you finally catch that big brown that hangs out near the bridge. I was determined to find out.
The river was up after a week of rain. But I was anxious to get into some late afternoon fly fishing, so I tied a bushy, high-floating dry fly and let her rip through the current. It was a lazy Sunday afternoon, and I mean really lazy.
I spent the first hour just getting rigged up, then reading some of the Sunday paper. I spent a bunch of time drinking in the cocktail of 100-proof color that lit up the mountains.
When I finally got up, on the first cast I hooked a wild trout, which jumped and flipped the hook with vigor.
Not a good beginning in the quest for the perfect fly fishing day.
Emerging from the creek, I noticed another car. Most campers had left long ago, way before Sunday afternoon, so I was a little startled to see humans, little humans at that, scurrying about the banks with little fishing rods. They asked if there were any trout there. I said they might be a little tough to catch today, but you never know. They’re in there, I assured the little anglers.
They were about 6 and 4 years old, I guessed. One held a rod with a big ole hook at the end of the line with enough corn to feed a pig, while his little brother had a little kid’s rod with a stick of wood tied to the end of the line. I figured the stick gave it some weight so he could practice casting until he was as old as his big brother and could fish with real bait.
Their mother said her dad brought her to this spot when she was a child, and they caught trout then.
Well, I said, I just lost one.
I began reeling in line, getting set to try some spots upstream, perhaps make it up to the waterfall if there were not too many leaf-peepers hogging the one-lane road.
I pulled out a little, then stopped, backed up and cut off the engine. The little fishermen were still standing with their rods and dirty faces.
Opening the back of the car, I grabbed a fly box and took two black wooly buggers — a fly sometimes considered as one for all seasons and all fish — and walked over to the bank.
I handed one to the oldest boy, who seemed delighted with his new treasure, and then gave the other to the little fellow.
They both looked at those scruffy flies, then looked up at me with smiles wider than a fat trophy trout.
Christmas came early.
The next day sparkled with fall sunshine. The river was clear as new glass, and I caught everything I cast to with whatever fly I chose to use.
Most would consider that the perfect fly fishing day, and I guess it was close to that.
But I’ll remember the previous day longer.
One can catch trout anytime, but the face-splitting smiles of little boys are rare.
That was a perfect fly-fishing day.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Lookng for answers to life's questions

Chilly winds swept the sky clean last Sunday. With the mercury hovering around the low to mid 40s, the emphasis was on chilly and for the first time this fall I bundled up with a sweater before hitting the river. It figured to be a pretty day. Leaves had turned a little, giving the feeling of driving through a church with massive stained glass windows on both sides.
Leaves also had decided to litter the river, for the sole purpose of snagging a fly fisherman’s flies, I’m sure. That happens a lot and is expected in the fall. We put up with it in our continuing search for the answers to life’s most perplexing questions, as they might say on NPR.
A fisherman’s ultimate goals change over the years — first trying to catch the most trout, then the biggest, then the most difficult — but life’s questions hang around to make it all that more difficult.
Like why?
As my fingers numbed in the wind, I asked that very same question. I was slinging a two-fly rig, with a weighted pheasant trail nymph tied about 6 inches below a larger Yaller Hammer nymph. The Yaller Hammer is a scraggly looking thing that used to be tied with the yellow/black feathers of the yellow flicker, now protected and off-limits to fly tiers. So, we use dyed imitations with feathers from some other poor bird.
A fish bumped the fly on my first cast, but I never hooked up with a single trout all afternoon. The impudent wind was a constant, nagging nuisance. Like a little brother pulling your shirttail, it was relentless.
I pushed on. Switching to a dry fly, I hooked into a feisty rainbow on my first cast. The little olive parachute fly bounced nicely in the channel flowing near the rocks, and through the crystal-clear water I watched the trout rise from his hiding place. The rod tip was shaking pretty well. Then, it wasn’t shaking at all. The trout was gone.
That rude wind slapped at my face.
Now, fishless after several hours, those persistent questions returned, especially that one about "Why?"
With those two flies tied in tandem, a good portion of the early afternoon was spent untangling those flies from the weeds and trees on the bank. Each time the question came up, "Why?" That wind did not help.
I tried finding the answers at the origin. I trucked upstream until there was no more stream, at which point I followed the trickle of water to where the French Broad River originates. It was a fairly rough hike, over boulders the size of small houses and past sheer cliffs of rock where you hang on the rhododendron limbs with prayerful grasps, hoping the wood does not break.
Scratched up and bumped up and heartbeat really up, I got to the source, a place up near the top of a little mountain.
The wind died. And it was so quiet there was no need for any answers. By then, I had forgotten the questions.
Except that most persistent query of them all – why am I not catching trout?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

fly fishing delayed harvest waters

Today dawned gray and dreary as an abandoned battleship, and just as wet, but the weatherman has promised that Monday will shine like a Marine’s brass buckle. Though I’m already thinking about tomorrow, I won’t spend today indoors.
If a light drizzle ruins everybody else’s day, it will be perfect for a fly fisher armed with tiny blue wing olive dries. The little mayflies love this kind of weather and will hatch all day, taunting rainbow and brown trout until the fish rises to the surface to sip their insolent little bug bodies.
I stood in a Virginia trout stream some years back with such a misty afternoon, stayed in one spot just a few feet from the bank and caught nearly 30 trout. Even the water was muddy, but it mattered little and may, in fact, have helped since the fish couldn’t see me. I was astonished they could see the flies.
Since then I have had many good fishing days when the rain relentlessly pelted my cap like a pecking hen.
There is no such thing as bad weather, I’ve been told. There’s bad fishing gear and good fishing gear, but there is no such thing as bad weather, at least not bad enough to keep me indoors.
If the wind roars and the rain falls sideways, I may spend some time listening to the car radio until it lets up. Then, I’ll be out again.
But I love sponging up rays, too. Blindingly bright days are hard to fish, certainly, but they always feel good after weeks of wetness and cold.
A sun-warmed boulder on a chilly autumn day beats a Lazy Boy recliner.
Monday’s battle plan calls for an assault on the East Fork of the French Broad River, just outside the little town of Rosman.
It’s a Delayed Harvest river, which means fishermen cannot keep their catch during the winter months.
From October until the first Saturday in June, the such rivers are "Catch and Release."
Upon June’s arrival, the trout population begins a rapid reduction.
So, during the winter I always know that stretch of water will have trout. They may not be easy to catch all the time, but sometimes they are.
Usually, it takes a few weeks after the state stocks the stream for the fish to become acclimated.
Most have never even seen a bug, having been raised on little round pellets of trout food, and, no, I do not fish with a fly that resembles trout pellets.
During the past seven years of fishing this river, I’ve discovered there is no reasoning why those fish hit certain flies for a while and then ignore the same flies later.
As a rule, I catch a trout with one fly, then change to another, and catch more fish before changing flies again.
I use a lot of different flies on the DH waters, especially in the early fall. Come spring, they’ll recognize a little yellow stonefly and its bug relatives and the fishing will be entirely different.
Until then, I’ll just keep changing flies over and over.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Fall fly fishing: It's in the air

The familiar smell of approaching fall hangs in the air now. Gentle breezes shimmy through the trees in a graceful dance at the top of the mountain.
There’s a sprinkling of rust around the edges of trees, which should be expected after weeks of pounding rainstorms. The air, thick as warm syrup just a couple weeks ago, carries a sneaky cool that slips down the mountain in the early evening so you don’t even notice that the day is done.
Darkness arrives quietly. Before you know it, it’s time to go home.

Already, I miss the long, lazy lateness of summer sunsets that allow me to fish well into the night.
But I also love fall fishing. The air begins to nip with a fresh crispness. Here and there you catch a whiff of wood smoke from a nearby campfire or cabin.
Being early in the new season, the dead leaf invasion has not yet cluttered the creek to snag my flies, so there is still lots of prime unmolested fly fishing.

A couple weeks ago, my river was too high to fish, with the current ripping along at 9,500 cfs. The North Fork of the French Broad was rocking and rolling, an angry caramel monster that moved fallen trees and knocked aside boulders and, in effect, rearranged everything. So, I had a new river to fish the next weekend when the flow slowed to about 650 cfs (normal is about 350 cfs, I’m told.)

July water had been almost too low to hold a fish, and I was happy to see the rain.
Fishing on the last weekend of September, I found a lively but friendly river moving along at a moderately fast pace. I nailed rainbow trout, mostly with marabou muddlers and green inchworms.

I tossed some big hoppers into the slower current also, and was surprised by some feisty fish smacking the fly.
Fall is the perfect time for hoppers, ants and beetles. Trout love those flies.
And, since I would rather fish dry flies, the box is stuffed with these imitations.
For the first time this year, the water across the highway from our cabin flowed fast enough to fish without scaring every trout in the neighborhood with one faulty cast. Water flowed around my knees in spots where there had not been enough to reach my ankles in August.

To my delight, the trout were feeling frisky.
I tossed out a black muddler, let it slip downstream with the current and got a bump on the first cast. On the second cast, I had a struggling rainbow shaking his head at the end of my line. Then there was another, then another.
Boy, was I having fun.

Downstream, I noticed that the fallen tree that had blocked my path previously had been relocated by the storms. The way was clear.
The trout hit every fly I threw out. I even caught a few of them.
Cleared out, it was like fishing new water over old rocks. I marked in my mind the locations of the trout that shook my rod before shaking the fly. I’ll be back, I vowed.
Later, as the sun slipped behind the mountain, you could feel the bite of the coming fall in the air.

Again, the air filled with the scent of wood smoke. I pulled out a sweater.
I love fall.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

We need a talking flybox

A flybox can be read like a book for what it tells us about the owner, or it can be meditated upon like an album of old yellowed photographs for what it tells us about ourselves. Most of us own more than one, if we fly fish just a couple times a year, and some of us stuff our vests with foam, plastic, wood and aluminum contractions that hold our dear little trout flies tightly so they are not blown into the river or clumsily dropped into autumn’s pile of leaves on the riverbank.
We all have our favorite, the one that goes to the river when there is only room for one in the shirt pocket, and for me it has to be the big foam box I bought five years ago. These types are typically the cheapest on the fly shop shelves. There are probably more than 200 flies of all sizes inside. Since it fits nicely, if a bit snuggly, into my shirt pocket, it’s my Go-To box when I travel light.
I’ve had wooden fly boxes, with brass nameplates on the outside and magnetic strips to hold your flies. I’ve had, and still do, plastic ones you can see through and some you cannot. I once lost an aluminum flybox in a tiny Madison County creek while fishing in late fall and then found it sparkling on the rocks underwater in the spring. All the flies were fine, though pretty well soaked. None rusted.
Now, I carry the white foam box, a little plastic one you can see through, one with little compartments that you cannot see through and a couple of old Altoids tins I stuffed with big Green Drake flies and oversized streamers. I don’t even like Altoid mints that much, but I love those tins.
There’s no telling how many flies are tucked away in my vest.
Looking at photos of fly boxes in magazines and Web sites and blogs, I’m almost as ashamed of the mess as of my uncut front yard. Those are some scruffy flies, I have to admit. But they are scruffy because they’ve been chewed like dog toys by playful trout in my neighborhood creeks.
There are quiet times when I’ll just stare at all that mess, recalling the days when certain flies nailed certain fish at a particular spot near a waterfall or bridge. When I see the hackle dangling loose as an untied boot lace, I smile at the memory of a wild brook trout that had an exceptional row of teeth. When a stranger looks at that same fly box, he probably wonders if my home is as messy. My sock drawer is. You know I’m no engineer. Neatness is overrated.
The one essential thing a fly box cannot, but should be able to, do is tell the fisherman which offering will fool trout at a particular time of day and year. Somebody should invent such. But for now, all a fly box can do is tell us a little about the owner and remind that owner of days past on wild rushing water full of trout.
And, really, that’s quite enough.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Top Ten Trout Town? Asheville?

This could be a good thing or a horribly disastrous thing. My neighborhood has been tagged by Forbes Magazine as being close to one of the Top Trout Towns of North America, and I am tempted to write to the editors to complain.
I live in Transylvania County near the Blue Ridge Parkway. My backyard is the Pisgah National Forest. Walk 3 miles from my front porch, and you will find a nifty 50-foot waterfall. I can walk to four different creeks and catch wild trout. Across the road, fat rainbows splash and play. About a mile down the road, big browns lurk on the bottoms.
It’s never crowded.
Until now.
We are within a 45-minute drive from the city of Asheville, which now has been dubbed No. 10 in the TTT list.
That’s sorta like wearing a bullseye on your back. They’ll all be gunning for our trout.
Like we don’t have enough tourists driving their SUVs at 5 mph through our neighborhoods already.
Usually, magazines that come up with such lists ignore western North Carolina. All the great rivers are out west or up north in Sarah Palin land … you know, within sight of Russia. Nobody ever picks Asheville, which by the way is a city and not a town. A town is something like Rosman, with one grocery store and a community swimming pool.
But I guess Asheville is a good headquarters stop for visiting fly fishers. The article touts trout, but the French Broad River flows through the city and that big ole river is also full of smallmouth bass and muskie, so there is more to fish for than just salmonids. You can wade the river in some low spots and cast from a boat in others.
Within an hour or so drive, you can hit prime trout water in just about any direction. Go east, find Wilson Creek. Go west, find the Davidson. Go north into Tennessee, find the South Holston River, a tailrace that has wild brown trout as big as German shepherds, though they are not as easily caught.
I’m surrounded by waters full of all types of fish, but mostly I concentrate on the trout. In 20 years, I have barely scratched the surface and its doubtful I will ever fish them all.
So far, for the record I’ve slayed ‘em at the South and North Forks of the French Broad River, the Davidson, Avery Creek, Courthouse Creek, Hickey Fork, Beegum Creek, the Pigeon River, Kiesee, Big Creek, Whitewater, Laurel Creek, Reems Creek, Doe Creek, the Watauga and the South Holston.
And there are a host of others I never got a name for. I couldn’t fish all these creeks and rivers in WNC in two lifetimes.
So, upon serious reflection, I will venture the guess that I will always be able to find a creek or river to cast a fly that is not crowded.
Being tagged as a Top Tenner may not be so bad after all.
Bring ‘em on.
We got room.
Just try not to drive so slooooooooooowly. There’s trout waiting.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Fly fishing into the dark

Clouds piled up like foam from waves crashing on a beach. You can always expect some sort of precipitation this time of year, either spotty thunderstorms that feel like somebody emptied a big bucket of water down your neck before clearing or one of those relentless showers spinning off the newest hurricane whirling off the coast like a county fair ride.
It was a clear, hot day with little breeze to speak of, so the lawn mower got one of its shortest workouts ever. The grass was a little wet, anyway. Let it go, I thought. Trout were waiting.
With the temperature high and the water low, the fly fishing was tough, though it became easier to spot trout from high banks since those fish were not moving from the bottom, where they hugged rocks and spitefully ignored all my flies.
Being a weekday, Avery Creek’s campground was almost empty, leaving the trout water for me alone. Overhead, a few crows weaved and danced in the air, their caws sounding like glass breaking combined with a heavy metal band’s painful guitar licks. Crows, being about the only birds in the forest to make a truly unpleasant music, could not have cared less.
The songbirds are always a treat, for they sing pretty. The turkey buzzards know their place, sailing gracefully high overhead in silence, and never take center stage to perform. The hawks sound as if they are laughing from their hunting perches in the hemlock. More than once, I thought their derision was directed at me as I waved the fly rod back and forth.
My guess is that the raucous blackbirds scared all the trout. I left Avery Creek without seeing a fish.
Hoppers, ants, pheasant tail nymphs and caddis fly dries did not interest the trout. I got one rise in the Davidson next to the big parking lot, then left to try the North Fork of the French Broad, where I never get skunked. The church road bridge produced nothing, as did the water at the fire station bridge.
This was unusual. I entertained the idea of quitting.
Since it was a Monday, there should not have been a lot of campers and waterfall peepers on Courthouse Creek. But they were. The first campsite, one of my favorite hotspots, was occupied. Upstream, families visiting the falls made almost as much racket as crows.
The shadows stretched longer. It got cooler.
I passed up the chanterelle mushrooms dotting the bank with their little blaze orange hunter’s caps. They are just too labor-intensive, for one must pick a bunch of these little fellows to make frying them up worthwhile. Perhaps next time. After all, they are one of only a few wild ’shrooms I feel safe taking home. If I stopped to pick enough to eat, valuable fishing time (VFT) would be irretrievably lost.
It was beginning to get dark. Clouds turned pink with a disappearing sun dipping behind the hills.
A good-sized trout wiggled in a tiny pool near the path to the falls, and I managed to spook him with my first sloppy cast. Another, smaller version, hooked himself as I was moving upstream and, after flipping him back into the water, I saw another rise under the bridge.
This time the cast was perfect, the fly landed in the center of the rise ring and the fish smashed it with a violent splash.
That, I thought, was what it is all about.
Now encouraged, I drove back to the cabin to try the front yard pools, where I had just enough light to see where I was stepping but not enough to see the fly at the end of my line. I missed fish after fish, getting a tug here and a handshake there, but the trout had become active and the bugs filled the air.
They took their time, but the trout had stopped hugging rocks.
And I had managed to dodge those little storms all day.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Fly fishing feeling low with water low and slow

Nothing seems to be in any hurry in August.
Even the grass grows slower, so the enemy of fly fishing sat idle for most of last weekend, surrounded by tall weeds and grass that remained to be cut. The mower had been rendered silent, for lack of gas.
But there is a skinny freshly-cut path from the road to the cabin, so I feel like I had accomplished something worthwhile and deserved some sort of reward. The trout beckoned.
The water was low and oddly quiet. A bright blue sky swept with little feathers of cloud reflected in the river’s surface, and here and there I saw little trout leave a dimples where they sucked in a bug.
These are often difficult times to fish. With glassy smooth water that’s way too low, the trout can spot you way before you spot them. And the wild ones spook easily. A sloppy cast will scatter every fish in the pool. A hawk passing overhead will send them under rocks. A slip on a rock will send them into the next county. A fly caught in the current can leave a trail like a motorboat pulling water skiers, which also puts trout off.
Strangely, I love fishing this type of water in this kind of weather.
Although you have to dodge rude thunderstorms in the late afternoons, the sky usually opens up again after a 20-minute pounding.
Trees sway in the wind like they were underwater. River rocks steam and hiss after the rain, leaving a smell like fresh cooked greens in the air. It’s a good time of year to fish those ant and grasshopper flies. Hoppers can be the most fun. They actually work best with sloppy, splashy casts. Larger than most of the little dry flies I carry in the flybox, hoppers can bring out the largest trout from undercut banks and rocks.
Fishing ants, especially in itty-bitty sizes with long, web thin leaders, can be productive when nothing else is happening, and you can fish them in the smooth, quiet water with those long, slow drifts. I often find myself daydreaming about something other than fish before being startled out of my dream world by the violent splash of a big trout hitting the fly.
Just before dusk, I like to flip the fly across the water and let it drift lazily downstream for 30 or 40 feet until it sails within reach of a feeding trout. After what seems to be several minutes, a trout will rise, hit the fly and either hook himself while I try to pull in all that slack line or swim away. I catch some; I lose some.
With the moon peeking through silver clouds, it just doesn’t get much better. And, just before it gets too dark to see where to climb up the bank to the road, I climb up the bank and walk back to the cabin … slowly.
The mower didn’t move.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Chicken of the Woods a fine find for a fly fisher

Like the sage of the mountains says, some days you get the bear and some days the bear gets you.
It’s often like that with fly fishing for wild trout in that same bear’s back yard. While I avoided being eaten by the bear last Monday, I also managed to avoid catching any trout for the bulk of the day.
The attack plan included a return assault on Avery Creek where I nailed so many little rainbows the week before, and then hit Tanasee Creek, which I have never really explored. In between, I could try to catch some Davidson River pigs before heading for the North Fork of the French Broad, my homewaters.
But the Avery Creek fish snubbed my flies. I beat the water into a froth, to little avail. With a high sun and low water, I couldn’t get those skittish fish out of hiding. They wouldn’t hit any of the flies I tossed – ants, grasshoppers, mayflies, yellow caddis. Nothing was working.
I caught one fish the size of my little finger, tossed him back into the current and left for the next stop.
The sunny sky began to change, as gray clouds spilled over the blue like paint out of a bucket. A few sprinkles of rain dotted the water. The clouds, darkening and angry, rumbled.
It wasn’t looking too good for the rest of the afternoon, but then life throws surprises our way from time to time.
I caught a glimpse of bright orange out or the corner of my eye, and I splashed over to the bank to discover some of the prettiest wild mushrooms I have ever seen growing on a fallen log.
The orange spread across the log like a bird fanning its feathers, hence the name for this type of ’shroom, "Chicken of the Woods" a name it earned as much for its flavor as for its fancy way of showing off while sitting on logs.
I do not know that much about mushrooms in the wild, but I do recognize this type of sulphur fungi.
Years ago, when I lugged shotguns through the woods of Virginia, I never got to bag a wild turkey, and I guess that was another of those little nudges life gives us. Every shotgun I ever owned was stolen, so I figured hunting just wasn’t in the cards. So, I fish. And I hunt for wild mushrooms.
I learned from Mrs. Koontz, who studied this stuff, to leave the little brown mushrooms alone, for they are rarely good and often very bad, and stick to just a few popular types like puffballs and oyster mushrooms and Chicken of the Woods.
I gathered a couple pounds, put them in a plastic bag and took off to look for some water where the trout were more cooperative.
Following a few fruitless hours hunting for big brown trout, I headed for my old standby, the Fire Station Hole, and nailed a nice rainbow. I felt better. And, the next morning I had a little "chicken" mixed in with my eggs in an awesome omelet, which turned out to be almost as good as catching trout.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Fly fishing in the Tunnel of Doom

The sky was alive with dancing, happy clouds. Gone were those huge puffy piles that turned angry black in the late afternoon.
With the lawn mower broken, it seemed a perfect time to return to Avery Creek, where I had fished about 10 years ago. It’s a nice little stream, full of little native rainbows. It empties into the Davidson River, which is invariably crowded this time of year, and there are campsites and a horse stable, so weekends are to be avoided.
I chose Monday. Most of the campers had gone back to the city. Only a few vehicles dotted the sides of the dirt road.
Now, a good portion of the creek is wide open, perfect for casting a dry fly 30 or 40 feet without some dumb bush grabbing your fly on the backcast.
The trout are willing but not easy, for they are quicker than a New York second. And an angler has to be sneaky. These guys spook like squirrels in traffic.
With a yellow caddis dry fly, I managed to catch some little rainbows, one the size of my little finger, in a section near the horse stable, then moved on downstream to where the sun drenched the banks.
Along this stretch, you can’t see the water from the road because of all the vegetation, which made it all the more interesting. I had to try it. With all that bushiness, there had to be some shady holes with trout of substantial size.
That’s the theory, anyway.
My decision proved a wise one at first. I caught a couple trout, moving slowly and quietly upstream, hidden by overhanging laurel and rhododendron.
The water was low, but I found some puddles deep enough to hold trout, and they eagerly splashed at the now-ragged fly. I missed more than I caught.
It was tough wading, but fun anyway.
Then the creek began to narrow to the width of a sidewalk.
The limbs hung lower and heavier. I was on my hands and knees, crawling in the low water, dodging limbs. There was nowhere to walk on the bank, so I was caught in a green tunnel of doom.
"Would I be able to get out of there," I thought. Upstream, the laurel thickened. My hat got knocked into the water. I slipped on a rock. Bugs ate my face.
Boy, was I having fun.
My mind drifted back about 15 years when I first heard the story of Casius the Bull, who many years ago got his horns caught in the rhododendron. He never got out. They named the town after him, and called it Cashiers. Go figure.
Would I ever emerge? Or would they find my cold, dead body next week? And name a town after me?
The limbs seemed like thick snakes stretching across the creek trying to wrap around me and squeeze the life out.
Regaining my composure, I noticed light at the end of the tunnel . Breathing harder than a fly fisher should, I stumbled up the bank as the berry bushes clawed more blood from my arms and face.
The Troutmobile never looked so inviting.
Catching my breath in the car, I thought about the deep, shady pools I had stumbled through.
I feel lucky to have survived.
So, I’ll go back today.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Fly fishing for wildness

Well, it was moonwalk day, so I took off for a little adventure myself, heading for little Avery Creek, which flows into the Davidson, and tossing little yellow dry flies to quick-as-a-wink wild native rainbow trout.
They were willing, sort of, but I kept missing.
There were portions of the creek where the water opened up like a two lane highway, then it narrowed to a sidewalk-width trickle covered with dense vegetation.
I had been catching, and missing, a whole lot of little natives when I decided a sunny-looking stretch, which was hidden from view from the road because of the bushes. It turned out to be a tunnel of green, so thick I had to crawl on my hands and knees in parts.
The rhododendron hit me in the head, knocked off my hat and had me worrying if its grasping limbs would ever allow me to return to the car.
Still, a puddle here, a puddle there, and I caught fish.
If I didn't get a hit, or if I missed one, I just moved on to the next puddle or pool.
I caught a lot of tree limbs, sticks and grass.
And my fly survived, though a bit ragged for the wear.
I huffed out, following the light at the end of the tunnel, to the car.
I heaved a big sigh of relief. LIfe is grand.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Pretty fly that trout hate

It was a pretty day on the Davidson River and the fly I had tied the previous night was also pretty.

But it did not catch trout. In fact, I never got a hit until just before dark and then all hell broke loose with fish rising all around me and then the tippet snapped. Dang. And too dark to tie another fly on.

Go home, fool.

Today and tomorrow (moonwalk day), I'm going to slay 'em.

I'll use the ugly fly.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

It takes two to tangle

Driving on the Blue Ridge Parkway feels a lot like riding giant green waves, rolling and dipping in and out of the clouds, and I invariably waste way too much time stopping to gawk at the beauty of our mountains. It’s the only place I know where clouds also come out of the ground, not just from above.
I was thinking they ought to call these hills the Great Cloudy Mountains.
Kinda catchy, ain’t it? Think the tourism department would be interested?
If those hills were not so pretty, I could have spent a lot more time fly fishing for trout, but I wasted all that valuable fishing time (VFT) stopping for photos and drinking in the views that go forever into the mists. By the time I arrived on the home creek, the sun was dipping behind the mountain and thunderclouds hung threateningly overhead. I had to hurry to beat the storm.
I fished a big yellow fly I had tied the night before with a biot body and huge gray wings fashioned form mallard feathers. It looked pretty in the vise. How could any trout resist gobbling this marvel? I expected to catch a ton of fish with my new invention.
I didn’t. I got nary a splash from the not-so-hungry fish.
The huge wings made the fly a little cumbersome to cast, and it didn’t always land where I wanted it to, but it did sit pretty on the water, like a little pirate ship with full sails puffed out with a stiff breeze.
But it did not catch fish.
So, I switched to my old summer standby, the little yellow stonefly.
It, also, did not catch fish.
What on earth was gong on here? Darkness began to creep in on me like a black tide, and I began to hurry my casts.
Earlier, I had rushed my casts and hung up on a laurel branch. When I reached for the flies, I discovered a mess more tangled than a Jerry Springer story, and I almost had to give up on the muddler minnow and caddis fly and leave them for early Christmas decorations. That rig didn’t catch any fish, either.
Now, with darkness falling like a huge, black curtain, I started to catch trout with the stonefly. One, two, three, four … bam, bam, bam, bam. I was locking into fish almost with every cast now, though all were little rainbows.
Boy, the trout turned on right at 8:50 p.m. One brown trout hit the fly, then a good-sized rainbow.
Then, a really big trout nailed the fly, shook its head violently and snapped my tippet.
Trout continued to splash and jump, and all I could do was watch as the day melted into night.
By the time I could tie on another fly, it was time to go. A bright moon painted a silver edge around the clouds, which opened just enough for it to shine on the river’s surface.
In all, though, not a bad day.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Remembering those big trout from the past

I was cooking by the creek as the sun was waning when a shadowy figure emerged like a phantom from the laurel. He had on a wide-brim hat, light waders, nice boots and what I can only guess was a pretty expensive flyrod in his hand. At least, there was no duct tape holding it together. His vest was perfect. No stains, so he must have just bought it. Though I had never seen him before, he turned out to be a neighbor who had lived in that neck of the Pisgah National Forest 53 years.
He admitted catching just a few small fish before he quit. Nothing big. Nothing to write home about.
We sat by the fire, adding twigs to keep the flames alive.
I had quit fishing earlier in the day and was having my own private cookout by Courthouse Creek. Surprisingly, there were not that many tourists camping and hiking. As the sun dropped behind the hills, a comforting quiet filled the air, with just the song of water splashing over smooth rocks.
We told fish tales for awhile, recalling the days when huge trout fought at the end of our lines, not even realizing how much those long-ago fish had grown.
I told him about the big brown that had hit my caddis fly seven years ago, right there under that bridge just up the dirt road. And, there was the one at the church road bridge that nailed a slow-floating light cahill, and a couple of others that I had landed using a Tellico nymph with enough lead to sink it to the bottom of the shady pool downstream from the bridge.
And I admitted I had not caught a big one all year, and here it was half over. I had been fishing a tandem rig, with a muddler minnow tied to the hook bend of a small caddis dry fly. The idea is to fool the trout into believing a baitfish is chasing a small emerging fly and slam into the muddler, and it often works just like that with a big, head-shaking brown nearly tearing the rod from your hands.
An angler never forgets such fish.
We even remember the ones that broke off, like the one I lost on the Smith River in Virginia about, uh, a quarter century ago. He flashed all gold and silver in a late afternoon sun, leaping from his hiding place behind a log, and snapped that tipet as if it were a spider web. I remember my knees shaking from the excitement and shock.
This weekend, I’ll again try for the monster browns with the muddler and anything else big in the flybox.
And, while sitting around the fire late in the day, I’ll have a fresh yarn to spin if another fisherman drifts in through the laurel.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Fly fishing at dusk

It’s enough to make you feel like a fresh French fry from the fast food place down the mountain but it is, after all, that time of year when corn pops in the field and frogs move across the asphalt with a little more pop to their hop. In a word, it is hot.
But it is definitely not the end of the world, at least for this fly fisher who is probably knee-deep in cool mountain water as you read this. This is the season fly fishermen love, though we love the other seasons, too. You can almost set your watch by when the river will erupt with rising trout trying to nudge each other out of the way in a frenetic feeding frenzy, just around 8 p.m .
In the hottest months of the year, the most comfortable time to fish is in the evenings, though some diehards I know get up with the chickens to fish at first light in the mornings. The anglers I talked with lately said they did not have much luck fishing nymphs in the early hours, while I, on the other hand, have had steady success as darkness folds over the hills.
It’s a peaceful time. Most folks are home from work. Few cars or trucks roar by. The crotch-rocket riders have parked their irritatingly whiny machines far, far away.
It’s a cool of the day time. You can sit on a still warm rock, watch the glow of the sun fade and enjoy a firefly light show while studying which rising fish you want to concentrate on. Beer cooled in the creek under a rounded rock adds to the irenic ambience.
Before it’s too dark, or if I’m fishing slow, smooth as a mirror water, I’ll fish the little yellow sallie dry fly. I’d like to think I invented the thing, but I’m afraid someone out there figured it all out years ago and just never bothered to tell those folks printing the fishing catalogs . I have never seen one, anyway, so I just tied some up to resemble the little stonefly that remarkably landed on my coffee cup, inside the cabin, upstairs, under the light on my fly tying desk. (See photo at right)
I thought that was quite considerate of the little bug. He didn’t have to fly into the house. I already knew what they looked like.
For years, all I fished were the standard, store-bought flies and had pretty good success. I guess I’m getting a little picky as I grow older.
On riffles or where the water is in a hurry, I like to fish a big old Corey’s Calftail, which has a yellow body segmented with peacock herl and big calftail wings that make it easier to spot in the whitewater. It’s also good right at dark, when all you have is a little moonlight left.
And with the darkness comes the cool air of the North Carolina mountains, and I let the heat of the day flow downstream.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Everything fell into place for fly fishing

There are moments in sports that athletes remember the rest of their lives, almost like their first kiss and the first time they fell in love. Years from the time of the event, the details stay crystallized in perfect memory. I remember playing baseball in the third grade with a team that went undefeated with an error-free third baseman, me, getting hits to right field at every at-bat, but the detail that really stands out is when I broke my 8-year-old throwing arm at the city park while vaulting over a rail in front of the swings. Ouch. Our team lost the next day.
Among the other special sports moments in my memory : hitting the sweet spot driving a golf ball straight down the middle of a Halifax County, Va., fairway; crushing a winning backhand down the line to win the set at Hilton Head Island; feeling the "runner’s high" after completing a 5K race for charity in South Carolina.
It is a feeling all athletes have at one time or another. You get to feel like you are "in the zone" and nothing can go wrong. Life is good. Duane Allman called it "hitting the note" when the band members all played perfectly in sync.
All is right in the universe.
Fishermen have such moments, too.
We even remember big fish that broke off years ago. Last weekend was full of such moments, times when it all fell into place with the weather, the water levels, the insect hatches, the feeding trout.
I nailed ’em one after another in one stretch, and it was almost too easy. I also nailed the tough trout, casting different flies to the same rising rainbow under the bridge and the brown trout near the fire station pool. I had spotted the brown trout out of the corner of my eye as he came up out of the water to flash his golden flanks. I knew it was the same one that I had broken off the weekend before.
I got that brown on the first cast.
Later, I kept three of the rainbows, which were obviously stocked trout, and cooked them over a stick fire next to a well-shaded Courthouse Creek. Charred on the outside, they were wonderful with a little salt. I ate them like ears of corn, holding the head with one hand and the tail with the other, and then washing my hands in the creek when I pulled out the cold bottle of beer.
Few restaurants can top that.
You might say the entire weekend was like hitting the sweet spot.
Another perfect memory to file away.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

June goes boom with blooms

The river draws me like a light beckoning a moth. Honeysuckle and multifloral rose sweeten the air until it’s as thick as syrup, clouds drift overhead and trout begin to rise. A gentle June breeze whispers soft as a sigh.
You have to love June.
Winter’s a distant, brittle memory. The storms of early spring have gushed and rumbled, leaving plenty of water in the creeks and rivers, and the mayflies have begun to hatch by the thousands, filling the air like confetti in a victory parade.
Wildlife arouses from their slumber. Two deer crossed the dirt road at noon the other day, paused for just a blink, and then scampered into the Pisgah National Forest while a hawk hovered overhead. Bear begin to appear in folks’ yards, overturning trash cans and raiding bird feeders.
The forest is alive.
Normally, a fly fisherman would clad himself with dark greens and browns so as to hide from wary wild trout. I have heard this all my life, but in reality it’s really the goofy, clumsy movements of anglers stumbling over rocks waving long sticks over their heads that give pause to the wild fish and put them down.
If you watch the blue heron fish, you will notice hardly any movement until the moment of truth when he stabs at the water to catch dinner. When the heron moves, it moves sloooooooowy. It takes delicate, gentle steps. There are no splashes.
Herons, unlike anglers, never slip and splash in the water. These birds know if they mess up, they go hungry.
I generally wrap up with camouflage shirts, tan waders and a dark green hat so I can blend in with the surroundings. I’m sure it helps.
Now, it’s June. The laurel blooms dot the forest like white butterflies, so I can now blend even more, almost disappearing amidst the green and white with my white whiskers and Virginia Tech Hokie hat. In other seasons, that hat would flash like headlights; in June it’s just another part of the scenery.
Fish can’t see me.
Last week I spent an hour at the fire station hole, caught about 15 rainbow trout using just about any fly I chose out of the box and had a ball.
Fish couldn’t see me.
A sudden storm drove me under the bridge for 30 minutes or so, and I kept on catching those rainbows, though I kept my hopes up for a big brown somewhere.
Out of the corner of my eye I caught a flash of gold coming out of the water for a carelessly drifting mayfly. Ka-splash, the fish went. It was a brown trout. I did not catch him, though I spent way too much time trying.
I just kept on catching those rainbows, which I’m sure were not raised in the creek but in a hatchery. They were a little tame, pretty stupid and scarred from an early life in concrete tanks. I tossed them all back, but resolved to return and cook a few later this month — a streamside meal of smoky trout roasted over a stick fire is hard to beat. And the scenery beats any restaurant’s ambience; I got flowers on every table.
And with my white hat and whiskers, I melt into the surroundings with the ease of a laurel petal floating to the ground.
Fish can’t see me.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Bugs are out, so are trout

You can’t help but love fly fishing in the month of June, especially during the early days of the month after Memorial Day when the air begins to fill with the sweetness of wild rose and honeysuckle.
Though winter was not a hard one, it will not be missed by this fisherman.
I like warmth. I like splashing around creeks and rivers. I like naps on the banks.
I like building little stick fires to roast wild trout at least once a year.
I like the explosion of laurel and rhododendron, their blooms sitting like flightless white doves along the banks and deep into the forest.
The Pisgah National Forest, which stretches for miles and miles behind our little cabin, has undergone an overnight makeover.
She’s a new girl today, all spruced up for summer with new clothes to impress her suitors.
Hey, did I mention the recent heavy rains filled my little creeks to the brim?
And today the rain has stopped.
Along with the plethora of flora sparkling all around, the air over rushing water fills with mayflies dancing and trout splashing at those who sail along too comfortably on the surface, as if they had not a care in the world, and then disappear with a gentle sip from below as another fish has dinner.
These are the times fly fishermen dream of during those dark, dreary February days.
There are times when the bugs hatch and the trout feed all day long, and there are times when there is nothing at all happening for hours before the caddis and stoneflies and big sulphurs and little yellow sallies come off.
The atmosphere can change in a flash.
Usually, it happens around dusk.
This begins in May, with a surprising number of bugs seeming to shake the reluctant trout out of their winter slumber just as the sun sinks behind the mountain.
The once flat surface of river becomes dimpled with rising trout, one here, another there, and a fly fisherman frantically trying to catch them all.
There was a special place on the Davidson River that Mrs. Koontz loved, especially at 8 p.m. Once, we arrived a little early, only to discover our spot taken by a man and his son.
They were not having any success. We watched, hoping they would give up so we could have the spot for ourselves.
At 7:45 I was getting nervous, for this was a highly anticipated mayfly hatch we were awaiting.
At 7:50 the man and his son reeled in and quit for the day. We almost whooped with delight.
Once out of the water, we slid down the bank just in time for the hatch.
The air lit up with golden mayflies in the dying light.
Trout began their frenzied feeding, like teenaged boys gobbling burgers after a baseball game. We fished with big light cahill dry flies and hooked or missed a strike with almost every cast.
We caught a lot of brown trout, along with some rainbows.
We had a ball.
The trout, usually a little more than reticent to rise with such reckless abandon, came close to jumping into our fishing vest that night.
A lot of them had some heft to them, too.
It was a perfect way to end the day, and as darkness slammed its door on us, I couldn’t help but wonder what the father/son team was talking about as they rode home.
I know what we talked about. We still talk about that night.
Perhaps, tonight I will catch it just right again.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Clouds follow from creek to creek

I noticed some clouds the other day that did not scare me but rather got me thinking about cloud-watching when I was a kid.
My sister and I would pick out little critters, pointing to a dog or pig we spotted in the puffy clouds.
Lately, all anybody could see was ominous dark storm clouds rolling over the mountains like an advancing army. It has rained on my personal fly fishing parade just about every time I venture to the creek, though most of the time it would stop long enough for me to get a little dry fly angling in for the day.
A couple of Sundays ago, I drove through a steady shower to the river near our cabin, for I knew if it got really bad I could still fish some from under the bridge until it got too dark to see the fly on the water.
When I got there, the sulphur mayflies were hatching and the trout were rising. Gulp, gulp, gulp.
But even with the steady rises and the constant flutter of mayflies over the water’s surface, I was having a tough time getting one to hit my fly.
I caught one of the bugs with my hat, looked close and figured I had the correct fly tied on to the tippet. If they won’t hit this little yellow fly, they won’t hit anything.
I tossed the fly out into the current where I just knew there had to be a trout lurking, and the fly just kept going down the river unmolested.
In fact, the fly actually floated by one or two as they came up for the real bug.
The trout came up out of the water once, nudged the fly out of the way and then disappeared into the depths. He did that three times, with my issuing forth colorful fly fishing oaths with each teasing miss.
Birds sang, even with the rain steadily peppering the water. And the bugs kept on hatching. It began to get a little dark and I figured I must might get skunked before going home.
I felt something tug.
But I wasn’t quick enough, and as soon as I felt a fish I lost him.
I flipped the fly out again, let it bob a little in the current, got a drag-free float in the feeding lane I was aiming for and ... BANG, gotcha.
I knew it was a good sized brown for, after all, he had poked his big ole head out of the water three times earlier.
I brought him in quickly. The rain peppered harder. The sky got darker.
That night I listened to the neighbors’ dogs howl and the birds sing in celebration of another hot, humid summer’s arrival. It was a good, deep sleep that night.
The next day I dodged the clouds some more, hitting my favorite pools downstream with phenomenal success.
There was a little white caddis hatch and the trout were having another buffet dinner right in the middle of the afternoon. Sometimes it happens at dusk, sometimes at lunch and sometimes it just doesn’t happen at all.
I was in luck. It happened three times within the week. I caught 17 trout, mostly rainbows, the first time. Then, the next day I caught fish until I got tired of the ease of it all. Fly fishing for trout is not supposed to be this easy, so I got back into the troutmobile, headed downstream fore more of a challenge and promptly caught nothing but air.
The next day I returned to the bridge pool and caught 15 more trout, but this time I took a closer look at these fish and noticed that they all looked to be the same size. They even had the same pale, just out of the hatchery look of fish that had just been dumped into the water.
The hatchery truck, though, was not supposed to dump trout up this far. It must have been some Buddy’s pet fish he keeps nearby for his mom to catch. He stocks his little stretch of the river, mostly because momma likes to eat trout.
I, on the other hand, just like to catch them. And I did .. until I actually got tired of it.
Today there should be no angry clouds overhead threatening to unleash a fury of torrential rain. I noticed while driving Friday that some of those mean clouds started to look like cute little animals. There was a little poodle’s head, an elephant, a pig and a ... whoa, that one’s a trout.
That was the first time I ever saw a cloud shaped like a big brown trout, and I took it as a good omen for the weekend.
It was a sky full of frendly clouds.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Memorial Day on a trout stream

Fly fishing for trout is always a little different on Memorial Day weekend. The most popular creeks and rivers are as crowded as Styrofoam cups of worms wiggling elbow-to-elbow. Lakes are no better, perhaps worse, with high-powered boats piloted by merrymakers carving huge wakes through the water’s surface.
Not for me. .
I head for the hills, far up the mountain near the headwaters. The creek turns into a mere trickle up high, but the adventurous fly fisher can come up on the occasionally hefty trout hiding next to a little rock.
Though I try to escape, I keep coming back to the reason we even have such a holiday. It is, after all, more than just an excuse to burn burgers on the grill and toss cans into the trash.
Memorial Day is set aside to mourn those who died while fighting in our armed services.
And the weekend always sends me back to the summer of 1967. It had been a hot day on the beach, and we had all turned red as lobsters.
The cool air inside The Raven soothed the burn, as did the sweaty mugs of cold beer.
There were four of us, Johnny and his girlfriend and me with mine.
He had just left Parris Island triumphantly as the No. 1 recruit in his company while I was just a few days away from taking that bus trip to Marine boot camp.
Johnny had been on the high school wrestling team with me. I was the littlest competitor, the kid who always went on the mat first with every nerve jangling like chimes. Johnny was one of the biggest, often wrestling in the heavyweight class against larger guys.
He had a lot of heart, and that made up for any physical disadvantage.
Johnny also played football.
He was good enough to win a scholarship to the University of Tennessee in the days when college free rides were rare.
He went on the graduate, joined the Marines and eventually became an officer.
I wonder what he would have turned out like. You see, that night in The Raven was the last time I talked with Johnny.
He went to Vietnam and came home with a flag draped over his coffin.
Today, he’s a name etched in the slab of black marble that makes up the Vietnam Memorial.
When I saw the Moving Wall, the smaller version of the memorial in Washington, D.C., I had trouble finding Johnny’s name and at one point thought perhaps it had all been one huge, horrible mistake that night in Norfolk, Va., when Dad told me the news.
I had just come in from work at the shipyard, all dirty and sweaty. Dad was watching the TV news.
"Your buddy got killed in Vietnam," he said.
I could not think of a single thing to say.
Johnny’s death was like a drill instructor’s punch to the gut.
I felt empty.
About two years ago, the British military began driving the hearses carrying slain soldiers through the town of Wooten Bassett en route from the airport to the military morgue.
The first time this happened, an elderly man stopped what he was doing, stood silently alone and saluted as the hearse carrying the flag-draped coffin drove by.
a shopkeeper noticed. The next time a military hearse passed through, the elderly man was not alone.
Without saying a word or having any meeting to discuss the matter, the townspeople simply began to line the streets. Silence fell .
I thought that gesture good enough to steal … sort of.
This Memorial Day, while certainly fishing that red and gold dry fly, I’ll again take a silent moment to remember Johnny scaring me with boot camp horror stories that hot night in the cool tavern.
And salute as that memory passes.
Semper fi.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Fly fishing the cahill and sulphur hatch

Even with a steady, stiff breeze, the cream caddis and cahills kept coming off, provoking not so steady rises in the high, in a hurry water.
I caught 17, mostly on a cream caddis.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Brown trout and a sulphur hatch

These guys were hatching late in the afternoon. Fish, though, did not turn on until about 5:30, which is when I caught this fellow. He refused or missed the fly three times before I hooked him. A fairly steady rain peppered the water. Fish kept rising.
Nothing on Tanasee creek on first visit. Water up, discolored. Plan return trip today.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Fly fishing with the New York Times

I was just about to toss out the New York Times when a photograph of a suspiciously familiar waterfall shook me up more than a broken tippet.
I would never had seen the picture because it was on the back page of the Weekend Arts section, which never has anything in it about fly fishing, but closer examination revealed that the photograph was taken in my back yard, the Pisgah National Forest near Brevard.
Wait just a minute, I thought.
That waterfall is Looking Glass Falls, one of the more popular and accessible tourist and fisherman attractions in Transylvania County, where I call home on the weekends away from work and where I fly fish for trout any chance I get.
Looking Glass Creek feeds in the Davidson River, which is touted as one of the top 50 trout waters in the nation by Trout Unlimited, a conservation group dedicated to keeping trout waters clean and trout healthy.
And now the NYT is telling all the world about my neighborhood, which includes all of western North Carolina when it comes to fishing for trout.
We already have enough fishermen crowding out water like a Mal-Wart store on sale day.
What’s going to happen now?
Will droves of Yankees begin flooding our riverbanks? Will all the frustrated tarpon fishermen from Florida decide to re-locate in a cooler clime? (Tons already do.) Will I have to share every pool and perhaps even every fish with a stranger from a strange land?
It’s sometimes almost elbow-to-elbow on the Davidson, and Looking Glass is often hard to find a spot to park during the summer.
I was aghast at the dismal possibilities.
Then, I noticed the inset map. Hold on there. The photo of the falls was correct, and the other picture showed what looked like Keven Howell’s chubby fingers tying a fly in the Davidson River Outfitters fly shop.
But the map was wrong. Way wrong. Across the country on the other side wrong.
The map showed a portion of California, on the coast, just south of San Francisco at San Luis Obispo, which to my knowledge is a far rock-hop from the mountain trout in the northern portion of Governor Arnold’s state.
That made me feel a little better. Out of state fly fisherman may not notice and fly out to California looking for Looking Glass. That’s a good thing, perhaps, for like I said before, our little creeks can get a little crowded and really do not need all that advertising.
The Times also mentioned my neighbors in adjacent Jackson County, where this year the county’s Travel and Tourism Authority has published a fly fishing trail map (it’s waterproof) touting 15 primo trout streams.
Our cabin is just over the county line, so we could possibly have to endure some tourist spillover.
After I calmed down, I noticed the fish in the other photograph was a native Appalachian brookie, which is actually not a trout but a char but that’s a different story altogether, that the NYT identified as a rainbow trout being released into the Nantahala River. Even in black and white, you could tell it was a speck, as we affectionately call them here.
They have little speckled spots, not streaks of rainbow red, on their flanks.
My guess is that some copy editor daydreamed his way through the story, misnamed the fish and put the deceptive inset map with the article.
Being a copy editor, I am not going to come down hard on the Times for those slips.
It may not have been a slip. I’m thinking in the back of my mind, it was a trick, and that copy editor is probably casting dry flies now near my cabin.
Everybody else can send us postcards from California.
(That's a Speck in the photo above, just like the one in the Times. Oops)

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Fly fishing invasion

The plan for the long weekend was to invade neighboring Jackson County and conquer as many of its much-publicized trout streams as possible, take a lot of photos and throw back a lot of wiggling fish.
The county put out some nifty waterproof maps recently that show where 15 of the more popular trout streams are located, how to get there and what to expect when you do. You learn what kind of trout are there, what size to expect and how many.
They call it the Western North Carolina Fly Fishing Trail.
For several weeks I planned the invasion, even though I hate planning for anything. Planning is bondage, the swami said, and I tend to agree, especially when it comes to getting out for some fun. You have to remain flexible. The weather may change, and probably will, or the car will break down, and hopefully does not, or I may just get lost, which is always a good bet when I explore new mountainous trout country.
Last week I never had a chance to get lost. I just never drove in the correct direction, which really does not count as being lost as much as being just another adventure, and ended up in barely familiar land. Passing by some promising water, I finally stopped at Balsam Lake, which feeds nicely into Wolf Creek. I just like the name of that creek, though I haven’t fished it much.
I should have turned left instead of right out of the driveway. The little creek, numbered "4" on my handy trail map, was in the other direction.
No matter. I can fish lakes too.
Fishing on two weekdays, I had the place nearly to myself. An elderly gentleman clad in bib overalls and a plaid shirt stopped by the car to tell me nobody was catching any fish lately, then he continued to the picnic shelter with his can of Vienna sausages and crackers.
Well, I hope he wasn’t planning to use those sausages for bait. I wouldn’t, since I prefer using flies, but I guess one could fashion a Vienna sausage fly and perhaps catch an unwary catfish somewhere. That can wait. I have entirely too many trout streams to haunt.
Watching to slow water for feeding trout rise rings, I perked up when a fish splashed at something near the parking lot. It was an overcast day the color of an old battleship. Rain threatened. I hoped to see some blue winged olives. Tiny flies, long tippets and delicate casts can be fun, or frustrating. It all depends on the trout.
I moved out to a point where the lake and creek met. There were a few rises, here and there, but they were not hitting the little olive fly.
After about 30 minutes of fruitless casting into a stiff wind, I angrily stripped in the line and hooked the brown trout just as I was lifting the fly from the water. Then, he snapped off the fly.
Switching to a soft hackle wet fly, I inched out on a tiny peninsula, flipped the fly into the current and gently stripped it in.
I caught two browns and lost a rainbow that flashed a little silver and red when it came out of the water and broke off.
A hard rain drove me away, but I knew it would not be very long before returning. Turned out the lake was just 11 miles from the cabin. I am surrounded by so much trout water that I rarely make it too any destination without a stop or two to toss a fly.
Like on the return trip.
The wind died, the rain subsided and I stopped at a little bridge. The trout was there. I put the fly softly next to the rock. A red-cheeked head came up, looked at my fly and splashed away.
That bridge is almost always a part of my plan. Perhaps soon I’ll make it to some of those other rivers, though I suspect there will be a ton of stops along the way.
It’s all part of the adventure.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Finding new trout water

Well, I took the wrong turn, went UP the mountain when I should have been going DOWN. I had misplaced the maps.
But I did find trout willing to hit the fly while I dodged rain showers Monday and Tuesday. There were some rising fish Monday but they quit after the hard rain that drove me away. Nothing happening much Tuesday.
More later.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Fly fishing for adventure

Well, this is the day I invade my neighboring county in search of new trout streams full of wild and sparkling fish. Jackson County has bragged for some time that it had the best trout fishing in the state, and they even got the local chamber of commerce involved in promoting a Trout Fishing Trail, complete with a map of a plethora of tumbling, twisting water.
Funny I never really get over there, even though our little cabin is almost on the county line near the Blue Ridge Parkway. I have problems passing up the creek and rivers in my own neighborhood.
You know, you just never know what to expect. I discovered this sun-bleached skull off the beaten trail a couple weeks ago just a few feet from water I have pounded for the past seven years on a regular basis.
Never know what you'll find.
Wonder what Jackson County surprises are in store for me? I have three days to find out.
I plan to slay 'em.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Fly fishing adventure on menu

There should be some fine trout fishing weather this weekend in western North Carolina. The forecast is for some clouds and possible showers late in the day, about like summer around here. The sulphurs were coming off near the Davidson River bridge right at dusk but I had no luck in the 20 minutes it lasted. Perhaps my splashing around scared them.
This weekend, I am armed and dangerous, so wipe that smile off your soon-to-be-released face, brownie.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Fly fishing weather is back

Well, it's been almost two weeks since I returned form an unsuccessful fishing trip to Va. Beach for some surf casting. For the record, I hooked not a single marlin.

Actually, the trip was for the 5-year-old's birthday and a visit with family. On my last day, I bought a $20 rod thick as my ankle and slung some heavy jigs into the surf with the wind and cold rain in my face. I thought it was going to sleet. How did it get into the 40s so quickly when it was nearly 80 just a day before.

I did managed to get back to the mountains last weekend. The browns really turned on late Sunday evening and the water was up and in a hurry after some heavy rain.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

My first fish

There are events in a man’s life that stick in the mind with crystal clear lucidity for a lifetime, moments to be recalled in pictures sharp as new televisions. There is the first day of school, the first real kiss from your first real girlfriend and, I am sure of this, your first fish caught with a rod and reel.
The first day of school, as I recall, was a dreadful affair, and the first real kiss from the first real girlfriend turned out to be the first real broken heart.
I never forgot any of those.
But the first fish I ever caught stands head and shoulders above all the rest, for there is nothing quite like being eight-years-old and wrestling with a wiggling fishing rod with something mysterious shaking at the other end and having no idea what kind of monster you may have hooked.Is it a shark?
My first fish, a little spot caught in the Elizabeth River in Virginia, was followed by a bagful of flopping silvery fish dancing on the grass. Mom cooked them, but only after I had gutted and cleaned each in the backyard, the only part of the experience I hated and one that eventually led to my catch and release practice today. The thrill is in the catching, not the cleaning, and you tend to waste way too much valuable fishing time (VFT) slitting fish bellies and lopping off heads.
Just toss ‘em back and keep casting.
I also vividly recall that first mountain trout. I caught that one, after several days of lashing the river with my new flyrod, in the Smith River near Martinsville, Va. It was in shallow riffles about 8 inches deep, close to the far bank near a furniture plant. The little rainbow hit a hare’s ear nymph. Boy, was that fun.
After that first taste of fly fishign success, I spent the next year fishing 229 out of 365 days.
I had turned into a fishing monster.
I fished before work. I fished at lunchtime and even in the evernings just before the city council held its meetings, prompting some witty remarks from the mayor about my wet clothes.
Well, little Carson Wince of Fallston caught his first fish this month on a rainy Good Friday in South Mountain State Park.
The three-year-old first-time angler caught the fish on a fly rod, too. On a wooly bugger, size 8 and black as a new Bible, also one of my favorite flies .
Carson’s trout was a big ole 16-inch brook trout.
Whew, that’s some fish.
His proud dad, Kenneth, sent us the photo of his son hold ng an obviously wiggling trout that was about as big as the grinning little boy.
I’m betting Carson will tell his fish story a hundred times or more during his life and, if he matures into a serious fly fisherman, the trout’s proportions promise to grow prodigiously with every passing year. Perhaps Carson and I will swap fishing lies one day.
Hey, I think that first trout I caught 24 years ago just grew a couple of inches.
It’s something that’s never forgotten, though often embellished.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Having faith when fly fishing

If you are a fly fisherman, you have to have a certain degree of faith in what you’re doing on the river. You hope, of course, to catch fish. To do such, you have to have faith in the fly you’re using and a belief that the water you’re fishing actually is home to some nice, fat fish, which do not have to be trout but do have to be eager to hit your fly. Where I spend the weekends, the water is full of trout.
We got rainbows, browns, brookies and the rare tiger trout in the mountain streams of western North Carolina, where I skip from rock to rock in the creeks and rivers every chance I get, searching for some of those hungry trout.And I have faith I will find some every time. I never leave the house harboring the belief that I will not catch a fish — of course I will.Without that belief firmly imbedded under my ragged, green fishing cap, it would all be close to a waste of time.
Actually, you would call it hiking. That’s what Henry Thoreau, who was not a fly fisherman, did. He liked to saunter through the woods around his little pond, without a fly rod, just to drink in nature’s beauty. Good for him. I have to have fish to hunt.
Today I expect to hunt trout.
As I type this, a vicious rain is peppering the rivers and creeks and perhaps even startling my little wild rainbows and browns. There was even talk of violent tornadoes and thunderstorms.It will clear. I have faith.
The sleepy sun will peep from under that thick quilt of gray sky, the air will sparkle with astonishing brightness, and trout will rise to gobble mayflies, with perhaps a sprinkling of tiny midges for seasoning. I am ready.
I spent way too much time tying flies last weekend. Randomly, I switched from a couple of huge monster streamers to little mayflies, with no sense of rhyme or reason. Some tyers can sit and tie dozens of the same fly over and over. My attention span when tying trout flies is akin to a butterfly hopping from one flower to another. Lack of focus, I guess.
But I keep the fly boxes full.And I have an unexplainable faith in their effectiveness, though few resemble what you would find in a catalogue or fly shop because of their natural scruffiness. I tie scruffy flies. They mostly look like one of my border collie’s chew toys, ragged and about to fall apart, but trout seem to like them. I generally catch fish.
And I have faith in those scruffy flies.How can a fly fisherman not be full of hope and high expectation upon spring’s arrival? This time of year, we fly fishers tingle with anticipation, knowing the air will soon fill with fluttering caddisflies and the splashes on the water’s surface will be feeding fish, not torrential rain. Life is good and all is well with the world.
You’ve got to have faith.