Friday, February 27, 2009

Happy trails to you

If you have never heard of such a thing as a fly fishing trail, do not feel like a dry fly snapped off in a tree. You are not alone.
There is one, and only one, in the nation and it is just over the county line from our cabin. The Jackson County Chamber of Commerce has published a nifty map — waterproof of course — that shows 15 different spots for fly fishing in the Great Smoky Mountains.
The map points out four major rivers — Tuckasegee, Chattooga, Whitewater and Horsepasture — where a wily trout fisherman stands a chance of catching a trout as big as the family dog. The last two state records came out of the Horsepasture, the Chamber claims.
There is an abundance of neat little streams too, some remote and others not so far off the beaten path.
The maps, free to all who want them, show a couple streams I have fished and a few I never heard of that are just up the road from the cabin. Panthertown Creek splits Panthertown Valley, which has been called “The Yosemite of the East,” and is home to exotic flora and gorgeous brook trout. I remember catching little brookies with a royal coachman dry, then walking up the trail encountering a coiled and docile black rattlesnake on the edge of the narrow path. It did not faze Mrs. Koontz.For the past two weeks since I got the map in the mail, I have tried to get to check out some of the streams that I had not fished, but I am surrounded by trout waters. I must run a gauntlet to get to any river or stream outside of home county. They seem to reach out as I drive along.I cannot even drive into town to run errands for Mrs. Koontz without stopping at a bridge or pulloff. I took most of the afternoon Monday just to pay the phone bill. Sometimes it takes all day.
My personal Fly Fishing Trail consists of a couple big waters and lots of little creeks. I have two routes from the cabin to Brevard — one follows the Davidson River, considered one of the top 50 in the nation by Trout Unlimited, and the North Fork of the French Broad.
Then there are Chestnut Creek, Courthouse Creek, Kiessee Creek, Wash Creek, Beegum Creek and a couple so small streams that may not have names. Down near Rosman is the East Fork of the French Broad, a Delayed Harvest section full of trout in the winter. A little down the road toward Asheville, you can fish the North Mills River, though generally you will have a lot of company there.
You can get one of the maps by calling 800-962-1911 or download a smaller verson via
I got my map but have no idea when I will ever get over the county line to test it out.
I have my own Fly Fishing Trail.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Caught off the coast of California

This report came in the e-mail today from my roommate who got it from somebody out there. I couldn't resist posting it.

"Caught 1-1/2 miles offshore while Fishing! (after the fires in Southern Calif.) Look what the fires brought! "

Look closely at the first photo. See anything unusual?

"Not too much of a struggle? Poor guy!!!
He was very glad to be on board. No doubt!!!
He was sooo tired and was glad to get into our boat and rest!
And yes, we turned it loose when we got back to shore.
Just try beating this Fish Story!
Nice to hear a fuzzy story about a wild deer during deer hunting
Note that the kind fisherman has a Marine T-shirt on. What
else!! Known throughout the world as kind and compassionate men.
Huuuh-rah! and semper fi"
That's all folks.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

It was cold out there

Ah, yes, the ole Frustration Pool and ice on the side of the dirt roads. What a Monday for fly fishing!
For the record, I saw plenty of trout in the pool but caught none. Didn't even get a look. Threw everything at them. No hits.
Went upstream to another river and fished the little caddis just under the surface and ... got two hits...firm handshakes, to be sure...but just trout.
I wasn't even supposed to be out there for there were errands to run, phone bills to pay, groceries to pick up...and water to be fished.
I have no idea why it had to chill up on the two days of the week I had off.
Two ice days sandwiched between all these wonderfully warm winter days.
Ice dreams not nice dreams.
It's supposed to warm some for the coming Monday.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Some days on the river are keepers

Snow was falling like spilled grits. You couldn’t see the road. Fools who did not know snow drove too slow. Mrs. Koontz slipped off the road twice, but she made it home OK about the time I was getting up to go look for her. It was quite a snowstorm, she said.
When I went out to check the sky Sunday night, though, all I saw were stars blinking in a winter sky. I thought I saw some snow and clouds about 10 miles up the mountain, which turned out to be right where the snow stopped, like someone had slammed a door at 4,000 feet.
Down at the cabin it’s 3,500 feet above sea level, and that made all the difference. Monday morning, I left the frost-covered cabin to hit the sunny East Fork of the French Broad River near Rosman where the air is warmer and the water is always filled with trout in the winter.By the time the temperature began bumping the 50-degree mark, the water was crowded with off-work fishermen trying to hang into some of those Delayed Harvest trout.
Sunlight bounced off the water’s surface like flashbulbs, the river was clear and cold and I began fishing with a nymph tied behind a parachute dry that had a brightly colored and easy to see wing. At the first stop I nailed a rainbow with the dry fly.
That was all for that first bridge. I never got another hit.I ripped the nymph off to make room for a scruffy dry fly I had tried to fashion the night before. It barely resembled the Yaller Hammer fly I saw in the fly shop, but nobody told the trout. Bugs aren’t always pretty, I reasoned.
At the next stop, there were more fishermen than trout, so I kept on getting on.At the second bridge I was surprised and delighted to find I had the rest of the river to myself. The water was smooth and quiet. Sky, clouds and trees bounced images off the surface, but at first I didn’t see any feeding trout. I kept trying with the dry fly, with no luck.
There are moments in fly fishing that stand out like no other event. We always remember the monster trout that shake us out of our day-dreaming trances and the beautiful wild brook trout caught near tiny waterfalls. Moments like these get etched in our minds. They’re forever. They keep us coming back for more.
Another such moment is when you spot a fish feeding, figure out what it’s eating and then put the fly softly near the trout without spooking him.Like Monday at that second bridge. Off to the left, I saw the ring spread from where a fish was having a bug lunch, let out some line and put the scruffy fly within inches of the trout.
The Yaller Hammer floated just a nanosecond before it disappeared in a violent splash. Bingo.I tried photographing the rainbow underwater with the waterproof camera, but the fish would not stay still and the water was bone-crunching cold, so all I got was a little fuzzy shot.
My hands ached, and I thought about what a good choice it had been to avoid the north side of the mountain, where all the snow had fallen, and keep to the sunny side of life.
This moment on the river was a keeper.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

February can be cruel, too

I saw the fish rise to slap the water’s surface as midges bounced like popcorn in the air over the water. You just knew it was going to be a stellar day for fly fishing. Even though the sun was way too bright and the water way too clear, I was ready to settle into the groove of an unseasonably balmy February day.
The cloudless blue sky seemed to beckon. Come on out. Have some fun in the unheard of at this time of year warm sunshine.
I remember most Februarys as months that should have been abolished, ripped from the calendar with authority to bring spring closer. I have always hated February. The month has a long history of cloudy, drizzly, unbearably chilly and stinky days on the river.
Bring on March. It’s blustery and often nasty, but it’s not February, which is always lifeless. It’s the month between two others, and that is all.
But here I was on the river, watching trout rise to hatching insects when the outdoor world should have been snoozing under a thick blanket of gray clouds.
I even caught that brown trout on about the third cast. It felt like a big fish at first, then I discovered the little caddis fly was stuck in the fish’s tail. I guess I jerked the fly too quickly, or the trout missed or just changed its mind at the last minute, or it was just a lucky hookup.That fish felt way heavier than he turned out to be. I unhooked the fly, slipped the sparkling brown back into the water and looked around, a little embarrassed, to see if anybody was there. Snagging fish is not a skill of which to be especially proud.
There was a break in the action, some errands to run and lunch in the city before I got back into the fishing, this time on the Davidson River along the other road to our cabin. There were few rising trout. There were fewer fly fishermen.I snapped off the little caddis dry fly and knotted a super-small midge, a speck of a fly I thought would surely interest these picky trout in the Catch and Release section. That caddis fly would never work.
An hour later, I had not enticed one hit.It began to get dark. The sun slipped behind the ridge. Soon, it was just me, and one other fisherman, a little bit upstream. The light waned just in time for the fish to begin popping the surface, jumping and gulping whatever it was floating on the surface. The fellow upstream — barely out of my casting range — had trout splashing all around like little children hopping up and down in a swimming pool.
I watched his rod bend and shake. I kept casting my little midge, with no takers. I’d stop, and see that guy fighting another hefty trout. Then another, then another.
I was catching nothing but air, and that was getting darker and cooler with each cast. It was too late to begin fumbling for another fly, and besides, that guy had all the action within reach while the rest of the river was quiet as church on Monday. Those fish almost jumped into his fishing vest.I kept catching air.
When I finally gave it up in frustration and despair, I asked the fellow catching all the fish what fly he was using.“Little caddis fly.”Violent and unseemly thoughts erupted in my mind. I felt this strange desire to wade into the water to whack those stupid trout on the head with my rod.
You see, even when February days are warm and pretty, they turn cold and ugly just for spite.
Life’s not always fair. Especially in February.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Love waterfalls

I do love my neighborhood waterfalls and the trout that live nearby. I usually catch one or two in this pool, but last week had no luck. Upstream was a different story and I nailed a few with a little cadis dry fly. They were quick. I missed a lot of them.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Trout makes fashion statement

Her cheeks were so red they could stop traffic on a big city street. I cannot verify if she was the largest rainbow trout I had ever hooked, but her eyes were big as the buttons on my camouflage jacket and as sad as a guilty dog. I was startled when I got her close.
I had been fishing the Davidson River again. It’s almost in the backyard, and if I have to make a trip to the store or bank, I have to pass the river and invariably I have to stop and at least take a look, though mostly I stop and fish. Mrs. Koontz knows it takes me 3 to 4 hours to make a simple trip down the mountain to the store. She expects it.
This trip was no different. I had tried to fish a little late Sunday, but the sun was high and bright and the fish were skittish. I just walked along the bank and watched for rising trout. There weren’t any.
Monday appeared to be what all winter fly fishermen dream about, cloudy with a light, drizzling rain that makes for perfect blue wing olive weather and rising trout. My flybox was loaded with all the various sizes of BWO, as well as the regular midges and nymphs that seem to work on the Davidson.
I began the day with the tiniest nymph – a Christmas present – that was about the size of a capital “C” on this page. It was red with a little gold ribbing and unspeakably small. I had a heck of a time tying it on.I had caught some hefty browns in this run near the parking lot just a couple weeks ago. It was worth a shot. I began tossing the tiny fly up and across the current and let it swing down through some riffles, hoping it would get down deep enough to catch the attention of one of those monster trout that reside there.
It did, though at first I thought it was a log. I am not a very good nymph fisherman. I miss those subtle hits where the fish mouths the fly, then spits it out quicker than I can react. I almost never see the line jerk in the water when a fish takes it. I miss a lot of good fish, I bet.So, I was a bit surprised, as was the big trout looking up at me with those baleful eyes, when I got the fish close in the shallow water.Wow, I said. Then, she showed me just how educated and smart she was and, with her tiny teeth untied my knot, kept the fly as a souvenir and swam away, leaving me holding a rod with a slack line swimming in the water.
Davidson River trout have a reputation of being a little smarter than the average mountain trout and they often leave grown men grumpy and almost in tears with frustration. They have, I bet, seen every type and color and size of fly made. That’s why, I guess, we generally have better luck fishing the itty-bitty flies.
I’m thinking they like to wear those shiny things in their lips like punk-rock jewelry, but who would ever have thought trout were into body piercing? But then, the fly that fat trout stole matched her ruby red cheeks. She’ll be the envy of the others.