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.