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.