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.

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