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.