Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Air was cold but fishing was hot

All week the sky was glistening brightly with bluebird color. The air was soothing after a brutal winter. The fish were moving, looking for spring insect hatches, and I had spent the previous weekend tying tiny midge flies with the idea of assaulting some quiet, deep river pool full of monster brown trout.

Anticipation heightens any sensory experience, so I waited for my chance after a week staring at a computer screen. I needed air. And trout.

I was anxious and ready, with a fly box overflowing with little midge flies.
Sunday dawned gray as an old battleship wrapped in a dismal fog. As the day progressed, the air got cooler and wetter and by the time I arrived at the mountain cabin, it was a downpour as strong as a blast from a fire hose. No time for anglers.

Monday dawned gray but dry. Fly fishermen thrive in such weather, funny as that may sound. About the time I had my second cup of coffee, the snow was falling pretty steadily, though it was in the form of little pellets that looked like packing material, not snow, but that soon changed to a relentless shower of icy flakes that threatened to slick up the mountain roads.

I stayed in the neighborhood, venturing less than a mile from home to fish some rambunctious water I had never tried, primarily because ot its proximity to riverside homes. It’s difficult to be alone when you feel somebody’s eyes looking at you through a kitchen window. I always feel like I’m sort of trespassing, though there are no warning signs.
With the water high and frisky, there was only one fly to tie on — a black wooly bugger. I’d toss it with a little split-shot, watch it go ka-plunk with a loud splash and then let it swing around downstream, at which point I stripped it back slowly.

The trout loved it. The first fish, caught almost in the country store parking lot, hit the fly like he was mad as it drifted toward the bank.
The snow kept falling, chilling my nose. Wrapped in plenty of wool and fleece, the only cold body parts were fingers and a red nose. There was no finding those fleece gloves, especially on the third official day of spring, so my fingers felt like they had been crushed in the car door.
But what’s a little pain when you’re catching more trout than you can count?

There was one spot on the new stretch where a pile of flood cobble lined one side of the bank, which dipped off into a deep pool. The landowner must have pushed all those river rocks to the side. Most were smooth as hen eggs. All were tricky on walk across.

A big rainbow hit the wooly bugger, rolled in the rapids and popped off with the fly in his mouth and almost broke my heart for he was by far the biggest fish I had hooked all year.
With frozen fingertips, I tied on another the same color and size and kept right on gettin’ on until my arm tired.

It had been a fine day. It was so good I quit before darkness sent me home, a mere four hours spent on the water.
That night I tied more flies. But I probably won’t need them today, as I expect gentler, warmer water and perhaps some trout sipping mayflies off the surface.

I still have those midge flies.
I’ve been anticipating such all week.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Daylight Fishing time arrives

Most of you know it as Daylight Saving Time, but we flyfishers look at the March time change as Daylight Fishing Time, for we get an extra hour in which to fish. The first day, though, can be a little tough. We lose sleep. For the first day of DFT we stagger a little, our bodies still clinging to the time frames of the past.

Then we get over it. By the beginning of the second DFT day, we’re ready to assault the streams and rivers way past dinner time, and now that spring has sprung and the air has softened, we can fish right into the blackness of night.
We have late dinners.

Last week it was still a little chilly, a little windy and a little less like spring, which was, after all, another week away. I spent about an hour getting skunked on the Davidson River Sunday under darkened skies.

Monday dawned bright as a camera flash. The sky was bright blue with just a few cotton-like clouds. The water levels were just right. I figured it would be a good day for fishing in one of the Delayed Harvest rivers where, from October to June, the fishing is catch-and-release. You may not catch them all the time, but you know there are trout ready to tease or please.

The East Fork of the French Broad River is just a 30-minute serpentine ride down the mountain and through some lovely farm country where old barns and farms line the road to the river. At the first bridge the catch-and-release section begins. There’s a little pulloff spot, with enough room for one vehicle, and I stopped to rig up the rod and don the waders. The water was still cold with snow melt.

There were way too many anglers. My favorite spot with the long, mirror-like pool had been claimed. I pulled over at a place I had never tried, fished a bunch of different flies for about an hour with no luck. One of the locals stopped to talk, and I learned that his son and his buddy had been catching fish with San Juan worm flies and wooly buggers.

My green inchworm fly attracted only scorn. I began to worry that I may have to face the embarrassment of getting skunked on a Delayed Harvest river full of frisky trout.

Then I tied on the black wooly bugger, a big ole nasty-looking fly that can resemble all kinds of trout food from small minnows to little crayfish.
All I know is those trout loved it. They chewed it ragged.

The first trout to hit looked as big as my leg. That slab of silver and blush red rolled in the fast current, tugged at my fly and then slipped off the hook. It was a strong, hefty rainbow that tested my little 4-weight fly rod to the limit … for a few palpitating seconds.

For the next hour, I couldn’t keep them away from my fly.
One after another they hit that fly, tugged on my fly rod like big dogs holding on a chew toy and did a few Shaun White imitations with aerial displays. I lost count of how many.

I quit early. I had a dinner date with Mrs. Koontz.
And, after dinner, there was still time to fish a little more.
I love DFT.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Some days you get the bear

Some days you get the bear, and some days the bear gets you. John Riggins used to throw that quote out while playing football for the Washington Redskins back in the day. As most of us recall, Riggins got the bear more often than the bear got him, even those bears from Chicago.
Last Monday, we got the bear.

There’s usually a lot more snow on the other side of the mountain in Haywood County than there is on the south side of the Blue Ridge Parkway, so if was not without a little trepidation that I took the Troutmobile to the Delayed Harvest section of the Pigeon River. I expected some icy spots along the twisting road and some tough-to-catch trout when I got to the church parking lot, where you don’t have to park in snow and mud.

We found the little river fringed with a lace-work of ice and snow. The roads were smooth and clean. The air was a spring-like 50-something and felt warmer when the gusty breeze quit its blustery ways.
And, lo and behold, the Ttout set out the welcome mat.
In past years my luck on this little stretch above Lake Logan has been spotty, at best. Farther downstream, I once caught a monster rainbow well over 20 inches long and in the 4- to 5-pound range. A handsome fish, to be sure. Upstream near the Blue Ridge Parkway, I managed in midsummer to catch a handful of sparkling brook trout.

But I have been as disappointed and disgusted as a spurned street beggar holding an empty tin cup or ‘dreaming of a cheeseburger’ sign.
My hopes were not exactly high.

But it hardly mattered. Snow and ice were disappearing.
The winter air was softening. Insects were hatching.
After a long two months of catching nothing but freezer air in the face and going home with little more than frozen fingertips, it didn’t matter if there were fish in that water.
But there were.

After arriving and spending way too much valuable fishing time stringing up a new leader, I headed upstream, leaving my angling partner behind to fish the closest spot.
When I looked back a while later, there was another fly fisherman splashing through the water my friend was fishing. Bad manners, I thought. Mrs. Koontz would give that fellow a tongue-lashing for his rudeness. The nerve of some.

I was still fishless but the stranger and my friend both had bent fly rods and each was releasing a wiggling trout.
I waded back to where the fish were.
They were not picky fish. We caught them on a dry Adams, nymphs, caddis flies and just about anything else in our fly boxes. I had them hit on the top, just under the surface and in the deep pockets.

All were brightly colored and put up muscular battles. In past years, hatchery trout were pale and weak.

According to the fishing stranger, the stocking truck had dumped a load there that morning.
Talk about timing.
Sometimes, you get the bear. Sometimes you get him really, really good.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Time for some dry fly fishing

Sometime in the darkest hour of the night a splash of new water on an old rock transforms into a beautiful crystalline ice flower that dances just above the creek’s surface. Hanging and nodding like a buck dancer to fiddle music, the laurel branch sparkles in the moon’s silver light, surrounded by hills smothered in the latest snowfall. The only sound is the creek softly singing.

There is a lot to be said for winter’s hard and cold beauty. The field leading to the old barn lies quiet under a heavy cushion of smooth snow. Silence reigns. Stars sprinkled like spice spread across the sky. A full moon casts ghostly shadows and the night air has that clean, metallic taste only the coldest months seem to have.

But I yearn for spring. This has not been the best of winters for fly fishing in the mountains of western North Carolina, though there were a few marvelous days when the water warmed just a tad. But storms seemed to appear out of nowhere just in time to ruin roads and vehicles and smash any chances of getting on the river.

I really yearn for spring.
Just two weeks away, the new season seems to be sneaking up on us. It’s like that sometimes. One day it will be bitter cold, and then the next day will be balmy, perhaps even in the 60s. Before one knows it, flowers are blooming, grass is greening and trout are rising to tiny mayflies. There have been years when spring exploded in the hills overnight, flooding the mountains with waves of green. Little wild violets pop up along the banks.
So far this year, I have managed to land just two trout. Both of them hit the Tellico nymph with the little rubber legs and both were hefty rainbows caught near the cabin. If one were keeping score, winter was the victor in this fishing game.

I am ready to say goodbye to this winter of angling discontent. Today, there should be a good sampling of spring weather, a time for tossing dry flies and playing with frisky wild trout while the last of the ice drips from the rocks. There may be some March browns hatching, or perhaps some blue winged oilives and red quills. I’ll probably begin today throwing a big Adams into the current, with a little nymph tied on as a trailer.

Those two dozen midge nymphs certainly will be baptized today in the holy waters of the Davidson River. Since I spent the good portion of a snowbound weekend tying those exasperatingly tiny flies, you can bet they will get used.

And those little dry caddis flies will get their usual workout the next day on one of my little creeks up the road, for I know from the most recent scouting trips where some of those wild trout are hanging out.

For the next couple of days, at least, I will have discovered a glimpse of spring.
It’s time for the ice flowers to drip from their branches to make room for the laurel soon to bloom while the air fills with mayflies.