Thursday, July 18, 2019

This Place

I went fishing yesterday at this place that I would like to tell you about. It was a great day to be in the mountains, and one of the too infrequent trips that I got to make with my Uncle Greg. I know that sometimes I'm a little scarce with the details of where I fish, but this time I wanted to make an exception. This place is just too wonderful not to share. Sit back and let me tell you all about this place.

This Place
This place is a wonderful place to get away from the heat of a July day. It's not that hard to get to. Just drive a little further up the road, gaining elevation as you wind your way up the mountain. Cross over the Eastern Continental Divide, and under the Blue Ridge Parkway. Once you turn off the highway, follow the Forest Service gravel road as it leads you deeper into the mountains and farther from the black top. At the end, park the truck and walk past the locked gate and up the road until you find a spot to enter the river. As you make your way up the road, take the time to enjoy the rhododendron, bee balm, Turk's cap lily, and other wildflowers blooming along the way. Watch out for the stinging nettle though! Stinging nettle are one of the reasons I started wearing long pants to wet wade many years ago.
Turk's Cap Lily

After a short walk up the road, I entered the river. Greg and I decided to split up and each fish a section of river, then meet up in a couple hours and compare notes and decide if we wanted to move upstream, downstream, or head somewhere else entirely. After plans were made and a rendezvous point picked, Greg walked up river and I found a path down from the road to the river.
Budding Rhododendron
Let me tell you about the river at this place. It is a nice sized trout stream, big enough to hold lots of possibilities, but small enough to be able to read the water and pick out the majority of the good spots to fish. This river has always seemed to be clearer, and a little colder than some of the places I frequent, even in the heat of summer. The air is cooler up here at this place, and I hardly broke a sweat hiking in or out. The stream itself is very rocky, even for a mountain stream. There are impressive boulders strewn along it's length, and the rocks in the stream bed all seem to be tilted at different angles from each other. It can make for some interesting wading at times, especially if you aren't paying close enough attention to where your feet are. 
Wild Rainbow
Now that you've been introduced to the river, allow me to tell you about the fishing at this place. This place is not somewhere I would go if I wanted to catch a trout on every cast or two. This isn't that kind of place. This is the kind of place that you go if you want a nice day in a beautiful spot, and a stream full of wild rainbows, browns, and brook trout if you get high enough into the headwaters. This is the kind of place that can be a challenge to fish, with crystal clear water and spooky trout. It's the kind of place that you can fish all day with a size 12 Adams dry fly (I did yesterday) and expect to have success. It's also the kind of place where the trout seem a little bigger, fight a little harder, and can at times be pickier than some of the other wild streams I fish. 
Fungi
The trout in this place can also be particular, both about presentation and fly selection. I tried one of my go-to summer patterns that I catch a lot of fish on in other places, but these trout were having none of it. That particular pattern has calf tail wings and is a bulkier dry fly. Once I switched to the Adams with it's smaller profile, the fish seemed to approve. This is the kind of place that has plenty of deep pools that would be ideal for a dry-dropper rig or nymph fishing, but I seldom go subsurface here. I know I'm missing opportunities by staying on the surface, especially in the deeper pools, but the surface strikes were frequent enough yesterday to keep me from reaching for the nymph box. I fish it slowly and don't rush, but before I know it the two hours are up and it's time to check back in with Greg and see how his morning has gone. We meet up and compare notes, and decide to walk upstream from where we had been fishing and give it a couple more hours. We've both caught fish and want to continue on upstream.
Swallowtail Butterflies
This time it was my turn to walk upstream, and I tried to make sure and give Greg plenty of room to fish. As I walked, I took the time to observe the environment around me, seeing plenty of bee balm (thank you Greg for identifying it for me), Turk's cap lily, and rhododendron blooming. One of the stranger things about this place is that it seems like I always find some type of funky fungi growing on the trees. This time I saw two different types, and both were on live trees. This place is full of surprises, and it seems like every trip up here reveals something new. As I made my way back down to the river, I came upon a large group of Eastern Black Swallowtail butterflies, with a few Eastern Tiger Swallowtails mixed in. They were beside the river drinking at a small pool of water. I saw both species of butterfly all up and down the river today, along with some smaller butterflies that I couldn't identify. I didn't see any insects hatching on the stream, but from the size of trout that this place produces I feel certain that they are finding something to eat. 
Wild Brown

Once I made it back down to the river, I continued on upstream through a stretch that seemed to be shallower than the previous stretch I'd fished. There were still plenty of small pockets that were deep enough to hold fish, and I did catch a couple as I made my way farther up stream. I had quite a few refusals and short strikes, and a few of the fish I hooked managed to throw the hook after a second or two. The trout in this place seem to be wizards when it comes to escaping, or at least they did yesterday. Once again time seemed to slip by just as quickly as the waters of this place, and before I knew it I was heading back down the road to meet up with Greg and head back home. I didn't catch any of the brook trout that this place sometimes gives up, but I did manage a couple brown trout and several pretty rainbows. Several Adams were donated to various rocks and rhododendron, and now I will be back at the tying desk replacing them, anticipating my next trip to this place.
Bee Balm
There, just as I promised, are all the details about where I fished yesterday. There are also a lot more pictures from yesterday's trip to this place on the NC Outdoor Ramblings Facebook page. As far as the name and location of this place? Sorry, my lips are sealed.

- Joseph







Saturday, July 13, 2019

Lessons Learned From A Year of Trout Fishing

At the beginning of 2018, I set myself a goal. You could call this a New Year's Resolution, but I chose instead to consider it a personal challenge. I knew for me, New Year's resolutions tended to last a couple of weeks at most, and I wanted this to be a much more permanent type of goal. My goal, challenge, resolution, or whatever you would like to call it, was to fish more. Specifically, I wanted to spend more time fly fishing for trout (and other species of  course). I decided to set a goal to catch at least one trout a month by fly fishing. As much as I love fishing for all types of fish, I chose trout because I figured that smallmouth bass or other species of fish would be even less likely to bite a fly in the winter than trout.
*The Trout of 2018

I know you may be wondering why someone has to set themselves a goal of fishing more. Please allow me to try to explain my thought process behind the one trout a month challenge. It didn't come about due to a  lack of fishing, but rather from a lack of the things that go along with fishing for me. I came to realize that as much as I love to fish, tie flies, and write about it on this blog, there was a distinct lack of writing and fly tying going on. 

It was nobody's fault but mine, and I wanted especially to start writing blog posts again on a regular basis. The fishing would hopefully provide me some inspiration to write again, along with spending time at the desk tying flies to replace the ones lost on the fishing trips. This quest for a trout a month was going to be the cure for writers block and get the creative juices flowing for both writing and fly tying. At least that's what I thought at the time. 
Snow on the Stream

I had never taken the time to figure out our trout fisheries other than during the warm months from March or April through about November. I would put up the fly rods about the time that deer season came around, and sometimes it was after the end of turkey season in May before my thoughts turned back to fishing. There were occasional trips when the urge hit to go wet a line, but overall the majority of my fishing revolved around the seasons that I'd grown up fishing in, especially summer when school was out and fishing time was easy to come by. I love to hunt, and the purpose of this goal of mine was not to replace hunting with fishing, but rather to see if I could squeeze a little bit of fishing in even during hunting seasons. 

One of the first lessons I learned from this quest was that variety really is the spice of life. During deer season, I did spend most of my outdoor time in a stand deer hunting. The occasional fishing trip helped to break up the days of sitting in a stand, especially when deer activity was slow. A trip to the stream seemed to get me excited to go hunting again, and by the same token several days spent in the woods deer hunting sitting still helped me appreciate the ever changing environment of a mountain stream. The wildlife is different, the scenery is different, and the methods are different, but both activities provide me with a deep connection to the outdoors. Sitting in a stand watching the woods come awake at daylight, or slowly working my way up a mountain stream trying to locate fish without spooking them cause me to slow down and really take in where I am and what is around me.
*Cold Weather Fishing

The next lesson I learned from a year spent trout fishing is how to appreciate how difficult fooling a fish into eating some fur and feathers tied to a hook can be. I've will never consider myself an expert fly fisherman or anything close to an expert, but I've had decent success catching fish over the years. However, most of this has been due to fishing the same times of year with the same few fly patterns and techniques. In the summer, one of my favorite ways to fish is to take an attractor dry fly pattern like a Thunderhead and fish the wild trout waters. Most of the time, this is fairly shallow water with small pools and pockets and sparse, varied insect hatches. Matching the hatch takes a back seat to presentation and stealth. If you can approach a pool without spooking the fish and make a good presentation, most of the time these trout aren't too picky about the fly pattern. This is still my favorite way to catch trout, just because to me nothing beats the thrill of seeing a fish come up and eat a fly. 

The dry fly takes of summer were a long way off when I began my quest. It was January and there was snow on the ground from a few days before. I knew that early in the year my favorite wild trout streams would be very difficult if not impossible to fish because the cold temperatures would have the fish sheltering in the few deep spots available. In order to make my quest attainable, I decided to start the year fishing the delayed harvest section at a local state park. This stream has wild trout farther up in the headwaters and tributaries, but the lower stretch is stocked in October, November, March, April, and May with catch and release regulations in effect from October 1 until the first Saturday in June. It also is a little flatter and slower moving than the upper river, and has quite a few deeper holes that I thought may be a good place to find fish. 
Wild Rainbow

The next few lessons I learned came when I ventured out in the snow in January to try to fool a trout. I was able to find a few fish, and they were in the deeper pools. The surprise came when I couldn't seem to get anything to eat. I tried fly after fly, added weight to get my nymphs deeper, and switched flies several times. During all this, I could see the fish holding close to the bottom. They weren't spooked, but they were definitely not interested in moving to take a fly. Finally, I tied on a heavily weighted golden stonefly nymph and worked on presenting the fly so that it sank to the level of the fish by the time it drifted over their lie.The water was extremely clear, and I chose to just watch the fly rather than use an indicator after a few attempts showed me that the fly wasn't getting deep enough with an indicator on the leader. After several casts and corrections, I manged to get a drag free drift with the fly almost hitting a trout in the nose. To my surprise and delight, the trout opened its mouth and ate the fly. It never moved until I set the hook, and I'm convinced that the only reason it ate at all was because the fly was right in front of it and it didn't have to move to eat it. I took a few things away from this trip. I learned that an indicator is helpful at times when I'm nymph fishing, but it's not always necessary or even the right choice. I learned that trout in extremely cold water in the winter are not going to be likely to move much, if at all, for a fly. Finally, I learned that getting a fly down to where the fish are will increase my success, especially if the trout are lethargic and not willing to move for a fly.
Brook Trout

Over the course of 2018, I continued to fish at least once or twice a month. Another lesson that I should have learned long ago that was reiterated to me was not to procrastinate. There were a few months when continuing the one fish a month challenge came down to the last day or two of the month, and a single fish. There's a fine line between success and failure, and not just in fishing. The times when I waited to fish until the end of the month brought this home to me, especially the time when I had to fish back to back days because I got skunked and had one day left in the month. I didn't mind at all having to fish two days in a row, but it did remind me that if you have a goal, don't take it for granted. 

I experimented with quite a few new fly patterns as well over the course of the year. I distinctly remember fishing once on a delayed harvest stream that had seen a lot of angling pressure. I couldn't get a strike on any of my usual go-to patterns, and finally switched to a much smaller nymph than I would usually fish. Several fish later, I realized that I tend to have a few fly patterns that I use all the time instead of trying to match the fly to the situation. Since that day, if fishing is tough I'm much quicker to try a different pattern, size, color, or type. Some days it has made the difference between success and failure. 

*Wet Wading in Warm Weather
Along with all the fishing lessons I learned, I had a lot of fun. I've been tying more flies and learning to tie new patterns. I've spent more time outdoors doing the things I love, and finally the writer's block seems to have been cured. I had so much fun during 2018 doing the one trout a month quest that I've continued it this year. So far as of the time I'm writing this in July I've managed to keep the streak going. I do think that as long as I'm able and life allows it, I want to keep trying to catch trout all twelve months of the year. It has gone beyond just a challenge to myself to see if I could do it, and turned into an appreciation for the challenge of fly fishing and all that comes with it. I realize that quite a few of the lessons I've learned are things that any good fly fisherman should already know. I'm just one of those hard headed individuals that has to try things themselves in order for it to sink in. I know this has been a long post, and if you've read down this far I would like to say thank you for reading my ramblings. I've been doing a fair amount of fishing and fly tying lately, and I plan to have several new posts up on this blog soon.

- Joseph

* Credit for these photos to my wife Trina

Friday, July 12, 2019

Hello Out There!

Proof I've Been Fishing, Just Not Blogging
Hello there! It's been a while! Looking back, it's been a little over a year and a half since my last ramblings on this blog. Ironically, this was in a post called New Year's Resolutions, where I wrote about my plans to both fish and blog more often. I have been fishing more often, and so far since the time I wrote that post I have managed to catch at least one trout each month while fly fishing. The original intent of my personal challenge of a trout a month had three purposes. I wanted to improve my skills as a fly fisherman, improve my fly tying (replacing the flies that got chewed up by all those trout, or more realistically replacing all the flies that got broken off on rocks, snagged on bushes, or stuck in trees), and also hopefully have lots of trips to write about on this blog.

I feel like that two of my three goals have been met. I feel like I've become a better all around trout fisherman, and I've learned quite a bit about how to catch fish during times that I used to write off as the wrong time of year to fish. I've also found more reasons to spend time at the desk tying flies, and through that I feel like I've learned some new techniques, tips, tricks, and patterns that have made fly tying even more enjoyable. Don't get me wrong, I'm far from an expert at any of this, but it has been fun to learn more about the sport that I enjoy so much.

The third goal was to up the frequency of posts on this blog. I'm ashamed to say that's one goal that didn't even come close to being accomplished. I really enjoy blogging, and I have missed the time spent writing and reflecting on my outdoor experiences. I've been doing quite a bit of fishing lately, along with tying flies, and I'm hoping to spend some time writing about it all. With the caveat that I've been known to say this before and not follow through, I am planning to spend some time blogging and see if I can't get some new things on here soon. If you happen to read this, thank you for taking the time to stop by. Hopefully things will pick up around here, but either way it's good to be back.

- Joseph

Saturday, January 20, 2018

New Year's Resolutions

Snow on the Mountain
It's been a cold start to 2018 so far here in North Carolina. We've been below freezing almost every night since the start of the new year, and there's been quite a few days where daytime temperatures struggled to hit the 32 degree mark. Sounds like the perfect situation to go fly fishing doesn't it?


Chilly day on the river
I've never been one to make New Year's Resolutions, but this year is a little different. I'm not calling this a resolution so much as a goal, an achievement to work toward all year long. Perhaps not surprisingly, it revolves around trout fishing. I realized that last year I didn't tie nearly as many flies, write as many blog posts, and especially didn't go trout fishing nearly as much as I would have liked to. The worst part was there was really no good reason for my lack of fishing and writing, other than the lack of fishing led to a lack of material to blog about. With that in mind, and with the end goal of becoming a better year-round fisherman, I decided that this year I want to catch at least one trout on a fly each month of the year. I also plan to chronicle my progress here on the blog.

Once I set this as my goal, I struggled a little to decide what kind of limits to place on myself. My favorite type of fishing is catching wild trout on dry flies, but I also wanted to make my goal achievable. I figured that the chances of our wild trout streams fishing well enough to catch trout in the dead of winter were pretty slim, and the chance of any trout being willing to rise to a dry fly in near-freezing water temperatures were slimmer still. So with that in mind, I decided that my "rules" for this would be that it must be a trout of any species, and that it had to be caught on a fly using a fly rod. I also decided not to limit myself to just North Carolina waters, because I do occasionally fish out of state, especially in Pennsylvania when we go visit my wife's family up there.


With all these things in mind, and with the remnants of three inches or so of snow on the ground, I set out yesterday afternoon with my brother in law to see if we could catch the year's first trout. Yesterday promised warmer temperatures than we have had so far in January, with the high reaching into the lower 50's, so I had hope that the warmer weather might have the trout slightly more active. I decided to give the delayed harvest section of the local state park a try, figuring that the higher elevation streams would be even colder and less likely to fish well. This particular stream gets stocked with trout in October and November, and then again in March, April, and May with catch and release only regulations in effect from October to June. I figured there would be some trout to be found, even with the last stocking occurring the first week of November.

This pool held a few trout
We arrived at the park and started at one of my regular fishing spots where I knew of several deeper pools that I figured the trout would be holding in due to the cold. We were able to spot three or four trout right away holding in deep water close to the bottom. I knew then it was going to be tough, because the fish weren't actively feeding or even moving any more than was necessary to hold their place in the current. After fishing the pool for a while with no success, we headed up the trail to check a few other places that usually hold fish. We found a few trout in the bridge pool, although unfortunately they spooked after a few casts.

First trout of 2018
At the next pool we were going to try, we ran into another fly fisherman and stopped to compare notes. He hadn't had any luck either, but had seen several fish as well. He was quitting for the day, so we decided to give the pool a try since we could spot a few fish holding down deep. I figured that if I had any chance at all to catch a fish, I would have to get a fly right in front of its nose because we hadn't seen a single fish move at all to take our flies. I tied on a heavily weighted golden stonefly nymph, figuring that it was the heaviest fly I had in my box. These trout were in four or five feet of water, and just barely above the bottom. After quite a few attempts with no success, I finally managed a perfect drift and was able to see one of the trout open his mouth and inhale my stonefly. The trout never moved to take the fly, and I'm convinced the only reason he ate it was because it was right in front of his face and all he had to do was open his mouth. After a short fight, I was able to net a pretty rainbow trout. This wound up being the only fish either of us would catch that afternoon, and was the only fish that I even saw attempt to eat.
January Trout Closeup

Even though the fishing was slow, it was a nice way to cure the cabin fever brought on by too much time indoors. We got to enjoy solitude in a normally crowded and popular park, and also had a chance to fish with snow on the ground which is a fairly unusual circumstance for us. More than anything yesterday was a learning experience for me, and one that I hope will add just a little to my knowledge of trout fishing. I do believe that I may have to spend more time on the stream during the cold months from now on. It was a challenging and rewarding day, even though I only caught one fish. For me fishing and hunting have never been about the numbers caught or harvested, but instead about the time spent enjoying the great outdoors. I can't wait to get back out there and do it again.


Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Headwaters

I actually wrote this post a quite a while ago, but somehow it never got published to the blog. I thought it might be a good time to share it since this post is about the same stream that I talked about in my last blog post. I hope you enjoy this trip a little farther upstream!

A while back, I decided to do some exploring in the headwaters of one of my favorite trout streams. I have fished the lower sections of this river with a good bit of success over the years, and driven by the upper reaches a time or two on the Forest Service road, but I had never fished the headwaters. The lower stretch of the river fell under Catch and Release - Artificial Flies Only regulations when I began fishing here several years go, while the headwaters were classified as regular Wild Trout waters by the NC Wildlife Commission with a daily limit of four fish greater than seven inches long. The lower river contains some fairly deep holes, and I had caught some nice brown and rainbow trout from it over the years. A few years ago, the lower river was reclassified as Wild Trout waters, while the headwaters received the Catch and Release - Artificial Flies Only designation. I had never fished very far beyond the old boundaries of the catch and release water, so I was anxious to see what kind of secrets the upper river held.

Headwaters
 This river has always seemed colder to me than some of the other trout waters I regularly fish, although I realize "cold" is a relative term when you're talking about a mountain stream. The river's headwaters have their beginnings on the slopes of some of the highest mountains on the East coast, and I can't help but imagine that the river is colder because of it. It always seems to fish well, even in the middle of summer, and I think this is at least partly due to the cold water. The air temperature along the stream is always four or five degrees cooler once I get up into these mountains, and it is a pleasant retreat from the heat of summer. This river is home to some nice wild trout, and there was even one occasion on the lower stretch where a large brown trout tried to eat a small rainbow off the end of my line! He wasn't successful and the rainbow lived to see another day, and I was likewise unsuccessful in catching the big brown. However, it did give me hope to see the size of trout that call this river home.

Headwaters Rainbow
This time however, I wasn't going to fish the deep pools of the lower river, but rather head upstream toward the source of the waters and see what might swim in the plunge pools farther up the mountain. This river is fairly easily accessed, especially on the lower reaches, and a US Forest Service road roughly parallels the river the majority of the way. Farther up towards the headwaters, the road runs along the ridge above the stream, but a little careful climbing can get you from the road to the stream and back again. In spite of this, my uncle, who accompanied me on the trip, and I were the only fishermen I saw on the upper river. There were several vehicles parked lower down, and I assume these were fishermen but they could have been hiking or camping.

We drove a few miles above the campground and found a parking spot along the side of the road at the lower boundary of the new catch and release water. I decided to start the day fishing a Thunderhead dry fly, one of my favorite patterns. I hadn't fished far when a nice wild rainbow rose to my fly and the first fish of the day was brought to hand. I couldn't help but remember that the first trout I ever caught on a dry fly was a wild brown from this same river on a Thunderhead. In a way it felt like I had come full circle back to the beginning of my fly fishing career.
Wild Brown

I continued working my way upstream, and passed a small tributary or two as the river began to narrow. I managed to catch a few more wild rainbows, and then came upon a deeper plunge pool that just seemed perfect for a nice trout to be hiding in. It took several casts and drifts, but eventually a brown trout made a slow rise to my dry fly, and sipped it in. Once I set the hook, I realized that I had a better fish on than the previous ones I had caught that day, and took my time to make sure I didn't horse it and break it off. After a minute or two I had a nice wild brown trout in the net, and I couldn't help but stop and admire the beautiful golden color and red spots before I released it. It rivaled anything I had caught on the lower river, both in size and beauty, and I couldn't help but wonder why I had taken so long to explore the headwaters of this river. This brown led me to think that the headwaters might be hiding some secrets that I would like to learn, and so I continued upstream with a renewed sense of wonder at how pretty wild trout could be. I decided they must be made that way so they would match the places where they live.

Heading Upstream
Somewhere along the way I donated my Thunderhead to the overhanging rhododendron, and decided since I had to retie anyway I would switch things up a little bit and try a Rio Grande Trude. This is another one of my favorite fly patterns, and one that I had enjoyed some success with on the lower stretches of this river. I had a few more rainbow trout decide that the Rio would make a good morning snack, and then I had the surprise and pleasure of catching the first native brook trout of the trip. I knew that some of the tributaries of this river were rumored to contain healthy brook trout populations, but in my previous experience the lower river belonged to the rainbows and browns. I was excited to see that the natives were still holding on up in the headwaters, and I had to once again marvel at the colors of a wild brook trout. A few pools later another brookie came to hand, about the same size as the first. Unfortunately I was about at the end of my trip and I decided since access to the road was becoming harder to find I would fish until I came to a good spot to climb out. Another pool or two and I found a trail winding up the ridge back to the road and decided it was time to call it a day.

Brook Trout
Once I reached the car, I was surprised to have two NC Wildlife Officers stop by to ask how the fishing was and to check my license. I was glad to see that they were out enforcing the regulations, and we spent a pleasant few minutes talking about fishing and the trout I had caught. They were especially happy to hear that I had caught a few brook trout, and said that they were wondering how the population was doing in the main river. I asked them if there was much fishing pressure in the headwaters, because I was surprised to be one of the only people fishing on a beautiful Saturday morning, and they said in their experience most people tended to fish down around the campsites on the lower river. This just gave me more incentive to come back to the headwaters again and do some more exploring. It has also made me rethink some of my other favorite trout streams and caused me to wonder just what might be just a little farther up the trail or over the ridge. Hopefully I will have the chance to find out someday soon.

- Joseph

Friday, July 28, 2017

Beating the Heat

Cold Water
It's been hot here for the last week or two. Not just hot, but 90+ degrees, high humidity, and sweating by the time you walk from the house to the mailbox hot.  When my Uncle Greg, whom I had fished with the previous week, called last Thursday night and asked if I had anything going on the next day, it was all the encouragement I needed. With the forecast for last Friday being for temperatures above 95, it seemed like an ideal day to head for the high country. We both figured that regardless of how the fishing was, wading in a trout stream in the mountains would beat almost anything else we might do that day.

Wild Rainbow
We decided to head up toward the same general area that we fished the previous week, although this time we would be fishing a stream that was fairly familiar to both of us. We had fished this stream several times together, as well as separately. This particular stream is one of my favorites, and it contains all three species of trout that can be found in North Carolina. The majority of the trout I've caught here over the years have been wild rainbows and browns, but the occasional brook trout does make an appearance, especially as you get farther up into the headwaters. I have heard that some of the tributaries to this stream contain healthy populations of native brook trout, but I haven't personally fished the tributaries.

When we arrived at the stream Friday morning the temperature, at least according to my truck, was a cool 68 degrees. This was a welcome relief from the sweltering heat at home, and the first few steps into the water were just a little bit of a shock to the system. We split up and began fishing, working our way upstream and planning to check in with each other after an hour or two to see how things were going.
Rhododendron

It wasn't long until I got a strike from a pretty little wild rainbow trout, and as I fished my way upstream I missed a several more strikes. It was a little bit of a puzzle, as the trout seemed interested in my fly, but they would almost seem to come up and bump it instead of eating it. Most of the time our wild trout in NC don't seem to be very particular about flies as long as the presentation is good, but these fish were acting like there was something they didn't like. I don't know if this was due to fishing pressure, or some other factor. I do know that this stream is fairly popular, and we did see a few other fishermen during our time there.

Beefsteak Fungus? (Best guess from Google)
Eventually, I fished up to where Greg was and we fished together for a little while as we made our way through a small gorge section. This area was full of deep pools, and the water was flowing swiftly. I was having a hard time in places trying to get a drag free drift, but we both managed a few fish out of the plunge pools. Once we climbed our way out of the gorge the stream leveled back out considerably and we decided to split up again, with it being my turn to walk upstream before I started fishing. Along the way I saw another fisherman's truck parked along the side of the road, so I made my way further upstream along the road to give him plenty of room to fish.

Caught Several of These
Once I got back down into the stream, it looked a lot different from the lower gorge section, with it becoming fairly shallow, although still  moving swiftly. I did hook a nice trout that managed to hang my tippet on a rock and break off. After this trout, I fished quite a way upstream without another strike. After losing my fly to a rhododendron that was out of reach, I decided to downsize and go with something a little less flashy than the Rio Grande Trude dry fly that I had been fishing. I switched to a smaller female Adams dry in the hopes that the fish wanted something a little smaller and more natural looking. This seemed to be the answer, as I began getting strikes on the Adams almost immediately. I managed two more rainbows, although one was so small I'm not real sure how it managed to get the fly into its mouth.

Its Eyes Were Bigger Than Its Stomach
Shortly after the second fish, I lost the Adams to another rhododendron. Since it was the only one I happened to have in my fly box, and it was also time to head back toward the truck to meet Greg and head home, I called it a day. I was surprised that rainbow trout were the only species I managed to catch on this trip, because in the past I would usually catch at least a few browns mixed in with the rainbows. I don't know where they happened to be hiding that day, although Greg did catch a brook trout along with the rainbows.

Overall, even though the fishing wasn't exactly fast and furious, it was another great day spent in the mountains. The relief from the heat, even though it was only temporary, was worth the entire trip. I didn't manage to catch any big trout this time, but I did catch a nice handful of pretty wild rainbows. This, along with wading a cold stream and seeing the blooming rhododendron made for time well spent. When we got in the truck to leave around 2:00 pm, the temperature was 81 degrees. By the time we made our way down out of the mountains, the truck thermometer was up to 95 degrees. It was a tough adjustment, but it just proved that the mountains are the place to be in the summer. Hopefully it won't be long and I'll be back, chasing wild trout and trying to run from the heat. Until then, I'm thankful that at least somebody had the brains to invent air conditioning!

- Joseph

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

A Tale of Two Streams, Part 2

At the end of part one of this blog post, my uncle Greg and I had just left a stream after exploring it for the first time and catching some native brook trout. We had one more stream on our agenda for the day and plenty of daylight left to go check it out. This second stream was one that Greg had fished for the first time about a week before our trip, and he said that he didn't have a whole lot of time to fish but it looked like a place worth coming back to.

Stream Number Two
 Getting to this stream took us around the ridge from the first stream of the morning, but was only a ten or fifteen minute ride away. As with the first stream we fished, this one required a little bit of a hike to get up into the national forest and away from the development along one side of the stream. However, this hike was a rare one for these mountains, in that it was almost a flat trail, especially compared to our first stop of the morning. After a quarter of a mile or so, we passed beyond the last houses and were surrounded by the national forest on both sides. We decided that this would be a good place to start, and so once again we split up to try different stretches of the stream.
Wild Rainbow
From Greg's description, I had an idea of what to expect with this stream. It was just as advertised, with an abundance of fishy looking plunge pools and deeper holes in between short stretches of riffles. If I was going to design the ideal North Carolina mountain trout stream, this particular stream would be a good one to use for a pattern. It seemed to have the type of habitat that would support a very healthy trout population. As with the first stream we fished, this one also had several small waterfalls that dropped into nice deep plunge pools.
Waterfall and Plunge Pool

As I worked my way upstream, I was blown away by the sheer number of places that I felt like I needed to fish. It seemed that there was a likely looking pool or lie every few feet, so I took my time and tried to fish slowly and carefully. Within the first few pools, I had a strike and brought a pretty little wild rainbow trout to hand. Once again, my rusty reflexes betrayed me as I missed a few strikes as I worked my way farther upstream. A few pools later, and another rainbow decided that my fly was what he wanted for lunch. 
Biggest Rainbow of the Day

There were some surprisingly deep holes in this stream, and it was good to see a healthy amount of water flow for this time of year. The last year or two have been pretty dry, and a lot of the streams had gotten almost too skinny to fish by this time last year. This year, everywhere that I've fished so far has been running clear and cold, with plenty of water in the streams. Hopefully we will have a few more summers like this one to make up for the drought years of the past. 
Rosebay Rhododendron 

We fished for a couple of hours, and I managed several pretty wild rainbow trout.  I was a little surprised that I didn't see evidence of more fish, but then again it was the middle of the day and I was fishing with a dry fly, so I understand that it wasn't necessarily ideal conditions for fish catching. After meeting up at the agreed upon time, Greg and I decided to call it a day. Overall, it was a wonderful day of fishing and exploring. I had the chance to fish with my uncle, and in the process discovered two new streams that I didn't know anything about.
Rhododendron Carpet

The rosebay rhododendron  were blooming all along the stream, and the hike out along the trail had us walking on a carpet of rhododendron petals. Both of these streams are definitely on my list to come back to soon, because I know that I've only just barely begun to explore the secrets that they may be hiding. There's still a few weeks of summer left, and I plan to try to make the most of it while it lasts. 

- Joseph