Monday, May 30, 2016

That's Not A Trout

First of all, since today is Memorial Day, let me begin by saying a sincere and heartfelt THANK YOU to all who have served in any capacity in our nation's military, and above all to those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. 

Once again, the blog has been in a state of neglect. I won't even try to make excuses this time. Instead, let me just say thank you to anybody who still drops by here to read on the rare occasion I get something posted to the blog. If you don't mind indulging me dredging up a post that got written two years ago, but somehow missed being published, I promise to work on getting some new content written and published on the blog about my quick trip up to Pennsylvania over Memorial Day Weekend. In the meantime, here's a Memorial Day trip from a couple years ago.  And as always, thanks for stopping by to read these ramblings!

- Joseph

First Trout of the Day
One thing that I love about fly fishing is that it works on all kinds of species of fish. When I first started fly fishing, trout were the only fish that I went after with the long rod. Since then I've found myself fishing more and more for other types of fish with the fly rod, and having fun figuring out new flies and techniques to fool bass and other warm water fish. However, I still love chasing trout on the fly rod, and try to go as much as possible. During the fall and spring, I'm fortunate enough to have a Delayed Harvest stream about twenty minutes away from home, and this seems to be where I do a good bit of my fishing. These Delayed Harvest streams are stocked by the state and managed under catch and release regulations from October 1 until the first Saturday in June. There are a few wild trout streams not too far from home, but on days when travel and fishing time are at a premium, (not to mention gas money), the local Delayed Harvest is normally where I wind up. This was the case two years ago during Memorial Day weekend, when I had a few hours to get away and try to fool a few trout.

Trent's Trout
My brother-in-law had Monday off for Memorial Day, and hadn't had the chance to fish with me in a while due to work, so we made plans to head to the state park and see if the trout were still willing to eat a fly. We were both a little apprehensive about going, because we figured the crowds might be more than we wanted to deal with since it was a holiday weekend. However, we figured that we might be able to find a stretch of stream that wouldn't require us to bring our own rock to stand on, and so we headed out. The first thing I noticed was the improvements to the campground along the river, with the addition of new sites and a bathroom/shower building. The other thing that caught my attention was that while there were people around, it was not as crowded as I have seen it later on in summer. This gave me hope that we had made the right decision to come up here and fish.

We rigged up and hit the water just a little ways up the trail from the parking area, and it wasn't too long until a nice brown ate my fly. I always like fishing these Delayed Harvest streams after the trout have been there a while, because it seems right after stocking they will be bunched up in the deeper pools. A few weeks of living in the stream seems to help them spread out and start acting a little bit more like wild fish, at least in the sense that they will rise to flies and tend to not be bunched up. This particular brown came out of a little pocket of deeper water up against the bank, and ate my dry fly like he'd been doing it all his life. I hoped that this was a sign of things to come, and we fished our way on upstream taking turns at fishing the pools and pockets.

Redbreast Sunfish
A little farther upstream and Trent picked up his first fish of the day, a pretty rainbow trout. We were both having pretty fair success catching fish on dry flies, although it wasn't the crazy numbers that can be caught soon after a stream is stocked. Working our way on upstream, we did encounter a few other fishermen, but after stopping to chat with them about their plans we were able to move on upstream out of their way and find some open water to keep fishing. The fishermen we talked to were catching a few, and I was glad to see one fisherman had a young kid with him and said he was introducing him to the sport of fly fishing. As we worked our way on upstream, we came to a pool below a bridge that usually holds a fair number of trout, especially early in the season. I figured it would be worth a few casts, even though I didn't see any signs of fish. A few casts later, and a fish rose to my fly. When I set the hook however, I made the comment to Trent that this trout felt different. It didn't seem to be fighting like a trout normally does, and when I got it close I realized why. I didn't have a trout at all! It was a redbreast sunfish, similar to what I normally catch when fishing for smallmouth. I had caught a few of these over the years up here, but that was fishing with spinners back in the early days of my trout fishing. I don't usually catch these sunfish in trout streams, but this particular stream warms up in the summer too much to support trout year round, and it must be comfortable enough for the sunfish to make a home.

Delayed Harvest Brookie
I was afraid that this might be a sign that the water would soon be too warm to support trout, but then I knew that the first Saturday in June would mark the beginning of the stream reverting to Hatchery Supported regulations, and that most of these trout would be caught before rising water temperatures proved to be fatal. This stream does support wild trout farther up towards the headwaters, and stays cool enough year round to warrant a Wild Trout designation and regulations. The Delayed Harvest section falls into a transition zone from the cold water trout stream to a warmer lower elevation stream, and I have caught the occasional wild fish from the Delayed Harvest sections, but there doesn't seem to be many in this area. After the sunfish surprise, we continued working our way on upstream, spooking an occasional fish or missing a strike here and there. I did manage to catch a nice brook trout from a deeper pool that had several fish stacked up in the current, but we couldn't entice the rest to eat our flies, even after switching to nymphs and fishing deeper in the water column. They would swim over to a fly and take a look, but more often than not they would refuse it. I suspect these fish had received a lot of pressure over the last month or so, because they seemed extremely reluctant to eat anything. Of course as a fisherman, my first instinct is to blame it on the fish, but they were just doing what nature had programmed them to do - surviving the best way they could.
Bluehead Chub

We finally gave up on that pool and worked our way on upstream, where I managed another brown trout on a dry fly. Then, as we fished on upstream, I had a fish eat my fly that I thought might be one of the rare wild fish in the stream, because I could tell it was a good bit smaller than the majority of the stocked fish we had seen. I have occasionally had rosyside dace or warpaint shiners eat dry flies while fishing this stream, but as I got the fish closer and finally got a look, I exclaimed "That's not a trout!". This one was a first for me on a dry fly, a fish that I'm fairly certain is a bluehead chub, locally known as a hornyhead for the tubercles on top of their heads. I had caught these before while nymph fishing, but this was the first time I could remember one rising to a dry fly. It was a neat experience to catch one of these on a dry, even though I will admit being a little disappointed at first that it wasn't a wild brown trout.

 One of the things I have always enjoyed about fishing is the sense of wonder that it gives me. Each time a fish strikes my fly, I never know what it might be. Somewhere inside me is still that five year old boy that used to turn over rocks in the creek looking for crawdads and insects and catching minnows just to see what they looked like. I might do it with much more sophisticated tackle now, but the urge to explore and discover is still the same. It was funny when I thought about my catches on the way home, because I realized that while trout were my goal, I wound up catching two true natives of the watershed, and neither one were the fish that I had come after. I don't think I'm going to take up chub fishing any time soon, but if I have an occasion to exclaim "That's not a trout!" again while I'm out fishing, I'm going to take a minute to savor the experience. The river is full of surprises, and I'm sure if I fish it for a lifetime I'll only scratch the surface.

- Joseph

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Drought Trout

A Sign of What Was to Come
Today was supposed to be my second trip for trout this summer, but a combination of the threat of thunderstorms in the mountains, and a leaking water pump in the truck have kept me at home this afternoon. The thunderstorms I could handle, a broken down truck way off in the middle of nowhere with no cell service would be a different matter. So the truck is in the shop, and I'm finally taking the time to sit down at the computer and write about the first trout trip of the summer. This trip was a couple weeks ago, when the thought of how long it had been since I've been fishing for wild trout became more than I could stand.

Skinny Summer Water

This summer I've been working at a local hardware store in the mornings, but I usually have the afternoons off. The plan at the beginning of the summer was to work in the mornings, and possibly fish once in a while in the afternoon. This sounded like a good plan until summer saw us consistently having temperatures in the mid to high 90's, and even 100 degrees on a few days. On top of that, our county is currently in a severe drought and gardens and farmer's fields are showing the signs of high heat and no water. Over the last month or so the mountains where I fish had been getting a little more rain, and not suffering quite as much from the heat, so I figured it would be a good time to escape the heat myself and head up to a stream about an hour from our house.

Caught a Few of These
This stream is fairly easily accessed via Forest Service roads, and the lower end of the designated trout water is managed as a Delayed Harvest stream by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. This section receives regular stockings from March - May, and again in October and November. I've fished the Delayed Harvest section many times, but today my destination was further upstream in the headwaters that are designated as Wild Trout waters. This stream is where I caught my first trout on a fly, and it also was one of the spots that I frequented even before I began fly fishing. I've fished this particular stream off and on for probably 15 years or so, and it seems like I make it here at least once or twice a year. This stream doesn't seem to hold quite the numbers or size of some other wild trout streams that I like to fish, but it does occasionally give up a surprise, like the fourteen inch wild brown that I caught here several years ago.

Rosyside Dace
Knowing that I would be limited to the afternoon and evening to fish, I decided that a trip here after work would be just the thing to satisfy my urge to trout fish. I was a little concerned about how the weather might have affected the fishing, but I was greeted by a brief rain shower when I arrived at the stream. The water was low, but not drought low, and looked to me to be about normal for summer time. It was as clear and cold as it always used to be, and I was glad to catch a small rainbow within the first five minutes or so. This fish was about the average for this stream for me, where it seems like six to nine inch rainbows are the most common fish I catch. There are a few brown trout here and there in the stream, and very rarely, a brook trout or two, although it's been several years since I've caught a brookie in this creek. It does have a tributary that is almost all brook trout, but the main creek seems to belong mainly to the rainbows.

Wild Rainbow
I started out fishing my favorite summer dry fly pattern, the Thunderhead, and caught several small rainbows and a number of rosyside dace. With the number of dace in the stream, I've never quite understood why I don't see more nice brown trout, because there's no shortage of food for them. I continued working my way upstream, and noticed that at the deepest pool someone had put up a rope swing since the last time I was there. This pool rarely is productive for me, probably because I like to fish dry flies here and the water is at least six or seven feet deep. I'm sure there's trout in here, but I figure they're down deep. This time however, I was surprised to catch a nice rainbow out of the head of the pool. I guess it was holding in shallow enough water to be interested in a dry fly. This turned out to be the best fish of the day, although I did manage several more rainbows and one lone brown.

Wild Brown
As I worked my way upstream, I decided to experiment a little with some different dry flies, and test some of the flies from my Favorite Dry Flies post I wrote a several weeks ago. I switched from the Thunderhead, to a Rio Grande Trude, then a Tennessee Wulff, and finished the day with a Deer Hair Caddis. My very unscientific results led me to believe that the fish liked all four patterns about the same. Now, if I had been fishing a productive river during a hatch, it might have been a very different story. The last fish of the day came on the caddis, and then it was time to make my way back to the road for the walk back down to the truck. On the way out, I stopped to look once again at the sign marking this particular tract as the first national forest tract purchased. This sign is my usual starting point, but on this particular day someone else must have had the same idea so I drove on up to a pull off farther upstream.
First National Forest Tract

I snapped a picture of the sign, then got back in the truck and headed out of the hills back toward home. As I headed down the road, I thought once again about how much I enjoy being out in the mountains, chasing pretty wild trout, and fooling them with a bit of fur and feathers wrapped around a hook. I realize how fortunate I am to have places like this so close to home, and I hope that I never take it for granted. As soon as my truck gets fixed I will be ready to go back again.

- Joseph

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

A Few Favorite Dry Flies

When I wrote the post Anticipation a few days ago, I didn't realize that I would be writing a second blog post along the same lines. This time however, it's not deer season that I'm anticipating, but rather cold, clear mountain streams and pretty wild trout. It's been a while, (way too long), since I've made a trip up to the mountains to fish some of my favorite wild trout streams. I've decided that there is only one remedy for this, and that's to go trout fishing.

The summer seems to be flying by, and as a school teacher that's the last thing I want to happen. I love what I do, but I also enjoy summer vacation and I'm never quite ready for it to end. In anticipation of a fishing trip, I sat down at my fly tying desk the other day and worked on tying up several summertime essentials to restock my fly box. I was running low on several dry fly patterns that I love to use, and it had been too long since I took the time to tie any flies.

The act of fly tying is similar to checking trail cameras for me. Both activities are fun in their own right, but also serve to remind me of good times to come. Here are a few of the fly patterns I tied the other day, along with the recipes for them. None of these flies are original designs of mine, but they are the dry flies that I use most frequently. These are all flies that I've had good luck with here in North Carolina, and hopefully they will work for you too.

Thunderhead - This is usually one of the first flies I try during the summer, and often the only one I use during a trip. This fly is a sentimental favorite, because it is the pattern that I caught my first trout on a dry fly on, a pretty little wild brown that hooked me as much as I hooked it.

Hook: TMC 100 or Mustad 94840; 12-16
Thread: 6/0 Black
Tail: Brown Hackle Fibers
Body: Superfine Gray Dubbing
Wing: White Calf Tail
Hackle: Brown and Grizzly Mixed

Rio Grande Trude
Rio Grande Trude - If a Thunderhead isn't working, this is usually my second choice, and sometimes my first. I've had especially good luck with this fly on brook trout.

Hook: TMC 100 or Mustad 94840; 12-16
Thread: 6/0 Black
Tail: Golden Pheasant Tippet
Body: Superfine Black Dubbing
Wing: White Calf Tail
Hackle: Brown

Deer Hair Caddis

Deer Hair Caddis - I've used these a lot over the years. I like to fish this fly in rougher or faster water, since it seems to float well in these conditions. This is just a basic Elk Hair Caddis tied with deer body hair. Both elk and deer hair seem to work about equally well for me for this fly.

Hook: TMC 100 or Mustad 94840; 10-18
Thread: 6/0 Brown
Body: Superfine Tan Dubbing (Sometimes I use hare's mask, olive, or cinnamon dubbing)
Wing: Deer Body Hair
Hackle: Palmered Brown Hackle

Tennessee Wulff
Tennessee Wulff - This is another pattern that I like to use in faster water. I've always heard our wild trout in NC like flies with some yellow on them, and while I don't have any scientific evidence to back this claim up, they do seem to like this fly. Since we have sparse hatches in most of our wild freestone streams, attractor patterns like this will usually do the trick.

Hook: TMC 100 or Mustad 94840; 10-16
Thread: 6/0 Black
Tail: Brown Bucktail
Body: Peacock Herl with a Yellow Floss Band
Wing: White Calf Tail
Hackle: Brown

These are just a few of the patterns that I like to tie and carry in my fly box, but unless there's a visible hatch or I'm fishing a technical stream like the Davidson, one of these four patterns are usually tied on my tippet if I'm dry fly fishing. I can't think of many things more exciting than seeing a wild trout take a dry fly, and I'm planing on giving a few trout the opportunity to see these flies very soon. If you get a chance to give any of these a try, I hope they work as well for you as they have for me.

- Joseph 

Friday, July 17, 2015


It's still above 90 degrees outside at 7:00 pm, and I'm swinging a bush ax.  In between wiping sweat out of my eyes, I think that I must be crazy. It's the middle of July, but already I have whitetail deer on my mind. I'm at one of my hunting spots, clearing a trail across a pond dam that had become overgrown with briers and saplings. This dam doubles as a bridge over the creek leading to my deer stand. Once the trail is cleared, I still have to walk up to the top of the ridge and check on the stand, and clear away some dead trees that are blocking the shooting lanes, not to mention trimming the limbs that have began to block my view out of the stand. The old ladder on the homemade stand needs to be replaced, thanks to the work of carpenter bees, but that's a project that will have to wait for another day. I've got a memory card in my pocket, and plan on swapping it out with the one that is in my trail camera close by. I can't wait to see if anything has been visiting the minerals I put out a few weeks ago, and my thoughts turn to cooler weather, changing leaves, and rutting bucks.

That was the scenario the other day as I began preparing for the 2015 deer season. Anticipation is a big part of hunting and fishing to me. I can remember many years where I couldn't sleep the night before opening day of deer or turkey seasons, or even when I had a fishing trip planned for the next morning. That seems to have changed a little as I've gotten older, and I'd like to think that it's just experience helping me to sleep now. I don't feel any less excitement about being outdoors now than I did twenty or more years ago as a child, however I do know now that it's better to sleep in the bed the night before so I don't fall asleep in the stand in the mornings!

One thing that I enjoy now is being able to use trail cameras to see what I would've normally missed by not being in the woods. I'm not sure that these have drastically changed the way I hunt, but they do tend to add fuel to the fire of excitement when a nice deer or big tom turkey shows up on camera. Over the last few years, they've also provided their share of surprises like the time a black bear passed through, or the occasional bobcat, fox, coyote, or raccoon. As I've suffered through the 90+ degree high temperatures these last few weeks, I can't help but think that soon fall will be here, bringing with it cooler weather, football, dove hunting, better trout fishing, and the beginning of our archery deer season. In the meantime, here are a few of the visitors that have shown up on the camera in the last few days. It won't be much longer and these bucks won't be so friendly with each other. I can't wait.

- Joseph

There are a few more pictures below the jump.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Smallmouth Bass and Being Slack

I hate to admit that my blogging seems to  follow a trend of several posts, followed by long, (too long!), periods of neglect and inactivity on the blog. It seems that there's always some excuse for why I don't take the time to sit down and write about the outdoors. I'm not going to promise that this is going to change, although I'd like to become more consistent with my blogging. 

I started this blog a little over three years ago as a place to write about and share my love of hunting and fishing, and for a while I was fairly consistent about writing on here and reading other blogs that I found through comments left here and sites like the Outdoor Blogger Network. I found a lot of great blogs, and "met" some good writers through comments left on here. I was amazed then, (and still am now), that anybody would want to take the time to read my ramblings about trout and turkeys, deer and bass, or the joys of planting a garden.  Before I write about my latest trip for smallmouth bass, I just wanted to take the time to say thank you to everyone who has taken the time to read these ramblings over the past three years or so, and also to all the online friends I've met through the outdoor blogging community who've taken the time to leave a comment on here or added me to your blog roll. I apologize for being such a slacker at times when it comes to blogging, and even if I've not left a comment on your blog lately I do still enjoy reading every one of them. Now, on with the fishing trip!

It's been a hot, dry summer so far here in western North Carolina. With highs in the 90's almost every day since the middle of June, not to mention several days that saw 100 degree temperatures, fishing trips have been few and far between. Our garden is all but done producing, and I keep thinking about fall and cooler weather. In spite of the heat, fishing has been on my mind. I keep thinking how good a trip up to the high country to chase trout would be, but so far I haven't been able to work out a good time to go. In the meantime, to at least temporarily satisfy my need to cast a fly, I decided to give the local smallmouth river a shot. I knew that water flow had been much lower than normal for several days before, but by watching the USGS gauge I happened to notice that the river had come up close to a normal summer flow when I made the decision to take a spur-of-the-moment trip.

I gave my one of my usual fishing partners, (my brother-in-law), a call to see if he was free, and within 45 minutes I was picking him up on the way to the river. When we arrived, the river looked to be in better shape than the last few times I had been by, with a normal current and decent amount of water. The few times I had seen the river previously, the current was almost nonexistent and there were rocks exposed that are normally never seen. I have tried fishing a time or two under those conditions, but the fish tend to be extremely spooky and sometimes hard to locate because the holes that can be accessed by wading tend to get too shallow to hold fish at extremely low flows.

We both started out throwing various popping bugs, with the hope of some surface action. Neither of us were able to get a strike from a bass, although we each caught some redbreast sunfish on top water. After fooling around with a popper for a little while, I decided to switch to a streamer and get serious about bass fishing. I decided to go with a purple, pink, and white Triple Threat streamer  because the water was slightly stained and the bass down here seem to prefer brighter colored flies. I've had a lot more success here with blue, purple, and pink colored flies than I have with more natural colors.

First Smallmouth of the Year
As I fished my way downstream, I made a cast toward the bank just in front of a submerged rock and felt that familiar resistance when I went to strip in my fly. I set the hook, and before I had time to even process what had happened a pretty little smallmouth bass was jumping on the end of my line. After a few good runs and several more jumps, I had the first smallmouth of the year in hand. He wasn't the biggest bass I've ever caught down here, but I was excited to see him. I was worried about what the high heat and lack of rain would do to the bass, but this bass looked healthy and well fed, and was full of energy.

I was hoping that this would be a sign of good things to come for the day, but as we continued fishing we noticed that the river was dropping once again. There is a small dam at a power plant upstream of where we fish, and evidently the gates at the dam had been closed once again. As the water dropped and continued to clear, the fishing became more and more difficult. That first bass would turn out to be the only one for the day, although each of us did manage a few more redbreast sunfish each. Once again, these came on small poppers in various colors. The sunfish tended to be holding close to the banks, in deeper pockets of fairly calm water, while the bass was holding in a similar area with a little more current.

As I write this today, we've gotten the first significant rainfall in about six weeks. Hopefully, this will help improve conditions down at the river, and it's also got me pondering a return trip to see if the bass will be a little more cooperative. Either way, it's always nice to take a hike down along the river and get away for a while. If time and weather allow, I'll be back soon to give it another try.

- Joseph

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Summer Smallmouth

Once again, I've found myself being way too slack with my writing on this blog. I'm ashamed to say that when I logged in today, I found that I haven't had a new post on here in almost a year. I got inspired to try to resurrect this blog the other day after catching my first smallmouth of the year (2015), and when I logged into Blogger I realized that I had several posts I had written last summer that through my forgetfulness never got published. Hopefully these are still worth putting out on the Internet. This is a post I wrote at the beginning of last summer, and it leads right into what should be my next post about Wednesday's trip to the river. I hope you enjoy, and thanks for taking the time to read my ramblings.

- Joseph

One of my latest addictions in the world of fly fishing is the smallmouth bass. A few years ago, I finally took the time to check out the reports of smallmouth bass being caught in a river not too far from home. At that time I was still primarily a trout fisherman, at least when it came to using a fly rod. I did a fair amount of bass fishing, but I used conventional tackle and fished farm ponds the majority of the time. For some reason, when I decided to finally give the smallmouth a shot, I decided to take an old 6wt Mitchell fly rod I had at the house that my Dad had bought years ago from someone. At the time, this was the heaviest weight fly rod I owned, the others being 4wts and 5wts for trout fishing. I knew just enough about bass fly fishing to know that I would probably be using larger flies and poppers, and that I would appreciate the extra line weight to help me cast these larger offerings. That first trip was a success, at least in the sense that I did catch a small smallmouth, along with several redbreast sunfish. I didn't realize it at the time, but that first little bass hooked me just as much as I hooked him.

First Smallmouth of 2014
Moving forward a few years from that first small bass, I find myself taking several trips down to the river each summer to chase these bronze fighters. Along the way, I picked up a new fly rod for heavier bass flies, and learned how to tie streamers like the Clouser and Triple Threat, and also how to tie popping bugs. I watch the USGS river gauge, and start getting excited anytime I see that flows will be good for wading. I think this is only made worse by the fact that in twenty minutes or less I can be standing in the river and casting flies. The one major drawback to this river is that it is wide and deep under the best of conditions, and a few summer thunderstorms in the watershed can make wading dangerous, if not impossible, for several days after. The area we fish is quite a hike from the parking area, and I have never seen anyone else fishing or swimming down there. This is good from a fishing standpoint, but makes me nervous to attempt wading the river without someone else close by in case of an accident because there are many places that the holes are easily eight feet deep or more. This sometimes limits my trips to the river, because while I will trout fish alone, I won't fish this river alone.

Redbreast Sunfish
As the school year came to an end, I found myself thinking more and more about the river and its smallmouth bass. Finally, the Saturday after the students went home for summer, I couldn't stand it any longer. It was time to go to the river and fish. I made plans with my fishing partner and brother-in-law Trent to head out that morning and see if the river would be kind to us. We checked and rechecked the USGS gauge, and almost backed out of going because we saw the river was running at our self-imposed upper limit for wading. Eventually we both decided that we would go take a look and see if we felt comfortable fishing, mainly because neither one of us had been able to do any smallmouth fishing since last fall.

Once we arrived, the water looked clear enough to safely wade, and appeared to be dropping slightly so we decided it was worth rigging up the rods and giving it a try. We headed down the trail to our usual fishing area, a section of river divided by a series of islands. The right side of the islands (looking downstream) contains a narrower channel than the left, but this channel is composed of deeper holes and ledges, with lots of rocky structure for smallmouth to hide around. We have also fished this area enough to have an idea of where and how to wade to avoid a dunking. Some of this knowledge was earned the hard way over the last few years, but we've fished the area enough now to avoid most of the deeper spots.

River Smallmouth
Once we made it to the water, I decided to start out trying one of the poppers that I had tied, while Trent started out with a smaller popper. After several casts, I figured out that the fish wanted some action on the bug, and once I started stripping the popper vigorously I managed to catch a few redbreast sunfish, and Trent missed a strike from a nice bass on his popper. I wasn't having any luck with bass on the popper, so I switched flies to a Triple Threat, one of my favorite patterns for this river. I managed to catch three smallmouth on the streamer, and also picked up a few more redbreast sunfish. Trent went on to catch some redbreast sunfish on his popper, and all in all we declared the day a success. Summer rains have kept the river too high to wade recently, at least when we've had the opportunity to go, but when the weather and Trent's work schedule line up right, I'm sure we'll be back. Those bronze bass have a way of hooking fishermen with their fierce fight and wild jumps, and pursuing them with a fly rod is one of my favorite ways to spend a summer day.

- Joseph

Monday, July 28, 2014

Salty Memories Part 3 - Time and Tide

If you haven't had a chance to read Salty Memories Part 1 - The Beginnings, and Salty Memories Part 2 - The Pier Years, please click the links and give them a read first. This post picks up at the end of Part 2.

Time and tide wait for no man - Unknown

"Old Baldy" The Lighthouse on Bald Head Island
Time has a way of slipping by unnoticed, and when I got a phone call from my Dad asking if my wife and I would like to take a trip to Oak Island and Southport for the Fourth of July, I was shocked to realize that none of us had been down there in four years. For most of my life, a trip down to the island was such a regular part of summer vacation that it seemed I took it for granted. Most years, especially after high school, involved two trips each summer - once for the annual fishing trip and a second trip with the family that also usually included a couple mornings of fishing. I knew that this would be a short trip and that there wouldn't be an opportunity to fish this time, but I was still looking forward to seeing the surf and sand and also seeing how things might have changed on the island.

Trina and I at Oak Island - 2009
The last two trips that I made to Oak Island with my family also were the first two trips that my wife Trina made with us. Our first time at the island together we were able to visit Cape Lookout and see the lighthouse along with some of the wild horses that call the Outer Banks home, and we returned to the beach house that evening just in time to find out that there were some sea turtles hatching just down the beach. We made it down to the water in time to witness the baby turtles making their mad dash to the surf, and that is a memory that I will never forget.

Provision Company
One of the most obvious changes, and one that we all noticed right away was the completion of the Swain's Cut Bridge onto Oak Island. The last time I was in the area, the bridge was under construction and there was still only a two lane bridge serving the entire 14 mile long island. The new bridge is in addition to the old bridge, and is a four lane bridge and road that seemed to help with traffic immensely. After checking into our hotel on Friday, we drove down to Southport for the NC Fourth of July Festival on the waterfront. We somehow found a parking space and spent the afternoon walking around Southport and taking in the festival. Our plans included lunch at the Yacht Basin Provision Company, one of my family's favorite places to eat in the area, but they were closed for the Fourth. I was glad to see that the Provision Company was still there, and we made plans to return on Saturday for some steamed shrimp and crab cakes for Dad and I, and a cheeseburger for Trina. Trina has always said they make one of the best cheeseburgers she's ever had, but I've only eaten one thing from there over the years - "Thee Special" - a half pound of steamed shrimp with a crab cake.

Oak Island Lighthouse from Southport Waterfront
One major change that I did notice was the nice big new houses on the oceanfront that occupied the site of the former Long Beach Pier. The last few years that I had been to the island, the former pier site was just an empty stretch of beach. A developer had bought the pier several years ago and tore it down, with the intentions of building condominiums on the beach, according to what I had been told. This was about the time of the major drop in the real estate market, and those lots sat empty for several years. Personally, looking at it from a fisherman's point of view, I always thought it was a terrible thing to see the pier go, but I guess that business is business. I worried at one time that the old Yaupon pier would suffer the same fate when it came up for sale, but luckily it was purchased by the town of Oak Island, who leased the pier to the former owner of the Long Beach Pier who now runs it.

Surf Fishermen and Old Baldy in the Background on Oak Island
Friday morning we spent time riding around Oak Island, and we took time to stop by Oak Island Pier and take a walk out to the end to see how the fishermen were doing. One major change I first noticed from the pier was the amount of people on the beach, but I chalked that up to it being a holiday weekend. I didn't see anybody catching much on the pier, but then again it was midday and Hurricane Arthur had passed through the night before and had the water stirred up and muddy.  Our best luck fishing was always early in the morning on days with a southeast wind that helped clear the water.

Southport Fireworks
We hung around Southport on Friday afternoon, and were able to see the fireworks display to end our day. The fireworks were launched from a barge out in the waterway, and it was one of the better fireworks shows I have seen. According to a little research I did, this tradition at Southport has its roots in the founding of our nation, when ships anchored in the harbor fired their cannons to celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Saturday found us back down in Southport where we got the chance for lunch at the Provision Company and spent a little time walking along the waterfront. Southport didn't seem to have changed much from the last time I was there, although a few of the businesses and restaurants had new names and I'm assuming new owners. There were a few new changes on Oak Island as well, but some of our old favorite places were still there. All in all, it seemed that other than a new bridge and new houses being built in various places on the island, it was much as we left it four years ago. We ate at a few of the same restaurants, and bought some fudge from the same shop that we used to buy it from when I was a child.

Shells and Sand
Sunday morning we went for a walk on the beach before we had to head for home, and standing out on the beach watching the waves are where the inspiration for these blog posts came from. I couldn't help but think about the fish I had caught, the people I had met, and the memories I had of friends and family that were all tied up with this place. I hope that it doesn't take me another four years or more to return, and one day soon I hope to get out all the old pier fishing tackle and take a trip down memory lane while I watch the sun rise over the ocean. They say that time and tide wait for no man, and it is scary how quickly time seems to slip by any more. I only hope I have a chance to make a lot more memories and find more special places like Oak Island before my time on this earth runs out.

- Joseph