Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Friday, December 20, 2013

Catching Up

I realize that things have been awfully slow lately around here at NC Outdoor Ramblings. I could come up with any number of reasons (or excuses, truth be told) about why there has been a lack of blogging on my part, but rather than do that, I thought I'd share some of the highlights from the past few months that occurred while the blog has been neglected. I would say that I'm going to try to keep things updated a little more frequently around here, but then again I know better than to try to make a promise that I'm not sure I'll be able to keep. Since they say a picture is worth 1,000 words, I'll try to use that to make up for the thousands of words I'm behind writing on here.

Some of these pictures will have their own posts written in the near future, along with more details provided about the story behind them. Here's what's been going on since hunting season has kicked into full swing around here.

Dove and 20 Gauge
The season started off with a bang in September, much like it did in 2012, with the opening day of dove season. The usual suspects got together for the opening day hunt, and then a few days later I still had the dove hunting bug but nowhere to go since I was a guest of some friends on opening day and didn't have access to the cornfields we were hunting by myself. I decided to do a little scouting around at the farm I hunt, and found a few doves flying back and forth to the pond located below the barn. I found out that a motorized decoy and a little cover to hide in would allow me to have a few shots, and I decided to try out a new 20 gauge over-and-under that I had purchased after Christmas last year. The combination of decoying birds and the 20 gauge made for a couple of exciting afternoons, and some very tasty dove breasts for the grill.

Muzzleloader Buck

The week after dove season brought the opening of archery season in western North Carolina, and while I was able to get out and do a little hunting during September, I didn't have any luck. I did see a few deer, but never had a shot at any. Then came October and muzzleloader season. I had gotten a new muzzleloader for Christmas last year, and I was anxious to try it out. I guess now I should admit that my luck with a muzzleloader has been less than stellar. I had missed two or three deer over the years with a muzzleloader, and had never been able to successfully harvest a deer during muzzleloader season. In my defense, it did seem like bad luck because I was always very careful to make sure that my muzzleloader was sighted in, but for whatever reason my scope would get bumped or something else would go wrong. I'm just thankful that the shots I had taken at deer were clean misses, instead of wounding one and not recovering it. This year, I felt like maybe a new gun would change my luck. The first day of the season, I slipped in the woods after work and it wasn't an hour or so until two deer made an appearance. A squeeze of the trigger, lots of smoke and noise, and when everything cleared I had my first muzzleloader deer.
Making a European Mount
I decided I wanted to try my had at a little simple taxidermy after I harvested my buck, and with the help of a good friend who had done it before I made a European mount. I enjoyed the process, and I think that I will be doing this for any bucks that don't wind up getting mounted by a taxidermist. I think they make a unique trophy and great memento of an exciting hunt.

I was also able to film a couple deer from the stand during muzzleloader season. These two does and little spike were close enough to touch at one point, and it made for an exciting morning in the stand. During the time between muzzleloader and rifle season, I did get out and bow hunt a couple of times, but not nearly as much as I had intended to.

Two of the beagles working a thicket
As the end of November approached, I found myself getting more and more excited about the upcoming rifle season, and hopefully the rut as well. I was lucky enough to get an invitation to go rabbit hunting on opening day, which falls on the Saturday before our gun season opens on the following Monday. We had a good time and managed a few rabbits between all of us, and more importantly I got the chance to see the beagles work and walk a few miles carrying a shotgun. It just whetted my appetite for all the rabbit hunts that will hopefully follow the end of deer season next week.

Dave and I with his buck
After the rabbit hunt on Saturday, rifle season finally opened for us here in western North Carolina. I've spent every day that I could in the stand, and have managed to see a few deer here and there, but I have yet to pull the trigger. One thing that got me more excited than usual about this year's deer season was my father-in-law asked if he could possibly tag along for a few hunts. He is originally from northwest Pennsylvania, and grew up around deer hunting but had never been himself. He's always enjoyed venison, and I've noticed the last year or two just how excited he gets when my brother-in-law or myself have managed to get a deer. I've invited him to come hunting the last few years, but he took me by surprise when he asked to go this year. He was able to harvest his first deer while hunting with me this year, and this is a story that deserves its own post. I plan to write up the whole story for the blog very soon.

That pretty much wraps up my ramblings for the last few months. We've got another week left of rifle season here, and after that I'm looking forward to doing some rabbit and squirrel hunting. Also, I've found myself thinking more and more lately about smallmouth bass and rising trout. I do believe I will have to start tying a few flies and looking for some warm days where I can get up to the mountains to try to fool a few trout. In the meantime, I'm going to enjoy what little is left of deer season, and enjoy spending time with my family over Christmas. As always, thanks for stopping by and reading my ramblings.

- Joseph

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Pop's Lures

This post was written over a year ago, when I first started the blog. It's been sitting in the draft folder ever since, with a revision or two over the past year as I've tried to edit it and make it exactly what I wanted. I have been waiting for the right time to post this, and decided that since today is Grandparents' Day, it was time to share it. I want to dedicate this post to the memory of all four of my grandparents: Jim and Essie Hord and Lib and Dick Hamrick (also known as Pop to me and my cousins). They shared with me the outdoors and supported me in my journey as an outdoorsman. 

"Pop! Pop! Let's go to the basement and look at your fishing lures!" My maternal grandfather, "Pop", must have heard these words or something very similar every day when I was little. I stayed with my grandparents during the day while my parents worked, and even at four years old the fishing bug had already bit me. My grandfather, who had the patience of a saint, would just smile and say "Ok, let's go take a look." We would go down stairs and sit on an old couch and Pop would open up the old metal tackle boxes that to my four year old eyes were treasure chests.
Pop's Tackle Box

One by one, we would look at the lures and Pop would tell me what kind of fish they caught or the name of the lure. I remember well looking at old lures with names like Punkinseed, Water Dog, and a lure Pop called the Whopper Stopper. The striped bass that hung over the basement fireplace was caught on a Water Dog, and I can't remember now what the big largemouth that hung in the den was caught on but I'm sure it was in one of those boxes.
Bomber Water Dog - One of Pop's

 Pop was a fisherman for most of his life, and he used to have an old Johnson outboard motor in the basement that he would take up to Lake James or Lake Norman and put on a rental boat to fish. He often talked about buying his own boat, but by the time I came along Pop's fishing trips weren't as frequent and he never did buy a boat.
Pop and six year old me with a trout

He still loved to fish, though, and often in the summer he would take my cousin and me, along with my parents and my aunt and uncle to one of those trout ponds where you pay by the pound for your catch. These ponds were near either Marion or Little Switzerland, NC and we would have fun catching trout that would wind up on the grill that evening back home. I don't remember Pop fishing much on these trips. I think for him it was a way to help introduce us at an early age to fishing, and these ponds were about as close as you can get to nonstop action. I'm sure Pop wanted us to catch a lot of fish and have a good time without the chance of getting bored with fishing. I'm also sure that Pop couldn't have known at the time that when I got older, trout fishing would become one of my favorite pursuits, although now it's usually with a fly rod in mountain streams.
The "Whopper Stopper" 

I also remember Pop taking the hooks out of one of the Whopper Stoppers for me to use when I wanted to practice casting in the yard. I spent a lot of time casting to imaginary bass behind their house, and caught a lot of whoppers, if only in my mind. Another lure that I distinctly remember asking Pop about a lot were what he called sea trout plugs. Later on, when I began saltwater fishing myself, I would learn that these were Mirr-O-Lures, and that they were one of the popular choices for catching sea trout in the waterways around Oak Island in the fall. I never caught a sea trout on these lures, because my trips to Oak Island were in the summer and I fished for trout using live shrimp. Even so, I always felt like I was following in Pop's footsteps fishing for the same fish at the same location that he used to.
Sea Trout Plug - aka MirrOLure

It's funny how things can come full circle, as I sit here writing this blog post in the den of my grandparents' house, which my wife and I bought, in a recliner in the same spot that Pop's recliner used to sit. I think Pop would be happy to know how much I enjoy fishing now, and some of his old lures sit in a display case on our coffee table as a reminder to me of where it began.
Some of Pop's Lures on display

Pop taught me a lot, and more than that he had the patience to tell me the same stories and look at the same old fishing tackle day after day. I'm sure he got tired of it, but he never let it show. I hope that I inherited some of his patience and understanding, because without a doubt I inherited his love for fishing.
Bomber Lure

There are several people that have had a major influence on my love of the outdoors, but my two grandfathers and my Dad were the earliest influences. I will always be grateful to all three of these men for their guidance and for the passion they instilled in me at a very young age. I hope someday to be able to pay it forward when I have children and grandchildren and help them the same way Pop helped me. Maybe someday they will have an old tackle box full of my lures, and a lifetime of memories.

Thanks for stopping by!

- Joseph

Sunday, August 11, 2013

It's Been Awhile

It's funny how time seems to slip right on by, whether or not we pay attention to how fast it's going. This summer, the blog and the fishing both started out strong, with several trips and several posts coming on the heels of each other. Since then, a combination of out of town trips, and rainy weather have kept me away from the water, and more often than not off of the computer as well. This past week, I decided that it was past time for me to go trout fishing, with my last trip for trout being my almost unsuccessful hunt for brookies more than a month ago. Other than a smallmouth trip a few days after that, I hadn't been on the water at all this summer.

This year has been a strange one, with almost daily rain and several instances of flooding in our local area. My go to summer spot for smallmouth and redbreast sunfish has stayed at a level that is too high and muddy for me to feel comfortable wading ever since my early summer trip down there. With most trout fishing involving a minimum one hour drive each way, I'd been hesitant to go only to wind up in a thunderstorm that would put an end to the fishing.

Stream Side Break Before the Rain
With the start of a new school year fast approaching, I knew that chances to escape to the mountains would become fewer and harder to come by, so last Tuesday my uncle, (who helped me develop my interest in fly fishing and fly tying), and I decided to take a chance and see if we could get some fishing in. We headed to an area that we both had fished in previous years, with the intention of fishing higher up in the headwaters than we had been before. We were able to fish about an hour and a half before a heavy thunderstorm came in over the ridge and put an early end to the day. I had several strikes from fish, but either they were refusing my fly at the last second or my reflexes were rusty, because I only hooked two for just a split second before they managed to get off. I missed all the other fish entirely, but my uncle was able to catch a few while fishing upstream from me.

I didn't want my last trip of the summer to end with a skunking, so as soon as I got home I began making plans for at least one more trip back to the mountains. I had several locations in mind to try, but in the end I decided that I wanted one more shot at the trout in this stream. I knew from past trips that this watershed holds some nice sized wild fish, especially by NC standards, and this area is also one of my favorite spots to fish. It could only be my imagination, but the water here seems to be colder and clearer than anywhere else I fish on a regular basis, and the views upstream of some of the highest peaks on the East Coast only add to the experience. I mentioned to my brother-in-law my intentions of going back, and we agreed to give it a try on Friday afternoon. He had just recently purchased a fly rod, after a couple of seasons of borrowing one of mine, and we both figured that this would be a great opportunity for him to get his new rod out and hopefully break it in on some wild fish.

First Trout of the Day
Remembering the storms of a few days before, I kept a close eye on the weather forecast and the radar before we headed out. I was afraid that the trip would be over before it started when we ran into some heavy rain about 20 miles from our destination. Luckily, this was an isolated cell and the skies had cleared by the time we made our way over the Eastern Continental Divide and down the other side of the ridge to our destination. We both started out fishing Rio Grande Trude dry flies, one of my go-to summer patterns when I can't identify any sort of hatch. Usually these flies are good producers for me, but this time it seemed like I was doomed to a repeat of Tuesday's experience. Several trout struck at my fly, but they either refused at the last possible second, or hit and were gone too quick for me to set the hook.

I was wondering what to try different when I noticed a few yellow mayflies (I'm guessing sulphurs?) and Yellow Sallies flying around. I remembered reading in an article one time that a lot of the older Southern Appalachian fly fishermen swore by flies with yellow on them, and I had a few sulphur patterns in my box that I had tied a year or two ago in hopes of catching a hatch on Pennsylvania's Oil Creek. The sulphurs never showed back then, but luckily I had left these flies in my box. I tied on one, and on the third or fourth cast a nice little rainbow nailed the fly like it was what he had been looking for all day.
Brook Trout

This gave my confidence a boost, and after fishing a few more pools, I came upon a pool that had a small tributary creek flowing in from the right side. In my past experience fishing this stream, I usually caught a mix of wild rainbow and brown trout, but I had also heard from my uncle that several of the smaller tributaries had healthy populations of wild brook trout. I was surprised when a nice wild brookie ate my sulphur, and I wonder if this trout was one that had originally come from the tributary and made his home in the main river. Either way, it was a nice surprise and gave me hope of possibly catching all three species of trout that call these waters home. This was also one of the nicer wild brook trout that I have ever caught, and I thought it was kind of ironic that a trip especially for brook trout earlier this summer yielded mostly rainbows, while a trip where I expected to catch rainbows and browns gave me one of my bigger wild brookies to date.

Biggest Rainbow of the Day
With a few fish caught, and the dreaded skunk avoided this time, I worked my way on upstream picking up a few more healthy little rainbows on the sulphur. A few hundred yards upstream, I came upon a nice deep pool that had a small log laying through it and looked to be the perfect hangout for a nice sized fish. On my second or third cast, a rainbow trout about seven inches long ate the fly and came to hand after a short tussle. Normally, I figure that with wild trout I will get one shot at each pool and if I catch a fish or miss one that usually is the end of it. For some reason, I just couldn't quit thinking that there must be a bigger fish living in such good habitat, and I decided to give it another cast or two before moving on upstream. I made another cast and as the fly drifted over the edge of the submerged log, a nice trout rose and ate it. This one gave me a little longer fight than it's smaller pool mate, and turned out to be a beautifully colored wild rainbow trout about ten or eleven inches long.

A Great Ending
At this point, I decided to retire the sulphur as the big fish had finished what a few previous trout had started, chewing the fly up to the point where it wouldn't be fishable. I had a few more sulphurs in my fly box, but for the sake of experimenting I decided to try a Tennessee Wulff since most of the water was fairly swift and broken and I was having some trouble keeping the sulphur floating. I figured I should stick with the yellow color, since this seemed to be working well and I figured the Wulff style dry would be able to stand up to a little rougher water. I managed a few more small rainbows on the Wulff, and the last fish of the day for me turned out to be that elusive brown trout I was hoping to catch. I was surprised, because out of all the trout I caught, the brown was the only one that jumped. It put on quite a show, jumping three or four times before I brought it to hand. This fish rounded out an excellent day on the water, and even though I haven't been able to have the quantity of fishing trips that a normal summer usually has, this one definitely made up for it in quality.

Trent's First Fish on the New Rod
To make a great trip even better, my brother-in-law Trent got a chance to get his new fly rod out and take a nice wild rainbow on a Royal Wulff to break it in. We both agreed that a nice nine inch wild trout is a great way to christen a new fly rod, and hopefully it will only be the first of many many more. Hopefully as the weather starts to cool and fall approaches, there will be time to make a few more trips up to the mountains in search of beautiful places and wild trout. It seems like no matter how many times I go, it is never nearly enough. This is why I try my best to slow down and take it all in each time I'm privileged enough to be on a mountain stream. I hold on to these memories to help tide me over until I return again.

Thanks for stopping by!

- Joseph

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Returning to the River

After going up in the mountains in search of brook trout, I finally got the chance a few days later to head to the local river for the first time this year to try for some smallmouth bass. I had planned back in the winter to try fishing down here earlier than in previous years to see if the bass were more active in the cooler weather of spring, however the wet weather conditions made me put these plans on hold. This is a fairly large river, at least for around these parts, and all the rain had it too high to safely wade. At one point in the spring, the river flooded and peaked at over 14 feet on the USGS gauge. Flood stage for this river is 12 feet, and to put that in perspective normal flows when I usually fish it are around 2 - 2.5 feet on the gauge. Even at this level, there is a good bit of water and lots of holes to watch for. There was no way that I was going to try fishing here until things had settled down and flows had stabilized.

For the past week I had been watching the USGS flow gauge like a hawk and hoping that the passing thunderstorms we had almost every evening wouldn't raise the water level or cause the river to become muddy and unfishable. With a few days of fairly clear weather, and a Sunday afternoon free after church, I decided it was time to take a chance and check things out. I gave my brother-in-law Trent a call and we made plans to head down there and give it a try. Everything looked good on the Internet, but the only way we would know for sure would be to take a ride down to the river and see for ourselves. I was a little bit anxious, not knowing how the flooding had affected the riverbed and wondering if my favorite area to fish would be unrecognizable.

Results of the Flooding
Once we arrived and hiked the trail downstream to our usual fishing area, I was relieved to see that things more or less remained unchanged. The river bottom here is fairly rocky, with large shoals and shelves of rock that must have resisted the scouring effects of the floods. I did notice that some formerly shallow spots were now deeper, but other than that there wasn't much effect from the floods. If anything, the flooding created some new bass habitat in that stretch of the river. I was shocked to find a round bale of hay sitting in the river, especially since I don't know of any farms for a couple miles upstream from where I was. This had to be another result of the recent floods. From a distance I thought that it was a beaver lodge, because we had observed some recent beaver activity in the form of felled trees on our way in. I was a little disappointed to discover that it was actually a hay bale, but it did give me greater respect for the sheer power of this river.

Redbreast Sunfish
I started out fishing one of the poppers I had recently tied, mainly to give them a test drive and see how they performed. For some reason, I haven't had too much success catching smallmouth on top in this particular river, although I have managed a few on poppers in the last few years. Streamers have been much more consistently effective for me, but I figured that it was worth experimenting for a little while with some new patterns. I did catch a few redbreast sunfish on the poppers, and missed a strike or two that could have been a bass, sunfish, or who knows what.

First Smallmouth of the Year

After fishing the popper a while, I figured it was time to get serious and switch to a favorite streamer pattern to try to get my first smallmouth of the year. My decision may or may not have been influenced by Trent telling me about having a few nice bass chase the streamer he was fishing with. Once I switched flies, I finally hooked up with my first smallmouth of the year. It was a chunky little bass, but it made up for its size with attitude. After I caught this first bass and fished a few more pools without another strike, I decided to try a popper again in the hope that the increasing cloud cover would cause the fish to be more inclined to eat a top water offering.

I had high hopes of getting a bass on one of my new poppers, and it almost happened - but not in the way I was expecting. I caught another redbreast on the popper, and then fished my way downstream to a spot that had been deepened by the recent floods. It looked like a good place for a bass to hang out, with deeper water and lots of rocky structure. About this time, the clouds had increased and it started to rain. I don't know if this had anything to do with it, but the fish suddenly turned on and starting biting. I had a few missed strikes on the popper, then hooked up with another nice redbreast sunfish. As I was playing the fish, my fly rod suddenly bowed deep, and I thought the fish had wrapped me around a log or rock. I put some pressure on, hoping to get the fish out of whatever it had wrapped up in, and to my surprise a big smallmouth came partially out of the water and spit out the redbreast along with my popper that was still in its mouth! I don't want to try to guess exactly how big this bass was, but I can say without a doubt that it was bigger than any I had caught down here before. It had completely swallowed a nice sized panfish, and seemed to do it without any trouble. After my initial shock wore off, I brought in the redbreast, which seemed none the worse for having been swallowed and regurgitated, and released it.

One to End On
I switched back to the streamer in the hopes that the big bass hadn't been spooked by the experience, although I knew it was probably a long shot. To my surprise, I didn't catch the big one but did catch two smaller bass from the same hole. One of these would be the biggest of the day, a fat 12" smallmouth that came to hand after my camera batteries had died. The other one was the last fish of the day, and a nice way to end the trip. By this time, Trent had fished down to where I was and was kind enough to snap a picture with his phone for me. I was shocked to find these smaller bass sharing a hole with one much larger, and even more surprised to catch two more fish after all the previous commotion. I'll be back to give that big one another shot, and I won't soon forget the day that a bass ate a popper and a sunfish at the same time!

Thanks for stopping by!

- Joseph

Monday, July 1, 2013

Looking For Brookies

A few days ago, I decided to go fish a stream that I hadn't been to in a couple of years. This particular stream is managed under the NC Wildlife Resources Commission's Catch and Release Artificial Lures Only regulations, and as of the last time I fished it contained almost exclusively wild brook trout. Although it had been a while since I had fished this creek, I had fished the stream that this creek is a tributary of several times since I was last here. The main stream is mainly a wild rainbow trout fishery, with an occasional wild brown trout. This tributary had always been a brook trout stream, and I was in the mood to go try to find some of North Carolina's only native trout species.
NCWRC Regulations Sign

Brook Trout From the Last Trip Here
The last time I fished this stream, I didn't catch very many trout, but I did manage to catch my largest (and most colorful) wild brook trout to date. I had high hopes of trying to repeat that performance, but to be honest my biggest reason for fishing for brook trout is the sheer beauty of these fish and the places they live. I knew that this particular stream wouldn't disappoint in that regard, and fish or no fish, I was looking forward to exploring some pretty country.

The Start of the Journey
The journey began where the Forest Service road ended, and it was a short hike up the old roadbed to a little one lane bridge where I knew there was access down to the stream. The road up the mountain parallels the creek, although at times it is fairly high on the ridge above it. This road has been closed off for as long as I have been coming up here to fish, but the old roadbed serves as a handy trail to hike back to the truck after a day's fishing. I appreciated this open road hiking even more after a day spend climbing boulders and bushwhacking through rhododendron thickets in search of trout. I don't know if Forest Service personnel use the road, but it does seem fairly well maintained. I've never been all the way to the end or fished this stream up into the headwaters, but I would like to hike and fish my way further up the mountain one day just to see what's there.

First Trout of the Day
Once I reached the old bridge and entered the stream, it was like I was in an entirely different world. There was no cell phone signal, no noise from the highway, no TVs or radios. All I could hear was the sound of the stream and the noises of the mountains. I worked upstream, fishing a Thunderhead dry fly, and missed a few trout before I hooked up with the first one of the day. Imagine my surprise when a wild rainbow trout came to hand, instead of the brook trout I was expecting. This was a little bit of a shock, because there is a fish barrier well downstream from where I was fishing that was put in place to help preserve the brook trout population in this stream. I don't know if the rain and high water we have had this past winter and spring allowed the rainbows to migrate upstream, or if someone thought it would be a good idea to do some stocking of their own. This had me a little concerned, because I began to wonder if the rainbows had replaced the brook trout in the years since I had last visited this stream.

One of the many plunge pools on this creek
After catching that first rainbow, I decided to continue on upstream to see what other surprises this little creek might hold. It has some excellent looking trout habitat, with plunge pools that were surprising in their depth on a creek this size. It took some careful wading, and many times climbing out on the bank, to navigate my way upstream without getting in too deep. It was a little disappointing to fish so many good looking pools without seeing a fish, but I was fishing a dry fly the majority of the time. I wondered briefly if a dry and dropper or nymph pattern would have served me better in these deeper holes, but I decided to stick with the dry fly.

Wild Rainbow

After fishing several pools without a strike, and spooking one or two trout along the way, I hooked up with another wild rainbow trout in a large pool. This trout ate a Rio Grande Trude, another one of my favorite summer dry fly patterns for these small creeks. I had made the switch to this fly after donating the Thunderhead to the rhododendron. At this point, I was starting to wonder if my search for brook trout was becoming like looking for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I was having a great time, and enjoying the challenge of fishing this small stream, but in the back of my mind I kept wondering what had happened to the brook trout that I remembered catching here. Had the rainbows displaced or out competed them? Were there any left in the creek at all? I knew the only way to answer these questions was to keep fishing.

Wild Brook Trout
Finally, after donating the Rio Grande to the rhododendron and switching back to another Thunderhead, I hooked what I had been searching for in the last pool of the day. It was a young brook trout, but I took it as a good sign for the future of these fish in this particular stream. I figured that where there are small trout, there must be bigger ones somewhere. I do think that at least a couple of the trout I missed were brook trout, because I thought I caught a flash of orange belly when the trout took a swipe at my fly. I can't say for certain that's what they were, but I'd like to think that there is still a thriving population in this creek.

One of the many millipedes
The hike back out was a lot easier than the trip upstream had been, once I found a place to climb back up onto the old road. I did see signs of some insect life along the creek, with a few Yellow Sallies and small mayflies flying around. I didn't see any rising fish, so I'm thinking that these must have been the remnants of an earlier hatch or the hatch was very sparse. Another thing that surprised me was the number of millipedes that I saw hiking into and out of the creek. There seemed to be a thriving population of them in the area along the creek.

I do know that this little creek holds some bigger secrets than the ones I was lucky enough to discover on this trip, due to some hints that the creek gave up from missed strikes. Now whether these secrets are brooks, browns, or rainbows, I'm not going to try to guess. I do know that I will be back to do some more exploring on this creek, and to enjoy the solitude that comes with small streams and wild fish. This little creek is a challenge, but one that is a lot of fun to try to figure out.

Thanks for stopping by!

- Joseph

Friday, June 28, 2013

Reflections on a Year of Ramblings

Today marks the one year anniversary of NC Outdoor Ramblings. To be completely honest, I'm amazed that it has been a year already since I started this blog. This first year has definitely been a learning experience for me about the world of blogging, and I wanted to take just a few minutes to reflect on the previous year.

To start with, I began the blog June 28, 2012 on a whim after having a conversation with my wife. I had been reading several outdoor blogs, and really enjoyed them and the unique perspective that each one brought to my favorite subjects - hunting and fishing. I was talking to my wife and mentioned to her that I thought being an outdoor writer would be an interesting career, never mentioning to her the fact that I had been playing with the idea of starting a blog. I always knew that a career in writing probably wasn't in the cards for me, and I never had any aspirations of making money off of my writing. I just enjoy being able to tell a story about the outdoors. My wife actually was the one who suggested that I start a blog, and that's when I admitted to her that I had been playing around with the idea for a while. Her suggestion was the final push I needed, and NC Outdoor Ramblings was off and running.

Initially, I struggled with the theme for this blog. It seems like the majority of the blogs that I read on a regular basis are fly fishing blogs, and for a while I thought about making my blog only fly fishing related. A few things kept me from doing a strictly fly fishing blog. One of the first reasons was that I knew in the winter time, I would struggle to find things to write about as I was likely to be out hunting instead of fishing. I figured that I didn't fish enough or tie enough flies through the winter months to have enough fresh content for the blog. Another reason I decided to stay away from a strictly fly fishing blog is I wanted to have the opportunity to write about my experiences with everything outdoors, not just fly fishing. I figured that if I made the blog name relate to fly fishing, people might be surprised to find lots of hunting stories or posts about the garden on here.

Finally, I decided to make this a blog about the outdoors in general, and I figured that would include fly fishing, hunting, and gardening - three of my favorite outdoor activities. This way, posts about an occasional hiking trip or neat pictures from the backyard or garden would have a home on the blog. Looking back over the posts from the past year, I can see a definite theme to them based on the seasons. In the spring through late summer, the posts were mainly about the garden and fishing trips, and along about September the focus switched to hunting until around the end of February. This pretty well sums up the way a typical year in the outdoors goes for me, although there are always the exceptions of late fall/winter gardening or fishing trips.

Starting off, I had no idea if anyone would ever be reading this blog, or if it would wind up being just an online journal of my (attempts at) writing. Over the past year, I feel fortunate to have made some connections with other bloggers in the outdoor blogging community, both through the Outdoor Blogger Network and through comments left here on the blog. The online world continues to amaze me, because I never would have thought about "meeting" other outdoors people in this way a few years ago. I've discovered some great blogs by writers who put me to shame, and I've hopefully been able to improve my own writing just a little in the process.

As I start my second year of writing this blog, I am looking forward to continuing to share my outdoor experiences. Thank you to everyone who has stopped by here to read, leave a comment, followed the blog or added this blog to a blog roll, liked the Facebook page, or followed me on Twitter. Hopefully this time next year, I will have lots of new experiences to reflect back on.

Thanks for stopping by!

- Joseph

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Adventures in Popper Making

The other day, while my wife and I were rambling around the Smokies, we made a stop in Townsend, Tennessee at the local fly shop where I intended to pick up some more material to tie streamers with. Of course, being a fly shop, I had to look around a little bit at all the different tying materials. I can honestly say I'm not much of a shopper at all, but put me in an outdoor store or a fly shop and it might take me a while to get out. In the course of looking around, I ran across a display of popper tying supplies. Tying my own bass and bream poppers is something that I have been meaning to learn how to do, and I figured there was no time like the present. Before it was all said and done, I had picked up enough material to tie several different colors of poppers.
My 2nd Attempt - After the Pink Popper Incident

Once we got home from Tennessee, I was anxious to give popper making a try. Up until this point, I had been buying all the poppers I fished with, and just about the only flies that I had ever tied to use in warm water had been the Triple Threat streamers that I used for smallmouth fishing. After doing a little Internet research and looking at the directions that came with the popper bodies I bought, I set out to give popper making a shot.
Yellow Popper

Right away, I was treated to some new experiences, such as the fingernail polish aisle in Wal-Mart. I had read on the Internet that clear fingernail polish with glitter worked well as a sealer for the finished poppers, and that Sharpie markers were handy to use to color the bodies. Armed with that knowledge, it was off to gather materials. I took my wife along with me for two reasons - number one, I wasn't sure I could even find the aisle with the fingernail polish, and two I figured that if she was with me it wouldn't raise as many eyebrows. She thought the whole thing was hilarious, and kept threatening to tell everyone that I was in Wal-Mart shopping for nail polish. Once that ordeal was over, it was off to the vise to give tying poppers a try.
Green Bug

The next thing I learned very quickly about tying poppers is that it takes Zap-A-Gap about .000002 seconds to bond my fingers to the foam popper bodies. After a few sticky situations, I started to get the hang of gluing the bodies on and keeping my fingers off. I also managed to eventually get my fingers all unstuck from each other and functioning again, but it was touch-and-go for a while.
Blue and White Popper

One last thing I figured out on my first attempt was that if I didn't give the marker enough time to dry, my white popper with a red face would turn into a pink popper with a red face with the first application of nail polish. I know that I've got long way to go with the learning curve on popper making, but it's fun taking on a new challenge. Now if I can just get my fingers unglued from this keyboard!

Thanks for stopping by!

- Joseph

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Smoky Mountian Rambles

This past weekend my wife and I took a trip up to Gatlinburg, Tennessee to celebrate our third wedding anniversary. We decided to split our time between doing some of the many tourist attractions in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, and exploring the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. For the purposes of this blog, I'll focus on the park itself and our rambles through it. I decided on this trip to leave the fly rods at home and just spend some time sightseeing in the park and exploring new areas that we had never visited.

Bear Warning!
As we were planning our route up, we decided to go up through Cherokee, NC and make  a stop at Clingman's Dome, the highest peak in the Smokies and third highest on the east coast. Neither of us had ever been here before, so we were excited to check out the area. On our way up to the top, we noticed a sign warning of bear activity in the area. Fortunately for us, the bears weren't out and about that day. We hiked the short trail up to the top of the dome, and walked up to the observation deck that had been built there. Unfortunately for us that day, the Smokies were living up to their name and visibility was severely limited. It was still a nice break to get out and stretch our legs after riding a few hours. We headed back down the mountain and out on US 441 toward Newfound Gap, our next stop on the trip.
Observation Tower on Clingman's Dome, GSMNP
The next stop on our journey up was at Newfound Gap, the highest point on US 441 between Gatlinburg and Cherokee. Here, we learned a little more about the history of the park, including seeing the spot where President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave the speech dedicating the park. I was also surprised to learn that the park itself was purchased and given through a joint effort by Tennessee, North Carolina, and John D. Rockefeller, Jr. It was the first time that private lands had been purchased for the purpose of creating a national park, and on our trip we would learn more about the history of the Smokies and the people who once lived here. 
View from Newfound Gap, GSMNP
 Once we arrived in Gatlinburg, we decided to check out an area of the park that I had found out about from reading on the National Park's website. The Roaring Fork motor nature trail parallelled the Roaring Fork for several miles and wound through the park from Gatlinburg. 
Roaring Fork, GSMNP
On our way through the trail, we were able to stop several times and see some of the original homestead buildings left behind when the park was created. It was amazing to think about these people making a living in that rugged country. I also learned more about the history of these settlers and how difficult life was in the mountains at the turn of the last century.
Ephriam Bales Cabin, Roaring Fork GSMNP
On our way out of the park on the last leg of the motor trail, we were fortunate enough to get to see a black bear cross the road in front of us. In all my years trout fishing in bear country, I've never seen a bear in the East. In fact, the only wild black bear that I had ever seen previous to this trip was in Yellowstone Park. I was excited for my wife too, because this was the first wild bear that she had seen. After the bear crossed the road, we were lucky enough to be able to get a picture (from inside the car) as it paused on the side of the mountain. 
Black Bear, Roaring Fork GSMNP
After the Roaring Fork, the next day we decided to head toward another popular area of the park, Cades Cove. We had been through this area on previous trips, and it is one of the most popular areas of the park for wildlife viewing, which is what we had in mind. On our way out to Cades Cove, we spotted our second black bear standing on the bank of the Little River. This one unfortunately didn't give us a chance for a photograph, but it was larger than the bear we saw the day before. The drive out to Cades Cove following the Little River gave us the opportunity to view Meigs Waterfall, along with blooming rhododendron and beautiful views of the river.
Meigs Waterfall, GSMNP
 On our trip through the cove, we saw numerous wild turkeys and whitetail deer, and also saw more of the historic buildings left behind by the settlers of Cades Cove. It was amazing to see just how little the deer in this part of the park were bothered by people, but I'm sure with the amount of visitors this area sees every year the wildlife has become accustomed to posing for pictures.
Whitetail Doe, Cades Cove GSMNP
One other area of the park that we had planned to explore was the Cataloochee Valley. We had both been wanting to explore this area and see if we could see some of the elk herd that was introduced to the area by the Park Service several years ago. We saved this for last, as we planned to visit the area on the way back home. 
Cataloochee Valley
After travelling the winding gravel road over the mountains that followed the course of the old Cataloochee Turnpike that served as the main road for the settlers that lived in the valley, we arrived in the valley itself. It was interesting to learn that at the time of the park's creation, the Cataloochee Valley was the most populated area in what was to become the park. Our main purpose for the side trip into Cataloochee was to hopefully get a look at some of the elk that were introduced into the valley in 2001. As we drove through the valley, we did see an elk calf in one of the first meadows. This was the only elk that we observed on the trip through the valley, but we plan to come back again and explore the area more. 
Elk Calf, Cataloochee GSMNP
Overall, it was a great weekend for wildlife watching and exploring in the most visited National Park in the country. I did see several places that I've put on my list to explore with a fly rod one of these days, and also made a side trip to Townsend, TN to do a little shopping at a fly shop. The park provided a nice change from the traffic and bustle of Gatlinburg, and I'm sure we'll be back to visit it again soon.

Thanks for stopping by!

- Joseph

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

What Do You Think?

Edit: Evidently Facebook is not supporting the poll feature on the page right now. Sorry about that for anyone who tried to answer it. If you get the chance, feel free to check out the page and give it a "Like", but I've removed the poll question. Please leave your feedback in the comments on this post. Thanks!

I've been writing this blog for almost a year now, and since I started the template and layout here have basically remained the same. I decided today to change things up some, and wanted to get everyone's opinion on the changes. If you don't mind, please let me know what you think of the new look here at NC Outdoor Ramblings, either by answering the poll on the blog Facebook page at NC Outdoor Ramblings on Facebook or by leaving me a comment on this post. I'd really appreciate everyone's feedback on this. Is the new look easier to read? Harder to read? Too distracting? Just right? I'll give it a while and see what the general consensus is before I decide to make the new look permanent.

As always, thanks for stopping by!

- Joseph

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Chasing Wild Rainbows

This spring and summer so far have been different than in the past few years. We seem to have had a lot more rain, and consequently our garden is doing quite well. I've been anxious to head up into the mountains to see what kind of impact the wet weather has had on the trout streams, and yesterday I finally got the opportunity to go chase some wild trout for a few hours.

I decided to fish a stream that I have fished off and on since I began trout fishing several years ago.  The past few years I've had mixed results fishing this stream, but I'm not too surprised because it is in a fairly heavily used area of the Pisgah National Forest, and the forest service road parallels the stream making for easy access. I'm sure the  trout here are fished for fairly often, although I didn't see anyone fishing yesterday. It's interesting to see how things have changed since I started fishing here, although all my evidence is anecdotal. I used to catch more of a mix of species, with rainbows and browns being fairly equal in numbers with an occasional brook trout thrown in the mix. The last few years, I've not caught any brookies in this stream and the vast majority of trout have been rainbows with only an occasional brown.
Heading Upstream
I arrived to find the stream in better shape than I had seen it in the past few summers. There was lots of water, and the flow was up due to the recent rains. I was a little worried on the drive up because I knew that there had been some thunderstorms in the area overnight, and I woke to find a flood watch in effect for the southern part of the county where this stream is located. There isn't a USGS gauge on this stream, but I checked the ones in the surrounding area and saw that there was only a minimal increase in water flow. Based on this, I decided to go ahead and take a chance, knowing that there were other streams not too far away that should be fishable if flows were too high. When I arrived, I was pleased to find the creek running clear and low enough to make for fairly easy wading. It reminded me of the way this stream used to look back before the dry summers of a few years ago. 
Wild NC Rainbow Trout 
Some of my best wild trout have come from this stream over the years, but it seems that the overall size of the trout here has decreased in the last few years. I was curious to see if the higher flows would bring out the larger trout, or if there were even any there anymore. I have a feeling that the low water of the past few years may have hurt the trout population in this creek, but that is just speculation on my part. Yesterday's catch was all rainbow trout of about 5-6", although I did miss a nice fish due to a too anxious hook set on my part. This fish was holding in a nice pool formed by the trunk of a fallen tree lying parallel with the bank. After several aggressive strikes from the smaller trout that morning, I was caught off guard when this larger fish slowly and deliberately rose to my fly, and I feel certain I tried to set the hook and pulled the fly away before it had a chance to eat it. 
Beautiful Colors
All the trout yesterday came on dry flies, with the Thunderhead and deer hair caddis each accounting for about half of the fish. There are a few large, deep pools on this creek that just seem to scream "Big fish here!", although I've only caught a trout out of one of them once. I tried stripping a small streamer through these pools yesterday, hoping to entice a big brown, but there were no takers. The pools themselves were just slightly dingy from the rains, and I was hoping that this would have the fish feeling a little more secure. Someday maybe I will figure out the secret to these holes, but until then the mystery of them keeps things interesting. 

One thing that I absolutely love about fishing for wild trout is the amazing colors that these fish have. All the small ones yesterday still had their parr marks, and the bright red stripes and dark spots made a pretty combination. All in all, it was a great day to get out and ramble around in the mountains. Now I can't wait to do it again!

Thanks for stopping by!

- Joseph

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Tater Time and Other Garden Updates

One thing I really enjoy about planting a garden each year is the opportunity to experiment a little with new crops or new varieties of crops. I do still find myself planting some of the old standbys that my grandfathers grew, but I also enjoy the chance to try new things. This year, one of my experiments was growing potatoes in our garden. I remember my grandfather growing potatoes when I was young, but we had never tried them ourselves. Since I had never grown potatoes before, I decided to experiment with a few different varieties to see which ones yielded best and also which ones (if any) we preferred over the others when it came to taste.
Planting Potatoes - March 2013

I knew from my years working at the local hardware store that most people in our area planted Kennebec potatoes, so I decided to do a full row of those. I also planted a half row of Yukon Gold and half a row of Red Pontiac potatoes to add some variety. Having never grown any potatoes before, I was a little anxious to see the results. We planted our potatoes back in mid March, and yesterday was the big day when we would finally dig the vines up and see the results.

Kennebec Potatoes
The first row we dug were the Kennebec potatoes. I was fairly impressed with both the size and yield that we got from our vines. There were several that were big enough to make some nice sized baking potatoes, and lots of smaller ones that will be good for mashed potatoes or other uses. Overall I'd say that the row yielded between 40 and 50 pounds of potatoes from 5 pounds of seed potatoes.

Yukon Gold Potatoes
Next up were the Yukon Gold potatoes. I didn't expect to get as many of these or the Red Pontiacs as we did of the Kennebec because I only planted roughly 2 1/2 pounds of seed potatoes of each of these varieties. I was pleased with the size of the Yukon Golds, but each vine only seemed to have a few potatoes on it. This could have been due to any number of factors, but overall this year the Yukon Golds were my lowest yielding potatoes. I was pleased with the size of the potatoes I did get, so this was a case of quality over quantity.
Red Pontiac Potatoes
The last of the potatoes to be dug were the Red Pontiacs. Right away I was impressed by both the size and the number of potatoes that were on each vine. I had read that this variety of potatoes does well in heavier soil, and even though we have added compost to our garden to help loosen the red clay it still makes things a little less than ideal for potato growing. Overall, I would say that the Red Pontiacs were the highest yielding of the three varieties that we planted. We got almost as many potatoes from a half row of these as we did a whole row of the Kennebecs. These potatoes also seemed to be larger on average than the other two. Overall, my wife and I were pleased with the results of our first potato crop, and we're already making plans to grow potatoes again next spring.
Total Harvest L-R Kennebec, Red Pontiac, Yukon Gold

Once all the potatoes had been dug, I tilled up the area of the garden that they occupied this morning and planted some Beauregard sweet potato slips in their place. I had tried sweet potatoes last year, but I think a combination of late planting and a little bit of neglect on my part with keeping weeds out led to us only getting  a few very small potatoes off the vines. This year I'm going to try to do a better job keeping up with them, and hopefully between that and an earlier planting we will see some better results. 
Sweet Potatoes
Potatoes aren't the only thing coming out of the garden lately. I harvested our onion crop on Tuesday, and as in the previous couple of years, the Georgia sweet onions that we plant did well. This year I did have several onions bolt and flower, something that hasn't happened to me before. I don't know if the warm then cold then warm weather we had earlier this spring was the culprit, or if it was all the rain, or if it just was something that was bound to happen. Either way, we were happy to get some fresh onions.
A few of our onions
The rest of the garden is coming along, and it shouldn't be too much longer before some of our other crops start coming in. I picked the first yellow squash of the year this morning, and also saw some nice sized green tomatoes on the vines. There were also a few small peppers on the pepper plants, and the cucumbers and cantaloupe vines were blooming. The corn is about chest high, and the watermelon vines are starting to run. It is an exciting time of year to be gardener!
Green Better Boy Tomatoes
Crookneck Squash

Thanks for stopping by!

- Joseph