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