Friday, November 11, 2016

Farmalls and Fishing Lures

I decided to write this today, on Veteran's Day, as a way to say thank you to all those who are currently serving, or have served in our Armed Forces. It's a reflection on the life of two men who meant the world to me, and influenced me in ways that I'm only now beginning to realize the depths of as I get older. Both of these men, my grandfathers, were veterans of World War II. They never talked much about their time in the service, but I do know both men were proud to have been able to serve our country in its time of need. Once again, to all the current members of our military, and to all those who have served in the past, you have my deepest respect and gratitude. Thank you for being willing to put your lives on the line to preserve the freedoms of our great nation.
- Joseph

As I sit here writing this on Veteran's Day, I can't help but feel immense gratitude to be able to live in the Untied States and for the freedoms that we enjoy. My love of the outdoors, and all the hunting and fishing that I spend my free time doing, would be impossible without the sacrifices of our veterans. I absolutely cannot find the words to say how thankful I am for all those who have put their lives on the line for our country. Thank you doesn't begin to be enough, but I hope that it is a start. With that in mind, I decided today to write a few words to reflect on the lives and influence of two men who were not only veterans of World War II, but also my grandfathers.

One of Pop's Tackle Boxes
I hope that you will indulge me in borrowing a little from a post I wrote a little over three years ago titled Pop's Lures. In that post I wrote about my maternal grandfather, "Pop", better known to everyone other than his grandchildren as Dick Hamrick. I talked about his love for fishing and how I used to bug him each and every day to go look through his tackle boxes and ask him to tell fishing stories. Pop's influence went deeper than just my love of fishing however. He was one of the gentlest, quietest men I've ever known. As a child, I don't think I ever remember him raising his voice or getting angry. He was as steady as a rock, and all of us grandchildren had no doubt that we were loved. His patience with a four year old who wanted to look at the same fishing lures day after day was an example that I only hope to be able to live up to.

Working the Garden
Both of my grandfathers loved to garden. My paternal grandfather, "Papaw", or Jim Hord to everyone else, raised beef cattle and a large garden every year. Pop had a small apple orchard, and also grew a vegetable garden. I think that its no coincidence that I became interested in agriculture and the FFA in high school, and went on to get my degree in Agricultural Education and become an agriculture teacher. My love for agriculture and farming began at a young age, walking with Pop through the orchard, helping both of them pick their gardens, and driving tractors and feeding cows with Papaw. Now I find myself almost unconsciously borrowing from both of their styles of gardening and even dress. Pop always wore wide brimmed hats while gardening, and Papaw was in overalls unless it was Sunday and he was going to church. The first time I found myself working in the garden with a pair of overalls on and a wide brimmed hat, I had to stop and laugh. I had never even thought about it at the time, but a more perfect example of the two of them combined would be hard to find.

The Farmall Cub
Papaw is the man that, along with my Dad, introduced me to hunting and to beef cattle. My earliest hunts were squirrel hunts with Dad, usually using Papaw's old single shot Remington .22 rifle. Papaw also had two Farmall tractors, along with an Allis Chalmers. I was driving all three of these tractors as soon as I was tall enough to work the clutch pedals. The old Farmall H and Allis Chalmers C are long gone, but I was lucky enough to inherit Papaw's Farmall Cub that he did most of his garden work with. The Cub sat in the barn at my Dad's house for years, not necessarily forgotten but not being used either. This past spring, a friend of mine and me got the old tractor running and brought it up to my house. Now that Farmall is back to plowing the garden, and once again I feel the intersection of my past as I use Papaw's old tractor to plow the garden in the same spot that Pop's garden used to be. My wife also claims she has never seen me smile quite as big as I did the first time that old tractor cranked after sitting for years.

I owe a debt of gratitude that I could never begin to repay to these two men, for what they meant to a younger version of me, and for their continuing influence that I feel even today. They have both long since passed on from this world, but I can't help but feel Papaw riding along when I drive that old Farmall, or sometimes when I'm hoeing the corn I'll look up and can almost see Pop standing at the end of the row. Thank you for indulging me in a look back into my own past, and once again thank you to all the veterans out there, and especially to two very special veterans who I love dearly and miss greatly. Papaw and Pop, I hope Heaven has good fishing and fertile farmland. Maybe someday we can all three drive a tractor or catch a bass together again.

- Joseph

Sunday, August 21, 2016

A Slight Change of Plans

Every year it's always the same. Summer vacation is ending, and I'm getting ready to begin a new school year full of new students, new surprises, and old friends. Each summer always seems to end on the same thought for me. What did I do with all my time, and why did it not include more fishing? The beginning of summer always brings high hopes for trout trips, smallmouth stalking, and bream befuddling. It ends up usually being too hot, too wet, or too dry, or some combination of these three, for most of the time I have off. This, along with trying (not always successfully) to be a responsible adult, husband, and homeowner, and catching up on some of the projects and garden chores that seem to get put on the back burner during the school year all work together to eat into my opportunities to go fishing. I know it doesn't sound this way, but I promise I'm not trying to use this blog to complain. I'm just trying to make excuses to explain to myself why I didn't fish more this summer. I'm not real sure that it's working though.

First of the Day
Last Monday, with the start of school for teachers being only a few days away, I took a look at the knee high grass in our yard, and decided that I knew what I had to do. Yes, it was time to go fishing. The grass would be there when I got back. The knee high grass was compliments of about a week or more of rainy weather, and I had hopes that this would have the streams in the high country in a little better shape than they had been the last few years in August. It was predicted to be in the mid 90's here at home, so being knee deep in a cold mountain stream sounded like the perfect alternative to riding a mower. Since I knew this would most likely be the last fishing trip of the summer break, I wanted to do something a little different.

I talked to my fishing partner (and brother-in-law) and we decided to fish a tributary to one of the streams that we fish regularly and see if we could catch some brook trout. It had been a few years since I had fished this particular stream, but I have had some success in the past, catching some pretty wild brook trout up to about 9 or 10 inches on my best days up there. We headed out for the mountains with plans to catch some brookies, then possibly drop back down the mountain to the main creek and try for some wild rainbows and browns to see if we could manage to catch all three species in one trip.

"Not Recommended for Trucks"
Our first clue that things might not be going quite like we planned occurred on the way in to the creek. As you enter the road leading up to the creek, there is a sign that says something like "Steep Winding Road - Not Recommended for Trucks". I've seen this sign many times, and never really paid it any attention. The road is paved for a few miles, but then turns into a dirt Forest Service road that follows the main creek all the way up to the Blue Ridge Parkway. This particular road is the last place I would expect to see an 18 wheeler truck, because I can't think of any reason for them to be traveling through the area. So you can imagine our surprise, when just past the point where the pavement ends we had to stop and wait for a tow truck to move out of the road. Evidently someone had either not paid attention to the sign, or had a very important reason to be using this road, because there was a trailer from an 18 wheeler slid down the bank beside the stream. We eventually were able to get past and on up toward our destination, but we both couldn't figure out what had brought that trucker up this way. The truck itself was not there, and I'm assuming (and hoping) that nobody got injured. It appeared that the trailer had possibly detached from the truck before sliding of the side of the road.
One of Trent's Trout

After we got clear of the accident, we made our way on up toward our destination. The beginning of the public National Forest land is at the end of a dead end dirt road that goes past private homes and posted land. When we arrived at the end of the road, someone was parked in the only pull off. With as small as this stream is, we figured our chances of success would be very limited if we wound up fishing behind someone, so we turned around and headed back to the main creek. The brook trout would have to wait, but at least there was the possibility of wild rainbows and browns waiting back down the mountain. We made our way to the main branch, and started at our usual spot toward the bottom of the public water. The creek was a little lower than I was expecting with all the rain we'd had, but it was running clear and cold so we decided to give it a try.
Wild Rainbow

After fishing a few hundred yards of stream without any strikes other than from the minnows, we came to several fallen trees blocking the way. Knowing that there was a lot of skinny, usually fishless water on the other side, we walked back to the truck and decided to head farther up toward the headwaters where the terrain becomes steeper, and there are more plunge pools and pockets to fish. This turned out to be a good move, because once we got into the pocket water we started seeing and catching more trout. We never did catch a brown on this trip, although there are some in this creek. This time it was all wild rainbows, with most of them being in the 6-8" range and all of them coming on attractor dry flies. We each caught four or five and by this time it was getting time to think about heading back towards home. It wasn't quite the trip we had envisioned when we planned it, but fish were caught and we got to enjoy the beauty of the mountains one more time before summer came to an end.

And in case you were wondering, the grass finally did get mowed the next day.

- Joseph

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Neighbors

We have some strange neighbors around our house. Some of them like to steal the pears and apples from our small backyard orchard. Others are pretty slow at getting around. There's one neighbor that we normally see only after dark. Some are noisy, and others hardly make a sound. Several of the neighbors like to fly, while some love climbing trees. Others are perfectly content to stay on the ground. Some of the neighbors ensure that our garden produces every year, while others help themselves to the harvest without being invited. Some can be a real pain, especially if you make them mad. Another one likes to hang out around our carport and enclosed porch. One of the neighbors even decided to move in and build a house in one of our ferns!

Now I'm sure you've all figured out by now that I didn't decide to write a blog post talking all about our human neighbors, all of whom are fine folks that we are fortunate to live near. No, this post is all about our neighbors from the animal kingdom. For some reason, the past several days have been great ones for wildlife watching around our house. Thanks to modern technology, and the ever-present iPhone, I now have a camera handy and accessible when the opportunity arises to take a picture of one of the neighbors. At the same time, I'll go ahead and apologize if some of the pictures in this post are not of the very best quality. Most of the pictures were taken while I was outside doing something else, and often they were situations where I had to snap a picture quickly or not at all. With that being said, allow me to introduce some of the neighbors.

The Pear Thieves
Doe Under the Pear Tree
 These neighbors are fond of pears, but also green beans, tomatoes, sweet potato vines, and almost anything else that I attempted to grow in the garden this year. The only things that they left me were my peppers, and they even nibbled on the tops of those! Ever since we moved in to our house, we have seen deer fairly frequently. Sometimes we will see them at night in the headlights as we're pulling into the driveway. This time of year however, the old pear and apple trees in the back yard tend to draw them out during daylight hours. They also conducted regular nocturnal raids on our garden this year. In years past we've had a little bit of damage from deer, but this year they wiped the garden out. If anyone has any effective methods for keeping deer out of a garden, I would love to hear them!

The Pollinators
Bumble Bee on Zinnia
This next neighbor is always a welcome sight in the garden. Bumble bees and honey bees are a fairly common sight around our house, and since the garden has past its prime now they have moved from the garden to my wife's flower beds. I'm always happy to see healthy populations of pollinators, even though I do have a healthy respect for their stings. Most of the time, however, we tend to get along pretty well. I try not to disturb them, and they stay busy moving from one bloom to another. 

The Slow Poke
Eastern Box Turtle
This neighbor tends to be fairly slow getting around. Even though he sometimes likes to sample the cantaloupe in the garden, he's a fairly easygoing neighbor. He's also the state reptile of North Carolina, and the only land turtle we have in our state. This eastern box turtle, (or one of his relatives) is a fairly infrequent visitor to our yard. Yesterday was the first time I've seen him this year, but chances are he could have been around when I wasn't there to see him. A quick bit of research showed me that box turtles are extremely long lived reptiles, and this makes me wonder if this is the same turtle I sometimes saw around our house (my grandparents' house then) when I was a young boy. Either way, I don't mind sacrificing the occasional bite from the garden if it'll help keep this slow moving neighbor around.

The Short-Lived Neighbor
Luna Moth
This next neighbor was photographed just by chance. As a young boy, I used to say that I wanted to be an entomologist when I grew up. I wound up an agriculture teacher instead, but somewhere deep down that fascination with bugs stayed with me. Maybe that's why I get such a thrill out of fly fishing for trout? All those stream insects to identify and match! Anyway, back to the subject at hand, I still enjoy seeing and identifying insects, even when they're not potential trout food. I can remember when I was young seeing a luna moth at my other grandparents' house one night, and being thrilled at seeing an insect that I had never seen before. I've only seen a few of these in the years since, possibly because the adults only live about a week and are mainly nocturnal. I was working in the yard yesterday when I just happened to spot this one on one of our pecan trees. They're big, impressive moths and I had to stop and take a picture. Somewhere inside, that little five year old entomologist was smiling from ear to ear!

The Nighttime Noisemakers
Katydid on Hosta
For some reason, I've been seeing a fair number of these nocturnal neighbors during the day. However, every night I go to bed hearing their serenades outside the window. This must be a good year for katydids, because they do seem to be everywhere. These are another insect that reminds me of childhood, spending the night at my grandparents' house and sleeping with the windows open. Without fail, the katydids always provided a concert after the sun went down.

The Home Builder

This next neighbor is a next door neighbor, in this case living right next to our door. I'm not 100% confident on my bird identification, but as near as I can tell this nest belongs to a house sparrow. She is camera shy and doesn't want to hang around long enough to get a picture, but I did very carefully take a picture of the nest and eggs today. She always flies off the nest but only to the nearest perch, a crepe myrtle just a few feet away from our carport. It will be fun watching her and seeing her raise her babies. 

The Short Tempered Neighbors
Wasps on the Nest
These neighbors are the kind of neighbor most people avoid. They tend to build along the underside of our front porch roof, in the carport, and on the window sills. Every summer there are several wasp nests around our house, and as much as I try to have a live and let live attitude when it comes to the neighbors, these usually wind up getting evicted when they get too close to home. The only problem is it seems like when I get rid of a nest, a new one takes its place rather quickly. Evidently our house must be prime real estate for wasps!

The Camera Shy Neighbors
There are several more neighbors that didn't want to have their picture made for this blog post. We have an American toad that hangs out around our driveway at night. There is a five-lined skink that sometimes sneaks into our screen porch, and tends to give my wife a surprise from time to time. The yard is home to several gray squirrels, who love our pecan trees, and the last few days it seems the back yard is where the local crows are holding their morning meeting. With the exception of the damaged garden, I enjoy having all these neighbors around. For the most part, we all get along fairly well. 

- Joseph

Monday, July 11, 2016

Reliving the Past

WARNING: The following post contains small fish, worms, and a little bit of sentimentality. Please read at your own risk. 

- Joseph

My earliest memories of fishing are all very similar. Unless it was surf fishing at the beach, fishing when I was young involved trips with Dad, ponds of some variety, and worms and bobbers. Often the quarry we were after were bream (bluegill), and they were usually more than willing to hit live bait. There were several places that we would go, but we had two or three ponds that we fished on a regular basis together. One of the places that we used to fish together was a fairly large pond located in a state park about twenty minutes or so down the road from our house.

Dad with a Trophy
After my trip to check out a new spot on the river the other day, I wasn't quite ready to put the fishing gear away for the day. On a whim, I called my Dad to see if he would be interested in going and fishing one of our old spots from my younger days. It had been a while since we had gone fishing together, and as I've gotten older I tend to fish a lot more rivers and streams with a fly rod. Dad's never been much of a fly fisherman, although I have talked him into going with me a few times. After talking it over, we decided that since it was a hot, bright sunny day we maybe ought to hedge our bets and pick up a container of red worms on the way to fish. I had planned on fishing spinners and small jigs on my ultralight spinning rod, but I figured having a Plan B was never a bad idea.
Little Bream

Once we got out to the lake, I started out fishing a small curly tailed grub on a jighead, while Dad went ahead and rigged up with a worm under a bobber. We saw a few small bass swimming around, but nothing I tried seemed to interest them. Meanwhile, Dad was getting bites on every cast, and seemed to be catching a fish on every other one. All the fish he was catching were small bream, but after a few minutes of trying to tempt bass that wouldn't even look at my lure, I decided that he was having too much fun not to join in. So for the first time in quite a while, I rigged up with a snelled #8 hook, attached a bobber about two feet above the hook, and put on a red worm. From that point on, it was more or less nonstop action.
View of the Lake

We worked our way around the lake, looking for bigger bream or maybe a bass that would be willing to bite, but it was more of the same small bream everywhere we tried. I'm not going to try to guess how many of the little guys we caught between us in a few hours of fishing, but I do know that catching so many little fish has never been so much fun. I couldn't help but think of the memories from my childhood of doing this exact thing with Dad, and how it got me hooked on fishing for a lifetime. Many of those trips were to this very place, catching bream on worms. I don't plan on trading my fly rods in anytime soon, but if Dad were to take a notion to go catch a few bream again I wouldn't hesitate to go. It wasn't about the fish this day, or even the style of fishing. It was all about having a chance to spend a few hours with the man who has been the biggest influence in my life, both on and off the water. Thank you Dad, for introducing me to the outdoors, and for everything else you've taught me in my 32 years on this earth. Let's do it again soon!

- Joseph

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Two Bass and a Train Trestle

I'm sure I'm like most fishermen, in that I tend to be a creature of habit. I have favorite rods, favorite flies and lures, and favorite fishing spots that tend to draw me back again and again. However, I think that another trait most fishermen have in common is the desire to explore new places and catch new fish. Sometimes this can lead to exotic locations with exotic species, or in other cases it means driving ten minutes down the road to check out a new spot that you've heard about. While things like bonefish on the fly are definitely on my bucket list, I still jump at the chance to fish anywhere new. One of my most recent fishing trips was just that, chasing down a rumor I'd heard about a fairly new publicly accessible spot on a local river.
View from the Fishing Hole

This particular river flows through my hometown, and isn't very far at all from my house as the crow flies. This river is also a tributary of another river that I fish a lot in the summer for smallmouth bass, and I have heard about smallmouth in the tributary for a long time.  However, there's not any access to fish the river right around home, as it flows through private land. I have been wanting to find a way to fish here for a long time, especially since it's so close to home.
Covered in Vines

Recently, the city downstream has opened a hiking trail that follows the river for about a mile and a half, and this led me to wonder about fishing opportunities along the trail. My wife and I went one evening to hike the new trail and check things out, and I just happened to carry along a spinning rod. You never can be too prepared, after all. On that first trip, we had a nice hike, saw some pretty scenery, and a little local wildlife including a green snake and a toad. I found out the trail itself was high above the river the whole way, and steep banks seemed to make accessing the river from the trail a difficult proposition. However, at the beginning of the trail there is a rough canoe/kayak access that has been built with access directly into the river. I made a few casts in the pool here, which looked fairly deep and fishy, but it was in the middle of the afternoon and the temperature was well above 90 degrees, so I wasn't surprised when all I managed were one or two faint strikes. This first trip just made me that much more curious to see what potential this place had. With that in mind, I made plans to get an early start the next morning.

First Fish of the Day
The next morning dawned bright and early, and I was at the river by a little after 7:00 am. I knew I wouldn't have too long to fish before the temperature starting climbing, and this was mainly a scouting expedition for future trips, so I left the fly rod at home. I decided to try fishing an inline spinner thinking that I had a fairly equal chance at catching almost anything in the river other than a catfish with that lure. Several casts later, I had my first fish of the morning. I was a little bit surprised to see a nice little largemouth bass on the end of the line, as smallmouth were the main fish I was expecting. I have caught a few largemouth over the years in the main river, but by and large the smallmouth seem to be the dominant species.
River Smallmouth

I took that first bass as a sign that I was hopefully on the right track, and just a few casts later I had a strike almost at my feet. This turned out to be the smallmouth that I had expected all along. After I released the smallmouth, I fished for a good while longer with just a half-hearted bump or two. The temperature was warming quickly and the sun was starting to shine directly on the water, and it seemed that the fishing turned off fairly quickly. Before I left, I took the time to do a little exploring around the old railroad trestle that spans the river just upstream from where I was fishing. As far as I can tell, this particular trestle is no longer in use, at least judging by the amount of vines growing on it.

Underneath the Trestle
All in all, it was a pretty successful morning of fishing and exploring. I'm thinking that I will have to bring the fly rod down here sometime and give some small poppers or streamers a try. I'm curious to see if the smallmouth in here have the same preference for blue and purple streamers that their relatives in the big river do. I'm going to have to come hike the trail here again too, since we didn't realize at the time that we didn't make it quite to the end. Who knows, that last few hundred yards of trail might be hiding another good place to fish. Either way, it'll be a good excuse to get outside and enjoy nature close to home.

- Joseph

Friday, June 24, 2016

Skinny Water and Wild Trout

First Trout of the Trip
This year, I was determined not to make the same mistake I did last year when school let out for summer. That mistake being doing too many other things, and not enough fishing. With that in mind, I figured what better way to kick off summer break than by taking the brother-in-law (and proud dad of my new niece) Trent along with me and do some searching for a few wild trout. We decided that since he had a new daughter at home we might not want to make an all day event out of the trip. With that in mind, it narrowed our choices down to a few streams within an hour or so of home.

Wild Rainbow
After talking it over, and going back and forth between a smallmouth trip or a trout trip, we decided with temperatures in the mid to high 90's at home, a trip to the mountains in search of cooler weather and cold water would be our best bet. Once all these important decisions had been made, we decided to go fish a stream that is about an hour from my house. I've written about this particular stream several times on here before, and it is located in a section of national forest that was one of the first in the east. This particular creek has a few advantages and disadvantages. The advantages are the ease of access and short travel time compared to some of the places I like to fish. The only real disadvantages are that the area sometimes seems to be full of campers, and the fish tend to be in the 6"-8" inch range. If you're looking for big fish and solitude, this may not be the best place to go. However, for me going fishing always beats not going, so I tend to make it up here several times during the year.

Parr Marks
With all these things in mind, we hit the road early hoping to beat the heat and other fishermen. After an uneventful drive, we made it to the creek and decided to start at the sign commemorating this as the first national forest tract purchased under the Weeks Law in 1911. This is toward the lower end of the designated Wild Trout waters, but it does include some nice sized holes and plunge pools that sometimes hold a surprise or two. This is one of my normal starting spots, and from there you can fish all the way into the uppermost headwaters without leaving public land. Lower down the creek flows through private property for a short while before returning to public water as a designated Delayed Harvest stretch that is periodically stocked. Today however, with the catch and release season over on the Delayed Harvest, we were looking for the wild cousins of the trout to be found lower down. The trout we were after had been born and raised right there, instead of a hatchery.

Trent's brown
Beautiful Colors
Once we made our way down to the creek, we both noticed that it was already looking a little low. It was not the lowest I'd ever seen, but some rain is definitely needed soon. A few weeks before, I had been fishing in Pennsylvania, and had hoped to hit a sulfur hatch. That didn't work out, so I decided to experiment a little with one of the sulfur parachutes I had tied for that trip to see if they would interest a few fish closer to home. It didn't take long, and a pretty little wild brown trout decided that it looked like breakfast. This would be the only brown trout that I would catch this trip, although my brother-in-law did catch a nice brown on further upstream later in the morning. For both of us, it was more of a rainbow trout kind of day. We each caught several pretty little wild rainbows, although the creek didn't give up any big fish this time. We had success fishing several of the usual summer dry flies, and the trout didn't seem too particular as long as the drift was good. However, the low water did make it a challenge, as we both spooked a lot of fish, no matter how carefully we were trying to wade. This was one of those days that fish could be caught, but they weren't going to put up with any missteps.

We fished through the morning, and as lunchtime approached the heat came along with it. We decided that it had been a successful morning, and headed on back toward home with a detour for a hamburger on the way. Hopefully it won't be long, and we will be back in the high country in search of some more beautiful wild trout. In the meantime, I've got plans to do a little fishing and exploring close to home.

- Joseph

Thursday, June 2, 2016

A Quick Pennsylvania Ramble

Rigging Up on Oil Creek
Even though most of the things I write about on this blog take place in North Carolina, once in a while I do make it out of state. Those trips don't normally make it onto the blog simply because they often don't involve any hunting or fishing (unfortunately). However, one trip that my wife and I make fairly often that does involve fishing is up to her hometown of Titusville, Pennsylvania. Although my wife and her immediate family moved to North Carolina when she was seven, almost all of her relatives still live in and around the Titusville area so we try to go up and visit when we have a chance.

My first trip to Titusville with my wife and in-laws actually happened back in 2009, and before we went I happened to find out that there was a trout stream about five minutes from her grandmother's house. My wife hadn't ever done any fishing before she met me, but she said people liked to fish in the creek right outside of town, which was Oil Creek. I did a little research on the Internet, and found out that Oil Creek was known to have good hatches of several different insects, and that it sounded like a great place to do a little fly fishing while we were in town. The convenience factor of being a five minute ride also made it easy to mix fishing and family visits. Ever since that first trip, I always make sure to take along a fly rod anytime that we go up during the spring, summer, or fall.
Fishing Oil Creek

This past Friday was my wife's grandmother's 75th birthday, and her uncle was throwing a surprise party for her. Since we both had Monday off work for Memorial Day, we decided to make a quick trip north to go to the party and visit family. Along with seeing everybody, I also hoped that I'd be able to slip in an afternoon or two on Oil Creek. We headed north after work on Friday afternoon, and stopped for the night about halfway to Titusville.

The Ropp!
We arrived in town around 11:30 on Saturday, and since it was lunch time I knew what I wanted to do before hitting the creek. There's a sub shop in Titusville that makes a sub called "The Ropp". My father-in-law got me hooked on these, and now no trip to Titusville is complete without getting at least one. After I got my Ropp fix, and we made the rounds and said hello to everybody, it was off to Walmart for a fishing license and then on to Oil Creek. My wife came along for the trip and took pictures, but she decided not to fish this time. Most of the pictures in this post were taken by her. It's not often that I have the luxury of a photographer when I'm fishing!

First Trout of the Day
 I had been reading on the Internet that the sulphur mayflies had been hatching on Oil Creek, so I had high hopes for some dry fly action. However, it wasn't to be that day, as I saw a handful of sulphurs, but very few rises. Being an optimist, I did try fishing a parachute sulphur to the sporadic rises I did see, but I didn't seem to be getting any interest from the trout. After a while, I gave up on the dry fly and switched to a pheasant tail nymph. I fished this for a while with no luck either, and decided that it might be time to try something else.

After being skunked on the sulphur and the pheasant tail, I switched to a hare's ear nymph and in a few minutes was able to land the first trout of the day. It was a pretty rainbow that came from a deep run, and after that I had a little more confidence in my fly choice finally being right. In the mean time, more fishermen started showing up, I'm assuming anticipating a sulphur hatch like I was. I noticed that the others were having about the same luck as me, catching a fish once in a while but nobody seemed to be catching a bunch. I worked my way on downstream a little further, switching to a bead head hare's ear after losing the first fly to a bad cast and hungry bank side weeds. I picked up two more nice rainbows on this fly, and missed a couple more strikes.
Oil Creek Rainbow

It was starting to get late in the evening and the sulphurs never showed, so I decided to call it a day and headed on back to the car. Since we had to travel back home Monday and be back at work on Tuesday, Saturday wound up being my only chance to fish. It was a quick trip, but it reminded me once again how much I enjoy fishing Oil Creek. I've never seemed to catch a lot of trout there on any one trip, but the challenge of matching the hatch and fishing some different water than I'm used to always makes it a fun place to fish. With summer break coming up for teachers, the next thing on my outdoor agenda is to hit a few streams around home. Hopefully that will lead to a few more rambles to write about. Until then, thanks for stopping by!

- Joseph

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