Thursday, March 25, 2010

You take the good with the bad

Marty finally broke free from his leash this past Sunday and was able to make it out for a day of chuckin' flies to the brookies of SNP. We exchanged a few text messages on Saturday night, trying to decide on the best stream to concentrate our efforts. Not being able to come to a decision, we decided that we'd ponder it on the drive out. So we met up around 11:00am determined to sore-lip some brook trout but having no clear destination in mind. After wavering between a few different creeks, we finally decided on a Southern district West sloper that neither of us had ever been on before. Marty had received some intel from a seemingly reliable source about big fish in this particular drainage and we were both eager to see what it was all about. We arrived at the lower boundary around 1:00 and started in with high hopes. The lower part of this stream turned out to be plenty wide but mostly shallow with long stretches of ankle deep, unproductive water.

Since neither of us had any experience on this crick and we didn't want to miss anything, we decided to jump right in near the bottom. Deep holes that seemed capable of supporting big fish were few and far between. With all of the rain and snow melt from the previous week and with our favorite East slopers still running high and strong, we were surprised at the paltry volume of water in this one. We wondered what this place must look like in the summer if it looked like this now...showing its bones:

We did manage to find some rising fish and tossing dry flies was a welcome change from all the lead slingin' we've been doing over the last few months. We found no evidence of any big boys but the little ones did seem to be fat and healthy and they attacked a parachute adams with gusto.

We continued upstream until the creek broke into 3 different stems and things got pretty skinny. Tiring of catching 4" fish, we finally came to the decision that this creek just wasn't our particular cup of tea. The intel that we had received seemed curious, but we chalked it up to different strokes for different folks and figured that we might have just enough time to hot foot it back to the truck and make our way back up to Skyline Drive to check out a favorite East sloper.

Fast forward about an hour and we arrived at the new locale at the upper parking lot with enough light in the sky to make the 1/2 mile hike downhill to cover the best spots. The hike back out would have to be done in the dark (something we are all too familiar with). When we got down there, the water volume was a little more to our liking.

And Marty pulled this dude out from the base of the waterfall. A fine specimen:

We fished out the light and each caught a few more fish, although mine turned out to be pretty dinky, leaving me wondering why I switched streams, drove an hour, and hiked down a mountain to catch the same small fish. Sometimes you gotta take the good with the bad I guess. All in all, it was a good day with good company even if the fishing turned out to be pretty sub-par. I got to see some new water and check another stream off the list, and that ain't all bad. It definitely beats workin' any day.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Spring in the Park

I sometimes find myself trying to come up with a reason to fish somewhere other than the Park stream I wrote about a couple weeks ago in my Wiley Coyote story. I've been trying to explore as much of the Park as I can, but there's just something about that little gem that keeps drawing me back in. Exploration of a new stream is best done with a partner in crime, and since I was fishing alone this Saturday, I decided Wiley Coyote Creek was my best bet. I feel like I'm getting to know it pretty well and am not likely to end up lost or dead in the back country...and it doesn't hurt that my biggest brook trout to date came from this stream last May. On this trip, the creek was running full but clear, and the extra volume made the waterfalls and cascades even more scenic than usual.

Not much was going on in the bug department, and I found no rising fish, so I was forced to dredge the bottom with heavy flies and split shot. The fish proved to be hungry and aggressive and I quickly lost count of the number of little guys brought to hand. Sadly, none of the big boys that call this place home came out to play, but fish in this size range came out of virtually every pool.

I thought this was an especially pretty little pool:

And this little feller was tucked up tight against the far wall:

I finished the day off with some exploration of a stretch that's difficult to reach. The trail swings away at this spot and doesn't rejoin the stream for about 1/4 mile. From the first time I saw this spot, I wondered what kind of treasure awaits above but for some reason have never made the effort to go and have a look.

Deciding it was high time to find out, I managed to sneak up along the left side of the cascade to take a peak. The high water made it too dangerous to go any further alone, but I think I figured out a route that will allow access after the water drops a little. What I found was a couple sweet looking plunge pools that will definitely require some attention in the future. So I'll be back again soon to check it out, and even if I can't make it all the way up there, it should be a fun ride back down.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Fly Angler's Thirty Foot Putt

After my trek up and down the mountain on Saturday, I needed a leisurely day to recover. Since the weather was too darn nice to not go fishing, I decided to run out to the delayed harvest stream in Waynesboro. No hiking, bushwhacking or boulders to climb over...the legs would get a break...perfect. This stream has never been all that kind to me and I had pretty much written it off last year after several fishless trips in a row. Part of the problem here is that the stream runs right through the city of Waynesboro and is heavily poached, despite the fact that it's a catch and release stream for most of the year. At least that's what I like to tell myself after not catching any fish. Add in the factory that runs along its banks, the shopping carts and lawn chairs that litter the stream bed and it's just not the kind of experience an outdoorsman is usually looking for. The ducks are a nice touch though.

Even though I don't fish here often, sometimes it's the only game in town. Earlier this winter, when the mountains were choked with snow and the spring creeks were inaccessible, this place allowed me to at least get on the water. On one such trip, I hooked and, promptly broke off, a huge rainbow trout, and that one fish renewed my interest in the trashy treasure. A fisherman will put up with a lot for the chance to land a hawg. For you golfers out there, it's kind of like crushing the perfect 280 yard drive while shooting 102. Sure, your game sucks, but that one shot will keep you coming back for more.

If that rainbow I lost was like a 280 yard drive, then the brown I landed today was like sinking a 30 foot putt to save a 99. It wasn't huge, but definitely respectable. It was fat and healthy, and it fought with style...going airborne at least 4 times. Like the 30 foot putt, this one fish saved an otherwise lackluster day and as much as I don't want it to, will probably keep me coming back to Waynesboro for more. At least when it's the only game in town.

A Wiley Coyote Moment

I was introduced to this little gem of a mountain stream last May by my good friend Marty and it has quickly become my favorite SNP fishing destination. It's the major tributary of a much more popular stream and although it sees its fair share of hikers, I have never encountered another angler while fishing here. If you look at this little creek on a map, you'll notice right away that it doesn't zig-zag or meander its way down the mountain. Instead, it rockets straight downhill in a series of cascades, waterfalls and plunge pools that make for ideal brook trout habitat and also one heck of a workout for the fisherman.

The forecast for the weekend was sunny skies with temps in the 50s, and I was planning on taking full advantage of the sweet weather. So on Saturday morning, I loaded up the truck with gear and pointed myself towards my new favorite SNP spot. Arriving at the parking lot on the lower Park bounday at 9:00am, I strung up my little 7' Granger Victory and hit the trail for the 1/2 mile hike to where the fishin' starts.

The day turned out to be pretty uneventful (especially in the fish catching department) with one exception. I had been fishing for maybe 5 minutes when, out of nowhere, a softball sized rock exploded into the middle of the pool I had been standing in, shattering the silence and sending me diving for cover. After I checked my waders for skid marks and looked around to make sure nobody was playing a dirty joke on me, I glanced up and saw this whitetail deer doing its best impression of a mountain goat.

The deer was casually eating grass on the cliff face about 30' above me and seemed oblivious to the fact that it had just scared the crap out me, almost literally, by kicking a rock loose and sending it plummeting towards me below. I just stood there and watched for about 10 minutes, amazed at how this deer had managed to get itself into this position. Then I reflected on what would have happened had the rock landed a few feet to the left. Images of the old Road Runner cartoon flashed through my head. You know...the one where Wiley Coyote gets whacked in the noggin' with a rock:

All that was left to complete the scene was for this deer to go "meep meep" and take off at 100 miles per hour (It's amazing the places your mind will wander to when you're fishing alone in the backcountry).

I eventually regained my wits, continued on and was rewarded at the next pool with this little beauty. I think it was a John Gierach quote where he said that brook trout are one of those rare things you sometimes see in nature that are just a lot prettier than they actually need to be. I couldn't agree more.

So I fished out the day and even though I managed only a few more brookies, I left with a sense of satisfaction. Solitude, beautiful scenery and wild trout are 3 reasons why I'll be back to my new favorite Park stream...even if the deer are trying to kill me.