Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Never the Same

It finally happened, I have been ruined as an angler, and I knew that it would happen one day. I will no longer view trout streams the same from this day forward. I know that some my find my angling tastes as a little off beat; certainly so, by standards outside the eastern US, or so I think. I live for these small streams that are inhabited by brook trout, and sometimes browns. So when my friend Mike first made the offer to fish some of these types of streams in a national park in eastern Virginia some time ago, the idea had some traction. However, the last few years, up until about 2 years ago, we had been mired in a nasty drought, and small stream fishing just wasn’t the same when the fish are struggling for survival in lukewarm, sub normal flows. But as mentioned, the weather has changed for the better as of late. So when we discussed this a couple of weeks ago, things looked to be a go. So we departed for the eastern slope of the Shenandoah National Park. There a good many trout streams that drain the eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge, and some of those streams are pretty nice places for trout and insects and such to thrive and flourish.

Some folks would cringe at the prospect of camping in the middle of nowhere without any amenities whatsoever, even next to a trout stream. To me, that sounds like my type of place. So after about 40 minutes of travel on a clearing through the woods that some may call a road, we arrived at Shangri-La. The accommodations were adequate, which meant that there was a level spot to pitch a tent and a ring of rocks that served as a fire ring. Other than that, things were as Mike called it, “jungle rules camping”. After the necessities were addressed, such as food and shelter, it was time to fish.

It’s always an interesting proposition fishing a new stream, as you just never know what to really expect, until you wade in a have a look around. Oh, I suppose some do the film room for hours, and all the pre game prep too. Myself, I just clumsily get there and get going. But I did have all the proper flies for such a place. A few EHC still graced a compartment in my fly box. And I just tied the previous week, some really cool/fishy looking Adams Wulff’s, that turned out quite well, for me that is. So as I threaded the end of 5X through the eye of an EHC, I wondered how things would play out. I kinda got the impression that things might be just fine, as a couple of brookies made some splashy rises taking insects from the surface in the miniature pool that I would fish first. Those free rising fish, quickly felt the point of the hook, and were quickly released after they came to hand. Just gorgeous, wild, Appalachian mountain trout. Probably even prettier than the ones back home in PA, but not by much. Unfortunately, I don’t have a bunch of fish shots. But no matter, pictures do not do these fish justice anyway, especially so with my limited photography skills and a point and shoot camera. We actually started fishing sometime around 5, I think, and dark comes early in these rugged mountains. So by the time we knocked off, we only got about 2 hours or so of fishing. But the fish were extremely cooperative, and the evening was nice. Besides, there was no need to be there after dark for a spinner fall, or emergence, and also, the next day we would get our fill of fishing.

Some of the pools in the stream defied belief, with regards of how perfectly they were formed, with the utmost consideration for the fish of course.

The next day dawned somewhat chilly, and surprising breezy even early in the morning. But it was bright sun, and today was to be much warmer than yesterday. So we commenced fishing at about 9:30 or so. Our plan, or more appropriately Mike’s suggestion, was to park at the end of the road, then walk a ways and then descend to the stream. Luckily, we didn’t encounter other anglers, and made our way to the stream.

Foot travel in this area is difficult at best in riparian zones, as there is an incredible abundance of saplings of all different kinds of deciduous trees. This though, is a tragedy from all of the hemlocks being wiped out by the dreaded wooly adelgid. I hope they figure this menace out soon, or hemlocks are going to be a scarce as chestnuts in the mid Atlantic real soon.

However, as in most of nature, things might not be as bad as they seem, as the increased light is probably helping to produce more algae, which in turn would support more aquatic insects. But that’s just my opinion, which stands a chance of being dead wrong. However, to back up my assertion, I sampled the some rocks in the stream, and they were just filthy with macroinvertebrate life. Stonefly nymphs and mayfly nymphs dominated the insect life. There were some caddis, but not many as the stones or mayflies, and mostly the October stick caddis. I suspect that we were too far upstream for significant caddis populations. Of course it will heat the water slightly more also. Whatever the outcome, it is still playing out and only time will tell. I can only hope the fish, the insects and the forest still thrive for a long time to come. One thing is for certain, I’ll miss hemlock trees, as I have them pegged on my list as one of the most beautiful trees I’ve ever seen.Once on stream, the fish picked things up, right where they left off the previous day, with brookie after brookie falling victim to the EHC. Then, they stopped taking it, to some extent. I wouldn’t say that they became selective, more that just wanted a different fly. So I tied on one of the Adams Wulff’s. Mike and I hop scotched, and leap frogged each other for about a mile and a half. To sum up the amount of fish we caught, “lots” would suffice, plain and simple. It was exceedingly easy to lose track of the number of fish we caught. I never did remove the Adams Wulff from my leader the remainder of the trip. Mike had no issues finding a magic fly either, as every time I looked upstream or down, he was bent over unhooking another one. Finally, exhausted, we stopped fishing and hiked the mile and half back to Mike’s vehicle. I was giddy with success, and felt pretty much physically drained. This was taxing work, hopping up, and down, and around, and over, car sized boulders. Also too, there was an inordinate amount of timber, from the fallen hemlocks in the streambed.

After a few cold ones and some sustenance, we resumed fishing far downstream from where we were in the morning. This was much bigger water, and of course, the thought of larger fish was at the forefront of my feeble, one track mind.

The first one Mike hooked into was in fact the biggest one of the trip. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a brookie, probably more like a copperhead. It did have an arrowhead shaped head, and it struck repeatedly at the stick/log that I tried to unhook the fly with. Who knows? At best, it was a really pissed off snake!

This water was indeed different from the upper reaches that we fished in the morning. The river seemed to pause a little more often, but still was almost violent in spots, where it ran fast and deep through chutes in the rock. But here and there, you were able to leap the entire river in less than 5-6 feet!

Sure enough, there were larger fish here than further upstream. I hit a section of water where caught no less than a half a dozen in a short, highly productive section of pocket water, interspersed with a couple of short in length, deep in depth, pools. The largest fish was right around a foot. These were not your usual, stream brookies, these were almost like river trout, where they constantly swam in the strong current, and grew shoulders. Two of these fish, actually make my reel protest in a sudden, immediate burst after they felt the business end of the hook! These guys were big league!

With a pause, I briefly reflected the events of the day, before we hit the dusty trail for the way out of the canyon. I think that the most impressive thing about this place, is that the fishing doesn’t seem eastern, with regards to elevation. This river is flippin steep! In short, this was one of the most enjoyable days I’ve ever spent fishing. And, I get this feeling that it would be that way again, next time I fish it, which will occur sometime in the future.

Looking down the lower river, late evening, wisteria blooming on the side hills.

Next morning, we struck camp early, and in haste, as Mike was going to volunteer for a Healing Waters event that was going to take place on the Rose River. I also too was going to fish the Rose, but further upstream, inside the park. There was nobody at the dead end parking lot, so geared up and raced upstream. I walked for about 10 minutes and then descended to the stream. I was somewhat disappointed when I reached the stream. I found a smallish and shallow stream, where the stream bed was scattered all over the place, and the stream was braided into a few trickles at some spots. I didn’t have to go too far however, when a found a pretty pool that seemed inviting.

A couple of nice brookies came quickly to hand, just as pretty as the ones from yesterday, a watershed apart. Still though, the stream was not the classic, narrow chute of a waterway, and holding water wasn’t abundant. So upstream I slogged. The stream hinted of changing topography, as I got to the point at which the stream started to braid.

Before long, I found the water I was looking for. Narrow chutes among room size boulders, with seemingly bottomless greenish pools.

Good sign of a healthy stream.

The further I walked upstream, the better it got.

I wanted to walk and fish for a much longer time in this magical forest, and along this sylvan stream, but the day promised rain, and I had a long drive in front of me. So it was with regret, I reeled in, packed away the gear, and departed, knowing that I would return again. Why not? This place was almost paradise for a mountain trout bum…….And there are more trout streams that beckon exploration…..so many streams, so little time….