Tuesday, April 8, 2014

It’s My Fault


By sun-up the parking lot at Penny’s Bend was already full; not my fault. The overflow area had one good parking space left; not my fault. A fly fisher was already in every good spot; not my…well, maybe it was my fault.

This time of year, when the dogwoods just start to bloom, the white bass make a spawning run out of Falls Lake into the Eno River. Just downstream of Penny’s Bend there is a large pool and riffle which is typically where the meat fishermen congregate and at times catch huge numbers of white bass. For the bank bound anglers, this is almost elbow to elbow fishing and is as much a social event as it is an angling opportunity.
Years ago, I was a lone fly fisher amongst these meat fishermen.  I remember one day in particular. I waded into a riffle just below the Oxford Highway Bridge.  Next to the pool below Penny’s Bend this area was popular, and for good reason.  The riffle emptied into a deep eddy and fish congregated here quite often.  The shoreline anglers would cast into the eddy and retrieve their lure, but I knew the best way to present to these fish was to wade across to river right, cast into the swift current and let my fly swing into the eddy. It was a left-handed fly fishermen’s dream.

That day I noticed these two gents fishing from the bank, one not catching anything and the other catching nice sized white bass every so often.  That told me the fish were there, probably stacked up like cordwood. I asked them if they minded if I waded over and fished the other side.  The shrugged like they didn’t care, but I knew that I looked a little funny to them with my breathable waders and long rod.

I got into position, I made a relatively short cast quartering downstream and allowed the current to swing my special “white bass clouser” I tied into the eddy.  This was classic streamer fishing. Just as the fly reached the “seam” between the fast and slow, WHACK! I strip set the hook and landed a nice one. I released the fish and glanced at my fellow anglers. I sensed they didn’t like the fact I let the fish go…or maybe they thought it was just dumb luck.
I made another cast and BAM! I had an even nicer fish on the line.  Sensing that I would wear out my welcome, I hollered up to the bank fishermen and said, “Hey…I’m not keeping any today, y’all want this one?”

One of the gents replied, “Sure.”

And why wouldn’t he want the fish?  After all, most of these meat fishermen were subsistence fishing. I knew many of my fellow “catch and release” parishioners of the church of fly fishing would argue with me, but these fish would get caught whether I kept any or not, and they would get eaten. Besides, white bass are prolific spawners.

I waded over and handed him the fish.  I waded back to my spot…searching for the exact rocks I was standing on…must of found them because my next cast ended in a WHAM! Holy white bass Batman! It was on!  I preceded to catch as many as 60 white bass that day including some females in the 3-5 pound range…a hoot and a half on a 5-weight!  I helped my shore bound fishing buddy fill his bucket.

In fact, as the day wore on and other fisherman stopped to ask whether they were bitin’ or not, my shore buddy would shout out, “Hey Terry…sho’ them how to catch a white bass…y’all watch it’s just like one of them fishin’ shows on TV.”  I obliged of course. I batted a thousand on every such request.
I ended that day with a tired arm and a giddiness about what was probably a top ten fishing day.  My shore bound buddies thanked me for the fish and they are probably still telling the story about a dude in funny fishing pants and along fly pole whackin’ them white bass.

I too told the story; again and again…and again, oh and…again.  I really didn’t think it would have much effect since no one believed my fishing stories anyway.  To my knowledge there was really only one other local fly fisherman fishing the Eno River white bass run…at least I didn’t see any, but things changed.

The following year I had to hike further downstream. I’d see one or two other fly fishermen. Then some of the hardware chuckers started donning hippers and waders and like me hiked to various spots finding fish along the way. That old adage about walking 15 minutes further, wasn’t enough.  Hell, on one outing I hiked at least 4 miles - one way - to find fish.

So when I pulled into the parking area yesterday, just 10 minutes later than I had hoped, and it was already full I thought I’d be lucky to find one single spot to fish.  Sure, I knew the meat fisherman would be there, but as I finished rigging up, I counted 6 different fly fishers getting ready.  I passed at least that many more already on the water. It reminded me of opening day of trout season on a hatchery supported water.

I prepared for a long hike…got way downstream and saw a motor boat that had put in near the lake and headed upstream…DAMN…it’s hard enough to find a spot in between other bank and wade fishermen, but a boat, really?  I hiked back upstream and dropped into a spot where I had caught fish before…and I caught them there today too.  I was having a good day piscatorial speaking until two fly fishers made their way up to “my” pool and a wader wearing hardware chucking meat fisherman waded down to the pool and cast overtop of me.

Fortunately, I made one more cast out of frustration and landed a nice female.  I wasn’t “too” showy as I released her back into the Eno.  Then I reeled in my fly line and headed back towards the truck.  Just as I was about to leave the river I saw that riffle and eddy where it all went down so long ago.  No one was fishing there!  I had to make one more cast…I waded to the spot; stripped out some line; made one back cast and let the current do its job…WHACK! I released the 2-pounder…made two more casts for good measure and then hiked up to my truck.

Back at my truck,…two more fly fishermen were readying their gear. We exchanged pleasantries and one of them asked about the crowd.  I smiled and told him good luck on finding a spot.  He discounted that by replying that he’d walk 15 minutes further…I told him that wouldn’t do it, not today.
“Who the hell let the cat out of the bag about fly fishing this white bass run?” he asked me.

“I guess that’s my fault.”

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

I DID IT!

Completing 1,301 Miles on the American Tobacco Trail

I did it…I set a goal for 2013 and I did it.  My son said he never knew anyone that made a resolution and kept it the whole year.  Well, it wasn’t a resolution really…it was a goal.  I set a goal to hike, bike and paddle 1,300 miles in 2013…and I did it!

It wasn’t easy.  We had a higher than normal rainfall this year that kept mountain bike trails closed and rivers swollen. May was particularly wet allowing me only 60 miles for the month.  Injuries also slowed me a bit. I bruised a rib and my hand and followed that a few days later with a separated shoulder.  This all happened in early August. At the end of August, I had logged just 16 miles.

I also set some goals for fly fishing. I expected to fly fish 150 hours in 2013…I fell short thanks to the shoulder injury and the weather. I plan to rectify that in 2014.  However I did exceed some other fly fishing goals. I set a goal to either add one new species to my life list OR fly fish at least 2 new waters I had never fished before.  I also set a goal to catch at least 10 species of fish on the fly and fly fish at least 8 different water bodies.  I accomplished these goals except for the 150 hours of fly fishing.

I liked setting these goals, and tracking them in my log kept me motivated. Another motivating factor was being able to combine many activities.  I did a 50 mile ride with our scout troop on the Virginia Creeper trail which is adjacent to White Top Laurel Creek, a first class trout stream, allowing me to combine biking and fly fishing. In September I had a gig at a beer festival at the coast and got to paddle my SUP while stalking redfish…that combined a lot of my favorite things.

So here is the breakdown of what I accomplished…

Fly Fishing

·         129 hours of actual fly fishing

·         11 different waters fished…including 5 new waters

·         New waters included: Laurel Creek, Linville River, Elk River, Lake Michael, Lake San Lee…all in North Carolina.

·         Caught 15 different species on the fly

·         Species caught included: rainbow trout, brown trout, largemouth bass, bluegill, shell cracker, redbreast sunfish, river chub, flathead catfish, green sunfish, Roanoke bass, rock bass, brook trout, channel catfish, redfish, false albacore.

Mileage

·         1,301 total miles

·         161 miles hiking

·         534 miles of single track trail on mountain bike

·         591 miles of greenways/two-track/roads on cyclocross bike

·         15 miles of paddling on SUP

Moving forward, I plan to keep a goal of 1,200 miles a year. This is reasonable and accounts for things I cannot control. It will also allow me to hit that 150 hours of fly fishing as well. Goals should be worthy, but accomplishable. To be more consistent with my exercise I plan to bump up hiking mileage a bit in the New Year so that I’m out doing something at least 4 days a week.  I also hope to bump up paddling mileage.  If possible I plan on doing more single track mileage than riding on the road.

Regardless I will have to be flexible just like this year.  Being flexible is the key to obtaining goals.  That’s why I live by the motto “Semper Gumby” that is, “always flexible.”

Hope to see y’all in 2014 either on the trail, greenway, water or the pub.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

An Ode to Berry



Red breast sunfish hold a special spot in my fly fishing memories...thanks Berry for playing a big role in those memories
 
I subscribe to the theory that fly fishing is genetic.  While I have no scientific data to support this, I do offer this anecdotal evidence. My birth father was an avid...no...fanatical fly fisherman.  His three sons are also fly fishing fanatics.  In my case, I never got to fish with my birth father, at least not in the physical sense. He died of cancer when I was two years old. While I never fished with him when he was physically on this earth, I take my birth father, "Al" fly fishing with me in the spiritual sense on each of my fly fishing adventures. This is why I believe fly fishing is hereditary...although you can choose to learn it.
 
About three years after my birth father's death, my mom remarried. My step-father may not have chosen me to be his step-son, but for nearly 46 years he chose to be my dad. His recent death at age 84 had me reminiscing about many great memories, but as a fly fisherman, three standout that I think are worth sharing.
 
My dad, who went by the nickname "Berry" as a young man, was not an avid fly fisherman but he was an avid sportsman. He loved to hunt and preferred the woods over church to be closer to God. Despite not being an avid fly fisherman he managed to get me to the trout stream every opening day. When my folks retired to the western foothills of North Carolina, my dad expressed an interest in fly fishing. And why not? They lived about 30 minutes from a nice trout stream; my brother Jan and I and our families lived just two hours from them; and Jan owned a fly shop and guide service where I hung out and occasionally helped him run it.
 
One year we gave dad a nice fly rod outfit for Christmas. It didn't take dad long to cast a nice loop. It seemed like he was a natural. Hell...he seemed like he was a natural at anything he tried...music, archery, baseball, pool, table tennis, etc. and fly casting was no different, although his actual fly fishing skills needed honed.
 
Case in point, I remember fishing with him at the trout stream near where he lived. We fished a pool with rising fish but they were being persnickety.  I finally dialed in on what they were munching and caught a couple. Dad was still fishless when I waded over and gave him the fly I was using. I positioned myself back on the other side of the stream and on the first cast with the fly dad hooked a good trout. As he got the fish close I could tell he wasn't sure what to do, but before I could get over to him with the net he beached the fish, "gently" placed his boot on the trout, and removed the hook. He then "nudged" the trout back to the water with a boot to the anal fin. The fish did swim away, but we had a lesson on releasing fish on the ride home.
 
Dad was eager to learn and like many of us could hardly wait to try out new gear. One Father's Day we gave him a pair of felt hip waders. We celebrated the day at my house and dad seemed pleased with the hippers. As lunch finished up I could tell that dad wanted to try the new hip boots out on the water. There was a light rain falling and it was unseasonably cool for June.  I got the feeling Mom wanted us to stay put. However dad insisted so we headed down to the Eno River near my house. There, the red breast sunfish were bedded up...if we caught one we must have caught a hundred. A helluva good way to spend a Father's Day.
 
Perhaps the best fly fishing story was relayed to me by brother Jan. He took dad to a very popular trout stream in western NC. There was easy access and plenty of fish, but also plenty of fishermen.  Generally fly fishermen abide by a proper code of conduct. Etiquette dictates that if a car is parked at a pull out and folks are gearing up, then that hole is theirs to fish.  Well, Jan and dad were parked at a pull out with no fisherman in sight. They began rigging up to fish when two hardware chucking good ole' boys walked right past them, walked down to the hole, and commenced to casting their rooster tails. Jan, not wanting to be confrontational suggested to dad that they drive to the next pull-out. But the old man would have none of that. He said, "I take care of them..."
 
So dad walked right between the two men stripped out some line and began flailing and flinging that fly in every which direction!  Dad quipped, "This is my first time and I ain't very good at this...y'all better watch out!"
 
The two men reeled in and quickly headed down stream...as they did, dad's cast straightened, his loop tightened, and the fly landed gently on the water. They fished the rest of the day without running into another fisherman.
 
I am thankful for those memories and all the others dad left with us. I know I will get to fly fish with Berry again on those Heavenly waters...I'm sure Al will join us and he'll have all the best flies tied up and ready to go.
 
 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

It’s About Catching Fish



Or is it? This is something that I wrestle with time and time again.  I have fishing buddies tell me that fly fishing is about spending time with friends or enjoying the beauty of nature.  That’s what they always say…especially after a fruitless trip to the water.


  

Oh sure…is is far better to spend a fishless day on the water than working.

It’s absolutely true that you can’t catch a fish if you are sitting on the couch.

The beer doesn’t mind what direction the wind blows or how well you present your fly.
 

But is it about catching fish?

Of course it is…if it wasn’t about catching fish why would we spend all those damn days with little piscatorial success?  The reason we go back time and time again is simple…it’s hope that if your cast was just a bit farther, or your drift has a little less drag, or that new fly is a better match, you will get that elusive strike.


But wait…what about those beautiful places?

What about those terrific fly fishing buddies?

What about that cold, craft beer at the end of the day?


The truth is, we all fly fish to catch fish…but if it was just about catching fish we would find an easier (and less expensive) way to do it.  Fly fishing is all about the experience and that experience includes our fishing buddies, beautiful places, cold beer, good music and of course a tug on the end of our fly line. I was reminded of this on a recent trip to Beaufort, NC.
  
We pursued albies with limited success.

We drank craft beers with plenty of success. 

We played music while folks danced.

We shared old stories with even older friends.

The wind sucked, but the sunrises and sunsets didn’t.
 

In the end, I could have stayed home and maybe caught just as many fish, but had I stayed home I would have probably got caught up on some chore. Had that happened I would have missed the entire experience.