I dreamt of an exotic fly-fishing trip all my life. I woke early wondering if this would be the day I realized that dream. I was fully rested, not weary from travel. The accommodations of my lodging provided a restful nights sleep. As I opened my eyes on the dawn of this new day, the aroma of fresh brewed coffee filled the air. I was greeted with a cup in my room. Over a hearty breakfast my partner and I planned our day…I would ready the gear while my partner took care of the rest.
The species of fish I was targeting had just about all the qualities you would ever want in a sporting fish on the fly. It’s beautifully colored, more striking than a spawning brookie; eager to take a fly both, surface and sub-surface, often with aggressive strikes much like a peacock bass; on the hook, this fish fights as if it is three times its size, exhibiting tenacity like a smallmouth bass; don’t forget spines that can inflict painful injuries if not handled correctly; and in clear water, they can exhibit similar spookiness of the most wile trout.
While not a cold water species, this fish does best in rocky, cool, flowing streams that often have the look of a beautiful trout stream found in our very own
. Yet this environ is not too hospitable to say the least. The very water where we seek this aquatic adversary is guarded by some formidable creatures that we humans must respect. I was educated prior to embarking for the water how to avoid things like the Ixodes and the Trombicula. These dangerous creatures are not to be taken lightly. The Trombicula can inflict extreme pain for an animal its size, while the Ixodes’ bite in rare circumstances can be fatal. North Carolina Mountains
If these two animals were not bad enough, the vegetation leading to the water is as thick as any on earth. Rubus and Smilax, both armed with thorns can leave clothing in tatters. In fact, a small trip of the feet and a painful Rubus thorn found its way underneath by thumbnail. When I tried to extract the curved thorn, the pain was so intense I knew that I would need to seek help. So I simply bandaged it and went on…it was on my non-casting hand, thank goodness. In addition to these plants we mustn’t forget the Toxicodendron that emits an oily substance that can cause severe contact dermatitis in some folks. And last…there are the fly eating thickets along some of the stream banks where large riparian trees gave up their life.
There was another consideration in traveling to the water, the indigenous people. While they were not hostile…they were curious and almost smart alecky as I passed them on my way to the stream with the long-rod in hand. One of the local elders, even stopped me and as I understood him, tried to convince me that there were no fish to be caught and so I would fail in my endeavor. Undaunted, I continued onward and soon reached the rocky stream, with only a brief encounter with an Ixodes.
The water was clear and low, and occasionally I saw a fish scurry for cover as I approached the waters’ edge. I watched intently for signs of feeding fish. I clutched my fly rod firmly as I scanned the water. Soon, I saw a significant rise in an area that simply looked fishy. I pulled some line from the rod, crouched behind a rock and readied myself for a cast.
It was important, I learned, to match the tackle to the quarry. I had exactly what I needed, so I thought. As I gazed across this large, rocky pool I noticed a flash. I made a cast and “wham!” the line came taught and the rod bowed. After a short fight I had my first fish of this trip in hand…a strange character to say the least, heavy scales…bronze in color, with strange protrusions on a bluish head. Later I was informed that this fish, known locally as a “bluehead” was considered a “trash” fish by many sporting anglers, but there was at least one legend from the locals describing a horned fish king. So perhaps it was not a trash fish at all. It did take a fly after all and put up a good fight.
After catching and releasing a couple more of this funny looking fish, I moved upstream to another nice pool. I examined the pool intently as I stayed motionless behind a tree. The pool was nearly perfect. Water plunged into the head of the pool then formed an eddy behind a sizable rock. Thanks to the low water, I could see many cracks and crevices made by submerged rocks. Right along the current seam the water deepened forming a nice little drop-off, an edge, where surely I could hook the fish I traveled here to catch.
I watched intently to see if anything was feeding. I heard a small plop and looked up to see a strange greenish black bug that haplessly fell from an overhanging tree. Struggling it gently drifted into the pool. I saw something slowly move up from the drop-off…pause and then take the bug.
Excitedly I rummaged through my fly box and found something that was about the same size, shape and color. Nervously I tied it on to my leader hoping to remember to tie the knot correctly. I took a deep breath, checked the knot and made a false cast to the side to gage the distance. I shifted slightly, felt the backcast load and delivered the fly right into an overhanging branch. Under my breath I cussed a few times, but didn’t panic. I slowly pulled the slack line and the fly dropped into the water right where I needed it to drift into the strike zone.
As the fly drifted to the seam, I saw a fish move up the water column, hang briefly, and viciously attack my bug! I set the hook but there was really no need to…the fish had hooked itself and the fight was on! The fish turned itself sideways and headed for the drop-off…I managed to turn its head only to have the fish take off in a different direction. Before I could react, the fish was under a log and I could almost hear my leader starting to break from the abrasions.
Undaunted I stuck the rod butt into my belly and put some side pressure on the fish. Fortunately, these fish are not leader shy and you can go fairly heavy tippet. I managed to get the fish out from under the log and the fish was growing tired, but he had one more little run. I had wished I had brought heavier gear but matching your gear to this quarry makes for terrific sport.
As I landed the fish I was amazed at its beauty. It had fairly heavy scales, colored dark iridescent green with fins that were tipped in a reddish hue. The brilliant reddish orange belly was really indescribable…a gorgeous fish by anyone standards, and a bigger than average sized one to boot. Carefully, I handled the fish remembering that its spines could be painful should they puncture my hand. Using my forceps I removed the hook and released the fish back into the water. I managed to repeat this scenario throughout the day.
That evening as I enjoyed a cold draft of a local brew, I reminisced about the day. It was a satisfying trip, worthy of the preparation. I will always remember this day…they day I brought my first Lepomis auritus to hand.
A Trip of a Lifetime, Redux
Hopefully you realized that this story was about waking up at home recently one Saturday morning. My wife greeted me with a cup of freshly brewed coffee and asked what I was planning to do with my morning. I told her I was going to hike down to the Eno to catch some red breast sunfish. On the way I ran into a neighbor who thought I was nuts…“Fly fishing the Eno?” he asked, “That’s a waste of time.” I ignored him as I fought my way through the chiggers, ticks and brambles. Despite those little obstacles, I had a blast catching chubs and sunfish on my 3-weight. Back home that afternoon, a cold beer, brewed locally certainly tasted good as I cheered on my favorite collegiate football team. And there lies the moral of the story…I’ve been lucky enough to go on some grand fly fishing trips…bonefish, tarpon, albies, stripers, and big wild trout to name a few, but none have been grander than my short jaunts to the Eno. Remember it’s not just the big trips that make fishing trips grand, it’s the fly fishing itself that is grand.