I’m just back from our fourth annual Tour de New and it might be the last…at least in its present form. The Tour de New started a few years ago when my buddy Cope and I headed down the New River trail on our bicycles, toting along our fly rods. The New River trail is a 57 mile converted rail-trail. We would start our ride in Fries, VA and ride to the triple shoals areas. That stretch of water produced some 100 fish days for us and our bikes allowed us quick access, especially on the way back when Cope would say, “Do you hear that?
It’s a beer calling my name!”
Over those four years we expanded our the tour to include a day on the Virginia Creeper trail, which is also a converted rail-trail along Whitetop Laurel Creek, a fine wild trout fishery. We added a float trip on the New River with a guide service out of Pembroke…and we added more fishing buddies. Six went this year, me, Cope, Rog, Fin, Sep and Chris.
However, we wouldn’t see a hundred fish day, not even between all of us combined, at least not on our favorite stretch near Fries. We fished hard for a day and half, including an awesome display of wading prowess by Fin…he crossed some sections of the river that most couldn’t have done in a drift boat, let alone wading. Yet despite our best efforts, only three or four fish were caught…and I was skunked. Something that had never happened on this stretch for me, and yes…I got my dauber down because of it.
As Cope and I rode back to the truck on our second day he said, “There must have been a fish kill.”
“Nah,” I replied, “We would have heard about it.”
Well…it turns out there was a major fish kill and we didn’t hear about, until we talked to a local that day, and apparently not many people knew about it. In the spring, there was a spill…a tank filled with manure slurry ruptured and flowed into a small tributary that dumped that stuff into the New River right below the dam in Fries. According to the news reports I Googled upon my return the river was shut down to contact recreation from Fries all the way to I-77 just above Foster’s Falls. The news reports also talked about the drinking water issues, but nowhere, and I do mean nowhere could I find anything official about a fish kill. This angers me quite a bit. I can’t help but wonder if the fish kill was kept quiet due to the negative publicity that followed the fish kills in the Shenandoah and James rivers a few years ago. I plan on contacting the Virginia Department of Inland Fisheries to find out more. I’ll keep you posted but in the meantime, one of my favorite stretches of river won’t be worth fishing for years to come. Our Tour de New may go away too…or at least change. The bikin’ part may disappear but the fly fishin’ and beer drinkin’ won’t!
|Waiting out the storm|
Our day on the Creeper included a break at the Creeper Café and ended with bikers passing by and shouting, “havin’ any luck?” “I was,” I thought to myself…before they shouted at me. On the way back I decided to push it a little and ride like the wind. An unseen rock, caused some wind…from my tire. I changed the flat about the time C-man and Sep caught up with me. Turns out we were just 100 yards or so from the truck. All and all a good day with some fine wild trout willing to play with our flies, so contented, we headed back to the cabin.
Unfortunately, we arrived to one of the worst circumstances I have ever endured. The cabins were locked, we didn’t have the keys and the cooler with the beer was inside, not outside the cabin as I had instructed the others to put it. C-man was able to access one of the cabins through a window and produced a bottle of bourbon. Sep produced a 6-pack of cowboy warm beer. I enjoyed both.
|They certainly look like they can catch fish!|
The following day found us in Pembroke, VA where we floated with a guide service. There was a mix-up in that they thought we were spin fisherman. The gall!
Fortunately we had our own fly fishing gear, although maybe not the fly selections needed. C-man and Sep fished with a guy that really didn’t know his fly fishing stuff. It’s a shame and they let the guy know. I hope the guide service makes it right for them. We were all genuinely disappointed that they didn’t catch more fish, and that the guide really knew nothing about the long rod.
|Fin with another fine smallie|
Fortunately for the rest of us, our guides had at least fly fished before and put us in the right place. Fin and I fished together and fished topwater bugs the entire time. At one point I thought I’d have to push Fin out of the raft if he didn’t stop catching nice smallies. It wasn’t gangbusters, but we were catching quality fish.
Rog and Cope were also doing fairly well. Cope caught his first citation sized smallie, 21 and 1/8 inches long; a nice fish on a fly rod…a nice fish on any rod. Even better for Cope, he caught it on a fly he tied, a pattern called a “sex dungeon” presumably because it’s got a lot going on. The fly was originated by Kelly Galloup. Cope was fishing it on a sinking line, twitching and stripping it along a submerged rock wall when this big ole bronze back hit. He claims that he lost another one of equal size. Dang fisherman, always skewing the truth.
I too managed a citation smallie. We were drifting some skinny water looking for cruising fish hoping to pick off a hapless cicada floating on the water. Ahead I noticed some bait fish jumping…not frantically but more to get out of the way of something. I made a long cast and let the bug sit. A shadow swam to the bug and slurped it into his mouth. I pulled tight on the line and lifted the rod tip. I yanked on the line two more times to be sure to set the hook. I had lost a good fish earlier and wasn’t going to allow that again.
Based on the shadow, I figured I had hooked into a 16 inch smallmouth bass. I was wrong. No…it wasn’t it smaller. The fish jumped and even the guide said it was a big fish. This smallie fought admirably and at one point I had the guide leaning over the raft to net him but the fish was under the boat. I had no idea where he was but kept up the side pressure. Soon the fish was in the net. It measured only 20 inches but weighed in at 4 pounds, a damn good fish in anyone’s book.
|Four pounder...weighed on a scale by the guide!|
Well…I must say my dauber weren’t down anymore. Neither was Cope’s and I think Fin had a good day too. For the other 3, it was tougher fishing and at dinner that night I think they had their daubers down.
I didn’t ridicule them though.
After all, I was the one moping around the first two days because I hadn’t caught a fish. Some mistook that for ego. While I admit I may have an ego (what warm blooded male doesn’t?), I’m not egotistical. I wasn’t really moping because I was fishless and the other guys weren’t. Rather, it was just me, a hard core fly fisherman, trying to figure it out…it wasn’t ego.
Actually, I had a lot of other stuff going on in my head and I didn’t feel compelled to bring it all to light and share. Regardless, I was on a fishing trip and I wanted to catch a fish. Isn’t that why we do this? It’s an ongoing discussion for me. You see I got lectured one time by someone while we were on a fishing trip. We spent a lot of money and in three days, not one fish was caught. Wouldn’t you grumble? This gentleman went on to say that he didn’t fly fish to catch fish but rather fished for the friendship of his buddies.
Bull shit! Anyone that willingly picks up the fly rod does so to catch fish. If we didn’t catch a fish now and then, why would we invest all that money into the equipment? How many times have you reveled in catching a fish on a fly while your hardware chunkin’ buddy couldn’t catch a snag, let alone a fish? Heck, if I didn’t catch a fish now and then, I wouldn’t go fly fishing.
If I didn’t go fly fishing, however, I wouldn’t have attended my forth Tour de New with such a great group of friends. I guess it’s a “cart before the horse” or a “chicken or the egg” sort of thing. Regardless, I fly fish because I love catching fish on the fly…I have fly fishing buddies because I love razzing them when I catch fish…and I love when they razz me when I don’t.
|Touring the New River in a raft...flyfishing along the way. A great way to spend a day, as long as you catch one or two|