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Monday, November 6, 2017

Two'fer

Plans for the past weekend originally called for starting a wood-shed on Saturday and a little fishing on Sunday. Things didn't quite line up for the start of the wood-shed, so I decided to grab a rod and head over to my closest stream. These days, I go with whatever equipment grabs my fancy that day, rather than the cultish devotion I used to have for a given method of fishing. The flash of a tiny, red and gold spoon caught my eye that morning, and with finesse gear in tow, as well as a thermos of coffee, I was off. My goal was to see new parts of this stream, so I resisted the urge to fish familiar waters and headed up a faint track. After fiddling with the casting mechanics a little bit, I finally nailed the tiny spoon into a small pocket. With a sharp tug came the first fish of the day. The single, barbless hook slid out with ease.



Fall colors are at the peak in some parts of the state, but in this drainage they were a little past peak. Still, a beautiful day on the stream. I pulled over with some French Roasted coffee and took a short break to take it all in. Such an ephemeral time of year and easily my favorite.


I worked my way up the drainage, catching a few fish here and there. Today wasn't about numbers, just enjoying an area dear to my heart.




This little guy was hanging out on a rock. I say little, but he was four inches long, outstretched. If I had found a bunch of these, lunch might have come early. I made the mistake of leaving lunch at the car, and by late afternoon, hunger got the best of me. Walking back, I noticed some tracks I hadn't seen on the way in. A deer was using the trail, but more interestingly, a black bear. This was the first bear track I have seen while fishing. My photo isn't the best, but I think the reader can make it out. I was excited, but disappointed to not to see said creature.

Black bear

White-tail deer
That night, my wife expressed an interest in going up to what has become one of my favorite creeks in North Carolina. We got up early Sunday morning, grumpy because of the time change, and made our way across the border. The colors were amazing on the drive up, with some of the most even blending of oranges and yellows I have ever seen. The little glass three weight was the rod of choice that day. We gathered our goods in the parking lot and headed up the trail. We weren't out for a hike per se, just happy to be "out." My wife sketched as I took my time fishing deep little runs and pools. I had on a dry/dropper consisting of a Butch Caddis and a soft-hackled pheasant tail. On the second run we stopped at, the little caddis made an unnatural veer off of its drift. I lifted the rod tip, utterly surprised at what I felt on the other end. To say that this guy was outsized for his environment would be an understatement!


This scene repeated itself a little further upstream. There was a deep, green pool that formed at the bottom of a small pour-over. Though this looked good, I knew I couldn't give the run a proper go with the rig I had on. More tempting was the deep, broken water beneath an overhanging branch just below. I crawled up the side of the bank, which was fortunately an open gravel bar, and cast up into the deeper pool. With the proper mends, the caddis drifted back down until it was parallel to me and up under the branch. At the head of the broken water, the caddis disappeared. Again the tip of my rod bowed deeply.


These fish led me to assume that they use this feeder stream to spawn. I didn't see any redds however, as I wouldn't have fished over them. Extremely satisfied, we sauntered out of the woods and hit up a local brewery, reflecting on what had been a very memorable weekend.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Pond Life

My is neighborhood is fortunate to have seven or eight ponds, mostly accessible and all full of nice bass and bluegill. Shamefully, I have neglected this resource more than I should. All too quickly, the leaves will fade and fall, and nighttime temperatures will plummet. Then the ponds will cool down and the life within will slow to a creep. I had big plans for Saturday, but a prior night of near sleeplessness found me with coffee in hand by 4:00 a.m. By 8:00 I had already completed my daily run, and didn't really know where to go from there. Inspiration struck with a quick glance at my packraft, and it didn't take long to gather the necessary gear. The morning had warmed up sufficiently by 10:30, when I made my first casts.

I tied on Jack Gartside's Gurgler, hoping for some late-season topwater action. It didn't take too long to hear that vacuum "slurp" and the Gurgler had disappeared from the surface. The bass put a satisfying bend in the 8 weight. After a couple of aerial displays, the fish was in the net.



The sun was intense out on the small lake, but after a long summer of rain, I wasn't complaining. I continued to work my way around the lake, fishing good structure, and taking a few bass here and there. I missed more than I care to admit, in part of making paddle corrections for the wind. One unfortunate attribute in fishing from a packraft is that they respond to the slightest breeze, with a good gust sending one 'sailing!'


Yes, that's a spinning rod #glassisnotdead


My final fish was what I would guess to be the largest bluegill I've ever caught in my life. It was almost as broad as if I laid my hands side by side, palms flat. When it took the Gurgler, tied on a 1/0 hook mind you, it put such a bend in my 8 weight that I thought for sure that it was good bass. The fish fought with great bullheaded determination. Once netted, I couldn't believe my eyes. As I was fumbling for the camera, I drifted too close to the bank and startled a nearby hornet's nest. A few began to circle the boat angrily, and I knew I needed to make a hasty egress. Unfortunately the fish was quickly released and I paddled furiously with line and fly in tow. The last hornet gave up by the time I reached the middle of the lake, and I decided that was enough excitement for the day.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Sunday Tenkara Outing

Sunday morning began like most other mornings, looking up through our cabin windows, coffee cup in hand. The grey sky didn't look inviting, but I wanted to get out. A quick check of the forecast didn't bolster my spirits, looking spotty at best. I wanted to check out a new brookie feeder stream, but being caught out in the middle of rhodo-hell in rain and lightning didn't sound appealing. So I grabbed my Oni Type III and went for a safer, easier to escape option. Driving down the gravel road, people were out fishing, but it was far from crowded. I found a new-to-me pullout, gathered my goods and made my way down to the water. I tied on a "bread and butter" kebari, just a simple affair with uv brown ice dub and stiff neck hackle tied jun. It didn't take long to get into a fish.



I worked my way upriver taking a few fish here and there, at which point I thought I would experiment a little. I messed around with some "streamer" patterns, minimal flies with a baitfish profile, tied sparse, small and unweighted. Still within the realm of easy casting with the full-flex Oni, and fished similar to any other kebari.

Minimal Dace

Mickey Finn variant
Finally after messing around with these flies, I tied on something with a bit more presence and mobility. I stuck with this fly the rest of the day, catching enough small rainbows to be satisfied.



As I was entering my "just one more" phase of the day, the sky grew really dark. I made my way back to the truck, and as I removed the second leg of my waders, a heavy rain began to fall.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

On Wisconsin!

My wife and I just got back from a week-long trip spent in Viroqua, Wisconsin.  To say that the fishing was incredible would be an understatement.  We lived in Madison for about six years, so in a way the trip was like a long-overdue homecoming. Many fish were caught and much good food and fine Wisconsin craft-lager was consumed.  Even though the weather was often foul, it was easily the best trip we have taken.

Our first stop in Viroqua was for some much needed coffee at Kickapoo Coffee.  Up the street was the Driftless Angler and there I checked in to see how the fishing had been and get my bearings.  After getting legal, we headed out into Amish Country to set up camp.  We chose the Esofea/Rentz Memorial Park located only 7 miles outside of town.  Though the park had very few amenities, it was a good jumping off point for exploring the area.  Plus, the North Fork of the Bad Axe River flowed right past the campground. I set up the tent and got out some essentials, and as the sun was setting strung up a rod.  I didn't bother to put on waders; instead I just crept up to the river in knee high grass, anxious to get a first fish. I tied on a small baetis jig and on the third or fouth cast, the little white yarn indicator darted upstream.  A fine brookie was brought to hand.


In the span of 45 minutes, I managed twelve fish in total, including some nice, colored-up browns.
This brief outing left me satisfied and felt like a good precursor for the rest of the trip.


In the following days, we found a groove that worked out well.  The day started with multiple cups of Wisconsin-roasted, French Roast coffee.  Then we would look over the Delorme Gazetteer, pick out a couple of blue lines, and drive around the beautiful, silo-studded countryside.  Usually that resulted in more than a few trout for me, and a painting or two for my wife.


Of course I had to stop and fish Timber Coulee for a bit, but seeing as how the name resonates throughout the fly-fishing community, most spots were taken.  I managed to pull out a nice brown, and quickly sought out less pressured waters.  As it turns out, one doesn't have to go far to do so.


On a misty morning I checked out a tiny coulee higher up in the same watershed.  There was no one in the parking lot, and the only sounds were that of the birds and hooves clopping on the pavement as Amish men went about their work.  The Fall colors were in full swing, and the clouds hung quite low. I rigged up, not knowing what to expect as the stream was in a wooded thicket.  After busting through tall grass and briars, I arrived at what appeared to be a trickle.  A foot deep at most, one could jump across the stream with a running start.  I spooked a decent fish out of a pothole, and that at least gave me hope.  Finally I reached a calm slick.  Naturally, bulges on the water's surface broke slowly up the pool.  Again, I had spooked the fish, but waited a few minutes and cast up to where the bulge stopped.  On the second cast, the indicator was gone and a nice brownie had fallen for the green killer-bug.  I fished up a little more and reached another slick. Although shallow at the tailout, the pool was considerably deeper, three to four feet, heavily undercut under a rootball.  It looked too good.  The first cast went right where I wanted, and almost immediately the indicator sank.  Lifting the rod tip, I felt the weight and knew I was into a good fish. It went straight for the roots, but I was able to keep him out.  Circling the pool multiple times, the fish finally tired and I brought it to hand.  I couldn't measure it, but later measuring the rod I had laid it against in comparison, I estimated the fish to be 14-15 inches.  It turned out to the be the biggest fish of the trip.




After five solid days of fishing, it seemed as though I had barely scratched the surface.  One could easily spend a lifetime or two exploring all of these creeks, rivulets, and coulees.






Unfortunately, it was over all too quickly.  Though difficult to leave, we were beginning to feel the strain of travel, and the long days of painting and fishing.  Tough life, I know.  

Viroqua is a really cool town, and I highly recommend the area as a fishing destination. There is access to good food and great beer, and the culture is really cool too.  The area is rural, but progressive, and very laid back. And it's like the guy at the Driftless Angler said, "find moving water and you've found trout."

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Changing Leaves and Mini-Streamers

I woke up kind of bedraggled yesterday morning, with no plan save that I wanted to go fishing somewhere. Too late to drive to a distant stream or to venture too far into the woods. It was supposed to be hot in Blue Ridge, so I headed up into the headwaters of a local haunt where I knew the hemlocks would keep things cooler. I strung up the glass 3 weight and rummaged through my fly box.  With fall and streamers on the brain, I picked out a micro-bucktail that I had tied a few days ago.  I didn't make it up.  It's the Minimal Dace from Chris Stewart's website.  It's a nifty little pattern, tied on a size 12 nymph/streamer hook.  Chris altered the classic Black Nosed Dace to be castable with a tenkara rod.  I figured it would also be great for diminutive fly rods as well. I added a little UV resin to the head, which gives the fly a classic finish, and provides enough density to help the fly break the surface tension.



The water was low, but cold and really clear.  A few casts told me that fishing the bucktail upstream was a losing proposition.  I had been reading a lot about nymphing streamers lately, both euro/tight-lined and suspended beneath an indicator.  For small stream fishing, I figured I could scale down the latter technique. Because the fly was unweighted and light, I was able to use a white New Zealand style indicator, which is less disturbing in low water conditions. A few casts after adding the indicator and I was into a fish.



I continued upstream, spooking a few fish, missing some as well.  I came upon a flat with a nice trout sitting at the very tail end in really shallow water.  It looked like a brown, but I couldn't tell for sure. I didn't spook him completely.  Aware of my presence, he sauntered up to the head of the riffle.  I carefully planned out my cast, and delivered the fly just to the off side of the fish. He darted over and took the bucktail, but in taking it all in visually, I was too slow on my hookset.  A missed fish, but the "show" was one of the pleasures of fishing low water.

A few pools up and I came across a frequently used campsite.  This time however, I was disheartened to find that one of the recent visitors had decided to test their mettle against a couple of trees, one rather large. It's unfortunate that people behave this way, especially in a time when the value of public land is being questioned by the few and not the many.


One more nice rainbow, and I departed back to the truck for lunch.


Well fed, I headed up another tributary in search for a few natives before calling it a day.  Even though I chatted with a fellow angler that had just fished the same creek, I figured I could probably put a few to hand.  At the first fishable pool I made a few cast and was disappointed when a fish slashed at the indicator.  Letting the pool rest a few moments, I cast the bucktail back into the tiny plunge pool and was rewarded with a violent strike.



The brookies were changing hues into their fall regalia.  Crawling around on my knees, I took a few more natives, immensely satisfied.

The woods were in good form, with leaves beginning to drop.  Fishing small streamers on small waters; I can't think of a better way to welcome the beginning of Fall.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Astral Brewers, One Year On

For the short amount of time that I used Facebook, it seems like a repeatedly asked question was about wet-wading shoes. Inevitably someone would mention Astrals, though it would rarely seem to come from a place of experience.  The following is a report of a year of hard fishing in a pair of Astral Brewers, and mostly in waders.  This is not a review, nor is it a judgement (positive or negative) of the company.  I used to live in a small town about an hour out of Asheville, and being that Astral is located there, I am very much supportive of them as a regional company. Therefore, this is just a report of use, and you can do with the information as you will.

First, a little backstory.  Several years ago, I bought a packraft and the necessary accoutrements.  For shoes, I chose the Astral brewers, because I thought they would best suit my packrafting needs and protect the bootie feet of my dry suit.  Flash forward a little bit to when my wife and I packed up our Corolla and hit the road for a while.  I wanted to take my wading gear, but space was clearly at a premium.  The Astrals would take up a much smaller footprint than my clunky wading boots. Fortunately I bought them oversized, so they just happened to fit over my Simms neoprene bootie on my waders.  Thus the Astrals went out west.  What I discovered was that not only were they lightweight and packable, but also super comfortable for both walking and wading.  Plus the rubber was pretty grippy;  with the exception of late summer moss or rounded quartz, pleasingly so.  After our road trip, I found that I continued to use them with my waders, grabbing them instead my wading boots.  Wet wading is a different story.  I like my 5.10 Canyoneering shoes way to much for that use.  They offer much more support for my feet plus they are far more durable.  But after a year of hard use, I am surprised that the Brewers made it this long. It should be noted that the Brewer, as I understand it, was designed as a whitewater boating shoe.  Think kayaking, rafting and canoeing, with portages and bankside rambling.  I clearly have used the shoe beyond its intended purpose.

The first thing to go was the stitching around the toe.  The abrasion from underwater rocks frayed the exposed stitching pretty quickly, but that was an easy fix, and for future reference, completely preventable.  I seared the frayed thread with a lighter and applied a healthy coat of Aquaseal around the toe and over the stitching.  If I had done that from the outset, the wear would not have been an issue.

Later on, the seam along the edge of the shoe started to go.  That was remedied with some dental floss.


Then I kind of stopped paying attention.  I just kept grabbing them, fishing in them, letting them dry and on and on.  This past week marked the beginning of the end for my wet wading, and I donned my waders for the first time in a couple of months.  After my fishing session, I was removing my Brewers and saw that the year was beginning to catch up with them.  Aside from general abrasion, wear and tear, I noticed a large hole in the front inside seam of the shoe.


Though I can stick my finger through this hole, its nothing a little floss and Aquaseal can't fix.

While the sole has held up incredibly well, it is beginning to peel away from the shoe in several places.


A few dabs of Gorilla Glue, and these should hold up a while longer.


One year later, fishing on average two to three days per week, these shoes are beat up but still usable. With a little glue, dental floss and Aquaseal, I don't see why these shoes won't make it a full two years.  If it seems like this post is some kind of knock against Astral, it's not. I will readily acknowledge that I grossly abused these shoes far beyond their intended use. As a matter of fact I will most likely buy another pair when these give up the ghost.  They are comfortable, pleasant to walk in and if you fish from a boat, they are framed raft/driftboat friendly (no cleats).  They are really lightweight. If a backpacking trip occurred during a period of the year when waders were required, they would be perfect for that application. Unfortunately these are a bit of a consumable item when compared to a pair of wading boots, something that may or may not be of significance to you. I would like to see Astral develop a line of dedicated wading shoes, with beefed up areas especially around the toe, while remaining lightweight.

Is there a takeaway from all of this? Well, everyone's experience is different, but I will venture to offer these conclusions based on my experience.  I would say that with low to moderate usage, these shoes should last in the 2-4 year range, and with repair work maybe a little more.  For heavy usage, it looks like they will last about a year without major surgery. With some repair work, I hope to get another year out of them.

I hope this was helpful, especially if you have been thinking about these shoes.  Durability issues aside, for backcountry/backpack fishing, when hiking in with waders and boots rather than wearing them in, these so far, in my opinion are the shoes to beat.  For me, I'll keep beating the hell of out 'em on a regular basis.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

A (Last) Saturday Loop

My wife and I decided to hike a loop in Southwestern North Carolina.  The first part of the loop follows a tributary to what becomes a pretty famous river in the region.  Although the focus was more on trekking than fishing, I still lined up my 3 weight glass rod in the parking lot that morning.  The night before had hinted at fall with its temperatures, so I rigged up with a small nymph and a tiny yarn indicator. A previous trip up this creek let me know there are some healthy fish in such a small creek, though those were taken on a dry fly.

The hike began with a nice climb and before too long, we ran into the stream. The trail follows a pretty gentle grade in the lower parts.  I stopped and fished a handful of pools, but swirls at my indicator let me know I probably should have gone with a dry fly.




After a few misses, we continued up the path, until we reached a nice, deep pool flanked by a large boulder.  On the first cast, the little yarn indicator darted just below the surface, and a nice rainbow was at hand.  This situation repeated itself several more times before the pool was exhausted. Satisfied, we continued to walk.


We reached a pool that was too good to pass up, so I tossed the little black nymph into the run...



...and was rewarded with a beautiful jewel of a rainbow.  We still had many miles to go, so I had to make the tough decision to pack up the rod.  The stream remained fishable, even after splitting into two feeders, but that will have to remain for another time.  This stream really deserves a full day or two. We stopped for lunch to regroup, and after several threatening clouds moved by, we packed up and continued on our way.


At this point, I notice that neither my wife nor I took any further pictures, a testament to the rugged terrain that lied ahead.  We reached the end of our trail and turned onto, let's say, a famous long-distance hiking trail.  For the next few hours, we found ourselves climbing until we topped out at 5,000 feet.  Time was slipping by, and though I knew we would make it out before dark, we had to keep moving.  After a breathtaking section of knife-ridge trail, we turned onto a side-trail that would lead back to the car.  The one thing I didn't account for was losing nearly 3,000 feet of elevation in just over four miles.  The downhill was unbelievably steep, and though downhill sounds fun and easy, it's actually much harder on the joints than climbing.  Ask any trail runner.

We wended our way through a beautiful hardwoods, the smell of loam rich and heady.  By the time we reached the car, it was close to sunset.  A quick glance at my watch let me know we were just around 12.5 miles by the end of our journey.  We ate a well deserved dinner in the parking lot and headed back to Georgia in the remaining evening light.