Wednesday, December 6, 2017

GSMNP Frontcountry

After a long, long holiday weekend with family, my wife and I decided to clear our heads and get in some early winter camping. My goals were to relax, burn through some surplus oak, and maybe get a fish or two along the way. With the colder nighttime temperatures, I figured that the frontcountry campgrounds would be pretty empty. For the most part I was right, though when we arrived in the Smokies there were a few more people than I expected. We got camp all squared away, and I got out my waders for a few hours of fishing before the sun set. I brought the 3 weight and my ultralight gear with me. In the damp cold of the valley, I didn’t have a lot of hope for overly-active fish, so I took the simple route and grabbed my spinning rod. I worked a good section of stream and came up with one fish and one decent follow. Just as the sun was setting, I parted ways with a $15 Japanese lure that found a snag on the bottom. That definitely hurt. The night was relaxing, and we went through a good pile of wood. A fireside visit from a tweaker from Ohio put a damper on the good spirits, and we went to bed with bear-spray close at hand.

The next morning I awoke to see the tweaker driving off in the pre-dawn light. A cup of coffee further lifted my spirits. With a second cup, camp was broken and cold, wet waders put on. My original plan was to walk up the creek a couple of miles and fish, but near freezing temperatures and years of experience told me that venturing too far from the trailhead at this time of year was probably more of an exercise in hiking than fishing. My suspicions were confirmed by a pair of older gentlemen who had walked up a little ways, only to come back empty handed, so to speak.

Without the proper tools of midges or deep nymphing gear, I picked up the already rigged ultralight rod and made my way down to a fishy looking run than began at a confluence. I had on a Daiwa Presso Adam 2.2 gram spoon in a matte-tan color. The first cast brought a good strong follow from a nice rainbow. Encouraged, I made my way up the run. I came up to a nice deep pool, headed by a big boulder and divided in half by a strong current tongue. After a few casts, working various parts of the pool, I had my second follow, this time with a nice brown in tow. At the last minute he turned away from the spoon, but he had almost waited a little too late. He had to fight his way back through skinny water, back exposed to the air, and off he slipped into the emerald darkness. I sat back and gave the pool a few minutes before casting again on the near-side of the tongue. Halfway through the retrieve, the brown was again trailing the spoon, except this time I saw the white of the inside of his mouth and felt a dead weight in the handle of my reel. Setting the hook, I knew he was indeed a nice fish.

I caught one more small brown and had a couple of follows by the time I made it back to the car. We were in need of our final cup of coffee, so I traded the rod for a camp stove and Porlex coffee mill. I decided to finish the day on a different river further downstream. Much of the section I chose was still in deep shade, and fairly cold. Run after gorgeous run produced nothing. It wasn’t until I made my way into the sunlight that I finally took a small rainbow out of a cutbank. I was really happy with this fish, not for its size, but for casting under a tunnel of tangled branches, roots and vine with precision and control. I knew that was as good a place as any to end the day.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The “Eboshi” Fly?

Yeah, I had never heard of it either. The other day someone passed along a fly tying book. It was one of those spiral bound jobs that one can find at the Barnes and Noble clearance rack: no name author and no name publisher. I decided to glance through it before passing it along to the thrift store. As I was flipping the pages, one fly caught my eye as decidedly Japanese. The tyer was Misako Ishimura, a member of the Japanese International Fly Fishing team, and, if I remember correctly, early tenkara advocate in the U.S. The description tells that the fly was based off of a tenkara fly from ‘Master Somajijii' known as the Tennyo fly. More or less it looks as though it was a Takayama Sakasa base. Misako added a post of Icelandic wool, and beefed up the reverse hackle with turns of both partridge and rooster. To me, the fly looked like a cross between a run of the mill tenkara kebari and a Klinkhammer style dry fly that is popular among Western style fly fishers in Japan (at least that’s what YouTube and Instagram tell me). I didn’t have Icelandic wool, so I substituted yellow Antron. I think the fly is a little overwrought compared to most tenkara flies, fussy to tie but by no means too difficult. I do like the idea of greasing up the post, which would allow the butt section of the fly to hang just below the surface film. It was a fun little excercise, especially when long, near-winter evenings require more imagination to fill the time. Soon enough I’ll go give this fly a test run, most likely with my little glass three weight.

Monday, November 6, 2017


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.