Sunday, June 23, 2013

O Canada

wtf Canada!
Today turned out entirely unlike what I expected which, in retrospect, is just what I needed.
After my brother's wedding last night we vowed to sleep in and sleep in we did. The hour for church passed as we lolled in bed and by the time we finally arose and figured out what to do the sun was high and the air was warm.
Which put us in the mood for the first kayak trip of the season even though sitting on the porch reading the Times had its appeal as well.
The sun was high and hot but we had a nice breeze to dry the sweat and that made the whole thing tolerable. We paddled up and across a large dammed river and made our way to a cove where I knew we could find some shade and a few fish who might like to come and play.
The swarm of Blue Gills were right where I expected them to be and they hit a Rapalla floating minnow with abandon. A couple of small Bass came up for a peek but they're too wary and I'm too impatient to wait them out. Blue Gills were fine sport. We anchored up in the shade for a chat and rest and for a few quiet moments to take it all in.
Then we got hungry and lacking food made the hour long paddle back to the car.
The impoundment that we were on sees its fair share of recreators. Personal watercraft zip about, water skiers water ski, power boats race up and down and there is the occassional angler hugging the shore in search of drop offs and structure.
Sadly, there's a stunning amount of garbage floating. Bottles, balls, bobbers and, in abundance, bait containers. We picked up what passed our way as we usually do; those with motors don't have the opportunity to see and access the trash like those who paddle.
In our Walmart culture I've grown accustomed to seeing goods made in every part of the world. I don't lament it. While I appreciate goods made in the USA, it's not really what we do anymore; we consume. It did surprise me however to find that each of the three worm containers that I scooped from the surface once contained products of Canada. One would think you wouldn't have to range so far for a good earthworm. Heck, turn over any patch of leaves in our neighborhood and you could get a day's worth of worms. I suppose even Canadians have to earn a living.
One cove was jammed with every variety of trash
Arriving back I town we hit the local grocery and quaffed iced tea and sushi while doing the shopping. As they say, you shouldn't shop hungry and we ended up with a bunch of red meat and little else. Fortunately Ann had the good sense to do some shopping this evening while I attended to laundry and the chilling of beer.
Monday is upon us. Back to Raleigh. Back to reality.

Monday, June 17, 2013

In the Smokies, Going Home

On any trip, the last day is different. It represents the point at which thoughts invariably turn back towards the workaday life. Whether it's a week on the beach on the Cape with the family or a week on the Kvichak fishing with close friends, the last day means the end of something extraordinary and the beginning of something more mundane. When the trip spans a brief, long weekend, the mundanity boomerangs back rather rapidly. Sunday was upon us.

Sunday brought more rain and another ghost town, Elkmont. It's another example of manifest destiny preserving this place for us and screwing a handful of individuals out of their vacation homes. It's a valley full of summer cabins with all the people missing. And it has one sweet river. We got to the river at the magical moment when the rain had just stopped and the clouds had parted and the light came through at just right angle to make the green's glow and the river sparkle.

Marc fishing the head of a productive pool.
The rain had finally taken it's toll and the water was high though not too murky. We had until around noon to fish at which point Mike and I had to turn east to put me in cell phone range before an afternoon conference call. The only thing worse than taking conference calls on a weekend is taking conference calls during prime weekend fishing hours.

We nymphed a bunch. I struck out but Marc and Mike did okay though Mike cheated and used a San Juan Worm which would have been okay had I thought of it but I didn't and thus Mike garnered unfair advantage.

At one point I lodged my dry-dropper rig in an overhanging branch. The nymph was hooked tight to a leaf and the spindly limb resisted efforts to dislodge the fly. I moved a couple of steps downstream to gain better leverage and noticed a hornet circling around the large, bushy dry. Before long there were several hornets assaulting the dry and that's when I noticed a small, Bald-faced hornet's nest about a foot or so up the branch from my nymph. I stepped back, tugged my rig free, and looked elsewhere for fish.

Troll territory
Like most folks, when the fishing is slow I usually dig through the fly box with fervor trying to dial something in. The wiser me occasionally breaks through the mania, resigned to the reality that it's just not happening, and I dig through the fly box thoughtfully. That's where I was on Sunday, less manic more willing to take it all in. Perhaps I was just happy to be out of cell phone range of the world.

Water Snake I found basking the elusive sun. Almost stepped in him.
That was better than the one that swam towards me on Saturday. Creepy. 
Sitting on a boulder tying on a rubber-legged Copper John I caught movement out of the corner of my eye. It was the wind blowing an eddy of small yellow flowers. Grasping the stems of these flowers were large yellow stonefly nymphs. I had seen similar nymphs scattered on rocks and tree stumps on Friday and fished a large yellow stonefly nymph without success. I'm always disappointed when the stonefly doesn't get hits. It's such a big yummy meal. One would think it the sure thing.

Wouldn't you want this if you were a fish?
Much too soon, the road demanded attention and we packed up and drove east. Marc gave us a tip on heading over the mountains to Cherokee instead of going back through Pigeon Forge. It was the right call. Heading back through the carnival would have been too shocking after a weekend of wandering deep valleys dripping with rain and roaring with water. The road over the Smokies afforded us the spectacular, eponymous views that these mountains

Smokie Valley
We stopped in Cherokee, NC for a Hardees Burger and a conference call. Even the local First Nation population was texting and phoning with the abandon of Manhattan Investment Bankers. I suppose it was a fitting reentry into what passes for civilization these days.

In Cherokee, a Cherokee, texting.
Nestled in the Smokies under cloudy skies it is easy to be transported to a different frame of mind. The country is intimate. The world ebbs. Time eases. Language slows. That which nurtures the soul rises. It's a place where one relearns the sound of one's heart beating and the feel of footfall on mossy banks. The nearly constant blanket of clouds and fog and heavy air is so far from where one is day-to-day that you find the plug trailing behind you long before you consciously decide to remove it from the wall.

I have less of that now.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

High Water

Spent a pleasant afternoon on the banks of the Housatonic yesterday picnicking with the Candlewood Valley TU crowd. After weeks of rain we had deep blue, sunny skies, a light breeze and warm air. The Zebra Caddis were out in great numbers. And, we had about eight times the normal flow in the river. Chocolate milk was the color of the swollen stream. Still, it was nice to be out in a "not fishing due to epic flows" sort of way. Maybe next weekend. Or the next after that. Our rivers are big.

About the only folks who were happy for the high water

A good three inches of visibility

Zebra Caddis were everywhere. I suppose they don't mind the high, muddy water.
Anglers not angling.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

A Prayer

Almighty and everlasting God, omnipotent ruler of all that is, was, and will be;
In thine glorious righteousness thou have chosen to smote the unjust and wicked.
And whilst I recognize thine infallibility to rule everything under the heavens,
I still beseech you on behalf of my brethren and sistren who reside in that place marked as Colorado.
Spare them for their sins of plying the angle for Carp and other rough fishes,
For it is only in the brownline and slack waters that they may seek creatures that swim,
Lacking the soul quenching rains which you have seen fit to deprive them.
May it please you to return your healing waters to them so that they may return to proper angling
Forgoing the rough fish for the holier and fairer trout and char.
Bless them by quenching the fires that rage across their landscapes 
threatening home, health, and livelihood.
And in so doing, spare myself from the relentless friggin' rain 
which you have supplied in too great abundance, to your everlasting glory.

Too little water

Too much water

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

In the Smokies, Day Two

Overnight storms felled trees and dumped a ton of water on the mountains. Marc ran late meeting us due a tree blocking the road out of his house and it was still raining when he arrived at our motel. We drove into the park in search of trout water. The rivers were up a bit but were clear and the rain was only coming down in sporadic torrents so things were looking up.

Things have odd names in Tennessee. At least odd to the Yankee tongue. Pigeon Forge. Metcalf Bottoms. Foggy Bottom.* And creeks and brooks aren't called that, they're called branches. Sure, on a map they do sorta look like branches but when you're standing in the water it looks like a creek or brook. They should call stuff by what it looks like when you're standing in it. I don't stand on maps, much.

The rain assaulting Marc on some branch.
We fished a variety of places that day in the rain, sun, and rain again and while the fishing wasn't epic, it was better than I expected from a rainy day of fishing. Even though the water temps were still reasonably cool most of the swipes at my fly came in the fast water. I managed to land a spunky brown and a handful of larger Warpaint Shiners, a local minnow. Sadly, I didn't get a photo of one, being intent on trout, but they're pretty things.

We ended the evening in Cades Cove and I picked up a bunch of wild trout in places that looked too skinny to hold em. Marc cleaned up but then one expects the homewater's host to at least demonstrate that the trout are there.

Standard Cades Wild Rainbow
Cades Cove is an odd place. It's a ghost town. The residents of the valley were shooed off their land by the Yankee government in Washington back in the 1930s so that the public could enjoy their lands. Everyone just up a left and the lands and buildings are maintained in a pristine, post-zombie apocalyptic kind of way. It's all sort nice, scenic and creepy at the same time.**

No review of Cades Cove would be complete without describing the drive around this Yosemite of the Smokies. According to the National Park website, Cades Cove features an:
"...11-mile, one-way loop road circles the cove, offering motorists the opportunity to sightsee at a leisurely pace."
They should boldface and underline "at a leisurely pace". And god forbid a friggin' deer should walk out of the woods. The one-way loop road becomes a parking lot with people ogling the white tailed rat. Black bear?! Well, if a bear appears you should just pull off, sling you gear on your shoulder and walk out. You're screwed. Some folks actually walked by us while we were sitting in traffic pining for beer.

We were off the water at twilight and a malted beverage, a cigar and good conversation capped the day. While good catching makes a fishing trip enjoyable, there's something to be said for good company. Many a poor day of fishing has been rescued with a cigar and a beer and bullshitting while waiting for a hatch or a storm to pass. It turns out our evening ended with as much rain as it began with which somehow seemed appropriate.


With the last full day in the Smokies done we made plans for the morning. Again, not too early and for a spot that was on the way back towards Charlotte. Mike and I sought out a Five Guys for a burger (only a one-way, 35 minute drive) and called it a night to the sound of pounding of rain.

So much rain in the mountains and the rivers were fine. Could it last?

* I made that up.
** I can see Rick and the gang dodging zombies and The Governor's henchmen all through these hills.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

In the Smokies, Day One

Even before I returned from the Smokies, perhaps before I left, work intruded on leisure. For the past three weeks I have been consumed by that which earns a salary and not by that which restores the soul. I'm feeling thin. This weekend will be a slow weekend with family. It should be just the thing.

Rewind three weeks...

Like most fishing adventures, it seems like I spend more time planning and preparing than I do adventuring. Last summer I tied dozens of flies for a trip to Yellowstone. In the past thirty days I tied a couple dozen flies special for this trip as well as countless others to fill gaps where flies should have been. This for two days of fishing in the Smokies. Sometimes I get carried away.

A box full of hope.
The first leg of the trip took me to Charlotte overnight. The next morning Mike was driving west from Raleigh and I joined him en route to Townsend. We spent the morning driving west on 40 which, while not the most scenic route through the Smokies, seemed the most direct. We shoulda gone the other way.

I was hoping for the sign proclaiming the
Mind Reading Pig but it changed too fast.
Pigeon Forge, Tennessee is something to be seen though not visited. Mike referred to is as the "Hillbilly Vegas". It is quite the spectacle. Between the Talking Dog Show, the Hatfield and McCoy venue, the Titanic (yes, the ship, in Tennessee), the Mind Reading Pig, and countless other entertainment options, one could make a lifetime of night's out in the Forge. Fortunately, we had plans for elsewhere.

The descent into Townsend brought us back to where we were supposed to be. It's a town whose purpose is solely as access to the playground of the Smokies. There are a plethora of establishments from which to rent tubes for floating the Little River, modest lodgings in great abundance and one of the finest fly shops I've ever visited, Little River Outfitters.

Our mid-afternoon arrival could easily have swerved into a few beers and a siesta but the mountains to the east tempted us and after a visit to the fly shop for supplies and some local intel we were heading into the park to fish the Middle Fork of the Little River.

While not a promising catch, one has to start somewhere.....
The Middle Fork is the perfect sized river to wade fish. It's an easy cast to the far bank and it has all the structure you'd ever want from pockets to pools. And it has trout; browns and, mostly, rainbows of the 5'-7" variety. It was a joy to be wading wet again and the new Simms boots kept me sure footed.

A fishless pool up on the Middle Fork. I took a good fall on the ledge upstream.
Slippery as shit. Those Simms boot failed me (I exaggerate); still have a tender spot on my forearm.

The evening ended with barbecue and conference calls (work seems to find me no matter where I roam) and with the promise of some new rivers in the morning.

This was my second time to the Smokies. I am enamored with the place. While culturally it is foreign to the place where I was raised, is is very easy to approach. The water is cool, the people are warm and the folds of the lands allow you to nestle in and get comfortable.