Friday, January 2, 2015

Spruce, WV - 2014

My backpacking trip last year to the old logging community of Spruce got quite a bit of attention from my facebook and TU friends. I did a presentation on the trip at a local TU meeting and made an open invitation for a return visit this year.

I got one taker, a friend I had fished with on a couple of other occasions and one that wanted to learn a little more about backpacking. We made plans to head in after the Middle Fork of the Williams Bucket Brigade, with plans to stay 3-4 days.

As always,  we had a good turnout for the 7th Annual Bucket Brigade.

On the other side of the attention scale, I received several messages from the "softees" who wanted to know if you could drive to Spruce. I'm sorry (soapbox time) but if I put in the time and effort to explore these places (off the beaten path) don't insult me by asking if you "can drive to Spruce"!

OK, rant over, time to get back to Spruce...

We got a late start on the day, but the only real day 1 activity was to get camp established. We made it to the same spot I set up camp in 2013 and found the campsite empty. As we started to get camp set up, I noticed a couple of visitors crest the railroad tracks just upstream. I thought to myself: "no big deal, we can share this large area with a couple of other outdoor they didn't appear to have fishing gear".

As I continued to pitch my tent, I noticed a couple additional people crest the tracks...than a couple more and a couple more...When they finally all arrived in Spruce, there was nearly 30 people with packs strapped to their back - not good! A couple of them actually started to set up camp right beside us!

They have as much right to this lovely place as I do, so I said nothing. Luckily the leaders, and obviously more experienced coordinators, asked everybody to give us our space and everybody happily obliged.

After getting camp set up, we spoke with the coordinators for a few minutes. They were from Washington DC and many of the folks were making their first visit to West Virginia. They said it started out as just a couple of friends, then those friends invited a couple of friends, those friends invited a couple of friends, and eventually you end of up with a group of 30+ people.

They gave us plenty of space and I was amazed how quiet a group that size could be. Eventually, we got our lines in the water with the backdrop of "tent city".

It turned out to be a very nice evening and we had a noticeable hatch of some type of sulfurs and even some coffin flies floating around. I quickly picked up my first brookie in a riffle below one of the old mill abutments.

We fished our way upstream past camp until we got to a large, lazy pool under the trestle. I climbed up the bank to simply take in the views. Shortly after, my partner yelled for help...I wasn't sure if he had gotten hurt or caught the "big one". It didn't take long to figure out what his problem was as his rod had a nice bend to it.

I watched him follow this fish up and downstream, under the trestle, all the while not making much headway in landing it. When it finally rolled so that I could see the size, I was simply amazed! I knew there had to be some big fishing hiding up under the remnants of all of these concrete abutments.

She didn't look like she had been eating well but she definitely had the length. My partner couldn't tell how big she was until the line went tight because she simply "sipped" the coffin fly he had tossed to the head of the bridge abutment.

What a way to start this adventure!

That was also a nice fish to call it a day on. We headed back to the campsite, had dinner, and were in our tents early. It had been a long day for both us and we big plans for the next few days as it would be all new water for my fellow explorer.

As usual, I'm up when it starts getting light out. Early morning is my favorite time of day! I love the rainbow of colors in the sky and the reflections on the calm water.

After enjoying the sunrise over Back Mountain, it was time for a cup of coffee and a Clif bar before meeting another friend on the stream I had landed "the slam" on the previous year. Our partner on this small trib is the head of the WV DNR Limsetone Fines Program and coordinator of the Middle Fork Bucket Brigade.

He had made the short trek to try his luck at landing all three species in one stream.

I didn't take many photos and all we landed were brookies - not that I'm complaining. All three of us landed good numbers and a few better than average-sized brookies. I think the only photo I took on the stream this morning was of this blood-red trickle that dumped into the main trib.

We fished much further up the tributary than I had the previous year and we decided to call it a day around lunch time. Our partner on the stream had a family commitment but it is always nice to spend some time on the water with him - no matter how brief.

When we returned for lunch, Spruce was empty. All of the tents were gone, the camp fires buried and, other than matted down grass from the tents, you couldn't tell anyone had been there. This was a fine example of "leave no trace"!

After lunch, my remaining partner and I decided to explorer the main stem above the trestle and below the trib we had fished in the AM. This is slow water and the temperatures felt like borderline trout water as we wet-waded upstream. Again, I didn't take any photos but between the two of us, we landed all three species - however, I don't recall who landed what.

Once again, we returned to camp, and had dinner as the sun was setting at the end of another great day in Spruce.

Day 3 started just as day 2 had, watching the sun come up over Back Mountain and watching the spectrum of colors in the early morning sky.

The plan for day 3 was to push further up the main stem to the final trib I had remaining to explore. This last trib would nearly complete my exploration of the tributaries from Rt.250 to Snowshoe Resort. I would have one unnamed trib above Spruce remaining and one more just upstream of Rt. 250.

In this section the main steam actually returns to the resemblance of a trout stream and the fish were there to prove it. It was the most beautiful section of water I had fished in that area.

After landing a nice, wild brown under a log jam in the early morning, my partner was able to complete his slam in this section of water. It is also nice to see remnants of days gone past. I know it makes me wonder what life in this area must have been like 100 years ago. I'm guessing it wasn't very easy.

Ultimately, this was not our destination for the day. We had set out to explore a small trib that drains the Silver Creek ski resort. It didn't take long to verify the existence of brookies...

We had been going hart at it for a couple of days and after we had both landed brookies from this small trib, it was time for an on stream lunch break and a quick nap (for my fishing partner).

After a quick nap, we fished up this little trib until we crossed one of the resort hiking trail...exit stage right. We had a 2-3 mile hike back to camp and the mid-day was starting to get very warm. When we finally made it back to camp, we attempted to take a siesta but it was just too hot in the tents.

I made a recommendation to explore a heavily canopied trib about a mile downstream from Spruce and my partner was all in.

I had not explored this little trib the previous year but I did take note of the new fish ladder that had been installed. I hope it works to reconnect the brookie populations in this upper watershed. it sure looks like it should help.

I quickly landed one little brookie just upstream of the fish ladder and didn't see another until we made our way to this old structure and the pool it created above it.

I've checked all of the topo maps and trail maps I have and none indicate a road or trail this far upstream. I'm sure it's more remnants of the days when Spruce was the highest incorporated town east of the Mississippi, but I can't find anything on this trail/road...and the nice pool did create habitat for a decent/small stream brookie.

We pushed our way upstream to the point the stream was becoming very high gradient and, again, we moved no more fish. Hopefully, the fish ladder will enable movement of the disconnected populations and one day this stream will rebound - assuming acid rain doesn't impair it.

With no prospects of fish and still feeling the heat of the day, we both enjoyed a stream side nap. The dense canopy and the soft bed of pine needles made for a very comfortable nap.

When we finally decided to head out, my partner had decided he had had enough and made the decision to call the trip to an end for him. Once we returned to camp, he packed up and headed out. I spent four days up there solo last year so sticking it out by myself didn't bother me.

I had the entire evening to enjoy a nice, quiet, stream side dinner.

I also took this time to explore the area around the old mill - something I didn't take the time to do last year.

After exploring the old structures for a bit, I grabbed my rod and piddled around the mill abutments in hope of catching an evening hatch of some sort. I didn't catch a hatch but I was treated to one of the most amazing sunsets I have seen in West Virginia. The photos do not do it justice -as if they ever do.

The early morning of day 4 was just like the previous mornings, with the exception this morning would add a small layer of fog over the old town of Spruce. I will never get tired of this view:

I had no plans to fish this day. After a quick breakfast, I grabbed my day pack and my camera and headed up an old Forest Service road to Bald Knob (3rd highest point in West Virginia).

Typically, you take Cass Scenic Railroad to the top of Bald Knob and have to deal with the crowds of people getting in your photos at the overlook. The benefit of an early morning hike was that I had it all to myself! I'm selfish in that way, but look at the benefits:

Looking out over the Greenbrier River valley and the town of Marlinton.

 A nice panorama looking across Green Bank Observatory into Virginia.

In addition to dealing with the crowds when you ride the train to the top, you also don't have time to go to the "true" Bald Knob, which requires about another half-mile hike uphill on a Forest Service road. What you find on the real Bald Knob is an old, abandoned fire tower.

After enjoying the views by myself, it was a nice downhill hike and a pack out. It was a couple of days sooner that planned but I was more than satisfied with my return visit to Spruce. I didn't catch nearly as many fish as the previous year (as evident by the lack of fish photos), but I didn't fish as hard or cover as much ground.

I was able to add two more streams to my personal list, which nearly completes another West Virginia minor watershed for me. I may add this trip to my 2015 plans, it's definitely worth the return visit, but my fishing days are getting fewer and my bucket list is getting longer...something has to give.


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Another New Member to the Sport

A couple of things I enjoy most of this sport: exploring new places/water and introducing new people to the sport of fly fishing. I get equal enjoyment out of both!

My only outing prior to this one was to introduce a fellow co-worker (and Aggie) to the sport and to show him what West Virginia has to offer in the way of scenic beauty. This time I would help introduce another generation to the sport and hopefully provide some guidance for his trip to Colorado in late July.

The interesting thing about this individual is that a few years earlier I taught his dad how to fly fish and I also took his dad to Colorado for the first time in 2011. I was also able to put him on every native species of cutthroat Colorado offers, including one of the top three streams I have ever fished in the west - I refer to it as Cutthroat Heaven.

When I introduce a new person to the sport, I like to start on a good brookie stream. There are a couple of reasons I start this way: brookies will hit anything big & fuzzy and there are plenty of strike opportunities to keep them interested. I talked it over with "dad" and we decided on a big brookie stream, with plenty of space (for casting and three people), and it also happens to have a good population of larger fish. Other than Seneca, this has become one of my favorite streams.

The first thing I always teach them is how to read the water and where the fish, most likely, will be located. From there, I go with the high stick need to worry about casting. It didn't take long for "junior" to catch his first fish on a fly rod while, basically, standing right over top of it.

Father and son sharing the moment.

"Junior" with his first trout on a fly rod; a nice, native West Virginia brookie.

After it appeared "junior" had a slight grasp on the system, and with dad assisting as needed, I was able to poke around a bit and land a few nice brookies of my own.

Soon after, dad got in on the action.

With everyone into fish, we moved much quicker upstream, picking up fish from nearly every decent looking pool. 

It was nice to lag behind and watch father and son enjoying the time on the water. With the video game craze, this is becoming even more rare every day.

Father's watchful eye...

As much as I enjoy introducing new people to the sport and showing them around some of my favorite places, I still enjoy catching fish. Even fishing used water, I was able to pick up the occasional brookie.

We fished well upstream, further than what I realized actually. After about a two mile hike out and some snacks/drinks on the tailgate, it was off to Seneca Creek to catch a few wild rainbows for dinner. That didn't work out to well...we landed plenty of fish but nothing of size to make a meal out of - car camping food for dinner it would be.

Our last stop for the day was Seneca Shadows campground for the night. I have been past the entrance of this campground a hundred times, but I have never stopped or stayed here. That has been my loss as this was the view from our tent site.

This is where I get sentimental for a moment. The reason I hadn't fished much was the business within the company I had worked for 21+ years had been sold and this was my last night as an employee of the former company. When I would wake up in the morning, I would be an employee of a new company. This hasn't happened in over 20 years and even though my job or my coworkers weren't changing, it was definitely a new chapter in my life. That always causes me to reflect on memories of what once was and thoughts of what will be. 

The one thing I finally came to realize was: I like change, I'm an explorer! Let's get this party started!

With that now behind me, I slept well and felt no different when I woke up...let's go exploring!

The next morning was a couple of quick stops to streams I had not fished previously. I hadn't checked off any new West Virginia streams yet in 2014 - that changed this day.

The first stream was one of the last two remaining streams in the Seneca drainage. It was a small stream and the water was a bit low, which made fishing with three people difficult. I left the father and son to fish together and I pushed upstream far enough to give them some space to explore on their own.

I quickly picked up a small brookie in a small plunge pool...add this stream to the list.

I moved up the high gradient stream, skipping most of the marginal water, until I spotted a good-sized pothole about eye level. With a high stick drift, I caught another brookie and a decent one at that.

I studied the GPS and topo map and decided I needed to return to this stream sometime and explore further upstream. I've heard there are wild rainbows in here too, so I added it to my never ending West Virginia streams to pay a return visit.

After a decent fish to finish up this stream, I moved back downstream to pick up the boys and move to another stream on my list.

I've stared at the mountain contour which contained this stream every time I travel down the east side of Rich Mountain. Today would be the day i would finally check this one off the list, so over Allegheny Mountain we went to where the GPS indicated the mouth of the stream should be.

We parked the truck and waded across the main stream to the mouth. After a quick couple of drift at the extreme low end of the stream, we decided to pick up an old Forest Service road and hike upstream.

I picked up the first little brookie at the bottom of a culvert hole where the Forest Service road crossed the creek the first time.

It's a good thing I caught that brookie in the first culvert hole because I didn't move another fish in that little stream. There seemed to be an excessive amount of silt in the stream. I believe there is a grazing allotment at the top of the mountain and that may have something to do with the siltation, but who knows?

After adding another member to the fly fishing community and adding two more brookie streams to my West Virginia life list, it was time to head for the house...more memories created and time to reflect - that's why we do this, right?


Friday, June 27, 2014

I'm Back...Finally!

I know it's been a while since my last entry but I have way too much time invested in this blog to let it slide.

The first half of 2014 has been CRAZY! I have made it out on the water a few times but work and my personal life have made it difficult to find time to update the blog. I believe work may be the main reason - at least that is where I'm placing the blame. The company I have worked for over 21 years sold the business sector I have been in for 6 of the last 8 years. The transition to the new company occurred on June 1 and things are finally starting to return to "normal".

My trips this year started with a day trip, then an overnighter, then a pack trip...I like how this is progressing!

My first entry will be of the day trip I took on Good Friday and it turned out to be a good Friday. I took another coworker to my favorite stream in order to give a one-day lesson in fly fishing.

The temperatures at night had been dropping into the upper thirties but the day temps were climbing into the lower sixties, so I knew there would be no need to get up there early. My coworker is also a Texas A&M Aggie, so I didn't know what to expect from him. : ) Texans are a different breed.

We arrived on the water about 9:00 and it was still pretty chilly. My partner didn't have waders and I hang mine up in March so we were both wet-wading. I could feel a little sting on my feet so I'm positive it was brutally cold for him.

For the first 2-3 hours I stood over his shoulder, working with him on reading the water, fly placement, drift, and tending the fly line...the basics. The water was just too cold, the fish weren't looking up for dries yet and I wasn't about to put him on nymphs.

We stopped for lunch and dug a few ramps before moving further upstream, all while waiting on the water temperatures to raise. After lunch, I basically turned him loose and I was fishing a few runs myself. When we reached a spot where the trail was well above the stream we spotted a couple of nice, wild rainbows.

We dropped down over the bank and split up. He was still working the dries and I had tied on a small, olive woolybugger. In the first small run, I hooked a very nice rainbow under the large rock where I was standing. I played it downstream to where I could land it but he got off at my feet before I could get a photo. It was a solid 14" wild rainbow and I didn't get a photo. I guess it's true what people say, the big one always gets away (stay tuned because it doesn't ALWAYS get away).

From this point on the stream, we decided to start fishing back toward the vehicle as we were about two miles upstream by this point.

Our luck would change in our next pool and my partner caught his first trout - on a fly rod and a nice, native West Virginia brook trout to boot!

He seemed to have the technique of the drift down and was reading the water good, so I left him to fend for himself and I went to check out a few runs for myself.

By this time it had warmed up nicely and the fish were starting to look up. I was fishing my normal early season rig of a small caddis with a beadhead dropper. The size 16 black stones were popping off, so I tied on a black stonefly nymph. Some wanted the nymph...

...and some wanted the dry.

And then...I walked up on a nice pool with a root ball just below the head of the hole. Remember, the big one doesn't ALWAYS get away.

This may be my biggest brook trout out of this stream.

It was a nice male, with a well defined kipe.

I don't know that there was anything else that stood out after this fish. I picked up several smaller rainbows and brookies. My partner may have not landed another fish but this was another memorable fishing experience, both for the big brookie and getting another fisherman started on the water.

With the fishing behind us, we had enough time left in the day to show him around the area and what beauty West Virginia has to offer.

Seneca Rocks, dinner at Hellbenders in Davis, and Blackwater Falls.

We were also treated to an amazing sunset as we left Thomas and drove past the windmills. The end to a nearly perfect day.


Sunday, October 20, 2013

Day Trippin' Renewed

After fishing the trib where I caught my first native brook trout during my WV Trout Bum adventure in early June, this stream has been on my mind since.

The weekend before, I spent a day hiking the extreme headwaters of this watershed; taking in the fall colors and catching brookies above the lake named after the main stem stream. Here are a couple of shots from the hike and a couple of brookies:

The above shot is from the Snowshoe Resort fire tower, looking down the Shavers Fork watershed toward Spruce.

The beginning of Shavers Fork below Shavers Lake.

Shavers Lake and couple of small brookies from tiny Shavers Fork above the lake.

That day hike did two things for me: One, remind me I need to update my hiking blog and two, put the Upper Shavers bug back in my brain.
So...with vacation days to burn and work driving me to GET AWAY, I made a day trip to where it all started for me.
I had planned on doing the trip solo but I got a text from a young friend whom I haven't fished with since our mega-roadtrip in 2010. Three years, where has the time gone?!
The day started well before daylight and 3-1/2 hours later we were at the end of an 11-mile, dead-end, dirt road. It was 37 degrees when we got out of the vehicle - a great day to wet wade!
After two miles of railroad it was time to hit the water. What a beautiful fall day!

As I strung up the rod and tied on my dry/dropper rig, I reflected on the beauty of the Upper Savers area.

The air was brisk, the water was cool, and the "catching" was slow. We did manage a few small brookies and Nathan landed the first small, wild rainbow of the day.

Shortly after he landed his first wild rainbow, I landed my one (and only) rainbow of the day.

I know the camera never captures the true colors of the real experience and the photo of that rainbow was no different. That rainbow had a golden tint to it - it reminded me of the Kern River rainbows Nathan and I caught on that small trib of the Kern during our California Heritage Trout Challenge expedition.
As I catch wild rainbows in my explorations of blue lines, I often wonder the origin of the hatchery strains from which they came. This is why I do what I do!
As I mentioned the fishing was slow and I was disappointed to not see any paired up brookies doing their fall dance. Maybe in this "connected" trib they return to the main stem to do their dance??
As the temperatures (water and air) warmed up we started picking up small brookies on top - but no size.

I'm not sure where all of the larger brookies were hiding on this day, but that's OK, in the name of Henry David Thoreau:
"Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing it is not fish they are after".
I did have a goal for this day, which is something I don't typically do. I wanted to make it to a feeder trib that a friend had told me about over a glass of home-made wine.
We made it to the small trib and found small brook trout hanging out in nearly every small pool. The stream was high gradient - I love fishing like this!

After scrambling up this small trib a short distance, I knew time on the stream and the day was winding to a close.
It was 2-hour hike back to the vehicle, with the first 1-1/2 being bushwhacking...there's no trail here!
When we got back to the car, I was beat, but it was a good beat down. The refreshing feeling of being miles from nowhere, and adding another blue line to my personal life list is what it's all about!
I may not get another opportunity to get out this fall, if not, this was as good as any to end the season with.