Sunday, May 31, 2009

One of the Guys - Blennerhassett TU Campout

Our local Trout Unlimited chapter has an annual campout on the East Fork of the Greenbrier River just outside of Durbin, West Virginia. This year's campout would be the first for my 9-year-old son.
We hadn't been out together since our Easter weekend trip to the Smokies. We didn't catch a fish that weekend, but the end of May in West Virginia would most definitely be different!

We decided to go to camp early Friday, hoping to meet a couple of fellow chapter members. With nobody in camp we decided to do a little exploring. This particular watershed is fairly new to me. I've backpacked fingerling browns into the extreme headwaters but I've haven't explored many of the tributaries.
By the time we had reached stream number one, it was well past lunch time so first order was to have a bite to eat. While we were gearing up and having lunch, one of our chapter members pulled up on this narrow dirt road. He was headed to the main branch but I thought it was quite a coincidence.
It didn't take long to pick up our first fish of the trip - a beautiful little brookie in the very first pool.
After quickly picking up a few more of these little guys I put the fly rod in Ross' hands. I helped him roll cast into small pockets on this little stream you could jump across. After spooking a couple of brookies, he finally got a hook set. I was standing immediately behind him when he set the hook and he must have been pretty excited. That little brook trout went completely over his shoulder and had I not ducked, I probably would have eaten that one.
Ross' first solo brook trout, wearing my waders and wading boots:

With positive confirmation this stream had a healthy population of brook trout, it was time to head to stream number two. By this time Ross had decided to lose the waders for a pair of shorts and water moccasins.
It was a short quarter-mile hike to this stream behind a locked USFS gate. The lower end of this stream was very similar to the first stream, low gradient. Also like the first stream, it didn't take long to start picking up brookies. I caught several brookies but none were bigger than this guy.
As I fished upstream, Ross was happy to follow along checking out the rocks. I turned once to see him stripping off his shirt, apparently he had taken "a dip". The water and air temperatures were moderate, but with no sign of larger fish I decided to call it quits on this stream. Again, confirmation of a good brook trout population.
Once back to the vehicle Ross was anxious to get back to camp to meet some of the fellow campers. We called it a day on the water and headed for camp.
We arrived at camp in the early evening and we were still the first in camp. While we were waiting, we unloaded our gear in the bunkhouse and I grabbed the rod again. There is a very small stream running right through the camp and I had a few minutes to kill.
I missed the first two small fish but picked a couple more of these little guys.
Three new streams, three confirmed brook trout populations.
Soon after, folks started arriving in camp for the night. It was a great evening with a campfire, a nice steak dinner, and great fish stories. Ross made several new friends but the long day of driving and fishing had him ready for an early night's sleep.
Ross was the first to bed that night and even though the night involved falling out his bunk, he was still the last to wake. He would have slept longer had I not rolled him out of his sleeping bag.
Day two would put us on the lower end of my favorite wild rainbow stream. Ross had seen enough brook trout, he wanted to see rainbows. This stream is "polluted" with wild rainbows and native brook trout, but it would be the rainbows we were after this day.
Once on the stream, again it didn't take long to complete this simple task. It wasn't the largest wild rainbow I have caught in this stream but it was Ross' first wild rainbow - complete with par marks.
Unfortunately for this stretch of this stream, it is also choked with the invasive didymo algae. For this reason I wear Aquastealth soles on my wading boots and Ross wore his rubber-soled water moccasins.
I was interested in seeing how far upstream this invasive had spread, so we jumped on the trail and hiked upstream for a while.
The limestone cobble trail was difficult for Ross to walk on in his mocs and after about a half-mile we headed for water. I was shocked at the amount of didymo in the stream, but it hadn't affected the fish population - YET!
I was attempting to pick up a little bigger rainbow for Ross to see and I thought I had done so when I hooked this guy.
It is very unusual to catch more brookies than rainbows in this stream, but that's exactly what I did as I picked up three more of these nice brookies.
We had developed quite a process: I would hook, land, and photograph the fish while Ross would release it.

I did pick up one nice, little rainbow but he was a bit camera shy. Having seen enough of the didymo and picking up some very nice brook trout, we called it a quits on this stream.
Having waded in the didymo stream, we had no immediate plans to "stream hop", even though we both wore rubber-soled shoes .
Ross and I visited Seneca Rocks during our March fishing trip. This photo was taken during our earlier visit.
Ross told me during the early visit that he wanted to climb the Rocks. What he wanted to do was rock climb, but he would have to settle for a hike to the top of the Rocks. This would allow our wading shoes time to dry out in the heat of the vehicle while we made the hike to the top.

Shortly into the hike, we found this guy on a trailside boulder.
When we found him he was minding his own business but that was the pose he gave us when Ross decided to grab him by the tail. These black rat snakes are harmless and even make good pets but they sure don't like to have their tail tugged.
We left him to go about his business, but a little further up the trail we ran into his twin bother.

This guy was directly above the trail on the steep hillside rubble. There would have been no place to go had he decided to strike, so after a couple of quick photos we continued on our separate ways.
Before long we were at the overlook, looking down on the specks that would be the vehicles in the parking lot where our car was parked.

The overlook is on the far edge of the Rocks themselves and just above the overlook we found this sign - we would go no further!

It was an uneventful hike back to the vehicle but even with that we were not done exploring some of the area attractions. In the area we also had Spruce Knob, the highest point in West Virginia.

Another sixty minutes in the vehicle would allow our shoes to dry further; it would also put us on top of Spruce Knob.

The temperature was much cooler up here and the wind was absolutely ripping. We put on another layer of clothing and made the short walk to the observation tower. From the observation tower you had a magnificent view of the extreme headwaters of the beloved wild rainbow stream.

With the wind cutting through us, we didn't stay on the tower long and we made a hasty retreat to the vehicle. On the way back we stopped to snap a shot on the highest landmass in West Virginia.

Already this year Ross has been to the highest point in Tennessee (Clingman's Dome - 6,643 feet) and now the highest point in West Virginia (Spruce Knob - 4,861 feet ).

On the way down from Spruce Knob, headed back for camp, Ross decided to take a nap. While he was napping, I stopped to take some shots of the columbine in bloom.

While not particularly unusual in West Virginia, what is amazing is that this flower was blooming in Tennessee nearly six weeks earlier during our trip to the Smokies.

With time to quickly hit one more stream on the way back to camp, I pulled off the side of the highway and jumped over the bank to one more new stream. Again, I picked up a fat little brookie in one of the first pools in this high gradient section of stream.

I picked up one more equally fat brookie in the five minutes I fished and "stung" a very solid fish.

Arriving back on the camp side of the divide with time to hit the main branch, we stopped in a USFS campground and geared up with one more task at hand. I typically only target brown trout during the Elkhorn clean-up but I would make an exception this time. Ross had seen a brook trout and a rainbow trout - why not a brown trout? This section of stream receives an annual stocking of brown trout fingerlings so I thought I would try to pick up one of the fingerling stockers.

I picked up a nice little silvery brown on top and another on the small pheasant tail dropper, unfortunately they were both camera shy. No big deal, they were just brown trout!

We returned to camp for another evening of campfire, nice meal, good company, and good fish tales. And again, it was early to bed for Ross and myself and late to rise for Ross.

We decided not to fish our last day, simply a long car ride home. It did not matter as we have two more weekend camping trips planned over the next three weeks.


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