Monday, June 22, 2009

A West Virginia Weekend

West Virginia celebrates statehood on June 20.

I celebrated this weekend with the 4th Annual WVAngler Campout and the Elk River Clean-up. I would meet three fellow WVAnglers at Kumbrabow State Forest, where we would make base camp for the three-day weekend. The original plan was to include my son again, but the previous weekend took a toll on him and he chose to stay at home to recover this weekend.

Without Ross along it would allow me to do more exploring, so my itinerary changed significantly.

The weekend started at 6:00 AM on Friday, with a 3.5-hour drive to camp. I watched radar on the phone for the first three hours (until I lost signal for the remainder of the weekend), as there was a storm headed our way. The rain appeared to be moving to the north of camp, so I quickly set up camp and headed for a quick few minutes on the stream before my fellow WVAnglers were to arrive.
This is where the story gets entertaining!

I arrived at the new, small stream I had on the list to explore with the hopes of finding brook trout. I parked near the mouth, put on my wading boots, grabbed a rod tube, then reached for the large blue tub I keep all of my fishing gear in (pack, flies, reels, hydration bladder, etc.). When I opened the tub I just about lost my breakfast - the identical tub contained my kid's jigsaw puzzles! So, here I was: 3.5 hours from home with two rods and wading shoes but nothing else!

What do you do when life gives you chicken poop? You make chicken salad, of course.

Undeterred, I grabbed my camera and headed up the stream to see if I could at least capture a few brookies with the camera.

The first stream produced two brook trout in the 100 yards I explored, but no photos. I then drove on up the road to the next stream I had planned to explore. Again, I would explore this stream with the camera.

The first thing I found was another gift from the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources, in the form of limestone fines.

It didn't take long to verify a decent brookie population in this stream, both above and below the limestone fines dump, but again no photographic proof. With visual verification of the first two streams on my list, I headed back to camp to wait on my company.

While I waited the rain arrived, so I took temporary shelter under the rear hatch of my vehicle. Shortly after the rain started, my friends arrived and we discussed our plans with the current weather conditions. But first I had to explain my gear situation, take a few laughs, and ask for some gear to loan. After everyone was done laughing at me, we all loaded into my vehicle and headed off the mountain to another stream.

While we were in route the rain stopped and by the time we had reached our destination the skies had actually turned to blue. Once at our destination, we cobbled together an outfit for me and what an outfit it was - a 4ft, one-piece bamboo with an old Pflueger Medalist reel!

The stream was a familiar one to me, so I headed up a small trib near the parking area in search of brookies. This small trib typically dries up each year but I had been told that it contained brook trout. I fished a quarter-mile or so with no luck. I was pitching an 18 stimulator into pockets the size of a coffee table, but no luck - I didn't even spook a fish. I am not arrogant enough to believe that because I didn't catch a brookie they weren't in there, but my log will show ZERO.

With another new stream crossed off my list (unsuccessfully), I headed back down the main branch to catch up with my partners. I have fished upstream from the parking area with great success but the lower end where we were fishing has always fished tough.

I did catch a couple of small brookies (no photos) and I also found another eft stage of the red-spotted newt. They always look so good in photographs.
With the fishing slow and nearing dinnertime, we headed back to camp to grab a bite to eat before hitting another stream.

The next stream is where I learned to fish for brookies, it is also where both of my kids caught their first brookie, and where my son caught/landed a brookie on video just a week before.

We hiked down the remnants of an old narrow-gauge railroad bed, left from the logging industry of the early 20th century. When the trail disappeared, we decided it was a good location to start fishing. I picked up three fish quickly in the first two pockets - a good start.

I also recently learned that my underwater video camera also takes super macros. This would be a good place to try the newly discovered mode; I think they turned out decent.

The fishing continued to be good for the remainder of the afternoon, for two of the three of us. My friend with the most experience on this stream (no names to protect the guilty) went back to camp with the smell of skunk.

After a good days fishing and armed with a story of forgotten gear, we decided to head off the mountain again. We would head for the Elk to meet additional WVAngler members and watch the evening hatch. The hatch did not last long, but when the Isonychia spinners appeared they were very heavy.

We watched until well after dark before heading to the Elk River cabin where the remainder of our group was staying. It was an excellent evening of stories and laughter!

The next day started early when the rain beating on my tent woke me shortly after 6:00 AM. Saturday was West Virginia day and the scheduled date of the Elk River clean up, but before the clean-up started I had time to explore another stream.

The stream enters the Elk at this landmark:

The water was low and the pockets small, you can see in the above photo there wasn't much water. I continued up the trickle and the sound of moving water grew louder as I continued upstream. After less than a quarter-mile I ran into the source of the moving water and at this point the gradient of the stream changed SIGNIFICANTLY.

This is what I found:

What I also found was a good bit of this water was tumbling down and straight underground - the reason for the lack of water near the mouth.

I climbed up and over this obstacle, but soon found that this was simply the beginning of the extreme gradient stream. I fished up and over boulder after boulder and did not catch or see any signs of a brook trout. Again, doesn't equate to the lack of brookies, I just could not visually verify their presence.

Even though I told my partners where I was headed, as rugged as it was I didn't think it was too safe to get too far in there. So, after about ninety minutes of scrambling I made the decision to stumble back down. After all, discretion is the better part of valor.

With time to hit one more stream before the clean up started, I headed back down stream. I had gained a recommendation to fish another wild trout tributary, but as I approached the stream the "No Trespassing" signs caught my attention so I moved on. I had a fall back plan, another stream I had fished without success probably 7-8 years earlier. I had been told the fish population had rebounded and I needed to verify.

As I pulled into the parking area the skies opened up again. The fish were already wet and I was there, so I put the DSLR away and grabbed the waterproof camera. I am typically not a jumpy person but when you have your hood up it's like walking in a tunnel. When a deer jumped into my "tunnel" of vision, I nearly came out of my wading shoes!

By the time I got to the water I had about fifteen minutes to fish before I had to head to the clean-up. I had to make the time count, and I did. The first small fish I picked up was a little brown and just above the brown was a brookie with an unusually high concentration of yellow spots.

After I released the brookie, I noticed a trail above me, which seemed a fitting opportunity to head out. I'm not sure one brook trout constitutes a population, but with the reports I have received I have to believe the population is in good shape.

Next on the agenda was the clean up. There were probably 20-30 people in attendance and we were able to clean a couple of miles of stream and road. The stream happened to be in good shape and we finished earlier than planned. The agenda also included lunch, which would consist of BBQ ribs and chicken. I had not been to the clean up in a couple of years but I do remember how good those ribs were. They did not disappoint this year either, they were probably the best ribs I have had anywhere!

Following lunch, I planned to hike into the upper reaches of the Elk where the only access for over four miles is by foot. My destination would be a little over two miles in via the remnants of a railroad track and another new stream for me. Again, I would be solo and when I go solo my mind tends to wander. As I traveled along the tracks and sometimes through a "tunnel" of underbrush, my mind thought of bears and rattlesnakes. I don't know why, I am not the least bit afraid of snakes, but when I caught a glance of movement I jumped back. When I gathered and verified the movement, I was embarrassed to have been scared by a common garter snake!

I calmed down and continued up the tracks, about fifty minutes of total hike time. Another thought that crossed my mind on multiple occasions is how nice the fishing pack hydration bladder (back home in the garage) would be.

Using the GPS I found my destination but first I had to cross the main stream - I hope the rain doesn't swell the river while I'm over there.

I started fishing immediately after I got under the canopy and quickly picked up a couple of brookies.

I continued upstream until I ran into this wonderful site. The stream was low gradient to this point so this came as a surprise (although I was told to look for it).

After climbing up and around the falls the gradient changed, not as significantly as the stream from the early morning, but it definitely changed. What also changed was the fish population. Typically a set of falls of that magnitude would act as a fish barrier for invasives and protect the native population. You can understand my amazement when the first fish I picked up was this guy.

As I climbed upstream, I continued to pick up little rainbow after little rainbow - in nearly every pocket. The only other place I have fished with a population of little, wild rainbows like this was back in 2005 on the Middle Prong of the Little River in Great Smoky Mountain National Park. The recent droughts had obviously not affected these little guys!
I continued to climb up this beautiful little stream, with moss-covered boulders and beautiful little plunge pools, all the while picking up little rainbows in nearly every pocket. Had it not been another solo adventure and a limited amount of water I could have fished this stream for an entire day. But again, caution got the better of me and I decided to head back out giving me plenty of time to get back to the vehicle before dark.
I felt very blessed to have been able to fish a stream like this!

On the way back to the vehicle I must have my awareness level must have changed, as I didn't notice these on the way in. I may be wrong, but I believe they are leopard lilies.
I made it back to the vehicle without issue, a total hike time of 75 minutes. I made it back in time to hit the lower Elk and watch the fellow WVAngler fish the evening hatch. I was early for the evening hatch but I did witness a couple of very nice fish being caught. When I got the opportunity to go back up on the mountain to see an old friend and mentor, I jumped at the opportunity. I would miss the evening hatch (I heard it was fantastic) but I hadn't seen my friend since the State Council meeting in September. I got some excellent advice and guidance on my new (to me) position of State Council chair.

The time seemed to fly by and before long it was dark and I still had friends on the river I wanted to visit with. It would be another excellent evening of laughter and stories with great people!

I didn't realize it until I was checking out my pictures early Sunday morning, but I had quite an accomplishment on West Virginia Day - a West Virginia trifecta. After viewing the underwater video of the little brown I caught in the rain, I noticed the par marks. I had caught all three species of trout, and all were stream born!
Brook Trout Par Marks

Brown Trout Par Marks

Rainbow Trout Par Marks

The next morning would not be as early and it would not include rain. It was early enough to get in a little fishing before making the long journey home.

First on my list was one of the new streams I had been on Friday morning armed only with a camera. This time I would have a rod and I would get video proof of the brook trout population.


I fished for about fifteen minutes and nearly hit double-digits. I would say the population in this stream is doing just fine.

I had time for one more new stream on the way home. I had never fished it, but my fishing partner had grown up in this watershed.

Once we found the stream (apparently it had been quite a while since he fished there) it didn't take long to find the brookies.

Again, in just a short few minutes on the stream we were able to verify a healthy population of brook trout. With this final new stream under my belt, it was time to call it a weekend and head for home.

The final weekend tally:

  • Five new streams fished
  • Brook trout caught in 4 new streams
  • Wild browns and rainbows in 2 new streams
  • All three species of stream-born trout caught

I also spent time with some great old friends and made a few new ones. It was a wonderful West Virginia weekend!

I have traveled five of the last six weekends and I am burnt out on driving, so I think I'll take a couple of weeks off.

Chris

1 comment:

Cutthroat Stalker said...

Chris,

Too bad about the gear debacle--I usually only forget one item (maybe two), not everything ;-). Sounds like some great fishing times anyhow (I love fishing with people who are well-prepared)! It's always fun to fish new water. The waterfall and lily were some excellent photos!

-scott c