Saturday, July 4, 2009

I Have an Addiction

After the WV weekend outing I was really burnt on driving, so I had planned to take a few weeks off.

That didn't last long; a coworker sent me some brookie photos on a new stream (for him) I sent him to, I helped a friend plan a trip to Colorado (I 'm not going this year), and a day at Columbus Children's Hospital reading The River Why & Flyfishing the High Country was more than I could take. I had a four-day weekend coming up so I thought I would take a quick overnighter to soothe my anxieties.

When I told my boss I was also taking Thursday off to go fishing again, his response was: "I think you have an addiction". I think he may be right!

I had planned on soloing but when I told my friend (nameless this time to protect the innocent) of my plans, he agreed to join me. He was planning on doing a day trip to a stream I had never fished, so that's where we started.

This stream has been on my list for a long time and I was finally committed to exploring it. We left Parkesburg at 4:30 AM and rolled into the trailhead parking lot about 7:30 AM and we were in the stream before 8:00. We had planned to hike in before we started fishing but the water looked too good, so less than a quarter-mile up the trail we jumped in.

It didn't take long and the little elk hair caddis produced the first fish of the day - a little guy but a brookie nonetheless.
Shortly after, I caught a second. A little bigger - things were looking good:

That second brookie is a typical average fish in almost every brookie stream I have fished in West Virginia, but at the risk of getting ahead of myself this would not be the case today. The next flat pool produced this guy:

So it started, nearly every little pocket produced a fish and even the long slow pools produced brookies on a slow drift. I don't know if it was the overcast skies or the low 50-degree air temps, but the day was definitely one of my best (if not THE best) brookie fishing days in West Virginia.

These guys kept turning up and turning up:
By this time I had easily hit double digits but my friend was still picking up a few here and there until he switched flies. I typically fish small flies for the brookies, and they produce, but when I saw what m friend had switched to I was amazed. He had switched to a very large (size 10?) grasshopper with a caddis wing and he was absolutely hammering them now.

It didn't take me long to put something larger on. I switched to a big grasshopper - no luck, then a Hornberg - no luck, and then I dug deep into my fly boxes and pulled out a very large (size 10?) green stimulator - GAME ON!

I don't remember the last time I fished with one of these large stimulators; they are actually what I learned to fly fish on. But, big flies were what they wanted.

The fishing was so good; when I stopped to have a bite to eat I did a little streamside dance. Apparently my little dance turned out to be a rain dance because the overcast skies had turned to rain and I had to put my DSLR in the dry bag and put it away. I still had my underwater video camera and it takes decent stills but it doesn't have the filters to reduce glare. It would service fine, notice the size of the fly:

The little palm-sized camera does take good macros:

It also takes nice underwater shots too:

And so it would continue, for over six hours we caught fish at an amazing rate. I would guess between the two of us we had to be pushing triple digits. The amazing thing was the average size. Most brookie streams I have fished have an average size of four to six inches; this stream average fish was six to eight inches with several fish over the ten-inch mark!

At one point, near the end of the day on this stream, we walked up to another long flat pool and bet a dollar on who would catch the first fish - second drift and I was a dollar richer.

A couple of things about this stream were the fish, not the size, but the color. We caught a few that were almost gold (excuse the glare - no filter):

The last fish of the day for my friend had a strong gold tint to it. It's hard to tell in this photo, but you can almost see the monstrosity of the fly he was fishing.

The other amazing feature of this stream was the resemblance (we both agreed) to Roaring River in Rocky Mountain National Park. Both streams have been absolutely scoured by floods. Minus the hardwoods you can see resemblance of the streams

West Virginia stream:

Roaring River in RMNP:

Before we started our mile and a half hike back to the vehicle, I hit a hole where one of the feeders dumps in - for the second time. I had already caught three out of this junction pool but one more drift had a brookie come about two feet out of the water as he missed the big fly and another drift resulted in yet another eight to ten inch brookie - time to call it a day.

On the hike out we reflected on the rating of this stream. I have fished a few brookie streams in West Virginia but none I have fished have yielded this type of numbers and this type of size. Was it the stream or was it the on and off rains and low fifty degree July temperatures? Who knows, but this day was one of the most memorable in West Virginia.

From this stream, it was back to my original plans. I had some unfinished business in the watershed I had fished two weeks earlier. For one, one of the streams I thought I was fishing wasn't the stream I thought I was on - I had to explore the correct stream. Secondly, I had been given information on a stream that was said to contain wild populations of brooks, browns, and rainbows - a rarity in West Virginia.

We stopped at a roadside stream on the way to our next destination. Through on and off rains, we had no luck in the short period of time we were on the water.

At our final destination we set up camp and we hit the main stream. I had not fished the main branch in about five years, but it didn't take long as I picked up four fingerling-stocked browns and a small rainbow in the hour or so before dark. I'm not sure how many my partner caught, actually I do know but I'm not saying.

As darkness fell we headed back to camp for a nice campfire and some brats for dinner. Unfortunately, as we got back to camp the rain that had plagued us on and off all day started again. I couldn't get the fire started in the rain and my friend chose not to boil the brats in beer and onions before they hit the grill. So, we stood under the raised tailgate and had dinner and watched the fire fizzle out before we hit the tents.

It rained for most of the night, so we didn't know what to expect when we woke. One thing I didn't expect was how sore I would be. I hadn't spent that much time on a stream in a long time and eight hours of rock hopping and hiking had paid a toll.

I had coffee going on my backpack stove by 6:30 AM and by 7:30 we were on the stream that I missed two weeks prior.

When we finally found the correct stream, the bed was dry (?). As we hiked up the dry bed, we jumped out of the streambed to avoid a set of dry falls, when we jumped back in the streambed we had moving water (?).

The unique geology of this area has streams that disappear and reappear above ground - this stream just happened to be one of those.

As my friend rigged up, I pulled a little brookie out of a small run - a good sign. The next little pocket produced another brookie; only this time there was a problem. It is never a good sign when you catch a brookie with the head of a 6" fish and the body of a snake - not a good sign.

With the rain continuing, I chose to leave the DSLR in the car. It's a shame because this little stream had some beautiful moss-covered rocky runs of many little brookie streams I have fished.

As we moved upstream, picking the favorable looking pockets to hit, I found that that second fish was an anomaly. This little stream produced some nice little fish:

We fished for a little while, just long enough to validate a healthy brook trout population - as I do with most of the streams I explore.

On the way out I took some video of the stream as it goes underground, comes back out, gathers momentum, and sinks back underground for good.

The stream goes underground in an almost toilet bowl fashion:

A couple hundred yards away, the stream seeps back out and starts to gain momentum.

Shortly after it gains momentum it goes back underground for good. You can't tell from the video, but I am standing about twenty feet above this large sinkhole. I am also just about level with the top of the cascade.

By the time we returned to the car the rain had stopped, so it was on downstream to the stream that is rumored to contain reproducing populations of brookies, browns, and rainbows.

When I last saw this stream it was running chocolate milk. What would the recent rains do to the stream this day? Apparently this stream has had recent logging done in the extreme reaches of it and again the stream was running off-color. It was not complete chocolate milk but off-color enough that it was still fishable.

I started out with the small, 18 elk hair caddis but the heavy canopy and the colored water made it very difficult to spot - even on drifts of only ten feet. I soon changed to a high floating, size 18, yellow stimulator.

It took a while but I finally moved a fish. I stung him pretty good but could not tell what type of fish it was. A little while longer, I stung another fish and again I could not tell what it was. Shortly after this my friend's skirt flew up in his face and he made the decision to switch to a small wollybugger and fish his way back down and out. I can understand as scrambling over large rocks and downed timber was difficult enough in shorts - but in a skirt it must have been nearly impossible.

It didn't seem very long after he turned that I finally made a solid hook up and I was only slightly surprised that it turned out to be a nice stream-born brown. What was surprising was the size of the fish for the size of the water I was in. This was a good twelve-inch wild brown in a very small pocket of water.

I ended up stinging a couple more and picking up a total of four wild browns. These wild browns had some amazing features. The adipose fin on this one was blood red and the main rays of the caudal fin were also a brilliant red. The heavy canopy made photos with natural lights nearly impossible, so I used the built-in flash which, flooded out the colors.

I thought I was going to strike out on the other two species, but I was able to pick up this little guy before I finished.

I had climbed a considerable distance when I decided the scramble out would not be worth any further climbing. I did not catch the third species, the brook trout, but then again I've never had much success fishing for brookies in seriously stained water. I'll keep this stream on my list and hit it again when I can find it running clear.

The scramble out was a tough one, nearly 45 minutes of scrambling on rocks in the stream and fighting stinging nettle any time I chose to bushwack it.

After the soreness I woke with and another tough scramble in, I was done. My friend wanted another shot at the main branch, so we went to an old railroad trestle where I stood up above and heckled as he fished for very educated fish. He was able to pick up one nice rainbow on some type of streamer pattern before he had enough - again.

He was not done fishing so I took him to another stream I fished two weeks prior. In the short period of time I fished this stream it produced both a brookie and a small stream-born brown. Today would be different, no brookies to hand but I did spook a few. We fished a short distance upstream without luck, but to avoid another scramble out we turned for the vehicle in short order.

Before we hit the main branch on the way out, I hit a small pool just above the mouth and picked up a nice little stream-born brown.

Even though we fought off rain for two days, it was a great time to be in the mountains of West Virginia. The state flower, the rhododendron was blooming everywhere.

The blooming rhododendron was just a bonus on top of the memorable day we had on the first stream.
I caught brookies in two more new streams and caught wild fish in another - which I will return to in search of brookies.
Do I have an addiction? I think maybe I do.

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