Saturday, September 26, 2009

Thoughts of Jimmy V

Most of my journeys typically have two goals:
1) Explore blue lines in search of brook trout.
2) Mental cleansing - a requirement for everybody from time to time.

It's amazing how all worries in life tend to disappear when you are in a beautiful environment with the sound of running water.

This particular weekend was no different, as my mind was spinning with thoughts of leaving my home state of West Virginia.

On the way home I reflected on the weekend and all I could think of was Jimmy V's 1993 Espy speech. To begin with, I am a huge fan of motivational speakers and this particular speech was THE best I have ever had the fortune to see (live).

One of the points I always think of from this is his three items to a full life, which is a daily requirement to spend time in laughter, thought, and emotions moved to tears....back to the report.

This weekend was planned around the fall State Council meeting for West Virginia Chapter of Trout Unlimited. The plan was to begin Friday with a hike to Chimney Tops on North Fork Mountain. Saturday would be a backpack stocking followed by State Council and Sunday would be a quick trip to another new brookie stream on the way home.
Chimney Tops is a rock formation I saw from the Dolly Sods Wilderness overlook earlier this summer. If you look to the extreme left of the higher rock formation, that would be Chimney Tops.
This hike would be about 1.5 mile in length (uphill the entire length), it would be with one of my usual fishing partners, and it would include a new friend - a man that has been running around Dolly Sods Wilderness area for over 50 years.

It was a beautiful late-summer day, perfect weather for a hike.

The hike up was uneventful and no matter how much description I put into it, it will never come close to describing what it was actually like up there. I won't try to describe it, I'll let the photos do that and remember: photos are one-dimensional.

There are not many places in West Virginia where you have a full 360-degree view.

While we were on top I took time to relax and think. I couldn't help but think this would be the one and only time I would make this journey. The view itself was enough to move you but the thoughts of it being the last time I would see it put a lump in my throat. This is the point where I started to think of Jimmy V.

I had to put those thoughts behind me, as it was time to make the hike back down to the trailhead. On the way down we stopped again to check out the views of the North Fork of the South Branch of the Potomac (that's a mouthful) valley. For perspective, check out the riverside cabins, in the background left, as my new friend took a break.

Once back at the vehicle it was time to temporarily part ways. We would all meet back up at the 4H camp at Thornwood and the location of our State Council meeting.

As I got near camp I stopped by a little stream that followed the road near camp. This is a stream I have driven past multiple times but had never taken the time to prospect it for brook trout.

The water was a little low but it was much better than it had been, this time of year, the last couple of years.

The first hole I fished was a culvert hole that failed to produce. I walked through the culvert and started fish the small pocket water and this was the first brook trout of the weekend - small but always a good sign.

I picked up a few more fish as I moved up stream; including this male that was starting his fall transition. He had magnificent colors and was beginning to form a nice kype and hump on his back.

On upstream I ran into a couple of decent pools, the first was protected by a large downfall. This downfall also protected the very large inhabitant of that pool, an easy 12"+ brook trout. I ended up spooking that large specimen as I tried to get a fly to the water. You'll have that from time to time. That's probably how that fish got that large - sometimes it's nice to know those guys are out there.

The next large pool had a large log across the head, which created a very nice pool. I could see something making wakes in the pool so I came in low and limited my back casts. I made several nice presentations in the pool and was about ready to give up when this girl finely cooperated.

Excuse the poor quality of the photo but you can easily see this is a fish in the 8"-10" range, a trophy anywhere.

This was a great way to end a wonderful day, so it was time to pack it in and head for camp.

The rest of the evening was nice as well: great food, a nice campfire with great company and many stories and a lot of laughter. Day one was full: laughter, thought, and emotion.

The next day would be a full one. The day started with a backpack/mule stocking in the Laurel Fork Wilderness area. This is the same stream I fished two weeks earlier with very little success. I don't think the water quality is good enough to support a thriving population of trout so it is supplemented yearly with this effort.

With the stream contained almost entirely within designated wilderness area, this is the only means to get fish stocked. Mules are used to carry fish into the northern Laurel Fork Wilderness Area.

Once the mules were packed, the backpackers (including me) went to the top of Middle Mountain where we would take three different routes off the mountain. Once you find the stream at the bottom, you pick up the Laurel Fork trail, and hoof it back to the campground.

I had to make quick time so I opted for the first trail. Once down to the stream it was time to place these brown trout fingerlings into their new homes. Also, it was nice to see much better water flows than I have seen during this stocking in years past.

I found a nice stretch of water to place my pack full of fish. Several brown trout fingerlings now call this pool home.

I now had 45 minutes to get back to camp for a committee meeting; prior to the State Council meeting and the drive itself was 30+ itself. I through my backpack back on and made the decision the only way to make it on time was RUN.

I found out I'm out of shape but I was still able to run the mile or so of trail back to the campground with only a couple of walking breaks. I'm just glad I have restarted my regular basketball schedule so I can get some routine cardio back in my life.

I was able to make it out and back to camp in time for the meeting, although I sweated so bad I could smell myself - never a good sign. I did, however make one quick stop at the Laurel Fork overlook. What a beautiful day!

I think one of the highlights of Council was the recognition of two DNR law enforcement officers who made an arrest earlier this year that was one for any brookie lover's heart. They arrested three individuals with 61 brook trout over their limit, and some of those fish were very nice. These guys are spread pretty thin and I don't think they get the recognition they are due.
After the meeting it was another nice meal followed by another evening with good friends and good stories. I loved the stories of the former Council chair. He grew up in Montana and his family has gathered every year on the Gallatin for over 60 years. I thought to myself: when I am his age I hope I have stories of tradition like he has.

It was a long day and an early exit to bed.

The next day would consist of breakfast before goodbyes and a quick stop at another new stream.
Phil has been teasing me with this stream for almost a year, and he had fished it the day before, so I bit the bullet and made the 10-mile detour to this stream. It only took one wrong turn to find this stream. When I finally found the stream I also found the best water levels and flows I had seen in a couple of months.
Why is it the first fish of the day is always the smallest?
For the next two hours I caught several fish, nothing with impressive size but plenty of 6" brookies. I probably would have caught more but the light was just in between where it was too bright to be able to see my 18 EHC and not bright enough to wear my polarized sunglasses. A good outing nonetheless.
With a three-hour drive ahead of me I made a quick day of it on the water. I added another blue line to the personal list.

Before heading home I made one more stop, with the thought: "would this be my last visit here as well?"
I stopped at Greenbank National Radio Astronomy Observatory. It was still a bit early to catch the fall colors and the views of Bald Knob were hidden by the early morning fog and overcast skies.

After my final stop of the day it was back over Cheat Mountain. As I crested Cheat Mountain the thoughts haunted me again, as they had done all weekend. Multiple times that weekend, as I rounded many turns, as I crested several mountains, as I passed several incredible vistas, I thought to myself: will this be the last time?
As I swallowed the lumps in my throat on multiple occasions that weekend I thought of Jimmy V. I spent many a moment that weekend deep in thought, I fought back the associated emotions, and as long as I have my friends I will always have was a full weekend!


Anonymous said...

Great post Chris! Sounds like some excellent times blue lining it. Do you know why they supplement with browns instead of brooks? It sounds like you took advantage of what may be your only visit (hopefully not).

-scott c

Chris S. said...

Thanks Scott,

I think only NC has been successful at rearing a native strain of brook trout in a hatchery setting. The stream is marginal, see previous entry "Not Always Rosy" - same stream.

Don't know that it will be my last trip but I'm headed to Cincinnati at year-end. I will be six hours from a WV stream, four hours from the Smokies, and eighteen from Denver (!!).