Thursday, November 19, 2009

Not This Time....Smoky Mountain Revenge

If you look back to my Easter weekend adventure in the Smokies, my son and I were shut out due to high flows.

Fast-forward to November and forecasts of unseasonably high 70-degree temperatures. I also wanted to see how long the drive would be from my new location, due south on I-75, to The Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

As with my Easter trip, I was threatened by high flows when Tropical Storm Ida blew through the area. The original plan was to fish Saturday and Sunday but high flows pushed it back by a day.

The forecast held up and the waters receded and I made the trip. I left the (current) house at 4:30 AM and I was on the Chimney Tops trailhead by 11:00 AM. A short mile hike, straight up, and I was rigging up to jump into the upper stretches of Road Prong. I was also without waders in mid-November!

I started out with the rig that I finished up with the last time I was on the water, a large stimulator with a large tungsten hare's ear nymph. I immediately moved fish but I was unable hook up. When I finally did hook up, I sent the first brookie into the pool below me.

I moved multiple fish without bringing one to hand as I slowly moved upstream in some of the most extreme fishing I have done in a long while. I was flying solo and I was very careful on foot placement and securing my footing before moving on.

This is the bridge where I "jumped in" and you can see that traversing this stream was difficult at best.

I tried multiple patterns as I moved upstream and moved a few fish, but landed none. When I finally arrived at a set of cascades I would choose not to attempt (solo), I stopped for lunch.

As I finished my lunch I noticed a few small mayflies flying about so before I put my pack back on I tied on an 18 parachute BWO. Tight against a rock in the first pool, fishing back downstream, I picked up this amazing specimen.
Dry flies and wet wading in November! Does it get any better than this?

Now I knew what they wanted and where they were on!

Eventually the BWO pattern slowed, so I switched to a black EHC - I saw a few little black stones flying around too. The little black stones typically don't produce good dry fly fishing, so it may have been the caddis profile.

Regardless, they liked it!

It's also a good sign to see a few of these little guys:

After a long car ride, a few hours of scrambling, and the sun setting out of the deep canyon I decided to call it a day. After all I still had to find a hotel room, not that difficult in the off-season of Gatlinburg. I found a room with cable TV and wi-fi for $28 (including tax) - we paid that for a tent site earlier in the year.

The next morning I took my time getting moving, there was still frost on my vehicle front glass at 9:00 AM. My plan was to head to the Middle Prong of the Little Pigeon River above Ramsey Prong. This section of stream was closed until 2005 as part of the 25-year brook trout population study.

I made the short uphill, 1.5-mile trek to the mouth of Ramsey. Again, with forecasts of 70 degrees I would be wet wading again.

This section of stream is not as rugged as the prior day, but the boulders are much larger and the pools are much deeper.
I had to wade across Ramsey to get on upstream on the Middle Prong, so as I did I dapped this little guy from a nice plunge pool on Ramsey. I always like to begin my prospecting with a small, olive woolybugger.
I will keep Ramsey on my list to revisit as it had several nice plunge pools I could see as I crossed the lower end.

I eventually made it above Ramsey on MPLP, but those rhododendron thickets were a bear to weave through with a fly rod!

I continued to dredge the bottom with the small, olive woolybugger and it continued to produce.

I could feel the air temperature increasing and, in my mind, that means only one thing: dry flies.

I switched over to the black EHC that produced so well the day before, with an 18 BHPT dropper. The fish didn't immediately take notice of the dry, but they sure noticed the little dropper - my first rainbow of the trip.

As with the day before, it's always good to see these guys!

When they started keying on the dry, I removed the dropper and it was pure dry fly action - in November! Pitching that little black caddis up tight against the rocks produced some very nice fish - both rainbows and brookies.

I continued to pick up a good mix of bows and brookies, but as it neared 1:00 I made the difficult decision to call it a day. I had a downstream scramble, a short hike, and a long drive ahead of me.
As I made it to the mouth of Ramsey, I made a few more casts at the wonderful pool at the mouth of Ramsey. It produced a fish, the largest of the trip, and a great fish to end the day.

When I finally stepped back on the trail, there was not much left of that little, black caddis. The Middle Prong of the Little Pigeon produced several more fish than Road Prong, but that didn't matter - revenge on the Smokies had been served.

Also, I found it to be a little over four hours from the Ramsey Cascade trailhead to my "new" home in Florence, Kentucky. I can see more Smoky Mountain searching for native salmonids in the future, and....
You gotta love wet wading and dry flies in mid-November!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Wonderful Fall Weekend in WV - 2009

It's a month since this trip, but I have fully transferred to the Cincinnati area and things have been a little hectic.

A year ago I started this blog with the same activities that took place this weekend - the Blennerhassett TU chapter fingerling stocking.

This would be a little bit more of an adventure than the previous year. The first day would be a complete hike through of the Middle Fork of the Williams watershed, from the Scenic Highway to the mouth on Williams River Road. I would make this hike with the head of the West Virginia limestone fines program and the plan was to take water samples at various points throughout the watershed.

This is the stream from a June report when over fifty volunteers moved over seven tons of limestone fines, one five-gallon bucket at a time.

The hike was about ten miles in length and was some of the most beautiful water I have been on anywhere in West Virginia. When the brookies return to this water, this will be another WV gem!

It was also good to see limestone fines sand dumped in the culverts on the Scenic Highway has moved more than a mile into the watershed.

Back to the stream and the beautiful water, the first stream crossing on the trail:

The recent rains had the water up and a little off-color, not "mud" off-color but "tea-stained" off-color. The rains also made the stream crossing a little difficult for someone not wearing wading shoes (not me).

About halfway through the watershed we came to one of the most interestingly named streams anywhere!

Hell For Certain Branch dumps into the Middle Fork of the Williams with a magnificent plunge.

From Hell for Certain Branch it was on downstream to Beechy Run, which also dumps into the Middle Fork with a spectacular set of falls.
From the mouth of Beechy, it was another short mile to the lower trailhead for a total of over six hours on the trail.

I stopped to fish a new brookie stream on the way back across the Scenic Highway, but the recent rains had the little stream nearly unfishable and I was beat from the Middle Fork hike.

The plans for the remainder of the weekend were to hang out at the Thornwood Science Camp with fellow chapter members and our annual fingerling stocking on the headwaters of the West Fork of the Greenbrier.

My journey to Thornwood would take me through Cass and Greenbank - Greenbank has a serious problem with their deer herd. Just before crossing the East Fork of the Greenbrier to camp I had a black bear run across the road in front of me. This is the second black bear of the season for me and that makes the total personal black bear sightings in West Virginia three. I don't have a clue how many days I've spent in the West Virginia backcountry and I've only seen three bear.

At camp I was expecting a full cabin (ten bunks), but we ended up with a total of three. It may have been the weather forecast, which called for snow in the higher elevations.

The forecast turned out to be accurate as we woke to a skiff of snow. As we traveled across Middle Mountain to the West Fork, it was more than a skiff. This is October 17!
As with previous years, we would meet at Wildell - the site of an early 20th century logging community....110 million board feet!!

From the rail trail you could see the distinct snow line.

Considering the weather we had a good turnout, including a couple of new guys and a couple of young children. It's always great to see the young ones getting involved in conservation, even though they don't understand the reason why we do what we do, it's good to see the outdoors.

Following the stocking we had a few hours to explore some new water with an old friend. I haven't fished with him since this stocking last year. We would be fishing another new limestone fines stream that I was made aware of the day before.

I hadn't had on waders since March but near freezing temps and a rain/snow mixture forced my hand. As much as I hate to admit it, I had to wear waders in October!

We fished for about an hour, mixing up the flies before I finally figured out what they wanted. Going back to an outing on the main branch of this watershed earlier this year, I tied on the biggest dry fly in my box and dropped off the biggest tungsten beadhead nymph behind!

It's always good to see a few of these guys in a stream (up until the day before) I thought was "dead".

Out of the same run came the largest fish of the day, on the dry and in beautiful spawning attire.

I picked up a few more on the dry dropper setup, but with an hour drive back to camp and a forecast for more snow we called in an early day - almost.

We stopped along the road to show my friend a stream I had fished earlier this year - also the last stream I had waders on this year (in March). We stopped quickly just to check out a couple of large pools. I gave my friend first shot but when he struck out I picked up this guy on the dropper. Notice how dark the background is, as it was the last minutes of daylight.

Following a long day, it was an early night with the plans for the last day still up in the air - to hike or fish?

When I woke, there was another layer of snow on the ground so as I pulled out on the road I had still not made up my mind what I would do. One quick stop on another new stream my partner had fished on Friday. I didn't even put on my gear, just grabbed a rod and stepped off the gravel road to a culvert hole and I added another new stream to my brookie list.

From this small trib it was back to the hardtop for the short drive along North Fork Mountain to the Mouth of Seneca. As I traveled along NFM I noticed the trees were still in their beautiful fall colors. At this point I made up my mind - I was headed back to Chimney Rock!

I noticed, as I neared the trailhead, another distinct snow line on the mountain.
When I hike to Chimney Rock in September I took the North Fork Mountain Trail to the top. This time I thought I would cut some distance and drive on up the mountain to Landis Trail.

What I found out is that although the Landis Trail is shorter, there is only one switchback - straight up, all the way to the top!

I found the snow line on the way up too:

Once to the top from the Landis Trail, I found myself a little south of the Chimney Rock. I also discovered that snow-covered rhododendron and spike trails to overlooks are not a good combination as I found myself backtracking multiple times. Regardless of being turned around multiple times and being soaked clear through from the snow-covered jungle, the views were absolutely amazing.

This was my last shot before heading down off the mountain. It is the storm coming across the top of Dolly Sods Wilderness Area.

Regardless of the weather it was a wonderful day to hike. What day isn't? It was another wonderful fall (or winter?) weekend in West Virginia, and I also added two more brookie streams to my personal list - although I fished four new streams.

I had a friend tell me that now that I'm an "Ohisian", I have to get my money's worth on my trips back to West Virginia...mission accomplished!