Saturday, April 30, 2011

Father & Son Spring Break in the Smokies - Third Annual

This was the third annual father & son trip to the Smokies. In 2009 we were shut out due to high water and in 2010 we had our plans changed three times, in three days, due to road construction. What would the 2011 edition have in store for us? I had to wonder as we left severe storms in West Virginia and drove through multiple hail storms on the way to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

We left West Virginia, and the Elkhorn Clean-up, a day earlier than planned due to storms and high water but this would give us an additional half-day to fish the Smokies.

Day 1

We tried to fish this stream last year but a trailhead closed for construction changed our plans. I read about this stream in Jim Casada's book and had to fish it as it was one of a few streams he rated as "A". Most people will recognize the stream's confluence with Little River.

It is a short couple mile hike up and over the mountain to the stream, with the trail following and crossing the trail multiple times. My concerns of high water were quickly put to rest as the stream level and flow was perfect. We didn't find any brookies at the first crossing so we jumped on the trail and started again at the second crossing.

I picked up my first, little brookie just below the crossing while my friend worked the upstream section of the crossing.

After verifying their existence, it was time to focus on my son's first brookie of the trip. The next series of photos are of my friend assisting with the drift, the hook-up, and the landing of my son's first (of two) brookies on this stream.

We continued to pick up fish at nearly every access point, including one nice brookie caught by my friend (sorry no photos). We fished upstream to where it appeared to take a turn straight up - high gradient, my type of fishing!

Unfortunately, my son and friend decided it was time to head out. I tied on a small olive woolybugger and dredged one of the first, deep plunge pools while the others changed out of their waders (it was nearly 90 degrees by this time). I hooked a very nice brookie, in the 10-12" range, but I didn't get it to hand.

We stopped at one of the crossings on the way out so I could adjust my son's socks and wading boots. While I was adjusting my friend rose a brookie that he said "was as big as his boot". Why are the brookies in this stream so big? I believe it is because they are a transplanted northern strain of brook trout, planted in the early 70s.

We did have a slight mishap as we got within shouting distance of the trailhead. My son's boot laces got tangled and he went down on a sharp rock in the trail. It put a pretty good gash in his knee and covered his face in mud. When we got back to the vehicle, he was a trooper! He squeezed my hand and gritted his teeth while we cleaned and bandaged his knee. I think what really helped was the trip to Little River Outfitters. He picked up another lucky hat, a fly box, and some assorted flies to fill the box - he quickly forgot about his knee!

Following our quick stop in at the fly shop, it was over to Cade's Cove and Abrams Creek. My friend and I are a bad partnership, he likes to fish the big water and I like the little stuff. To be fair, I took him to Abrams but the water here was up and flowing pretty good, but it's always nice to make the drive around the Cove.
Day 2

Our second day in the Smokies would take us to the North Carolina side and another location we couldn't get to in 2010 due to closed roads. Our plans were to head to the Cataloochee area so my son and I could hike Boogerman trail while my partner fished Palmer Creek. I also wanted my son to see his first elk.

We dropped my partner off just downstream of the Palmer chapel and my son and I headed to the trailhead at the mouth of Calwell Fork.

Crossing the Cataloochee:

What 10-year-old doesn't want to hike the Boogerman Trail?

Boogerman Trail winds itself through some old-growth forest before meeting back up with Caldwell Fork nearly four miles later. I will (eventually) detail this hike in my other blog outlining my hikes across terra firma.

We passed an old homesite before meeting up with Snake Fork. You could step across Snake Fork but it just looked "fishy". A quick dap of an olive EHC and, yes, Snake Fork has brookies.

We eventually made it back to Caldwell Fork and the trail by the same name. We were getting pressed for time, we had almost three miles back to the trailhead, but we had time to fish at a couple (eight total) of the bridges. I expected rainbows but all we caught were more brookies - no complaints from me!

We made it back to the vehicle, loaded up, and went to meet our partner. We found him fishing Palmer along the road where my son wanted to give it a shot at the run he was fishing,

A quick debrief of my partner and I learned that all he caught were brookies, in both Palmer and Pretty Hollow. Good news but confusing, I thought all he would catch were rainbows with the possibility of a few browns.

With Boogerman and two new brookie streams under our belt, it was time to find the Cataloochee elk herd. It wasn't too difficult, and we even found another group of turkey - not that that is a difficult task in the Smokies.

We stopped on the Lower Cataloochee, just above where Little Cataloochee Creek dumps in, so my partner could try one more time for that elusive brown trout.

He struck out again but the quick stop wasn't a complete loss. I got to see my son decide he was going for a swim. It was in the upper 80s, but it was still April, and this is still a trout stream. I laugh every time I see his face when he hits that cold water.

We took the scenic route out of the Catalooche drainage, across Mt. Sterling gap to Big Creek and I-40. We made one last stop for the day, at the Cosby overlook on the Foothills Parkway.

Day 3
After low 90s on Sunday and upper 80s on Monday, Tuesday was much different. The temperature this day would not surpass 45 with a steady rain all day - even snow flurries and 37 at Newfound Gap.
The original plan or this day was Leconte Creek and a hike to Grotto Falls - another location we could not get to last year due to road closings. With the rain and the fact my son found out he is not as fit as this time last year, we decided to do some "road fishing" this day.
We decided to head up and over Newfound Gap, back to the North Carolina side, and the upper Oconaluftee River. I thought this might be another opportunity for my friend to pick up a brown.
The rain had the stream up, but fishable. It was cold, even I put on waders. We fished for a short period before my son wanted to get back in the vehicle to warm his hands. The first spot did not produce but the next stop at the Kephart Prong trailhead produced a couple of rainbows on a large stimulator stripped like a steamer at the tailout of a drift.
My partner struck out on his quest for browns (or anything for that matter) on "the luftee". We decided to head back to the Tennessee side so he could give the Little River a try at Metcalf Bottoms.
A good friend at the Elkhorn Clean-up told me he had caught little bows behind the Sugarlands Visitor Center in Fighting Creek. We had to go by there to get to Metcalf, so why not?
I caught this little guy under the nature trail bridge.
Little River was raging so he struck out there too. Even though my partner had gone fishless for the day, it was time to call it a day. We took another alternate route as I had never driven from Metcalf Bottom to Wear Valley. I had know idea it was that close! It had to have been nearly 30 minutes quicker than going to Townsend then back to Pigeon Forge.
Day 4
Day four would be our last and shortest day of the trip. It would be a quick stop at the Cosby entrance before heading back across the Foothills Parkway, then north to West Virginia.
Cosby Creek is a nice, little, roadside brookie stream. It is nice pocket water with a few small plunge pools mixed in. I'm not sure why the brookies didn't want to cooperate, they're in there, but I only picked up one brookie in the short time we fished.

After a quick hour, or so, of fishing it was time to pull the plug on the third annual father/son trip to the Smokies. We took our gear off and packed up, but before we headed north it was time for our gratuitous entrance photo.

We made the decision that every year we would take this photo at a different entrance sign.
As I took the time to go through all of the photos I realized that I did not take as many photos as I normally do. I blame it on rust from the long winter. I need to force myself to take more photos, particularly when I have my son with me!
He took a few photos on this leg of his spring break too:

It was another great father & son outing in the Smokies!


Saturday, April 23, 2011

Elkhorn Clean-up 2011

Well, after a very long and eventful winter I was finally able to get in some REAL fishing....and it's April!

This event is an annual TU outing for me. Unfortunately it just happened to be the first "real" outing of the year. Fortunately, though, it coincided with my son's spring break and our annual trip to the Smokies - so this would be my son's first Elkhorn Clean-up.

As with many spring outings you must dodge rain and high water, and I've only attended one (of five) Elkhorn clean-ups where high/fast water was not a factor - an this year was not one of them.

We arrived on Friday for the Saturday clean-up, which gave us a full day to fish THE best wild trout stream in the state. In the last 4-5 years, this is the only time of the year where I fish a West Virginia stream that is not a "native" stream.

The flow and the levels were up in the main stream, so it was tough fishing for my son and I. We made the decision to move up one of the tribs...and it was fish on! I caught three of these guys in about five minutes.

I picked up a few more little guys before we made it back to the campground for the annual Friday night dinner and festivities.

We almost made it through dinner before the rain started and we also got a campfire started before the real storms hit! My son and I piled in the camper when the massive storms hit: thunder, lightning, and hail! Our host said that those were some of the worst storms he has ever encountered in a camper.

The next day was the actual clean-up and the numbers were down again this year. We had ~100 volunteers in 2009, ~80 in 2010, and just over 60 this year.

The numbers were down, but it also appeared the trash was too. It may have had something to do with the high flows and storms - most likely it was swept it on downstream.


During (with my son right in the middle of it):


Following lunch it is usually back to the stream but this year was different; we had high water, forecast for more storms, and plans to head to the Smokies. So, with all of that we packed up and headed south a day earlier than planned.

Next entries will be from our annual father/son trip to the Smokies but first I wanted to post some photos my son took. He likes to carry a camera too. He has already "dunked" one camera so I let him carry my waterproof and he doesn't do too bad. All of these photos were taken by a handheld, underwater, video camera:

Maybe it's just because he's my son, but I think (for a 10-year-old) he does pretty good with a camera.