Sunday, June 26, 2011

West Virginia Brookie Bum Adventure - Part 3

With the backcountry adventure cut short and behind me, it was time to do some exploring. The only thing better than finding a new gem is sharing one of your finds with good friends and that is where I found myself on day six.

After having an outstanding day on Sunday on a new brookie stream and finding the browns out to play below the forks, I had to share it with a couple of good friends. This day would be a bit different as we would stop about a half-mile short of the forks in an attempt to coax some of those wild browns into coming out to play.

This section of stream is high gradient, boulder hopping, pocket water at it's finest. Can you spot my two fishing partners for the day?

Unfortunately, the water level had dropped about 6" in the previous four days and the brown trout were nowhere to be found. However, the brookies were more than happy to cooperate!

As we made our way to the forks, I let my partners do the majority of the fishing as I had already added this stream to my personal list a few days earlier. The drop in water level made stealth a little more important but didn't slow the brookies down at all.

Phil adding the left fork to his list.

Chris checking the box shortly thereafter....

...and then the double.

With a 3+ mile hike out we made it a short day, even though we fished past where I had gone earlier. The stream looked to be getting a little more gradient to it but we had done well.

On the way out Chris was able to do something I was unable to do on my prior trip to the forks - he caught a brookie out of the right fork. It was in the second pocket above where the right fork dumps in but it was still in the right fork. I may need to do a little more exploring on the right fork.

By Thursday we were already established in the USFS campground in preparation for the WVAngler campout weekend and the Middle Fork of the Williams Bucket Brigade scheduled for Saturday. That evening we spent a good amount of time hanging out with the other early arrivals for the weekend, talking fishing - these events are great for gaining important intel for future explorations.

Day seven would be a whirlwind, marathon day - hitting as many brookie streams as possible in two different watersheds. We would start at the top of the North Fork, stopping only long enough for each of us to catch a brookie; then repeating the same as we drove up the South Fork. This section of the report will be as fast and furious as our fishin was for the day.

New stream #1:

New stream #2 and trib of stream #1:

We both struck out on stream #3 - many streams in these two watersheds are highly acidic and many of them have limestone fines dumps on them. We both proclaimed this stream "dead".

Stream #4:

We both struck out on stream #5, so it was on to stream #6:

The final trib we fished on the North Fork came with an asterisk - I mentally "starred" this stream as a need to fish it again when I can spend more time on it. Stream #7 - I caught these nice two brookies in back-to-back pools:

The summary for the North Fork was seven streams (all new to my personal list) and brook trout in five of them.

Next on the agenda was a repeat on the South Fork with the only difference being we would be driving up the South Fork - versus going down the drainage on the North Fork.

Stream #8:

Stream #9:

Stream #10:

Stream #11 was another asterisk stream and the biggest stream we fished on the day - it also gave up the largest brookie of the day:

The final stream of the day (#12) produced a brookie below the culvert, but nothing above the culvert or the road. My conclusion: the culvert was not "fish friendly" and the stream above the road appeared fishless.

What this stream did, however, produce was an amazing discovery - something you don't find unless you do a little exploring. As I watched Phil prospect a couple of nice pools, something caught my eye on upstream. What we discovered was an amazing 20' waterfall!

But with this beauty, there was also a "beast". Nearly the entire South Fork watershed is owned by an out-of-state paper/timber company. As beautiful as the waterfall was, this clear cut job was equally ugly!

With this we called it a day, we had real work to do the next day. The totals for the day: 12 different streams fished and brookies caught in 10 of them (all new to my list).

That evening in camp the remaining WVAnglers would arrive in camp and we would, again, exchange stories and intel. I picked up a couple of tips that I would follow-up on before the adventure was over.

Day eight started with the fourth annual Middle Fork of the Williams Bucket Brigade. I have blog entries for the previous two I had been part of, and when you think it can't get any bigger...

The first year (2008) there were just over 30 volunteers, in 2009 we had over 60, in 2010 we received partnership with Walmart and we had over 100 volunteers. Again this year we partnered with Walmart and we had over 120 volunteers. We were able to move over nine tons of limestone sand a quarter-mile into the Cranberry Wilderness Area, one 25 pound bucket at a time - and we did so through a very impressive thunderstorm that rolled across the mountain!

This is by far the single largest TU volunteer event in the state, and quite possibly anywhere in TU. This is even more impressive considering the physical labor involved.

Following the Bucket Brigade Phil had to return home, so it was soloing again in search of brookies. My plan was to follow-up on a tip I received in camp. It would be a short, 1.5-mile, flat, trail hike but when I got to the trailhead I checked out the map and thought I could cut this hike down by going through a public hunting area. Eight days of hiking, followed by the Bucket Brigade, was beginning to wear my body down so I was looking for any short cut I could manage.

The map showed the trail going completely to the public hunting grounds - I never found it!

I did, eventually, make it to water but what I found was a very low gradient stream. Had I not been told it contained brookies I would have passed it by as a fine chub stream. I did manage to pick up a couple of little guys when I found good moving water.

I continued to work my way upstream but the profile never changed, so I started fishing in and around the root balls. I missed a couple of brookies before landing this guy in the 10" range.

On dead legs with no trail, I didn't push it. I did manage to fish about a half-mile of stream, add another new stream to my personal list, and managed to have these "locals" walk up on me.

Back at camp there was many of West Virginia's finest home-made adult beverages to be consumed. There were many stories told, a guitar and a mandolin came out, and there was some good music to enjoy by the campfire. It's always a good time when the members of WVAngler get together!

I don't know what time I crawled in my tent but I was one of the first to awake - I had seven hours of driving ahead of me. I packed up my camp, said my goodbyes, and headed down the road. But before I called an end to Brookie Bum 2011, I had one more stop to make.

I added one more new (roadside) stream to the list to close out my adventure.

With the release of this final brookie, I called a closed to my West Virginia Brookie Bum Adventure. Some of my totals:
  • 24 streams fished
  • brookies caught in 20 streams
  • 15 new brookie streams added to my personal West Virginia list
  • and over 60 miles hiked
I can't wait until Brookie Bum 2012! I'm not sure where it will be but I do know Shenandoah National Park is a leading candidate.


Sunday, June 19, 2011

West Virginia Brookie Bum Adventure - Part 2

This is the backcountry portion of my nine-day West Virginia adventure.

I met Phil and the "czar" of the West Virginia DNR Limestone Fines program at the North Fork trailhead on the Scenic Highway early Monday morning. We left one vehicle at the trailhead and commuted to the Cranberry Glades trailhead where we would begin our Cranberry Wilderness Area adventure.

It would be a five-mile hike off the mountain to the forks of the Cranberry River, then a short hike up the North Fork of the Cranberry where we planned to set up camp for a night or two. The original plan was to fish the Cranberry watershed, then up and over the mountain to the Middle Fork of the Williams, to explore those tribs before ending up back at the trailhead for the Middle Fork of the Williams Bucket Brigade on Saturday morning.

I had never been in the upper Cranberry watershed so I didn't really know what to expect. One thing I didn't expect was the size of the liming facility at the mouth of the North Fork.

There were a couple of DNR employees working at the facility when we arrived. How nice would it be to call that location your "office"?

Phil and I hiked upstream a short distance and set up camp while our partner for the day stashed his bike away for the ride out later that day. We were quick to set up camp, partly because of the weight we were carrying on our back, but mostly to check out new water.

There were brookies immediately out of camp and I was given the first opportunity to add a new West Virginia stream to my list...and it didn't take long.

After I picked up the first brookie in my second new stream of the trip it was time to allow my partners to do the same.

It sure was a beautiful piece of water!

It didn't take long for everybody to land a brookie, then it was just of matter of skipping around and sharing the pools and pocket water. Here is one of Phil's many brookies.
I love fishing high-gradient, braided pocket water. Did I mention it was a beautiful stream?

There were brook trout all over the place and there were multiple age classes....

...including young of the year.

Considering most people think the stream is dead, I would say it is doing very well.

It was typical fast action brookie fishing until we made it to a large pool that had been created by a downed, beaver-cut tree wrapped around a very large boulder. I cast to the end of the downed tree and landed this nice brookie.

So, I turn him loose to cruise the smaller water at the tail-out....

that's when I notice this little guy cruising down the edge of the pool and he literally came within a couple feet of our feet...
so, after bolting into the pool, he parked himself right (exactly) where I had caught the previous brookie. This is when the fun started. Cast to him, drift, strike, hook up, and land. I release him beside me in the tail-out, look in the pool, and here comes another little brookie to claim the prime real estate, then it was repeat: cast to him, drift, strike, hook up, and land.
I know there are prime locations in each pool but I didn't know there was a waiting list for this one. Phil said it was like a gumball machine; keep putting a quarters in and out comes another brookie.
We fished upstream a little more before calling it a day for this section of stream. It was dinner time (backpack style) and our fishing partner for the day had a 5-mile bike ride back to the top of the mountain.
The next day we decided to hike down the main stem of the Cranberry in search of resident native brookies. Phil quickly picked up a couple of native brookies and all I was able to accomplish was breaking off a couple of nice wild browns.
As we moved upstream we started getting into more and more stockers, left over from the last stocking a week or so prior. I can't tell you the last time I caught a stocked trout but it was a nice relaxing change of pace. I did complete the "stocker slam": rainbow, brown, and this nice stocker brook trout ( I refuse to refer to a stocker as a brookie).

Phil also completed the "stocker slam", including this little brown that had some tiger in him.

Stocked trout are so dumb, we caught several fish that just had us laughing at how stupid these guys were. I won't make a habit out of it but, like I said, it was a nice change of pace.
Sometime about mid-afternoon the skies clouded up and we headed for camp. It was dinner in the tent (boy does that Snow Peak Gigapower stove heat up a one-man tent), a couple chapters of the new Gierach book, and a short nap.
The rains passed quickly and we decided to try our luck on the South Fork for the evening. We fished up the South Fork a short distance, each of us picking a couple of the resident population of wild browns, before making the decision to hit the large junction pool in time for a possible evening hatch.
I don't know how many fish the DNR stocked in that hole but it was a lot! There were a few sulfurs coming off and the stockers were occasionally rising to them. Phil tied on a Usual and was picking up one here and there. Me, I tied on the largest rubber-legged woolybugger I had in my brookie box, and the dumb stockers really liked it! I had strikes or landed stockers on nearly every cast. Phil would catch one at the head of the pool while I would catch 3-4 at the tail, we would rotate, Phil would catch one at the tail while I caught 3-4 at the head. We repeated this for a while, until I got tired of catching stockers. Did I mention stockers are stupid fish? Sorry, no photos of the dumb stocked trout.
As the sun started to set, we decided to call it a day, and I didn't catch a single native brookie. At camp that night we made a decision to change our backcountry plans. We decided to make the hike out the next day and do some exploring in other watersheds.
The next morning we packed up camp and start our seven mile climb to the Scenic Highway. The trail is not a heavily used trail but it is easy to see where it was once an old railroad grade when the area was logged 100+ years ago.

Our suspicions were soon confirmed when (miles from anywhere) we found this very well preserved bridge abutment.

Shortly after this point we lost the trail and fought through a couple hundred yards of rhododendron hell. Rhododendron is tough enough to maneuver through alone and very difficult with a full pack with rod tube! We decided to split up to find the trail, I went stream side and Phil went high. Phil soon found the trail and we played "Marco Polo" to locate one another. By this point it was time for a break and as we neared the three mile mark, and the forks, we decided to drop our packs and explore the smaller water.
The water was smaller but the results were the same.

We soon found ourselves at the forks of the North Fork and now it was time for exploring for brookies again. We were informed by the limestone fines czar that the Right Fork contained brookies, so it would be the Right Fork first.
I caught one at the junction pool, but that's not the Right Fork proper, so we moved upstream and it didn't take long. Add new brookie stream number three to my West Virginia adventure.

...and one more for good measure.

After Phil and I both landed a couple of brookies, it was back to the Left Fork. The Left Fork drains off the same mountain (albeit the opposite side) as the "dead" upper Middle Fork of the Williams - of Bucket Brigade fame. We fished and stomped around for a couple hundred yards before declaring it void of brookies. They can't all have brookies in them.

We back-tracked to our packs and prepared for the four mile climb to the Scenic Highway. It was a slow gradient all the way to the top, except for the last half-mile where the North Fork trail and the North-South trail intersect. The sun was high in the sky by this time and the temperature was in the mid-80s, making for a tough climb. The post-holing in the swampy areas of the trail didn't make the climb any easier, but we made it.

A couple of bottle of water (one over my head) at the trailhead marked the end of the backcountry portion of my adventure. The next four nights would be spent in a small US Forest Service campground.


Thursday, June 16, 2011

West Virginia Brookie Bum Adventure - Part 1

Back in 2009 my friend Phil Smith (maker of my Vandalia Rodworks bamboo rod) hatched this idea of packing into a brookie stream for a few nights We decided to call it the Brookie Bum Adventure and after the first we decided to make it an annual event.

In 2010 Phil was building a house and I was in the process of transferring the family to Kentucky, so we had to call off the event. Earlier this year we made the decision we weren't going to let it slip by again. The decision was then - where and when? After talking with the head of the West Virginia limestone fines treatment program the decision was fairly easy - a stream in the Cranberry Wilderness Area that most people thought was dead.

I was going to extend my part of the adventure and do something I have never done before. I planned to spend an entire week vacationing/fishing in West Virginia. I have done several three or four-day weekends but I have never spent an entire week chasing brookies across the state. My vacation was nine days and started early on Saturday morning, on a stream I know very well, and later that day meet a friend from Virginia TU to show him the upper end of the very same stream.

This stream usually does not wake up until late morning, but that day was not the case.

Typically on the lower end a good day is double digits but this day I hit double digits in a couple of hours. They didn't have much size but they did make up for it in beauty - excuse the quality of the photos, I struggled with photo quality all week.

Following a great morning on a great stream I met my friend for lunch, then I took him to the upper end to show off one of TU's greatest success stories in the state.

This stream was dead twenty years ago and through the miracle of limestone fines, it is now thriving.

Streamside, we talked TU for a good while before hitting the stream. I also got to practice my field surgery skills as my friend stepped on his leader while holding a fly in his teeth....OUCH! To add insult to injury, as we were about to hit the stream a stranger came walking down the road and he had just fished the section of stream we planned to fish.

We were fishing behind somebody but my friend was very impressed with the ruggedness of the stream, which helps make stealth much easier.

He was able to pick up several small brookies on the short period of time we spent on stream.

I poked around in a few pockets and picked up a few little guys.

The bigger fish eluded us, but I blamed that on fishing behind somebody. This is one of the residents I caught in this stretch a couple years earlier.

My friend had a four-hour drive ahead of him, so we called it a day about 7:30 - just as the yellow sallies started coming off very heavy.

I told him next time we fish it would be on his "turf", which happens to be Shenandoah National Park. Brookie Bum Adventure 2012 perhaps??

I set up camp for the night along the USFS road heading to the stream and got up early the next morning to drive to my next destination.

I had fished the main branch of this trib but I had received a report a few weeks earlier that one of the forks also had brookies. This steam was also dead a few years ago but after limestone fines treatment started in 2005 the brookies have made their way back into the extreme headwaters.

The confluence of the forks was amazing, I wish I would have taken more photos! The right fork drops in with a series of small falls while the left fork drops in with a series of cascades...amazing!

The edge of where the left fork drops in.

After checking out the confluence, I decided to give the left fork the first shot. It didn't take long to start picking up little guys in every pocket. As I moved upstream I got into some higher gradient water and larger pools. Larger pools equals larger fish.

I picked up this guy in a likely ambush point, in dead water between two large boulders.

On upstream I picked up this nice brookie with amazingly blood-red pectoral and pelvic fins.

I caught brookies in every likely location and with the knowledge that the population was alive and well I backed out to try the other fork. Add new stream number one to my West Virginia adventure.

Once back to the confluence I gave the right fork a shot. The right fork is a beautiful little stream but another small trib further upstream drops low pH water into it pushing the overall pH to below levels that would support a healthy brookie population.

I fished and kicked around upstream a couple hundred yards and turned up no brookies. With this slight disappointment, I made the decision to hike down the main stem and fish back to the confluence.

The overnight rain had made the main stem very slightly off color. With the slight coloration I was pleasantly surprised that the resident brown trout population came out to play. I caught five or six of the little, cookie cutter browns.

Once back at the forks, I decided to take it all in. I climbed up on the large table rock that separates the two forks, took off my pack, used it as a pillow, and took a short nap.

When I woke, I pulled out some line, and picked up a small brookie my dapping over the edge of the table is good!

After the short three-mile hike out (GPS tracked 8.4 miles in total), I decided to have a little dinner at the trailhead picnic table. At 4:30 I thought my day was over, but that would not be the case. As I was leaving town Saturday morning, I sent an email to the head of the WV limestone fines program informing him where I would be for the weekend. Would you believe at all of the area he had to look for me he found me at the first stop?

His recommendation was either hike back into where I just came from or hit the stream we would perform the bucket brigade on six days later. I chose the latter, so at 6:30 PM we were hiking into the Cranberry Wilderness.

My partner caught one nice brookie, which I landed for him - note the watch, but it's his catch.

The fishing was slow but my partner made one amazing discovery!

For the first time in over 50 years we had brook trout young of the year in this stream - all thanks to the many volunteers who have made the bucket brigade a success!

We fished over a mile into the Wilderness Area and at 8:00 PM we were still headed in - it gets dark at 9:00 and I didn't have a light. Luckily, when I hike with this guy it is like chasing a mountain goat. The guy is a machine!

We made it out with just enough light to not need the light and it put me at nearly twelve miles of hiking for the day. By the time I made it back to my vehicle and to the trailhead where I was to start the second leg of my West Virginia adventure, it was too late to set up camp so I slept in the vehicle.

The next morning I would meet Phil with plans to pack into the Cranberry Wilderness for four be continued.