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.


1 comment:

Royal Wulff said...

My Dog, but that is some beautiful water. and fish! good work behind the lens and on the keyboard- mike