Sunday, April 15, 2012

Father & Son Spring Break in the Smokies - Fourth Annual Editon

After knocking the dust off my fishing gear at the beginning of the week, On Friday we headed south for a long weekend in the Smokies. This would be the fourth consecutive year my son and I have made this spring break adventure and this year (3 of 4 years) our close friend would be joining us.

Day 1

After a quick stop at Bass Pro in Sevierville and a check-in at our hotel, we were headed for the park. With a late start to the fishing day, we decided to stay low in the park on the West Prong of the Little Pigeon. the difference this year: Ross would be carrying his own fly rod for the first time - a 9' 4wt TFO. I would be carrying the 000wt alongside him.

The water was up a little bit, from rains earlier in the week, and cold from low 40-degree nights but it didn't take long to land that first fish, a nice wild rainbow.

We fished for a couple of hours, landed two wild rainbows, and quickly figured out that a 9' rod was too long for Ross. After removing flies from tree branches multiple times, Ross had enough, and it was time to clown around with our friend - who was still hard at it.

Day 2

That night the temperatures dropped to the low 40s again so we decided it was best no to get in a hurry to be on the water. We had a big breakfast, went to the outlet mall, then headed for the park about 10:00. We were headed to my favorite section of water in the entire park - a section high on the Middle Prong of the Little Pigeon where I caught my first brook trout in the park.

It's a short mile (or so) uphill hike, but worth every step! Deep runs and plunge pools filled with brookies and wild rainbows! It is also a section of stream that was closed for 25 years to the affects of angling pressure on brook trout in the park.

We switched up Ross' rod this day and armed him with a 6' 4wt to help keep him out of the trees.

I would attempt to help Ross land his first trout of the trip while our partner started landing fish right away. Ross learned very quickly that he wanted the "fresh" water, he didn't want to fish behind anybody - I couldn't slow him down!

As he took off upstream...

...I picked up my first brookie of the trip.

After landing my first brookie, it was time to catch Ross. The problem with him fishing ahead of us is that he has no fear! I had to constantly remind him to not wade so deep or be careful as he scrambled over car-sized boulders to stay ahead of us.

Fishing beside him, I was able to pick up another nice brookie - first one on top.

We fished/boulder hopped upstream until we all decided it was time to head back down. There is no trail here, so we had to go out the same way we came in - boulder hopping.

I hated to leave this stream but we didn't pack lunch in and everyone was ready for food. I try to visit this section of water as often as I can.

Once back to where we could climb out to the trail, I couldn't get Ross to stop fishing. He wanted badly to catch his first trout of the trip!

I finally got him out of the water and we hiked back to the vehicle for lunch. After a quick bite to eat, we decided to try another stream in the area - Porter's Creek.

I decided to leave my rod in the vehicle and concentrate on getting Ross on a fish. Porter's Creek is a smaller creek, but just as rugged.

Ross and I concentrated our efforts on the large runs but with the sun quickly slipping behind the mountains, the light got low and the air grew cold. Ross was getting very frustrated because he hadn't landed a trout yet, time to call it a day!

Before we finished, Ross decided to get a little daring again with how deep he was wading...he makes me very nervous!

Once back at the vehicle, Ross and I had a very nice conversation about fishing and frustration. I explained to him that fishing is supposed to be relaxing. If you're getting frustrated it's time to put the rod down, sit down on a rock, and just listen to the water. We could still hear the stream from the vehicle and he agreed that the sound of the stream and the birds in the trees was actually very nice.

Day 3

The next day would start the same, a big breakfast while we waited on the air temperatures to recover from the 40-degree overnight low. We couldn't wait until 10:00 for the stream on the agenda for the day as the trailhead parking fills up quickly.

Another favorite stream of mine is Road Prong, a very rugged brookie stream high in the park. The trailhead is along the main road in the park and also a popular trail for day hikers headed for Chimney Tops.

It's a shorter hike than the day before but this trail has a few sections that are more like climbing stairs than hiking a trail. Regardless, we soon found ourselves at the fourth bridge on the trail and Ross was quickly looking for resident brookies.

Just like the previous day, Ross had to have the fresh water.

The difference this day: we would not be rock hopping, we would be scrambling in a very rugged section of stream. This may be one of the highest gradient streams in the park and I stayed very close to Ross.

I also happened to be with him when he landed his first trout of the trip. He landed a nice brook trout while high sticking a dry fly in a back eddy. He was so excited to land his first brookie of the trip that he released it before I could get a photo.

After he landed one, I asked him if dad could try to catch one. It didn't take me long!

After I landed a nice, little brookie it was back to Ross leading the way upstream.

We continued to slowly scramble upstream and when Ross and our partner decided to take a break, I slipped ahead of them and picked up my biggest brookie of the trip.

After I released him, he decided to hang out around my feet for a while, allowing me to take a few additional photos.

One of our traditions of these Smoky Mountain trips is a group photo at a different park entrance sign every year. This year we decided to take out group photo on Road Prong. I think it was a wise decision and maybe the beginning of a new tradition.

From this point we found a dry bed to climb back down, climbing back the way we came up would have been very difficult and dangerous. When we made it back to the trail, I told Ross how proud I was of him for scrambling in places that many adults could not go!

Once back at the bottom, we decided to quickly fish a couple of very nice runs we saw on the hike in. I picked up a nice wild bow in this section - hope they don't make it upstream with the brookies.

After another quick lunch at the vehicle we made the decision to head to the west side of the park and the Little River watershed. The scrambling must have worn Ross out because he slept as we drove across the park and when we arrived at the trailhead of Lynn Camp Prong and Sam's Creek, he decided he was done fishing.

The water was ripping in this watershed so I decided I was done fishing too, so Ross and I decided to just hike along Sam's Creek while our partner fished.

This is a new stream for me, which includes Thunderhead Prong (which I've always wanted to fish), so it was nice to just hike/relax and check out the stream.

Lower Sam's Creek

We hiked up the trail about a 1/2-mile or so, to where Thunderhead Prong and Sam's Creek join.

Upper Sam's Creek

Thunderhead Prong

Ross taking dad's advice and relaxing to enjoy the sound of the stream at the nice pool where Sam's and Thunderhead join.

After a quick moment of relaxation, we decided to head back down the trail to find our partner...we were also getting hungry! We were all getting psyched for our annual dinner at Huck Finns and an Easter dinner of catfish, frog legs, and gator tail.

Our partner was unsuccessful in the high water of Sam's Creek and was equally as eager to head toward our dinner destination. We made one last stop on Little River so our partner could fish for brown trout in the park. He successfully completed the Smoky Mountain slam when he landed this nice little brown - all the while Ross and I heckled him from the banks.

We had a very nice Easter dinner, knowing our next day would be our last.

Day 4

The next morning we would need to be on the road early, so it was another stream low in the park. We decided to drive the Roaring Fork motor trail - which I had never done.

When we made it to Roaring Fork, I decided I was done fishing and Ross made a couple of quick drifts before deciding it was too cold to enjoy the fishing. Our partner, however, decided to give it a try.

He was unsuccessful on Roaring, just as he was on Sam's, so it was time to put this trip in the books and make the long 6-hour drive home.

The fishing was difficult this year but Ross landed his first solo Smoky Mountain brookie. I added a couple more streams to the list for next year's trip - Sam's Creek, Thunderhead Prong, and Roaring Fork. We also decided next year we would wait until Ross finished school in June before we make this trip. In June the nights/streams should be warmer and we would probably be able to throw a tent down somewhere.

Here's to next year!


Friday, April 13, 2012

I'm Back!!

After eight very long months, I finally made it back on the water. The last trout to grace the end of my leader was a greenback cutthroat in Lawn Lake (RMNP) on August 9, 2011. I have been fishing all of my life and eight months may be the longest period of time I have gone without fishing.

Due to work I had to pass up several opportunities to fish earlier in the year, including multiple 80-degree days in March. I finally found a window at work where I could slip away for a day...and I was off!

We left Parkersburg at 5:00 AM and by 8:30 we were wet wading in 40-degree temperatures. The fishing started out slow and it took me nearly an hour to land my first fish of 2012 - a nice, little (less than spectacular) wild rainbow. I landed one other wild bow before we decided to try a few miles upstream.

First drift in the first hole produced this pretty little wild bow.

By this time the sun was high in the sky and you could feel the slight increase in water temperature. With the air and water warming, it was as if somebody flipped a switch and the fishing was lights out for the remainder of the day.

This section of one of my favorite streams gets pounded with both C&R and "meat" fisherman, but with outstanding water quality it still produces excellent numbers of brookies and wild bows....

...and some decent size to boot!

We fished until shortly after noon, when we decided to hike out for lunch back at the vehicle. On the way out I noticed several spring wildflowers were already blooming - two days into April!

I checked the dates on photos I have saved of these same wildflowers and they are over a full month ahead of normal bloom.
Red Trillium

Squirrel Corn

Dutchman's Breeches


Trout Lily

Following a quick lunch, we decided to head back to where we started early that morning, but instead of fishing the main branch we headed up one of the smaller tribs.
Different stream, same watershed, same result...brookies and wild bows.

We fished about a half-mile of new water before calling it a day on this stream, with plans to quickly hit one more small trib before heading back home.

One the way out, we saw this nice set of cascades. If you look closely, you can see the cascades originate somewhere high up the mountain.

On the last stream I took time to snap a few shots of my new 000wt, which had made a very successful inaugural trip.

I was very impressed with the action! The brookies and bows in the 8' - 10" range bulldogged just like my 1wt Vandalia bamboo but the extra 2' made mending and high-sticking much easier. I give it an A+ !

In short order I was able to pick up a brookie and a wild bow in this small trib too.

The sun was dropping behind the mountains, and the light faded fast inside the steep walls of this stream. After picking up a brookie and bow in this stream, I decided to call it a day - a very successful beginning to my 2012 fishing season.

As I stood on the bank above my partner, watching him finish his day on a nice plunge pool, I looked down at my feet and spotted this:

I'm not a superstitious person but I sure hope this is a sign of things to come during my 2012 fishing season.