Sunday, July 21, 2013

West Virginia Trout Bummin - Rain, Rain, Rain

The final leg of my West Virginia Trout Bummin Adventure would conclude on the upper Williams watershed in a USFS campground.

After finishing up my first leg, I made a short stop on a trib of the Slatyfork section of the Elk. I had fished this stream (stream #11) a few years earlier and landed several small brookies. I had since received reports of wild rainbows in this stream and I had t find out for myself.

I made the short hike in during the heat of the day but I knew this little trib had a good canopy, so I wasn't concerned about the high mid-day sun.

This stream was as I remembered it but it had been hit hard by the heavy snow of Superstorm Sandy - there were downed trees everywhere. However, it didn't affect the brookies, as I caught brookies of a couple of different age classes.

I didn't catch any wild rainbows, but it was nice to see the brookies still doing well.

From here it was on to the USFS campground and as opposed to another freeze-dried dinner, I drove into town and had a nice hot meal at a local restaurant/hotel, then it was back to the tent - just in time for the rain.

This night the rain would not let up and my coffee would be prepared in the tent vestibule before throwing on the rain gear and heading out.

I had three tribs on the upper Williams on my list for this day - the last three tribs on the main Williams.

The first trib (stream #12) was slightly off-color, which brought out the wild browns.

I also caught several brookies out of this trib but with the rain I  didn't take the camera out. I like to have digital proof of my catches when I'm exploring, but not at the risk of my camera.
After fishing the first trib for a short distance, I headed back down to the mouth for the hike upstream to the two tribs that make up the Williams proper.
It had been raining all  night and all morning, so by the time I made it to the junction the two tribs were chocolate milk!
You can see the current from the second trib coming in on the right - the beginning of the Williams River.
I was surprised that the upper Williams, and the two headwater tribs were meadow streams - I didn't imagine that when I planned this trip.
I did fish up the trib to the right (stream #13) but it was no use fishing in the heavily stained water, I will be back when conditions are better.
After a wet hike out, it was back downstream for lunch. The rain held up long enough for lunch, the it was back on to stay. Another freeze-dried dinner but this evening I would have company with a friend from Morgantown who was also in camp for the Bucket Brigade. I stayed up past sunset this day but it was another early the rain again!
I had a couple of streams downstream on my list for this day. I made the short drive downstream and the ran seemed to let off - until I parked. When I grabbed my rod, I also had to grab my rain jacket again.
I had to wade across the main Williams to get to the first trib, but it was worth it. This trib (stream #14) would be the most beautiful of the trip - even in the rain. It was very high gradient and lined with rhododendron.
It also contained brookies! You can tell by the darkness of the photo how dark it was on this stream, between the dark skies and the heavy rhododendron, it felt like I was fishing at twilight.
There were a couple of nicer brookies landed in the plunge pools.
I had to leave the stream a couple of times to navigate upstream. When I had to make a decision at another impassable section, I decided to call it quits on this stream.
From here I drove further downstream with two more tribs on my list. By the time I reached my next destination it was raining much harder, but I was here to fish.
I wandered through the woods trying to find a trail while navigating with my GPS in the driving rain, when I glanced down and saw the screen fading on my GPS, I decided I had had enough. There will be other times to explore and I had to protect my gear - I never leave the vehicle without my GPS and the accompanying SPOT emergency satellite communicator.
I drove back to camp, grabbed some clothing and headed into town for a (dry) motel. First stop though was the local grocery store for a bag of white rice to dry my GPS unit.
I met up with some good friends at the hotel and it was nice to sleep without the sound of rain on the tent.
The next morning it was back to the campground to break camp for the end of my adventure. It started raining again as I started breaking down my tent - quite fitting for the final leg of my West Virginia Trout Bummin Adventure.
The rains did stop in time for the annual Bucket Brigade, which was another successful year. We had over 100 volunteers, more than half were Walmart employees. We moved another 6-7 tons of limestone sand into the headwaters of the Middle Fork of the Williams. I didn't stick around long enough for a group photo, I had to be back in town to pick somebody up at the airport...but as I drove down the road I mentally summarized my adventure.
Five watersheds, 14 streams, brook trout in 11 streams (10 new), rainbows in four streams (all new), and brown trout in two streams (both new). That's quite an adventure!

West Virginia Trout Bummin - Back to the Beginning

I had planned to hit a few more tribs while using Spruce as a base camp, but with the water/fuel issue, I had to change my plans.

A short distance below Spruce is where the remediation work begins. There was quite a bit of heavy work completed in the main stem but a couple of the tribs had some heavy work done too. This was quite an impressive fish ladder and a fish-friendly culvert.

The next stream on my agenda (stream #6) was approximately two mile below Spruce. I stashed my backpack and went in search of the mouth of this trib. It was not easy to find - the stream didn't register on my GPS so I had to follow the topo lines to find it.

I found the mouth and shortly thereafter I had added another brookie trib to the trip.

The brookies would eventually get bigger, but not much. Maybe the bigger brookies were in the main stem??
I didn't catch any brookies of size but I did land another wild rainbow.
I fished a little further upstream than I had planned - after the little rainbow, I was hoping for another WV slam in this stream. I didn't land a brown but I did land the biggest brookie from this beautiful little tributary.
Once back on the tracks with my pack strapped on, I passed several man-made structures that will hopefully enhance the main stem fishery.
Just above this structure, I saw "people" for the first time in a couple of days. With the work done on the stream, the WVU fishery students were doing an electro-shocking survey. This section of the watershed has probably had the most data collected than any other trout stream in the state.
With the thought that this watershed is only going to improve, what a feeling that is! A main stem that could potentially be a thermal refuge when the tribs start to dry up, that would be a huge improvement.
So, on to my adventure...the next trib (stream #7) holds a special place in my heart. This is where my obsession with brook trout started. I caught my first native West Virginia brook trout in this trib in 1999.
On that day, my partner and I easily landed triple digits between us! We returned four years later and found 4-wheeler tracks everywhere and a significant reduction in numbers. However, my partner did land a very nice little fat brown trout.
What would it be like now?
I stored my pack again and headed upstream from the mouth. Again, it didn't take long to get into the healthy brookies.
This is the largest of the tribs (stream #7) I would fish on this adventure and the average fish is larger too.
 I did recall a certain "bend hole" and anticipated reaching it. When I found that hole, it was just as I had remembered it in my head. I made a few good drifts through the tail of the hole, with nothing to show.
When I made a good drift through the head of the hole, I landed another nice fish. This guy bull-dogged me so I knew it wasn't a brookie. When I got him to hand, I was very happy to see a beautiful wild rainbow.
I fished a short distance upstream from the bend hole, when I ran out of water in my hydration bladder, I turned back. By this time it was approaching mid-day and I didn't want to be a couple of miles from fresh water in the heat.
I made it back to my backpack and followed the main stem a short distance back to the tracks. This was the first structure I saw when I hiked in two days earlier and it would be the last one I saw as I hiked out. It also meant I was only two miles from the vehicle and fresh water.
 I made it back to the vehicle but I was spitting dust by the time I made it. A fresh bottle of water hit the spot!
I had a couple more tribs on my list for this watershed so I set up camp for the night within sight of the vehicle. I would be "car camping" for the remainder of my trout bummin adventure.
I set up camp with this trib (stream #8) between the tent and the car....let's see what's in this trib. The first little pocket produced this little guy.
In a little larger pool, that appeared to be the stream crossing, and directly below my vehicle, I landed the largest brookie of the trip - with an opening in the canopy and the sun high overhead.
 I landed a few more brookies in this low gradient trib but they all appeared healthy. This stream will only get better as there was a massive amount of work put in where it goes under the railroad tracks. They had build an incredible fish-friendly culvert, which will reconnect this population back to the rest of the watershed.
Day 2 summary: brook trout in 3 streams (2 new) and wild rainbows in 2 new streams.
I had another freeze-dried dinner, another early evening and another early morning. The difference in this night was NO RAIN and I would find out later this would be the only night of the adventure with no rain.
I was up early, packed up camp, had my coffee and Clif bar, then headed back out the 11-mile road to hard top.
On the way out, I stopped at two culverts to explore two more tribs. Just as nearly all of the tribs had done so far, the first trib (stream #9) produced brookies in short order.
Although I was glad to see brookies in another trib, I never like to see brookie "snakes". It's never good to see a brookie with a disproportionately-sized head. 
I only fished the first trib a very short distance before heading back to the car and the second trib (stream #10) of the day. This trib was tannin-stained and higher gradient than any I had fished so far but it also produced brookies in short order.

I landed a couple of brookies before I came to what appeared to be an impenetrable wall of cascades and rhododendron.  missed a brookie in the pool but I did not miss the opportunity for a nice photo opportunity.
 From this stream, I would hit the asphalt and head for a USFS campground in preparation for the annual Bucket Brigade on the Middle Fork of the Williams River - an annual outing for me.
It was a great adventure for me on this watershed! I caught brookies in seven new streams, rainbows in three new, and I visited the stream where this personal obsession started 14 years earlier...what an adventure!

West Virginia Trout Bummin - The Town of Spruce

This trip has been on my West Virginia bucket list for quite some time. This week was initially planned to take place in the Smokies, but when that fell through, I was searching for plan B.

A few years ago I saw a report that mentioned this section of water was one of only a few in the state that has reproducing populations of all three species (brooks, browns, and rainbows).

Then, two months before this trip we had a presentation at a monthly TU chapter meeting that showed quite a bit of remediation work being done in the area. That sealed the deal! I was headed to Spruce.

The week started off with a WVCTU State Council meeting and as soon as the motion to adjourn was agreed upon, I was headed for Spruce. This solo trip mas made up of a drive to the top of Cheat Mountain and out an 11-mile (dead end) dirt road, then I backpacked six miles up the railroad tracks to my destination.

Here is a link with more information on this abandoned logging community: SPRUCE

The tourist train makes occasional stops at this location, beyond the rail station I didn't know what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised to see these markers throughout the area.

This is where I chose to set up camp for the (planned) three day adventure, along the Shavers Fork of the Cheat at the end of the concrete slab that was once the rail car repair shop.

I set up camp, went to the stream to pump water for my dehydrated dinner, and that's where the adventure took a negative turn. My water filter had apparently lost a seal that allowed it to pull vacuum - no filtered water! I would have to boil all of my water and I had only packed in two fuel canisters. This was going to cut y pack trip short but I would make the best of it. It was an early evening with anticipation of a smorgasbord of wild trout to come the following day.

I woke up sometime during the night to a heavy rain pounding on the tent. The rain didn't last long but I wondered what it would do to the streams.

As is usual when I'm in a tent, when the sun is up, I'm up. I had my cup of coffee and Clif bar, while boiling water for my hydration pack. I was burning a lot of fuel!

Regardless, I packed up and headed upstream about a mile to the first tributary on my list - I had several tribs on the agenda.

The water was slightly off-color from the rain but it didn't take me long to land my first brookie.

I didn't know what this stream had in store for me as I started picking up a few more small brookies.
There was definitely a good brook trout population and I wasn't too surprised when I landed this little guy. I thought, at first, it was a lightly-colored brookie but when I got it to hand I realized it was a small wild brown trout.
I caught a few decent-sized brookies as I fished further upstream. This guy would be my largest brookie from trib #1.
As I pushed upstream, I came to the largest and deepest pool in this small trib and it was still stained from the rain. I made a long cast to the head and on the first drift, I hooked this next fish. I knew this wasn't a brookie as it bull-dogged and held to the bottom.
When I finally got it to hand, I had completed my slam on the very first trib of the trip - and my first slam on any stream in West Virginia!
With several other streams to explore, when I completed the slam, I headed to the next stream on my list. My next stream would be in an entirely different watershed. I crossed the low gap at the railroad switch on Cass Scenic Railroad. Down the tracks is Whitaker Station, up the tracks is Bald Knob, and the spur takes you back to Spruce.
I crossed the tacks and bushwhacked into a tributary of the Greenbrier River drainage. I was on the extreme headwaters of Leatherbark Run, which empties into the Greenbrier River at the Cass rail yard.
It was a beautiful, high-gradient section of water but I struck out on trib #2.
I returned to camp for lunch. While I was taking a break, I did a little exploration of Spruce. This is the site of the old mill, with the abutments still standing.
Of course I didn't explore the old town without my fly rod and I landed this wild rainbow while drifting a nymph against the old mill abutments.
Near the mill were the remnants of the sand and water towers for the Shay locomotions - which are still in operation today.
I dropped back into the stream and fished the short distance back to camp. I landed this little guy in the main stem (stream #3) right below my tent. Species number two in the town of Spruce.
 The main stem had some unique in-stream structure in remnants from times gone by.
 After lunch I headed up another section of rail, into my third watershed of the day. It was a short, two mile hike up the tracks, through the Big Notch, into the Tygart Valley watershed.
As was my adventure in Leatherbark, I struck out in the extreme headwaters of the Tygart Valley River (stream #4). It was, however, nice to see the origins of the stream that I have followed many times on my adventures in The Mon.
When I got back to camp, I boiled more water for another freeze-dried dinner. I had used up one of the two fuel canisters. Then after dinner, I hit another trib, that dumps in right above Spruce.
I fished a very short distance (stream #5)but landed a few of these little gems.
The summary for day 1: 5 streams in 3 different watersheds, brookies in 3 new streams and my first WV Slam.
It was another early evening, another night with rain, and another morning up with the sun.With only one fuel canister remaining, I made the decision to pack up camp. I hated to leave this location but when I'm solo I always err on the safe side.
You can see why I hated to leave. With the early morning mist hanging low in the valley, it was beautiful.
 With those final few photos, I said goodbye to the town of Spruce. I had checked off a few more streams on my personal list and added another bucket list adventure to my list...but I will be back!