Friday, January 2, 2015

Spruce, WV - 2014

My backpacking trip last year to the old logging community of Spruce got quite a bit of attention from my facebook and TU friends. I did a presentation on the trip at a local TU meeting and made an open invitation for a return visit this year.

I got one taker, a friend I had fished with on a couple of other occasions and one that wanted to learn a little more about backpacking. We made plans to head in after the Middle Fork of the Williams Bucket Brigade, with plans to stay 3-4 days.

As always,  we had a good turnout for the 7th Annual Bucket Brigade.

On the other side of the attention scale, I received several messages from the "softees" who wanted to know if you could drive to Spruce. I'm sorry (soapbox time) but if I put in the time and effort to explore these places (off the beaten path) don't insult me by asking if you "can drive to Spruce"!

OK, rant over, time to get back to Spruce...

We got a late start on the day, but the only real day 1 activity was to get camp established. We made it to the same spot I set up camp in 2013 and found the campsite empty. As we started to get camp set up, I noticed a couple of visitors crest the railroad tracks just upstream. I thought to myself: "no big deal, we can share this large area with a couple of other outdoor they didn't appear to have fishing gear".

As I continued to pitch my tent, I noticed a couple additional people crest the tracks...than a couple more and a couple more...When they finally all arrived in Spruce, there was nearly 30 people with packs strapped to their back - not good! A couple of them actually started to set up camp right beside us!

They have as much right to this lovely place as I do, so I said nothing. Luckily the leaders, and obviously more experienced coordinators, asked everybody to give us our space and everybody happily obliged.

After getting camp set up, we spoke with the coordinators for a few minutes. They were from Washington DC and many of the folks were making their first visit to West Virginia. They said it started out as just a couple of friends, then those friends invited a couple of friends, those friends invited a couple of friends, and eventually you end of up with a group of 30+ people.

They gave us plenty of space and I was amazed how quiet a group that size could be. Eventually, we got our lines in the water with the backdrop of "tent city".

It turned out to be a very nice evening and we had a noticeable hatch of some type of sulfurs and even some coffin flies floating around. I quickly picked up my first brookie in a riffle below one of the old mill abutments.

We fished our way upstream past camp until we got to a large, lazy pool under the trestle. I climbed up the bank to simply take in the views. Shortly after, my partner yelled for help...I wasn't sure if he had gotten hurt or caught the "big one". It didn't take long to figure out what his problem was as his rod had a nice bend to it.

I watched him follow this fish up and downstream, under the trestle, all the while not making much headway in landing it. When it finally rolled so that I could see the size, I was simply amazed! I knew there had to be some big fishing hiding up under the remnants of all of these concrete abutments.

She didn't look like she had been eating well but she definitely had the length. My partner couldn't tell how big she was until the line went tight because she simply "sipped" the coffin fly he had tossed to the head of the bridge abutment.

What a way to start this adventure!

That was also a nice fish to call it a day on. We headed back to the campsite, had dinner, and were in our tents early. It had been a long day for both us and we big plans for the next few days as it would be all new water for my fellow explorer.

As usual, I'm up when it starts getting light out. Early morning is my favorite time of day! I love the rainbow of colors in the sky and the reflections on the calm water.

After enjoying the sunrise over Back Mountain, it was time for a cup of coffee and a Clif bar before meeting another friend on the stream I had landed "the slam" on the previous year. Our partner on this small trib is the head of the WV DNR Limsetone Fines Program and coordinator of the Middle Fork Bucket Brigade.

He had made the short trek to try his luck at landing all three species in one stream.

I didn't take many photos and all we landed were brookies - not that I'm complaining. All three of us landed good numbers and a few better than average-sized brookies. I think the only photo I took on the stream this morning was of this blood-red trickle that dumped into the main trib.

We fished much further up the tributary than I had the previous year and we decided to call it a day around lunch time. Our partner on the stream had a family commitment but it is always nice to spend some time on the water with him - no matter how brief.

When we returned for lunch, Spruce was empty. All of the tents were gone, the camp fires buried and, other than matted down grass from the tents, you couldn't tell anyone had been there. This was a fine example of "leave no trace"!

After lunch, my remaining partner and I decided to explorer the main stem above the trestle and below the trib we had fished in the AM. This is slow water and the temperatures felt like borderline trout water as we wet-waded upstream. Again, I didn't take any photos but between the two of us, we landed all three species - however, I don't recall who landed what.

Once again, we returned to camp, and had dinner as the sun was setting at the end of another great day in Spruce.

Day 3 started just as day 2 had, watching the sun come up over Back Mountain and watching the spectrum of colors in the early morning sky.

The plan for day 3 was to push further up the main stem to the final trib I had remaining to explore. This last trib would nearly complete my exploration of the tributaries from Rt.250 to Snowshoe Resort. I would have one unnamed trib above Spruce remaining and one more just upstream of Rt. 250.

In this section the main steam actually returns to the resemblance of a trout stream and the fish were there to prove it. It was the most beautiful section of water I had fished in that area.

After landing a nice, wild brown under a log jam in the early morning, my partner was able to complete his slam in this section of water. It is also nice to see remnants of days gone past. I know it makes me wonder what life in this area must have been like 100 years ago. I'm guessing it wasn't very easy.

Ultimately, this was not our destination for the day. We had set out to explore a small trib that drains the Silver Creek ski resort. It didn't take long to verify the existence of brookies...

We had been going hart at it for a couple of days and after we had both landed brookies from this small trib, it was time for an on stream lunch break and a quick nap (for my fishing partner).

After a quick nap, we fished up this little trib until we crossed one of the resort hiking trail...exit stage right. We had a 2-3 mile hike back to camp and the mid-day was starting to get very warm. When we finally made it back to camp, we attempted to take a siesta but it was just too hot in the tents.

I made a recommendation to explore a heavily canopied trib about a mile downstream from Spruce and my partner was all in.

I had not explored this little trib the previous year but I did take note of the new fish ladder that had been installed. I hope it works to reconnect the brookie populations in this upper watershed. it sure looks like it should help.

I quickly landed one little brookie just upstream of the fish ladder and didn't see another until we made our way to this old structure and the pool it created above it.

I've checked all of the topo maps and trail maps I have and none indicate a road or trail this far upstream. I'm sure it's more remnants of the days when Spruce was the highest incorporated town east of the Mississippi, but I can't find anything on this trail/road...and the nice pool did create habitat for a decent/small stream brookie.

We pushed our way upstream to the point the stream was becoming very high gradient and, again, we moved no more fish. Hopefully, the fish ladder will enable movement of the disconnected populations and one day this stream will rebound - assuming acid rain doesn't impair it.

With no prospects of fish and still feeling the heat of the day, we both enjoyed a stream side nap. The dense canopy and the soft bed of pine needles made for a very comfortable nap.

When we finally decided to head out, my partner had decided he had had enough and made the decision to call the trip to an end for him. Once we returned to camp, he packed up and headed out. I spent four days up there solo last year so sticking it out by myself didn't bother me.

I had the entire evening to enjoy a nice, quiet, stream side dinner.

I also took this time to explore the area around the old mill - something I didn't take the time to do last year.

After exploring the old structures for a bit, I grabbed my rod and piddled around the mill abutments in hope of catching an evening hatch of some sort. I didn't catch a hatch but I was treated to one of the most amazing sunsets I have seen in West Virginia. The photos do not do it justice -as if they ever do.

The early morning of day 4 was just like the previous mornings, with the exception this morning would add a small layer of fog over the old town of Spruce. I will never get tired of this view:

I had no plans to fish this day. After a quick breakfast, I grabbed my day pack and my camera and headed up an old Forest Service road to Bald Knob (3rd highest point in West Virginia).

Typically, you take Cass Scenic Railroad to the top of Bald Knob and have to deal with the crowds of people getting in your photos at the overlook. The benefit of an early morning hike was that I had it all to myself! I'm selfish in that way, but look at the benefits:

Looking out over the Greenbrier River valley and the town of Marlinton.

 A nice panorama looking across Green Bank Observatory into Virginia.

In addition to dealing with the crowds when you ride the train to the top, you also don't have time to go to the "true" Bald Knob, which requires about another half-mile hike uphill on a Forest Service road. What you find on the real Bald Knob is an old, abandoned fire tower.

After enjoying the views by myself, it was a nice downhill hike and a pack out. It was a couple of days sooner that planned but I was more than satisfied with my return visit to Spruce. I didn't catch nearly as many fish as the previous year (as evident by the lack of fish photos), but I didn't fish as hard or cover as much ground.

I was able to add two more streams to my personal list, which nearly completes another West Virginia minor watershed for me. I may add this trip to my 2015 plans, it's definitely worth the return visit, but my fishing days are getting fewer and my bucket list is getting longer...something has to give.