Friday, May 29, 2015

The Great Smoky Mountians

After a couple hours in White Oak Canyon in the Shenandoahs, I headed toward the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and Cosby Campground.  I arrived at the campground with just enough time to set up camp and making some dinner before dark.  Plans had been made to meet David Knapp of The Trout Zone the following morning and fish together for the day.

After a quiet night at the campground, David and I met and discussed a plan for the day.  David had wanted to explore some water he had not fished yet and that was fine by me.  He drove us to the trail head and we had some great conversation getting to know each other.  One of the really fun things about this trip was meeting people who also share a love for fishing small streams.

We hiked along the trail passing a settler's cabin built around 1889.  After a what seemed like a quick hike, the trail headed along a ridge of Pine, White Oak and Rhododendron where we could hear the rush of water. We looked for a deer trail that we could drop down through the forest.  As we crossed the forest, David thought he spotted some wild boar sign and he explained how they were originally introduced into the Smokies.

An settlers cabin

David recommended that I bring my 8'6'" 4wt.  I usually fish a much shorter rod on small streams in New England and I was wondering if the longer rod was going to be cumbersome in the tight under growth.  When we we arrived at the stream, I could see why he recommended the longer stick. Onstream the forest was relatively open and the longer rod was an advantage in reaching all the water in the larger plunge pools without spooking the fish.  It was also clear that  wet wading was going to be the only effective way of navigating this tumbling mountain stream as the surrounding forest was thick with Rhododendron and nearly impassible.  I swapped my usual hiking boots for some Korker boxcars with felt soles that I had in my pack and I was back in business.  The stream was a stunning example of a high gradient Smoky Mountain stream with huge moss covered boulders full of plunges and large pools.  We had no trouble finding gorgeous brook trout from mid pool to the tail out but these fish were lighting quick to take and release the fly.  I had countless number of brief hookups and a fair number of fish brought to hand.  All the fish were caught on the same nondescript bead head green caddis pupa that had worked so well in the Shenandoahs.

A beautiful Smoky Mountain brook trout, photo courtesy of David Knapp
Notice the size of the old tree on the left, about 4ft in diameter

Fishing under the Rhododedron

Me fishing a nice little riffle; Photo courtesy of David Knapp

A typical Smokey Plunge/Pool; photo courtesy of David Knapp

David keeping a low profile

David with another Smokey "speck"

I could have fished that stream all day but David wanted to give me a taste of some larger water in the area so we hiked out of the ravine and back onto the trail and back to the car.  David drove to another location across a small gravel road that followed the twisting and curving contour of the mountains.  It was an amazing ride and I am only sorry that I didn't take any pictures of this mountain road.  Driving this road you need to be alert because one misstep would send you and your vehicle down the steep mountain in a hurry.  I can only imagine trying to traverse that road in bad weather!

Some larger water

A feisty wild rainbow
 The second river we fished had lots of inviting pocket water.  I fished an Ausable Bomber just for fun with the green caddis pupa trailed off the back.  I had one anxious rainbow attack the bomber but the rest of the rainbows were only interested in the caddis pupa.  David managed to fool a mix of wild browns and rainbows.

Photo courtesy of David Knapp

Photo courtesy of David Knapp 

We finished the day fishing some water close to the campground that held some very feisty wild rainbows as well.  After a long day, David and I said our goodbyes and I headed back to camp to make some dinner.

The water around camp

One strong little rainbow to end the day

After diner I introduced myself to another camper who had a TU sticker on the back of his car.  We had some great conversation around his campfire (thanks for the invitation, Matt!).  He also was in the park to fish.  I gave him a few "northern" flies and one of my small stream braided leaders since his were too long for the rod he was using.  The next morning we fished the water around camp for a couple hours before I had to say goodbye and head on to Memphis to meet the rest of the family for graduation.

The last rainbow of a wonderful trip

This was an amazing trip and was better than I could have imagined.  I don't know if I will have this opportunity again to camp and fish in southern Appalachia but I was very thankful for the opportunity to explore more of God's wonderfully diverse creation and meet some great people.  I am especially thankful for safe driving from CT to Memphis by myself.  I did see a fair number of wrecks along the way and an intense truck fire, I sure pray there were no serious injuries.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Shenandoah - Rose River

My first look at the Rose River
After a good night's rest, day 2 was another bright clear day in the Park.  I had planned to hike and fish the Rose River down to where the Hogcamp Branch joins the Rose and then work my way up the Hogcamp Branch.  Shortly after heading down the trail into the gorge I spotted a bobcat on the trail.  It didn't appear to be to interested in me but I waited and watched.  After a few moments, I headed down the trail and saw it again.  This time my camera was ready but it moved away down the trail before I was able to frame a decent picture and that was the last I saw of it.

As I continued down the trail, I could hear the rush of water. The Rose River gorge was an amazingly rugged gorge with large boulders, rock walls, and lots of blow downs.  Since I was alone, I was very cautious and avoided some areas that I would typically explore.

I started out with the Royal Wulff dry but after a couple of promising looking pools did not produce any action, I switched to an adams parachute and had my first Rose River brook.  As I continued down the gorge I noticed that the plunge pools were quite deep and decided that adding a dropper to the Adams would be a good idea.  As it turned out, all the fish from that point on took the dropper, a nondescript green bead head caddis puppa.

The brook trout from the Rose River were just as beautiful and the surrounding gorge and forest. This was rugged country indeed.  The brook trout were quick to take and then spit the caddis puppa, so I needed to alert and quick.

A typical plunge pool on the Rose

Another gorgeous Rose River brook
As the River descended deeper into the gorge my interest turned to photography of some of the amazingly rugged country I was traveling through.  I eventually reached the Rose River falls, a massive series of cascades over 70 ft tall.

As the Rose and Hogcamp Branch came together I began to fish up the Hogcamp Branch, also a series of deep plunge pools and caught more brook trout than I could keep track of,

Hogcamp Branch Falls
A showy orchid along the trail
A Hogcamp Branch brook trout
A plunge pool on the Hogcamp Branch
I ended the wonderful day up on the Drive watching the deer in a large meadow as the sun set over the mountains

My third day in the park was a travel day so I only had a couple of hours to explore.  I fished the White Oak Canyon on the eastern border of the park before heading toward the Smokies.  I was able to connect with three brooks in the pocket water but all three decided they wanted to have nothing to do with my camera.  

Friday, May 22, 2015

Southern Appalachian Adventure - Day 1

Star Chickweed along the trail
I just got back from a rode trip thorough southern Appalachian.  I spent two nights camping two nights in the Shenandoah National Forest and then two nights in the Great Smoky Mountain National Forest on my way to Memphis TN for my daughter's college graduation.

We have driven this route before and I've always wanted to stop and explore but time and schedule did not allow so on this final trip I had planned to take it slow and enjoy the journey.

After arriving in Shenandoah National Forest around mid day, I set up camp and then drove to Milam Gap to hike into Rapidan Camp, a summer camp established by President Hoover 1929-1932.  I really wanted to see the historical camp that was built where the Mill Prong and Laurel Prong join to form the Rapidan River.  My plan was to hike down the Mill Prong trail and fish down to the camp and explore up the Laurel Prong and possibly some of the Rapidan.   Many wildflowers were blooming along the trail and some of the hikers were there just to see the wildflowers.  White and pink trilium, stitchwort, bluets, violets, and mountain laurel were all in bloom.  The Mill Prong was an endless series of plunges and small pools flowing over large moss covered rocks.  

At times, the banks were difficult to navigate due to the thick mountain laurel. All along all three rivers the brook trout were quite stunning with bright orange bellies.  I fished a parachute adams at first but switched to a royal wulff since it was easier to see and the fish didn't seem to care.  Most of the fish were holding in the riffles just below the plunges.  Interestingly this would be the only day the dry fly attracted considerable interest.  As the Mill Prong flowed deeper into the gap toward the Rapidan, the boulders became larger and the plunge pools deeper. 

Large boulders typical of Shenandoah rivers

Larger falls on the Mill Prong

After a brief break on the porch of the camp, which I had largely to myself, I headed over to the Laurel Prong and caught another beautiful brook trout from a productive looking plunge pool. 

A plunge pool on the Laurel Prong

I was able to work my way through the thick mountain laurel down to the Rapidan River and managed to land perhaps the best and strongest fish of the day.

A Rapidan brook trout

After catching trout from each of the three rivers, I decided to put the rod away and hike back to the car and enjoy the coming sunset over the Shenandoah Valley.

A Shenandoah sunset from Tanner's Ridge

Friday, May 8, 2015

Hendricksons 2015

I've been traveling a bit for work these past few days but I did manage to "guard" a day on my calendar for a little personal retreat. I had wanted to see if I could find some fish taking hendricksons, the first big mayfly of the season.

Dutchmen's breeches blooming along the river

Plans were made to meet Jon and Todd in the morning with the intention of moving around a bit before the expected hatch around 2pm.  We couldn't have asked for better weather with the day starting out overcast and then turning partly cloudy with not too much wind and pleasant temperatures.

At our first stop, Jon started fishing a nice riffle/run while Todd and I chatted.  I went upstream to familiar spot while they worked the water downstream.  It wasn't long before I was into a nice strong rainbow Euro nymphing with a heavy caddis larva and a bead head pheasant tail soft hackle.  After the first fish, I called Todd and Jon and told them to join me as I thought the spot was going to be very productive.  Fortunately for all of us it was.  Everyone managed a few rainbows but no browns were in the mix.   Jon even gave Euro nymphing a try with my setup after a fair bit of persuasion on my part and was able to connect as well.

the first chucky rainbow of the day

After looking at the watches, we decided we should move upriver.  I hit another little favorite spot and picked up one brown on the dropper while Todd and Jon moved up, picking up a nice fat rainbow along the way.

We settled in to nice riffle/run/pool combination a decided to hold there for a possible hatch.  Todd and I nymphed the faster water at the head and found a nice mix of browns and rainbows mostly on the pheasant tail.  It was fun to hook some nice browns in the heavier water and watch their powerful runs despite the strong current.  We lost count of how many fish we tangled with while we were waiting for the hatch.  We were joined by Peter, a friend of Jon and Todd's, and he too tangled with a few nymphing this productive section of river.  Unfortunately the hatch came off but the fish largely ignored the bugs.  I did have one look at a Hendrickson dry before being fouled hooked on the wet fly I was trailing.  I don't know if I missed the fish on the dry and then the wet fly fouled hooked him in the flank or whether I pricked him as he turned away from the wet.  No complaints but I really wanted to take a fish or two on the dry so Peter and I headed upriver again hoping to find a spinner fall.  I stopped to nymph another run off the beaten path and landed another strong brown before we settled in for a potential spinner fall.

A sunny spring afternoon along the river

A late afternoon brown

Around 7:30 the spinner fall came and lasted for about 30 minutes.  It was not a strong fall but I did manage 4 browns on a #12 egg laying parachute before things went quite just before dark.  It was a long day out on the water but a blast all the same.  Pleasant spring weather, good company, new friends, lots of action for everybody, and a few on dries...Priceless!

spinner time!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

May wildflowers

A woodlawn brook in the early morning sun
I was up and out early this cool quite spring morning.  The woods were still but alive with the first blooms of wildflowers this spring. The early morning sun provided a soft light over wood anemone, dwarf ginseng, marsh marigold and fiddle head ferns were beginning to unfurl their hairy heads.  I spent most of the early morning just taking pictures and enjoying the quite of the woods.

This morning the Royal Wulff was mostly ignored probably because the brook was a bit low and very clear.  I did see a good number of dark shadows darting for cover as I walked along.

dwarf ginseng

Fiddlehead fern, wood anemone, and some ginseng
A more subtle fly was the better choice on a day like this so I switched to a #16 parachute Adams which I kept on most of the morning except for those times I just wanted to experiment.

As the morning air warmed the interest in the Adams picked up.  Near the end of the morning I hooked and lost three nice brooks all within a foot or two of each other.  Not wanting to end the day on that note I did manage to drift the Adams past a nice undercut and out charged the last brook trout of the day to intercept the Adams.

marsh marigold