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Old Mountains, Old Bones, Old Trees, and Old Flies

Started by Yallerhammer, July 31, 2021, 17:10:27 PM

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Yallerhammer

I'm not as young as I used to be. This becomes more evident every day. But, I tell myself, it sure beats the alternative.

Got up yesterday morning, and decided to go fishing. I loaded my stuff in the truck, and it started pouring rain. Years ago, I would have headed out anyway. Old me said, "I don't think so." I hung around awhile until the radar showed the front starting to clear out, then hit the road, making a detour by Bojangles for a sack of biscuits.

This time of year with the heat, the higher the better. So I decided on one of my favorite little nondescript streams way, way back in the Smokies. One of those that holds good fish, but doesn't look like much on the lower end, so doesn't get fished much at all compared to some of the better-known streams nearby. It's a pretty good drive, but with beautiful scenery along the way. And intriguing place names that take me back to the deep history of these old mountains. Big Witch, or Tskil-e-gwa, was an ancient Cherokee who lived near here in the late 1700s-1800s, and seems to have had quite an interesting reputation:

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I'm headed back into the folds of those far, misty mountains:

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I arrived at the trailhead about noon, and started walking up the trail that was converted from an old narrow-gauge logging railroad. A century ago during WW1 and the era of mostly wooden airplanes, old-growth spruce wood was in great demand for the war effort. Virgin red spruce is some of the strongest wood on the planet for its weight, and the higher elevations of the southern Appalachians held the biggest known stands of it. So, the railroads snaked back into the boreal zones of the mountains to haul out the logs that would be made into fighter planes that our young American men would fly over the mountains of Europe and rain down death from the skies on the Central Powers to secure victory for the Allies. Nobody asked the old spruce trees about it. They had already spent a few centuries watching Cherokee, Shawnee, and Seneca war parties slip beneath them along the network of old war trails that snaked down the highest ridges of the southern mountains, but now they were personally involved in the violent affairs of men.

After a little over a half a mile, the trail approaches the creek. Not much to look at here, just a small creek flowing down a fairly flat gradient:

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But a half-mile further, and it turns straight up and develops into a foaming, roaring torrent of falls and cascades interspersed with deep plunge pools:

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I rig my rod and head up the gorge, following the water upward, toward its origins among the spruces, the firs, and the sky.

to be continued....​

Women want me, doughbellies fear me.<br /><br />Little Debbie Prostaff

Yallerhammer

It is noticeably cooler in this gorge, probably ten degrees cooler than on the trail heading in. But still, after a while of constant climbing over huge boulders, logjams, and waterfalls, I am soaked from head to toe with sweat from the deep humidity. The Smokies are soggy. There are generally no dry surfaces, especially this near a foaming stream. Rocks and logs and tree trunks are covered with deep mats of moss and ferns.

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Giant Turk's-cap lilies taller than me, and crimson bee balm peek from the shadows:

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Everywhere is the feel of water vapor, and the smell and taste of chlorophyll. This is a world of deep, breathing green. The business of all this vegetation is digesting sunlight and CO2 to produce carbon and sugar, and spitting out oxygen and water vapor. And business is good.

It's steep. And slick. In a little over a mile, I gain over a thousand feet of elevation. It feels like much more. The constant strenuous climbing, climbing reminds me of my age and declining physical stamina. But, I don't know anywhere else I would rather be right now. There is no one else here, and time disappears as I fish.

On this type of stream in this area, I like to fish old, traditional mountain patterns that I tie. If for no other reason, just for my own satisfaction of connecting to the past and the old guys who I learned from, and also, because they always work. They didn't become traditional patterns by not catching fish.

I started out with a Royal Jim Charley, an old pattern that originated in my county. It draws more slaps than takes today, and the takes are mostly from small fish, including this diminutive brown that has to rank as one of the smallest trout I've ever caught:

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After seeing a big pale yellow mayfly dun skeet past my head, I tie on a yellow Haystack, an old hackle-less pattern that dates back to the 40s and is the ancestor of today's comparaduns and sparkle duns. Just some yellow dubbing and deer hair, but it's what the fish are wanting. Rainbows start coming to hand regularly, including some pretty good ones.

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I fish on up the creek, climbing boulders, enjoying the scenery and solitude, and catching fish from most good holes- along with losing one here and there, and breaking off a really nice fish with a startled too-hard hookset.

Then I came to this hole. It was narrow, but probably over head deep in the slot along the boulder in the foreground. I had a feeling for some reason, so I stopped short and re-dressed my fly with floatant, and took my time looking and figuring out a strategy for fishing it.

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to be continued....​

Women want me, doughbellies fear me.<br /><br />Little Debbie Prostaff

Yallerhammer

I cast to the head of the pool, dropping my fly into a seam that will let it float the whole way down without dragging. I don't know why I feel that this hole is different from the countless other ones I've fished today, but something inside me tells me to fish it as perfectly as my ability will allow. It seems important, so I listen.

As the fly floats over the slot beside the big rock, I see movement deep in the pool. More movement than I would normally expect in a little jump-across creek this size. My heart rate speeds up. Could it be that I actually saw what I thought I did?

I take a minute, and wait. Then, I carefully flick the fly back into the same seam. It floats down, and yes, there is definitely movement this time. A disproportionately large head comes out of the water, then disappears along with my fly. I set the hook, and the rod bends deeply. 15" of fat rainbow trout launches out of the water like a Polaris missle launched from a submarine, writhing in midair seemingly in slow motion, flinging water droplets that arc and sparkle in the beam of sunlight shining down through the canopy. The next second, it is burrowing at the bottom of the deep pool, shaking its head and trying to dislodge the stinging thing in its mouth. The next second, it is over the small falls at the tail of the pool, and headed downstream. I give it the reel, and it takes line as it streaks through three more pools and small sets of falls. Finally, I drop the rod horizontally, and apply side pressure to it. I start to regain line. When there is only a rod length of line out, I reach back for my net, raise the rod, and soon, it's in the bag of the net. One of the biggest small-stream wild rainbows I've ever caught in the Park on a dry fly.

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I admire the fish, and marvel at how it reached this size in this trickle. Most trout here live an average of two or three years at the most. This one is an old matriarch. Behind its gill plate is a healing wound, perhaps from an otter or heron. Life isn't easy in a torrent of icy falling water.

After that, I fished on half-heartedly for a little ways, then stopped at the bottom of a beautiful pool fed by a small set of falls. Light and shadows played on the water, and the water seemed to whisper and speak to me as it gushed and gurgled. I sat down on a boulder, fascinated by the beauty of the scene. I sat there for a long while. I suddenly noticed that the light and shadows had lengthened and slanted. Much time had evaporated, and I realized that I was done for the day; and that I was physically slap worn out, sore, and weary. But, also spiritually and emotionally refreshed in the way that only a wild mountain stream and wild trout can nourish my soul. I hooked the fly back into the keeper. I didn't even make a cast into this beautiful pool. To do so would somehow have not been right at the moment. Ahead of me was a steep climb out to the trail, a long walk back down the mountain to my truck, and a long drive home once I reached it. But I still sat there a good while longer, just watching the play of the light, and listening to the voices in the water.

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Fin.​

Women want me, doughbellies fear me.<br /><br />Little Debbie Prostaff

Dougfish

"Why don't you knock it off with them negative waves? Why don't you dig how beautiful it is out here? Why don't you say something righteous and hopeful for a change? " -Oddball, 1970

"I don't wanna go to hell,
But if I do,
It'll be 'cause of you..."
Strange Desire, The Black Keys, 2006

greg

Looks like a great day. That is one more nice rainbow.


Woolly Bugger

Sweet, next upgrade should fix the photos  d:b

ex - I'm not going to live with you through one more fishing season!

me -There's a season?

Pastor explains icons to my son: you know like the fish symbol on the back of cars.

My son: My dad has two fish on his car and they're both trout!

Yallerhammer

Quote from: greg on July 31, 2021, 20:50:58 PM

Looks like a great day. That is one more nice rainbow.

If I caught it at lower elevation from a big creek, I wouldn't think much about it except that it was a nice fish, but up there, it was an anomaly for sure.

Women want me, doughbellies fear me.<br /><br />Little Debbie Prostaff

Stone-Man

Helluva trip.  It makes my knees hurt just looking at it!!!    Damn good bunch of fish and that big bow is one helluva good creek fish,

Thanks for taking us along

JT


Phil


greg



Trout Maharishi

Them fish were dying of old age :laugh:  I hope you fried a few :cheers That's a really nice bow, that age class and size is rare in the park for bows.

There's more B.S. in fly fishing than there is in a Kansas feedlot.

Lefty Kreh

troutboy_II

Quote from: Stone-Man on August 01, 2021, 12:01:09 PM

Helluva trip.  It makes my knees hurt just looking at it!!!    Damn good bunch of fish and that big bow is one helluva good creek fish,

Thanks for taking us along

JT

What he said!  Thanks!

TB


creekfreak

Always appreciate your reports Yaller. You have a knack for transporting me into them woods... even if it's just for a moment. Looking forward to hitting the Smith this week as I trek to VA. 

Guinness! Good God!

Yallerhammer

Quote from: Trout Maharishi on August 01, 2021, 19:47:00 PM

Them fish were dying of old age :laugh:  I hope you fried a few :cheers That's a really nice bow, that age class and size is rare in the park for bows.

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Women want me, doughbellies fear me.<br /><br />Little Debbie Prostaff


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