Sunday, April 15, 2018

In Search of New Water - North River

I had seen (Mossy Creek Fly Fishing) Colby Trow's presentation on VA flyfishing several times.  Each time I kept notes on streams I hadn't fished and made silent promises that I would explore these little gems.  Yet, I hadn't done anything about my wanderlust... until now.

I planned to start doing shotgun trips up to the mountains - leave Friday after work, camp out, demob., fish Sat. and come home Sat. night to minimize time away from family.  This was the first of (hopefully) many trips.

From the list, I chose the North River for the first new foray.  Colby said the upper section had good brookie water and the special regulation water below the Elkhorn Dam could hold some larger rainbows.

According to plan, I left a few hours early on Friday to avoid at least some of the traffic crossing the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel, and hit the gas after the construction zone on Rt. 64.

I met Neil in Stanton, and we checked out Redbeard Brewing Co for some grub before heading to our campsite.  Their brown ale was decent and the food truck food was good, but overly expensive for the portions (a "truth" for all truck food?).

We wound our way along country roads until the pavement dissolved into dirt track in the George Washington National Forest.  The road was pretty well graded and that's good, because few people, besides us, slowed down from highway speeds!  Making dust clouds is cool I guess!

We had our pick of streamside sites on the dirt road that paralleled the stream above the lake.  Lots of space, big fire rings, and free - you can't beat that!  It was busy for April, but the weather forecast was awesome so that brought a lot of car campers out.

After setting up the tents, we had some daylight left, so we got our gear and checked out the stream section in our backyard.  I caught a nice rainbow in a pool just below the site.  It took a small olive "slumpbuster" streamer and I caught two other fish further downstream in similar pools.  I did see some rises right at dusk, but didn't feel like re-rigging for drys with so little time; besides, I was ahead of the game.

Neil an I talked story for a while and discussed our strategy for the next day, fish and explore basically, and turned in around 10.

We got up the next morning around 6:30, made oatmeal and coffee, and broke camp.  We drove up to the third bridge and Neil fished upstream while I fished down.  Here's a map, but I don't think it shows the bridge crossings properly.  The Lake on the left is Elkhorn, the one on the right is Stanton.

We hopped from pool to pool.  This is what the river looked like....

  I was having pretty good luck with a bead head prince nymph.   My first fish was a dink, but drop dead gorgeous.  I love the little guys with the par marks!
   Caught a few more as I moved downstream...

We rendezvoused at 11:00 to recap our experiences.  Neil had also caught some nice fish on streamers.  We decided to move downstream to the next bridge and this time hopscotch our way upstream to try to avoid water that was around occupied campsites and/or that may have already been worked.  

I caught a few fish before we met up at 12:30 for lunch.  After a brief respite, we decided to drive down to Elkhorn Lake and walk over the dam to the Special Regulation/Delayed Harvest section.  Once at the bottom release pool, our plan was to have me hike to Stanton Lake at the bottom of the section and fish up while Neil fished down until we met up.

We met another angler at the dam release who told us about a pool where a bunch of the larger stocked fish were hanging out.  We made a beeline there, but there was a group of 6 or 7 people occupying the pool who had camped nearby the night before.  We just kept walking and executed the plan.

Rather than taking 45 minutes to get to Stanton Lake, I was there in only another 15 minutes.  Maybe I was hurrying because I wanted to fish!
Once there, I was greeted by pretty water...
 and a swimming snake (opposite bank, no pic)...

...and this freaky big ass bug!
I think it's some kind of giant leaf hopper.  As I got closer, he flinched a little, so I snapped a quick picture and let him be.
 Looking upstream, the river unfolded before me.
 There were fewer pools, and more walking, but there were still fish to be had.  I caught 3 or 4 with one long line release.  Everything on the bead head prince nymph.  I was using a Dorsey yarn strike indicator so I could easily modify the rig as the pool depth changed.  

With the missing and clipped fins, I'm guessing this is one of the rainbow stockers. 

 I made it back to the rendezvous point around 5:30, found Neil, and we made plans to stop at one of our favorite watering holes to cap off the day - Blue Mountain Brewery.  We had a nice meal and a pint as we watched the sun sink behind the Shenandoah Mountains.  It was a great day following the road to new waters...


Sunday, October 29, 2017

Back Creek and Upper Jackson, October 28, 2017

Will and I planned a weekend trip to the mountains, but the fall drought had keep the volume and flow of most rivers very low and so we were advised to try Back Creek and the Upper Jackson River which received constant flow from lakes and dams.  

We arrived on a gorgeous sunny Friday, but traffic on I64 had stolen our hour or two of evening fishing, so we got our campsite at Hidden Valley (virtually deserted), reconned the Back River parking situation, got dinner at Cucci's in Hot Springs, and hit the hay.

The next morning, we got up early and went on the hunt for coffee.  We filled up at a country convenience store, munched on Clif bars, and drove to the Bath County Pump Storage Station Recreation Area.  It was a glorious morning...
Camping at this facility is more pricey, $30/night instead of the $10 we paid, but it has a lot of nice family amenities.  It too was virtually deserted. 

We changed clothes, rigged up, packed our food, and were ready to go.  It was a short walk between the reservoirs to get to the river.
 While stretching my fly line, it snapped about 20' from the tip.  I tried a blood knot connection, then a nail knot, but the line kept sticking in the guides so I eventually just trimmed it at the breaking point, tied a loop, and attached my leader to the stub.  Streamside RX.  It worked fine for swinging streamers.   

Back Creek is used a lot for Project Healing Waters outings, so the access along the stream is very good with picnic tables and wide access points to the river.
Back Creek is heavily stocked and holds some large fish.  As a result, it gets lots of pressure.  Fish hold in deep, slow moving water where they can get a very good look at your fly.  We wasted time with many follows and refusals in these areas.  Enticing as it may may seem, my advice is to avoid these areas and concentrate on the fast moving water.  

I missed a few hits fishing a bullet-headed black slumpbuster.  After losing all those in trees, I tied on a bullet-headed black woolly bugger and started getting more hits.  Perhaps the slumpbuster was just too much meat!  My first landed fish of the day came at about 1 PM... 
It was a 16+ Rainbow in a skinny seam where fast water dumped into a hole.  I had fished almost as far up towards the dam as possible, and started to walk back downstream to find Will and possibly change venues.  I stopped at one spot where I had had a hit and a miss on the slumpbuster and on the second cast got another nice rainbow.
 On your way sir...
 I found Will and we decided to go use our remaining hours of daylight to see what the Upper Jackson had to offer.  We navigated Will's trusty Honda to the Poor Farm Road access point.

 We made a pact that we would walk at least 15 minutes before we started to fish to try to avoid heavily pressured water.  We walked until the trail stopped and Will fished a nymph while I swung streamers.
 I started to recognize parts of the river and came to a spot where there used to be a downed tree over a deep hole.  I had broken off a large fish years ago fishing with David N.  and knew it was a good lie.  I had lost the woolly bugger so opted for an olive slumpbuster tied with pine squirrel fur.  I worked the hole methodically and finally got a solid strike.  Not the largest, but the prettiest rainbow of the day...

 See you next time little buddy....

 There was heavy rain in the overnight forecast and for the next day and our tent really wasn't ready for that weather so we grabbed some comfort food at the Country Inn in Warm Springs and then Will took me back to my car at the park-n-ride west of Richmond. Although there were lots of deer between Richmond and Williamsburg to worry about, it was smooth sailing until I hit a 9-mile bumper to bumper back up due to construction on I64.  That added an hour to my already late 1AM home arrival ETA.  I stayed alert listening to the XM radio 80's Saturday Night Dance Party.  Pulled into the driveway at 2AM, wedged myself into the bed between my wife and the two dogs (we were dogsitting) and closed my eyes.

Time to re-stock my box with streamers and nymphs, get a new 5-wt. fly line, and perform other maintenance.

Thanks Will for a great day on the water.  Fall trout fishing is always special.  Back to the salt in two weeks for some false albacore fishing in NC.  Until then...



Monday, June 26, 2017

Back to Chucktown for a Redfish Reunion

In my search for the heart-stopping, heavy breathing, time-stopping, endorphin release that is fishing for tailing redfish, I was drawn back to the Holy City.  I had been exploring the redfish flats around Wilmington, NC for the past few years, because it was closer and I always like to have options, but the past two years were disappointing with poor weather, tide cycle-long thunderstorms and no tailers to be found, so I was ready for a change.  Although further away, I had never not found fish around Charleston.

Carl was along for the adventure and we set out early last Saturday for the long drive south.  We rented a cabin in the KOA in Mt. Pleasant and so after hitting South of the Border, wound our way southeast along the back roads of SC finally merging with highway 17, just minutes from our doorstep.  It took about 9 hours door to door with bathroom breaks and food stops.

I like to travel with the engine off the transom, we we re-hung the Yamaha 25, unloaded the car, and then went to Charleston Angler to get into the mood.  Carl bought a few flies and I restocked my 16 lb. hard mono tippet.  Afterwards, we took a drive over to Folly Beach for dinner at the traditional stop - the Bowen Island Restaurant.   Overlooking the Sol Legare Creek, fried seafood and an ice cold beer are the order of the day and not even the line out the door could dissuade us from our pilgrimage.

After dinner, we couldn't resist the draw of the marsh as the sun started to go down.

The area around Charleston has wetlands as far as the eye can see and the marsh sunsets are epic!

We returned to the KOA and made preparations for the next day.

Sunday, I was planning for the longshot - an early morning low tide for waking fish and an afternoon high tide for tailing fish.  Impossible, I know, but the mind will not let the dream pass.

We launched at the Isle of Palms ramp on Morgan Creek.  On the way out the extended kill switch lanyard was dragging in the water and my attempt to retrieve it while running resulted in its liberation.  I jury rigged a solution using tippet and we proceeded uneventfully to Hamlin Sound.  We took one of the feeder creeks that dumped us out in the middle of the sound and proceeded to pole NE along the shoreline as we re-learned to discern nervous mullet from pushing redfish.  

We were throwing a simple shrimp fly that had worked in the past.  

We never saw any feeding birds, but in one spot where there seemed to be a lot of activity, I missed three hookups.  We poked around the NE corner of Hamiln Sound, but did not see any other fish so we motored out and continued on the Intercoastal to see if we could find a flat that might flood in the afternoon.  

I found a flat behind Capers Island where I had caught fish before and so we explored the island and flat and napped as we waited for the tide to rise.  

 The tide came up, not too deeply, but just enough for a single crawler to muscle his way in - hanging just on the edge between the short and tall grass where the ingress/egress point is.  Carl threw some casts at the fish, but it spooked and that was that.  

We ran back to the ramp and loaded up the boat full of anticipation for tomorrow's fishing when we were confident we'd get a good flooding tide.   Back at the KOA, we rinsed off the boat, put away the gear, showered, and headed out for a bite.  A full stomach made our eyelids heavy and, once in the air-conditioned cabin, we fell asleep quickly.

Monday morning, we stopped and got gas and coffee and then headed back to Isle of Palms to try the double again.  The wind was up a little on Hamlin Sound, and we saw no fish; I don't think I even threw a cast.  We ran aground trying to find our way into Copahee Sound, but eventually did get in.  
It was still pretty low, so we motored out and went to our spot behind Capers to wait out the rising tide.  

MANY hours passed and the waiting was killing me, but the tide rose and we spread out to wait for invading redfish.  The high tide peaked and then started to fall.  The marsh looked perfect, but we never saw a fish.

 The Intercoastal was rough with a steady 15-20 knot wind and that made it slow going but we eventually made it to ramp and then home to the KOA.  Boat rinse, shower, dinner, repeat.  No longshots for the double tide two step tomorrow.

Tuesday morning we slept in and went out for breakfast.  We would only fish the afternoon hightide - this time on the Wando River.  We made a stop at the Lowcountry Fly Shop in Mt. Pleasant and oogled at the Vedavoo packs, checked out their flies, and talked about the first two days of fishing.

We killed time and then met an old friend Richard for lunch at the Five Loaves in Mt. Pleasant (highly recommended!).  After a nice lunch and great conversation, we headed back to the campground to load up the 13' Whaler for her voyage on the Wando.

 Before the tide was high enough to flood the flats, we could hear the fish crashing bait in the nearby river shallows.  We finally saw our first tail and the hunt was on!  I chased a tail near the flat entry point and then crossed a creek in chest deep water to connect with another flat.  There I cast to, but could not entice, at least half a dozen tailing redfish - their tails were so BIG!  I was throwing a crab fly with a rabbit tail and letting it sit, hoping the fibers in the rabbit would wave at the fish to draw its attention.  Sadly, I got no love.  As the tide rose, I pushed deeper onto the flat, but did not see any more fish after that first hour.  We spotted a tail on an adjoining flat and Carl put some casts on him that had to be within the fish's eyesight.

He too got no love.  We stayed until the tide drained the flat, but it seemed the burst of tailing activity was right when the fish could get on the flat.  As the tide rose, I'm sure the fish were still there, we just couldn't seem them in the deeper water.  The weather made the Wando slick calm and the run back to the ramp was a breeze in my little Whaler.

Because ti was late, and we thought most restaurants would be closed if we went back to the KOA, washed the boat, showered, etc before venturing back out, we made a quick stop at the Burger King and ate fast food as we watched the Weather Channel talk about hurricane Cindy down in the Gulf.  After boat and gear maintenance in the dark, we showered and went to bed.

Wednesday morning was our last day to fish and we were encouraged by the activity we had seen the previous day - more than the last six days over two years we'd seen in NC.  The weather was forecast to be rainy mid-day, but we were hopeful it would clear by the time the flats would flood.

We made it to the ramp at around 2 pm, hoping to cast to those breaking fish before the flat flooded.  On the way out we were flagged down by a 15 year old boy and his two teenaged girl friends in a 20+ bay boat with an inoperable engine.  Being a proper mariner, I offered a tow which he gladly accepted.  Probably saved someone a whippin'.  So my little 13' Whaler with 25HP tiller steer Yamaha towed that big boat with three passengers several miles back to his family pier - practically back to the ramp.

After an admonition to "stay in school and don't do drugs", we nosed the Whaler back into the wind and headed for the flats.  Like the day before, we waited on the river's edge waiting for the tide to rise.  We heard reds crashing bait, but did not spot any tails like the day before.  We waited and waited and waited, scanning the flats for tails.

The flat was flooded perfectly, but we never saw a tail. Near the top of the tide, we felt we should look elsewhere wo we reluctantly left this flat and followed the advice of our friend Richard, and crossed the river to look at northside flats.  We scanned along one stretch, and then poled through a beautiful flat up behind an island, but nothing.  I looked at the chart for some likely places to find fish, and we slowly motored up into another area that looked promising.

I was poling around, and all hope seemed lost, but in the back of the flat, we heard a big splash, and then saw a tail.  The red was making a commotion to get through some accumulated rafting plant stalks.  There was debris all over where the fish was and I made some sloppy casts.  Finally the red just submerged and moved on.

I continued to pole along the edge of the grass and we spotted another tail.  Carl took a cast at 'em, but this fish too didn't bolt, but just submerged and decided not to play.  I kept poling along as the light continued to dim - time was running out.  I circled back and the fish Carl had cast to was active again and he took a few casts, but the fish was not interested.

After shooing the grasshoppers off the engine, we did the slow motor back to the ramp, checkling some shoreline for the Hail Mary fish, but she was never found.  We found fish and had some shots,but needed our A-game and just didn't bring it that day.

Overall, we covered a lot of area, found fish, made some heart-stopping casts, and waited breathlessly for the eat, but unfortunately it never came.  The Charleston marshes are expansive and beautiful, and that makes the fishing fun.  Can't wait to come back, but we might need to add another strategy to our approach...


Sunday, December 4, 2016

Redfishing the Wando River 2008

This is a post of a trip I took in 2008 to fish the Wando River in Charleston, South Carolina.  It was a while ago so details will be brief.

Traditionally, we have stayed in a cabin at the Mt. Pleasant KOA 

Inside, there are four bunk beds.  Bathroom and showers are in a nearby building.  There's room enough to pull in a vehicle with skiff attached.  I bring a hose and use it near the dump station to wash off the boat on a daily basis.

Here is the launch site at 

The Wando is big and wide and has a penchant for winds that blow down the length of the river creating wind against tide and rough conditions.  Still manageable with my trusty 13' Whaler, but there have been days were it was slow going coming back and we had to bale a couple of inches (hundreds of gallons???) of water out of the boat at the end of the day.  

Typical high tide flats.

Short grass high tide flats

High tide flats in the dry - waiting for the tides to rise!

The old trusty Marlwalkers were ideal wading boots, but have since gone on to Patagonia heaven.  I did save the laces (wornwear). 
Sturdy footwear with a hard bottom is recommended.  Sandals will work but you will get frustrated by the snails that get between your feet and the footbed.

As the marsh floods..  Crabs, like the one on the left are what the tailing reds are after.

Ed on a typical high tide flat.

Crabs climb the Spartina grass to evade predators.

 The 13' Whaler in its element on the Wando River.  Notice how rough the main river can get.  It's big, wide, and open.

A flooded high marsh...

Ed returning from a Wando River flat


A Wando River hammock.  During higher tides, the water will come all the way to the treeline.

 Spanish moss....

White Ibis...

Specks are available along the marsh edges and creek mouths and offer a diversion while waiting for the tide to rise.
The beautiful Wando River.