Saturday, May 16, 2020

Ramsey's Draft Social Fish Distancing - May 2020

Took a day off from the endless grind of teleworking to recharge with a day in the woods and on the stream.  The only thing that could've made it better was the companionship of friends.  On this trip JC and Will would join.

JC and I left Hampton Roads mid-afternoon and the Corona Virus traffic was mercifully light.  After one short detour, and a tour of the metropolis of West Augusta, we made it to the Ramsey's Draft parking lot.  

We surveyed potential camp sites and selected one by the river, JC in his MSR single and me in my trusty Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2.

We enjoyed a Swartzbier while we poked around the river and then returned to the campsite to cook dinner - couscous with tuna and salmon.  

After dinner, we pierced the inky darkness with a drive bak to West Augusta to get wifi and text Will our gameplan for the next day's fishing and coordinate on a rendezvous spot.  We texted him we would hike about 2.5 miles up to Jerry's run and fish around there 'til he arrived.  We returned to Ramsey's Draft and admired the stars, made sure the fire coals were managed, and let the rush of the stream put us to sleep.

We woke the next morning, made a quick breakfast, broke camp, donned our gear and hit the trail.

 As we hiked, we kept the river on our right.  Missing an orange stripe on a tree to mark a preferred stream crossing, we continued on through a canyon of poison ivy, stepping gingerly to avoid the scourge. 

On our way to Jerry's Run, we lost count of the stream crossings, but there were many.  Not difficult to ford, but slippery nonetheless.
Along the way. we admired the rock seeps, wild geraniums, trilliums, and other wildflowers that bloomed among the poison ivy.

Once we got above Fish Hollow, the poison ivy became less prevalent.  
By and by, in about an hour, we made it to Jerry's Run.  

As the map indicates, there is a campsite with a large fire ring on the right side of the trail.  

Big fire ring, but only enough open space for a few tents.  Plus the site was ringed with dead trees so, if you stay here, pray you don't hear a thump in the night!

Enough hiking, time to hit the stream!  I fished up from Jerry's Run, while JC headed down.  The water level was lower, but the promise hinted at the stream crossings was fulfilled as I waded upstream in search of deeper pools.  
Being that it was shallow, I swapped out my tungsten bead head pheasant tail for a brass bead version and was rewarded almost immediately with Virginia's state fish - a beautiful native brook trout.

You gotta love the colors on these fish!  I continued upstream picking fish out of the pools as I went.  

With JC's daughter's pink playmobile walkie talkie I heard Will over his more powerful Motorola version making headway up the trail to Jerry's Run.  Will had driven up from Richmond and then speed-hiked in anticipation to meet us at Jerry's Run.  JC met him at the trail crossing with me just above, but I couldn't tear myself away from the stream.  I kept fishing, around that bend, up to that tree, one more pool....  Will and JC went back to fishing.  All morning long, we had the stream and its beautiful pools to ourselves.
With the water shallow, the fish were super spooky and if you scared one at the tail of the pool, he would bolt to tell his cousins at the head and spoilt he pool.  Luckily, there were plenty to choose from.  Finally turning back to work my way downstream, I stopped for a little water and a snack before hop-scotching below JC and Will.  Over the radio, Will confirmed that he was doing well and had switched over to a parachute Adams.  For some reason, I couldn't hail JC, even when I walked right past him on the stream.   Damn playmobile radios!

I found a spot on the trail with a dry creek bed and used that to work my way to the stream.  On the way, I crossed this little wetland hidden in the woods.
I started off still fishing the pheasant tail with success.

But after seeing some bugs in the air and my first legitimate rise, I joined Will and switched over to a size 16 parachute Adams.  The Brookies crushed it!  And like Will, I caught my largest Brookies on the dry.
 I continued upstream as the rendezvous time neared.  There were just too many beautiful pools to ply and so little time.   Surprisingly, there were plenty of fish in the runs too - perhaps where you would not expect them with the water being shallow.   It was just good fishing all around.
 As the afternoon turned late, I spied this little fellow sunning on a rock and he let me take his picture.   

I'm no expert, and even though it was May, I believe this is a March Brown mayfly.   The pheasant tail nymph is a reasonable approximation for the March Brown nymph so maybe that's why it worked so well.  Doesn't explain the parachute Adams though, with its grey body.  Go figure.  Those two flies are the workhorses of any Shenandoah fly box.  They just work and work.

at 4:30 Will and I headed to the rendezvous point to meet JC.  JC finished off the day with a beautiful Brookie caught on a caddis fly.  Pretty work!
Back at the parking lot, we passed around the Smartmouth Alter Egos and kept our social distance as we recapped the day.  My back hurt, I was sore, but I wouldn't have changed a thing.  The previous evening's stream-side campout was salve for my soul and spending days with friends on the river are the stuff memories are made of.  These days will carry me through the COVID-19 pandemic to the other side.  Thanks for keeping the George Washington National Forest open.


Sunday, March 29, 2020

Ivy Creek, Shenandoah National Park, March 2020

Will and I were feeling the Force drawing us to the mountains.  But with the novel corona virus scare and subsequent public orders for social distancing, the only way we could scratch that itch and still be responsible was to find a place where few other anglers would be found. 

Reports were that people staying away from work environments were flocking to public parks, trails, and streams.  So we picked one of the more inaccessible streams we had heard of - Ivy Creek in the Shenandoah National Park.  Instead of hunting brown trout in the valley, we picked a stream that had no trail and would require a mile or more of bushwhacking just to get to fishable water.  Because I knew this would be a tough, long hike/fish day, I drove up after work Friday to sleep in my car at the parking area for the Ivy Creek Overlook. 
The darkness fell quickly after I entered the park at Rockfish Gap.  
As I drove, I was alert to the herds of deer that littered the road and I did see hoards of them.  But I also saw rabbits, turkey, frogs, a skunk, possum, and a black bear that wanted no part of my Outback's headlights.  I pulled into the parking area and laid out my sleeping pad and bag, set my phone to airplane mode and settled in for the night.

It rained on and off most of the night and the wind was howling so hard, it rocked the car back and forth.  It was a fitful sleep at best.
Will came up, separately, early Saturday morning.  We met at 7:00 and then proceeded to the parking area at the trailhead for Pinefield Hut. 

The breakfast, lunch, and dinner of champions...
Because all the vegetation was soaked and we would be bushwhacking our way to the stream, we donned our waders and boots for the hike down to the stream, but, for comfort, carried hiking boots for the hike up and out at the end of the day.

Keeping a safe distance apart, we picked our way down the drainage behind the Pinefield AT Hut.  On the way, we passed this neon orange newt, a juvenile red eft, who seemed frozen as we lumbered past.
Our little drainage's flow alternated above and below ground but, like an arrow, pointed us down and onward until, after about 45 minutes, we arrived at an intersection with Ivy Creek proper.  As we approached the stream, we spied this relatively level ground and stacks of stone about that we recognized as an old homesite that had been dismantled to remove families during the formation of the national park.  Sure enough, we found barrel stays, an old axle, shards of pottery.  
We stashed our hiking boots and other things we didn't need to carry for fishing and started our foray downstream.   Will was fishing a traditional 3wt rod, and I had my Tenkara USA Rhodo (which was perfect for this tight stream).
The stream was beautiful, with numerous cascades, big waterfalls, and plunge pools sure to hold Brook Trout.
Will struck gold first.  I fished a flashback pheasant tail nymph and followed shortly thereafter.  The fish were generally small, not longer than your hand, but Brookies are so damned beautiful - especially this one!
It's broadside was darker making the colored spots really pop!  Such a pretty fish!
 Down and down we went, pool after pool, finding hungry trout along the way.  I tricked several in this pool - some hiding in the drowned leaf litter, a bigger one just below the falls.
 We bushwhacked around thorned thickets, massive rock outcroppings, and downed trees.  We're guessing we hiked another mile or more of ups and downs to follow the stream and stay far enough away not to spook the pools.  Along the way, we found beautiful flowers and plants basking in this March's unseasonable warmth.

wild Spotted Geraniums (cranesbill)...
Roundlobe Hepatica (liverleaf)...
 Devil's urn (or crater cup) fungi.  So cool!
 Fiddlehead ferns...
But I digress, back to the fishing.  Here's Will picking the pockets and catching fish as the elevation dropped.
As the foggy, cool 50's morning stretched into afternoon, the sun came out and we stowed layers as we fished beautiful pool after pool.
As the pools got deeper, we switched to nymphs with tungsten beads, but I'm not convinced they actually increased the catch rate.  I also fished a pheasant tail nymph with a hotspot and, although I caught fish with it, I'm not sure it did any better that the traditional tie.  
There were plenty of bugs around and I saw some nice mayflies too, but nothing in the water and I only saw one legitimate rise.  One overzealous Brookie did schwhack my strike indicator.  Regardless, we were both catching well and were pleased with our fishing.

We started to discuss every step we took down we would have to bushwhack back up, but the pull to fish the next pool was strong.  We told ourselves we would stop around 2:30.  By 3:15 we were both frustrated having not caught a fish in the last couple of pools so we kept hunting and made it all the way to the park boundary.  By 3:45 we had to go and we broke down our rods and started our ascent.  We found the remains of an old trail which made the start of our hike easier and more predictable.

With the sun out and in full waders, it was unexpectantly hot!  We labored uphill in waders and wading boots.  Even though the old unmapped trail suddenly ended at the stream, we continued to pick our way up the grade for an hour and 45 minutes.  Thank goodness for the occasional open path. 
Being Will's hiking handicap, I made him stop from time to time so I could rest.  During these interludes he kept staring at the water.  Finally, he couldn't resist and worked his way down the steep slope to the steam, to a familiar, friendly pool, to shake off the late afternoon skunk.  After a short rest, I started to move on slowly and eyed one of my honey holes.  I slipped down and caught a willing fish and packed up the Tenkara for good.

We made it back to the stash pretty tired.  I could barely remove my waders, but finally succeeded. We donned hiking boots and packed up everything else, ate a little, drank a little, said goodbye to Ivy Creek, and started up our drainage to the hut and our parking lot above.  

It was steeper now, but we kept the pace slow and steady.  All business, not looking at the scenery, we actually made it up and out as fast as we came down.  Pretty miraculous actually.  I took a few pictures of the hut for future reference and we happily took the horse trail the last 100 yards to the parking lot.  Out of boots an into comfortable footware and a not-so-stinky shirt we headed nothr for the Swift Gap park entrance and then parted ways - Will to Richmond and me to Virginia Beach.

It was a great experiment in social distancing, from each other, from the rest of humanity, with a gem of a Brook Trout fishing day mixed in.  Unforgettable!




Monday, September 16, 2019

Vancouver Island - Salmon Fishing Day 3, Haig-Brown Pools


Determined to wash the skunk out from the previous day, Kelly and I headed back to "Kelly's Rock".  On the trail, we made way for a young lad on a bike and as he passed he warned us of a bear on the river from the day before.  As we made our way to Kelly's Rock there was a terrible stench so we could smell what might have drawn the attention of a hungry bear.  The lad was spin fishing just below us - poaching fish and smoking weed.  At least for us, the fishing was better.  
I think I caught ~ half a dozen on various flies with a combination of chartreuse and pink. 
There was a young boy, maybe 12, with his father as his gillie, making long casts and catching fish.  We hollered encouragement across the river with each hookup.  At first, he was glad for the praise.  But then as his confidence grew, he began to mock us when we came unbuttoned or lost a fish.  All in good fun - we gave as good as we got and I'm sure he had a good story to tell his mother when he got home.

After a time, we were looking for a change of scenery and we moved upstream to a spot below the famous Haig-Brown pool and caught another half dozen on pink/chart. 
This was one of several times we had a double hookup.  Mine was definitely a male - with its humped back and hooked jaw!
 Kelly was doing well with his "Scotch fly" - a little bit of a thing that a fellow angler has shown him once when he was slaying them.  Paying it forward, Kelly shared one with me and I caught my last pink of the day on the Scotch Fly.
We met a young couple who were vacationing from their home in Canada (can't remember where from) and they asked us for some advice on flies since they saw us catching fish and they weren't having any luck.  We advised them to add a sink tip to get the flies down, gave them some pink and pink and chartreuse flies that had been working, and Kelly even gave them the secret Scotch Fly I think!

Before we finished for the day, we hiked up to see the celebrated Haig-Brown pools (upper and lower), the "island" he described in his book, and the dam that did not exist in his time.  There was an eagle on the gravel bank in the middle of the river eating a salmon.  
 Fully satisfied, we walked casually back to the car, removed our waders and boots, and returned home.  

On the way though, Kelly took me down to the waterfront to show me where the Tyee Club rowed boats the old fashioned way to catch large salmon in deep holes.

He also took me to a first nation cemetery decorated with large and venerable totems...

 some of them carved by Sam Henderson.
We hung everything out to dry, and I disassembled the rods and reels and pre-packed my gear for the next day's flight.  Kelly made me my first (blue) martini and he gave me a tour of his home office showing me all the planes he had flown during his service and practically piecing my eardrums with his massive speakers - envious!

For their gracious hospitality, I promised Kelly and Sheridan a meal so we went out to eat at one of their favorite local restaurants.  We had margaritas, fajitas, and shared a massive chocolate dessert.

Returning home, we stayed up to watch Tombstone, which Kelly says is a Canadian Air Force cult classic.   At the conclusion, it was time for bed.

Sunday - My last day on this trip to be on Vancouver Island, I got up as per routine, made coffee and had some cereal while I watched the sun come up and then later Sheridan made me some eggs.  This is livin! The TV caught me up on the details and path of Hurricane Dorian- looking like it would brush the Outer Banks but then turn out to sea so my home would get only moderate winds and some heavy rain.   Not so bad.

Kelly and I dropped Sheridan off at the kitchen shop where she worked and then we took the dogs, Watson and Raven to the dog park.  When we got back home, we deposited the dogs, I did a final packing job, threw my stuff in the car and we were off to the Comox for lunch before my flight.  We had a nice lunch outside overlooking a saltmarsh estuary and then Kelly dropped me off at the airport.  

The return home would take me from Comox to Vancouver, through customs (while still in Canada?), and then to Seattle.  I got to spend a night and the next morning with cousin Jennifer and her husband Brian (and of course, their kids).  We talked into the night and then hit the hay.

Monday morning, I recombined all my camping and fishing gear, clothes and cameras.  Brian, Jen and I took Luna for a long walk to a different park with a marsh walk and wide open fields for ball throwing and fetch.  Later, Brian and Jen's son Mason took me to the airport.  

Mason dropped me off at SeaTac, the skycap checked my bag at the curb, and then I made my way through the long security lines into the airport's inner sanctum.  I flew Southwest to Baltimore and had a meal, and then, after a delay, flew home to Norfolk - not bad really.  My darling wife picked me up at the airport late, she drove me home and I crashed in anticipation of the next day's return to work - ugh!

What an amazing trip.  I'm so grateful to my cousin and her family, my Canadian friends Kelly and Sheridan, my new friends Ken and Cynthia, and my dear wife for supporting all my hijinks.  This trip was salve for mind, body and soul.  I can't wait for the next adventure!