Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Speckled Trout Fishing on VA's Eastern Shore 2012

Here is a video of a speckled trout outing on the seaside of Virginia's Eastern Shore.  One word describes it:  "mirrorlike"!

Eastern Shore Speckled Trout Fishing from Coastal Explorer on Vimeo.

Searching High and Low - Redfishing Bull's Bay SC, March 21013

Here's my totally amateurish video of the trip I made with Barry the last week of March, 2013.

Searching High and Low - Bulls Bay SC from Coastal Explorer on Vimeo.

"No Name" Stream George Washing National Forest, January 2013

David, Chris, and I decided to go fishing and stumbled upon this stream.  It's probably typical of the small streams that are not listed in the guide books but that exist throughout the Shenandoah National Park and Jefferson and George Washington National Forests.  Go explore!

David and I left Norfolk at 5 am and rendezvoused with Chris in Hampton and headed up Rt. 64 towards the mountains.  We were feeling adventurous so we veered off the grid and found our little no name stream.

This was our first trip of the year so it took a little while to shake off the rust and get our gear squared away.

We worked our way upstream hop-scothching each other and allowing each angler a string of pools before jumping in and casting.  There were midges floating around and the temperature was in the 50's so we were hoping that we might be treated to an afternoon hatch and some rising fish. 

To start though, I used a red brassie nymph that has served me well last winter.  The first couple series of pools did not produce anything for me.  This is not out of the ordinary since I would call my nymphing skills rudimentary at best.  Chris fishes with much more poise and confidence; to this I aspire! 

After maybe an hour, I saw the strike indicator twitch, I lifted the rod and brought this little guy to hand.  The Chub King strikes again! Not well versed in identifying these guys, my guess is that this is a rosyface shiner.

After many other hit-less pools, I switched to a pheasant tail nymph, but still was having trouble getting a bite and I was smart enough to know that all these pools could not be empty.

It may be not true, but it seemed to me that all the logjams, sticks in the stream, and the abundance of overhanging vegetation that the stream was getting less pressure than similar plunge-pool dominated streams like the Rapidan.  It certainly made the stream more technical to fish and all my snags in and out of the water were a testament that I had not yet brought my A game.

As I worked upstream I saw this big piece of meat!

Man!  The crawdads I tie are WAY TOO SMALL!

Since I wasn't doing so well, I decided to watch Chris and learn from the master.  Here he is on a sweet run.

This was a beautiful steam with the recent snow filling all the creeks and feeders.

Here's David wielding the bamboo with crouching tiger moves.  

Chris at the top of this picturesque run choosing a winning fly combo.

Rock art.

Chris could see I was struggling so in an act of utmost kindness, he gave me the best pool I'd seen all day.  Yes, I chose my friends wisely!  I missed the first two hits, and then landed three nice, palm-sized, wild brookies.

After catching each one, I released the brookie downstream so as not to spook the pool.  Afterwards, I wondered what effect this had on the poor fish.  I imagine they gravitate to the pools as preferred habitat for feeding and living.  Maybe they will just swim downstream until they find the next pool, but what if that pool already had it's carrying capacity of fish?  I'm wondering how tightly coupled the number or size of the pools and number of fish are.  I will have to try and find out what the responsible release action should be.  I can live with only catching one per pool if it's important to release the fish back into the same pool he came from.

Here's Chris working another beautiful run.

Here he is on another late in the afternoon.

The dry fly hatch we had hoped for never came and as the sun got hung up in the hills and the stream fell into shadow, the temperature seemed to drop 10 degrees.  We layered up and pressed on, but agreed to call it quits at 4 pm so we could bushwhack back to the car before dark.

At around 4 pm, I promised myself one more pool.  I caught a nice brookie, but then Chris hop-scotched me so I felt liberated from my resolution.  I found one more promising pool and landed this little brookie - so young, he still had his par marks.

OK, I didn't want to be greedy so I stopped.  We all rendezvoused and headed back to the car picking up beer cans, plastic pop bottles, and candy wrappers as we went.  I truly can't understand the mindset of those that desecrate these beautiful natural spaces.  Unbelievable!

Anyway, it was a great day with great friends, on beautiful water.  We're blessed to live in Virginia and with access to such great year-round trout fishing.  Looking forward to stumbling upon more jewels.  Stay tuned..... 

If you enjoyed this blog post and value VA trout streams, then let Governor McDonnell know that you do not want to allow fracking in the public parks and forests!  

Harkers Island November 2012

This year I fulfilled a desire I had.  I wanted to camp out at the Barden's Inlet spit to test the theory that the false albacore were more active in the early morning and late evening before and after the guide boats and recreational anglers were around.  I thought, in the quiet, we'd up the odds of catching alberts from the beach.

 We caught the ferry over on Saturday morning. dumped our camping gear on some high ground and got to fishing right away.  The weather was nice, and the water was clear.  We did see a false albacore cruise by in the morning.

 But after that, we did not see another albert the rest of the day - not even in the distance.  We did catch a few blues, and a flounder, but it was ultra slim pickins!

Closer to dusk, we picked up a few speckled trout near the red buoy at the inlet mouth.

 As the sun sank and it got quiet, all of a sudden... there was nothing.  We never got an evening blitz.

We set up the tents and made and ate our dinner.  After dinner we walked from the spit point over to the rock jetty - quite a distance after a full day of constant casting.  We shadowed a mullet boat and its occupants that were quite successfully gigging flounder under spotlights in the shallows.  

We brought spinning rods and alternated between grubs and swimming plugs as we maneuvered between the 4-wheel camping crowd and their bonfires.  Without waders, it was hard to get in a good position to cast into the deeper water along the jetty, but we managed to catch one fish.  It was a long walk home and sleep came easily.

The next morning we awoke early, made breakfast, and were disturbed at the early morning boat traffic.  The commercial guys and the early bird sports were on the water early so that blew my notion of a quiet calm early morning bite.

Sunday turned out to be even worse than Saturday.  The weather was nice, but the water was cold, hovering around 50 degrees and there was little sign of bait.  Day 2 brought boredom and a lot of napping among the "Sand People".

We did manage to catch a few more bluefish, some needlefish, and David managed this blowfish (northern puffer).

OK, ok, so our theory was busted.  We did not experience a quiet early morning bite or a dusk blitz.  The water was too cold for alberts and there was relatively little bait to draw them anyway.  Mother nature had the deck stacked against us.  

Still, the camping was fun and the company was great.  Would I do it again?  Absolutely!  Perhaps with more realistic expectations next time though.


P.S.  If you like video, check out the video by My Leaky Waders on Vimeo.

Tautog Fishing off Cape Charles, VA

My friend Mike invited me to join his brother Wes, retired VIMS fishery scientist Jon Lucy, and his friend Charles Machen (boat captain of the RV Langley at VIMS before he and the boat were retired) for a day of tautog fishing in the Chesapeake Bay.

When Mike was a student at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, he studied the tautog fishery.  He's now in SC doing sea turtle research, but decided to return to VA to check in on some of the progeny of his research subjects.

We boarded the vessel Buccaneer in Cape Charles harbor marina and motored into the Chesapeake Bay.  Mike and Captain Jim Jenrette had some spots that they had surveyed during Mike's research days and in short order our rods were bent.

We were using a sort of fish finder rig with two trailing hooks coming off of a sinker.  The hooks were baited with bits of crab and the trick was to set the hook before the various denizens of the deep sucked all the crab meat out of the shell.

In between long-winded stories, put-downs, and the slinging of general criticisms, we saw a few sea turtles, and caught many, many, many oyster toadfish, many black seabass, a bluefish, a hungry triggerfish (twice!),  flounder, a pinfish, pigfish, northern pufferfish, a mullet, and a good many tautog.

Having three scientists, two boat captains, and a hard-core surfer and businessman on a fishing trip can be an interesting proposition!  Mike, ever the thoughtful researcher, made sure we tagged every possible fish that wasn't headed for the dinner table.  Between the black seabass, flounder, and tautog, I think we tagged about 150 fish all told.  Dude, that's not a fish, that's data!

Mike demonstrating good tagging technique...

Here's Mike doing QA/QC on the data collection.  Alright, who wrote down brook trout?

 Mentor Jon makes sure everything is correct.

Jon and his friend Charlie

A sample of the day's tautog catch ready for the captain's fillet knife.

Thanks to Mike, Captain Jim, and the rest of the crew for a memorable day on the water! 

Trout Fishing in Western VA 10/9/12

Over the Columbus Day Weekend, members from the Bill Wills, Southeast Virginia Chapter of Trout Unlimited got together for a trip to fish the waters of the Laurel Fork Special Management Area and the Jackson River.

Fishing the Laurel Fork Wilderness Area involves hiking in and out and the weather forecast for Sunday was full of rain so we opted to do the hiking on Saturday.

Andy had the day off so he made his way leisurely westward, stopping to sample the waters of the Bull Pasture River before arriving at the Locust Springs campground on the WV/VA border west of Staunton.

David and I met in Richmond at 8 pm, got jacked up on coffee, and blazed westward.  We wanted to stop along the "Brew Ridge Trail" - at one of the craft breweries that populate the mountainous regions of western VA.  We found our way to the Blue Mountain Brewery in Afton VA, entering at the stroke of 10pm.  With the kitchen already closed and the employees sharing a well deserved capper, we implored the barkeep to serve us just one as I hastily purchased a 6-pack of their Full Nelson beer for streamside cheer.  A nice tip loosened up the bartender's demeanor and we had a nice time talking with him while also planning our final leg of the trip into the deep woods of WV and the the Locust Spring primitive campground.

Back on the road, once we got past Monterey VA, the country roads were dark and full of deer so we slowed and picked our way carefully.  We were concerned for Andy, alone in the middle of nowhere, as the hours ticked by - 11, 12, 1...  We didn't arrive until about 2 am.  I guess we made enough noise to wake him up because Andy crawled out of his warm tent to great us.  We set up a second tent and quickly bedded down for the night.

Got up Saturday morning and it was cold and grey.  Definitely looked like rain was in the forecast.  We struck the camp.  Andy made a big pot of coffee (THANK YOU!), and we each prepared a little something for breakfast and made or packed a lunch.

Our campsite at Locust Spring

Based on intel from the Warm Springs Ranger Station of the George Washington National Forest, we decided to hike down on the Locust Spring Run trail, fish the day, and then return on the Buck Run trail.  We like the idea of checking out the fishing opportunity on Locust Spring Run early and then using the better (wide, even grade) Buck Run trail for our escape since it might be getting dark, raining, or otherwise dicey.

Getting ready

The Locust Spring Run trailhead was at the far end of the meadow where we had set up our tents.  We decided to hike the trail in our waders and hit the trail at around 8 am.

At the trailhead...

The Locust Spring Run Trail

The Locust Spring Run is beautiful and it parallels the small creek all the way down to the Laurel Fork.  The water level was down, but there was still plenty of small pocket pools that we thought would hold native brookies.  I spotted fish in one and asked David to give it a go with his Tenkara rod.  It was a beautiful thing - one cast, one fish!

David's Native Brookie from the Locust Spring Run

A beautiful, wild brookie

Stoked by David's success, Andy and I rigged our conventional rods and we started hopscotching each other and picking pools on our descent to the Laurel Fork.

Andy applying stealth to his approach

Very different to our homes in the Norfolk/Virginia Beach area, the leaves on the trees seemed to be in peak color and there was lots of leaf litter underfoot and in the stream.  Trout were hiding under the floating leaves and you had to accurately deliver small flies to the opening in the leaf clutter to hope to get a strike.  It was pretty fun.

The beautiful Locust Spring Run

Because we could not pass up any likely holding water on the Locust Spring Run, I think it took us 3 hours to make it down the ~ 3 miles to the Laurel Fork.

The intersection of the Locust Spring trail and the Laurel Fork

What a beautiful River!  David could not resist fishing the very first pool at the intersection. 

David picking the pocket with the Tenkara rod.

While David fished, Andy and I got down to business finding an appropriately swift section of the river for which to stash our end-of-the-day celebratory libation.

These new Orvis packs come with a very handy pocket for essential supplies - a six-pack of Blue Mountain Brewery's Full Nelson beer.

 Based on fishing reports we found we decided to head upstream towards the Slab Camp Run.  We hop-scotched pools and runs as we worked upstream marveling at the scenery as we went.  Most of the brookies were wild and palm-sized.  We didn't care so much about the size.  We were just happy to be fishing in such a beautiful area.  Around each turn, we just went "Wow, look at that!"

David demonstrating the bow-and-arrow technique with the Tenkara rod

I was catching all my fish on a size 16 parachute Adams.  (Note to self - next time tie the posts in some color other than white!  White posts get lost in the white bubbles and foam)  Moving above Slab Camp Run, I came across a nice pool, cast the fly in the seam, and a bigger brookie took the bait.  As I got him close, the colors were incredible - the yellow and red spots, the brilliant orange of the belly, the in-your-face red/orange color and the distinct yellowish white epilets on the pectoral fins.  Spectacular!

Many sections of the stream are bordered by rhododendron bushes.  It's hard to imagine the Laurel Fork looking any prettier, but I'd like to go back in spring when they are in bloom.

Rhododendrons flank the Laurel Fork in many places

We rendezvoused back at the beer cache around 4 pm to give us plenty of time to hike out before dark.  We shared a brew with some fellow trout fishermen and traded stories - the best way to end a good day on the stream.

Streamside chillin'

David passing on Tenkara know-how

For the hike out we took the Buck Run Trail.  It's an old rail path so it's wide, level, and easy to hike.  Still it took us about 2 hours to hike out, but we made it before dark.

 We got out of our waders, and pointed the car south towards Covington.  The country roads along route 250 and 220 were dotted with farms, fields, and forest.  Sunset blanketed the sky with a mixture of pinks and and blues and the mountains were a glow as the sun sank.

 It was a pleasant 2 hour ride to meet up with our TU bretheren at Gene's cabin on the banks of the Jackson River.  Gene, Bill, Gordon and CJ were waiting for us and Bill guided us through a Get Smart series of cattle gates, and past barking guard dogs, and mooing cows before the car could go no further.  Inside we were treated to Gene's excellent barbecue, fruit salad and mini Butterfingers - Halloween candy came early!  We talked story well into the night until the weight of our eyelids demanded penance.  Sleep came quickly and easily.

 Gene's cabin on the Jackson River

Gene was up first and made coffee.  I was up at 6:30 and the rest soon followed.  We sipped coffee, ate delicious apple doughnuts and talked somemore.  After pleasantries, we got down to business planning our next day on the river.  The temperature had dropped down to the mid-fifties and it had been raining all morning with promises of the same for the rest of the day.  We decided to fish around the Poor Farm Road intersection with the Jackson River.  The area had been recently stocked and the ability to drive right up to the river gave us a quick escape route if we got drowned out. 

CJ lead us past Warm and Hot Springs to the stream access point.  

Andy, David, and CJ on the Upper Jackson River

The scene that awaited us

The rain was only a sprinkle when we suited up.  At this location, the Jackson was big and beautiful, with an abundance of falls, DEEP pools, long still runs, and complicated seams.  It offered lots of possible tactical approaches.  There were some large reddish brown caddis flying around - a "fall caddis" we were told.  So instead of the Adams that worked so well on the Laurel Fork, I tied on a 14 tan caddis.   

Andy working the seam

 David couldn't pass up this section

With my tan caddis, I became the Chub King.  Don't get me wrong, they were fun to catch and all, but we were looking for their trout cousins.

One of my loyal subjects

CJ guided me downstream and showed me a nice pice of the river where he'd spied a couple of big trout.  I had cut my leader back and switched to a "slumpbuster" streamer dragging it through some head-high pools going for broke.  I stripped it through CJ's pool and after a couple tries got a solid hook set.  Boy was I surprised when I landed this smallmouth bass!

I guess the water was warmer than I had thought!  Still, I ventured on in search of Salmo sp. enjoying the beauty of the river as I went.

My path crossed with David's and he hipped me to his success fishing a nymph as a dropper off a medium-sized Kaufman's stimulator.  Shortly thereafter I did find a trout lair, and hooked 2 nice rainbows. 

Several more chubs sacrificed themselves to the King, but I didn't care.  I was fishing on a beautiful stream, rain or no.  

I hooked one monster in a deep pool and his flash made my heart skip.  I got him on the reel, he surged, and my 6X tippet went "blink".  Damn!  I know where he lives though, and I'll be back.

Thanks to the Bill Wills, Southeast VA Chapter of TU for putting on this trip for the members.  I learned new waters, made new friends, had a great time, and can't wait to do it again. 

April/May 2013 anyone?