Sunday, November 28, 2010


It’s amazing that a trip that started out so badly could end up so well.  Ten miles from Lebanon my windshield wipers lost their minds.  What had been a monotonous swish, swish, swish became a violent struggle for dominance as each blade sought to overpower the other in a death match that ended with them wedged together in a teepee right before my eyes.  Well, at least it wasn’t a pouring rain.  The final ten miles involved periodic stops to clear the view but eventually I arrived for my third adventure on Big Cedar Creek.
John Bass had invited me to join him, Billy Davis and Shawn Dejean for three days of fishing on that marvelous piece of water in southwest Virginia.  We were joined by John’s intrepid guide, Bill Nuckols, and one of our old buddies, John Flannigan.  I arrived just after noon on Friday.

The guys were already fishing when I pulled up to the stream.  John and Bill were plying the depths of the Sycamore Hole to no avail while Billy, who had been assigned to Shawn, was trying to teach the finer points of fly fishing to that crazy Cajun.  “Billy, You got any more bait?  I just lost mine in that there tree!”  If you’ve ever seen the TV series, Swamp People, you’ve heard the accent.  Shawn and John Bass go back a long ways, to circumstances that are still not clear to me, but just know that Shawn would have been much more at home catching thirteen foot gators than he was on a trout stream.

Another unexpected treat was the opportunity to meet Phil Balisle, (see photo below) a retired Admiral and current EVP of DRS Technologies and supporter of Project Healing Waters, who was down for a day of angling from his home in DC.  Phil was kind enough to impart some of his extensive Big Cedar knowledge, which served me very well in the coming days.

I thought I had prepared well for the weekend.  Remembering that the stones were just a bit slippery from my previous trips there, I had attached some lugs to the felt soles of an old pair of wading boots.  The verdict is still out on the wisdom of that exercise, because as I had walked downstream to one of the lower pools for my first venture into the water, I immediately slipped and went in up to my chest.  Off to a good start.  Since I was there anyway, and fighting the temptation to go back to the car, I cast out my crawdad imitation and got an immediate strike.  A few minutes later I beached one of the larger trout that I’ve ever caught.  That guy completely wore me out…had me wishing for a fighting butt on my rod as he fought for survival in the swift current.  He would have easily gone eight pounds.

OK…now I’ll go back to the car.  One fish like that is enough to make my day…heck, it’s enough to make an entire season! Seeing that my line was tangled, I slung it back into the current to get it straightened and what happens, but the fishes twin brother jumps on it.  Another five minutes of two fisted fighting and he too was in the net.  Thus began the most amazing three days of fishing that I have ever experienced.

Saturday morning was cold.  The temperature gauge in the car told me that it was 26 degrees when I arrived at the stream.  Not a problem.  Although I swore off winter fishing forever last year after a day on Duke’s Creek in the north Georgia mountains, after the two fish I caught yesterday I wasn’t about to lay out today. 
As I dug into my gear bag I realized that there was a problem.  Everything…gloves included…was frozen solid.  Yes, there was a perfectly good heater in the Super 8, but my gear did not experience it for even a minute.  I managed to get into the waders and the boots, but the gloves were a problem.  Thirty minutes later, after running the car nearly out of gas, they were wearable.  Note to self:  Share the overnight heat with your gear.

I won’t bore you with a play by play of the days fishing (well, I will in a minute), but let me say that the day was magical.  By three o’clock I had caught seven trout …all between eight and ten pounds.   All except one were caught on a brownish Woolly that had two ostrich herl “pincers” trailing off the tail…what they called the “crawdad” pattern.

Late in the day I met up with John Bass and Bill Nuckles at the low water bridge.  As long time followers of the blog know, John is the Regional Manager for Project Healing Waters and is somewhat limited in the waters that he can fish.  John is wheel chair bound.  He was casting downstream from the bridge.  We shot the breeze for a few minutes and I mentioned to Bill that it was time for me to tie on the Nub Worm.  I told him that on every outing I do my best to land a fish or two with it to honor its creator, my oldest and bestest buddy, Jerry “The Mad Cheese Scientist” Felts.  Bill, who happens to be a bit of a purest when it comes to trout flies laughed when I showed him Jerry’s creation.
The Nub Worm
I walked a few steps down the bridge and cast it upstream.  Billy Davis, who was standing on the bank, told me that there was a nice fish in the area.  Indeed there was.  The trout gave his best imitation of a Great White slamming a hapless seal and took off for the headwaters of the creek with the Nub Worm firmly implanted in his massive jaw.  We later measured his run and it was nothing less than 150 feet.  He plowed through the water in a perfectly straight line, throwing a size-able wake behind him before stopping for a few head shakes and a top water pirouette or two.  

By now, Bill had seen what was happening and came running with his net.  With one expert stab…the fish was mine.  Bill, who has landed many a trout on Big Cedar, estimated his weight at 12 pounds and snapped a photo of the proud angler before releasing the beauty for another day.   It was the largest trout I have ever caught.

John and Shawn, with long rides ahead of them, left early Sunday morning.  Billy and I went back to the creek.  We fished the lower holes where I had done so well on Saturday and did just fine.  Billy landed this nice one and I managed to net three others of equal size.  The weekend ended with a couple of more before Billy and I headed for home.

Billy Davis with a nice Big Cedar Rainbow
It is only fitting that it was Thanksgiving weekend.  On Wednesday Shirley and I enjoyed the grandkids…along with a great meal prepared by our daughters.  Thanks were given.  And as Shirley had to work on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, she allowed me to have an unforgettable weekend away from home with the guys.  Thanks were given.  And as John Bass, through his friendship and generosity,  had made the entire thing possible, thanks were given again.

And as God had blessed me with three unbelievable days to enjoy His creation and a ridiculous number of His creatures…just saying thanks seems so insufficient.

(Oh, and one other thing…that crusty old guide Bill Nuckols, asked me to tie up a few Nub Worms and mail them to him.)

Friday, November 19, 2010

Playin' Hooky

I got a call from Ryan asking if I could help out on Thursday. He had arranged to take some vets up to the West Fork of the French Broad for a day of fishing and as the plans were finalized he realized that he was short handed in the “guide” category. Told him I’d have to get back with him on that one.

Thursdays are work days around here, and business being slow as it is, taking off for a day of fishing is frowned upon. I pondered Tim’s reaction to my pending request. Ryan knows that a weekend outing will find me there with bells on, but a workday...its iffy.

Tim said OK, but he made it clear that he wasn’t doing it for me or Ryan...he was doing it for the vets. “Thanks Tim, I owe you one.”

After loading the car and scraping the windshield to remove a thin layer of frost I headed out on the ten minute drive to Davidson River Outfitters – our rendezvous point for the days activities. I was early of course and spent the time rummaging through their fly inventory as if I might actually buy something. The clerk was new to me and was unaware that a purchase was highly unlikely. I inspected their selection of fly boxes; I perused their waders and used their bathroom. I was getting antsy.

Finally I thought I’d better go back out to the car and get my gear ready. As I had already decided that I’d be using my 2 wt., I grabbed it from its bag and went to my vest to get the reel. No reel. Damn, where is it!
Then I remembered that I’d put it in my wader bag after the last outing. But where was the wader bag?

I had brought an extra rod and reel (my 5 wt.) just in case we needed it for one of the vets, so that would have taken care of the reel problem, but the REAL problem was that I had to have the waders. Back to the house.

Twenty minutes later I was back at the shop just in time to greet the vets. There was Nancy and Harry...both in wheel chairs...and Jamie, the absolute best crutches wielding, rock hopper you’ve ever seen. Off to the creek we went.

The water was down a few feet but as pretty as ever. The guy at the shop had told me that it hadn’t been fished for at least a week, and I later learned that he had told Ryan that it wasn’t fishing well at all. Huh? Wasn’t fishing well a week ago? Any creek, lake, river or pond that I’ve experienced can have good days and bad. Heck, they usually have good hours and bad, so I wasn’t worried at all. What happened a week ago was of no concern. At least we wouldn’t hear, “You should have been here last week!” Today was gonna be gang busters...I just knew it.

We rigged Harry and Nancy up with a couple of ten foot Project Healing Waters TFO’s. Those ten footers are a great help to beginning fly casters, especially if they are wheel chair bound, and they began slinging weighted nymphs into the pool right at the end of the meadow. Then Ryan insisted that I walk downstream to see if there were any other spots that were accessible for the chairs. I took my rod with me of course.

The West Fork is a small stream even when running normal, so I was quite pleased with my decision to go with the two weight, and fishing downstream is right up my alley. Tying on a marabou, I gingerly entered the stream being careful to make no waves. I saw a few 10 to 15 inch rainbows working and cast well ahead and upstream of them, hoping that on the swing they’d find the marabou right at eye level. They did. They ignored it. A few casts later one of them looked its direction, but that’s all. I tied on a small midge dropper and headed on downstream. Two casts later I lost the entire rig in a tree. Was it gonna be one of those days? Naw, keep fishing Alan, and when in doubt go to the old standbys. I tied on a bright yellow woolly.

I spit on it, I dunked it, I cussed it...and it wouldn’t sink. What the heck, I didn’t want to spend any more time tying on another fly, so in frustration I cast it out and down and what do you know, the second it hit the water a fish slammed it...or so I thought. I felt nothing as I lifted the rod. A couple of casts later...the same thing...big splash...lift rod...nothing. So they liked it. But why weren’t they taking it? I tied on a dropper, hoping that as the bright yellow, high floating attractant got their attention, maybe they would inhale the dropper.

Sneaking into the head of the next pool I tested my theory. The third cast brought the same reaction that I’d seen in the last pool, but this time I felt the weight of a nice fish. A few minutes later he was in the net. He had hit the wooly. I snapped his portrait and decided that I’d better get back to Ryan and report on the lack of wheelchair access that I’d found.

“How’d you guys do?” I asked. Ryan reported that Harry had caught a good one and that Nancy had blanked.
I told him that they were hitting on top downstream, and true to form, Ryan said that they were hitting emergers. You see, Ryan is one of those guys that looks at fly fishing a little differently than me. He can name any bug, tie up an exact replica and catch more trout with it than I ever will. He’s a scientist on the stream. I’m just a fisherman.

“Emergers, hey? Well I’d hate to see what these guys emerge into,” I said as I showed him the bright yellow fluffy thing that they were hitting. Ryan just shook his head in disgust. “I should have known,” he said.

I’ll never out fish the man; after all he has the trophies and reputation to back up his theories, but I like to do it my way. I firmly believe that confidence is just about as important as having an honorary degree in entomology and my confidence (and 50 years of experience with this particular fly) usually gets me a fish or two.

As the day progressed everyone but Nancy managed a few more fish. This was only fitting, because on the last two outings Nancy had out fished everyone...both in numbers and in size. Everyone is entitled to an off day. She did however manage to land a nice rock. How she was able to hook and bring to net that nearly round and featureless chunk is unknown. But it made her day! Such is the way of fishing with our wounded warriors. It’s not the fish (but they do help), it’s just getting out there with your fellows and enjoying the quite...the solitude...the beauty. It soothes.

I beat Shirley home. As I was relaxing on the couch the phone rang. “Open the garage door and help me get these groceries in.” As I was opening the tailgate to secure the vittles she asked, “Did you catch any fish?”
“Sure did.” I replied.
“Did they get cold?”
“Not at all, those fish are used to the cold water.”
“I meant the vets! Shut up and get those bags into the house, smart ass. You’re going to work tomorrow!”

Reality sucks.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Anderson's Bird of Prey

Beginning today I will be posting and offering for sale, the fly illustrations that I did for Beau Beasley’s soon to be released book, Fly Fishing the Mid Atlantic.  Each fly print will be 8 X 10 and printed on 100# Bristol Archival Paper, and will sell for $20 with FREE shipping.
Starting in alphabetical order, this first one is Anderson’s Bird of Prey.  A popular caddis pupa/emerger pattern, the Bird of Prey was designed by Rick Anderson.   Your local fly shop probably has a few on hand, but they’ll be a lot smaller than this one – and they won’t be ready for framing.
(That border you see around the fly is there only to show how it will look when matted.)