Thursday, December 29, 2011

On the menu...


During the Christmas Holiday, between fishing the Saluda, go cart racing, going to the movies, busting my arse on a demonic kid's toy, and consuming thousands upon thousands of very tasty calories, I managed to get a few more illustrations done for Trout Diet section of the Adaptive Fly Fishing 101 book. I figure that I'll need the equivilant of at least two more Christmas Holidays to finish them up.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Attention!

This message is intended for all fathers and grandfathers...in fact it's for anyone older than twelve. DO NOT attempt to ride the new demonic toy known as the Ripstick. As I write this (using my right hand) at the table with Chad (who's gingerly sitting on an ice pack) we are trying to decide if the implement of doom should be cut into small pieces before tossing it into the trash, or if it's usage should be limited to those with fewer years and greater coordination.


I was the first to go down and I'm certain that if not for the metal plate already in my left wrist I would now be in the emergency room having one installed. Chad followed me to the concrete a short time later and the verdict is still out on his condition.

So, further adventures in the fantasy world of our imagination - the place where we think we are still young - are out of the question. To say nothing of another trip to the Saluda. Which leaves me with some time to work on the brookie.
I'm now to the scarry part - adding color. Wish me luck

Sunday, December 25, 2011

MERRY Southern CHRISTMAS


It was a little surreal. Here I was on Christmas Eve, standing in the not too cold Saluda River on a warm day, fishing in my shirtsleeves with Spanish Moss draping the river. This is some wintertime fishin’ that I can get used to. Trout fishing and Spanish Moss? Can’t be very many spots like that around.

They say that Columbia, South Carolina is just shy of Hell when it comes to summertime, but if this is a true sampling of their winter weather, I’ll take all I can get. Chad and I snuck away from the family to get in a few hours on the Saluda, and this tailwater – like all the others I have sampled – proved to be a difficult assignment. Big fast water and weak knees don’t mix well, and was I ever glad that I had a wading staff…and Chad’s arm as we made it back across the main stem. We ran into a few of the Saluda River TU guys that I had met at one of their recent chapter meetings and I had to sheepishly admit that I was wearin’ the skunk. Soft hackles were the ticket and of course I had none. That’s my excuse, anyway.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Back to the drawing board


OK...Here we go again. I've limbered up my fingers, I've sharpened my penciles and made sure I have an adequate supply of ink on hand. Yep, I'm going to do another illustration, and I'll be entering it in the competition for the Virginia Fly Fishing Festival Artist of the Year. My friend Beau Beasley, the director and driving force behind the Virginia Fly Fishing Festival, has pressured me into entering some artwork in this year's competition, and though I'm so rusty I creak, I'll give it my best shot.
Since joining the national staff of Trout Unlimited just about a year ago I've had very little time to do this sort of thing...this sort of thing being artwork...so wish me luck and follow along as I give it my best shot. What you see here is the very early stages of a brookie, and I hope that by the end of December he will be worthy of consideration. Stay tuned. More to follow.

On another front, I've been busy doing some illustrations for our Adaptive Fly Fishing 101 book project. Bugs, bugs and more bugs...These and many more will be in the chapter about trout diets.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Veterans Day...remembering Roger

World War I – known at the time as “The Great War” - officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, in the Palace of Versailles outside the town of Versailles, France. However, fighting ceased seven months earlier when an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. For that reason, November 11, 1918, is generally regarded as the end of “the war to end all wars.”

As we know, mankind being what it is, it didn't work. Wars continued, and today on 11/11/11 as we remember and honor once again the service of so many fathers, mothers, relatives and friends from so many wars, let's all remember to thank one of the survivors. Their service to our country is greatly appreciated, and not taken for granted. Thank you very much for the sacrifices you, and your families, have made.

Each year at this time, and way too many other times, I think of those we have lost - and I think of my friend Roger. I first posted the following rememberance two years ago:

We had killed more than we should have but that’s the way it usually was. In truth I should say that Roger did most of the killing. I did a lot of the shooting. Not to say that I was a bad shot...I was average on most days and a little better on some. Roger never missed, and that fact led to his demise. So right up front, this story doesn’t have a happy ending.

Roger and I were friends. Not the type that hung out together to do just about anything anytime; we were huntin’ buddies, and that’s about all. Other than our desire to spend most mornings before school and every weekend in the field, we were polar opposites. Roger had little if any known interest in girls, fishing or cars and could have cared less about cruisin’ the strip. So we went hunting. From the 1st of September and the opening of dove season, through the end of goose season in January, Roger and I were armed and dangerous. Dove, quail, pheasants, turkey, ducks and geese; deer, squirrels, rabbits, coyotes and all manner of furry or feathered creatures would have done well to lay low. Roger was a hunter.

His parents were older than mine, in fact, if told they were his grandparents no one would have doubted. His dad was retired Air Force and was a very quite man. His mom was even quieter. They had moved to Tulsa upon retirement after a long tour of duty up in the Maine woods where Roger cut his teeth on .22’s and scatter guns. Roger and I were juniors in high school when we met.

Many weekends during duck season we would travel out to the Great Salt Plains in Roger’s Scout. We would drive the perimeter of the refuge looking for ponds. Situated well in the Central Flyway, the place was thick with waterfowl of every variety and every pond or puddle was sure to hold a few of them. Setting out a raft of decoys would have worked of course, but Roger was into stealth...so it was spot, park, crawl and shoot...and shoot, and shoot and shoot again. It usually went something like this: Rising up over the bank we’d spook the ducks. Up they would go and down they would fall. I would empty my gun and figure that I hit a couple of them. Roger would do the same and know that he hit a lot of them. Ten shots and thirteen birds between us was not unheard of. It was that way all the time. Roger never missed, and out of kindness he would always give me credit for hitting a few...whether I did or not.

1966. Roger and Buddy Holly me

I always had the feeling that his family had something against grocery stores. I was sure that they lived largely on the game that Roger brought home. My family had a preference for store bought, so it was a given that whatever we bagged would end up in Roger’s freezer. I can recall just one exception. A few years earlier Dad had bought a state of the art Hasty Bake grill. He quickly became a grill master with his steaks, roasts, burgers and chicken recipes. One day dad stated that he’d like to try grilling a duck, so one of the fatter mallards was selected and set aside. Dad had found a recipe in Sports Afield that he wanted to try. On Sunday the grill was fired up and the duck...heavily basted with wine, was prepared. The aroma was amazing...the duck was disgusting. Roger’s freezer stayed full.

We hunted together through our senior year. Every species, every season...building memories almost daily. Time passed, we hunted some more and then it came to an end. We graduated from high school and Roger volunteered for the Army. I got a few letters from him. He had gone Airborne and was as gung-ho as anyone you ever knew. After setting every marksmanship record for every type of hand held weapon the Army had, he was shipped off to ‘Nam as the shooter in a two man sniper unit.

Sometime in 1968, while I was going through training in the Air Force I was called to the commander’s office. Word had come down that while on patrol, Roger had stepped on a land mine and he was gone. I had wondered about how he would reenter the world when the Army had used him up. I had wondered if he could do it. Would he still hunt? Would he be even more deadly? What would he hunt? Would we hunt together again?

I found his name on The Vietnam Wall a few years ago. That tragic black wall with over 50,000 names on it. Not all were like Roger...some were supply sergeants, some were medics, some were whatever. But all were heroes. I thought of Roger a few days ago when reading about something called Honor Air...the project that flies our aging WWII heroes to their memorial in Washington. I thought of him when I read of the passengers at the Asheville airport rising to applaud a guy in uniform just back from Afghanistan. I thought about the waste. I thought about the times and the differences. I wondered who remembered. I remember Roger.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

VRQ Vets Hit the Water

Ryan said the van ride back to the VRQ was animated. He said that the guys that hadn’t nodded off were still going non-stop about the fish they caught when they pulled to a stop at their temporary home...the ones that got a way and the obligatory “mine was bigger than yours” arguments. A very good result indeed.

So what is a VRQ, who were these guys, and a good result of what, you ask. Well, for new readers of this little blog the acronym VRQ stands for the Veterans Restoration Quarters in Asheville, North Carolina and the guys in the van were 13 residents returning from their first fishing outing on some pretty special private water. The evening before they had received their diplomas for completing the inaugural presentation of Adaptive Fly Fishing 101, a six week program on the basics of fly fishing that Ryan and I put together especially for them. Of course we figured if the program was successful we could introduce it to all of our TU chapters and Project Healing Waters programs across the nation.
This all started two months earlier when I ran into my friend Jeff Miller of Honor Air fame while shopping at the neighborhood Lowe’s, and what started as a friendly “How you been?” encounter turned into an excited and extended conversation. Jeff was the driving force behind the Honor Air flights that have taken hundreds of area WWII veterans to Washington to view the WWII memorial in recent years and I expected to hear the latest news about the last flight but instead I heard about the VRQ. Jeff couldn’t stop talking and I wouldn’t let him.

Jeff explained that three years ago the Asheville/Buncombe County Christian Ministries purchased a Super 8 Motel just down the road from the Asheville VA Medical Center to house the areas homeless veterans. The facility houses 230 residents in a two year program to serve the special needs of homeless veterans, including the disabled. They provide intensive training, life skills and specialized employment services for veterans, and in the past three years no one has ever been discharged to the streets. Every veteran graduates to appropriate housing with income. They receive full access to medical care, dental care, pharmacy and medication assistance as needed, and now, thanks to Trout Unlimited members and Project Healing Waters they are learning the art of fly fishing. The six week program covers everything from casting to fly tying, the gear we use, the various trout varieties and their habits, to basic entomology, water reading and cold water conservation…and it has been a huge success.
On Sunday morning volunteers from the Pisgah chapter of Trout Unlimited were joined by other well known guides from the area, many with PHW experience. Leading the guide duties were Jesse Connor of bamboo rod building fame (Trout Dancer Rod Company) and local legend Joe Moore from my TU chapter. Along with other TU member volunteers, they made for a great one-to-one ratio of guides to veterans. We met at Davidson River Outfitter’s shop in Pisgah Forest, NC where proprietor Kevin Howell had once again set aside his entire trophy water section for the day’s outing. After a quick sausage biscuit breakfast the vets began the unfamiliar task of gearing up. The early morning temperature was a bit frosty and their bulky coats and jackets didn’t help matters any as they squeezed into the waders and boots generously provided by Kevin and other area fly shops. One of the vets, Harry, had a complaint right off the bat. “Why are these wading boots wet already?” he said as he laced the recently used loaners up over his socks. Ryan and I knew that a lot of modification was going to be needed before formally publishing Adaptive Fly Fishing 101 for distribution, but we figured that most students would know that the waders go on first! Guess not. Harry would later redeem himself in fine fashion.

As the temperatures warmed up so did the fishing and the fishing was fabulous, with every vet landing his share of the Davidson’s beautiful and large rainbows and browns. With brand new TFO 5 weights that they received with their diplomas the night before, they put their recently learned skills to good use, with many of the trout caught measuring well over twenty inches. And not to slight the other guys from the VRQ who shared the water on that crisp October day, but “put the waders on first” Harry out-fished them all. This Pennsylvania native, who had never fished for trout before, landed four of the prettiest rainbows that any of the guides had ever seen. Were Harry and his buddies spoiled rotten to catch such fish on their very first outing? Absolutely, and the members of Trout Unlimited that volunteered for this groundbreaking Project Healing Waters program wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

I didn't deserve this!

On Friday evening the Project Healing Waters Program Leads from the Mid-South Region started rolling in. There were folks from North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia, and the plan was to meet Saturday afternoon to share ideas and brainstorm ways to improve their individual programs. Our friend John Bass, the Regional Manager, put the weekend together and I was invited to update the leaders on my recent activities with TU's Veterans Service Program.

Before we got down to business though, Ryan and I took John Bass to one of his favorite spots on Saturday morning. As we feared would happen, with one exception the creek treated John rather poorly. The recent hurricane brought enough rain to push the West Prong of the French Broad trout downstream and the lack of rain that followed left the creek low and clear. On this little creek, “low and clear” means skittish trout, and they certainly were.
A perfectly dead-drifted Sheep Fly...
...and the result.


Saturday’s meeting was very productive, but the anticipation of Sunday’s fishing was on everyone’s mind. Well, it was on mine, anyway. John and Ryan had arranged with Davidson River Outfitters to have the entire private water section to ourselves, and that’s an opportunity that doesn’t come along very often.

I and four of the PL’s that could stay for the fishing met at DRO at 8:30. We reviewed the stream map, spilt up and headed for the water. Rob Lurie and I headed for the section known as “The Island.”

Both of us prefer down and across wet fly and streamer fishing, so downstream we went. I managed to catch a few 6 inch wild rainbows, but to be on one of the south’s premier trophy waters…well, that wasn’t what I was hoping for. Sure, they were pretty, but they were small. Finally, I landed a fish that put a bend in the rod I was testing. A blue gill! I didn’t deserve this. Here I was on a premier trout stream and the best I can do is two little trout and a bluegill?

Yes, I was testing some new equipment on Sunday. LL Bean has long been a great supporter of TU, and earlier this year I received a shipment of rods to distribute to our chapters involved in our Veterans Service Program. I see the remaining rods every time I walk through the garage and today I decided to put one to the test. They are from their “Angler” series, and though very reasonably priced, these rods are fantastic. I’m usually good for a couple of hours of pretty good casting before I tire - even with my TFO 2 wt. - but at the end of my five hours Sunday I was still casting tight loops. I also was testing a wading staff from Springbrook. In recent years my balance hasn’t been what it once was and that lack of balance has led to way too many wobbly knee experiences. For you guys of my vintage – trust me – invest in a wading staff. Even though with all the gear I carry I might be mistaken for the Wichita Lineman, I’ll never again head to the stream without that 3rd leg.
About the time I was really bemoaning my situation and mentally whining that I didn’t deserve this – that I deserved more than two measly little trout and a blue gill, that LL Bean 8 ft. 6 wt. twitched a bit and I found it attached to a very nice trout. Twenty or more inches of nice. Then, thirty minutes later I netted another of the same size. I took a break for lunch, went back to the river and found myself totally alone. All my colleagues had headed for home and I had the entire private water section to myself. Really…all to myself. I fished for another hour and landed the brute shown below. Another twenty incher. I was right in the beginning. Thanks John…I didn’t deserve this.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Night Fishing


Fishing in the dark. Fishing for big brown trout and not having a clue what I was doing. And as evidence, that picture above aint me.

Wading a big river that I had never laid eyes upon…even in the daytime. Well, that’s not exactly true. We got there just before dark and tried our luck along with a crowd of other anglers at a pool right next to the parking area. We had heard that the big browns were in the area spawning but I was beginning to doubt it. But we were there for the night time fishing and I was imagining that the river would come alive after sunset.

As I recall it was right around Thanksgiving…a little nip in the air. We were right below Table Rock Dam on White River. With the darkness increased, I walked away from that original pool and tried all the proven flies until I could no longer see to cast on this moonless night…to no avail. And then it started. A splash here, a splash there. Then more and more. Big browns were breaching everywhere. That, or people were throwing rocks into the river. Big rocks.

As the splashes were not right at my feet, and since I was a little leary of wading that fast water in the dark, I hoofed it back to the car to get my spinning gear so I could reach the splashes. After tying on a Rapala of about three inches, I would try to judge the distance and direction to the most recent splash. Cast after cast I would jerk at every sound just to be safe. This went on for hours until finally a jerk met some resistance. A nice fish. Heavy with lots of fight. When I managed to pull it onto the gravel bar and get a good view of it, I was quite proud and would have been content to go home with one nice fish to my credit. If only I could have.

As I reached down to grab the big fellow he flipped towards my hand, and yes, he placed one of those treble hooks squarely in the back of my left thumb…right behind the thumbnail. Deep into the bone. Later, we guessed that he weighed around six pounds and I felt every once of it as he continued his flopping around. I needed to get to my knife - and fast. With the hook digging in deeper with every flop, I managed to get my waders down enough to reach my right hand into my left jeans pocket and grab it. I put an end to his antics. It’s a wonder that I didn’t stab myself in the process. So there I was, alone and in pain with a six pound brown attached to my thumb.

Finally one of my buddies arrived at the bloody scene, and thankfully he wasn’t carrying a pair of wimpy hemostats – he had a pair of needle nose pliers with that handy wire cutting thingy up near the handle. Goodbye trout. Now I only had the hook – minus the lure and the fish – stuck in my thumb. Off to the hospital we went.

Branson, Missouri is lit up day and night. At least it was that early 2:00am morning. As we headed through the emergency room doors we must have been a sight. I doubt they had seen many fully outfitted fly-fishers trudging down the halls leaking water from waders and boots at that ungodly hour. Thankfully, other than us and the few docs on duty, the place was empty.

Checking out my situation, one of the docs reached in a cabinet and pulled out a huge hypodermic needle that looked more suited to turkey basting than delicate medical work. He said he was going to deaden my thumb before removing the hook. “Whoa there doc! Haven’t you seen the latest method of hook removal? The one where you get a length of cord and just jerk it out? How ‘bout we give that a try before stabbing me with that thing?"

He says, “Sure, it’s up to you,” so I proceeded to explain the process. At least I thought I had explained it. After looping the cord around the bend of the hook…he yanked on it…I screamed…and the hook remained. I then explained that they needed to press down on what would have been the eye of the hook at the same time he yanked the cord. He tried again and I screamed again…but louder this time. Fortunately my screams had attracted another doctor, and about the time I was agreeing to be basted, he came to see what all the hollerin' was about.

This guy knew what he was doing…knew the process exactly having done it many times. He assigned two orderlies to hold down me and my arm, got a longer cord, and yanked it like he was trying to start an old Briggs & Stratton. I mean, he reared back, and unlike the girly man doc, gave it all he had.

And the hook came out with no pain at all. Back to the river we went.

The point of the story? Print the directions below and carry it in your vest. That, or scream REALLY loud when the first doctor blows it.

Monday, September 12, 2011

And he's got high hopes...high apple pie, in the sky hopes

This weekend John Bass, the Project Healing Waters Mid-South Regional Manager, will be hosting an event in Brevard, NC for all of the PHW Program Leads in his region for a day of meetings followed by a day of fishing on Davidson River Outfitter's private waters.

Some how or another I got invited. Did I accept? Of course. I haven't fished those waters for a while and the opportunity was too much to resist. So I figured that since the trees have a larger collection of my flies than my vest does, I had better get to work at the tying bench.
Do you think you see too much yellow on this table? Not a chance! I think not.
So this week I've spent more time than I should have doing a little replenishing. I had to tie up a few yellow and black marabous, and a few Nub Worms. One of the guys at our Asheville PHW program found a smaller size of our secret Nub Worm material, and so with the creators approval (Not really...sorry Jerry), I tied up a few size 14's. And since John's favorite pattern is the Sheep Fly, I tied up one for John.
Someone is going to catch a very large trout. It could be one of the Program Leads...it could be John...it could be me. Regardless, we are gauranteed to have a great time on some of the premier waters of the southeast. And if not, as everyone knows, "Oops there goes another problem kerplop."
(My apologies for you young whipper-snappers that don't recognize the lyrics. Think Sinatra, not Pink Floyd.)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Hey guys…I got an idea

How bout we build a giant enclosure out in the ocean. We’ll call it a park…a National Park. We’ll pick a beautiful spot. A place that tourists are sure to flock to. We’ll stock it with every species of ocean dwelling creature that we can find. Both the common ones and those that are endangered. Then we’ll invite the tourists. Families can swim the underwater trails that we’ll establish, take pictures, and have a great time taking in the beauty and the wildlife.

It will be a masterpiece. Everyone from Al Gore to The Sierra Club will praise our commitment to ecology and the environment. It will be a true show place of sea creatures large and small. We’ll have scientists monitor the various populations and if they see a fall-off in any given species, well, they’ll just have to up the protection levels or maybe bring in some critters from the outside.

Our park will be known far and wide as the showplace of deep blue sea. Of course there will be some sharks to contend with, but hey, they’re part of the environment too. Part of the food chain, you know, the eco-system depends on them. Of course there will be warnings signs posted from time to time if their population gets out of control, or if any of them get a little frisky, but just imagine the thrill that little Sally will have seeing a Great White up close and personal. Be careful though Sally. Don’t feed the sharks. Might even have to close the trails occasionally if things get out of hand.

Through our study of the parks environment we will learn our rightful place in the grand scheme of things. We’ll learn that even with our smarts we are no match for a Great White. Yes, there will be some deaths. But ya know, they were here first – we’re in their world - and they’re just doing what comes natural. If folks encounter these top predators in the park and they cause problems, the authorities will have to relocate them to another part of the park…over by the kelp farm perhaps. And if we wake up one day and find that we are loosing too many Sallys, we’ll have to put up more signs and maybe even close a few more underwater trails.

Who knows, the water park environment might be so conducive to reproduction that our top predators, to expand their range, may bust out from time to time. After all, we can’t really put a fence around the place, so the escapes will probably be pretty common. Sure, they’ll harass the folks outside our borders, eat a few surfers and such, but hey, that’s their domain too. The outsiders will just have to deal with it. Our goal is preservation and protection of the species. The aquatic species, that is.

This is ridiculous of course, but so is our current attitude towards another top predator. The grizzly bear. I just read that another death has occurred in Yellowstone. The second one this year, and I read not one word about the need to get rid of them. Yes, they were there first, and yes, we are intruding upon their space, but who’s to say whose space it really is? Last I heard we were in charge here. See Genesis 1:28. It continually amazes me that we, the true top predators, will allow a creature that can kill and eat us to share our hiking trails and fishin’ holes. Taken to its logical conclusion and given enough protection, these creatures, by “doing what comes naturally,” will run the place.


Or take a look at south Florida, where folks move into waterfront condominiums and run the risk of loosing their children to alligators. What do they do when one of these gators has the neighbor’s Pomeranian over for lunch? They relocate the gator. Give me a break. Kill the damned things, will ya!

Imagine yourself a city dweller. You’ve saved and saved for years and you finally have the dough to buy that little slice of heaven out in the country. You move in and find that the place is swarming with fiddle back spiders and rattle snakes. What do you do? You kill them, of course. Even though they were there first, they are a risk to your health and safety, so you do what any right thinking person would do. What’s the difference between spiders and snakes and the griz? Or the alligator, or the Nile crocodile…or that marauding tiger in India?

So we have a problem. Do we annihilate this most incredibly beautiful large killing machine called the grizzly, or do we live with it? There are just over 600 of these magnificent animals prowling through Yellowstone National Park and due to a number of factors our encounters with them are becoming more common and more dangerous. Their traditional food sources are dwindling. White bark pine trees are dying off, leaving the bears with a diminishing supply of pine nuts; cutthroat trout are at risk from global warming and army cutworm moths are at risk too. And there are few things angrier than a hungry bear coming out of hibernation and not finding the usual number of winter killed elk and bison to replenish his protein requirements.

What’s a hungry bear to do? More importantly, what are we to do?
Just wondering…

Monday, August 29, 2011

A very eventful week

For as long as I have been fishing I have relied upon a well worn quiver of excuses for my lack of fishing skill. You know, standard stuff like:
“I brought the wrong rod.”
“I can’t see the fish.”
“Your cigar smoke got in my eyes.”
“They’re hitting short.”
“Barometer is rising.”
“Barometer is going down.”
“We should have gone to…”
“We should have been here yesterday.”
“It’s too cloudy.”
“It’s too sunny.”
“There’s no fish in here.”
“It’s too windy.”
“It’s too calm.”
Etc.

The most common by far - my go to excuse - has been my eyesight. Well, that excuse was pulverized last Tuesday by tiny ultrasonic waves in a process called Phacoemulsification, otherwise known as cataract surgery. The good doctor took out the bad and put in the good – the good being an intraocular plastic lens. With this new bionic eye I’ll surely put fear in the pea sized brains of the trout, as I will not only be able to see them deep in the water, I will be able to detect the specific bugs they are eating. And for those super spooky little blue-line brookies and those highly educated browns of the Davidson – beware. I’ll see you guys and know where you are even before you do! Maybe. If the surgery results go as promised I might even be able to reacquaint myself with those little tiny fuzzy things that occupy the lower reaches of my fly box.
PROJECT HEALING WATERS
On Wednesday, after a visit to the doctor to allow him to check on the previous day’s procedure, I took a chance and drove up to Spruce Pine, North Carolina to participate in a Project Healing Waters event sponsored by River’s Edge Outfitters.
We met in the fly shop for a fly tying session and as soon as our vets had completed tying their individual arsenals for the day we caravanned to the water. We were joined on this outing by North Carolina’s senior Senator, Richard Burr.
The Senator is the Ranking Member of the Veterans Affairs Committee and as a good friend of TU and Project Healing Waters, we were honored to have him join in the fun. Thanks to Brandon Wilson for doing the leg work to make this happen and to John Mitchell, the Senator’s WNC Field Representative for getting the Senator over here. Many fish were caught and a good time was had by all.
“Hey Senator, are you wishing you had that same hold on Harry Reid?”

On Saturday Ryan and I (from the Pisgah chapter of Trout Unlimited) along with help from the Cherokee, NC contingent of Project Healing Waters, began our 6 week Fly Fishing 101 sessions at Asheville’s Veterans Service Quarters (VRQ). For those not in the know, the VRQ might be called a homeless shelter, but it’s much more than that. A few years ago the Asheville Buncombe County Christian Ministries purchased a relatively new motel just down the road from the VA Hospital.

The facility houses 230 veterans in a two year program to serve the special needs of homeless veterans, including the disabled. They are providing intensive training, life skills and specialized employment services for veterans who are dislocated workers and/or need retraining, and they work with the VA Medical Center Homeless Coordinator to consistently reach out to homeless veterans. They help the veteran connect appropriately with VA services and they provide screening and access to veteran benefits. They provide the basic necessities of an individualized cubical/bed, meals, laundry services, recreation and case management. In the past three years, no one has ever been discharged to the streets. Every veteran graduates to appropriate housing with income. They receive full access to medical care, dental care, pharmacy and medication assistance as needed, and now, thanks to TU members and Project Healing Waters they are learning the art of fly fishing.

Our Week 1 session was well attended with 18 vets participating in an overview of the 6 week course. We covered the basics of the gear we use, fly tying, the trout’s traits and personalities, the places we fish, the knots we use and basic fly casting. We ended the session out on the lawn with casting practice.

These guys are fantastic. Both Ryan and I agree that we have never had such an eager and attentive group of veterans. Their enthusiasm and their attitudes make what we are doing through TU’s Veterans Service Program (in partnership with Project Healing Waters) the most fulfilling work that I’ve ever been involved in. I should add that the VRQ sits on a delayed harvest trout stream, and at the conclusion of the six week course we have made arrangements for the state to provide a special stocking just for these guys.

Every time I answer a question or see the gleam in the vet’s eyes as we talk about the fishing outings to come, I remember the old saying…”There, but for the grace of God, go I.”


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Slough Creek


The wording above came verbatim from my fishing journal dated July 28,1962 - forty nine years ago. It reads, "The creek was really down and clearer than I have ever seen it. They had a warm spring up here. About halfway up the meadow I spooked a nice fish - the largest I've seen today. He swam downstream about twenty yards and I eased back into the grass to let him get back to his chosen position. I waited about five minutes and walked downstream of him. I made a couple of false casts upstream and dropped the Adams about three feet above him. He took on the third cast and made a strong run downstream. My reel was really singing..."

We spent many days, over many years, fishing the upper meadows of Slough Creek and many nights since, in that hazy period just before nodding off, I've replayed this episode and many more like it.

I'm told that the creek is pretty much the same today as yesterday, with the exception of the traffic it gets. Our days of fishing the upper meadows were rarely interupted by the presence of other anglers.

The journal entry continues:
...I had to follow him downstream, not because of lack of line, but there was a steep bank where I hooked him and I had to find a place to land him. He fought me for about 5 minutes and I landed him on a mud bank. The fish was bigger than I thought. It measured 16 1/2 inches and weighed 3 1/4 pounds. It was the largest fish of the day. The rest of the family fished the Lamar down from the ranger station and brought home 7 fish.

Later that same year, on this same stream, I had one of those hair-on-the-back-of-the-neck experiences...As soon as the car was parked at the campground I headed up the trail to the 1st Meadow. Back at our base in Cooke City we had heard many stories about the bears so as usual, I was a little nervous. We had heard that the area had more grizzlies than anyplace else in the lower 48.

A few days before, on an outing to West Yellowstone, we had seen "The Grizz" at relatively close range. Pulling up to the edge of the city dump just before sundown there were at least twenty black bears of all sizes rooting through the garbage when all of a suddon - in unison - they all stood on their hind legs and looked off in the same direction. Sniffing the air, again in unison, they hightailed it out of there. Up the hill came "Ole Slewfoot", made famous by the Craighead brothers, and none of the black bears wanted anything to do with that swaggering monster or the other grizzlies that followed along. As we watched from the safety of the car we gained a new level of respect for the power and grace of those animals.

The trail from the campground was easy to follow. We were told that it ended at a place named Silvertip Ranch. Wary of the bears, I made as much noise as I could, whistling and singing the pop hits of the day. I saw bear sign a time or two but never saw the perpetrators. One of the rangers back in Cooke had made matters worse by telling us about the buffalos. He said they were far more dangerous and totally unpredictable. I was on guard for sure.

At one point along the canyon the trail came pretty close to the stream...close enough that I could hear the water. Not one to pass up a trout or two, I had to give it a try. I left the trail and headed through the pines to the stream. Getting closer, it was clear that the water was beloew the level that I was on, so as I neared the water I dropped to a crawl to avoid spooking any trout that might be waiting. As I neared the bank I could see the far side of a very nice pool below the drop-off. Excitement was in the air as I inched toward the edge and just as I peered over...moose antlers were in the air also. And right in front of my face.

Over the years as Slough Creek crashed through the canyon it had cut into the near bank and deposited a nice bed of sand at the stream's edge. Just nice enough and big enough to be the perfect mid-morning napping place for a bull Shiras Moose. As the big guy heard me and swung his massive antlers around I'm sure he was wondering who was this that had the audacity to disrupt his nap. As I backed away he came slowly to his feet and waded across the pool to the far side. I sat there for a good long while before I tried the fishing. The ranger had said nothing about a moose.


Thursday, August 4, 2011

This morning...


I’m standing on what Ryan called the “Million Dollar Bridge to Nowhere” but that’s not entirely true. This marvelous engineering feat (take my word for it, it’s an awesome bridge) leads to a trail to somewhere- the upper reaches of a little feeder stream of the Davidson River – and that’s Ryan fishing it.

On this day with record breaking temperatures, we decided to leave the demands of our bill paying jobs behind and head out for a little R&R. We hop-scotched from one little plunge pool to the next and managed to catch a few wild rainbows each and one gorgeous little brown. It was the kind of morning that I need to have more of. For the first time in who knows how long I spent the entire time fishing upstream with dries. Everyone that knows me knows of my aversion to this sort of fishing, but on this day, on this little creek, it was just what I needed.

Ryan has a rule when rock hopping up really skinny water: When one guy catches a trout, it’s the other guys turn and the other guy fishes until he catches one. Well, not too long into the morning I caught a wild rainbow of about three inches and figured that it didn’t count. Wrong Alan. Size matters on these little creeks and according to Ryan a fish of that size counts. In fact anything larger than a sardine counts. His turn. And so it went through the morning.

Around noon I suggested that we might try going downstream to the big water and sample some bigger prey, but after leaving the relative coolness of the creek environment and arriving at the “D” we found both the air temperature, and that of the water, to be just a little too warm for ethical fishing . For the sake of the many fish that we would surely have caught, and after I reminded myself of who I work for, we decided that our time would be better spent enjoying a pulled pork sandwich in the air-conditioned comfort of Hawg Wild Barbeque. And speaking of who I work for, I’d better get back to work.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Where Have All The Menhaden Gone?


My friend Beau Beasley has just had an article published in the current edition of Fly Fish America magazine – the saltwater edition – about the decline of menhaden along the east coast and in Chesapeake Bay. You might ask “so what?” until you learn that this little baitfish is the prime culprit in the decline of striped bass in the bay.

Beau is widely known as one of the better outdoor writers in the nation, and now he stakes a claim as one of our better investigative journalists. His reporting on the plight of the menhaden is getting national exposure and if I know Beau, you aint seen nothin’ yet. Check out the article at http://digital.turn-page.com/issue/34421/15 and if you are a resident of Virginia you might want to follow-up your reading with a call to one of your state representatives.

And thanks Beau…for including my little menhaden illustration in the article!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Melissa Needs Your Vote!

I want to encourage each and every one of my friends to vote for a friend of ours, Melissa Stockwell, who has been nominated for the ESPN ESPY award.

Why you ask? Well, Melissa is a combat wounded veteran of the war in Iraq. Melissa was leading a convoy on a mission through Baghdad when an improvised explosive device (IED) took out her unarmored Humvee.. The blast from the IED took off Melissa’s left leg. Her wounds required 15 surgeries, and she spent a year recovering and undergoing rehabilitation at Walter Reed Army Medical Center where she became involved in the Wounded Warrior Project. She took part in athletic events designed to improve the strength and confidence of newly injured soldiers.

Melissa was medically retired from the Army in 2005 and her military decorations include the Purple Heart and Bronze Star. She has since become a certified prosthetist and is actively involved in helping other amputees get back on their feet.

She has completed multiple triathlons and has become a competitive swimmer. She competed in three events in the 2008 Paralympics and won the 2010 Paratriathlon world championships. And she is an avid fly fisher – recently sampling the waters of western North Carolina with our buddy, Ryan Harman.

In addition to serving as a board member of the Wounded Warrior Project, Melissa and her family are great supporters of Project healing Waters

I think those are some pretty good reasons to cast a vote for Melissa. So go to this link http://espn.go.com/espys/#/voting and click on Vote by Category and choose the Female Athlete with a Disability Category to vote. Voting ends on July 9th. Melissa’s courage has been a huge inspiration to other vets and to all with whom she comes in contact. Melissa was there for us, let’s be there for her!

Thanks

Saturday, July 2, 2011

You CAN go home again...

Me, that Hayes kid and Bruce

I stepped into the cold clear water of Upper Spavinaw Creek and stepped back in time. I waded up stream past the confluence with Beatty Creek and cast my fly toward the eastern bank, standing in the current with as much hope and anticipation as I did over fifty years ago.

Of course that Hayes kid wasn’t there, nor was his sister - the pretty girl on the rock. I hadn’t seen them in fifty-two years either. My brothers were there though, which made it all the more special. This place is magic. The memories…ah, the memories.
It’s where my affair with clear water began on a two week camping trip that I wrote about here in July of ’09, and it’s pictured on the home page of my website, www.clearwatermemories.com.


The minute we arrived I exited the car and walked across that blazing white gravel to put my foot once again into the stream of my youth. It was just as cold and pure as I remembered it, and as I looked upstream I found that fifty plus Oklahoma spring floods had not done much to alter its course.

Casting my two weight against the bank under the trees that used to hold the brownies, I was excited to see the small bluegills and a few smallish bass follow the swing of my fly. In hopes of fooling them into thinking that catfish minnows (mad toms) were on the menu, I had tied on a black cone head woolly, only to wish that its marabou tail had a hook hidden inside. They attacked the tail with gusto…I set the hook with gusto…and nothing came to hand. I clipped the tail off and they ignored it.


When I switched to a yellow attractor pattern I started catching the bream, but the bass – as wily as always – laid back and let there smaller cousins have all the fun. I eventually caught a few, but they weren’t the familiar brownies – they were black bass. Brother Bruce, who has fished the stream often in the years since our first great adventure, told me that just a few years back the hog and chicken pollution from upstream had gotten so bad that the creek was nearly un-fishable. The moss and weeds in the creek had clogged the stream and nearly every cast meant spending a few minutes after every cast cleaning your fly of debris.

I’m no fisheries biologist but I suspect that the degraded water quality did the brownies in, and that the black bass, known for their ability to survive just about anywhere, had taken over. In recent years, with tougher environmental controls, the creek had returned to its former state, but without the brownies. And that’s a shame, as this creek looks more like a tumbling trout stream than a backwater haven for largemouth bass. The fast runs that were formally occupied by the swift water loving brownies now held nothing at all.

Still, I had a great time. It was a marvelous afternoon. Brothers Bruce and Tom took turns slinging my little TFO catching blue gills and bass, and I managed to catch the prettiest fish I have ever caught. With apologies to all lovers of trout – feast your eyes on the image below and tell me that God didn’t create it. Tell me that it just evolved from the ooze and that its beauty is just an accident of nature. Sorry folks. God made it and he put it there for my amazement and enjoyment.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Mike Won!

As I was downing my morning coffee and perusing the net one day last week I saw a posting on the TU website about a contest for blog writers…“TU’s Sportsmen’s Conservation Project is teaming up with the Outdoor Blogger Network for a writing contest about trout fishing and coldwater conservation. The four top bloggers in the contest stand to win a trip to fly fish Montana’s Centennial Valley.”

I thought about digging through my archives and sending in something. Then, as is my habit, I jumped over to one of my favorite blogs and saw that my friend Mike, from Mike’s Gone Fishin'…Again had just written up a submission titled “The Best Trout Fishing Trip Ever” and I knew that anything I might send in had no chance of winning.

Well today, as I was going through my morning routine, what do I see but news that Mike had won the contest. To anyone that is a regular reader of Mike’s blog, this was no surprise at all. The man has a way with words. In the early days of this blog I mistakenly thought that I could create some of the same stuff that Mike was becoming known for. Silly me.

In April of 2010 Mike and I shared a day on the Davidson and I learned that Mike – in addition to being a great writer, photographer and threat to all creatures piscatorial – is a great guy.

Congratulations Mike!

Enjoy...http://mikesgonefishing.blogspot.com/2011/06/best-trout-fishing-trip-ever.html

Sunday, June 12, 2011

RANT

I haven’t ranted about anything in a good long time, but what I just saw on TV has brought me back to my cantankerous old self. Sorry. Can’t help myself. And my apologies go out to a good number of my fishing buddies who also happen to enjoy getting out in the woods enjoying the sport of hunting.

I should start be saying that I’m not anti-hunting. In my youth I enjoyed the sport as much as anyone. Just about any game bird or animal was in my sights at one time or another. But we did it a little different back then. A good example would be deer hunting. I did not grow up in a deer hunting Mecca and competition for the available game was fierce. A deer hunting trip in northeastern Oklahoma on public lands was as much an adventure in not getting shot by your fellow hunters as it was an effort to bag a deer. I recollect one morning in particular…

Prior to opening day my partner Roger and I had located a woodland that was filled with deer sign. Hopes were high as we trudged to our pre-selected spots prior to daylight on the first day of the season. As we settled in at the base of two different trees along a game trail and waited for sunrise we were amazed at the sounds we heard. There was a near constant rustling of the leaves and we were certain that our reconnoitering had led us to a place filled with game.

As the sun rose to brighten what had been a very dark night we saw what looked to be blaze orange decorations everywhere. There was nary a tree that was not festooned with the color. We found ourselves in the company of who knows how many city slickers out for a morning of shooting, and much to their chagrin as soon as practical Roger and I made a hasty and noisy exit from the woods. It wasn’t long after that that I gave up deer hunting completely. City slickers with their newly bought 30-30’s on public hunting lands; guys that hit the woods no more than a couple of times a year and didn’t know a deer from Uncle Gus’ favorite Holstein were not our idea of good wood-mates.

But at least those guys were not practicing the tactics that I see on the Sportsman Channel. What I saw this evening that raised my ire was a program titled North American Safari. I only saw a couple of minutes of it but a couple of minutes were enough. The guys were hunting from a camouflaged tree stand and the first shot I saw was on a warthog. I didn’t stay around long enough to know the location, but I did stay long enough to see the arrow take the beast down…as it was eating at a feed trough. A literal feed trough. And if my eyes weren’t fooling me there was a donkey feeding next to him.

What happened to the days when we actually hunted? Back in my deer hunting days I spent more time walking than sitting. Not that I was any good at it, but at least I was practicing the craft the same way that my ancestors did. Where is the woodcraft today? The only challenge in this sort of hunting is accuracy. If you can shoot straight you’ll kill something. Where is stalking and stealth? The only thing these guys learn is that animals eat, and if you put out something tasty and wait long enough, the animals will come. What happened to the hunt in hunting?

I have long chided my friends for “hunting” from a tree stand. They call it deer hunting but I call it “ambushing.” But at least they aren’t hunting over a feed trough.

The folks that run those cattle feed lots out in Kansas had better be wary.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Bunnies and Goats and Bears, Oh My!


As the hired hand poured a full can of diesel fuel onto the stack of wood inside the fire ring he started talking about the bears. Said they came down about every night to rummage through the trash. Said there were a number of dens up the mountain and a year or two ago one of their den mates came to work for him. Strange fellow he was. Said he worked out OK but smelled pretty bad. We were at a campground that will remain nameless lest I be served with a summons at some future date and accused of slandering the joint. Of course I’ll have a good number of witnesses to testify to the truth of my claims…so no worries.

This unnamed place was proud or its conservation reputation. Their brochure was loaded with platitudes about their back to nature philosophy and their love for the land. Their organic garden, their single Holstein cow, which if you timed your visit just right could be milked by all the campers, along with their bunny rabbits and goats testified to their commitment to eco-living. As further proof, the aforementioned bear dining hall was perfectly situated to serve the gastronomic needs of the bears. Their open topped trash enclosure backed up to the slope where the dens were, making for an easy dumpster diving entry. And as proof, the path up the slope was littered with the evidence. Yessir, the proprietors of this place had a true love for the animals. No bear would go hungry.

Memorial Day and family camping have become a tradition around here and this year we were in the deepest woods of the north Georgia mountains. Chad had found the place on the web - a “retreat center” with full hookups, animal petting, a trout stream you couldn’t fish in and a trout pond where you could. We set up our tent between our two daughters’ campers and wondered aloud why anyone in their right mind would call this wall to wall RV experience camping. Oh well.

Chad and I were a little familiar with the surrounding waters and had planned to spend a good amount of time away from the RV parking lot, and the “good amount of time” began on Saturday morning. We motored on down to the quaint Bavarian village of Helen, GA and stopped in to see our buddies at Unicoi Outfitters to get the latest fishing reports. The upper Chattahoochee was the recommendation, but getting there was going to take a little longer than normal. The tornado that came through on Thursday afternoon - the one we heard about on the Weather Channel that delayed our leaving home by a day - had downed a good number of trees on the forest service road that we would normally have taken, so we had to go the long way.

Five miles of bone jarring switchbacks led us to the headwaters of the Chattahoochee River. Little more than a small creek, 150 miles as the crow flies, and who knows how many tributaries later, this pristine trout stream would turn into a large and wide bass stream at Chad’s home near Columbus, Georgia.

The fishing was a little different than the available fishing back at the campground. Check out this warning sign that they had posted at the trout pond – a message that is sure to change the catch and release methodology of all my brethren. So releasing fish kills them? In fairness it probably does…if you hook ‘em deep with a night crawler. Six bucks a pound, if you please.


Chad and I managed to catch a good number of trout – all about a foot in length, except for one wild and beautifully colored rainbow - and the best fly color was yellow.

I know - surprise, surprise. Hey if it works for ya…why change? I stuck with a yellow hackled woolly with a black chenille body and black marabou tail, and Chad’s fly of choice was about the same. We probably spent a little over three hours on the stream and the ride back to camp had us wishing for those NASCAR type carbon fiber seats and HANS Devices to protect us from the whiplash treatment of the well rutted road.

The next morning Chad and my daughter’s fiancĂ© Jonathan convinced me that these old knees of mine could climb the mountain behind camp. They theorized that if we hiked far enough up the mountain we were sure to find a few native brookies. I wasn’t about to wimp out, although midway up that first leg I threatened to. Glad I didn’t.

Near the top we came across the remains of what might have been a waterwheel. Nothing was left but the concrete supports, and looking at the log reinforced channel above it I was certain that we had happened across what at one time had been some sort of water powered mill. That is, until we saw this sign.



The intricately placed bank retainers – so far up the mountain and laid with such obvious care and planning – showed that some dedicated real conservationists had done some very back breaking work to ensure that our beloved brookies had a place to thrive. Thank you TU.



After we saw the sign and determined that we just might be in the presence of royalty, Chad proceeded to land the beauty shown below. Unfortunately that was the only one landed but to be in their presence; to walk the unspoiled forests and practice our Joe Humphries bow and arrow casts…we were in brookie heaven.



Around sundown, back at the campground, the old lady that owned the place was on the warpath. Traveling through the campground on her golf cart she interrogated everyone about their numbers – kids, guests, dogs, tents, and vehicles – all under the guise of striking up a friendly conversation. Through her accusatory interrogations she managed to collect an extra few bucks from everyone and if you questioned her arithmetic or her logic her standard response was, “You just don’t understand, we are conservationists.” There were charges for everything, including the grass seed she would have to lay down after our tent was removed. No wonder her campground was the only one in the area with vacancies. She’ll have a few more next year.

On Sunday everyone but Shirley and I took off on another hike up the mountain. Deciding to take a shortcut, they left the main trail and headed through the brush. After passing many caves and wondering about the bear population, they had a great time playing at the foot of a number of beautiful waterfalls.



Eventually they came to the intended trail but they were going in an unintended direction. As they descended back towards civilization they came across some crime scene tape and posted to a tree on the downhill side of the trail was a sign reading:

Caution
There is fresh bear sign
all along this trail. Be aware
of your surroundings and make
noise, talking etc. if you choose to hike.



All in all it was a great holiday weekend. We fished some incredible waters, we ate some great meals, we enjoyed each others company; we survived the harassment of our hosts and we managed to avoid the tornados and the bears. Will we go back? Not to the place that I promised not to mention, but to the area? Absolutely.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Lessons

The cars began rolling in around four o’clock on Saturday afternoon in plenty of time to settle into the motel and meet up at River’s Edge Outfitters in Cherokee NC for the promised pizza dinner. We had a car from Charlotte, two from relatively local, a car from Raleigh and a couple of guys who had traveled seven hours form Wilmington. The pizza was good but that wasn’t the reason for the drive.
Salem & wife, Andrew, Jamie & daughter Hailey, Joe, Lee, Rob & Gabe

They came for the trout. Seven disabled veterans and participants in Project Healing Waters had devoted their weekend to a pastime that though relatively new to most of them, had changed their lives. There were recovering soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan seated with a few older guys from Viet Nam, and to listen to them share stories and experiences was to hear a condensed history of America’s armed combat for the past forty years. One of their number snuck away for an hour on the stream, but the remainder were content to swap a few stories and lay plans for tomorrow mornings adventure on the Raven’s Fork trophy waters.
The river on Sunday was in perfect condition and as hoped, the Raven’s Fork gave up a few of its prettier inhabitants – if just for a little while, as all were returned safely to Cherokee Reservation’s cold water.
Gabe on the Raven's Fork
Our favorite guide Hank and Jamie behind him

In conjunction with our outing with the veterans, the Cherokee Nation was also hosting the U.S. National Fly Fishing competition on the same waters, so our space on the stream was a bit limited. Although not required to, being the kindly and generous folks that we are, we gladly gave them all the room they needed. Maybe we shouldn’t have.

We returned to River’s Edge Outfitters in time to be seated and ready for the special advanced fly fishing seminar that the competitors from the U.S. Fly Fishing team had promised to conduct for us. We had seen these guys on the stream earlier in the day and had heard a few stories of their skill and exploits. They were to meet up with us at 1:00pm and from what we had seen and heard, these guys would have a tip or two that maybe with practice we could put to good use. Twenty foot leaders and kneepads; catching fish in a foot of water where the average mortal couldn’t even see them; crawling through the water like sappers sneaking through concertina wire…their catch rate was about one every two minutes.

We waited and waited. We waited some more. And they never showed. Finally, two and a half hours later we gave up and went fishing. Our guys headed back to the competition waters and managed to catch a few more – and I imagine that they might not have been as polite as they had been earlier in the day had they been asked to give way to a competitor. Oh well, I guess those guys aren’t as immortal as we thought.

Monday made up for the disappointment of Sunday – in spades. We were assigned to a special section of the Oconoluftee River and all of our vets had a great time catching fish after fish. With the assistance of two great guides provided by the fine folks at River’s Edge we had a ball. Maybe we didn’t match the catch rate of the pros, but the so-called experts could have learned a thing or two from us on that day. The camaraderie and laughter – the good natured ribbing and the obvious appreciation that each of our vets had for their surroundings and their circumstances would have been a good example for them to follow. Not to mention...manners.
Jamie
Lee
Andrew
Gabe
Hank and Jamie
Hailey playing a 20 inch rainbow (PHW is about families too!)
Hailey and her talented ghillies, Lee and Hank
Your humble correspondent