Monday, November 30, 2009


No, the Mad Mud Hopper is not a new terrestrial to try out when the bugs return come spring. And it’s not a new dance move either...though maybe it could be. My "dancing" as practiced on Saturday was at least equal to one of my long ago, wine induced attempts at real dancing.

Chad and I discovered a new pool on the Davidson this past Saturday. Its exact location will remain a if there are any secret, unknown pools on that heavily fished stream. We had the pool to ourselves, as most of the anglers were trying to tempt those pigs that hang out around the hatchery.

I hooked a beautiful brown of 15-16 inches and as I was about to net him, he darted between my legs and hung the upper fly on the backside of one of my gaiters. I was wading at mid-thigh depth and it was cold, that with a wading jacket and long sleeve shirt on, I didn't want to reach down underwater to unhook it. Ever try to raise one leg behind you while standing in the current in very soft sand while holding a fly rod and net in one hand and pathetically reaching and trying to balance with the other? If your knees are as wobbly as mine are...don't try it. I didn't fall in, but needless to say, amidst my contortions and hopping around...the fish escaped with my Sheep Fly dropper. It’s a wonder I didn’t stomp him to death as I tried to free the fly.

Fortunately, Chad, who had wandered downstream a bit, did not witness the Dances With Trout spectacle or I would never hear the end of it. He already laughs at what I call dancing anyway. But I do wish he had been there later to see the fish surface and mock me. I swear that fish had a grin on his “face” as he rose above the surface for one last chuckle.

"I fish...therefore, trout laugh."

Friday, November 27, 2009


Jerry on the "D"
Jerry flew in last Friday afternoon from Arkansas for some pre-Thanksgiving fishing on the Davidson. I had checked that morning with Kevin Howell at DRO about the stream conditions and was assured that although still high from the recent floods, the water was clear and the fish were biting, so after a quick “howdy” and the unloading of his gear we headed out for the “D” to get in a couple of hours of fishing before dark.

Knowing that time was short, and wanting to get Jerry on some fish as quickly as possible, we went straight to the very upper reaches of the hatchery section, way above the bridge to begin our weekend of fishing. Sure enough, just as Kevin had said, the water was beautifully clear ...but the fish were not cooperating. In the short time we had before darkness set in we tried just about everything we could think of and only managed to catch two brookies apiece. Not that we were complaining though...the fish were feisty and beautiful.

Saturday morning, fearing that the Catch & Release waters would be shoulder to shoulder, we headed downstream to the Delayed Harvest area to try out a stretch that I had never fished and once again we found the fishing to be difficult. We worked about a half mile of water with nothing to show for it but good companionship and the pleasure of fishing in some absolutely beautiful scenery. We came upon a pool that literally took my breath away with its beauty. I know you’ve seen those photos from New Zealand...the ones with the deep green crystalline water cradled by boulders strategically placed there by God just for our pleasure....well, the Kiwis have nothing on this place. On second thought maybe they do. We saw no lunker browns or rainbows in the run. Like me, Jerry (having cut his teeth in the Ozarks) finds it hard to see the fish against the dark floor of our local streams. Despite my statements to the contrary, I’m sure he doubted that they were in there.

So after a lunch of peanut butter sandwiches we went back up to the hatchery section where I knew we could see the fish. From many previous visits to the deep and slow waters of that section I knew there would be plenty of plainly visible monstrous trout to get his adrenalin pumping. Was I ever in for a surprise. I didn’t recognize the river. The floods had changed its character entirely. Gone were the long slow runs with their undercut banks holding the biggest and wariest fish, replaced by a scoured out stream bed with little structure. The “structure” was now up in the trees lining the downstream banks, but on the good side...the silt and slime that had buried or partially covered the rocks underfoot had been swept clean. It was a totally different stream, and probably a change for the better. Time will tell.

At least Jerry got to see some fish there. Standing midstream, all of a sudden those fish that weren’t there suddenly appeared everywhere...rising, jumping, slashing and cavorting across the stream as they partook of the Davidson’s famous “pellet hatch”. In their normal fashion they paid him no mind as they darted around and about him, gorging themselves on their daily rations. A long handled net and the fishing would have been easy! But as it was, except for one little fish caught by Jerry on Saturday, we would have gone fishless. No matter was still a fantastic day.

Normally, after Jerry and I get together for a fishing outing there is a story to tell...and there will usually be drastically differing versions of the story. I would normally begin with an elaborate description of all the fish I caught...their size, strength and beauty...and out of nothing but kindness, throw in just a word or two about Jerry’s exploits. This time though, the fishing didn’t leave me with much in the way of embellishment material, so I’ll just say what a wonderful two days it was. Jerry and I have shared many days on the streams and lakes over the years and some of those days were just as unproductive as these were. But all of them are special. To think of him as a best friend and a great fishing partner is a gross understatement. A guy never had a better friend. May we share many more days like we just had.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

WEEK 22 what is it? A trout, I know, but what kind of trout?
Maybe I’ll put some spots on it, but I doubt it. I like it the way it is.
I spotted a photo of this guy on a website last week...did my best rendering of it...and promptly lost the link, or I would give credit to the photographer. I think it might have been some variety of cutthroat.

Monday, November 9, 2009


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 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.

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.

Sunday, November 1, 2009


Chad with beautiful Noontootla Creek Rainbow

When I began sculpting trout a few years ago I was in dire need of reference material. At that time I hadn't collected a lot of photo references so I was taking advantage of every available opportunity. I was bumming old issues of Fly Fisherman and other journals from my buddies and I was watching the best of the fly fishing shows on TV. Any opportunity to get more familiar with my subject matter was taken. One Saturday morning I happened upon something called Fly Fishing Masters on cable. It was a national competition to select the finest fly fisherman in the land. The weekly episodes and the qualification trials were coming to an end and they were fishing that day at a place called Noontootla Creek in the mountains of north Georgia. Kevin Howell (who an hour later had won the competition)of Davidson River Outfitters was in the finals, so the program got my immediate attention.

Sure, the fishing was great...but the scenery, the creek...was just as inviting. I promised myself on that Saturday morning that I would someday fish Noontootla Creek.
Fast forward to 2 years ago. I was working my booth at the FFF Southeastern Conclave at Callaway Gardens and happened to meet Jimmy Harris, the proprietor of Unicoi Outfitters. From researching Noontootla Creek I was aware that Jimmy was one of the select few that had access to this prime water, so a plan began to take shape.

At about the same time I was getting started doing colored pencil commissions of catch and release trout and I thought that Jimmy, with his reputation and his access to such great private water, might be able to help me jump start the program. So I reviewed his website once again, picked out an image and got to work drawing. A week later I emailed the artwork to David Hulsey, who with his wife Becky, runs Jimmy's store in Blue Ridge, GA. The plan was to create an ad that included the artwork and the photo that it was based on, which would then be displayed in the store. Well David loved it...but. But he couldn't use it. Turns out the fisherman in the photo, unbeknownst to me, was one of their guides...and that particular guide had just been fired! Back to the drawing board.

This time I picked another photo. A photo of a guy that I didn't figure would be fired anytime soon. I picked a photo of Jimmy...and a beautiful rainbow trout that he had caught on Noontootla Creek. Well, Jimmy loved the final result and I offered him the original artwork...for a price...a day on Noontootla Creek. Jimmy agreed, but under one condition...that he wouldn't "guide." He wanted to fish, and who could blame him?

So this past Sunday, along with my son-in-law Chad, Jimmy and I headed out of Blue Ridge for the short drive to the creek. It was everything I remembered from that Saturday morning TV show. The water was in perfect condition and with the fall foliage at it's peak, we had the place entirely to ourselves. I, as usual, headed downstream while Jimmy and Chad headed up.

Olive Wooly Buggars, along with a couple of split shot(apparantly these big native rainbows don't care for coneheads), were supposed to be the thing, so that's what we started with. I spent the next two hours drifting them down deep through the runs with no luck at all. I varied the number of shot...tried droppers of all sorts...fished them upstream and down...even put on a strike indicator...all to no avail. Major frustration. Here I was on one of the premier trout streams in the southeast, and I hadn't had a bite! I even (horrors!)tried the old San Juan Worm. A little later, in desperation, as I was about to tie on an egg pattern that a guide on Big Cedar had forced upon me, I came to my senses. "STOP Alan! You don't have to do this! Dance with the one who brung you!"

Yep, I tied on a black and yellow marabou...with not one bit of weight. I was either going to fish the way I wanted to and hopefully land a fish or two...or I was going home skunked again. It didn't take long. Within just a few casts I had caught one of the beautiful, but small, par marked rainbows that grew up there. And not long after that, when fishing a very narrow and fast run I hooked into a lunker.

When we were gearing up back at the truck, Jimmy had made the comment that my old 1950's vintage Medalist made some sweet music when a fish took off. Well, had he been there at the time of this rainbows first, second and third runs...he would have heard a symphony. Jimmy had warned me about the strength of these fish, and it was no exaggeration. My old Fenwick had never had such a workout. Two times, as I stumbled my way downstream, I was able to get the fish out of the faster current and near to shore, and two times she caught her breath and took off again. Finally, after what must have been fifteen minutes, I got her about half way into the net and to the shore. I was praising the Lord...and shaking like a leaf. That fish, without a doubt, was the finest rainbow I have ever caught. I managed to get the hook out and get her fully revived, but I just didn't have the heart to keep her longer while I would have fumbled to get out my camera and record the moment. I layed my rod alongside for an estimation of her length (24 inches) and eased her back into the current.

Meanwhile, Chad and Jimmy were having some fun of their own. Chad couldn't get Jimmy to fish though. That man is such a teacher...such a guide...that even though he was carrying a rod, he rarely used it. Rather, he was teaching the finer points of nymphing to Chad (a situation that I'm not at all pleased about, as Chad will now be out fishing me with even greater regularity!) and netting his fish, including the fine rainbow that I've pictured above. From what I heard, Chad's battle was just as epic as mine.

What a day it was!
Thank you Jimmy!