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.”

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.
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.