Thursday, June 25, 2015

Overnighter in the Smokies

I'm an addict. There I said it. The recent camping trip to a lake and a trip to another river the following weekend were great but they left me wanting more. I never got to do a backpacking trip, last year included. My sand colored Kelty has just been collecting dust.

A couple of guys I originally met on a fishing forum these past couple of years and I have got past the screen names and friended on that website that friends people. Recently Todd (aka technowannabe) messaged Fox and I about doing an overnighter in the Smokies soon and we were both game. A stream none of us had fished was chosen for the destination. Before it was time to go Fox had to pull out making it a two man trip.

I arrived mid morning, a few hours before Todd. It was hot and humid already and the trail was a little more steep than I expected, but not bad for most hikers. I'm a pitifully out of shape smoker and needed to stop several times to catch my breath, and replace what I was sweating out. At a half mile a tributary about equal in size joins the other half, and from this point on up the stream went from mid sized to small. Somewhere around 1 3/4 miles I found the site that would be home for the night. After camp was made and the rod was strung, I was ready to see what this beautiful creek had to offer.

The water was stained, as I had heard it has a tendency to be. There were the usual mix of cascades and pools along with alot of blown down trees. I made a few drifts and landed a trout near camp. Upstream from there was blocked by blow down so I decided to scout from the trail above camp. It climbed up and away from the stream for a ways, and around a quarter mile I turned back to gather some firewood and rest until Todd arrived.

After a swing in the hammock, I awoke to the sound of thunder. I saw a hat sticking out above the brush moving double time up the trail. Todd had arrived. We had both read after the spot was picked that it was one of the less aesthetically pleasing campsites in the park but neither of us agreed. After setting up his gear we hit the trail to find more water above camp. Eventually the trail and stream met again and in we went.

After pushing our way through the rhododendron choked stream it became evident that although it was itself fishable, there was little room for hooksets or even a bow and arrow cast with the long fly rods. The blowdowns didn't help either. Without either of us catching a trout we turned and headed back down the trail.

On the way back to camp we ran into a bear walking up the trail. We were many miles away from where the Hazel creek attack happened recently, and although the bear scattered upon seeing us we were still a little bearanoid.

Next morning we decided with our limited time to fish downstream instead of trying to fight a losing battle upstream. We ended up packing up camp and walking back to the trailhead to deposit our non fishing gear in the locked vehicles, and try our luck in the bigger water along the lower half mile of the trail. We jumped in the water and started casting and in the first hole I caught a fingerling.

A little bit upstream I coaxed the largest creek chub I have caught (or horny head if you prefer)  into eating a large black nymph. A couple more drifts in the same run produced a nice rainbow.

Todd had yet to find a trout on the end of his line. The water seemed to be a little bit warmer and mostly hold creek chubs but we kept on working our way up, utilizing the trail to navigate the blowdowns. It was starting to get hot and the fishing seemed nonexistent at this point. We tried the traditional trout patterns, some streamers, and everything in between. After slipping and landing in the water, and a few close calls myself, Todd declared we were getting tired and should probably go. I wasn't ready to admit it yet, but he was right.

Todd working the hole

The trout eluded Todd but not due to lack of skill, stealth or effort. Slow fishing is an understatement. However I still had a bitchin time and made a new friend. Thanks for the chub pic and hope the leg is looking better dude!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Camping on the lake

This isn't how it was supposed to work out. I had a little paid time off coming up and made some plans for a backpacking trip in the smokies. My companions couldn't make it so I went solo with plan B instead. Of course it still included camping and small stream trout.

Loaded up the truck before dawn so the neighbors wouldn't notice and had a nice early morning drive over a popular mountain road. I arrived at the lake to find the  packed. Like Walmart on black Friday packed. A nearby river was running rafting releases and there were tents, hammocks and kayaks slung anywhere there was space. I imagined it was absolute madness the evening before.

I quickly stuffed my gear into the borrowed canoe (mine was hit by a drunk driver) to avoid drawing the attention of so many, likely hungover paddlers. After a short trip down the lake camp was set up in the mouth of a stream known to test the skills of hikers and anglers alike.

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View from my hammock

A short nap to recharge the batteries was interrupted by a thunderstorm. After it passed I finally hit the notorious trail I have been daydreaming about for quite some time. In places it did not disappoint.

It was a different kind of trail. Not too bad but wet.

I made my way up the trail, passing multiple backcountry campsites along the way, and stopping to drift a couple of promising pools. I came to a waterfall and climbed down for a couple pictures right as it started to sprinkle. I didn't stay there long though I did manage to get a couple of warpaint shiners to eat.

There was a little log cabin above the falls

It was starting to rain harder and there was thunder in the distance so I moved quickly hoping to find some semblance of shelter. There was a small bluff around 15 feet tall so I hung out at the base. I had an emergency blanket and wrapped myself up hoping to stay reasonably dry, but as the thunder moved closer I started seeing flashes through the forest and my ears were ringing from the near by bolts. I wondered if the astronaut blanket had any actual metal since it looked like a big sheet of aluminum foil. Not wanting to know for sure, I shucked the blanket and rode out the storm.

After the worst was over, I could finally do what I came to do. With a steady rain still falling I found a couple of likely spots and the trout seemed to approve of my offering. One hooked and lost then another one missed, I started to move up the trail in search of more water and realized I had hit a dead end. I searched for a bit but I didn't pick up the path. It was getting late in the afternoon, being soaked and hungry I decided to try again in the morning. On the way down I noticed a couple of trees down on the trail that weren't there before. You couldn't miss it, it was just above the falls in a spot I wondered if it was previously a campsite or just the party spot.

Something bad happened here

Somewhere around 3-4 am I woke to the sound of breaking timber. I knew what it was, and there was nothing I could do but lay there and hope the falling tree didn't land on my tent. It was close enough I felt the thud as it landed. I have no wife so luckily it couldn't be a widow maker that night.

The next morning I was up bright and early, much wiser from the experiences of the previous day. I have heard a saying, an older one supposedly. "Up by noon-down by two" was how it went. I planned on keeping those hours this time around no matter what.

Just up the trail I stopped and plucked a couple of rainbows from a run then made tracks to the falls. And right into the dead end again. I had hoped to see something I missed the day before. I tried going a few different ways but found nothing. I spent over an hour searching before I walked back to the log cabin to start over. Hiking back up I spotted a little pink ribbon up in a tree I missed before. Bingo!

 A nice bow

It was evident from the condition of the trail that most hikers who come in from the lake are there for the falls. It also explains why I kept missing the fork. The trail climbed away from the stream, was overgrown, and eroded in places. Not many traverse this section since most anglers take a different trail bringing them in further upstream.

I came to the next crossing and the trail opened back up, wide and following the stream. Gone were the big rock ledges that defined the area surrounding the falls and the creek looked more like a classic mid elevation mountain stream. I made a few drifts and finally landed a little brown trout.

 It took a lot of effort but it was worth it!

I worked my way upstream, keeping a close eye on the trail, and picking up a brown here and there. Before long I was at a large campsite and the trail junction most anglers use to access the stream. I stopped for a few pictures then hit the stream again. I wasn't far above the junction when my alarm sounded, marking the time to turn around and start back to camp.  I pondered ignoring it and continuing to the next trail junction, where a sizable tributary joins the mainstream. It was maybe another mile up the trail, but I had no desire to be caught out in another thunderstorm. I made it back just as the clock ticked off the two.

Poor man's stimulator wins again

Following lunch I planned to fish the lake, after a swing in the hammock of course. When I woke it was 830pm! I slept the entire afternoon away. I decided to night fish the lake and was waiting for dark when I heard thunder. Dang it!

I jumped in the tent and next came a monsoon that tried its best to flatten it out. I sat there nervously holding up the peak to preserve the poles that normally had the job covered. The storm passed then came another followed by another. They never reached the intensity of the earlier storm but were enough to keep me in the tent, awake nearly all night. I packed camp at first light the next morning to avoid the coming generation period.

The lake on the way out

Got to the ramp and it was empty. The kayakers, the campers, fishermen, all gone. Like the stream, I had the whole place to myself. I unloaded everything except the fishing gear and paddled back out. I managed to land a rainbow trout before the current picked up. As much as I wanted to stay and make up for lost time, I knew I was done.

Thanks to troutgirl and fland49 for the info and rusty for the canoe. Y'all helped make this happen.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Tree

My right hand has been messed up for the last month. I'm very right handed so this has meant no fishing, fly tying, playstation 3 or excessive typing. Pretty much no unnecessary movement. Its been a long month. The hand has been feeling better this past week and I am sick of watching tv on my days off. Last Sunday I couldn't stand it anymore and thought a hike wouldn't hurt. As long as I don't fall or do anything stupid.

The Kidd and I tried last fall to hike to a big poplar tree in the Smokies I had heard about. The manway follows along a little stream (that holds feisty little trout!) with several clearly visible homesites along the way. We didn't find it the first time due to the manway shrinking and eventually fading into in the freshly fallen leaves. Hoping the trail would be more visible this spring we decided to try it again.

I love rhododendron tunnels.

Is it already foam beetle time?

No wonder we lost the trail.

I found a morel on the trail

Somewhere around three miles in (I'm absolutely guessing) we finally found it! That it took two tries made it even sweeter.

We stopped by the stream for a rest on the way out. You can't see it here but there are rocks stacked on both sides of the stream. My guess is it was an old bridge since there is a homesite I have visited before while fishing. I tried but couldn't talk the Kidd into crossing the stream to visit the hidden gem.