Steep trails and peace of mind
The weather was supposed to be rainy and reports indicated that the river we would be fishing had been heavily poached, so the chance of it holding fish was slim. The rain was a plus and the poached out status of the water was not nearly enough to dissuade me. I needed the focus that fly fishing requires. I was also in no state of mind to wield a camera, so even though we brought one, I decided to leave it back in the car.
Paisley and I met before daylight and after we consolidated our gear into his Suzuki fish wagon, made our way to the river. A first glance into some likely holes revealed no easy to spot fish. Fishing our way up the river proved our theory that the water had indeed been heavily poached. After failing to even see a single fish, much less catch one, we decided that delayed harvest fishing was useless and made a turn up a tiny feeder stream marked with a sign denoting it as wild trout waters. Jeff made the statement that since NC regulations allow anglers to keep four fish per day in the wild waters and since the delayed harvest water was empty, the poachers had probably cleaned out the wild stream as well. We could only hope that the tiny water with tough access had been enough to keep people away and the trout fishing intact.
The tiny stream was strewn with large boulders and worked its way as stair steps up the side of a steep mountain. Recent warm conditions had us watching our step as we both knew that the area is well reported to have a large population of Timber Rattlers and Copperheads. I remarked to Jeff that it was just cold enough for the rattlers not to be able to warn us if we got too close. He said that there way more Copperheads than Rattlers in the area anyway.
The river turned out to be beautiful. We worked our way over house sized boulders and around dead fall timber, fishing tiny pockets of water all the way. Many casts were made while peering out from behind rocks while casting at eye level with the pool above you. Jeff managed to pick up a six inch brookie out of one of the pools but most of the tiny pockets seemed not to hold fish.
The next step up the mountainside revealed an unusually large pool flanked by giant rocks on either side and with a fallen tree in its dead center. I waited below as Jeff crept into position to make what amounted to a blind cast around the boulder. Jeff made several casts with no reaction so I crept up the side of the rock to the right of the pocket and eased my head up over the rim so as to allow a sight line in the pool. Immediately I spied two 14-15 inch brook trout cruising the pool shoulder to shoulder. Keep in mind that a 15 inch brookie in a NC wild trout stream is about the same as a thirty inch Alaskan rainbow only much more rare. I flipped my nymph into the pool only to have the trout rise and eat my indicator (yes, I was fishing a strike indicator - this was supposed to be an easy stock trout trip). On my second cast the other trout in the pair did the same thing this time coming out of the water to try to swallow the tiny rubber indicator whole. I looked at Jeff just in time to see him get a strike and break his tippet on the set. You normally only get one or two shots at the same native trout so, having missed ours, we moved on up the river. We paused at the head of the pool and Jeff managed to pick up another trout from the whitewater. We climbed higher with some resolve to come back and visit the dead tree pool on our way back to the vehicle.
The tiny gorge was spectacular and both Jeff and I regretted the decision to leave the cameras behind. It seemed that every time we climbed up to another level, the river became more clear and the boulders more massive. However, we both agreed that even guys with fishing websites deserve some time "off the grid". We managed to fish our way up as high as we dared without the aid of ropes. On our way back down to the car I switched to a small dry fly and after getting the rust off of my hook set, managed to catch one of those gem like brook trout. Jeff was able to pick up another fish or two as well.
We left the stream and stopped off for lunch before heading our separate ways. As I drove the hour and a half back home, the thoughts of work and work issues slowly crept back into my head as if only to remind me of why fly fishing is such good therapy.