Turkey Time . . . Almost

Turkey season opens Saturday. I was doing some windshield scouting this afternoon.

Road follows a small creek to a low head dam. I know this place. The water spilling over the dam funnels off a little rock ledge onto a gravel spit then flattens into a pool that fills a sharp bend. The spot is about the size of a two-car garage. Usually fluctuates from torrent to trickle. Not today. Just about right. Fishy. IMG_2976

Had a 7-foot 4 weight fly rod in the truck. Weather was sunny and breezy. Cool enough for a jacket. The water temp was barely touching 50 but . . .

Pulled on knee boots and waded onto the tongue of the gravel spit. Two casts. Two bass. Not large but feisty.

Pretty good afternoon of scouting.

Mud

Following a  week or so of subfreezing temperatures with single digits the norm and everything that could escape the salt trucks encased in ice the thermometer has climbed above 32F for the past couple of days.

The result, of course, is a welcome warmup.

The other result is that everything within sight of my house has converted from an ice rink to a mud pit. The rain that fell Friday didn’t help.

The 60 degrees forecast for next week should intersect with couple days of planned trout fishing. I welcome the warmup but loathe the mud. Maybe the fish won’t mind.

Year 2014: Frantic to Fish

The cusp of the New Year arrives on a sunny, cold winter’s day and my idea of a celebration is sorting my fishing gear. I’ve never denied being boring.20120731-084127.jpg

My wife walks through and surveys the angling carnage: frayed  tippets and ragged flies, cracked and dented fly boxes, zingers that only partly retract, creaky pliers, patched waders, a cracked stream thermometer, two vests; a belt pack, hook files, wading shoes,  a dry patch smeared with blood from some forgotten injury, a 7-piece rod that somehow survived a nasty fall, a clip-on magnifier, four dozen other odds and ends. Some I use each time I’m on the water; some will die of old age having never been wet.

Another pile is spinning gear: a couple of reels and a spool of eight pound monofilament, two boxes bulging with plugs, poppers, jigs, cranksbaits, hooks, and sinkers, a small backpack stuffed with more boxes, line, plugs and pliers. It’s a regular wintertime routine; this sorting gear and clearing of the mind.

Wife: “Do you still enjoy it as much as you used to?”

Me: “The fishing? Or this.”

Wife: “Well, both.”

I do enjoy messing with my gear; although when I’m finished it’s rarely anymore sorted out than when I began.

The fishing?

I can no longer deny that middle age has arrived; if for no other reason the chronic ache in my back serves as a persistent reminder. But they are of little concern to me; the age or the ache.

I have an increasing number of friends and colleagues whose fishing passion seems to have cooled; tempered by an increasingly hectic work and/or family schedule, health, age . . . a dozen other factors, some manageable, others not so much.

I watch this declining angling interest with a sort of detached yet disturbed amusement, vaguely acknowledging that it might someday affect me, although I can’t foresee it. I remain  frantic to fish, more so now than ever. I want to fish everywhere; catch everything, or try to.

For 2014? Work harder. Work smarter. Fish more. Pray more. The last two goals are directly connected to the first two but are themselves strangely intertwined. After all, when Jesus wanted men he could depend on he first went to the docks.

A happy and safe New Year to you.

The Neighbor’s Farm Pond

I strung up my battered but still serviceable Orvis www.orvis.com Silver Label 3 weight and walked to my neighbor’s house the other evening and knocked on the back door. He appeared with his customary, friendly greeting.

IMG_2556“Is the invitation to fish still open?” I asked.

“Of course. Help yourself.”

I know this place well. It’s a small pond but like the rest of my neighbor’s property it is neatly kept and well maintained. Manicured, comes to mind.

IMG_2575It’s also loaded with fish – bluegill and catfish, mostly – although some evenings you’d swear there isn’t a fish in it. That wasn’t the case the other day. It wasn’t a fish each cast but close to it. I lost count but I wasn’t really there to keep count anyway.

IMG_2569

Notes on John Merwin; fisherman, writer, mentor

John Merwin died last month; Feb. 20, to be exact. Merwin was well-known in fishing circles; his accomplishments warranting a eulogy in the New York Times. Among other achievements, of which there were many including authorship of The New American Trout Fishing, he served for a while as fishing editor for Field & Stream. Some of the folks at that fine publication have gathered some of John’s best works along with a few personal remembrances at www.fieldandstream.com. It’s worth reading.

I worked for Merwin briefly, when he served as regional editor for Field & Stream and I served as a regional contributor. We weren’t close and only met once. Most of the work communications then – as now – were handled via e-mail. I don’t recall Merwin ever complaining about anything I sent him. I took this silence as a supreme compliment.

Several years ago I somehow got myself invited to a F&S meeting. It was someplace in New York state. I don’t remember where. Merwin was there but this was before he took over regional duties. The meeting was winding down. My friend Scott Bestul (who later became the F&S Whitetail columnist) and I were having coffee with John. Bestul and I were a bit starstruck but during the coffee and chat I got the nerve to ask John to give me a fly casting lesson. He said yes. When Scott asked to join us John refused his request, framing his answer in something of a joke. I assumed this was so I wouldn’t embarrass myself in front of my friend, who was and remains a skilled fly caster.

Merwin rigged a rod and I follow him beyond a stand of trees were no one would see us. The lesson was basic. The same things I had read (many times in John’s books and articles) dozens of times. But standing there beside Merwin, who was one of the best and most knowledgable fly fishermen in the world, things changed. I became a different fisherman. And, ultimately, a different writer.

We spent several minutes together; John casting then watching me cast, making corrections, giving suggestions, taking the rod and showing me things it would have taken years to discover on my own. So relaxed was it that I forgot for a moment that I was getting a personal minute with someone who could arguably have been considered the best in the world at what he was doing. it was a sobering thought.

He then told me something, a prediction of sorts, that I won’t repeat here. At the time I thought he was mistaken but it turned out that he was correct. I did ask why he thought the way he did. His answer stunned me. It still does.

Tight Line Dreaming

In Nashville, Tenn., last night and stopped by Fly South www.flysouth.net on 19th Ave. South. It’s a good, full service fly shop.

They were hosting Justin Hartman, outfitter, guide and owner of Tight Line Adventures www.tightlinemontana.com out of Dillon, Mont., where he said they regularly fish the Big Hole, Beaverhead, Jefferson, Madison and Ruby rivers along with a handful of spring creeks.

Busiest times: Memorial Day to Labor Day. Best times: Depends. But can start as early as March and go as late as mid November.

No, I didn’t book trip. Yes, I wanted to.

Delated Harvest Trout: East Fork Indian Creek

The East and West forks of Indian Creek wind their way through the remote woodlands of Menifee County, Ky., before joining at a pretty spot to form the main stem of Indian Creek, which continues south to its confluence with the Red River.

This area will be of interest to trout fishermen because the East Fork of Indian Creek is managed as one of Kentucky’s 13  delayed harvest trout streams.

The creek is relatively small (photo at right is the pool below the low water bridge) and the banks brushy. But the East Fork cuts an impressive path through the woods and is marked with several deep, trout holding holes. There’s also plenty of woody cover. And while trout are a cold water species and don’t school like some fish they tend to gravitate toward deeper holes during the winter. Trout typically won’t aggressively chase a fly when the weather – and water – are cold but will battle aggressively when hooked.

I fished the East Fork one sunny afternoon in December when the air temperature barely hit 50 following a night when the temperature had dropped to the mid 20s.

I started where the East and West forks join to form the main stem and worked my way upstream, leapfrogging from pool to pool to the low-water concrete bridge, a distance of about three miles.

I as using an 8-foot 4-weight fly rod  with a 7-½ foot tapered leader/5x tippet and a No. 16 weighted gold flecked no name (hand tied) nymph. It was more than enough tackle as most fishing was done at close range using a roll cast or simply dropping the fly into seam water and where it could  be floated through a pool. A 5-foot ultralight spinning rig would have been an equally effective tool.

At five stops I hook six fish and landed four – all rainbow trout, each in the 10 to 12 inch range. The fish in the photo was typical. The creek had been stocked in late fall so these hatchery trout had somewhat acclimated to their surroundings. They were brightly colored and although they struck lightly each fought with spirit. Two came from the pool below the low-water bridge.

Access to East Fork of Indian Creek is via forest service road 9B, which roughly follows the stream.

During the Kentucky’s delayed harvest trout season anglers are restricted to artificial lures and flies. All trout must be returned to the stream.

The delayed harvest season continues through March 31 except at Swift Camp Creek, where the artificial only; catch-and-release season runs through May. 31.

GETTING THERE: East Fork of Indian Creek is located within the Daniel Boone National Forest and is flanked by forest service road 9B. Take the Bert Combs Mountain Parkway to exit 33 (this is also the exit for Natural Bridge State Park). From exit 33, take highway 11/15 north to route 77. Turn right (East) onto road 77. This is a narrow, winding road that passes through the Nada Tunnel. Proceed on road 77 to where it intersects road 23 at the Steel Bridge. Turn left (north) onto 23, which follows the Red River. Proceed on 23 to forest service road 9. Turn right (north) onto 9. Travel about 2 miles to where the road splits to 9A and 9B. Bear right onto 9B.This follows the East Fork of Indian Creek. The delayed harvest trout section of the East Fork extends for about 5 miles upstream from the 9A/9B split. FSR 9B is a well-maintained, two-wheel-drive accessible graveled road. A primitive campground is located off 9B. This is a fairly remote area with spotty cell service.

I lodged at Natural Bridge State Park, which is located about two miles from Combs Parkway exit 33 and is about 30 minutes from East Fork of Indian Creek. The Natural Bridge SP campground is closed until April but the lodge and restaurant are open. The delayed harvest section of the Middle Fork of the Red River also flows through the state park.

Go to http://parks.ky.gov/parks/resortparks/natural-bridge/default.aspx for details or contact the park office at 1-800-325-1710. For more information about Kentucky’s delayed harvest trout program go to www.fw.ky.gov.

Rooming with Mary and Frank

The Doe River Inn Bed & Breakfast www.doeriverinn.com is as quaint as it sounds.

Clean. Simple, Comfortable, Welcoming. Homey without being hokey. You’ll find it at 217 Academy Street about a half block off Broad in Elizabethton, Tenn.

If you’re traveling this way stop by. Mary and Frank will be glad to see you.

Don’t forget your fly rod. The Watauga River is about 5 minutes away and the South Holston is less than 30 miles. Both are TVA tailwaters and loaded with trout.

Or you can walk out the back door. The Doe River (more of a creek, actually) really does flow through the back yard.

GSMNP

In Townsend, Tenn., for a few days loafing with the wife, overeating, etc.

Hope to get into the park tomorrow or Friday and hook a few brook trout. Brookies, native to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, were off limits for years. Then park officials opened four streams. Fishing for brookies went park wide a few years ago.

In need of local information and am sure the folks at Little River Outfitters http://www.littleriveroutfitters.com can help. Will see them after breakfast.

While traveling to Townsend Wednesday evening stopped in Cookeville, Tenn., for dinner. Traffic backed up for blocks. Assumed accident. Wrong. They were waiting to get into the Chick-Fil-A parking lot. Wow.