Sunday, October 28, 2012

Epic Brook Trout Water - Chasing Blue Lines In SC and taking a ton of Pictures on the way!

   There are few fish that can match the pure beauty of a wild brook trout during the fall.  Their colors read like an artists pallet:  deep red fins trimmed in ivory white, the oranges and deep black flanks are strikingly broken up by bright yellow spots and neon red points surrounded by cobalt halos.  Add in the surrounding colors of changing leaves, the clear cool streams in which the brookies dwell, and the blue skies of a perfect fall day and any angler might think he had found heaven on earth.
    So when I found myself alone on a stretch of magnolia choked water deep in the hills of South Carolina I felt the need to pinch myself just to make sure I wasn't dreaming.  Before I did however, a thin branch sprung loose from my grasp and smacked me in right in the eye.  I was awake and wiping away a cobweb from my hat I continued to search for a clear stretch of water in which to flick my eager fly.
    The day started like so many  other days chasing trout.  Up by 5am, coffee, gas-up, grab some little Debbies from the .99$ rack, and hit the road for the the hour trip to the foothills.  Only today I set out for a stretch of water that had been my nemesis for years.  Nearly inaccessible, brutally hard to fish, and completely unknown, It had been my white whale and today I was set out to kill it.
    At 7am I arrived at the parking lot and filled out the hiking permit just in case I fell off a cliff or got bit by one of the numerous species of deadly snakes common to the area.  When trekking in the wild I always let people know where I am just to be on the safe side.  I had already told my wife the location but the form provided me with that added illusion of safety to make me feel invincible   So with all notifications made out I started the four mile trudge.
     The first interesting form of life was a toad that crossed my path about twenty minutes into the hike, but I wasn't here for toads even if he was interesting to observe.  I was on a mission for the brookies that had eluded me for years.
    The first time I attempted to fish these waters was four years ago.  It was February and a late night snow storm had dumped three inches of snow that was then covered by an crust of ice.  The four miles in was more than I anticipated and when I arrived I found the stream completely un-fishable.  The second attempt was a year later and I took a different route in which to my dismay included a nearly 2000ft vertical climb.  I reached the top completely spent and made a dozen half--hearted casts then packed it in and hiked the long hike back to my car.  Over the years the reasons for failure continued to pile up and that promising stretch of water seemed to laugh at me from the topographical map.
     When I finally arrived this day however, the sun was up and the air was filled with promise.  I quickly suited up and began looking for a place to drop my fly.  Unfortunately what I found was a stream completely covered in a canopy of magnolia trees, dense brush, and fallen trees.  A back cast was not only going to be impossible, it was going to be dangerous.  I stood a good chance of not only loosing a box full of flies but more than likely breaking off the tip of my 6.5ft - four weight fly rod.  My only spare was a 12ft Tenkara rod which I had hoped to use.  Surveying the lay of the land I determined that a 12ft rod never stood a chance and even my 6.5 ft rod might have been to much.  Undaunted I switch tactics and began to use a technique most anglers and guides would scoff at.  I was going to fish my fly downstream Without a cast.
   With my back cast enabled I took another approach and drifted a Dace down with the current and began a jerky retrieve.  Instantly I saw activity as a bright flash of red fins streaked to the Black Nosed Dace.  He grabbed it and began coming up stream to me with the speed of a torpedo.  That was the first of many hookups on streamers.
Then I tried another tactic.  Down stream where I had been letting my streamer drift, I peeked through the tree limbs and saw the shadows of trout with a few taking midges off the top.  Quickly I tied on an ever present Adams - the coverall fly - in a size 12!  Not really midge material but it was the only size Adams I guess I packed.  I said what the hell.  Its an Adams - It has got to catch fish.  Using the same drift I used before with the streamer, I crouched down behind a dead-fall in the river and let out as much line as I dared while keeping the Adams in my fingers.
  Tossing the small fly into the current, I watched in eager anticipation as it floated toward the end of a small pool.  As it neared the end of the line I saw a shadow dart from the bottom and take it.  the first fish wasn't large but as with most mountain stream brook trout, what they lack in size they make up for in beauty.  Releasing one after another of these beauties, I went on to clean out another four or five from that stretch using the same tactic- every fish bigger and more aggressive then the last.  Then I moved on down stream to the next stretch to do the same.
   Pool by pool I worked my way down stream.  Each turn in the river offering a new casting challenge to overcome, each overhanging mass of magnolias was a new obstacle to work around.  Often I found myself giving up stealth all together just to beat my way through a choked stretched of river wishing I had a machete to go along with my 4w.
   When a tree blocked my path - which was more often then not - I found myself looking for a way around it until eventually settling on just climbing over it.  Sticks in the eye and tree limbs grabbing at my fly line weren't enough to detour me because I was catching fish.
  I began to appreciate the mass of foliage and tree snags for what they were and what they had done to this secluded stretch of water.   Even as my fly got caught in the may-lay I knew that without it I could be fishing a fish-less river.  Undoubtedly other anglers had stumbled on this stretch and only seen a wall of trees.  It was a fly fisherman nightmare, full of countless reasons never to attempt to wet a fly or even string up a rod, but without the dense brush and low overhanging trees, this river would known and the fish would have suffered for it.
Every fish was more stunning then the last
Every spotted side more colorful then the previous.  The lateral lines popping off the black and blue backs like they were painted on with a fine brush and you see God for the artist that he is.

  Then when you get them close and they open that gaping black mouth lined with rows of teeth you wonder if this fish isn't part Parana.  Even the small 8-10 inchers had the rows of teeth that make you think twice about trying to remove the fly with your fingers.  You look in there and instantly grab the hemostats for the delicate procedure instead of risking a slightly painful finger injury.
  Without a doubt, these fish are the best looking fish one will ever catch on a fly rod!

  The day was not without injury however.  After crashing through one to many magnolia road (river) blocks, my fly line snagged a branch and yanked the small caddis fly DEEP into my finger.
  For a good fifteen minutes I worked to to free the hook and eventually, and with much pain, I yanked it free and finally got the chance to use my emergency first aid kit I had happened to pack.  I knew one day I might need some neosporine and band-aids on a hike and I am glad it was only a hook in the finger and not anything worse that finally led me to open the kit.

  In the end, this trip was by far one of the most challenging trips I have taken as an angler as well as the most rewarding.  If you have actually read this post all the way through you might have gathered that I enjoyed it more than words can express and I ask your forgiveness for all the flowery language related to the fish.  In truth I lack the words to truly convey the beauty of the day and all I was lucky enough to experience.  I guess all you really need to know was that I couldn't stop smiling on the entire four mile trek back to the car or the hour plus drive back home.  Even now, four days later, I am smiling - that's how good it was.
If you are wondering where this stretch of heaven is, I can take you there but for now only the fish, the snakes (this one scared the s*#* out of me because I nearly grabbed him while climbing over a log), and myself know the true location.  What you need to know is its out there and all you need to do is find a blue line on a map and chase it.


cofisher said...

Great post Joel. I'm glad you adapted and overcame!

Ricks Reel Adventures said...

Beautiful brookies and great report.

Anonymous said...

Greeeat post and pics. You might enjoy my recent posts.

walt franklin said...

Enjoyed this account of the brook trout angler's quest (I know it well!)replete with a subtle reference to the great white Moby. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Our great God made all things bright and beautiful all creatures great and small. I am so glad he made you too. Mom

Feather Chucker said...

This place had to be as close to the border of NC as possible.

Unknown said...

CoFisher - adapt, overcome, and succeed. the only way to go!
Rick - Thanks and they sure are
Joshua - I'll check it out
Walt - Calm me Ishmael
Kevin - It was. Only a few miles away actually.

Unknown said...

That is some nice color on those fish. I need to get back into fishing sometime soon so I can enjoy all the oportunities I have out here. It is basically a crime to waste them.

Jim Yaussy Albright said...

Nice work! To my way of thinking that's fly fishing at its best.

Mike said...

What a great read! Thank you for the outstanding post and beautiful pics. What a grand time you had!

Anonymous said...


I'm in my mid-fifties now but in my younger days, I'm almost positive I've fished that creek before. I made it a point while in my twenties, to fish every speckled trout stream in South Carolina. I think I accomplished that. I took my son when he was a teenager to my favorite creek and that's the last time I've attempted to fish for the indigenous trout. I'm too old to do all that rock climbing, belly crawling, and downed tree snaking that I used to do.

Your photos are the most accurate descriptions available, but they fail just as words do, to describe the trouts true beauty.

It's hard to make folks understand the pride in catching a few pretty 5-6 inch fish.