Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Backpacking Hazel Creek In GSMNP - Fly Fishing For Trout Photo Tour

    I have dreamed of this trip too the remote Hazel Creek ever since I read about it four years ago.  Three times I have planned the trip out over the years only to have the plans fall through at the last moment.  This time nothing was going to stop me from taking the trip.  As I recover from three days lugging a fifty pound pack around the back country and scrambling over river boulders, I took the time this morning to sit down and go through the mass of photos taken along the way.  All I can say is what a beautiful part of the country.... and man do my legs hurt.
  After a morning of church and last minute prep time my buddy and I set out from Greenville SC for the three hour drive to the banks of Fontana Dam and the edge of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park where we had arranged for a water taxi to take us to the mouth of Hazel Creek.  We could have hiked it but that would have meant a long fifteen mile slog to our head water campsite.  With the heavy packs we had I am sure that kind of hike would have killed both of us.  As it was we crossed the lake in twenty minutes and still had a two hour hike ahead of us.
  Hitting the trail-head at five pm we buckled down for the trek and set out.  Along the way we passed the long abandoned towns of Proctor, Cable Branch, & Medlin which, if it had not been for the guidebook I consulted before the trip, I would have never known that they existed.  The history of these small settlements dated back to the 1830's but little more than a hundred years the creation of the Fontana Dam cut these communities off from the rest of the world and they were bought by the government.
  Today only a few hidden foundations remain as a testament to their history.  As is true with most every thing left untouched for a period of time, nature has reclaimed the land it owned so long ago.
  We camped at site 84 along the Hazel creek which was the site of the town of Medlin but you would have never known it.  Today it is a beautifully wooded site between the Spring Creek and Hazel Creek confluence without a trace of civilization besides an old river stone wall along the trail.  For me the sound of rushing water was music to sleep by.
  The next day we set out to fish this legendary water.  Stringing up my Fall River Bamboo Fly Rod and Abel Reel I began testing the water above our camp.  In a short while and the loss of a few flies I hooked into this juvenile Rainbow trout.  Unfortunately it was one of the very few trout caught on the trip.  A cold front had passed a day before our arrival and a guide we passed on the trail the day before had revealed to us that the fishing had been horrible.
  In addition to the cool temps and problems with the atmospheric pressures, a weeks worth of constant rain had swollen the streams up to extremely fast moving & deep levels.  I was lucky to even have a fly in the water long enough to hook a single fish.  Most of the time the nymph barely had enough time to sink a few inches much less then the many feet it needed to go to get to the fish.
As we continued on scrambling up hills and over rushing waters the one thing I noticed was that the bugs had taken the opportunity to come out in full force.
  On nearly ever rock and exposed surface was a new bug hatching.  I cant recall any other time I have seen so many different mayflies, stones, and caddis on the water at the same time.  Sulfurs, BWO, and March Browns were all over the water.  I often just sat and watched as a Surfer fluttered above the water and finally settle down to lay the eggs.  I even watch as the yellow bugs swam from the deep to the surface and emerged in short order to a winged insect.  There was so much aquatic life on the river I was at a complete loss why the fish were not there.
   With one last ditch effort out to find the fish I headed back out just before diner with my rod.  What I found was a great looking plunge pool that held some fun Browns.
  Tying on a Little Sister Caddis with green body, I tossed it into the back-flow and instantly hooked into some juvenile browns.  They were the only fish I saw the entire three days actually rise to take a fly but I was happy to have them.  With a green mossy backdrop and my beautiful Abel Reel to set off the bronze spots on his flanks I couldn't help snapping a few photos.  Even if they were small they were an absolute joy to catch.
  These colors are the why so many of us trout fisherman come back time and time again.  The originality of each fishes markings is amazing and when you hold a young trout in your hand and take a close look at the pattern you forget about the size and just see the beauty of it.
  The next morning after a filling breakfast of everything we had in our pack that we didn't want to pack out, we began the unpleasant task of packing up.  Some might think that a breakfast of beans and weenies is disgusting but for a backpacker ever sweet bite is a little bit of heaven.  Couple that with some oatmeal, trail-mix  and a lukewarm cup of badly brewed campfire coffee and you have got a meal to set out on.  Of coarse after a few miles a breakfast like that begins to take effect and you are glad your back-trail is free from other hikers.
  As I was packing up I grabbed my rod holder- a simple pvc pipe covered with stickers I have acquired over the years - and was surprised to see this mayfly had used my Abel it to shed his skin.  I was even more surprised that not far from his old skin the little yellow guy was still there just waiting for his wings to dry off so he could take flight
  I will say this for the little guy, he had taste.  If I was a mayfly I couldn't think of a better place to shed my skin.
  With a final photo of my buddy and I, we packed the rest of our gear, reluctantly shouldered the heavy packs and set out for our pickup point down stream.  Taking our time on the hike out, we would occasionally stop along the stream, shed the packs and eagerly go stream-side to fish an inviting pool but we never had another bite.
  In the end we didn't hook into the number or size fish we had hoped for but all around it was a worthy trip I would do again anytime.  Hopefully someday I will make it back and until then I will have the memories to remind me how wonderful a place the Great Smoky Mountain National Park is.


TenkaraOnTheFly said...

Awesome! I am sure this would have been a lot of fun with a tenkara rod.

Daniel said...

Amazing pictures.

Unknown said...

Goneflyfishing - Actually it would have been great if the fish were hitting anything. If you look closely at that last photo you can see me holding my tenkara outfit. It's all I fished with on the last day but still no luck. I think its the first time the tenkara rod let me down. I'll blame it on the weather and water though.

Unknown said...

Thanks Daniel

Mark Kautz said...

That was great. Thanks for taking us along. The great thing about Tenkara is that you can carry it in your back pocket with little effort.

Unknown said...

Mark -Thanks, tenkara is Perfect for backpacking. I just couldn't resist bringing my bamboo along for the ride.

Bigerrfish said...

wow man great shots of the bugs!

MarkW said...

Visited the GSMNP last week for the first time. What a beautifully wild place !

Unknown said...

Josh - unfortunately the bug shots were better than the fish pics. More of the bugs to go around.

Unknown said...

Mark - it surely is. Next time you drop by on the way to Memphis you should plan a fishing trip. I hear the there are some great spots on the Tennessee side.

cofisher said...

Nice going Joel. I may be a bit biased, but I love beanies and weenies!

John said...

Great post! I've drove through that region so many times and have never Fished it, that's gotta change! Loved the pics and nice reel too!

Unknown said...

Thanks John - it was a great time even if the fish failed to be eager to bite. I'll hope to do it again soon.

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