Saturday, April 25, 2009

Maps and Mazes...

Shenandoah National Park is a short two-hour drive from Baltimore so my girlfriend and I drove down for a quick get-a-way during the 2nd week of April. I took my new 3wt and was eager to hook into some wild brookies. I strung up my 5wt for Stacy, hoping these two days would provide her with some willing trout.
We decided on an 8 mile hike along the White Oak Canyon trail. The stream we encountered began as a literal seep from under a car-sized boulder. Within a half mile it joined another miniscule stream and plunged over an 8ft slide into the first reasonable plunge pool. We stopped and strung up.

The temperature was around freezing and it was pretty early in the AM. Some tricky casting around overhangs yielded 3 takes but no fish brought to hand. We had a long hike ahead and decided to move on.

The stream slowly grew in size and soon we were into an amazing stretch of waterfalls and boulders and slides and pools. We landed our first tiny fish by kneeling on approach to a small hole.

We kept moving downstream, stopping at each attractive spot and taking a few casts. We began to land brookies from each and every pool. The farther we moved downstream, the larger the fish became. At about this point they topped out at around 6 inches.

We soon came to the reason this trail is one of the most heavily traveled in the park. A combination waterfall-slide with a combined length of about 130ft. We hiked to an overlook and stared for a while at the rushing water. We then spied a small car-sized pool formed by the waterfall about 30ft from the top of the falls. We hiked down to it.

Stacy took a few pics while I cast into the boiling water. In two casts I landed a 9 inch brookie. It might have been the prettiest fish I've ever seen.

I then brought in 4 more from the same pool. I was stunned how the entire existence of these fish takes place in a 3ft deep pool sandwiched between a 100ft near-vertical slide and a 30ft waterfall.

We doubled back around and climbed down to the bottom of the slide and made our way towards to main pool at the bottom. I missed 4 fish and called Stacy up from a lower pool to try her luck. On her 2nd cast she hooked into a genuine slam-pig. She deftly played the fish as I took a running leap over the torrent of water to help her land it. I hoisted the 12incher from the water, we stared for a few seconds, snapped a pic, and released it.

The wild brookies of Shenandoah are a treat. Easy to catch and ridiculously pretty, streams that harbor them deserve total protection. It was a great day catching them with Stace and I'll never forget the slammer she pulled out of the giant waterfall's plunge pool. After that fish, with the sunset approaching and a long, uphill hike to the car, we packed up and headed up more than 1,000 vertical feet to the parking lot.

There is something about catching a fish in the place it evolved to inhabit that renders all thoughts of stocked hatchery fish an insult. Especially brookies with greens and oranges that exist nowhere else on Earth beyond the backs and fins of the fish in this particular stream. With their perfectly formed fins and amazing patterns, I am reminded of Cormac McCarthy's closing paragraph in his novel, The Road; "Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains. You could see them standing in the amber current where the white edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow. They smelled of moss in your hand. Polished and muscular and torsional. On their backs were vermiculite patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and Mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery."

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Groundhog vs. Goose

For those of you whoever wandered why the Discovery Channel never aired Groundhog vs. Goose, this is for you. Searching for golden bones water often proves to be futile, especially where I live. More often than not you find other things to take up your interest like this groundhog, whose only option while scaling a slate cliff is to run by mother goose.

The Approach.

She Is Not Thrilled.

Groundhog Stands No Chance.

Mr. Groundhog resorted to climbing a nearby tree, something I never knew they could do.

Geese scare the shit out of me while I am fly fishing atleast three times a year. They are perfectly camouflaged on their nests alongside trails or streams and they always seem to freak out as your about to step on them. Often this is by complete surprise and the silence is broken by an annoying quack, and a pestering hiss. I sympathize with Mr. Groundhog.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Slumpbuster & Stumping The Schwab

Its been a long time since I was able to have a day or two on the water. A day or two to wind down and get my mind off the realities that accompany the real world. Now during that time the skills diminished quite a bit. I found myself missing strikes, having weak hooksets, and having an altogether unproductive (in terms of fish landed) time on the water. I was officially in a slump. However, it was productive in the fact that I was able to escape and hang out with family and friends and rediscover why I love fly fishing so much.

Landing A Bow On White Clay Creek

ID Adam?

Green Caddis Larva

My first time out brought my brother and I to the East Branch of White Clay Creek, in Chester County PA. It was finally time for my spring break and the East Branch was only 15 minutes across the border from the U of D. The place was packed but we made the best of the situation landing several trout. The upper waters of White Clay Creek offer an opportunity to catch trout in an environment that is pristine compared to other waters found in the tri-state area. Its bounty this particular day yielded a mayfly that proved to be quite the catch as it later briefly stumped a Pennsylvania fly fishing guru.

Landing A Bow @ White Clay

A Stocked Brown.

Quill Gordon?

Same Exact Mayfly.

After White Clay, we headed home to the Lehigh Valley and along the way we received a phone call asking us to partake in a one fly competition the next morning. Having never even entertained the possibility of entering a fly fishing competition before, I was initially hesitant. I was in a slump and was rusty from too much time spent student teaching all semester. However, the thought of entering that contest with my brother and my best friend Adam led to an all systems go. Arriving late Friday night, we tied up our planned flies that would be the ones used during the entire competition.

The competition was held by Rivers Fly Fishing in New Ringgold, PA along the Little Schuylkill River. Six teams of two showed up for the 9th annual competition and a chance to meet the legendary Charles Meck. My brother Matt and I were a pair and Adam paired with his buddy Nate, a rookie fly fishermen. Matt and I drew the honey hole for round one but would take the Dump Hole for round two. A one seed, six seed swap in terms of productivity. So we knew we had to make the best of our situation. The beats were split into hour and a half time slots. For the first 45 minutes of beat number one, Matt and I had not caught a single trout. Switching the side of the stream we were on, we immediately found success as I landed an 11 inch bow and then Matt hooked a 16 incher. For the second half of the first time slot we landed nine fish totaling 116 inches. The biggest a 16.5 inch bow landed at the tail end along the rip rap of the hole. That left us in a good position to win the contest but we had to step up for part two. We had the Dump Hole and the previous competitors had not landed a fish and their judge had no expectations for us. We covered as much water as we could and were able to land two trout an 11 incher and a 13 incher for a total of 11 for 141 inches.

The Competitors Gear Up.

Average Little S. Rainbow.

16.5 Inch Bow.

Back at the shop, I was surprised that we had won the competition and had taken second in the big fish competition by 1/4 of an inch. Adam by himself (Nate didn't have any luck) finished 3rd. Looking back on the comp, it was an awesome experience and it really changed the dynamics of fly fishing albeit for only three hours. Only being able to use one fly and not being able to lose it led to a cautious approach that gradually led to a riskier one as the deadline came. The other fly fishermen were great company and I enjoyed shooting the shit with the judges on the banks of the little schuylkill. The winners received gift certificates that were promptly donated to the local chapter of TU. We also received a complementarily book by Charles Meck that he could sign for us.

The Final Tally

Simple Is, Simple Does


A great highlight of the day was when I had the opportunity to ask Charles Meck, what species of mayfly I found on White Clay Creek the day before. No one I had talked to up to that point could determine what it was. I had used Meck's book to make a guess at a Quill Gordon and he initially thought the same but he broke it down through a series of questions and taking a close look at my digital photos. He actually had to consult other sources to make a proper conclusion as this species of mayfly is very rare in Pennsylvania. He determined that the species, in his experiences were only found on Clark's Creek, north of Harrisburg. The species he determined was a Great Speckled Olive Dun (Siphloplecton Basale) and pointed to his book, Trout Streams & Hatches of Pennsylvania to elaborate upon his claim. In it Charles Meck states that many fishermen, "who see the hatch believe its a quill gordon. The body of the quill gordon, however, is much darker than that of the great speckled olive" (p. 70). He was surprised to hear it was found on White Clay Creek and remarked, "is that the stream that I found a shopping cart in?" which, I found funny because that very same shopping cart is why I lost a large brown last year.

Charles Meck Identifies.

Great Speckled Olive Dun.

She's A Beauty.

Close Up, With Light.

Close Up, No Light.

Two Tails.

Leaving the competition, we decided to fish for some golden bones. At our golden bones stomping grounds I landed my first "hoss" on the fly and another respectable golden ghost.
For the hoss, I somehow launched a cast across the pond between and under two overhanding branches right on the spot, the hoss was feeding. More luck than skill and I was rewarded for the cast when BAM! the hoss exploded after a long distance hookset. The four minute fight strained by new 5 weight rod before he succumbed to the net. He totaled 10 pounds of pure gold. It was an awesome day on the water, that officially brought me out of my slump.


Fighting the Real "Hoss"

10 Pounds of Pure "Hoss"

One Fly Photos courtesy of Randy @

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


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