Posted on February 13, 2012 by Administrator
Ok we left off with meeting the Old Man for the 1st time ……
The main two things that came out of that 1st meeting were that Ken now had a source for #28 flies (which he had been looking for ) and that I had found another person interested in such things . For the remainder of that season we fished together on a semi-regular basis but for every time that we did there would be several others where I would see him on the river fishing and just sit down in the trees and watch . Three things soon became apparant to me …. He always caught plenty of fish , lots of really big fish and he fished differently from everyone else on the river . I realized that whatever it was he was doing I needed to know how to do it ! The decision was made then and there that if he was going to fish here all the time he was going to fish with me . Mind you it was a one sided decision as I didn’t discuss it with the Old Man or anything …..I simply put it into practice .
So it began . Over the next few years we fished together more and more often and I was introduced to a new way of looking at fishing and the river . We spent almost as much time looking at insects and poking around in the rocks as we did fishing although he made it very clear to me that they were actually one and the same ! There was one ritual he practiced every single night , without fail , that I think everyone would be wise to do . Before leaving the river and regardless of how the evening fishing had gone he would always take a tiny net and skim the eddies then inspect his “catch” . His “catch” convinced him and then he convinced me that we needed better patterns . Our hackle midges looked nothing like the little creatures that were so prevalent in his net and furthermore the fish were starting , fairly often , to refuse them . Paradise lost …. hmmm ….or perhaps found !
I say the latter because by now it had started to dawn on me just what it was that was different about how the old man fished compared to myself and well just darned near everyone else . I tended to fish fairly casually when it was tough and then if I figured it out (or got lucky) and started to really get into them my intensity level and focus would go way up and I would fish as hard and as quickly as I could to take advantage of the window to the point of really running up the score ! Ken was different …. he would fish hardest whenit was tough then when the window opened he would often head for the bank and say something like “well this has just gotten silly ” . “What are you doing , we got them where we want them ” I would point out but it soon became obvious that while he enjoyed watching me have fun smacking them he had no interest in doing the same . To me it was solve the puzzle = game on ! To Ken it meant the game was over ….. Working at solving the puzzle WAS the game …..
Anyhow by now we were into the 1st year of the Trout Ranch and river pressure started to really climb and with the increased pressure the trout got steadily harder to lay a beating on . More and more people started fishing the little hackle midges , successfully , and this of course made it tougher yet …..We started fooling with tiny versions of Fran Better’s Usual pattern which were a major step up from the hackle midges but it was obvious there was plenty of room for improvement . Ken kept on netting while I started reading everything I could find on the subject of tiny flies which led me to Darrel Martins book Micro Patterns which had a fair number of CDC patterns and explained the advantages . One that really caught my eye was a Black Fly pupae , bowling pin shaped with a CDC tuft . I started fooling with it . It worked ok , not a killing pattern but definitely had its moments . Ken was interested in some of Shane Stalcup’s loop wing emergers which I struggled to tie at 1st so I decided to try doing it in a style similar to Martin’s pupae adjusted for what Ken was turning up in the net and the Elk River Little Black was born !
From the 1st outing it was obvious we were really on to something ! We fished it initially as a verticle emerger , treating the CDC tuft with Frog’s Fanny so that the tuft would float and the remainder would hang down into the film and it worked well . Ken took to Xinking it and dropping down a bit lower into the film and it was a killing pattern ! No one else had them at the time and he who had them had a heck of an advantage ….. I of course started using them in my guiding as well and the cat was soon out of the bag . It still worked well ! There were times though where it would hit dry spells . Sometimes these dry spells were mid day which almost always turned out to be because of a hatch of really tiny Bwo’s (#28 ) which were easy enough to match in all stages just by downsizing the CDC patterns or Usual variations we used now for almost all the mayflies . More often though the dry spells would occur late in the evening and Ken’s netting on these evenings would usually turn up either tiny mayfly spinners (which were quickly added to the arsenal ) or innumerable , very tiny , light colored (cream, primrose and/or white) flies of two distinct types . One was obviously a very tiny midge while the other was a mirco , down winged , creature with front legs that were hopper like in appearance . Ken dubbed it ‘the White Ghost” . In either case one thing was obvious ….. we needed smaller flies !
Next : Part 3 , the #32′s ….
Posted on February 11, 2012 by Administrator
What is it that defines a club ? Let’s see …. dues are paid , there are bylaws , meetings and perhaps even a few odd (to the rest of the world ) rituals that are practiced repetitively . In light of that I guess the 10 , 20 , 30 club could actually be considered a club even though it is certainly not an organization . Tonight I want to share a little about the origins of one of Elk River’s most talked about fishing experiences and definitely her most talked about fraternity . It is already bringing back some great memories which is a good thing on a cold winters night …..
It started about 2 decades ago when I accidentally stumbled onto (and stumbled is literally what happened) the excellent midge fishing here . Prior to discovering Elk Springs my Wv fishing was done mostly on the many , much smaller , native/wild trout streams , with which Wv is amply blessed . The midge fishing had to wait until we (the band I was in ) played central Pa , which occurred often enough , that it afforded me ample opportunities to fish Spring Creek up by State College , which is another wonderful limestone stream where a small fly lover is right at home !
The stumble occured at what is now referred to as the Angle Hole . Standing on the high bank , mid-day , on my first visit to Elk Springs , I could see numerous soft rise forms that could have only meant one thing , midging fish ! Nita was lagging behind and I turned to tell her what I was witnessing . The bank gave way and I fell 10′ smacking my head on a large rock when I landed . My next memory is of my wife saying “Dave , Dave ” with panic in her voice (she later told me that my head hitting the rock sounded alot like a pumpkin hitting a parking lot , though she never did explain how she knew what that sounded like ) , then of asking her first if there was blood coming out of my ear and next going through a “systems check” ….. I am trying to move my right leg , I am trying to move my left arm , etc ….. Upon receiving confirmation that everything worked I looked at the waters edge and there were black midges everywhere ! Next was a glance out into the pool where the browns continued their rythmic sipping either not knowing or not caring that I had came close to fracturing my skull ….. I did the only thing that came to my still scrambled mind ….. I fished !
The small patterns I used at that time were very basic affairs . There were collar hackle midges in black , cream ,olive and dun (#’s 22-#28) and there was a little , very lightly palmered tan creation I called a Paradise Special (#28) due to its so often doing the trick on the Fisherman’s Paradise section of Spring Creek . That was it . Hmmm …black midges , tie on the black one ! It was a good afternoon other then the splitting headache .
I returned to the river constantly after that and each visit provided me with the opportuity to fish tiny flies and better yet to fish tiny flies on a river where no one else used them ! It was a time I will always treasure as the browns came to the little flies so innocently that it almost made me feel guilty for using them . I said almost ! There were no 5′ inspection drifts and few rejections . Get a reasonable drift , catch the fish , rinse and repeat . The few other people that fished here in the summer then would occasionally ask “what the heck are you using/doing ” ? They were interested but when you tried to share a few they would recoil as if you had tried to hand them a snake ! “If I had to do that to catch a fish I’d quit” was a fairly mild response . Some of the responses were slightly more opinionated ….. I soon came to be referred to as “that little fly guy” and it didn’t take long to realize that wasn’t a compliment ….. I continued to fish alone until I ran into Ken Yufer . Then life changed …..
Now my recollection of the first time I met the old man may be flawed but it is not intentionally so . In my 2nd season on the river , Ken and another fellow walked up to me down by the Trestle and after talking awhile they told me they were going to drop down and nymph the meadow section and asked me if I wanted to join them . I said I was heading that way but wouldn’t be nymphing and down the tracks we went with me dropping off early and heading for the Ledges while they continued on .
It was a good afternoon with fish sipping in pods , mostly little browns and I would fish up through the hole , drop back down and come up through again . Dropping back down for yet another pass I ran into Ken who said “I see they are rising” to which I replied “they are sipping midges” . What came next was unexpected ….. he replied “yes I know , they were taking this at the Phone Booth Hole” and held out his hand which contained a #22 black hackle midge , the smallest fly I had seen yet on the Elk other then in my own fly box . Finally a kindred spirit !
To be continued in Part 2 …..
Posted on February 9, 2012 by Administrator
Abby is my 4th grandchild (of 5 ) and 2nd granddaughter (of 3) . Taking her fishing has been my great pleasure and an on-going , now 4 year long (she caught her 1st Elk River trout at age 2 ) , study into viewing the river through her eyes , the eyes of a child ….
To a child there is no pressure to produce trout and although they view them as good things they do not elevate them to a more lofty pedestal , then say for instance , a crawfish or string of frog eggs . All things on the river are of equal importance to her and deserve equal attention ….. The tiny young of the year black nose dace is , in her eyes , every bit as interesting , and special , as a sipping 18″ brown . This is especially true after she has caught a couple trout on a given evening ! 2 trout are enough for anyone in her mind because to give trout more attention would , of course , require them to slight another creature and this simply is not acceptible ……
Early in our joint venture I would do my best to sell her on the idea that if 2 trout were a good thing , 5 must be a very good thing and a couple dozen utter bliss ! This being the case , (and with utter bliss rising within fairly easy casting distance ) might it not be wise to have a go at bliss instead of settling for merely good …… That was my pitch , night after night , but the little girl was having none of it ! Now at 1st I considered her viewpoint on the matter darn near heresy and at times I became impatient , especially since it soon became apparant that the other river critters were not to be viewed alone ….. “Are you sure Pap can’t catch a couple while you look at the tadpoles ?” I might ask , only to be told “they aren’t tadpoles , they are little fish , come look !” Not looking was NOT an option and so grumbling all the while , I would stop and go look at whatever miracle it was that she had found . This is how it was fishing with Abby and I kept telling myself that I just had to hang in there and try to teach her , stubborn student though she was !
I don’t even remember when the real miracle started to take place , probably because it crept up on me slowly , little by little . What I eventually started to become aware of , little by little , was that there was indeed a teacher and a stubborn student involved in this relationship but I had our roles completely backwards ! SHE WAS TEACHING ME !! Abby was teaching /reminding me that there is more to life then chasing numbers and more to the river then trout and sometimes you have to set down the rod and just take a look around or you will miss out . If you never take your eye off the trout you will miss the rainbow darter , you won’t notice the caddis that look like a moving clump of sticks and you will never be aware of the tiny scuds that live in the moss . The river is the sum of all its parts and you have to slow down to see them , and her . I am not going to try and tell you that I can do this all the time , but I do try and do it . The bottom line is that she is a pretty patient teacher so there may be hope for me yet …… Thanks Abby !
What a strange thing it is to say that ! It has been ….. well forever since I took a day and spent it strictly in pursuit of the little fish of the fountains . There was a time , long ago , when that was my favorite thing to do and when I left them for the river and her browns my thought was that I would not be long away but the brown sipping fish and the big hatches of the Elk quickly all but erased any memory of the days spent on the little freestone trickles until I found myself almost in denial of having ever visited them …
Enter a big thunderstorm and the blown river that resulted , add in a visit from a couple of my best fishing buddies who simply couldn’t get up this year until the night of the storm and didn’t like the prospect of fishing streamers in brown murky water and you have the recipe for the return to my roots .
And so it was that I found myself stringing up my rod on the banks of a jewel of a pond on the property that we refer to around here as “The Point ” . Truth be told I was in no hurry to take part in the actual fishing though I was enjoying watching my friends quickly rigging then almost running for the banks and just as quickly casting and hooking a couple little 8″ brookies . I say little because on the Elk you usually hear an 8″ fish referred to as a “little bastard” with the context being something like “I can’t keep these little bastards off the fly long enough to get at a decent fish” ….. This wasn’t the Elk though and I soon came to remember that a true 8″ native was more properly referred to as a “good one” . Eventually I did get around to actually fishing and several casts into the adventure I was rewarded with a “little bastard” of a brookie his length being around 4 or 5″s . I had to admit though it was a good looking little bastard at that ! In fact it was stunning . This started a run of stunning little bastards that was to prove so hard to break that I soon found myself uttering the same phrase one hears about 8″ers on the Elk …..
Had I stopped at this point it may have been a long time before I would have considered leaving the river for the trickle fish again ! Fortunately though my friends expressed a desire to check out one of the small freestone streams on the property and as I am a fan of moving water I was glad to get off the pond and take them there . This is where it got a bit more interesting …..
The 1st cast on the 1st run produced a nice one (7″) . This was followed by a good one (8″) , another nice one , a bunch that were borderline nice ones (6″s or so ) and of course a lot of little bastards (see description above) but as we worked our way upstream there were definitely enough nice and good ones to keep my attention . We had maybe covered 1/2 mile when I 1st realized I was getting excited by the prospect of fishing a little run that justhad to hold a couple of nice ones ! It did . Within another 1/2 mile I was flat out enjoying myself ! There I said it out loud . I was enjoying chasing brook trout !
I left the stream having promised both myself and the little fish that this time I would make a real attempt to visit them occasionally ….. When I got back down to the shop they asked me where I had been and without a bit of shame I replied “brookie fishing ” . You could have heard a pin drop …..
What is it about trout that will cause a seemingly sane individual to drive for hours, sleep in a tent in the cold, eat potted meat or Ramen Noodles and stand in a cold rain all day?
Why is it that someone who drives to get to the grocery store 2 blocks away will hike for miles up steep boulder strewn terrain riddled with rattlesnakes just to have the opportunity to have a chance, no guarantee mind you, to hold one for a brief moment? Just what power do these creatures have over us? When you have spent (wasted?) as many years as I have treating the symptoms of the disease that afflicts all of us, it is inevitable that you think of these things from time to time…
Answers to these questions are not easy to come by! We as fishermen might answer that they are special fish that live in special places but this would beg the question “what makes them special compared to other fish?” That’s a hard one to answer! The musky grows to be much larger, the small mouth bass is a better fighter, the lowly carp much harder to catch on a fly, the shad faster and the sunfish more adaptable. The trout comes up short against his fellow fish in all these areas and yet we, his followers, still adamantly hold the belief that he is superior to these other fish.
Perhaps the answer, in part, lies in the fact that the trout is in fact not superior to these other hardy fish but rather is a quite fragile creature unable to tolerate even a fraction of the environmental ills the others above shrug off without any difficulty. Perhaps it is because we know, in our hearts, that we (people) have abused the homes of these fragile creatures so badly and for so long that we have driven them from large portions of their former range, their forced exit leaving a void that was soon filled by the “lessor” fish mentioned above. Perhaps it is because the remant of their original range, that they now inhabit, is often some of the wildest, most beautiful, least spoile , land we (people) have allowed to continue to exist. It’s a great thought but [a productive yet sewage laden trout stream] with all its followers tells us this can’t be the case. The Yellow Breeches at Allenberry, Oak Orchard, and the Elk River Mill Pool during Sulphur season, tell us the trout’s power has very little to do with solitude and I say this knowing full well others will disagree vehemently. No I don’t think any of these things explain it sufficiently.
I think the only thing we are left with is beauty and that of course is a very subjective thing. Having said that, trout are undeniably beautiful creatures! We can argue about which member of the family is�more�beautiful but not about the fact that all of them�are�beautiful. A man, if he is fortunate, will get to hold a few beautiful things in his lifetime and the trout is one of these. If you stop to consider how many things you will hold in your lifetime and of those how small the percentage is that could be considered beautiful perhaps it does make total sense to go to such great lengths to up that percentage a bit. With all the ugliness in this world I think it wise to never pass up an opportunity to hold beauty in your hand, then turn it loose that another might touch that beauty too.
I believe it wise to quit at this point having for the moment become comfortable with the answer. That will no doubt change soon enough but for now it is satisfactory .
August 2nd Mayfly Activity ....
Elk River & Sulphurs . The two have become almost like saying bread & butter ! Mention the 1st and the second comes immediately to mind and that isn't surprising given the fact that the #16 Sulphurs are an incredible hatch here and produce spinner falls that simply have to be experienced to be believed ! Millions of insects , blankets of spent wings and a sea of snouts (hundreds of rising trout . These are what you can expect to encounter on a late May evening , a full blown cauldren of Snout Soup , the good stuff :) ...
The thing is though it has gotten to the point that for many that is the only time they visit the Lady not realizing that there is almost always a fishable hatch to be enjoyed here . This seems a shame to me .... The Elk River is a bug factory that should be treasured for the diversity of her hatches perhaps even more then for the sheer numbers she produces of her most famous one ...
Come here in March and there are flotillas of #16 black stoneflies . Visit in April and swing softhackles with Grannom Caddis and Quill Gordons hatching . Come here in early May and find yourself floating big March Brown duns . Come here fron mid-May - the end of June and you need several fly boxes just to have a few of everything you will encounter . Visit in July and strip Iso nymphs or hit the pocket water with a Light Cahill tandem or fish the Cornuta hatch . August & September you will hit both the Caenis and the Paraleps along with a variety of caddis . October brings us the big Autumn caddis . Now throw in the many different subspecies of Baetis (BWO's)( at least 1 of which is almost always hatching here) and the year round midge fishing and you start to get the picture of a more well rounded river and the above is just a sampling of all that hatches here .
Yesterday , August 2nd , I encountered the following mayflies ... #14 Isos , #14 Light Cahills , #14 Epeorus Vitreas (looks just like its cousin the Quill Gordon) , #22 Bwo's , #28 Bwo's , #18 Paraleps and a #18 or20 white spinner that I have no idea what it is . If we look at what I have encountered in the last week you can throw in giant Hexagenia and tiny Caenis . That's 9 different mayflies hatching the 1st week of August :) ! I also encountered a huge variety of midges and rising trout that were completely locked in on the tiny flies .
The Lady is not a one trick pony ;) ...
One of the benefits of paying a visit here before (or after ) the Sulphur hatch is that you will often be able to have great match the hatch fishing without the crowds . I am not saying avoid the Sulphur hatch ! It is a great time filled with incredible rises of fish and with fellowship . You will make new friends and catch up with old ones while you share the soup and this is of course a good thing . It is so over the top that there is room for all . That being said there is something equally special about having large sections of this wonderful river to yourself at times and still being able to stand in the presence of pods of rising fish at dark :) . I have done this most evenings the last couple weeks , almost feeling guilty ...
The point of all this is take some time and check out the seasons on either side of Sulphur season . I am guessing you will be glad you did !
I believe that every great river has it's mysteries and "The Lady" is no exception to this rule . The one I will share with you tonight is one that has facinated me for several decades ... I am going to introduce you to the river's most secretive inhabitants , the ghost browns of the Ledges !
The Ledges is one of the five legendary large pools in the upper 1/2 of the Elk River C&R . As is true with the other four (Mill Pool , Angle Hole , Trestle & Meadow Hole this is heavily fished , glassy smooth , often very technical water . It's the kind of a place where inches become miles , mistakes are magnified and if the trout are "on their game ", you had better bring your "A" game ... I think of it as 4th , in degree of difficulty, of the 5 with the pecking order being , starting with the toughest ... Angle Hole , then the Trestle , then the Mill Pool , the Ledges and finally the Meadow Hole . I can already hear people saying "tough & technical , you must be joking . I went down there during Sulpur season and blew up rainbows on a #16 Usual , with a Sulphur spinner trailed off the back , on 6x . They were blasting it every cast " !
Showing off my psycic abilities ;) my reply would be "yep you were fishing the fast water at the head of the pool , with the fish bug drunk from the mammoth hatch & spinner fall . Most of the fish were 8-13"s , rainbows , and the fishing was so good you didn't even notice what was going on 30 yards downstream . If they are honest they would then have to admit that my assessment of the situation was pretty darned close . Close enough that they might come back with" so that was you just above the tailout ? The few times I looked up you seemed to be doing more looking then fishing . I did see you catch a couple right at dark ...." Oddly enough it probably was me just above the tailout ! There is nowhere I would rather fish right at dark on a late May or early June evening then the flat shallow water , just above the tailout of the Ledges and therefore I do it often ....
Now the obvious question would be why would you choose to fish the rather flat , shallow water near the tailout when you know you could be catching fish all evening in the fast water at the head of the pool instead of watching water and others catch fish ? It's a valid question , with a number of almost equally valid answers .... a. I like watching water , b. I like watching others catch fish and c. there is a stillness down there that is very appealing to me . Now all of these things/reasons are true but they are not the real reason ... The reason is it's because I know what lives there ! You see the low rock ledge , lined with grass , that forms the bank of that little piece of water is undercut . This undercut is and always has been in my years here , what might be thought of as a boarding house for large wayward brown trout . Kind of like a motel for brown spotted sharks . I say sharks because they range from large - huge and I use they because there always seems to be a fair number of them :) . The ghost browns of the Ledges !
By this point , if you are still reading , you are probably pondering at least 2 things ! These things might well be ...1st : how sad it is that the old elkfisher has finally lost his last 3 marbles and 2nd that lost marbles or not it's time for the elderly river idiot to explain the whole ghost business . Fair enough ;) .
I call them the ghost browns because they simply appear out of thin air , ok water actually , right at dark . You can stand and watch the water all evening (and it's thin enough that you can see every pebble) and never see a fish over 8"s and not many of those . Then it happens . Right at last light (think headlamp to tie on a fly time) you see a tiny ring . You don't fish yet . The ring appears again and again ,with the timing between appearances forming a steady rhythm . You still wait . Upstream 6' another ring apprears and settles into it's own rhythm . You watch and wait . Then a 3rd , 4th , 5th , etc . ( Some nights as many as a dozen) join , all rising softly and rhythmically . Now you fish !
The presentation must be perfect , drag and you are done . You make your throw and .... THERE got him ! Based on anything observed swimming there 1/2 hour before you would reasonably expect the response to your set to be the easy tug of an annoyed 8" brown trout much like I did when I 1st stumbled into this phenomonon years ago . Your reasonable expectation soon turns into shock (in a good way ) as the trademark headshake , is followed by the slowly accelerating 1st run of a heavy brown . You land him as quickly as possible attempt to straighten out your rig and repeat the experience . It is a rare night that you hook more then 3 or 4 before you simply can't see anything and 2 is a good night .
The 1st time you experience this you will find yourself taking the walk back down the next morning to look things over closely and maybe catch one in the day time . Of course all you will see is the same 8"er that was there yesterday afternoon . The big fish have vanished leaving the shallow water to the little browns , dace and darters . You shake your head , smile and head back up river , thankful to have had the encounter the night before and determined to visit the brown spotted river spirits again soon .
This story is another "blast from the past" and I will try and tell it as faithfully as my memory will allow ....
I have always loved the Slaty Fork section with it's solitude , beauty and firecracker wild bows . Having said that I must admit that there was a time when I viewed it as being a change of pace stream rather then a place you had to fish ! I think my main rationalization for this belief was that while it held good numbers of fish , by and large , most of the ones I caught were , shall we say , a bit on the smaller side with 7 - 12" bows being the norm , a 15"er being the fish of the day and every once in a while I would stumble into a 17"er which , in my mind was as good as it was likely to get up there ...
Now I am not saying there is a thing wrong with a 7 - 12" rainbow (especially when they fight like the Slaty bows do ) but in my mind , when stacked up against the 15 - 18" browns you could expect to encounter every time you fished the lower river , they always seemed to come up a little short ;) ...
My good friend Mike Cumashot on the other hand preferred to fish Slaty spending far more time up there then he did on the Elk Springs end . This always left me shaking my head ... Mike is without question one of the 2 or 3 best anglers I have ever met and it simply made no sense to me why someone who was that good would choose to fish for little bows when there were beautiful , much larger slabs of Elk River butter to be had down river ! Worse he seemed determined to try and get me to share his little rainbow preference even (especially?) on days when the river was rising and the lower end browns were obviously going to be feeding .
He would ask me repeatedly at these times to accompany him with my response being invariably "thanks but I think I'll fish the lower river today" . He would ask if I was sure and I would wish him good luck but assure him I was . This pattern was repeated over and over for several years . After awhile it got to where I really wanted to ask him "what the heck is it with you and those little fish " ! Respecting him as much as I did though I simply shook my head all the while considering his little rainbow fetish to be heresy of the highest order :( .
Finally the day came when I just couldn't take it anymore ... I was sitting on the Trestle watching the river rise and take on color , smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee , with a light rain falling , trying to decide whether to start at the Ledges or go on down to the Priss Hole . Either way the day reeked of big browns and I planned on taking full advantage of it . I heard a truck door slam and soon Mike is standing there saying gonna be a good one , to which I replied simply , yep . Here it comes I thought and I was right ... "come on lets go hit Slaty " he says , an invitation that I yet again respectfully declined . This time though he kinda looked at me , cocked his head and ask me "why won't you go up there with me when the river is like this" ? It was out of my mouth before I could stop it "because it's the home of the footlong" ! With a look of confusion he ask me for clarification ... "What" ? Having still not regained control of my mouth I told him "there's nothing up there but a bunch of little rainbows and I'm not wasting water like this chasing little fish ". He looked at me obviously both amused and annoyed and said "oh I see , suit yourself" then shook his head , chuckled and was gone . The invitations ceased after that .
A couple of seasons went by and I was standing in the parking area below the sawmill with a couple clients surveying the high brown water that we found ourselves confronted with . Shoot it hadn't even rained down on the lower end last night ... oh well . Plans were made to reschedule and they were on their way leaving me with a rod in the Jeep and time on my hands . Hm... if I can get across Old Field Fork I can fish Laurel and at least the morning won't be a total loss . I did just that then decided to go down and check out Props Run while I was at it . There was a tiny clear seam at the mouth of Props where it entered the river and I thought "why not" and pitched a pair of cream larvae into it .... wham a 15" bow , pretty cool ! The next cast changed the way I looked at Slaty forever ... I made a bad throw which took the nymphs out into the chocolate milk looking water . They drifted maybe 3', the line stopped , I set , and then all hell broke loose . Heavy fish ! Pissed off very heavy fish ! I couldn't turn him , the drag was screaming and then it was over and I was reeling in the now slack line a little dejected but shaking from the encounter . I rigged up again , switching to 2x , moved up stream 10' or so , added a couple more bb shot and wham off to the races again this one being a heavy 19" brown . It was smokin good the rest of the way with lots of 15" - 18" browns , a couple bows in that size range and a brown that was maybe 21" at the head of the Ball Diamond . Needless to say I was elated !
It poured that night and I woke up early , jumped in the Jeep and headed for the upper Slaty parking area . This time I hiked all the way down to the railbend at milepost 103 . Repeat performance and then some . Landed 3 over 20" with the best right at 23" and hooked a couple fish that ran straight upstream , into the teeth of the heavy current at warp speed . I could do nothing with them getting busted off rather quickly in each case . I finished up just below the Compound Hole with a 17" male , hooked my fly in the keeper and started walking back up the tracks , totally blown away .
At the head of the Bait Hole who should be standing on the little point but Mike , rod bent , battling what appeared to be a brown the size of a big carp . He looks up , catches my gaze , smiles and says "yep home of the footlong " ! Touche :). I ask how long had he known about this with said inquiry being met with a big smile and "oh quite a while now . I tried to get you to do it but you were so damn sure of yourself " .
I have never looked at big storms and brown water in the same way since ....
This tale is for and about my good friend Ryan May and a couple of magic days we spent on Slaty Fork several years ago ....
It had been wet and I might add unseasonably cold for May which was generally viewed , around here , as a disaster of biblical proportion given that the Sulphurs had already started and now the "red fog" would surely be reduced to the "red sparse wisp" until the forecast improved . It would have been very easy to sit around muttering and whining about things but Ryan was having none of that .... "Let's go up Slaty and chase sharks" . Now I had been content to sit and whine , smoke Marlboros , drink coffee and dream of the Snout Soup that would surely return with warmer temperatures but the river was brown and rocking and chasing big Slaty browns is one of my very favorite things to do . This being the case it was off to the upper river , the whining would have to wait ....
Day one of the adventure started out as a very typical Slaty high water day with both of us hitting good fish early and often . See the very best time to fish Slaty is when no one wants to fish it , that time being when she is blown out . This is when the real beasts of the river come out to feed mid-day on the little wild bows for which Slaty is known . It makes for a good time once you get used to dealing with the shear volume of water roaring around you , pushing you downriver with your cleats scraping the rocks . You have to fish water you will not want to fish ...
Anyways rounding the bend between the 2 twin holes we encountered something most unexpected in the high brown water ... rising fish ! Lot's of rising fish . Lot's of very LARGE rising fish and all of them of the brown spotted variety . Sulphurs , thousands of them , #14's , were unable to get off the water with the cold temperatures . Instead the big duns were stuck riding downstream , like an early season olive hatch , into the sea of snouts to be slaughtered ! I had never before seen the BIG fish up like that on Slaty . With shaking hands (and not from the cold I might add) we tied on #14 Usuals and it was on . An 18" male here , a 21" hen fish there , etc . Sitting here typing this years later I can still feel the moment ... true magic in it's purest form .
That evening we decided to invite a couple more brothers to go the next day just in case the magic repeated , with an identical cold day being forecast .
Day 2 saw the 4 of us hiking back down into the promised land with visions of giant Slaty butter , caught on dry flies dancing in our heads . Lightening indeed struck twice , with one differernce ... sure enough ,they were up again , huge browns , but this time rather then right up the gut , they were rising clear across river on the far side of the heavy current in the slack water by the hemlocks . The one was at a minimum 24" , heavy , with huge hooked jaws . A magnificent fish ! Try though we might , and we did , none of us could get the drift . It was obvious that you would have to cross the swollen river to have a shot . My friends , 20+ years younger headed to the tailout to attempt a risky bounce crossing . I smiled and headed upstream to the tailout of the Boiling Hole smug in the knowledge that my friends had chosen unwisely , there being an uncrossable trough 2/3 of the way across down there that would foil their efforts.
I made it , barely , lit a smoke and headed down toward the gap in the hemlocks holding the giant snout , with a spring in my step , ready to get a much closer look at him and feeling almost cocky about my choice of crossing locations .Arriving at the spot I did get a closer look at the 25" male but unfortunately the look I got was at the huge brown in a net . To this day I don't see how they made it across . The vision of Ryan with that big brown is forever burned into my head , great memory ! The fight had put all the others down so it was obviouly time for the 4 of us to move upstream and continue another epic day of Shark chasing ! At this time 2 in the group suddenly came down with what a Slaty high water fisherman could only view as a disease of sorts , this malady being a desire to go up one of the tribs after brook trout or brook chubs as we often called the little fish . An effort was made to bring them to their senses but they were having none of it and off they went forsaking big Slaty butter for the little fish of the fountains leaving Ryan and myself to our shark chasing .
It was at the point in the day that the real magic started ....
Ryan ties wonderful large streamers and is always testing this or tweaking that . Well he showed me a new one he felt was promising , the only one of it's kind so far . I agreed it looked good but felt with the Sulphurs still coming off heavy that I was better served with a pair of Magic Bunny emergers . Well that day they turned out to be kinda ok, small fish catching, Bunny emergers . Ryan's new streamer on the other hand .... good god everytime it hit the water hell broke loose ! Bam a 21" hen fish , whack an #18 bow in a little pocket , smack a 15" sucker . Nope not a misprint it is still the only fairhooked sucker on a streamer I have ever witnessed . The more he caught of course , the harder I fished but the magic was obviouly not with me on this day . At the head of the boiling hole Ryan waited until I was finished and ask if I minded if he gave it a go . I said sure , have at it and headed for a seat and a smoke as he flipped the streamer just to get it in postion for a cast ... FISH ON . What the heck was my 1st thought thinking he was screwing around but the bend in the big rod told me this was not the case . Within a minute or 2 the 22" male was in the net . It had been laying 6' from me the whole time ...
Upriver we went with my luck improving as the day went on and with Ryan putting on a clinic , just wailing big fish . Just below twin tubes I decided to take my improving luck upriver , ahead of Ryan who was maybe 100 yards ahead of me . I got out and had just started up the bank , in the high weeds when I saw them ... bear cubs , little guys . Hmmmm that means mamma must be .... there !! Oh my god and a big mamma she was . She looked right at me with a definite "I am a bear skinny boy ,STEP OFF" kind of a look . I nodded and thought to myself , "yep got it" and I slowly backed away reaching the swollen river and then started across , somewhat picking up my pace . I looked upstream and noticed that Ryan was working his way down stream towards me butmore importantly straight for the bears ! I yelled loudly and made the internationally recognized "whopping big bear , killer no doubt , stay away " sign with my arms spread high and wide above my head and a fierce scowl on my lips . Inexplicably my friend reeled up and headed straight for me (and the bears! ) at a trot ...
Now what had been a potentially bad situation (my buddy getting eaten by a bear) had become an infinitely worse situation (I might be the one getting eaten by the bear what with him herding them my way ) . I'm not real proud of having measured the degree of gravity involved in the changing situation that way but I guess that is just a character flaw I will have to work on... At this point I threw caution to the wind and pretty much ran for my life pushing my way through the waist deep , fast paced water , leaving a wake as I went ! Reaching the far bank , alive I noticed that Ryan had turned around and was now crossing a couple hundred yards upstream . When he arrived minutes later I asked him why he had ignored the "whopping big bear , killer no doubt , stay away " signal to which he replied ... " I thought the signal meant BIG FISH , BRING THE MAGIC STREAMER ". He continued by saying it was only when he saw me crossing water I shouldn't have even tried to cross , at my age , atr that speed , that he sensed something wasn't right ....
I thought later that evening that life is so often like that . It is a series of seemingly random events , punctuated by mis-communications and potential pitfalls and yet everything works out just fine .
See you on the river !
Posted on May 2, 2012 by Administrator
This is a story that is both an old one and a brand new one as it has always occured here and occurred as recently as 2 hours ago …..
How do you put into words an event that is so incredible it defies belief ? An event that makes magic seem mundane by comparison . An event that truly redefines extroidinary ? I am not sure I am up to the task but feel compelled to give it a go …..
The Red Fog is a swarm of mating 16 Sulphur spinners . The density of insects in this swarm is so heavy that you can stand in it and hear the soft hum of their wings while getting painted orange with their eggs and choking as you breath them in , which you have to do as it is impossible to draw a breath without breathing them in . There are literally millions of insects in one of there swarms which have been known at times to extend for 20 or 30 yards ! If you stand a couple hundred yards down river it looks like red smoke or fog appearing over the river , eventually forming what appears to be a solid wall . As you venture closer and closer the “wall” of spinners begins to reveal the staggering numbers of individuals in the collective . What appeared to be one solid thing is now seen to be millions of moving things and if by this point you are not completely awestruck than fly fishing just isn’t your game ……
There are times when I ask myself why I continue to stay here and fight the river’s battles after so many years of fighting them with so few clear victories . At these times I almost manage to convince myself that it can’t be worth it . How can anything be worth , at my age , constant warfare with loggers who try and smother her with mud , hoogers who try and steal her inhabitants , developers who would poison her water with sewage , etc .
Tonight she showed me once again just why the battles must be fought . She is a truly incredible resource , a national treasure and if treasure isn’t worth fighting for than what is …… The moving , breathing , living mass of Sulphur spinners that comprise the “Red Fog” is simply the most outrageous aquatic insect event I have ever witnessed , anywhere . It is a mass of mayflies you can’t see through ! This is the kind of thing you dream about from the 1st time you pick up a fly rod but really don’t expect to ever see . Only there it is and you can’t deny that you see it ! More incredible is what happens next …..
When the fog hits the water you realize for the 1st time just how many trout live here ! Much like the numbers of the “bugs” , the numbers of trout must be seen to be believed and once that image is burned into your brain it can never be forgotten . Yes everyone knows there are a lot of quality fish here but when the fog hits the water take your best previous guess (on numbers of trout ) and multiply it by 3 or 4 times . Yes , there are that many …. It is other-worldly to stand in the middle of hundreds upon hundreds of rising fish on a pool that a half hour before was all but lifeless , a pool that when viewed in very low water conditions appears to have maybe a couple dozen , at best . Did I mention that a LOT of these fish are very large brown spotted ones ? If not than I should have .
Tonight I had 2 very experienced fly fishers with me . One was from a California fly fishing club , the other from Virginia . Both have fished a large portion of the best trout water on the planet , from Argentina and Chile to Montana , to the best Canadian waters . The 1st simply said she had never witnessed anything like it , anywhere ! The 2nd said he had a couple times in his 62 years fly fishing but only a couple times . Both were completely blown away …….
I am sitting here , a few hours later knowing that I want my grandchildren’s , grandchildren to be able to experience this and therefore knowing I will keep fighting her battles , long odds be damned . The Red Fog demands this of me and I am proud to step up and take my best shot at it . Somethings in life are worth fighting for . I ask you to join me in this fight so that generations to come will be able to view the fog and sample the soup on Wv’s finest ! elkfisher