This Trout Ranch era story was written by my mentor and fishing partner Ken Yufer , the old man of the Elk and appeared in the KVCTU newsletter many years ago . I am sharing it to give all of you who ask for info about him a feel for the Old Man and for the camaraderie that was shared here in that era . At least 1 mentioned in the story is no longer with us . It also really spotlights alot of folks who are still , all these years later , working to protect our waters.
Trout fishing the Elk River during the first week of June has become a tradition for several of us lovers of the Elk . It started several year ago , when Charlie Nichols (a past president of the Kanawha Valley Chapter of Trout Unlimited) , Larry Banfield and I fished for 4 days in early June with great success . Each night we sat around the campfire at Larry’s trailer and relived the day on the river. We were so excited that the trout stories lasted well into the night. Charlie keeps an exceptional stream log, and the pages were crammed with new data. We decided to lengthen our stay to a full week the following year- an thus was a tradition begun. Charlie and I have never missed since then.
The Elk River goes underground about five miles downstream of the headwaters an reemerges at Cowger’s Mill, where it is fed too by a spring from the Tygart River drainage. After catch-and-release regulations were put into effect on the two-plus miles from the Cowger’s Mill Pool to Rose Run, more people began fishing this stretch. The word spread: What a stream! Many out-of-state fishermen came, and inevitably the question was asked, “When is the best time to fish the Elk?” The answer is clear: the first week in June. The tradition has captured many, and familiar faces are seen every year. Several Ohio groups also have a love of steelhead fishing, and they relate the previous year’s experiences on the tributaries of Lake Erie. Many have western trip stories to share. Every night at dark, people arrive at the Elk River Trout Ranch to swap stories-a gathering my wife Dot (a nonfisherman herself) has christened “the 19th fishing hole.” Many evenings fifteen or more people from all walks of life and areas of the country congregate to fill the soft mountain air with trout chatter until the wee small hours. This great river has provided both told and untold pleasure to countless people.
Most of the predicted hatches merge in late May and the first week of June: Green Caddis, Dun Caddis, Tan Caddis, Giant Black Stonefly, Light Brown Stonefly, some Little Yellow and Little Green Stoneflies, Big Sulphur (Rotunda, Little Sulphur (Dorothea), March Brown, Gray Fox, Eastern Green Drake, Blue -Winged Olive (Ephmerella Cornuta), Mahogany Dun (Isonychia Bicolor), and several midges. The variety of insects provide a smorgasbord for brown trout!
The Cowger Mill Pool is our favorite for evening fishing. As the hatches begin, the number of species of flies and the volume increases until the pool is filled with insects in all stages of hatching. Fishermen try to determine what the trout are taking. Nymphs, emergers, pupa and stillborn patterns fished in the film, or a nymph or pupa fished deep are good first choices. Some rods begin to lift, and the banter among us increases. An excited fisherman yells, “Gray Fox emerger!”. (The rule is that if you catch three trout on one pattern, you announce it to everyone in the pool . Our solutions of the mystery of what the fish are taking are usually fleeting. Often the trout switch the fly of choice every 15 minutes, and trout in different sections of the pool are feeding on different insects, or on different stages of the same insect. The cry of success ten yards away may not help you at all. Many times three fishermen have trout on simultaneously-all using different patterns. The trout are celebrating the most fun they’ve had for a year-and inadvertently providing us with even more enjoyment. Dusk arrives much too quickly. slowly we leave the pool, grinning, to relive the evening.
Although I must admit to being a nut about the Elk River, and I fish it often-I still look forward eagerly to the first week in June. This year was no different: we began coordinating our plans in April, and our fishing trips in May relieved our cabin fever and warmed us up for the week. Like all watched pots, it seems to take forever, but it finally happens: it’s another week in June!
I arrive at the cabin on Friday and get things in order. The core group will arrive tomorrow: Charlie, Dave Thorne, and Max Robertson, a former DNR executive, who is a charter member and past president of the Kanawha Valley Chapter of Trout Unlimited.
Saturday morning is spent with visions of what is to come dancing in my head. Charlie is the first to arrive, calling “Hey, old man, let’s go fishing!” Charlie is settled in, reliving experiences in past years, when Max pulls in. He hasn’t fished here since the catch-and-release regulations went into effect, and our myriad stories have lured him up “to fish the Elk.” Dave Thorne (a former DNR fish biologist) rolls in about 4:00pm, dinner is served, and we’re off to fish.
Our choices of spots for morning and afternoon fishing reflect individual preferences. Either the faster water below Cowger’s Mill Pool, or a nearby brook-trout stream is usually our choice. But come evening, it is always the Mill Pool Hole, where the catch-and-release section begins.
We set up in our appointed stations. Charlie wades across above the pool and sets up in the upper reaches where the current breaks into the deep water of the pool. Dave Thorne commands the large rock on the near bank. I am always the slowest at getting rigged up, and the tail water has become my allocated spot. Max joins me there. Others fill in the rest of the pool. Dave Thorne catches the first trout on a western pattern, the cripple, then another. The rest of us are all thinking the same thing, “What the hell is the cripple pattern?” But it doesn’t matter for now, the success is over, and no more trout take the cripple pattern. Charlie catches several trout on emerger patterns. Max and I are still fishless at the bottom of the pool. Dave Breitmeier, the guide at the Elk River Trout Ranch, and Mike Cumashot, who often guides on the Elk, join in the fun. The pace picks up, and shouts of encouragement begin to ring out. I see some Eastern Green Drakes coming off, then the spinner (Coffin Fly). I tie on a Coffin Fly pattern, and the trout god smiles on me. When I hook the third trout, I yell, “Coffin Fly!” It doesn’t help my buddies. The trout aren’t taking that pattern anywhere else in the pool. Luckily, I am set for the evening, but it doesn’t happen that way very often. The others solve their own mysteries – several times. Eyes strain to see the fly, and mine begin to moisten for a different reason: another wonderful day on the river is over (My wife says that she’s been accused of being so tearful that she would cry over reruns of “Gilligan’s Island,” but that I cry only over reruns of the first week in June.) As darkness falls, we slowly exit to reassemble at the 19th hole.
The social hour begins. New faces are introduced to everyone, and the common bonds of love for the sport of trout fishing and for the river melt all barrier. Everyone has a story to tell, and soon we settle down and relive each fisherman’s experiences of the day. One thing I have noticed with appreciation is the lack of bragging. “I had a 20-trout day,” is a phrase rarely heard. That’s not what it’s all about. Giving someone patterns that help them to have a 20-trout day is what’s important. Like the evening hatch, the night gathering afterwards passes much too quickly. Too soon we begin to say good night and wish each other “tight lines” tomorrow. If there is better therapy for the trials of life, I haven’t found it.
Back at the cabin, we slowly unwind. More stories, much discussion of unsolved mysteries, and then to bed to dream of the pleasures of today and tomorrow on Elk River.
The daily routine is well established: first coffee, then breakfast. Charlie and Dave are the morning chefs, and the rest of us cook dinner- served at 4:30 pm, in order not to interfere with the evening hatch. After breakfast, some fish in nearby spots. Charlie and Dave, our bug experts, uncase vials containing insect specimens collected the day before; our pick-up trucks also provide good samples of the previous evening’s hatch. Hours of research usually ensue. Charlie proclaims, “It’s not a 16, it’s not an 18- it’s a 17.” We find that an English firm has size-17 hooks, and we plan to order some.
But this Sunday after coffee belongs to Eleanor Mailloux, owner of the Hutte Restaurant and bed-and-breakfast in Helvetia, which is about half an hour away. I promised Eleanor that we would do a survey of the two streams near her inn and try to determine if she could advertise them as viable trout streams. We have a good team for the job: Charlie is an expert bug analyst; Dave and Max are experienced in all phases of stream analysis. Dave will conduct the underwater aquatic-life evaluation, and Max will assist and provide the benefit of his knowledge in fishing small streams. I am an expert tag-along and go-fer.
We decide to analyze two stations, or areas that typify the stream as a whole, on the Left Fork of the Right Branch of the Buckhannon River (only in West Virginia do we come up with these memorable names for streams). In addition we will analyze two stations on Upper Trout Run and one at Czar, three miles below the inn. The results on the Left Fork are encouraging: water temperature 62 to 65; alkalinity 12 to 19; PH 7.1 to 7.4; varied aquatic life; and three year-groups of brook trout. The two stations we check on Upper trout Run, which joins the Left Fork at Eleanor’s inn, provide similar results. When we finish that station, I excitedly run over to show Eleanor the vials of aquatic life. She is notably unimpressed with the introduction of these samples into her restaurant. The station check at Czar produces reasonable numbers, but Max states that the lack of shade cover might present a summer-temperature problem. (Another visit in August proves him right).
Our analysis done, we head back to Eleanor’s for the wonderful brunch featuring traditional Swiss and German cuisine. We all eat far too much; then we recount our findings to Eleanor. We believe that the Left Fork above the restaurant and Upper Trout Run are viable brook trout streams. She beams, thanks us, and wants to provide brunch on the house, but we refuse. The trip back to the cabin is pleasant. Dave sums it up, “This is what Trout Unlimited is all about.”
Abut a fourth of a mile below the Mill Pool, the fast water is slowed by a large hole filled with logs-hence ” The Log Hole.” This hole is of particular interest to Dave Breitmeier and me. Neither of us has caught a trout in this hole in three years, and we have not heard of anyone else catching any. It is the perfect spot for the granddaddy of all trout. The largest brown trout we know about was 29 3/4 inches. The trout in the Log Hole has crept into our conversations for three years, and we have fished the hole at daylight, dusk, during rain showers, and at all times in-between without a single bite.
“Dave, how big do you think that brown trout is?” I ask.
He ponders. “It could be the 30-inch brown we dream about.”
On this Monday I approach the hole, as always dreaming of the big brown. I sit down and watch. There is a dimple in the water under that big root, and then another dimple. Could it be him? I choose a size -24 midge pattern. Luckily, the first cast produces a drag-free drift under the root, and I see the fish take the fly. I lift the rod, holding my breath. The trout shakes his head in disbelief, giving me time to head him away from the root and out into the main pool. He heads down toward the next set of logs. Can I turn him again? Slowly he eases back out into the pool. About five minutes later I bring him to net, and my heart sinks. I measure twice to be sure: 19 inches. I carefully release the trout.
He’s gone. The big one is gone. I crawl up on the bank and sit there in a daze. How can this be? Did he die of old age? I hope so. Did the floods get him? I hope not. After what seems an eternity , I slowly get up and do the only thing I know to do: start fishing again. Mechanically, I stay in the Log Hole and catch a 12-inch and an 8-inch brown trout. The big one would not have tolerated this intrusion. He is definitely gone.
Late that afternoon on the way back to the cabin, we stop at Dave and Bonita Breitmeier’s cabin. I break the bad news: he is gone. Dave slumps to the ground. I relate what happened again, and we share our grief. We both hope he died of old age.
Max muses, “I never saw anyone so upset about catching a 19-inch brown trout.” Then he lapses deep into thought. He finally breaks the silence with a question, ” When was the last time you saw him?”
Almost simultaneously Dave and I respond, ” oh, we have never seen him.”
A look of incredulity crosses Max’s face, and I can read his thoughts, “What kind of nuts am I fishing with?”
The evening fishing isn’t much fun for me. Late that night, after everyone else has gone to bed, I sit on the cabin porch for hours, thinking about that brown trout and others I have pursued. Finally about 3:00 am, I am able to smile and go to bed. I hope he died of old age.
The next day Dave Thorne renames the hole- “The No-See-Um Hole.”
Written by Ken Yufer