proof of concept
fishing in the depths of winter?
How to top that? Actually it was pretty easy. All I really needed to do was sleep past midnight the day before (anyone remember The Four Yorkshiremen from Monty Python, “I had to get up in the morning at ten o'clock at night, half an hour before I went to bed…”?) and not have to drive 15 hours and just see signs of at least one fish and I would have topped THAT so it was easy. Especially as the day unfolded…
But before I go on, I must confess that I was so taken with this scene that I became greedy and returned on another trip to see if Nature would reveal herself to me yet again. I will let you judge for yourself...
I confess that I missed the sunrise but I do know that in January, regardless of where you are in North America, the fish are less active at first light compared to other times of the year so I felt no shame in sleeping in. But morning brought a grey drizzle frequently found in the Misty Mountains – or perhaps more legitimately the Smokey Mountains merely 20 miles away – and actually made for the perfect morning TV show for my coffee. Much like a dancing fire or the inconstant shimmering of a bed of coals in the evening, Nature can provide ample entertainment simply with light sheets of rain billowing across a lake surface with wisps of cloud and mist emerging over the ridgelines and delicately descending the drainages (see?) so I was content for the first hour of the morning. As delicious as the morning show was, however, I was just as happy to see the clouds lift a bit and brighten my paths for the day.
Having researched the area in advance, though not with information and benefits provided by this very site, I started out at the Steel Bridge and worked my way up to the Baptist Church and beyond. One thing that I noted at the Church parking lot is that they have many signs welcoming Anglers as long as they are respectful so for any Anglers reading this, remember the hospitality of the Baptist Church there and respect their back yard and Worshippers if you are fishing during a Service. This stretch of water is near the lower end of the Delayed Harvest (remember that word?) section of the WF of the Pigeon. Just up from the Baptist Church another mile or so, the stream designation changes to Hatchery Supported and then ultimately to Wild Trout as you climb up towards Beech Gap on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Something that I can offer about being here in the middle of the first week in January is that I believe that I had this valley to myself. As the cloud cover dissipated and the sun started to peak through in broken patches, the river bottom started to glow under sun’s beams and the entire valley transformed into a fairy tale setting. Small mayflies even started to emerge as the sun warmed the water just enough. I tried size 18 BWO dries but was unsuccessful. Had my eyes been better, I would have tried a 20 or 22 but even with 3x reading glasses those are just too small. So, I’ll just have be to content with this offering evidence of the hatch’s beginnings.
I spent the afternoon trying unsuccessfully to trick a Trout into rising to a dry but that did not phase me a bit. Even if the fish are not rising, it still feels like a satisfying chess match studying the sun, wind and river currents trying to predict where and how a bug might present itself to any predators lying in wait under the surface. I could not capture it on film or video but my colossal frame afforded enough shelter for some Brookies that while I was trying to deceive them with my BWO, there were three or four of them holding in the eddy that I was creating. I was not that offended but I did feel somewhat slighted knowing that my own prey eased itself under my own blanket of protection. Oh well, it made for more of Nature’s finest television programming. Fortunately, I switched to an 18 BWO nymph and I did well on that and 16 Partridge and Orange Soft Hackle.
My favorite fish of the afternoon reminded me of an old wrestling poster of Alexsandr Karelin that I had seen in my youth. Anyone else see the similarities? My Brookie was far less intimidating.
I know that this is just January and I certainly know that every month offers unfathomable beauty in these mountains and I know that every valley presents new wonders more remarkable than the last but in the closing moments of my day, standing in the river watching that day’s moon crest over the eastern ridgeline, I was Aragorn, with Frodo, standing silent as a tree at the foot of Cerin Amroth in Lothlorien, claiming “ ‘Here is the heart of Elvendom on earth,’ he said, `and here my heart dwells ever.’” Is this hyperbole? Perhaps. But perhaps not…
I discovered long ago that the rewards for such adventures measure themselves in unpredictable ways. Remember that Taoseño ski time? Through the course of that season and over 100 days on the snow, I realized that every person out there had their own motivations and were on their own journeys but skiing generally fell further down the list as the season progressed. I have come to realize that, having deceived enough fish, catching them is not the objective. Much like Thoreau’s observation, I have discovered that the destination is not the trout and I am seeing the “state of enjoyment” that William Wordsworth notes in his Preface to the Lyrical Ballads
“I have said that Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility: the emotion is contemplated till by a species of reaction the tranquility gradually disappears, and an emotion, kindred to that which was before the subject of contemplation, is gradually produced, and does itself actually exist in the mind … but the emotion, of whatever kind and in whatever degree, from various causes is qualified by various pleasures, so that in describing any passions whatsoever, which are voluntarily described, the mind will upon the whole be in a state of enjoyment.”
Therefore, I declared that next morning a “fishing day” but not on the water. Amazingly, even on just a two-day fishing trip, one can declare that one-half of one of those days will not be about deceiving any fish. Knowing that I was going to head up and over the Blue Ridge to meet a friend at Brookings Anglers in Cashiers, I loosely packed up the car – meaning I didn’t even break down my rods – and explored the upper stretches of the West Fork of the Pigeon in the Wild Trout Waters. There is a fairly deep drainage well below highway 215 that is in no way suitable for a solo Angler in the off-season so I did my poking about where the Wild stream was in sight of the road before cresting the Blue Ridge at Beech Gap and descending into Rosman before turning west towards Cashiers to prep for an afternoon on Caney Fork Creek just a little to the north.