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Hiking

As I mentioned in the Grand Isle post, I spent some time recently working up in West Virginia.  It was actually my fourth trip up to the state for work and I’ve still yet to squeeze any fishing in.  This time, since I was working at a site that was along the New River, I packed a fly rod thinking I may have time to break it out once I wrapped up what I needed to do at the end of each day.  That extra time never materialized, but on the day of our departure I had a few early morning hours to kill between sunrise and when we would need to drive to Charleston to fly out.  The night before I hatched a plan and picked a nearby Bluestone River access trail and crossed my fingers that everything would work out.

The next morning I woke up super early and drove to the trailhead.  I rigged up by iPhone light and waited until 6:00am to hike in – that’s when the trail opened according to the sign.  It was still dark as I walked, but twilight had broken through the trees as I came to my first landmark, a waterfall on a tributary stream, which was the main purpose of the trail.  I accessed the stream below the falls and decided to try my luck there, hoping the place was ate up with smallies.  It was beautiful water.

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After drifting flies through prime looking runs and only catching a chub of some kind I decided to head back up to the trail and head down to the main river, which was another mile or mile and a half in.  I was short on time so I didn’t waste it deliberating on what I should or shouldn’t do.  Worse comes to worse this would be a nice hiking trip as opposed to a nice fishing one.

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Now that I was hiking in daylight I could see how beautiful the trail was too.  The rock bluffs were reminiscent of those in the Bankhead, but the vegetation more resembled that of North Georgia.  As I continued hiking along the trail I began to notice that the tributary was getting pretty far from the footpath, not necessarily as the crow flew, but in terms of elevation.  I was hiking into a gorge and I didn’t even realize it. I figured there would be some elevation between myself and the trail, but this was getting to be a bit much.  The slope down to the river wasn’t gradual, all I could do was keep hiking and hope that it would taper off somewhere.  In time it did and I rambled my way down the hillside to the water.

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I quickly went back to fishing and caught another fish on the dropper, this time a shiner or minnow of some kind.  Chubs and shiners weren’t what I was after and as I looked up in the trees above me making sure not to foul my backcast I could see a giant bucktail jig hanging on some mono.  It was time to re-rig I thought.  I was throwing a popper/dropper thinking it would be a good way to cover water, but nothing was hitting the surface fly so I switched to a crawfish pattern that Blake tied up.  I was starting to run out of time if I wanted to catch a smallie, I had maybe a good half hour left to fish.  Up ahead I could see more pocket water, different than the runs that I had been fishing, a good place to swim a crawfish I thought, so I moved on up.

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My instincts were right and thankfully I did catch my smallie.  It wasn’t but maybe 8-10 inches, but I caught one.  Then I missed another one that was even smaller.  Then I hooked a chunky chub.  I looked at my watch and decided that I should head out before I got too caught up in the fishing.  I had to be back at the hotel for 9:30am and I definitely needed a shower before meeting up with my coworkers.

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It was a very nice hike out and I’m happy to report that I made it back to the hotel in time to shower.  In fact we were early enough to have lunch in Charleston and caught our flight out without issue.  I’m very thankful that my coworkers allowed me the time to do this.  I’d love to spend more time in West Virginia with a fly rod in hand, but it is hard for me to justify a personal trip up there when flights are as expensive as they are.  Maybe one day though, I’ve got a bucket list that seems to grow every year, it won’t hurt to add another trip to it.

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A much better night’s sleep was had on night two.  I could have done without the dog in the adjacent site that growled at me every time I moved, but at least it didn’t make noise through the night, or break free from its leash and try to murder me as I slept peacefully in my hammock – that may have crossed my mind at some point.  Luckily the dog was well-behaved, just protective I guess.

Much like the day before, that morning we ate breakfast, packed up, then headed down the road to the river.  This time, though, there was a lot more people in the parking lot where we were planning to fish.  They weren’t fishermen though, it looked like a group of Boy Scouts was getting ready to go on a hiking trip into the Bankhead National Forest.  A short ways up the trail we encountered some boys swimming, which was a little unfortunate because their swimming hole looked like a great place to fish.  We fished a bit downstream of them before walking around where their group was camping in the middle of the trail.  I don’t know why one would pick the middle of the trail, or at the base of a waterfall, like we saw another group doing, as a good place to camp, but what do I know I was just here to fly fish.  Speaking of fishing, Blake managed to catch an Alabama bass in that first spot we tried before we moved on.  After the early fish I was feeling optimistic.

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We went around the boys and continued to fish.  This river was much sandier than the two we fished previously, it actually reminded me a little of the rivers back home, though it didn’t have massive sand bars like you see on rivers south of the Fall Line.  Like the rivers back home it required quite a bit of wading between fishable water.  It definitely had a different feel than the other redeye streams we fished.  We went from stacked shoals on day 1 to high gradient for day 2, now we were on a fairly low gradient stream with lots of sand – we were definitely seeing a good variety of the water Alabama has to offer.  Despite the differences it was just as beautiful as the others, with some of the clearest water I’ve seen in a river, but we found out pretty quickly that it was also a tough place to fish.

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We covered a lot of territory without a bite and I was getting pretty nervous about catching a Warrior bass here.  I was within site of where I planned on turning around and heading back to the truck, but I got lucky and caught one as I floated a woolly bugger near some woody debris on the bank, it came out from a deep spot and nailed my fly.  I had my Warrior bass in hand and there was a little hope for this stream after all, so we kept fishing.

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We gave ourselves a little extra time on the water to see if Blake could land a Warrior bass.  If we didn’t have any luck soon it was onto Plan B.  I wanted so badly for this stream to work out for both of us, but it wasn’t in the cards.  I’m not sure if redeye bass numbers here are low or if the fishing was just tough, either way, we needed to get Blake a Warrior bass before dark and we weren’t having luck here so it was time to make the move.

One of the reasons I wanted to fish here was actually for the hike out.  The trail that runs along the river is one of the best in Alabama, every feeder stream that flows into the river has to go over a massive riverside bluff, so there are numerous waterfalls you pass along your hike.  It’s a really cool place to visit, whether you’re hiking or fishing, one of the prettiest in the state.

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We had been watching the weather all morning and as we hiked out the skies finally opened up.  I couldn’t help but think of how much harder it would be to catch a redeye if Plan B was high and muddy.  Our only hope was that whatever rain that came down would be brief, not only did Blake still need a Warrior bass today, but we still had to catch Cahaba bass tomorrow.

We hit the road toward our next destination, which was a little closer to Birmingham and drove through some serious weather.  It was the kind of storm that makes you put on your flashers when you drive and that’s something I never do.  Zero visibility would not be an overstatement.  We drove far enough east to get to our next creek that we had driven ahead of the line of storms, but that just meant we’d get it again soon.  Blake was out of the truck as soon as we parked, he was a man on a mission.  The dry spell didn’t last long however as the skies opened up again.

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Things weren’t looking good, but luckily the rain, although heavy, was short lived.  He hadan hour, maybe an hour and a half, before we had to be off the water – we were actually in a park that closed at 5:30pm, so the clock was ticking.

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Much like the last stream the fishing was tough.  I did spook a couple of fish that looked like redeye bass near the bank, so we at least knew they were in here, but things were looking bleak. We were down to our last 20 minutes when it finally happened.  He caught a fish and it was a Warrior bass.

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Who would have thought catching an 8″ fish could be so exciting!  What a relief that was, we had already talked about having to swing back through here when we were en route to Georgia for the second half of the slam, but thankfully we wouldn’t need to do that.  It was a tough day of fishing period.  I only caught one, thankfully it was a Warrior bass, Blake only caught two fish, we got seriously lucky.

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We got out of there shortly after that fish and headed south toward the Cahaba watershed, which held Cahaba bass, our final species needed for a Mobile Basin slam.  We found some primitive camping available at Brierfield Ironworks State Park.  We showed up after hours, but that didn’t seem to be a problem, there was plenty of primitive camping available.

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The first night in a hammock is always tough.  I’ve said that in the past and on this trip it was no different.  The hammock is comfortable and it beats sleeping on the ground, but it takes a bit of adjustment coming from a king bed.  Throw in an overzealous whip-poor-will, who was vocal for nearly the entire night, and sleep for me on night one was sporadic at best.

We were up at dawn, ate some breakfast, got packed up, and rolled out of the campground to make our way a few miles up the road to Cheaha Mountain and visit the highest point in the state.

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It was tough to get an unobstructed view of the surrounding area at the top of the tower, there was lots of communication and radio equipment up there.  A better view was had at the restaurant deck a little further down the mountain.  It’s neat what a little bit of elevation can do though.  At 2,400 feet the trees were still leafing out, whereas nearly everything just 1,000 foot down in elevation was pretty much done and making that transition out of Spring.

We came down off the mountain after checking out the view and headed down the road a way to where we planned to fish that morning for Coosa bass in the Talladega National Forest.  I had been told this was as close as I was going to get to a bonafide southern Appalachian blue line trout stream in Alabama and it held our target species so I figured it was worth a visit.

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It didn’t take long for me to get on the board with my second redeye species of the trip, the Coosa bass.  I let Blake play through after that and took time to explore my surroundings.

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It’s always a good idea to stop what you’re doing and take it all in sometimes, it’s amazing how much more you notice when you’re a little more observant.  I found loads of crawfish in the little feeder creeks and a handful of snakes like the one above, which made me a little more cautious while I was doing a bunch of rock hopping knowing they were out and about.

It took a little longer than expected, but Blake got on board with a Coosa bass of his own.  It was about this time that the creek picked up some elevation, entered into a bit of a canyon, and took on a whole new character.

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It was a beautiful stretch of water to wade.  We caught a few more Coosa bass through that section, but I knew it was time to turn around and hike out once I caught a chub in a big pool below a falls, especially when that was the only action we saw in that pool.  It was pretty good timing too because the locals were just making it up the trail to their swimming hole as we were heading out.

We left the creek and headed into nearby Anniston and Cheaha Brewing Company and met up with our friend Mark Miller for lunch and a flight.  No fishing trip is complete without a brewery stop and Cheaha fit the bill.  The food was good and the beer was acceptable.

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We left full and happy and drove through Birmingham en route to the Bankhead National Forest.  For Day 3 we’d target the Warrior bass on a creek that I fished a few times when I lived in Madison, the only place where I’d previously caught redeye before.  It was a much more memorable place for its beautiful scenery than anything else, it seemed only appropriate to head that way.

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Last month I got the opportunity to spend a few days working near Breaux Bridge.  In my down time I explored Lake Martin, though not by kayak on the water, but on foot at the Cypress Island Preserve, which is property around the lake owned by the Nature Conservancy.

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In two mornings I covered the entire trail system and can say with certainty that there is no better place in south Louisiana to take someone to see an alligator than Lake Martin.  The clear waters of the lake hold an abundant population of the big lizards.  The fishing for bass, bream, and sacalait can be pretty good too, from what I hear, I haven’t put in the time there to tell you from experience.  It is a beautiful lake, full of Spanish moss covered cypress and tupelo trees.  It’s a place, I imagine, that is exactly what tourists picture in their minds when they think of our part of the country.  The levee trail at Cypress Island makes for a great place to take a walk.

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IMG_4670Common blue violet (Viola sororia)

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This video is a bit older, but it’s appropriate right now as I’m currently working on a presentation for the Red Stick Fly Fishers for their upcoming Red Stick Day Fly Fishing Festival that is taking place Saturday March 3rd at Perkins Road Park.  I’m going to be talking about bluelining North Georgia and shed a little light on what is probably the closest wild and native freestone trout water to Louisiana.  The event is free so if you’re in the Baton Rouge area and you’ve got any interest at all in fly fishing come check it out.