Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Elk River Rain(bow)
Huddled under the dense rhododendrons in a futile attempt to escape the downpour, we tried to remember how many Mississippis there are in a mile. You know, Flash, 1-Mississippi, 2-Mississippi, 3-Mississippi, …., Boom. Divide the number of Mississippis by 5 (or is it 10) and you know how many miles away the lightning strike was. Unfortunately, the question was merely academic as our flashes and our booms were now little more than a startled heartbeat apart, more appropriately measured in meters than miles. It was no time to be in the water. All we could do is sit and watch the river rise and take on the color of a nice mocha java.
My spring ankle fracture had put a serious kibosh on my trout outings this year so, now that I’m on the mend, I was thrilled when my buddy Loki suggested a mid-week trip up to the Elk River to scare a few brown trout. As I had effectively proven on my Davidson outing that I am no trout fisherman, I eagerly looked forward to fishing with someone who knows the ropes. Loki, a veteran Montana trout man, would either teach me a thing or two about the catching fair species or confirm the hopelessness of the task. The smart money was on the later.
Despite our living just a few miles apart, Loki was going to meet me at the stream. He had a rock and roll outing on tap (The Cult) with an old school buddy in Charlotte, anticipated a late night, and did not plan to arrive in the Banner Elk area until mid-to-late morning. I could sleep in a little before hitting the road.
So, of course, my eyes popped open at precisely 4:20a and would not close again. Anxious to get going, I hit the road early and planned to do a little “scene survey” before Loki arrived. And as it had been months since I had thrown something smaller than a size 6, heavily weighted Marauder, I could also use a little light line practice so that I didn’t look completely silly when Loki arrived. (I suspect I was only moderately successful on that score).
I found Loki’s favorite stretch of the Elk easily, walked about to get a feel for this pretty little waterway, and then fished the upper hundred yard stretch near the turnout, tossing a Madam-X, thinking terrestrials had a chance. The river here was more than a blue line, but still tight, rocky, and steep in places, but with plenty of small pools and promising looking riffles. In an hour or so of fishing, I had a few rises and, along a deep swift run, landed a scrappy 10 inch rainbow, surprising as Loki had indicated browns owned this water.
Loki finally arrived, a few minutes late, but with a serious squall line tethered to his back bumper. He rigged up, we moved farther downstream, and hit the water. Forty-five minutes later the rain arrived and, after another thirty, the fireworks began. Personally, lightning scares the bejeezus out of me and the early rumblings had me edging to the banks. Loki fished on as the rain fell and as the Mississippis shrank into single digits, working a hole until it yielded a nice brown trout amid the bright crackles. Once that fish was netted and released, Loki reluctantly left the run, just before the storm’s bottom fell out.
We waited out the storm, tucked into the rhododendrons, but after 90 minutes of monsoon, the Elk was pretty well blown out. We fished terrestrials for a little longer, then wandered into town for a quick, late lunch. Nature mocked us as the squall line cleared and revealed a picture perfect mountain afternoon. Perfect, that is, except for the muddy ribbon of raging water.
Despite the water conditions, we returned to try a little nymphing, hoping to salvage something from the day. Loki gave me a pretty good lesson on fishing the tiny flies, but conditions kept the fish away. He did add a second brown to our day’s total, but no more fish were in the cards for us. By late afternoon, after a couple more hours of rock hopping and speculative wading, we decided to call it a day and parted ways once again. Loki headed off to find a hotel room so that he might try again tomorrow and I hit the road for home.
So, today I drove for seven hours, soaked everything I brought with me, and flirted with electrocution; all for a single 10 inch rainbow trout (which, of course, I promptly released). Crazy? I don’t think so. I found a promising stretch of water, learned a little about the fine art of nymphing for trout, and spent an afternoon with a good buddy. It seemed a pretty successful day to me.
Postscript: Sound travels at 1,125ft/sec. A mile is 5,280 feet, making it a little less than 5 Mississippis. The National Lightning Safety Institute recommends taking precautions if the F-B interval (their term, not mine) is less than 25 Mississippis (my term, not theirs). Be safe, fellow fishermen!!!