Sunday, April 25, 2010

An Unremarkable Day

It was an unremarkable day.

Mary was up with the sun this past Friday and was on the road before Wilderness Dog Sammy and I could rub the sleep from our eyes. She was headed to the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro to attend a “Native Landscaping and Water Management” workshop. You see, woodlands management is the equivalent of lawn care around our home and she wanted to get some new ideas on how to make this slice of forestland even cozier.

So I was left footloose for the day and that, of course, means fishing. Afternoon soccer commitments and a late poker game conspired to keep me close to home, so there was no room for a westerly trout trip. Instead, I decided to resume what I had started Wednesday, the exploration of my new Haw River.

Every spring brings new surprises in my waterway, but this spring will be particularly interesting. As I have mentioned in earlier posts, this past winter was particularly hard on the river. It exceeded flood stage on several occasions and tickled it a few more so the effects on my heavily braided section of river could potentially be extreme.

It wasn’t really a “fish me” kind of day, but sometimes you just have to suck it up. Our recent stretch of warm spring weather backpedaled a few degrees and by 10:00 it had only climbed into the upper fifties with split shot gray skies and little promise of improvement. To further lower expectations, the quarter-of-an-inch of rain we received a couple of days ago had finally filtered through the upper watershed and spiked the Haw’s water level overnight. The peak had passed just before midnight, but the receding waters would be dingy, at best.

With such grim conditions, I, of course, decided to wet wade for the first time this year. I suspect it was more from sloth than need to set a precedent. I left my waders in the closet, choosing instead the expediency of a pair of quick dry pants and wading boots. Though the air was cool, I hoped the water would be warmer and the day would heat up before I was too chilled. Despite my optimism, I didn’t look forward to the first time the water reached, well, you know. A shiver ran down my back just thinking about it.

The trail to my stretch of river, wide-open pathway two weeks ago, was now a tight little, overgrown furrow, infringed upon by rhododendron, silverberry, and all manners of emerging spring life. Despite the new green buffer, as I descended the trail, I picked up the sound of running water much earlier than I would have liked to, indication that the river was still running a bit high.

My arrival on the stream confirmed expectations - the river swift and fairly murky. The dinginess of the water ruled out any chance of decent topwater action and my first stretches of water were too rocky to bounce something on the bottom, so I chose a Clouser Minnow fly, colored like a small bass, to swing through slower water and stream edges. I picked the bass coloration hoping that the carnivorous, and apparently genocidal, adults might be ready for spring fry to be moving around.

The only problem with the Clouser was that I only had the fly in a size 2. I normally like something larger to discourage the bluegill and sunfish, or at least prevent them from actually taking the hook. If I wanted bream, I could catch a hundred with small poppers or white woolly buggers, but I normally eschew them in the hunt for bigger largemouths. I did end up with a few bluegill that day, but it wasn’t as bad as I feared.

To a fisherman, the beauty of this heavily braided section of river is that, regardless of conditions, you can usually find a section, or several, that are right for fish. In heavy water, small braids become deeper – in drought, main channels settle into pleasant, wadable fisheries. The variety here is endless. Swift water, slow water, pools, runs, rocky, sandy… everything. It’s why I love it.

And this week, it was once again new to me. Islands had been cut deeper, many shallow runs were now channeled, new sediment fields appeared that created new cruising territory for largemouths. Visually, the river looked wilder. Flood waters had stacked trees at the points of islands like matchsticks and the root balls of huge riverside trees were exposed everywhere you looked. It will take a while to get used to it, again.

But even with all the new water, my usual spots yielded fish, a good sign that life, and fishing, goes on. I started picking up bass in the smaller pools this week, making me hopeful that the spring largemouth season has finally arrived. I caught a half-dozen 10-to-14-inch fish in a three-hour stretch, to go with a similar number from Wednesday.

And I lost my usual big fish, in the place where I have more than once lost big fish, an inconspicuous little undercut bank accessible by an invisible sand bar at the south end of the Big Slick. This time, I thought I had a snag, not uncommon near the exposed roots of the bank. Holding the rod high and keeping the pressure light so as not to sink the hook deeper into the snag, I stepped into the edge of the hole to see if my fly was recoverable. But as I stepped, my rod tip bounced, there was a flash of a broad golden slab in the depths, and my Clouser was free once again. I should have known. I knew where I was. I should have buried the hook into that “snag” when I first felt it. Someday I’ll learn.

The good news is that the big fish are still there. The bad news is that the recent floodwaters have removed the submerged tree that has accumulated the convenient sandbar, probably dooming the access to a slow, eroding disappearance. I guess that I’d better get that lunker this year as he might not be reachable much longer.

Disappointed at losing a big fish, a not uncommon feeling on the Haw, I moved to the head of the Big Slick, home of the best bass I’ve caught over the past couple of years, but could scare up nothing more. I saw fish and endured the indignity of watching several fine bass jump clear of the water, twenty feet in front of me, chasing something. I couldn’t discern what and couldn’t match it from my fly box. But I always find my way back to Big Slick when visiting the Haw, so just let them keep jumping.

At the head of Big Slick, I stood in shin deep water, allowing the thin sun to dry and warm me while I struggled to solve the puzzle. When beaten, I stepped back into deeper water and quickly decided that I was not of a mind to get wet and cold again, so I headed for the eastern shore, and the path home. I walked up small tributary streams that had been scoured by the winter rains, exposing streambed roots so that they looked like fallen ladders. Water is a powerful element.

The path home seemed even more overgrown than it was three hours earlier, and at the pace of spring growth around here, it probably was. I trudged the twisty mile home, dumped my gear on the covered porch, and closed another pleasant and unremarkable day on the Haw.

And the fact that such a delightful day was unremarkable makes it, and all the others like it, so special to me.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Fantastic spring photos...I particularly love the trail and the bank tree roots.

In one of my favorite books, Rick Darke's The American Woodland Garden, he devotes the entire second chapter to photographing, from a fixed location, the changes in a woodland stream over the course over a 15-year period. Rather fascinating, and your comments regarding changes in the river remind me of this.

And now that I think of it, this might be a book that your wife would like. I've seen no other landscaping book that is so genuinely rooted in native wilderness. An oversized hardback, text of almost unbelievable insight, and stunning photos. Mother's Day! :-)