Thursday, June 24, 2010

Escaping the Heat

It seems like it was only yesterday that I stood in these waters, chilled to the bone, shivering in my waders despite the heavy fleece liners and long underwear that I wore underneath. Yesterday, in the same spots, I was perfectly comfortable bare-legged, wading in only boots and shorts. And while it felt absolutely delightful to stand in this beautiful waterway without my teeth chattering, it just wasn’t right. Mountain streams are not supposed to be this warm.

Early arriving summer swelter drove Loki, The Professor, Couscous and me from the slowly simmering Piedmont into the western Wilson Creek watershed with the idea of dipping our toes into cool Appalachian water for a couple of days and catching a few trout while we were at it. A string of ninety-degree forecasts, uncharacteristically hot for this early in the year, made the siren call of icy alpine water and the pursuit of its wily denizens too much to resist so we hastily threw camping and fishing gear into the back of The Professor’s F-150 and Loki’s Subaru Outback, kissed the wives goodbye, and headed west for a mid-week chill.

But it seems there’s no escaping the heat anywhere in North Carolina right now and the western slopes are being grilled over the same coals as the rest of our state. Water temperatures in the mountain streams are in the low 70s, as inhospitable for trout as it is refreshing for the fisherman. We would have to land and release fish quickly, taking care not to tire them dangerously in the inhospitably warm waters. That is, if we caught any.

While our destination was the Wilson Creek area, we had no intention of fishing Wilson itself. The lower gorge would be full of campers and swimmers, especially in this heat, and the upper stretch would be picked clean of trout now that the delayed harvest restrictions have been suspended for the summer. Instead, we planned to visit the blue lines, the watershed streams that feed Wilson, to chase their wild fish.

Upon our arrival, we quickly pitched camp in Mortimer and hit the water. Loki and I headed to the North end of Harpers Creek while The Professor and Couscous made their way to Lost Cove. Each pair found the hot weather fishing to be as tough as advertised, though I did pick up a nice little nine-inch brown on a foam ant in my first ten minutes on the stream.

I might as well have quit then.

Each of us found a fish or two, enough to avoid the skunk, with Couscous landing the most. Unfortunately, his were all chubs, and he heard about it for the rest of the evening. Fishing buddies can be pretty harsh.

We did drop into the Wilson’s waters, briefly, on our way back to camp, squeezing a few casts in the fading light, but the hikes in and out of the creeks - a mile into North Harpers and a nastily steep half into Lost Cove - had taken their toll and we casted like tired fishermen. It was time to get off the water.

Dinner was an adventure, starting with whisperlight stove-priming fireworks, and continued with Couscous’ gourmet fare, The Professor’s freeze-dried bag-o-delicacies, and Loki’s peanut butter ramen noodles and daintily fried Spam. Loki's proficiency with these basic foodstuffs, and appreciation for Spam, did not go unnoticed, or uncommented on. It got pretty ugly, prompting Loki to suggest that he had new nicknames for each us. We didn't ask what they were.

Sleep came easy, but was interrupted promptly at 5:00am when a whip-poor-will from hell settled into a nearby pine and “whip-poor-willed” constantly, and loudly, for 20 minutes, seemingly without taking a breath. All my sleepy brain could think was “Where’s the snooze button?”

But thanks to the annoying bird, we got an early start back to the water. The original plan was to switch streams - Loki and I taking on Lost Cove and The Professor and Couscous wading Harpers - but Loki and I decided to look deeper into the ravines for some darker, possibly cooler water. We picked a little-fished blue line and spent the morning clawing through rhododendrons and rock crawling skinny water, hard work in the early heat, and we were rewarded with a dozen wild rainbows, small but vibrantly colored, happy to hit our terrestrial patterns.

With family travel plans in each of our immediate futures, Loki and I reluctantly headed home in the afternoon, leaving The Professor and Couscous to fish another day. I hope that they survived the toasty conditions.

And I hope that they caught a bunch of fish. Something, that is, besides chubs.

Note: If you are getting out for trout in this heat, please take special care of your fish. Land them quickly, handle them as little as humanly possible, and insure that they are properly revived before turning them loose. Each is precious.

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