We'll discuss various aspects of fly fishing in and around our region.

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Solitude, "City" Fishermen, and Other Odds 'n' Ends

Posted on June 1, 2013 at 9:30 PM Comments comments (1247)

by Nathan Chapman

I sometimes struggle to figure out why so many are so willing to fish in a crowd. Not that every time one goes fishing should total solitude be a realistic goal, but why go to a river/stream/lake/pond, and fish right in someone's hip pocket? Why only fish in the middle of the day on sunny Saturdays in warm weather? Why stand in line to fish? For the most part, the fishing I like to do has more to do with the sounds around consisting of nothing more than the whispering of the water and the call of songbirds. I ain't interested in big fish if big fish mean fishing in a genuine crowd.

I fished today in solitude. I fished in a headwater stream with easy paved road access where I was the ONLY fisherman, period. I fished where native brook trout (specks) and wild, stream-bred rainbows share the water in an unusually balanced fashion. This is water largely untrammeled by the masses. It is water where an 8' rod seems like a telephone pole and you can't afford any careless backcasts. The fish are often willing here in the way that only fish who are seldom bothered by anything other than 'coons and kingfishers will be. I fished a lazy stretch of stream, picking an easy point to climb out to the trail and walk back down to the car and I was alone.

I came away with a sensation of having pulled off something sneaky. Almost underhanded. It's bad, but that's the way modern fly fishing has come full circle in that in order to be a serious fisherman, you have to have witnesses. There must be a cheering section.  One can't be very good if he fishes alone regularly. There must be an ugly cast getting hidden in there somewhere. That must be it.

And yet, I drive by a crowded river on a regular basis, not far from my own house, where out-of-state license plates are the norm. I see dozens of mostly men, standing in the middle of the river in the middle of a sunny day, fishing downstream on a short line. I see this, really I do. Plenty of other "fishermen" see it too, because these fellows seem to prefer fishing in a crowd. I know these same men read countless articles on how to fly fish, so I'm left wondering where the articles keep turning up describing the mid-day, mid-stream, downstream short-line drift technique. That must be a hot how-to article topic and a growing go-to method in the sport-or so it seems if one watches the crowded rivers much.

Fly fishing should not be done this way. The trout deserve better as well as the fishermen. Fly fishing should be about making yourself as much of a predator as you are physically capable. How many herons do you see trying to fish downstream in the bright sun at close range? Natural predators figured out eons ago that trout require a "fine and far" approach. If you can see the fish, you can almost be certain that the fish can see you. Fish the longest finest leader you can cast effectively in ANY situation, always.

I fished today in a small, brushy stream, caught somewhere in the neighborhood of three dozen fish, all wild, some of surprising proportions given the water from which they came. Some were the same fish that have always been there, unaffected by the encroachment of man, and I was alone.   

Southern Brook Trout Vs Northern Brook Trout

Posted on April 30, 2013 at 9:05 PM Comments comments (260)

By Nathan Chapman

More than one old timer, sitting in front of one of the country stores that still existed when I was a kid, whittling and spitting tobacco juice into his own shavings told me that specks were a different breed of fish. They ain't the same. That was said a lot. These old men of the mountains viewed the world around them with varying stages of contempt, amusement, and chagrin, sometimes all at once. But they all to a man felt as strongly about this place in which they live as any tribesman in Afghanistan. No matter how hard someone would try to tell them otherwise, the native speck was a different fish from the northern transplant that had arrived, most often, by way of the logging companies that had wreaked a fair amount of havoc on the ridges and spires of the Appalachians in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

To be fair, they weren't entirely wrong. Most fish geneticists nowadays are in basic agreement that there is enough difference at the DNA level between northern and southern stocks to warrant at the very least a strain status. Some scientists still push for sub-species status, depends on who you talk to. This is isn't so important to fisherman as the fact that most serious southern trouters can tell after a few fish brought to hand whether or not a stream has been "tainted"-a favorite word amongst us mountain folk. Most southerners who chase the specks in our hills will say that the true natives are more green and red, while the northern fish is more blue and silver in overall color scheme. The differences do not stop there. Most will agree that the native fish is more shy, more secretive, less apt to be out in the middle of the stream on a bright sunny day, while even wild fish descended from northern stock have been primarily more responsible for the 'brookie's" bad reputation for being a stupid fish of the ever so often mentioned reckless abandonment.

Still even the mixed stocks that exist in our southern mountains today deserve more respect than they often receive. Many serious trout fishermen of our modern era do not really even consider small, high mountain streams a worthy endeavor. Huge, dripping fish held high into the camera lens are what prevail, not diminunitive brookies on beds of green moss. Give me the high country, with its severe weather patterns, craggy bluffs, and canadian atmosphere any day over crowded "hawg holes" where waiting to find a place to fish, arguments over who got in who's way, and dead hatchery fish lodged against understream rocks is the norm. Specks live where the place and time and reason for the season are just as much a part of why we go as the fish themselves, though most of us still proclaim this the prettiest fish on the planet. Or as John Gierach once said, it's one of those things that exists in nature that is one hell of a lot prettier than it has to be...


It Ain't All About Rippin' Lips

Posted on April 3, 2013 at 8:15 AM Comments comments (522)

BY Nathan Chapman

For most of us who fly fish, or just go fishin' period, the pursuit of our game is more about being out and either in solitude or with a good friend or friends. We aren't after the biggest fish we can get our hands on, because in the overwhelming majority of places fished here in the US, the odds of that happening are slim to none, even if you have a pretty good skill-set. The average fish is what most of us hope to find a few of, be it 8" bluegills in the neighbors farmpond, or 14" cutthroats from a backcountry yellowstone meadow stream; we want the norm, the bread and butter, some "nice ones".

For most of us, this is the best we can realistically hope for and if that rarest of rare fish of whatever size and dimensions and species that may be shows itself to you, so much the better. But we don't look for it. What we hope to see is the fish being cooperative to our efforts and to land a few for our own souls' sake, while spending some quiet time, regardless of how many are along, away from the rat race that is most of our daily lives. Even for those of us who live closer to this lifestyle than others, the world offers plenty of snags and snares to keep dragging you back in. Fishing is a way to escape all that, however briefly, and just be. Good or bad, slow or hot, big fish little fish, it's a way out.

So why do we see so many pictures and articles and books and television shows that only focus on travelling the world to find the biggest fish available? This has always been a head scratcher for this ol' boy because most of us won't ever get to do that. Why lust after something that can never be attained? Perhaps human frailty is involved, but it isn't a healthy pastime to sit and watch folks who live a life you will never lead (even if you wanted to in the first place or not) experience chills and thrills most of us have never even heard about until we switched on the Outdoor Channel just this minute. Some of my all-time favorite fishing shows that I've held onto all these years are episodes of this or that where the host goes to a normal, blue-collar location, and has a good day catching the normal fish for that locale. Why? Because I could actually see myself going there and doing just that. Most likely, I'll never land a 200lb tarpon and don't look for it, and neither should most of us.

Be happy with the fish you catch from your home water. They're what sustains you and refreshes you from the grind of living in our fast-paced modern world. Head-hunters have long had a negative reputation and there's good reason for it. Those dripping pictures of leviathon fish only create mental images that simply do not hold up with normal, every-day fishing that most of us are happily (or should be happily) stuck with for all our lives. It ain't all about rippin' lips folks... 

A Different Kind of Fishing Etiquette

Posted on March 30, 2013 at 10:00 AM Comments comments (2798)

by Nathan Chapman

You've just finished telling your buddy about an awesome day fishing a tiny trickle of a stream you happened to stumble on by chance just going over your topo maps of the home area when he looks directly at you and says, "now where is that exactly?" This is a guy who has fished countless hours with you, in whom you have the utmost trust and consideration. He has more than earned his stripes in your eyes and can bust brush with the best of them. So...whaddaya do?

It brings up an interesting point in fishing etiquette in the area of fishing secrets. When is it ok to ask for a specific location? Is it ever ok? Should one wait to be offered the location? These are delicate questions which contain in them a world filled with differing opinions, guarded responses and genuine disgust. The way some anglers hide their secret spots amounts to diversion and misdirection at its highest pinnacle. Some of these men/women won't divulge such information to anyone for any reason, whatsoever. Doesn't matter that you're old so-and-so's fifth cousin, you ain't gonna know, so don't ask. There doesn't really seem to be a clear set of rules or guidelines in which to follow this avenue to fly fishing fulfillment. There just seems a couple methods that sometimes do and sometimes horrificly do not work.

The first school of thought is that when a buddy is sharing a fishing story and you are curious about the location, you should just wait and see if the information you're after is offered voluntarily. If not, tough luck, you're a big boy/girl, deal with it. The second school of thought is, go ahead and ask, what can it hurt. They can either tell you or not, there is no real in between here. The problem is these 2 approaches do not often pan out well for either person. One or the other winds up affronted, aggravated, suspicious of the other, etc and can lead to more problems down the road.

A far more practical approach is to ask your buddy when you 2 are gonna spend an afternoon there in further exploration. This will seldom ever offend anyone who is your fishing buddy. That's what you do together, you go fishing. If a veiled response is given, then you can leave it alone and move on, or you might just get to enjoy the new spot sometime soon as well. The truth in all of this is that there is nothing written in stone on this and no method is guaranteed of success. Plus you don't want to go around alienating your fishing friends, especially those who enjoy a fair amount of solitude in their fishing. This particular group of fishing friends are always gonna be the ones you should tread the most lightly around on this subject. If they're just as well off fishing by themselves, why would they tell you where the coveted new spot is?

Utlimately, do your best not to tick your fishing buddies off always asking where the story took place. Odds are, if you fish a lot, you've already been there anyway. Why run the risk of hurt feelings over something so insignificant? Perhaps the best course is to never ask or wonder much about it at all, just get some maps and do your own digging. Tough to go wrong on that course, that is, until your buddy asks you where you've been... 

Brook Trout Fishing in the Southern Appalachians

Posted on March 24, 2013 at 8:55 PM Comments comments (179)

By Nathan Chapman

You won't find this style of fly fishing blasted all over the covers of the top magazines, both online versions and those which remain in print. There is no fanfare, hero worship, or ego-boosting going on beneath the heavy canopy of rhodedendron, mountain laurel, and at the highest elevations, blueberry bushes of all things. Brook trout fishing in the lands of the southern highlands is more of a dogmatic attempt at self-torture than a path to glory and fame.

There are rewards though. Sometimes many of them. They come in the form of what many who behold these delicate hidden gems of our mountains describe as the prettiest fish in the world. Southern-strain brook trout are as gorgeous in the hand as a finely made guitar, all sleek and shining and begging to be played again and again. Reckless abandon is often used to describe the way in which these fish rise to a dry fly. However that only happens when the utmost care is given to stealth both in approach and casting. These little guys are not forgiving of sloppy or careless casts or steps in the stream. They demand that you respect them for the pinnacle of wildness that they truly are.

Brook trout fishermen in the southeast are a different lot. They aren't after sagging-bellied fish from water the depth of darkness in the hopes of the classic "grip & grin" hero shot. Instead, they're hoping to crack the ever-so-elusive plateau of ten inches. An eleven inch brookie from most headwater streams of the southern Appalachians is a bruiser of the first order. One worthy of mention sitting around campfires telling fishtales the same as that four pound rainbow caught just up from the lake down the road. Oh and they for the most part don't call them brookies. They're speckle trout or 'specks' to most serious southern fishermen. A point of pride for these men is to tell of the time they caught over 100 specks in a single afternoon.

Don't let that alarm you. For the most part you will now find most of these fishermen to be careful conservationists. They've come to understand how exploitable these fish are and just how easily they can disappear from the creek their daddy took them to when they were still dunkin' night crawlers for their fish and dang proud of it. They hoard their spots with the secrecy usually reserved for cloak and dagger organizations like those found in prominent Nicholas Cage movies. These fishermen care about the fish for which they bust through some of the most awful tangles of hell this side of perditon. Gone are the days when it was common for your daddy to come home with 80 specks for supper. People can and do change.

Brook trout fishing is a sport not for the faint of heart. Though it can be a contemplative experience, it will not be an easy physical one. These little guys are well worth the effort as they chase themselves with that well-documented reckless abandon to a flight of fury at the end of your line. Give it a try before you knock it. Wade in and see what it's all about. You might find more than just some bright little fighters of the highlands. Maybe more than you are even aware...


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