Lagniappe

Fly Dogs II

By TB

As we settle in for the holidays, one of the things we’re always thankful for are the furry friends who we meet in fly shops and who often accompany us as we go fishing.  Last year we celebrated them with a “Fly Dogs” post and we’re reprising it again in our 2017 edition, Fly Dogs II.  We ran into many beautiful canines on our Ramble this year, but we decided to highlight these five.

We always love it when we walk into a fly shop and are greeted first by the shop dogs.  It was no exception when we walked into the Kern River Fly Shop in Kernville (CA) to meet up with Guy Jeans, owner/head guide, who we dubbed “Stonefly Guy” because of his band,  Stoneflys.  The first to greet us was Jackson Jeans (pic 1 above).   Excited doesn’t begin to describe Jackson as he jumped from Guy to Barb to me.

We had the same reception at A&G Outfitters in Dickson City (PA).  We met Adam Nidoh, our guide to fishing the “Urban Oasis” that is the Lackawanna River, in the parking lot of the shop.  When we went inside, we were met by Lucy, the fly shop dog.  After she said hello to Barb and me, she went back to relaxing in her favorite spot (see featured pic) as we went off to fish for the day.  Fly shop dogs are the best!

We met Sammy at the Fisheads Fly Shop in Navajo Dam (NM) as we finished paperwork for our float trip on the San Juan with Chris Taylor, “San Juan Streamin”.  Turns out, Sammy jumped in the truck with us and made the float down the river with us as well.  Sammy sat and watched as Chris rowed us downstream and sat up each time we hooked and landed a fish, never trying to get to it or getting in the way.  She was amazing and so much fun to have wth us.  She really liked one of the fish I caught too (see pic 2)!

It isn’t just float trips where we have these special friends join us.  We met our guide, Matt “Gilligan” Koles, Gilligan’s Guide Service, who showed us the Truckee River, at his home near Truckee before heading out to fish.  When we got to the parking spot and got out, he was joined by Elliot.  Matt asked us if we were ready to “bushwhack” a bit to get to some great holes, and of course we were up for it.  We encountered some great fish you can see in our post, “Gilligan’s Truckee”, but we had a blast watching and listening for Elliott as we waded the river.  He kept up with us every inch of the way and dutifully followed Barb and Matt as you can see (pic 3).

On our “Driftless Kick!” with Pete Cozad of Driftless Angler, we had the pleasure of meeting Pete’s dog, Teak (pic 4).  We watched as Teak ran and jumped to catch the frisbee Pete would throw on the grounds of The Sportsmens Club on the West Fork of the Kickapoo near Viroqua (WI).   What was so special was how Teak seemed to hang onto every word Pete was saying during our interview.  We’ve included a picture in this post, but to really see how Teak was listening, tune into “Driftles Kick!”.

Finally, a reprise of our favorite fly dog, Solomon.  You can see him in our 2016 post, “Fly Dogs” sitting on the welcome mat of TroutHunters Fly Shop in Island Park (ID) on the Henry’s Fork of the Snake.  Well, this year was even better.  We met Sue and Dud, Solomon’s owners and fishing buddies, to fish the Madison River on our “Madison Redux” with Steve Smith, Rivers Edge Fly Shop in Bozeman (MT).  The bite was on and it was an EPIC day of fishing, but what made it so special, was having Solomon with us.

Solomon LOVES to go fishing with Sue and Dud, and also LOVES to get in on the action when he can.  The picture above (pic 5) is one of our all time favorites.  You can see Sue downstream fishing and Dud (red cap) and Steve coming upstream following Solomon, who’d just jumped out of the boat and started running upstream to our boat.   Why?   Of course, we had a fish on!  When Solomon sees a bend in a rod, he’s on it.  We love fishing with Sue and Dud and always enjoy it when Solomon, our fav fly dog, comes along.

I”m sure when we get to Indy for Christmas, we’ll be heading to FlyMasters of Indianapolis fly shop for something.  We’re looking forward to being greeted by their shop dogs to wish them a Merry Christmas!

Ramble On!

The Driftless area is a region encompassing parts of southwestern Wisconsin, southeastern Minnesota, northeastern Iowa and northwestern Illinois.  The area got its name due to the lack of glacial deposits, “drifts”.  What this translates to is a region of deep carved river valleys with some of the best trout fishing in the midwest.   We first heard about this area from Jen Ripple, editor/founder of Dun Magazine when she spoke at the 2017 GRTU TroutFest.  Ever since, we’d been excited about fishing this region.

Our first stop in the region took us to Viroqua (WI) to fish the West Fork of the Kickapoo, our “Driftless Kick!” start.  We next went to an area near Rochester and Lanesboro (MN) to fish the Whitewater and Trout Run streams, two more fisheries that are a part of the TU Greatest 100 Trout Streams.  To be honest, the area around our campground reminded us a lot of where we grew up in the country outside Kansas City.  However, when we drove to meet our guide, Mike Lewellen, of Troutlaws Fly Fishing Guide Service and followed him to the Whitewater River, the “Driftless” landscape emerged before us.  Our day on the Whitewater was filled with beautiful brown trout at most every bend of the river.  As we finished our day on the Whitewater,  we talked with Mike about our guide trip on Trout Run in a couple of days, and asked him where else we might fish.  He recommended Ducshee Creek near Lanesboro (MN).

Later that day, back in the campground at Chester Woods, Mike dropped by the SaraLinda and as we talked more about fishing Duschee Creek, Mike indicated he’d like to show it to us…. what a treat!  The deal was struck, we’d meet Mike in Lanesboro, buy lunch and he’d show us Duschee Creek.  We met at the Root River Rod Company in downtown Lanesboro, a really cool little town and a VERY nice fly shop.  After spending some time in the shop and lunching on bison hotdogs, we headed out to fish Duschee Creek.  The creek was absolutely beautiful and it was a great pleasure fishing with Mike.  We all hooked into some gorgeous brown trout throughout the afternoon and came upon a unique flower bed as well.

The next day we headed to Trout Run.  I mean…. any stream named “Trout Run” has to be good…. right?  When we got to a small bridge near a couple of small farms, we saw three other cars parked alongside the road, obviously other fishermen.   Getting out of the car, Mike told us not to worry, there were miles of stream, in both directions from the bridge, full of trout.  We decided to head upstream a ways to begin our day.  After a morning of catching a few trout here and there, we headed back to the car and were met by the local dog who entertained us during lunch…. entertained meaning he really was hoping we’d share some lunch with him.

After lunch, we headed back up stream further to a hole Mike really wanted us to fish.  I have to tell you, the folks in the “Driftless” area, fishermen, landowners and the state, have struck a great deal in providing access to streams.   While landowners have their properties fenced, primarily for cattle, there are ladder crossings near all the streams so anglers can easily cross fences to continue moving up/down stream.  We were both so impressed with this cooperation on the part of everyone.

That afternoon on Trout Run, Barb schooled me but good!  She hooked into some big, gorgeous “Driftless” browns at several different runs along the stream.  At one point, I was stalking a far bank run for a few trout that kept rising, teasing me but not taking my dry fly when I heard both Barb and Mike yelling at me to come up and fish with them.  Little did I know that while I was stalking with little success, they were in a hole with some great fish.  I’ll move faster next time!

We had the distinct pleasure of fishing with Mike for three days in southeastern Minnesota on three different streams.  I’m sure a lot of fly fishermen take the drive along I-90 from Chicago and points further east and head west to fish in Wyoming and Montana.   I would highly encourage them, and all our midwestern friends, to make sure to stop in southwestern Wisconsin and southeastern Minnesota and fish the Driftless area streams.  We barely touched all the fishing opportunities available here.  Make sure if you do, you call Mike at Troutlaws and book at least three days to fish this amazing area.  We’ll for sure be coming back again!

PS  Yes, that’s a Pink Squirrel on my hat!  It’s a famous fly pattern in the “Driftless” area as it turns out.  I couldn’t resist buying and wearing it while we fished the area.

When we were planning our Tennessee swing through the Volunteer State, we also planned to meet up with James and Janice Kelley of Hendersonville, TN.   Our rendezvous location was Townsend, TN, a small town outside the “quiet” entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP).   James and Janice stayed in a little cabin at our campground while Barb and I were in the SaraLinda.  We met for dinner, caught up a bit and talked about plans, which first included fishing… at least for James, Barb and me.

James, Barb and I met the next morning and headed out to fish the Little River in GSMNP.  We met our guide, Chad Williams, at the “Y” in the park where you either go toward Gatlinburg or Cade’s Cove.  We had a great day of fishing in the park that’s chronicled in “Little River, Little Fish“.  As you can see in the gallery, James had a great day catching beautiful, small native rainbow trout.  Afterward, we headed back to the campground to hear how Janice’s day went and to head to dinner at the Trailhead Steak and Trout House in Townsend.   Great dinner and lots of fish stories and laughs to share, especially of James’ “river dance” and swimming session.  We even got a nice pic of James and Janice outside the restaurant with an old, spooky wagon.

While day one was all about the fishing, day 2 was all about touring GSMNP and the area.  We started inside the park, driving up to the Elkmont area which is rich with history, including the Appalachian Clubhouse pictured in the gallery above.  In the early 1900’s, the Little River Lumber Company began promoting this area as a resort.  A group of nearby civic leaders and businessmen created a clubhouse first as a sportsman’s club which morphed over time into a social club.  Its members included the elite of Knoxville.   The lumber company not only logged the area around Elkmont and the clubhouse, but also provided train service for members to travel to and from the area.

After we toured the Elkmont area, we slipped just outside the park into Gatlinburg.  After having a huge brunch at the Pancake Pantry, which was hopping at 10:45 in the morning, we took a few moments to explore town.  We visited some local stores before finding a nice spot for a quick Halloween/Fall pic in “the Village”.  Next, we headed up the mountain above town to view the damage done by the fires of a year ago.  You could still see the burned out homes, businesses and landscape and were amazed at how the fire jumped and moved about, scorching one spot before jumping over and ignoring others.

We took a different route back into the park, touring Pigeon Forge (TN), home of Dollywood.  The whole Gatlinburg / Pigeon Forge area reminded Barb and I of the Lake of the Ozarks area in southern Missouri.  As you drove down the main streets of each town, you saw restaurants, theaters, t-shirt shops, mini-golf courses, go-kart tracks, taffy shops, and more.  I’m sure both cities are bustling in summer with families, but this was late October and it was an “older” crowd, touring the area and enjoying the fall colors blanketing the mountains.

Our next stop was the Cade’s Cove section of GSMNP, one of the most visited spots in the park.   This valley was a thriving community in the early 1800’s with churches, mills and many families residing here.  Cade’s Cove contains more historic buildings than any other area of GSMNP.   Wildlife were abundant here as well, as we saw numerous turkey, deer and even a small bear jam (although the bear was already out of our sight).

When we got back to Townsend, we grabbed ice cream at the drive-in restaurant next to our campground, sitting out in the sun to keep warm.  Janice then led us to the river behind our campground causing James to grab his fly rod once again and yes, catching perhaps the smallest fish of the trip… maybe it was 2 inches long?  Maybe.  Afterward, we enjoyed dinner at a local Mexican restaurant, which for Tennessee, was actually pretty good.

Our last morning consisted of packing up, getting the SaraLinda ready to roll, and making a drive to the entrance to GSMNP for our obligatory picture in front of the park sign.  We had such a great time with James and Janice and are already looking forward to our next adventure with them.  This area of Tennessee is one we’ll be returning to visit again… great fishing, beautiful scenery and most importantly, great friends for sharing it all.  Thanks James and Janice!

We absolutely love fishing small rivers inside national parks so when we realized the “prongs” of Little River we’d be fishing were inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP), we were excited.  What made it even more exciting was having James and Janice Kelley join us in Townsend, TN for our time in and around the park.

We met our guide, Chad Williams, of The Smoky Mountain Angler at the “Y” just inside GSMNP.  We’d already “wadered up”so after talking about our day, we headed up toward Tremont, and a prong of the Little River.   When Chad picked a good spot for us both to pull over, we parked the cars and hiked across a bridge to some holes just downstream.

Given that we were wade fishing a small stream, we were spread out on the river, sometimes out of sight of one another.  Chad did a great job of finding good looking water for each of us and within a short time, we were all catching beautiful, small, wild rainbow trout.  We would “creek stomp” to another hole, usually upstream, and more often than not hook into at least one more of these native fish.

After a great morning of catching Little River little rainbows, we headed to the main prong of the river to see if we could hook into something a bit bigger.  We scrambled down steep hillsides, did a bit of bushwhacking, and carefully navigated slippery boulders in the river, but, never could find that “big one”.  Barb and I hooked into a few, but James lived up to his fly fishing nickname, “Hot Stick” as he continued to catch several small rainbows in each hole he explored.   After a great day stompin’ around in the “prongs” of the Little, we headed back to the campground to meet up with Janice and head to the steakhouse.

We’ve heard stories of the South Holston fishery; its numbers and size of the fish that reside there.  We met our guide for the day, head guide and namesake of the Champion Outfitters & Guide Service, Matt Champion, on a cold morning at the shop.  The fog was shrouding the river and keeping the temps in the low 30’s.  While we met at the shop at 9am, we really didn’t leave until 10, hoping to let the early risers head on down the river, and we’d have the river to ourselves.  It turned out, most everyone thought it was too cold to start early, so when we arrived at the boat ramp, we found several drift boats dropping into the river.   We waited our turn, and off we went.

Matt decided early on that we’d float the upper section of the river twice, taking a break for lunch in between.  We started landing rainbows even as Matt told us it was about a 70/30 split between browns and rainbows in the SoHo.  While the morning produced about an equal number of beautiful ‘bows and brownies, the afternoon turned brown.  The bite was definitely on as we landed browns consistently all afternoon.

We had a great time on the river with Matt and landed more fish than we could count.  At the end of the day, Barb and I both were nursing sore arms from fighting so many fish.  The South Holston is a fishery not to be missed.  When you go, make sure to give the shop a call and ask for Matt…. you might get Matt Champion or you might get Matt “Scooter” Gwynn…. in either case, you’ll have a great time on one of the Bristol area gems, the Watauga or South Holston.

Oh Shenandoah

By TB

We had a dichotomy of water for much of this year, too much in the West and too little in the East.  We endured record runoff in California which produced record flows in the streams.  As we came to the East, the concerns changed to not enough water.  This was true as we went Creek Stompin’ in WV and again as we fished in Shenandoah National Park.

The one Virginia river on the TU list is the Rapidan River just outside Charlottesville, VA.  Normally, we fish with a guide the first day we’re in an area, but since we left West Virginia a day early, we made it to Cville a day early and decided to fish the Rapidan on our own before fishing it the next day with a guide.

We stopped into Albemarle Anglers to check in and get some intel and flies to fish the Rapidan.  There is actually a fly called the “Mr. Rapidan” which has bright yellow posts on top and a dark colored body.  After getting some dries and droppers, we setup the SaraLinda in our campground and plotted our first day on the Rapidan.

Before heading to the river, we took a drive up to Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park hoping to catch some views of the area.  As it turned out, the mountains were shrouded in fog and mist.  We could barely see the road in front of us, let alone any views of the Shenandoah Valley and surroundings.  We thought about hiking a couple of miles to visit the Hoover Rapidan Camp in the park where Herbert Hoover would come to escape the heat in Washington DC and fish the Rapidan River.  After having lunch at the Big Meadows cafe, instead of hiking to Hoover Camp, we headed back down to fish the Rapidan from the valley upstream.

We drove out Graves Road to its end, parked the Subaru and began hiking upstream on the Rapidan trail.  The river was on our right as we hiked up the mountain in the most oppressing humidity we’d experienced in years.  We were soaking wet from me sweating and Barb perspiring.   The fly shop had indicated we should hike about a mile before fishing so we’d get to some less pressured water.  Because of the Hoover Rapidan Camp, more people come to fish the Rapidan for its historical significance.

We found a few good holes, caught a few small fish and decided to head back, knowing we’d be fishing the Rapidan again the next day with our guide, Carson Oldham, of Albemarle Anglers.   Little did we know at that time what was to come the next day.

Carson met us at our campground, which was on the way to the river and off we went.  He’d forewarned us that the drive was up and over a mountain on a fire road to get to the upper stretches of the Rapidan.  When we hit the gravel portion of the road, Carson noted how rutted the road was on the side.  As we continued up the steep, gravel road, the ruts became much more pronounced, turning into large crevices in the road.  We were having to travel about 3mph to avoid bottoming out the car but the road kept getting worse and worse.  Carson was committed to getting us to the Rapidan’s upper reaches but we kept telling him it wasn’t worth busting the undercarriage of his car.  He finally agreed with us, especially given we still had 10 more miles to go and at 3mph, well…. you can do the math on how long it would take us to just get to the river to fish…. and we knew we’d likely have to drive back out in a pouring rain.  We still don’t know why the road was so torn up.  Carson told us its normally a great road.

So… what to do.  Plan B took us to the Hazel River in Shenandoah NP and more creek stomping.  We had a great time fishing with Carson on the Hazel, hiking upstream over rocks and boulders, fishing small holes for beautiful brook trout.  It rained all day on us, but didn’t deter us from making it a full day fishing on the Hazel.

Carson told us there are even better brook trout streams in the area, so we’ll definitely be coming back to Virginia and Shenandoah National Park.

There are two streams in West Virginia that are on the Trout Unlimited’s Guide to America’s 100 Best Trout Streams, the Cranberry River and Seneca Creek.  Last year we fished the Cranberry River, which proved challenging given we’d never fished the river and we had no guide.  As we approached fishing Seneca Creek, we found ourselves in the same position, never seen it and no guides around.  We started to wonder just why these two streams were on the list in the first place, but undaunted, we headed to Seneca Rocks, WV, to fish Seneca Creek.

When we arrived in the area around noon, we talked with some of the staff at the Smokehole Resort where we were staying. They indicated that the water levels in Seneca Creek weren’t too good.  In fact, the river running right behind the SaraLinda, the North Fork of the South Branch of the Potomac River, which Seneca Creek runs into, was incredibly low, a great indicator that Seneca Creek wouldn’t be any better.   We also learned that there was a large fire in the mountain above us, with around 50 firefighters deployed and another 50-100 more firefighters on their way and would be checking into the cabins next to us.

We hooked up the SaraLinda and decided to go checkout Seneca Creek, following the directions written in the TU book. When we reached Seneca Rocks, we turned onto Highway 33 and drove until we saw White’s Run Road.   We turned onto the road and headed up the mountain until we found the parking area next to the Seneca Creek trailhead.   We were the only car there.

We got out in a light drizzle, rigged up our 7′ rods and began hiking up the trail.  The book said to hike up a ways before beginning to fish, but as we checked out the stream as we hiked deeper into the woods, there was not a soul in sight.  After about 1.4 miles, we came to a spot where the trail crossed Seneca Creek.  We stopped, looked up and down the creek, not seeing much water to fish.  After walking another .3 mile further upstream, seeing no deep holes to fish, we came back to the crossing and waded in, deciding we’d find the deepest holes we could and drift a small stimulator through it.

After trying this in 3 or 4 small holes, a small brook trout took the stimulator… we had a fish on Seneca Creek.  We fished a bit more, but decided that the water was just too low to fish more so we headed back to the SaraLinda.  We talked that night and decided we’d give Seneca Creek a rest, not wanting to stress the small brookies that might be hiding in any water they could.

The next day, we went over the mountain on Smoke Hole Road to fish the South Branch of the Potomac, which we’d heard had some water in it.   We fished near Eagle Rocks in a beautiful fall setting.  We hooked into some creek chubs on dry flies, so, the fishing was fun.  As we headed back over the mountain to the SaraLinda, we came across a staging area full of firefighters.  The road was still open, but was now being used as a basecamp for fighting the fire.  Further along the road a light rain began to fall.  As we rounded a corner, this incredible double rainbow appeared out of nowhere.  It was so close we felt like we could touch it.

While we found the fishing in West Virginia very challenging, we found the natural beauty of the state amazing.

When we booked our guide trip on the Animas River (see Animas Antics) with the good folks at Duranglers in Durango (CO), I asked them about other fishing opportunities in the area we might want to try.  We always ask the fly shops this question in case there is a “nunya” creek that is fishing hot, or a special, scenic river nearby.  In this case, the shop said “You’ve gotta ride the train up toward Silverton and get off along the way to fish one of the remote mountain streams.”  Well…. it sounded like a pretty good plan so we called the Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad (DSNGR) company and booked a couple of tickets.   We told them we wanted to fish one of the creeks along the way, so we needed to be dropped off.  The shop recommended Cascade Creek in Cascade Canyon so that’s what we booked.

The day arrived and we made it to the station on time to catch our 8:45 train and off we went.  The “Cascade Canyon Caper” video really tells the rest.  We hope you enjoy it!

When we were planning our 2017 “Ramble” dates, we purposefully wanted to be in the Roaring Fork valley for the 4th of July. We’d heard of incredible fishing in both the Roaring Fork and Frying Pan rivers, as well as incredible fireworks in towns all along the valley.

We arrived in the valley on July 3rd and setup the SaraLinda at the Gateway RV Park in Carbondale (CO).   The RV park is set right on the Roaring Fork and the Rio Grande “hike and bike” trail that connects Glenwood Springs with Aspen.  We learned that there was a “fire ban” in effect for the area and all fireworks displays were cancelled except for Glenwood Springs.

About a month before arriving in the valley, we’d contacted Frying Pan Anglers (FPA), a fly shop in Basalt (CO), and asked about booking a guide trip on the Roaring Fork for July 4th.  I’d asked, “do you have guides who go out on the 4th”, to which the shop guy said “the fish don’t care it’s the 4th of July”.  DUH!   We laughed and booked the trip.

At 8am on the 4th of July, we met our guide, Ed Deison, at the shop and headed off to fish the Roaring Fork.  When we got to the boat ramp, it was clear this was going to be a VERY busy day on the river.  There were already 3 drift boats in the water at the dock waiting to start their trip and another 4 rafts ready to enjoy a pleasure float down the river.  In the parking lot, the boats and rafts just kept coming, lining up, awaiting their turn to put in.   It was going to be a bit crowded on the river it seemed.

Undaunted, Ed pushed us off and floated down a bit to rig up our rods, away from the craziness of the boat ramp at Carbondale.   We met another FPA guide, Dillon, who turned out to be from Austin (TX) and had gone to Lake Travis HS and Texas A&M on a baseball scholarship.  Small world!

After we’d rigged up, we started down the river and began what would become an “epic” day of hooking and landing really big, beautiful brown and rainbow trout.   We started by throwing dry flies toward the banks, bringing these  hungry trout to the surface to hit our flies.  When that slowed a bit, we went to nymphing for them and things heated up even more.

We always like to take at least one picture of a fish we’ve caught on a particular river, so when we caught a nice brownie early on, Ed wanted to make sure we got that one pic, so he pulled the boat over for the photo op.  While we don’t count the number of fish we catch on days like this, it was a lot.  When we’d catch an even bigger fish, Ed would pull over and get another pic for us.  While we were landing what was our biggest fish of the day, Ed took a pic with his phone for the shop blog.  When Dillon pulled up, his client had landed an even bigger brown trout.  It was that kind of day.  Lots and lots of big fish.

When we finally arrived at our take out spot in Glenwood Springs, it was insanity.  The boat ramp was so busy with everyone  either taking out, or putting in, or getting ready for the fireworks that were happening that night at the park.  For us, our fireworks had already happened on an “epic” fishing day on the Roaring Fork.

We’d been looking forward to our trip down the Gunnison Gorge for some time.  We knew that the trip would be part whitewater running, part fishing trip and part sightseeing.  We were blessed to have Ben Magtutu, with Black Canyon Anglers, as our guide.  He was an expert in running the rapids, having floated the river through the Gorge more than any other guide in a raft.  He knew where fish held between the rapids and knew what they were eating.  What was really impressive was his knowledge of the river’s history and geology.

Rather than a guide talk with Ben, we decided to create a video;  “Our Day in the Gunnison Gorge”.  We hope you’ll watch and enjoy our narrated journey to and down the gorge. It was a day we’ll always remember.

Ramble On