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Sunday, July 28, 2013

The flood and the cranberry giant

I guess it was the early nineties. That guy I kept running into on Todds Fork(Senger) said he was going to West Virginia for a few days flyfishing and did I want to tag along. We started in the wee hours of the morning to be there early or at least I thought so. But come day break he pulled into the gravel parking lot of a little mom and pop restaurant mumbling something about breakfast. He had the wooden screen door about half opened then turned and said, "Don't fall in love, she's spoken for". Inside was an old man drinking coffee and watching the morning news on a tiny TV up on a shelf and the waitress who was sitting in front of a window fan wraping silverware in napkins. He walked over to a booth and slid in and I followed. The waitress was dressed very primly in a button up blouse and a 1950's looking skirt and sneakers and bobbie socks. She tucked the small cross she was wearing under her apron and said "Hello Spence, what can I get you guys?" She looked exactly like Iris Dement, not a supermodel but a very handsome woman. As we ate breakfast she began puttering around the room singing amazing grace softly to herself in the most beautiful voice I've ever heard. About halfway thru Going Down to the River to Pray, Spence said "aren't you going to eat?" I'd just been sitting there listening. He paid for his breakfast and walked back to the table to leave a tip. Iris asked me, "You guys fishing the Back Fork?"
I said I thought so and she went on. "When we were kids I used to sit on the rocks and watch Spence fish, he was beautiful". I walked back to the table to leave my change and noticed Spence had left a twenty on the table as a tip after his three ninety nine breakfast.
Later that day I got to see just what she meant about the beautiful part. We had been leapfrogging upstream, one fishing a hole or two while the other fished the next one. Well I'd fished about three holes in a row and hadn't seen him. Worried I started back downstream. I found him right where I'd seen him last. Waist deep in a swift deep run with the rod tucked under his arm changing flies.
I sat down on a big rock high above the river where he couldn't see me to watch. What happened next was simply the single most amazing fishing feat I've ever seen. He tucked the little cross he wore inside his shirt, false cast twice hard head high, overpowering the cast for the distance and hooking the leader over almost at a right angle to the fly line. As the line settled in the air he threw a bit of mend in the line right over some braided current and then reached laying the line down upstream over another piece of swift current. The fly hooked around two big rocks and just sat there drag free. And a 21 inch rainbow came up and ate it just like he had been lying there his whole life just waiting for someone to make a cast just like that.
The next morning I was up and out on the water early fishing a parachute adams in pocket water. I could hear thunder rumbling high in the mountains all morning but it never rained where I was. I must have caught a dozen trout when I noticed the water was looking a bit dirty. I also noticed I was hungry and started wading back to camp. In the twenty minutes it took to get back to camp, water that was ankle deep a half hour ago was knee deep and rising fast. Spence had the tent broke down and was stuffing it in its nylon bag when I got there. Skipping breakfast I just started packing things up. I guess we spent another 15 minutes getting it all loaded up. I'm not sure about now, but in those days you could camp anywhere you wanted along the Back Fork of the Elk. We were camped in a little wide spot in the road about twenty five feet from the river and about four feet higher. As we threw the last of our stuff in his truck and started down the gravel road that ran along the river there was about two inches of muddy water already covering half the road. A few hours later we would drive out and check the last little bridge we crossed going into Webster Springs and would find a raging torrent lacking only an inch or two of reaching the bottom of the bridge. I remember thinking If we had slept in he might have lost his truck. Or worse.
Back in the little restaurant we took stock while in the background Iris sang The Old Crossroads...
"One leads down to destruction, the other to the pearly gates"
We settled on the Cranberry River a couple drainages south. A few hours we pulled into sight of the river holding our breath. The river was perfect. It was a catch and release section and I learned the hard way the next couple days just how sharp trout that have been fished over a bit can get. One day at lunch I was telling Spence about this fish I couldn't catch. It was tucked in an eddy with two braided currents between us and a high cliff bank on the other side. After lunch we walked down to have a look. We both waded in and were standing there knee deep in the crystal clear water watching the fish tip up every now and then and take something off the surface. Then this brown trout comes gliding by about for or five feet from the two of us and swims off upstream. In the glass clear water you could see every detail and spot. I've seen and caught larger fish like shovelheads or buffalo but it was and is still the "biggest" fish I ever saw. It was an impossibly big brown as long as my leg. Nine pounds? Ten pounds? Twelve? I looked over at Spence who had flyfished here his whole life and his eyes were as big as saucers. Nobody said a word. In the distance we heard a rumble of thunder. Looking behind us we could see dark clouds coming over the mountains. This time the river only came up only an inch or two and stained just a bit. I fished a streamer dreaming of a monster brown. The rising water turned on the trout and I must have caught ten nice rainbows on a Mickey Finn. I remember thinking on the ride home Id seen the best fisherman I'd ever saw, heard the best most angelic voice I'd ever heard and saw the biggest scariest fish I'd ever seen. All on my first trip to West Virginia. I was pretty sure it wouldn't be the last.

Monday, July 22, 2013


Hunting Island is a 5,000-acre secluded semitropical barrier island located off the coast of South Carolina. Since 1935, it has been a state park. The cool part of that is if your camping at night your the only ones allowed in the park till the gates open the next day. The beach is on every list of the top beaches. Behind the beach is a beautifull maritime forrest and then a huge saltwater marsh filled with blue crabs and millions and millions od fiddler crabs that move away in waves from you at low tide. The fishing is just okay this time of year. I caught mostly small sharks and rays. There were a few guys catching flounder in the surf. The secong day I had a run on a finger mullet and set the hook and the surf rod bent to the breaking point as line went screaming out. Finally after a battle that had my arms and back feeling it I landed a ray that was an inch or two wider than my three foot tape measure. I felt a bit like Jeremy Wade on river monsters. But then came the scarey part unhooking the thing. Even the small rays sport a pretty serious looking barb on their tails and are a bit of a project to unhook safely. I finally stood on the tail and grabbed the steel leader and miracle of miracles the hook popped out. I was pretty happy. I'm pretty sure I looked pretty awkward wrestling it back into the water. Both me and the ray were pretty tired as it just rested in the waters edge for a while before finally swimming off. A day or so later I saw another guy land one almost as big. He caught his at midday and drew quite a crowd, I was glad no one was around for mine. Blue crab were everywhere and one day I caught a big stone crab in the crab trap too. The best campsites are right on the beach but those you have to reserve way in advance. I think we reserved ours six months ago. You could grab a bucket and fill it with seawater and boil your crabs as pelicans and seabirds flew overhead and the sound of the surf filled your ears. I especially loved walking and fishing the beach at night with miles and miles of beach all to yourself. Lots of wildlife, sea birds, aligators and crabs in the marsh, and all kinds of wierd sea creatures to look at at low tide make the place a paradise in my book. I highly highly recommend the place. This is our second year of going and its on the way to becoming a family tradition. Even the two grandaughters didn't want to leave, lord knows I could have stayed all summer...

Paradise part 4

Paradise part 3

paradise part 2

More pics of hunting island plus two pics of big creek in the smokires where we stopped for the night. Big creek is in a secluded part of Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Same great scenery, trout, wildlife, mountains. Just no people, I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013


With the river still looking like you could plow it and the heat and the humidity, I decided to hit a pond at night. Rummaging around in one of the tackle boxes I found a couple old three bladed buzzbaits. These big old buzzbaits are probably twenty five or thirty years old and going on who knows how many rubber skirts by now. With the passage of three decades (and hopefully the statute of limitations), I can tell you that back in the day I must have snuck in every farm pond and lake around at night armed with these jumbo buzzbaits and a couple musky jitterbugs in search of jumbo largemouths. We knew the name of every farmer with a pond that would let you fish and the bedtimes of those that wouldn't. And the nights that were the best were just like last night, hot mucky and humid with the threat of a storm that never materializes. I didn't have to sneak in this pond but everything else felt just the same. One of the guys my brother and I fished with back then could tell a mean fish story and I'll never forget him describing a buzzbait strike. He'd say "The lure was working...booger,booger,booger,booger,WHAM!."
Which was just the way the bass hit the big buzzbait last night. The pond was calm and it was hard jolting strikes that startled you if you weren't ready for them. The pond was lined with cattails and weeds and I had heavy braid and a light flipping stick. Just about as far from the ultralight smallmouth fishing I do mostly now as you can get. Most nights back in the day you would fish for just a few strikes but they would quite often be big fish. But some nights the fish would really want the buzzer and you would get numbers. Tonight was a bit of both, I guess I caught eight or ten pretty good bass and the one nice one that measured 21 inches long. One thing about all the rain weve been having is its hell on equipment if your out in it alot. My scale had quit being reliable weeks ago but it had a built in tape measure. Well after measuring this fish the rusty looking tape wouldn't retract, I think Im just going to buy a cloth tape and keep it in the pack. After snapping a picture I released the big bass and just sat by the pond enjoying the night sounds and thinking about old times. Back then I was young and had a good job that let me fish 150 times a year. And being young I knew everything there was to know about bass fishing. It seems the older I get the dumber I get about fishing because I realise just how little I do know. But I did know back then that big old buzzbait caught big bass. For four or five years I spent every spare moment chasing women or largemouths. Both obsessions peaked on two days back to back down a red dirt road in 1985 in Georgia. On the first day I pulled over and asked a pretty girl walking barefoot in a flowered sundress if she needed a ride or maybe was free for dinner and she smiled sweetly and climbed in. The next evening (after sleeping most of the day) I caught a ten pound plus bass on a buzzbait just like the one I used tonight. Its funny how you forget most things but those two days in Georgia I remember like yesterday. Another memory associated with the big old buzzbait was of another character we used to sneak in ponds with. We'd ride around in his old truck looking for ponds while he'd tip back a big gallon jug of moonshine. One night we had to climb a pretty good fence to get at this one pond and while straddled he slipped and fell, one leg on one side of the fence, one on the other. He rolled off and croaked "yall go ahead Ill be along directly" and layed there in the grass the whole time we fished the pond. After sitting and enjoying the memories and the frog song, I noticed it was starting to brighten in the east. I got up and fished my way back around to the truck, catching one more and losing another that jumped clear of the water before throwing the buzzbait. All in all, like always, it was a great way to spend a hot summer night.


Friday, July 5, 2013

Fishing with Papaw

Not only did we catch some big gills but we caught a couple frogs, found a terrapin in the woods, heard bigfoot, and saw a squirrel and watched a water snake flick his tongue in and out.