Sunday, December 21, 2014

CASTIN" & BLASTIN": THE BLUE RIDGE MIX

Today was a successful day, to say the least.  

    I met Phillip at his house in Charlottesville and drove to a small brook trout stream in the Blue Ridge, arriving around 8 AM.  After a short hike, we collectively took 40 brook trout over the course of two hours--all, for the most part, on the wonderful little nymph I will show you all how to tie in the near future.  Be on the lookout.


Photo by Matt Reilly

Photo by Matt Reilly
    After returning home and hitting the local pharmacy for some discount fly tying materials, I hit the woods with my 20 gauge pump shotgun for the last hour and a half of light.  Fishing manager of Orvis Charlottesville, Jeff Greendyk, and I, have been devising a plan to learn how to die fly tying materials--squirrel tail in particular--and I needed materials.  

    In the first ten minutes in the woods, I busted three squirrels holding tight on the forest floor.  They scattered, and I dropped each on three consecutive moving shots.  A triple, on squirrels, for half a limit of the gray bushytails.  


Photo by Matt Reilly
    Another 45 minutes of stalking put me in position to take another squirrel.  From the base of a ridge, I closed the distance to the scurrying and pouncing on the ridge crest quickly, by hopping and skipping, imitating the noise made by a moving squirrel.  The first shot was presented when an alarmed gray pounced from the trunk of an oak into the branches of another.  And as he was scrambling to establish footing, I dropped him with a swinging report from the 20 gauge.  The next peeked around the base of another oak tree, presenting a head shot that didn't go unclaimed.  Down went another batch of materials and food.  The third held tight on the forest floor for about 30 seconds before making a mad dash up the nearest hickory tree.  I ran forward ten feet before he began his assent up the trunk, which I interrupted, taking a quick knee and firing a quick rising shot.


Photo by Matt Reilly

Photo by Matt Reilly
    With a half hour of light left, I got all the squirrels cleaned and quartered, and landed the tails and one skin in the freezer covered in salt for preservation for dyeing at a later date.  

    To round off the productivity, I was offered two work opportunities--one regarding Adventures Afield, as a column, and another in production fly tying.  More to come on those opportunities!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A DAY OF EXPLORING THE BROOK TROUT STREAMS

I motivated myself yesterday with the promise of a full day of fishing today to celebrate the weight lifted from my shoulders with the submission of a large assignment.  When my alarm went off (or rather, didn't), it was already apparent that the day would not go as planned.

    My alarm failed to ring at its preset time of 6:00 AM, and I awoke on my own at almost 7:00.  I promised my parents I would pick up a deck board from Better Living, and had hoped to be there when they opened at 7:00.  Rather, I arrived close to 8:00, and returned home at 8:30.  

    With the car packed and warmed up, I shut the hatchback of my Nissan Versa on the metal aglet of my wading boot lace, jamming the lock, and setting me back another hour.

    The destination I had planned to explore with my full day is a two hour drive from my Fluvanna County home, and so I racked my brain for alternative locations with a shorter driving time.  I settled my mind on a handful of brook trout streams I had not yet visited in northwestern Virginia, and oriented the Versa likewise.

    I arrived at the first stream around noon.  Large for a brook trout stream, and rather flat in most stretches, the water was notably frigid.  However, many of the larger pools featured long, flat tailouts, which will undoubtedly host a glorious scene of hatching insects and rising trout come spring.

Photo by Matt Reilly
    After striking out in several shallow but promising-looking riffles, I adjusted to fishing just larger pools, and took four decently-sized brook trout with that method.  A heavy #10 black stonefly nymph got the job done, though most of the trout were hooked very lightly--a reflection, probably, of the colder-than-desired water temperatures.

    I next took to the road, heading north, to scout one of the stream's larger tributaries.  A developing problem since trading in my F-150 for the economic Versa has been ground clearance, but I have been dealing well, partially due to the car's narrower frame.  An 11-minute zig-zagged drive along a curvy mountain road landed me on the bank of the mountain fork I was after.

Photo by Matt Reilly

Photo by Matt Reilly
    Again, occasional surprisingly-large pools spotted the stream's course through pine bottomland; but I didn't see enough slower, deeper holding water to convince me to string up my rod and angle for the winterized brookies.  I continued on.

    The last spot surprised me.  Often called a "small native trout stream," it held some unexpectedly-large pools, however infrequent.  The water in between was nothing more than a series of shallow stair-casing ledges, with the occasional deeper plunge pools.  I fished a few of the larger pools before striking off along a trail upstream, in search of better looking water.  I didn't find it, and I later found in a fishing report of the same stream that it commonly dries up completely in the summertime.  Perhaps this drought event has limited the number of fish in this otherwise-productive looking flowage.

Photo by Matt Reilly

Photo by Matt Reilly
    Though the day didn't go as planned, I had a liberating day checking off a few more of the Blue Ridge's brook trout streams from my bucket list.  On the route home, I payed a visit to Tommy and Kevin, co-owners of South River Fly Shop, for some fly tying materials, and good-old-fashioned fly shop talk.

Monday, December 15, 2014

PHOTO UPDATE: SAINT MARY'S RIVER & MORE NATURAL BEAUTY

Today saw about 6,000 words get published.  I finished a massive first feature article for Eastern Fly Fishing on the Saint Mary's River, and kicked out the weekly column to which this website is devoted.

  With that off my shoulders, I got to thinking about the photos I have neglected to post over the past several months.  Indeed, my Flickr page is in need of some serious updating.

    Included in this update are some of the photos from my Saint Mary's River shoot with my brother, Phillip, and the shots from Hannah's senior photo shoot.

    Enjoy!

Friday, December 12, 2014

FALL GOBBLERS IN THE PINE CREEK VALLEY

Dawn greeted us with gloom, wind, and drizzle—the traditional late fall bad-weather mix.

    Only a month prior, my college deferral fish-bumming road trip had lead me to Pennsylvania’s Pine Creek Valley, ablaze with October foliage, though the river suffered severely from record-low water.  As luck would have it, I was given the opportunity to return as part of a media group from TroutUnlimited, but the Valley, one of my new favorite locations, had fallen victim to the changing seasons in my absence.  The abrupt surrounding mountains were transparent—skeletal and hardened by the onset of cold—and the river ran high and dark with the cold rains of late fall in the Northern Tier. 

    In three cars—two pickups and a rented SUV—we caravanned to a trailhead on State Forest property, shotguns, blaze orange, and seat cushions in tote.  Four well-trained turkey dogs rode patiently in the bed, knowing all too well what was coming.

Photo by Mark Taylor, TU Eastern Communications Director
    The air was translucent with fog and the smell of the wet fall woods.  Deliberately, our party trudged up the trail, up the mountain, past rose bushes and hemlocks, watching friends and stand-in turkey guides Rob Mucinski and Ron Magnano send their wiry-haired turkey seekers on the chase with directional gestures.  Somewhere within earshot, a gobbler boomed.

    The grade continued, with no switchback or relief, until the trail flattened out on a bench quickly dubbed “the orchard” for the thick population of apple trees growing in an understory clearing.  Paula Piatt, a representative from Trout Unlimited, had done the scouting the week before, and informed Ron and Rob that the birds had been spotted near the orchard on several occasions. 

Photo by Mark Taylor, TU Eastern Communications Director
    “The dogs will find them soon enough,” Ron reassured the group, confident in the ability of the four-legged hunters.

    As we crossed the bench lengthwise and approached a switchback leading further up the mountain, the dots on the guides’ GPS clumped, and baying ensued.  Standing frozen, we watched as a handful of turkey fled the scene in flight and listened as the rest of the flock beat air on the opposite side of the ridge.

    “It’s a clean break,” Ron and Rob agreed.

    A clean break is essential in fall turkey hunting.  The trained dogs are taught to ambush a flock with the hopes of pushing them into immediate flight and dispersing them radially.  Only then can a caller reliably reassemble the frazzled flock with gentle kee kees and clucks.

Photo by Mark Taylor, TU Eastern Communications Director
    Wasting no time, everyone in the group stashed their blaze orange and traded it for camouflage.  Chairs were unfolded, layers adjusted, and bathroom breaks taken.  It takes a certain level of preparation to sit motionless on the forest floor for an hour or more.

    The party split to take up stand locations on each side of the ridge, while the guides took stands behind the shooters, covering the praised dogs in camouflage burlap to quiet them.  In moments, the woods were once again silent, and the calling began.

    Ron and Rob seemed to be talking to one another as they took turns kee keeing from across the ridgeline.

    Rain picked up and the wind swirled and subsided.

    Just a bit more than an hour had passed when the tone of Ron’s calling changed tone.  A shotgun blast followed, as I squinted in curiosity in his direction.

    A bird was down!

    We continued to sit and call for another half hour with no luck; and so we made the decision to break cover and check on the rest of the party. 

Photo by Mark Taylor, TU Eastern Communications Director
    Don Knaus, a local Pennsylvanian outdoor writer, emerged from the woods with a fine bird clutched and displayed by the legs.  Excitedly, Don recounted his encounter with his first fall turkey shot with the aid of trained turkey dogs.


    Don’s bird was the first and only harvest of the day and the trip; and despite the humble apologies of Ron and Rob who had wished for more shots, each and every one in attendance was pleased and excited to share the experience.

Originally published in The Rural Virginian

Monday, December 8, 2014

AN AFTERNOON HUNT AT PRIESTVIEW HUNTING PRESERVE

The morning arrived with strong winds--a deal-breaker for a poorly-trained bird dog, a mere complication for a proficient one.

    With Maggie, our three-year-old Irish Setter, suggesting an oncoming seizure (a recurrent symptom of epilepsy, common in the red setters), our hunt planned for the afternoon at Nelson County's PriestView Hunting Preserve would be accompanied by owner/operator Tim Castillo and his sprightly 11-year-old Brittany, Ginger.  Ginger didn't disappoint.


Photo by Matt Reilly
Photo by Matt Reilly
    All in all, the afternoon was a mighty enjoyable time spent with a new friend and highly talented bird dog--always a pleasure to observe.  Look for the upcoming article on this upland operation in another installment of Adventures Afield in The Rural Virginian, or, as always, on this page once it is published!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

BIG FLIES FOR BIG FISH

It's been a slow couple of days.  After working hard at my ongoing article for Eastern Fly Fishing through the morning and afternoon, and at a relative standstill on my Fly Tyer profile article on Chuck Kraft until I get the chance to interview Mossy Creek Fly Fishing's Colby Trow, I granted myself a break to tie flies again.  It's a somewhat mindless (when you know what you're doing) endeavor and one that invests in tomorrow's fishing, and something that to me is extremely relaxing.

    Digging out my collection of ultra-suede CK tails from Eastern Trophies Fly Fishing, I took a leap at the biggest of the bunch--large Musky Worm Tails.  What resulted from the next few minutes of concentration was my best shot at emulating a CK Musky Critter Dog in firetiger and black, as William Heresniak of Eastern Trophies Fly Fishing ties them.  The Musky Critter Dog is, in itself, a synthetic fly that emulates the all-popular Bull Dawg soft plastic lure used by conventional musky fishermen.

Photo and fly by Matt Reilly
    As materials were married together, I could almost feel the fever slip in.  I've got a good idea of where I'd like to go in the next few weeks to do some nymphal dragon hunting.  If I get the chance, you will read about it here.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

REPLACING WHAT'S LOST: FLY TYING AND LOSING FLIES IN TREES

I've found over the course of my lifetime, all of which I have spent fishing, that tree gods are integral parts of the mountain brook trout fishing experience.  A day on an intimate stream is not complete without a sacrificed fly or half dozen; and only by appeasing the tree spirits is success granted by the rocks and the water.

    THAT is why when I sit down to tie flies for an outing to a particularly tight stream, I tie a half dozen or dozen of each pattern, weight, and color I anticipate fishing, especially when guiding someone new to fly fishing, or who doesn't have the most control over his/her loops.  Not only that, but in the winter time, when, more than most any other time of year, in my opinion, it pays to get down deep in plunge pools and deep runs, flies and split shot wedged under rocks and logs and broken off happen.

    In reality, I don't lose as many flies as I once did, by a longshot.  However, this evening I sat down for an hour and a half to refill my stock of brook trout flies, as they have been dwindling over the past several months.  Two dozen came off the vise, and are ready for action!

A handful of buggy nymphs ready for action!