Wednesday, February 20, 2013

An Introduction to the Natives

    My brother, Phillip, a newly-born fisherman, was in need of a trout fix.  He spent the summer bass fishing, but after receiving a fly rod for Christmas, I introduced him to fly-tying, and a desire for trout arose in him.  After several unsuccessful solo attempts at locating stocked trout in a local delayed-harvest system, and even more text-messaged pictures from my brother of feathery creations and stocky native brook trout (borrowed slyly from Google Images), I planned to explore with him the coming weekend a small stream that rises just north of his home.
    I met my brother at a local fly shop near the Blue Ridge foothills that Saturday ready to go; and we were on our track north before noon.  The day was clear and bright, with a slightly stiff breeze, and we were in no hurry.
    Talk of flies, fish, and plans for the spring dominated our conversation.  He was tying solo now, his terminology improving, and we talked as two enthusiastic independent students of the same trade.         
    Soon the river came into view, and we parked at the head of a trail leading up the mountain, through the hollow, and towards the river’s origin near the Skyline Drive, amidst a host of fellow trail-goers.  Dogs and people alike found recreation around the river near the parking site, so it was decided to hike the trail upstream in search of less-pressured waters.
    With the first chance to survey the water, I found it to be at normal pool and crystal clear.  Those stretches lined with people surely would be sterilized of willing fish, and I was reassured of our decision to walk.
    At the first hole we reached that was well away from people and promising in appearance, I strung my rod and tied on a small hand-tied black CK Nymph.  Phillip, also preferring to fish a self-tied imitation, asked my opinion on fly selection, and I gave it to him—a bead-headed, gray nymph.
    I managed to illicit one interested follow from one of the rainbow trout that occupy the lower reaches of the river as subordinates to the natives; and no sooner had he lost interest than a family of four with two unleashed dogs arrived, splashed about the pool, and moved further up the trail.
    On the next cast, Phillip lost his fly to an overhanging tree on the backcast and had to re-tie.  As the careless teacher that I can be, I had failed to introduce the roll cast, which I was naturally using.
    So, taking advantage of a rather large pool, I did my best to relate what knowledge I do have of the roll cast and its execution.  It’s not a skill that was ever formally taught to me, but instead arrived in my hands as one of many products of necessity and imitation of others.
    The run we cast to entered the pool cascading over a large boulder and around another.  Another boulder framed the plunge, and it was not until I crawled over this rock that I discovered the depth of the eddy that I had been probing from the tail, which brought up another important teaching point.
    It’s important to know the sinking rate of your fly and manage it for the depth of the fish.  In a rather deep cut, with a passing current and a deep rock ledge, a heavy, fast-sinking fly is vital in reaching fish hugging the streambed.
    I changed flies.
Photo by Matt Reilly
    An hour later and still fishless, I retired temporarily, crunching an apple and manning the camera while coaching Phillip in fly placement and possible fish haunts.  Only practiced in bass fishing, he wasn’t used to the stealth involved with native trout, and I stressed concealment from a hidden vantage point.
    Still fishless, and with dusk approaching, we headed back down the trail, quickly fishing any pools that looked promising that we had hiked past.
    In one such, I found a nice run, too deep for the un-weighted nymph that I had tied on.  Quickly changing to a beaded nymph, and using a handy boulder as cover, I swung the fly a few times through promising water.  After several drifts, my fly line hesitated; I raised my rod, and out came a native brookie of a humorous size, fitting for an osprey chick’s meal.
    Rather unsuccessful from a traditional standpoint, our outing in search of close-to-home natives ended with four inches as the total length of fish caught.  Nevertheless, for a first trip to the river, a first trout of the year, and a chance to introduce Phillip to the sport of chasing these natives, I found success in our shortcomings, and promise for the future. 

*First published in The Rural Virginian

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