Sunday, May 9, 2010

Rough Day

I’ve rarely been in the outdoors and just felt ready to come home. There must be times I no longer remember, when I was frozen or wet or just worn down. There’s one hike gone bad, and there’s the time I dropped my rifle in the snow. That’s about it.

But yesterday was a rough one. When I saw the forecast for high winds and a cold front moving in, I probably should have stayed home (especially considering it had been a night of rocky, newborn-era sleep), but I was anxious to see if the smallmouth were active yet, and to test out the new bass taper fly line I’d just gotten. So as soon as I had the baby back to sleep, I grabbed my gear and was off.

The first problem became obvious quickly. The trail had suffered from the harsh winter, and what had once been an annoyingly brushy hike had now become one full of fallen trees, lost paths, and the like. Upon reaching the river, I discovered the second problem: the river was higher than I had anticipated (so much my ability to read USGS reports), just enough so that some of my wading routes would be cut off. It’s a tricky wade even in August, and as it would turn out, it would be especially problematic now.

The first stretch I wanted to fish requires a reasonably deep wade out to a sandbar. The bass hangout in the deeper area just beyond that. Yesterday I had to go in nearly to my sternum to get there. I had promised myself a wading staff this year, but haven’t gotten around to it. Once on the bar, I was alright, but then the wind picked up.

Mostly it was the kind of wind where you just direct your false cast a little offline, keep the flies away from your head, and work with it. At times, though, it was bad enough I had to just stand and wait for a gap to cast between. I did manage a couple bluegills (one being the first fish proudly caught on a self-tied popper) before deciding to head downstream.

I just couldn’t wade it. Unwilling to give up, I climbed the bank and started on what might have been a trail. At points it turned into a game trail, then disappeared. Through wood and then through water, I got to where I was going. And found a creepy gray spider in my hair. Shortly after the wind would blow enough that my hat wouldn’t stay on, so it went into my pocket, got drenched, and made the return trip that much more itch-inducing.

I did land my first smallie of the year, a feisty little guy who gave me one good jump and a couple short runs. I took a few more bream. On my way out, I encounted a four-foot watersnake (dark enough I briefly thought, “Cottonmouth?”) and watched a channel cat eat a carp that had died and bloated.

By now I was tired from fighting brush, wind, current and sleeplessness. I was daunted by the prospect of my return journey. The going back was no easier, as I had to work to find ways up and down the bank, and at one pointed wondered if I should hold rod and chest pack aloft and sidestroke for it (I didn’t dwell on the idea). Eventually I reached the sandbar. And couldn’t quite leave without catching one more ‘gill.

Walking out, I noticed some fish near shore, inaccessible to a fly cast without more work than I had left in me. I directed a father-and-son combo to head that way. Finally nearing my car, someone asked me where I’d been and how I’d done. Then he explained that they’re building a trail on the far side of the river that can get you most of the way to where I was going.

Now I know for next time.


David said...

Ahh, spring. Would that be a James River locale? Or maybe one of the Rivannas? I miss the entire region, and the Minnesota smallmouth are off limits until mid-June.

PS if you're a Charlottesville smallie guy you may already have met or fished with Chuck Kraft...if not, I suggest checking him out, and perhaps looking into some of his synthetic flies. He is the man in the area and catches a huge number of big smallies. But don't tell him I sent you. He hates me from back in the day when I jumped his drift, or so he thought.

Dave M

Justin Cober-Lake said...

Hi, Dave.

It was in the Rivanna, not far from town.

I don't know Chuck Kraft (or at least haven't knowingly met him), but I'll have to look him up. Thanks for the tip (and the tip on not mentioning you)...