Sunday, July 3, 2011

Walker Camp Prong--Fishing on the Weekend of the Fourth!

Well, I have officially NEVER seen as many people in the Smokies as I saw today.  There were thousands of tubes floating in the river as we made our way past the Townsend "Y" today.  You couldn't stir 'em with a stick!

Bunk and I were worried as we made our way to the stream that we had been told about by the salesperson at Orvis in Sevierville, Walker Camp Prong aka West Prong of the Little Pigeon River.  Every place there was any sizeable water on the way to our destination, there were people swimming or playing in the river.  I kept hoping that this stream would be far enough away from the congestion of Gatlinburg that folks wouldn't find it.  Well, folks DID find it.  Often, just us pulling our truck in a turn-out was incentive enough for a car-load of splashers to descend upon us, but we did find a few places to fish today.

This creek runs right along Newfound Gap Road just past the Chimney Tops Trailhead and goes almost all the way to Newfound Gap before veering away from the road and plummeting to the valley out of our reach.  However, our source told us to begin fishing it up above the Alum Cave Bluffs Trailhead, so that's where we started.  I tied on an Elk-wing Caddis that we had purchased at Little River Outfitters on our way up today, dusted it with floatant, and put it in the water not 20 yards upstream from where a family was playing in the creek.  I figured if I was going to get to fish today, it would probably have to be near some people.  I fished that first little hole then moved upstream to the next one, this one a little deeper and more "fishy" looking.  Sure enough after only two casts into this hole, I had my first keeper-size native Rainbow trout.  He did fight, considering he was only about 8 inches long!  He kept trying to run under rocks to tangle up and break loose, but I got him in, pulled the hook out, and released him.  He was a beauty though!

Bunk and I were unable to fish this stream together because it's so small.  He had to put in either ahead of me or downstream of me and fish different places.  We decided that if we do much of this, we need a set of walkie talkies to communicate with.  Most of the time, I had no idea where he was today.

As the day waned, we tied on a yellow fly that Russell Sloan had given us and told us to fish late in the day.  Bunk and I both caught a fish on that fly.  I'm taking one to Dad for him to replicate this for us so we'll have some extras.  Again, my fish was keeper-size and a native Rainbow.  Since I wasn't with Bunk, I'm not sure about his.  It did get kind of frustrating today dealing with all the people who didn't mind coming into the water just where you were fishing, so we packed it up and headed home.  We had a great time though and vowed to do it again soon.  :)

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Fly-fishing Whitetop Laurel Creek

After we packed our backpacks up, we began the two-mile descent down Straight Mountain.  I believe it was this long downhill trek that ruined my toes.  By the time we got down that day, my toes hurt so bad, I never put my hiking boots back on.  Those Keen sandals felt soooo much better!  It was also during this part of the hike that we decided that we definitely wanted to purchase two more hiking sticks before doing another long hike like this.  Having one in each hand would help balance the weight of the pack and I would be more comfortable when the path edges against an long embankment like it did on that day.  At the end of each switchback, I stopped long enough to switch my stick into the hand that would be next to the embankment.  I felt more secure that way in case I should stumble.  My stick would be in my downhill hand for support and security.

At about 2 miles into today's hike we came across the side trail that took out to Taylor's Valley.  We had decided we wanted to go to eat lunch at the Virginia Creeper Trail Cafe where we had eaten on the day we rode our bikes.  That little trail isn't as well maintained as the AT, but we did make it down to where it intersected with the Virginia Creeper.  We first headed down the Creeper, but then I asked a biker if he had already passed Taylor's Valley and he had, so we hiked back up the Creeper probably almost a mile to our restaurant.
Fly-fishing on Whitetop Laurel Creek

We had a fantastic lunch there, changed from our hiking boots into our fishing sandals, tied on a fly, and began what would be two days of fishing Whitetop Laurel Creek.  We began fishing right there at the restaurant just under the bridge and caught several small trout, both brook and rainbow.  We fished that hole for probably an hour until some kids came down and started to play in the water.  At that point, we shouldered our packs again and set off down the trail.  We stopped numerous times that day where it looked like there should be fish and had a relaxing, wonderful day fishing.  Many people would stop when they'd see us and watch and chit-chat some before going on their way. 

We used caddis flies mostly on this trip.  Russell Sloan had given Bunk a few flies that he thought should work well on this water.  Most of them were these dry caddis flies, but there were also a few nymphs.  We used both throughout our time, but all of our hits and catches were on dry flies.

Our campsite that second night was right above where I had the flat tire on my bike that last trip.  It was near the Straight Branch Parking area.  We chose that area because it would be within walking distance of a privy.  Never a bad thing!  I pitched the tent this night on a deep bed of leaf litter and that proved to be much softer sleeping than the previous night spent on pine needles.  But that was one of the differences in the altitudes--there were NO deciduous trees on the top of Straight Mountain, but there were plenty down at the base of that same mountain.  In fact, it was very interesting that day as we hiked down the mountain to watch as the vegetation changed due to changes in the altitude.  We commented on it as we were hiking down, but it was pleasantly obvious when we crawled into our sleeping bags that night.  It almost felt like a mattress--well, almost!
Hubba Hubba Two-person Tent

Here's a picture of our little home-away-from home that night.  For dinner on the evening of Day Two, we had Beef Stroganoff and again, it was fabulous!  We did miss that picnic table though!  Preparing dinner without a table increased the challenge, but it all worked out fine.
Getting ready for dinner with our Jet-Boil

But at least this tree provided a place to sit other than the ground and even offered a backrest if you could stand it for at least a short period of time.  We sure did miss that picnic table.

On the morning of Day Three, we again packed up our stuff and began fishing that beautiful stream again.  I must say, I haven't seen as many young fish in a river since I was a kid!  The river must be pretty healthy to provide such a prolific nursery for all those fingerling trout.  We fished a couple of hours that morning, then when it began to rain, we decided to just hike the remaining three miles down the Creeper Trail to return us to Damascus where our truck awaited our return.  Between Bunk's heel issue and my sore toes, we were pretty glad to see that truck and I was sure glad I didn't have to put my hiking boots back on.

I feel pretty good about what we were able to accomplish on this trip--overcoming some pretty stiff challenges and really reaching inside and pulling on what you're made of.  We will, hopefully, return again soon to hike the part of the AT that we shortcut in order to fish on Day Three.  I did enjoy the relaxation and the rush of the fishing, though.  It was worth it!