By Dave Fason
The current state of the world is a complete mess. People are dealing with types of added stress and anxiety that has never been dealt with before. As for me, I am no different. I would describe myself as very fortunate. My wife is able to work remote from home and I still have random freelance work. My spare time has been filled with personal projects, online classes and scouting Google Maps for blue lines. While having the extra time is great to exercise brainpower, my body keeps telling me I need to get outside. Living in North Carolina has its perks during the crisis. I consider myself lucky that we can still practice social distancing with ease, especially in areas where there are most definitely more deer living than people. The Blue Ridge parkway is only an hour away and we have plenty of areas to hike and explore without coming in contact with others. Did I mention we also have excellent spring fishing? In order to keep my sanity, I regularly explore small creeks with good friend and rod builder, Chris Barclay.
Tuesday, day number I can’t remember of quarantine: Chris and I texted back and forth creating a game plan for Wednesday and Friday. We lined up two separate days for two separate creeks. Early spring fishing can be hot or cold, both in temperature and catches. Some areas will be on fire and we catch with nearly every cast, while others will be in winter mode, literally. I like to access the areas by the shades of green. If small wild flowers are blooming and new growth is sprouting from the brown leafy bottom, it will be a good day. If the area is still covered in last year’s leaves and there’s no sign of new growth, it could be a slow one. Regardless of the fishing, getting outside was our goal.
We arrived at the first creek (in separate cars) early in the morning to make it a full day. The air was chilly from a cool front that passed through the night before. The wild flowers were blooming and the dogwoods were already turning green. This was a good sign. The creek ranges from three to eight feet wide and changes character quickly. The first few miles offers wild browns and rainbows and hiking further up produces native brookies. We gathered our gear and hiked into a section that looked like a good starting point. I wrangled my way through the rhododendron and found my first pool to fish. Within moments my line became tight and I had a stunning rainbow to hand.
We continued catching fish but something caught my eye in the distance: a field of ramps. If you are a foodie, you should know about ramps. Ramps are wild onions that have a distinct taste and smell. The flavor is a fantastic mix of garlic and onion. Their season is extremely short making them a rare find. When people find them in the wild, they often never share their secret spots. I’m now one of those people. I quickly ate my lunch to make room for as many ramps as I could pack. I rinsed the ramps in the creek and caught back up to Chris who had been catching fish after fish. Don’t worry, I kept ample space between us for those of you who are still monitoring.
We eventually reached the gnarly rock section of the trail that switches to brooke trout. We like to call this part of our adventure, “rock hopping.” Basically we have to do a combination of climbing, hopping, sometimes rolling to next pool or run of the creek. The sun was directly overhead, the stoneflies were crawling all over the rocks and BWO’s hovered over the water. We spotted a feeding fish, cast our lines and immediately were rewarded with a native brooke trout. The day still had plenty of light left but we decided to hike back early. We could have easily caught endless fish but we wanted to save our luck. We still had one more day planned for the week.
We had a couple days in-between to recover from the hiking and fishing from the previous outing. The next creek was further away and we had never fished it. Our good friend Gordon decided to join us and said it was a favorite spot of his. This morning was colder than the last. A second cold front blew through and chilled the area making it a bit painful for wet wading. This creek was the complete opposite of the first. We only found a handful of wild flowers, barely any green on the ground and the trees were just starting to bud. The creek may have lacked in “spring,” but it made up for it in beauty. The water was incredibly clear with deep blue pools and dreamy runs that looked like a magazine cover. Around 11a.m. the sun peaked over the tree line lighting up the creek. The water started to warm, bugs started to hatch and the fish started to rise. The fishing never really turned on, but we managed to catch a handful of happy brook trout. We continued to hike and discovered nothing but more areas with amazing scenery.
The sun started to lower and it was time to hike back to our cars. I decided that day to load the Traeger and cook an “after fishing” meal. The menu was burgers and beers! I served them up and left them for the guys to each grab and chow down. We spent the last few moments outside catching up on life, talking shop and just enjoying each other’s company. It’s times like these that I really appreciate having great friends and public lands. I hope this drives you to get lost on a blue line soon. It is good for the soul.