I looked at the clock and tried to rub the sleep out of my eyes. It was 3:10 in the morning and I had spent the last 5 hours burning through black thread, grey and black dubbing, grizzly hackle, and size 16 dry fly hooks. It was mid February and a mix of warm weather had brought the stone flies up to the rocks. With a trip to the Elk River looming in a couple of hours, I was spinning material faster as the minutes clicked by. My family was fast asleep, going to bed long before. I hummed to the soft beat of the likes of Johnny Cash, Montgomery Gentry, and Other country songs playing over my phone and listened to the steady rhythm of my goofy St. Bermastiff as he was sprawled on the floor beside my bench sleeping.
We named him Sarge thinking he was going to be large and protective. He turned out to crave attention and piss anywhere he stood if you pet him to hard from excitement. His place is the rug beside my desk when I am spinning flies. Lifting his head here and there to make sure I am still there or if I am done to pet him. He is a big dumb ass, but he is my dumb ass and he makes my man room a little more enjoyable.
The excitement about the possible 60 degree weather and sunshine meant a stone fly hatch on the notorious river and a chance for me to get even with the river. The year previous the Lady (Elk River) handed me an ass kicking while I watched Blake toss size 20 elk hair caddis during a Grannom hatch and go double digits with a couple of decent 20 inches. I was spinning up size 16 stones and size 20 zebra midges. A group of four of us including Blake and Mike who I will refer to as Dirty (the dude has had the nickname since high school and no it has nothing to do with his hygiene) was leaving at 5:00 AM. I looked over the flies I had finished but still wasn’t pleased with the number, so I continued on. The clock ticked on and I continued spinning. At 4:15 in the morning I stopped after 18 stone flies, 16 sucker spawn, and 12 zebra midges. Just a mix bag but I was confident the stones would be climbing up the stones on the bank and the rise would be on, que the dry fly.
My eyes hurt from concentrating on tiny flies for hours, my vest and waders still on the hook by the door, rods still hung on the wall, and reels on the shelf. I realized I had done nothing to pack for the coming trip. The lack of sleep was creeping up but excitement soon took over and I started carrying my gear to my jeep. It was 45 degrees and climbing with no breeze and partial clouds hung in the sky around a quarter moon. Back in the house I went in one last time and kissed my wife good bye. She knew I wouldn’t be back until the moon was back in the sky.
I lit a pipe of Trout Stream tobacco, a luxury I had recently picked up when fishing trips or a little quietness was available. The drive was a short stretch across town to Blake’s house. Mike had decided to stay the night there so all we had to do is pack my gear, rods, and reels into Blake’s Dodge and we would be on our way. I pulled up to not a light on in the house. Meet at 5:00 in the morning they said, it be fun they said. I sent a short text to Blake to test the waters for a chance of him being awake. I knew the answer. He had recently took a promotion at work meaning more responsibility, earlier report time, and late trips home. So I didn’t mind and just laughed. I sent Dirty a message. Not a chance, he was like a stone when it come to sleep, dead to the world. I laughed and packed another pipe, this time a shot of Appalachian Berry.
We were suppose to be wheels up around 5:30 and when the clock hit 5:32, I was sitting on the bumper of my jeep. I felt like a stalker. I sent another text to Blake with something about them being horses ass’s and a light came on. Soon after a text came through. Blake was up and jumping in the shower but I was still sitting on my bumper. I noticed the outline of a middle finger in window, so kind my friends are. Blake met me at the door and I gave him a rash of shit for sleeping in. We went down to the couch and there was Dirty, sprawled out and still snoring. Blake shook him and I thought he had taken a swing at Blake. I shook him and said it was fishing time. Finally everyone was up and sipping on coffee. One cup for each and the conversation quickly turned to fishing. It is always funny how on our fishing trips that the subject of food is always second to the actual fishing. Many times lunch is skipped over for the chance of a rising trout and we spend the return trip grumbling how hungry we are and settling for a fast food restaurant. We always say that we will eat a hearty lunch in the Elk Springs Resort, but we never do. To busy with the constant motion of fly fishing.
Finally, the headlights hit Interstate 79 and we were on our way. Dirty, Blake and I all went to high school together with me being the oldest by a year. We talked about football, baseball, fishing, hunting, and old girlfriends and how we were glad we didn’t waste our time on them. Me and Blake were married but Dirty was still flying single and enjoying it. It’s a two hour trip to Monterville so we had lots of talking and laughing. At one point Dirty pulled Blake’s camera out and started making a video of the break down of of the upcoming day. Consensus report: A stone fly hatch, dry fly action, and the hope of lots of fish.
We met one of Dirty’s friends in Elkins and was back on the road. I had recently became a father to a little girl and Blake being married had not yet had a baby. So our conversation turned to family and having children. It’s a beautiful thing to start a family and pass on a life of lessons to a young child that you love with everything you are. Beauty of trout and beauty of children is the same thing just in different categories. Memories spun together to make one’s life a little more colorful, a little more memorable, and a little bit closer to happiness. My daughter and step-son are much like other kids. They hold the key to my reason for rising in the mornings and a purpose. They give me more happiness then any trout can and the excitement of passing on a day among trout rivers grows with each day they live.
The excitement always seems to grow around Valley Bend, West Virginia. Somewhere you realize that you are close enough that in a few short miles you will drowned in the sound of the spirit of the river and the motion of a fly rod. The spirit speaks and amplifies its words by the sound of water pouring over the rocks. If anyone who has ever sat on a river bank and listened to the water, it speaks to you and tells you stories you do not understand, but you listen with all mind and body. Somewhere your come to love the river much as you love a person. This is where I believe most anglers who say they chase the fish, are actually chasing the rivers themselves with a slight hope of a hungry fish.
It always seems to be the angle pool that we start the day off. I don’t know if it is the ability to watch the water or the enjoyable walk from the road to the stream. It is just shy of 100 yards but a worn path leads you to the right fork of the river from where it splits near mill pool. Wading across the small stream to the far bank, the main river sits just on the other side of the bank. The angle pool is a long deep run. If a hatch occurs there is always a few fish rising that one can usually cast to with a dry fly. It is a great learning pool for beginners. We stood at its bank and slowly rigged up. Early in the morning’s we start out nymphing under a indicator. Usually a double rig where the dropper seems to always be a size 22 or smaller zebra midge. Blake in his usual was giving me a hard time about carrying two rods. I carry two rods to reduce my time snipping off and tying on. My Echo Shadow II is a 10 foot 3 weight that I specifically set up for nymphing. It is long for any short drifts I need to accomplish but also roll casts like a dream. My second is my dry fly rod, a 9 foot 4 weight Wright & McGill. Blake likes to be simplified with one rod. My dual rod arsenal works for me.
A small inspection of the stream gave the obvious nymphing rod the nod with no rising fish in view. Getting the nymphs to the lower water levels was my goal. We spread out and each took a small section of the pool and began roll casting due to the heavy vegetation around this section of the stream. Since this was my first trip with the Echo rod I became thankful I had recently purchased the rod. A small rock shelf that was just off the bank was usually a decent place to find a strike and I could high stick nymph this area with the extra length. I watched as no one found a willing fish. Blake began working his way down stream and I stayed in the angle pool. People began to arrive and fish the area. For me I had set it in my mind that I wanted to settle the score with the Elk with my poor performance the year before. As I continued to fish I noticed a change in the air around me. A few bugs were beginning to come into view, stone flies. Not a big explosion of flies, but a few that one could identify them.
There is was, just down from me about 20 feet out into the water. I had saw it just out of the corner of my eye. A small bull eye of rings marked the water where the fish rose to sip the stone fly off the water. Not wanting to mistake what I had seen I stopped fishing and settled into watching the water. Again the fish rose, sipped the stone from the film and went back down. I immediately picked up my Wright and Mcgill rod that I had already tied on a size 16 stone fly dry and slowly walked down stream to the best advantage. it was a small clearing of tree’s with just enough space to make a back cast. I started to cast to the area where I thought the fish was just below the green water and out of my sight. The water was slow and mending was sparse but good drifts came with ease which I was happy with. My fly drifted past the area and I brought the line back into a false cast and laid it out again up stream. I knew the fish was waiting, watching the water above him for any clue of a possible chance. My second drift came and went. I again brought the line back and back into the water above the fish. This time I shot the line farther up above so the fish could get a long good look at what was coming down the line. A shadow rose out of the green water and slowly climbed the water levels until I could plainly see the pink, blues, and silver of the rainbow trout just below my fly. Her nose was slightly pointed up toward the film. As the distance closed the whole world around me darkened and there I was just me, the steady current of the river, and a rising fish. I felt as if I was Neo in the Matrix, slowing time down and trying to bend it and the rivers current with all my will to keep the fly in the lane. As the distance closed so did the distance between the fish and the film….
I had spent the last year being like a sponge and soaking up any information, article, book, you tube, or hint up about fly fishing. I craved it and craved to become a better fly flinging fool. My wife many times had warned me that if I spoke of flies, rods, rivers, or trout anymore that I would be sleeping with my Saint Bermastiff. I knew that I may never become a world known fly fishing guru from the hills of Appalachia, but I wanted to be good at my craft and be good enough to help someone much like Blake had helped me. It had become my passion and a real love for the water. It was a mixture of river water, canyons lined with rock and tree’s, and a few rising fish. It seems that in those few seconds where my size 16 stone fly gently rested on the film of a river and a rising trout, everything I had taken in and soaked up flashed in front of me.
The fish rose to the fly and I watched him open his mouth and take the fly. Time still was slow as I lifted the rod and pulled the slack line in my left hand. I watched the fly line pull up and out of the film and go tight. The hook pulled right into the corner of the fish’s mouth where I wanted it to. I had accomplished what I had set out to do. I hooked up and netted a beautiful rainbow, 16 inches and brightly colored and returned it to the cold water after a short admiration. One year earlier I was very new to the world of fly fishing and basically starving for information.
I breathed and smiled almost happy to the verge of a tear. I felt as if I was taking my first steps up a mountain of something I so greatly wanted. I wanted to fish and enjoy the world as it once was. Nature, a patch of woods, and the steady pouring of a river over smooth rocks, and the hope of a rising fish. I sat on the river bank for a few minutes taking in the country air, wondering what was next. But what dawned on me next left me both confused and bewildered. What happened to the great stone fly hatch that I had dedicated staying up all night tying flies for everyone for. I was strapped to the hill with stone flies in three different dark colors. Everyone knew what I had. Where was the big explosion of fluttering wings and boils of water that look like baseballs were falling in the water from rising trout. Where was the exciting dry fly action that all of us suspected! Blake had walked back up the stream and was meeting me to decide what the plan of action was next. His dismay was the same of mine, where was the hatch that we had so planned for.
Food is always an important part of any fishing or hunting trip. Problem is some people, like myself and Blake get to fishing, we forget to stop and eat. This day was different. A small grill with some hot dogs, a can of beans, and a can of corn was going when Blake and I strolled out of the woods. Some ice cold waters in the cooler sounded really good. Dirty and his friend were busy cooking up the little stream side meal while Blake and I sat down and pulled our waders down to air out. Dirty who was the photo guru that day insisted on a photos and one photos of us all, which turned out really good, now hangs on my wall in my fly tying room along with other once in a lifetime memories that I will never forget. While the main objective is to get lost among trout waters, I find that catching memories is just as fun. We enjoyed the food along with some jerky and cheese that Blake had thrown in the cooler. A few good jokes were also enjoyed, one of which I cannot write in this book but left me face down in the grass laughing to the point of pain. Here is to our life, our friends, and a chance of a fish my friends!
I returned to the water after a good rest and some food had be catching my second wind. I eyed a small pool just above the riffles that emptied out into the angle pool and started the short walk up the bank. I found a small run that fingered into two toward the tail in of the pool and could see a few medium sized fish in the run. There were no fish rising in this pool so I leaned my dry fly rod against the tree and eased my way down the bank into the water. This was a tight run with the river resting between two eroded banks from a previous flood that had raised the river over 15 feet and changed much of the make up of the river. Many runs that Blake and I had mapped out in our minds the year before now were either deep pools or riffles only a foot deep.
The current stayed steady throughout the run until the tail end where it started to speed up to the riffled section. Drifts were key and getting the double fly rig to the bottom was key. I spot fished to each trout I could see thanks to the Native Eye Wear sun glasses my wife had purchased for me the week before. cutting the glare of the water and defining the river bottom was a exciting view watching the shadows of fish play across the stream. This is a section of the Elk that gets fished hard due to the trail coming to the waters edge. Fish are picky from pressure but also a abundance of food that this area provides. I tied on a egg looking fly I call the bubble gum. It is on a size 16 Montana Fly Company egg hook and i use red 6/0 tying thread. It looks like a clear pink bubble gum with pink pearl Krystal Flash coming off the bend. I knew it was still very early in the year and egg patterns could be effective.
However when I brought my eyes to the same run, what I saw was not the few medium sized fish that I had spent the previous hour casting to. They had run off to the far side of the river where I could see them settling with 2 other medium sized fish. Now what was slowly treading the current was a rainbow trout that pushed the 20 inch mark. I could make out the beautiful highlighter pink mark on its gill and the streak of pink that ran down the side, a beautiful McCloud rainbow. In my time fishing for trout, my two favorite fish to catch as a personnel favorite are a McCloud and a Brookie. I love the color. As for size, a brown will always take that cake. The river was now populated with McCloud rainbows due to the recent floods that also flooded the Elk Springs Resort hatchery and teaching ponds. As a side note, if you should ever want to visit my great state and have a few days on what should be a blue ribbon trout stream, visit Elk Springs Resort, you won’t be disappointed.
Now it was game time. I had spotted the brute and was determined to find a fly that would connect us two together via my fly line. I slowly worked my way down stream below the fish so that it would not spook from my casting efforts. The water was clear and any flash of a rod or movement could spook it back into whatever heavenly place it had just came from. I ended up being directly below the fish. My leader was 10 foot long made up with Camillion 25 lb. test leader, 12 lb. test leader, 5X tippet to the first fly, and then 6X tippet to my dropper fly. This is a trick I learned from a guide from the North Fork. I am forever grateful for his tip that day earlier in my career.
I sent the line in a roll cast above the fish and watched it as the rig set up and began drifting. I was stripping in the slack line as the drift brought it down stream. The beautiful fish turned to the dropper and then back into its run. Attention was all I needed from the fish. If I have the fishes attention, then I knew it would be interested.My roll cast landed slightly further the second time and again, the fish swung out toward the fly and back in coming closer then the first. time flew by as I would cast, drift, strip, and cast again. Just as the year before with Blake and the 20 inch fish that made THE FISH. This was the fish. I readied to cast again but stopped and studied the water and the depth of the fish. The trout was literally resting on the bottom of the river, well below my dropper. It had to raise up off the bottom to even be interested in the fly, let alone decide to eat it. I believe trout are lazy. That is why they lay in slack water or places that food comes to them like being belt feed, a constant serving of food.
I adjusted my rig so that it would float with the drop fly ticking the bottom of the river. I moved my Airlock indicator roughly a foot higher. A good roll cast later I was again in the seam and waiting for the fishes reaction. Time again slowed and it was me and the river. the fish never moved. My indicator drifted by and I began lifting the rig for another run when it stopped and twitched. The fish and the egg were nose to egg and had taken it without having to move. I knew the fish would run so I immediately tried to get what slack I had on the reel. My fly line swung from left to right as I reeled in slack and found that in the setting of the hook, the line was now wrapped around the butt of the rod. Moving up the bank I was trying to get the line flipped back over and bring up the small amount of line I still had off the reel. The fish darted a crossed the water and toward where I now believe was her rocky fortress. Multiple rocks lay in a small semi-circle pattern. Knowing that if the tipper line came into contact with the rock, I would loose the fish.
It was like a slow motion car crash you know is coming. You try to redirect the car ( or in this instance a fish) away from the collision but it happens anyway. I thought I had heard Blake coming down the path behind me so I hollered knowing my net that was currently hanging off my vest was small and would be hard to land this fish and that the net hanging off Blake’s was much larger. Blake heard me holler and as he came over the bank, the tippet and the rock connected in the rudest of form, just below my point fly and my rod went straight and the tightness of the line ceased. Blake came over the bank a few seconds later and I was standing at the waters edge dumbfounded as I watched the fish took its victory lap back out into the run. Blake sat down and watched as I attempted for another half hour to hook up with the fish, but I guess one egg looking fly was enough. I climbed back up the bank and sat down and asked Blake. He had caught a beautiful rainbow below on a size 22 zebra midge but the look on his face told me different. He had caught a fish earlier in the day, but it was the fish he found just prior to meeting me that had left him in the dust.
Fishing the left finger of that section, Blake had found a small root system that had a nice under cut and run in front of it. It looks fishy as fishy can get so Blake being one who can pick apart a river with the best of them began nymphing the run. A few passes in Blake said a small 10 inch rainbow came darting out from under the root and hit me in the wading boot. Curious as to what would make a fish do that, he said what came out next was one of the largest Brown trout he had ever seen to date. The fish by his words, pushed close to the 30 inch mark and was as round as a football. I know Blake as a fisherman just as good as most people do. I know if he found a fish like that he would spend a great deal of time and energy fishing to that exact fish. Blake said the fish stayed in the open for some time but never paid attention to any fly that was drifted by and finally swam bark to his dark home. Blake would go on to reference this fish multiple times. One day I know I will find him knee deep in water waiting to say hello again.
We worked our way back to mill pool which sets directly behind the resorts restaurant and fly shop. The fly shop is the largest in the state of West Virginia and brings the attention of fly fisherman and fly fisher women from all over. Mill pool had multiple people standing around it as it is a large pool and deep pool that holds a phenomenal number of fish. This allows for both dry and sub-surface fishing. Blake and I had came up from the split in the river and was planning on meeting up with Dirty and his friend who had made their way a crossed the pool and was fishing the opposite side. Blake was able to also see what fish laid in front of him with a pair of Costa eye wear glasses. I was trailing behind him when he stopped us both and turned to tell me there was a small pocket of fish in a deep run just before the tailing riffles to our right. I had a shot at the tail end and Blake could fish the head of the run. I could see fish darting in the 3 foot deep water and a few were rising. I chose to stick to the stone fly that worked for me earlier and spot fish the few I saw rising. I would wait til Blake had finished his drift and cast to the head of the run and then I would cast to the middle and drift the tailing. It worked for us as we could cover the entirety of the run without crossing line and also fish two different sets and find what the fish was striking.
Dirty and his friend were fishing the head of mill pool. In between cats I watch as Dirty’s friend went tight line on a fish. A good fight occurred and the fish threw the hook just at the bank. I love watching anyone cast, catch a fish, and then release it. But when someone who I have traveled to trout waters hooks up, its extra exciting. I suddenly heard the commotion of waders moving through the water and the “click,click,click” of a fly reel taking up line. I found Blake with a tight line and a bent rod. He had found a hungry fish and was reeling it a beautiful rainbow, around 15 inches long. The fish had came up and hammered one of the stone flies that I had spun up the night before. I was filled with accomplishment because Blake had always been the one to offer me a fly here and there before I had really dipped into the world of tying and fishing. He had helped me in many ways build the foundation that I have built my knowledge and abilities on in the trout waters. So to have him catch a fish on a fly I had tied seemed damn cool to me. A quick photo and the fish was back in the water and both of us was back to fishing.
The sun was slowly ducking behind clouds and making its way toward the canyon brim when a drift came to a sudden stop and a small pop of water in the tailing’s of the run. This happened so fast that the “time-slowing” I spoke of previous in this story didn’t happen. It was a quick pop and the fish was racing by me and into the riffles and I was following behind almost at a jog to keep up. I wanted to keep the fish out of the riffles that were to the left and keep it in the right finger of the river. We were right at where the Elk River splits before it reconnects just before angle pool. The left finger was strong white capped riffles that went into a serious of 3 plunge pools, each separated with white capped riffles. The right was slower water with a few boulder heads doting the water. Still easier to bring a fish to net. I followed the fish and was able to bring him to net just before the river split. A beautiful McCloud rainbow with a beautiful pink streak from the gill to the tail. A quick picture and I released the fish back to its waters.
The sun was slowly bringing a close to our day on the waters as it reached down and touched the canyon brim, there was a number of fish caught and a number lost but all returned to the water for another fisherman to enjoy the tug. As we walked back to the truck, we stopped and realized that there was no stone hatch, only the reminisce of a few and the luck of finding a few fish still looking for them. (It should be noted that within the month of February the weather had snowed and rained with a mix of 70 degree and 20 degree days, hatches were like the lottery, you didn’t know what was going to pop out.) We had prepared for the stones and came out swinging only to hit a couple times. Either way we stripped off our gear and loaded the vehicles back up and started to head back to Morgantown. It is always a mix bag of emotion on the trip back. Exhilaration, joy, happiness, sadness, excited all accumulates to being happy you got to stand among the river and fish with a few good friends, sad that it ended, but excited to do it again. As I sit here writing this story, I raise my glass with a shot amount of whiskey in it to my friends, here’s to you, my Band Of Brothers for another fishing trip, another memory, and here is to another day chasing the trout of our future.