Arriving at the Campground
This was my first fishing trip with the Trout Unlimited group, also known as Triangle Fly Fishers. The campground we stayed at was just outside of Galax, VA. The excitement on Friday to get to the river and start fishing was ridiculous. Its been a long time since I have been camping. I also have not really went on a trip targeting a specific fish. I was eager to see how my flies would perform. I carpooled up with some friends and we had a guide lesson that afternoon. We came to the campsite and were greeted with this view.The scenery was beautiful and the water looked really clear and very fishy. We started setting up camp as fast as we could. While setting up camp we talked to some people who had come the day before. They said they caught 8 fish each. This made us scramble even faster to set up camp and get out on the water. There wasn't much structure in the water except for on the banks.I worked my way downstream, casting towards rocks and other places I thought a fish would be. The wading was interesting to say the least. The current wasn't strong but there was a lot of silt. When you stepped in it, sometimes you would sink, and it was a spooky feeling. I realized within the first 5min of wading that I should have brought my chest waders. I had issues getting to the banks because there was a deep section that had to be crossed to get there.
My buddy Preston caught a fish after his first few minutes of fishing. I figured it was only a matter of time before I hooked up. I tried many different flies but was unsuccessful catching anything. The guide lesson was starting soon and I figured I would catch something then. After the guide told us the basics he sent us out on the water and instructed us on places that might hold fish. No one was catching anything. The fish really seemed to be inactive. There weren't any rises except for the occasional fish splash. You could see small mayflies maybe a size 20 or 18 flying off the surface. Fish weren't even hitting those. It was a strange day. The water and weather looked so good but the fish weren't cooperating. The guide said the weather temperature had dropped considerably that week, and the fish might be put off. It was nearly 20 degrees cooler than just the weekend before. We ended the day a little disappointed but were glad we had a couple more days to fish.
The next morning I was eager to catch something. There was a place nicknamed the ledges we heard about that was supposed to have great fishing. We gathered our things and headed there. The view was spectacular when we arrived. If there were fish anywhere in the river it had to be here.We all split up and headed different directions. I headed towards some weed beds that had to have bass in them. I decided to go with a black bunny fly I tied. On the third cast, I was pulling in my slack line, when I had a bend in the rod and a fish on. I was surprised at first that a fish was there, and I had a lot of line out. Then I did something that is a problem I seem to have. I always seem to want to play fish on the reel. You rarely have to do this. So what happened is I had the slack line in taught in my right hand, I released it to start reeling it in with the reel. When I had all the slack line reeled in the fish was off. Most likely when I released the slack line with my hand it popped the hook. I was mad at myself but excited at the same time. I had caught a fish, and did it on a fly I tied. The day was looking up. I worked my way around the weed beds and always had to pause for a minute or so to enjoy the view.I continued to work the weed beds, I could see fish swimming here and there, but I was unable to hook up with any. Preston started to have some success on a popper he was fishing. I tried several different flies including a popper. I didn't catch a thing. I worked my way to the other side of the river. I came to a sandy pool that was about 100ft across. There were huge carp circling in the pool. I figured if I wanted to catch a carp, this would be my best chance. I tied on a small crayfish patter and threw toward the back end of the pool towards a weed bed. I worked my fly to where I thought a carp would pass, then my line went taught and I had a fish on. I was confused because I didn't see any fish in the vicinity. I reeled the fish in closer, and it looked like a bass, but not a smallmouth. To my surprise, it was a largemouth. I've never heard of people catching them in the New. I was happy to finally get the skunk off for the day. The fishing improved some. I decided to work towards a rocky section.There were lots of pools that had fish but none were eager to hit any flies. One of the people we were fishing with had success on minnow patterns. I tied on a white bugger and saw some small fish chasing and nipping at it but nothing was killing it. I started to work runs in between pools and around rocks. I finally hooked up with a smallie big enough to bend my rod. It was no monster by any means, but it at least gave me a fight for about a minute.It ended up being the biggest smallie of the trip for me. I caught a nice bluegill later in the day but that was it. It was a fun day of fishing, but everyone had hoped for bigger fish and more activity.
On the way back to the car Preston and I were walking up a trail from the river and as we got near his SUV, we heard growling. It slowly got louder the closer we got to his car. The growling sounded menacing and didn't give you a warm and fuzzy feeling. I walked around the left side of the car and a dog came out from under it, suprising me but it seemed to not be intimidated. It wagged it's tail twice then went right back under the car. We then heard the growling again. I figured maybe the dog was hurt or possibly was having puppies and was using the car as a layer or den. Preston walked closer to the car and yelled, trying to scare the dogs out from under the car. The growling grew louder and it sounded like it was coming from another part of the car. I looked under the vehicle and saw two dogs. I kept calling them trying to get them to come out but all they kept doing was growling and not moving. Preston and I kind of looked at each other and were trying to figure out what to do. Neither of us wanted to get bit, and we were in the middle of no where. Rabies is a real thing and it does cross your mind when you find an animal acting weird. Preston decided to grab a stick off a tree, and I was like "what are you gonna do with that?" He said "I'm going to scare them out." I told him instantly that the last thing you want to do is poke a pissed off dog with a stick. We were in a predicament though, we had to leave, we could get some other people to help us, but what could they really do? We were out of cell phone service so if one of us got bit we couldn't even call for help, so do we take the chance and try to get attacked? Plus if they attack one of us, can the other person, get the dogs off? Even if they didn't attack us, neither of us, wanted to get bit. I devised a plan, which wasn't my favorite, but I thought it was our best course of action. I told Preston to take the stick and walk around the car, keep it between him and the bottom of the car, open the door, and get in. Give me 5min to walk down the trail, I don't want the dogs running out from under the car then chase me. He agreed that was probably the best idea and made his way towards the car. The growling and barking became really intense. Preston worked his way around the wheel well, then went to open his door, it seemed like it took an eternity for him to get in the car. I watched and prayed as he made his way threw the door. He slid in the drivers seat and closed the door. I was relieved, UNTIL... I hear a loud honk and his engine start. I kind of nervously laughed and started running towards the river. I wasn't going to wait until the dogs came out and ran towards me. While I was running, I kept thinking, I said "WAIT 5MIN!!!" I made it to the river, luckily with no dogs chasing me. I listened to hear for Preston's car. Through the forest you heard a loud screeching sounding like a dog being hurt. I figured the dogs didn't move and he started to go forward and now one was pinned under the car. Then the screeching stopped. I wanted to walk back up the trail and look, but I was afraid dogs would be waiting for me, and if they weren't hurt before, now they probably were. Then I heard screeching again, I figured he must have run them over this time. I waited about a minute then heard a car coming down the trail. I ran up to the window and said "did you run them over?" Preston said he didn't but there were 3 dogs, not just 2. I got in the car, and as we made our way back, we saw 4! dogs in the road waiting for us. We had left some stuff on the ground while trying to figure out what we were going to do to get in the car. The dogs had knocked it all around. One carried Preston's hat down the road. Preston yelled at the dogs, and it dropped his hat, they finally ran off as we drove out. Preston and I looked at each other, and just thought, how strange was that? We talked about how when we told the story, no one would ever believe how scary or intense it was. When we got back to camp, we were right, when we told the story, everyone just looked at us like, that wouldn't have been that bad. I guess it is one of those you had to be there stories. I would never want to be there again.
That night we were told there was a kayaker who never checked into a boat landing. He was two hours late. The kayaker was a older man and they were worried about him, since it was getting dark, and pretty cold. The air temp was dropper rapidly with the sun. It was getting into the 50's and on the river it would be pitch black and cold. A perfect situation for hypothermia. While sitting around the campfire we saw police cars scanning the river with spotlights, we had a fire truck drive into our campsite, and blast a spotlight across the river. The rescue teams were hoping the man got out of the river and just went home. No one remembered seeing anyone go by. That night you could hear people searching and yelling in the forest. I couldn't help but feel sympathetic for that mans family. I couldn't understand why the search vehicles stayed around our campsite so much. I figured if the guy was late, he would have been long gone past our section of the river.
The next morning we woke up and were kind of in a funky mood. The fishing hadn't been that great and we had to leave in the afternoon. We heard some bad news about the lost kayaker, he was found about a 5min walk up stream of our campground. This really bothered me, I couldn't help but wonder if I walked up the stream last night, would I have seen the guy, and maybe he would have been still alive. The man was not wearing a life jacket and was found at a place where they dredge silt out of the water. I couldn't help but think about how freaky it would be to be in the dark freezing and wet on the river.
I tried to get the whole thing off my mind and focus on fishing. There was a damn that supposedly had good fishing, we headed that way not expecting much. The fishing area near the dam, had a lot of rocks and structure. It definitely looked like smallmouth habitat.I saw some rocks with logs around and made a bee line to it. I fished pools on the way. I decided to go with a firetiger popper. There was a nice section with a run of water and a ledge of rocks on each side. The wading was a little treacherous. The rocks were sharp and not as slippery as other places, but I was tired of trying to keep my balance. I came to a decent casting spot and launched my fly into the run. I finally saw what I had been waiting for the whole trip. A shadow came up from the depths and hammered the fly. I was so surprised I set the hook way too late. My adrenaline definitely rose and now I was really excited about how this day was going to turn out. I cast a few more times into the run, and again a shadow came up, this time, followed the fly a few feet then sucked it in. I missed the fish some how, I'm not sure if it was slack in my line, or if I reacted a little too fast and pulled the fly out of its mouth. After that, the fishing slowed down. No one was catching much, I waded over to a shady section. I saw something out of the corner of my eye, and when I looked there was a otter cruising passed me. It must not have seen me right away because it was only about 10ft away. That kind of made my day. I love seeing wildlife, and an otter is rare for me. A few minutes later I had my first fish. It came on a helgramite pattern that I had as a dropper off of my popper. The fish was only about 6inches. I didn't get anything else for the rest of the day. The other flies I heard that worked ok were a black cheynobal ant, and a Murray's helgramite. We left the river, reminiscing about the trip and not looking forward to the drive home. All in all it was a great trip.This was one of the few times I had more fun outside of the water talking to people around the campfire than I did fishing. I look forward to more TU trips and more smallie fishing. I have an idea of what flies work and I really want to see if that was just a fluke my bunny fly worked or if it is a great bass fly. The weather is turning into trout weather so I'm not sure I'll find out until next year.