Category Archives: Fishing

Kayaking Laurel Bed Lake

My son and I spent his birthday on an all-day kayaking trip to Laurel Bed Lake, one of the most remote lakes in Virginia.  Laurel Bed Lake is about 330 acres and is located in the center of the Clinch Mountain Wildlife Management Area, Virginia’s second largest such area.

9.11.15 Kayak
Preparing to Kayak into Perfect Reflections at 3000′

The trip to the Clinch Mountain Wildlife Management Area takes a while to get to from anywhere.  From Abingdon, it’s about 35-40 minutes.

Once at the CMWMA, the drive up to the lake takes about another 35-40 minutes, because you have to drive up Clinch Mountain.  There is a map of the CMWMA available on the VDGIF website (it is located here).

While the gravel roads are maintained, you should have a four wheel drive vehicle (in fact, the road is often closed in winter).  There are several significant switchbacks.  The vertical climb from the entrance to the lake is about 1300′, most of it along Big Tumbling Creek, a boulder-strewn creek with numerous waterfalls.

9.11.15 Isaac
Taking in the view from the weedless shoreline

There are smallmouth bass and brook trout in the lake, although we did not have any luck fishing on this day.  We did, however, spend about three hours kayaking around the lake:  this is a large lake, at least by comparison to the other high mountain lakes in the Southern Appalachians.  For example, this lake is much larger than nearby Hidden Valley Lake or Hungry Mother Lake in Virginia, or Julian Price Lake near Blowing Rock, NC.

9.11.15 Half way

I would estimate that the lake takes about 3-4 hours to circumnavigate.  Other than two boat docks, the lake is surrounded by wilderness.  No camping is allowed near the lake, so the shoreline is undisturbed and pristine.  Paddling on this lake, you can easily imagine yourself somewhere in the remote wilderness of Canada or Maine.

9.11.15 Sun
Afternoon sunlight. This view is looking back toward the boat dock. The sun is over the area where we launched our kayaks.

We stopped in a couple of spots to rest and enjoy the sun.  We saw all manner of wildlife:  jumping fish, hundreds of frogs, ducks, blue herons, a hawk, other birds we could not identify, deer, and a lone bald eagle soaring high in the sky above the lake.  There were also signs of beaver along the shoreline.

Generally speaking, one side of the lake features rhododendron and has a steeper bank, while the other side features more wetland areas.  The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries has set up some bird nest areas along the wetland side of the lake.

9.11.15 Mini Sasquatch
Not a Sasquatch

This is a gem of a lake, one we would like to visit again in the fall when the colors are changing.  We were there during a weekday, but the trip to the lake takes so long that I doubt it is ever extremely busy.  At one point there were about four boats on the lake, but by the evening we literally had the lake to ourselves.  It’s pretty amazing in this day and age that you can have a 330 acre lake to yourself on a nice day.

This is, however, a place you really want to have to visit, as it’s very much out-of-the-way compared to many other outdoor spots in Southwest Virginia.  But if you have the time, it’s a worthwhile trip.  I know we’ll be back.

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Half Light of the Canyon

On the evening September 14, 2015, I fished alone.  The silence was broken only by the sound of the running water.  Looking upstream, the water reflected the sunlight shining off the mountainside, above the small gorge through which the creek runs.

I was able to recite the most famous fly fishing passage:

In the . . . half-light of the canyon, all existence fades to a being with my soul and memories and the sounds of the . . . river and a four-count rhythm and the hope that a fish will rise.

Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. . . .

A River Runs Through It, Norman McClean

Whitetop Laurel Creek, Late Evening, Monday, September 14, 2015
Late Evening, Monday, September 14, 2015

Whitetop Laurel Eye Candy

Sunday, April 26, 2015, it was unseasonably cold and overcast–it almost felt like a fall day.  We had bad thunderstorms to the north, but the rainfall was scattered across Southwest Virginia.  So late that afternoon my son and I decided to go head up to Damascus and see how the creeks were running.  We fly fished Whitetop Laurel Creek, and while the water was on the higher end of optimal conditions, the fish were hungry.  We caught a number of brown trout in the special regulation section of the creek using large Parachute Madam X flies.  We figured because the water wasn’t crystal clear, we’d give the trout something that would catch their attention with the heavier than normal flows.

Wild Brown Trout - Check out those perfect fins, buttery yellow belly and the brilliant spots
Wild Brown Trout – Check out those perfect fins, buttery yellow belly and the brilliant spots.  Photo by K.J.T.
Brown Trout 4.26.15
Dark Bronze Beauty. “Selfie” by E.R.T.

 

 

Jackson River at Hidden Valley, Bath County, Virginia

The Jackson River is one of the most renowned trout streams in Virginia, flowing south until it merges with the Cowpasture River forming the beginning of the James. There are two generally known sections of the Jackson River—the lower Jackson, below the dam at Moomaw Lake in Alleghany County, and the upper Jackson, a free-flowing river in Bath County with headwaters reaching almost into Highland County.

Jackson River in Hidden Valley
Jackson River

The photos in this article are about the upper Jackson.  This section of the river flows through a lengthy, roadless section of the George Washington National Forest, about three and a half miles of nothing but river with a walking trail.  For Virginia (and most any Eastern state), this is a lot of pristine riverfront without road access.

In October 2013, my sons and I traveled here, and we walked and fly fished most of the river.  The fall colors were at their peak, absolutely stunning.

Special Regulation Section
Entering the Special Regulation Area

 

Footbridge
Footbridge Crossing at the Special Regulation Area

 

14" Naturalized Brown Trout
14″ Naturalized Brown Trout

 

Jackson River downstream of the bridge
Beautiful Clear Water

 

Clear Water
Good Pools and Submerged Boulders

 

Sun Over Jackson River
Upstream within the Special Regulation Area

 

The Mountainside Aglow with Color
The Mountainside Aglow with Color

 

Brilliant Orange Colors
Brillant Orange Colors

 

Hidden Valley Colors
Yet More Colors

 

Not a Bad Day Fishing
Heading back to the car after hiking and fishing in Hidden Valley

 

Flycasting with Lefty

At the end of this summer I was schooled by a scrappy, short-statured octogenarian on flycasting technique.  It was none other than the man, the myth, the legend—Bernard “Lefty” Kreh.  In a field on the banks of the Middle Fork of the Holston River in Southwestern Virginia, Lefty Kreh demonstrated flycasting techniques to a group of about 20 fishermen and women.

Lefty Supervising Casting
Lefty supervising flycasting technique to an experienced fly fisherman.
Tight loops can lead to what all fishermen desire – “tight lines”

If you are or have been seriously into freshwater or saltwater fishing of any kind in the last 45 years, you probably have heard of or run across Lefty Kreh.  He has written a dozen books, written innumerable articles on all types of fishing in most every outdoor magazine, has his own fly, “Lefty’s Deceiver,” a famous saltwater fly, and even has his own line of fly rods.  He is best known for his wealth of knowledge regarding saltwater fishing and fly fishing, especially flycasting.

Lefty Supervising Proper Roll Cast Technique
Lefty Supervising Proper Roll Cast Technique

Lefty may have more knowledge about the dynamics of flycasting than anyone else alive.  The man can cast a fly line 50 feet without a rod (with his bare hands), and he can cast a 5-weight fly line about 100 feet with just the top section (just about 1 foot) of a fly rod.  His casting with a rod appears effortless, although he can explain the physics principles behind what he is able to demonstrate.

Lefty Demonstrating Stress Application to Fly Rod and line based upon rod angles
Lefty demonstrating stress application to fly rod and line based upon rod angles

Lefty taught us both roll-casting and traditional back-casting techniques.

Demonstrating Tying Techniques
Lefty demonstrating leader knots

Lefty also showed us leader-tying knots, knots he has personally tested on his stress-testing machinery.  “The machine doesn’t lie,” Lefty said.   For example, the key to a good clinch knot or improved clinch knot? Six turns.  Not five; not seven—six.

True to form, while demonstrating how to cast a streamer with a sinking flyline, Lefty “accidentally” caught a 12-13 inch smallmouth bass while stripping the line back to demonstrate another cast.

If you ever have the opportunity to meet this man, or get some lessons from him, or just hear some of his stories and be inspired that you can still enjoy the great outdoors with exhuberance after the age of 80 years, I highly recommend participating in one of his clinics or presentations.

Howard and Lefty
Another photo of Lefty and a fly fisherman executing prefect technique

Special thanks to Chris Walters, fellow outdoorsman and fly fisherman, for inviting me to attend this special event.

Beaverdam Creek

Beaverdam Creek in Virginia, October 20, 2012

This weekend I snuck in a few hours of afternoon fly fishing at Beaverdam Creek.  This creek flows out of Shady Valley, Tennessee and through a wildlife management area within the Cherokee National Forest and into Virginia.  The Virginia portion runs for just a few miles until it enters Damascus, where it crosses right through the main town park.

After catching a couple of rainbow trout, I exchanged my rod for a camera.  Wearing waders, I was able to capture some interesting colors from the middle of the creek.  Note the orange and yellow reflections in ripples in the center of the creek.  The 2012 fall colors have been the best and brightest in years in Southwest Virginia.

Kayaking Hungry Mother Lake

On Saturday, August 22, 2012 our whole family went to Hungry Mother State Park to enjoy a day on the lake and to try out our newest toy—a 2012 Dagger Zydeco 9.0 Kayak. 

Kayaking Hungry Mother Lake

Back in April I saw the new edition of the Zydeco at an outdoor store over in Boone, really liked it, and so I ordered one.  I purchased it to be used with my 10-year-old, 12′ Perception Antigua Kayak for group trips or for quick “throw the ‘yak on the roof and go” short trips.  In mid-June we picked it up, and we have been waiting for a several months to test it out. 

So we packed up the Jeep for a picnic, put the two ‘yaks on the roof, and brought along some spinning rods for good measure.  It was a beautiful day in the mid-70s with low humidity.  The sky was mostly sunny, and the lake was really busy. 

Hungry Mother State Park Beach

The beach was open, and my two boys were suddenly more interested in swimming and going off the diving boards than kayaking, so I took the new Zydeco for a solo trip all around the lake. 

Circumnavigating the entire lake takes over an hour, as it’s about a 100 acre lake and there are approximately 3 or so miles of shoreline.  I’ve kayaked from one end to the other and back in under 35 minutes while racing in the Mountain Do Triathlon multiple times, but it had been a while since I had just gotten out and kayaked for fun on a summer day.  Consciously trying to stay close to the shore, in order to truly go around the whole lake, it took about 1 hour, 20 minutes of consistent paddling.

View from Near the Dam

As I have written previously, Hungry Mother State Park also has trails that circle the lake, as well those that climb to the top of Molly’s Knob.  With all that this park has to offer, it is still probably a bit underutilized except for some of the busier summer weekends.  From my own personal use perspective, this suits me (and, I suspect, most of the other park patrons who live around here) just fine.

Clouds reflecting on the lake create shadows on Walker Mountain in the background

So, how did the Zydeco handle?  Overall, pretty well.  It’s very manageable at 36.5 pounds (a lot easier to get on the roof than the 49 pound Perception) and very easy to turn.  The lighter weight suits it well for smaller folks, which is one of the main reasons I got it (for my boys and wife). 

Hungry Mother State Park Kayaking Panorama

The shorter length does make the Zydeco track a bit less well than the Antigua (meaning it doesn’t hold a straight line without correction as well.  Better tracking generally allows for more powerful paddling). 

Boys Kayaking–Zydeco 9.0 on the left, Antigua 11.9 on the right

Both the Antigua and the Zydeco are “Adventure Recreation” kayaks, meaning they’re designed for light touring or class I or II+ whitewater, not for sea kayaking or hardcore whitewater rafting.

Zydeco 9.0 in Action

The Zydeco fits the bill for what we’ll need for the next several years when we go on family, mild whitewater, and fishing trips in the region.  I think the two kayaks will pair up well for our future adventures.

Perception Antigua 11.9 on Hungry Mother Lake

SoHo Eye Candy

This summer we’ve started earnestly fishing the South Holston River, a renowned tailwater trout fishery in Tennessee.  The clear water comes from deep in South Holston Lake, making for constantly cold temperatures, even when summer’s heat affects the other mountain streams.

South Holston River, Bristol, Tennessee

The tailwater is 17 miles from Abingdon, about a half-hour’s drive from town.  It’s probably the largest trout fishery in the region, and consequently one of the busiest.  I’ll write some more on the SoHo in some future articles, but for now here’s some nice trout we caught this weekend.  All photos by Karl Thiessen.

SoHo Brown Close Up
13″ Brown Trout
SoHo Speckles
Girthy Rainbow
16″ SoHo ‘Bow

Secret Pools (and Some Good News about our Native Trout)

 In my last fishing essay, I described solitary fishing in winter on small streams.  In that article I referenced a book published in 1938 that my mother gave last year me titled Upstream and Down by Howard T. Walden II.  Mr. Walden’s book descriptions are as appropriate today as they were in the 1930s.  His commentary shows an amazing prescience about many matters related to the outdoors in general and fly fishing in particular.  

One of the themes of Mr. Walden is that in the 1920s and 1930s the small streams of the East were becoming more accessible, and that there were fewer and fewer secret streams left anymore. 

Some trout streams are important for their trout, almost all for their beauty, a few for their associations and memories.  In the last category are the secret streams of the past.  Every angler who has been at his sport a score of years or more can remember whispered directions, the pledges of secrecy, the long and tortuous journeys to those segments of Paradise hidden in the back country.  Such prospecting and discovery once constituted the most glamorous aspect of trout fishing.  But that is gone in the world, now, except in the remote semi-wilderness counties.  Most young anglers, casting over their first pools in the nineteen forties [1940s], will not know the high adventure of finding a secret stream.  The automobile has accomplished this special destruction along with general spoliation of virgin countrysides.  The motoring hordes have found all the streams there are. . . .  The State has charted all the likely water, filled it with foreign trout and invited the public to come and get ’em.

       And the public comes.  Paths have been beaten by many booted feet along both banks of the farm boy’s secret brook and the wild shy native beauties of that little watercourse are disappearing, dying in the hostile company of rainbows and browns.

Upstream and Down, at 170-171 (1938).  Mr. Walden was generally speaking about streams in the Northeast, in New Jersey and Connecticut.  Many of his prognostications, however, are equally applicable in Virginia and throughout the Southeast. 

If you read modern fishing magazines and browse outdoor websites, the Twenty-First Century equivalent of the automobile is the advent of the information age:  the Internet and GPS technology have amplified the problem (from the perspective of the solitude-seeking angler) of the “motoring hordes.”  One man armed with a GPS can post all the location information about a “honey hole” on a web forum page, and you can be sure that within a month or two dozens of anglers will have found the “secret pool.”  

And yet, even now, such places do exist in our region:

A Secret Pool in the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area

Lovely native trout continue to exist in Southwest Virginia, too.  Here is a young brook trout from the Mount Rogers area I caught in June 2012:

A little brook trout, the official state fish of Virginia (and of West Virginia), caught in June 2012. Note the parr marks (vertical stripes) on this fish.

In the most rural sections of  Southwest Virginia, there are still secret pools (if not completely secret streams) holding the same native brookies that have lived here for a thousand years. 

While our brook trout are no doubt still under pressure, as the map below (and this even more detailed Virginia map) shows, there is good news lately about brookies in Virginia. In the Summer 2012 issue of Trout, Trout Unlimited’s “Journal of Coldwater Fisheries Conservation,” there is an article indicating that Virginia brook trout streams are healthier than they have been in decades.  One of the main fisheries referenced is St. Mary’s River in Augusta County (which I visited and wrote about last year, here).   According to the article, acid rain deposits, which negatively affect stream quality, have decreased 18 percent between 1987 and 2010, and “acid neutralizing capacity” of the Virginia streams studied have increased 82 percent during this same period.

My own anecdotal experience is consistent with Mr. Walden’s observations 80 years ago:  Much of the pressure that can be expected to continue on our native trout streams will still come from the “motoring hordes,” especially those individuals who trample on these treasured resources,  leaving their garbage behind while taking their full bag limit (or more) of trout, which can quickly eviscerate these sensitive fisheries.

On one point, however, I must disagree with the esteemed Mr. Walden.  While we may no longer be able to readily find entire secret streams unknown to most of mankind, there is still much “high adventure” to be had in our mountain streams (and beyond).  We just may have to search a little harder these days for a secret pool and be willing to enjoy the more modest adventure of rediscovery of off-the-beaten-track places that are still, after all these years, quite beautiful.  In the future we will continue to know streams most important for their associations and memories, recalling those days of yore when we found that secret pool, or caught that lunker fish, or shared that special trip with a relative or friend, as glamorous in our recollection as were those memories of the fishermen of the past.  Because those nostalgic fishing memories—just like the proverbial fish story itself—always seem to grow, and never diminish, with time.