The rain can help a fly fisherman … at first
By Lawrence Jordan
Special to the News & Press
My Mom’s side of the family planned our annual camping trip at Twin Lakes Campground near Clemson for the second week of October. These plans were canceled with the news that Hurricane Delta would bring rain all weekend to the Upstate. My siblings planned to go anyway to visit Mom and the following morning, Dawson Jordan and I woke at 4:30 to go fly fishing. Dawson and I exert the same extent of planning and effort to trout fishing as any of our saltwater fishing trips and we speculated all the way to the river about how the morning’s factors such as the rain can help/hurt our chances. The rain can help a fly fisherman at first. The fish can bite carelessly sometimes because the water is slightly stained and the faster current requires the trout to make an instant decision on what to eat. If the water becomes too muddy, then the trout cannot see at all and the day of fishing might as well be over. Dawson and I did not know what we would see when we reached the river, but at least we knew that the season was right. Today’s river of choice was the East Fork French Broad River. Cold memories of Matt Jordan’s and my winter canoe expedition hit me as we passed the place where we launched our canoe Dec. 26, 2017, for a 76-mile trip. Dawson and I reached the river an hour before sunrise because we wanted to scope the river and claim our spots first. It was too dark to fish, but we hiked the river and explored with flashlights. We spotted a brown trout feeding in the shallows, which was enough to tell that the water was clear enough to fish and that the trout were hungry. We rushed back to the car to grab our flies and fly rods and descended onto the river. It was too dark to see our flies and so we started with streamers. A streamer is a large underwater fly that you can cast and strip back to you or it can be drifted with the current like a nymph. At first light, I tied on a stonefly and prince nymph still with no luck. Dawson was on the riverbank working on a tangle and I switched my prince nymph for a copper john. The bright and reflective copper john quickly paid off when it stirred the attention of a small brown trout. The fish rose but did not eat it on the first pass. I cast again and the fish ate the fly. It was a quick fight, and the fish was released. I quickly caught a brook trout in the same area. The brook trout was average sized and brightly colored with a green back and red fins. I crossed the river and caught a rainbow next. This fish was the largest of the day, measuring 12 inches long. Before releasing the fish, I noticed that there were already two flies in his mouth where other fishermen had already hooked and lost this rainbow trout. I removed and kept the other flies and the rainbow went free. I then called Hunter Jordan for a report because he was fishing in Georgetown for red drum at the moment. I was fishing one handed while on the phone and with a tug and an underwater flash, a trout had broken my line. I was not able to let the fish take line when I was fishing one handed and so I had to get off the phone and focus on fishing. Walking upstream, I passed a large waterfall and the sound of the roaring water drowned out all surroundings. Above the waterfall, the fall-colored trees closed in over the river making a tight space for casting. From just above the falls, I cast my fly into the main current and a brown trout hit my stonefly so sharply that it flew. The brown trout turned and with his back out of the water, hit the fly before it could sink. It was the most aggressive strike I have ever seen. I set the hook which startled the fish but it picked the wrong direction and darted straight towards me. I netted the trout like a baseball outfielder catching a ground ball. This fish was released and after catching two more rainbow trout, I walked along the river to find Dawson. He was in the water casting and I could tell from a distance that he was frustrated. I asked how many and he said none. We fished together for a few minutes and Dawson caught two brook trout back to back. He was happier now and discussing our day, we realized that the fish are mostly waiting in the calm water just before it riffles into a rapid. I stepped up above the next rapid to cast, and let my fly drift toward the rapid. A fish slurped it down just before the fly drifted into the fast water. I caught a rainbow and a brook at this spot. The water was rising and it was near the time that we planned to return home. We called the day and hooked our flies into the cork handles of the fly rod, then helped each other climb the riverbank. Walking down the trail I saw something that I have never seen before. Plastered to a rock and held down by fast moving water were leaves covering a rock. As I pointed it out to Dawson, a rainbow trout swam upriver against the rapid with ease. I have seen that on TV before but it is sometimes hard to believe that such small fish can stand up to and swim through such fast current and rapids that are on the verge of being waterfalls. Even though the fish of this river and many others in the area are stocked, I do not think that it takes long for the fish to learn the ways of a wild trout and pick up on their instincts to eat flies after being raised on pellets. We were practicing catch and release and even though we came home empty-handed, we had been tested by the trout and were perfect enough to trick them into biting. The only thing I brought home from the river was a smooth river rock, which I keep from each river that I have successfully caught trout. Regardless of the rain, Dawson and I had a great time on our early morning trout fishing trip and returned home victorious.