Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Cataloochee Valley 3/24/2010

Sunny skies and temperatures near 70 in town were the impetus to head out to Cataloochee Valley in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park today.  The weather surely did not disappoint!

On the drive across the Cataloochee Divide going up Cove Creek from Jonathan Valley was beautiful, with clear views back toward Interstate 40 and the White Oak and Panther Creek areas. One I reached the park boundary at the Cataloochee Divide trail, I dealt with some motor grader work on the gravel road portion down into the valley.

I arrived in the valley pretty close to noon, and was a bit surprised to see some of the elk herd resting in the shade along the creek near Palmer Chapel.  After taking a couple of snapshots of the elk, and stopping by the chapel for a few minutes, I drove on to the trailhead of the Pretty Hollow Gap trail near the old school, made sure I had my food, water, fishing license, and car keys, and headed up the old wagon/logging road that runs along Palmer Creek.

Again, the fishing was excellent, but the catching was not so good..  I've said this before, but my idea of a successful fishing trip has little to do with whether any fish are caught.  Perhaps that is just a confession of my lack of skill, but it's my story and I'm sticking to it!

I hiked and fished up the creek for about 1.8 miles to backcountry campsite #39.  This site is in a hemlock/white pine grove across the Pretty Hollow Gap trail from Pretty Hollow Creek, which runs into Palmer Creek just below the campsite.  I started to head farther up the Palmer Creek trail to follow Palmer Creek upstream for a bit more exploring, but the trail was completely blocked by a huge tree that had fallen recently.  Not eager to bushwhack my way around this obstruction with my waders on, I headed back downstream toward the truck.

It is hard to beat a day like today, especially in March!!!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

March 18 Fishing and Exploring

With another beautiful today on tap here in the mountains, today I drove back to the Cherokee area and into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park via the Big Cove entrance to the Round Bottom area.  The creek that runs down the gravel road and by the Cherokee Tribal fish hatchery is called Straight Fork, and provides relatively easy access for fly fishing.

During this time of year, Round Bottom Road is closed from the Balsam Mountain Campground off the Blue Ridge Parkway near Heintooga, but during the summer and fall this road is open one-way "down the mountain" off the Balsam range into Big Cove.  The road is currently open from the lower end to the steel bridge over Straight Fork, at the Beech Gap Trailhead.

Not having mastered the art of nymph or streamer "wet fly" fishing, I tried a few trusty dry flies from the fly box, including a "yellow humpy," an Adams parachute, and an orange-body elk hair caddis.  Unfortunately, the trout are still fairly dormant this time of year, and are reluctant to come to the surface to take a dry fly.  In another few weeks, however, it will be time to match the hatch and entice the trout to the top as the water warms up.

I drove as far as the closed gate just past the steel bridge, stopping at several places along the way to scout the creek and get my waders wet.  One stop was at the Hyatt Ridge Trailhead, near the Round Bottom horse camp.  At another stop upstream from there, I found what appeared to be a small beaver lodge.

The warm sunshine and the promise of spring in the air overcame my futile efforts as an angler on this day, but I'll be back!

Here's a picture looking upstream on Straight Fork from the steel bridge.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Kephart Prong 3/10/2010

The day was overcast, but with no rain, and temperature in the 50s.  This was the first decent day I've had to go hiking or fishing since the snow of December 18.  So, I headed out from Waynesville through Cherokee and north on US 441 toward Newfound Gap in the Great Smoky Mountains National   .

I decided to scout the Kephart Prong trail, wearing my neoprene waders and carrying my hiking boots along for an easier walk back to the truck.  Having not been up this trail, I wanted to check out the creek and the trail, for future fishing and hiking expeditions.  I carried my small creek fly rod, an LL Bean 6'-6" 2-3 wt along just for kicks.

I followed the trail from the trailhead on US 441 on the Oconaluftee River to the northwest, following the creek with several foot log crossings for two miles or so to the Kephart shelter.  At the shelter, the Kephart Prong trail turns into two separate trails, the Sweat Heifer Branch trail to the south, and the Grassy Branch trail to the north.  These trails continue up to intersect with the Appalachian Trail north of Newfound Gap.

I hiked and fished up the creek as far as the shelter.  The trout were not interested in whatever I had tied on, but I enjoyed a cigar and being outdoors after being cooped up in the house for what seems to be months with our brutal winter.  Along the way I leapfrogged several times with a trail maintenance crew, with the sound of their chain saw punctuating the steady sound of the creek cascading to its confluence with the Oconaluftee.

At the shelter, I enjoyed my turkey pastrami with Lorraine cheese, a banana, and plenty of water.  After swapping the heavy neoprene waders for my hiking boots, I headed back down the trail.  The two miles to the truck were rapidly accomplished wearing decent boots and not stopping to fish.

All in all, a good day to be outside.  But what day isn't???