(Premium Trip) Fishing Report
January 11-13th, 2019
**Unlocking the Hemlock**
By: Keith Cloud
Unfortunately last year 2018 I was unable to put together our trips to Blackhawk. Yep, my aching back was at a very tender place and looking to snap like a Slim Jim and a late October bout and hospital stay with spinal meningitis had zapped my strength to record low levels. So with doctors’ orders, a gentle suggestion from Mrs. Cloud and understanding a thing called reality it was not a good idea to host a trip because I had a bit more time left on my road to recovery.
Fast forward to this year and I have to say that a recovery thing is still ongoing. Except this time; I am fresh from shoulder surgery on November 27th. Although my back is much better and my energy level has returned, the ole shoulder is at best on a 40% level. In fact I thought seriously about postponing this trip; but one look at this year’s attendees and the fact that I missed last year, I could not let that happen.
This year’s group of attendees for our first trip of 2019 were Bob Grimm, Mel Maurer, Mike Greene, Mark Vedder, Roy Tryon and yours truly Keith Cloud. Usually this trip always books up with a capacity for 8 fishermen but for some reason this trip was only able to get 6 attendees. I believe this trip was the first trip that did not have capacity in all my time of taking trips to Blackhawk, so it was kind of strange not have a full complement of fishermen.
Our arrival to Blackhawk was typical; we were graciously greeted by the fine folks of Blackhawk. Owner Abby Jackson and guides Andy Brackett and Eli Crumley were on hand to check us in and begin the process of rigging up our fly rods for some monster trout fishing. As with any trip we assign the guides to coach, mentor and assess the skills of our newbie who may be fishing Blackhawk for the first time. For this trip we were honored to have Mike Greene as the latest Saluda River Chapter of Trout Unlimited member to be introduced to the Soque River and its massive trout.
We decided to pair up in groups of three for our Friday afternoon fishing. Guide Eli would take Bob Grimm, Mark Vedder and Roy Tryon to the upper end of the river while guide Andy would take Mel Maurer, Mark Greene and I on the lower end of the river. Although a bit cool; the weather was excellent for January and the river was higher than normal due to the record rainfall over the past year. The water temp was a cool 43 degrees and there was no visible bug activity on the stream. It did not take long for the action to start. Yep, I was quick on the draw and quickly hooked a landed a big fat 22 inch brown with a cast of about 10 feet or so. Soon I peered around the bend in the river and saw another bend. Mel had a fish on and as I looked a bit past Mel, Mike also was hooked up. Seeing that made me wish to make another cast and with that, we had our first triple of the day and all three of us were hooked up. To sum up our afternoon fishing went very well and the use of a tan mop fly with droppers of either WD-40’s or my favorite, a red midge seemed to work for our gang. As for Eli and his band of fishermen, they had quite a successful afternoon of fishing as well.
As we returned to the Lodge it was time to turn attention to a wonderful meal to feed out band of trout catchers. It was pleasing and Blackhawk should be praised for the wonderful remodel of the Lodge. I was quite impressed and the all new appliances were a welcome site. As with all Saluda River Trout Premium trips, Mrs. Cloud prepares wonderful meals to accompany us on our trips and soon the smell of Chicken Supreme would be filling the cabin. I must say that the new stove and oven worked wonderfully. Side dishes and other servings for the supreme would be rice pilaf, buttered noodles, Italian green beans and honey buttered croissants accompanied our meal for the evening. Desserts were homemade pecan pie and pumpkin pie and after a meal such as that; it would be closing time for a thing called eyelids.
It was a good hearty breakfast of grits, eggs, sausage, biscuits, fruit salad, and hot coffee to get our morning started and a full day of fishing was in store. After conversation all our participants all felt strongly about keeping the same guides and the normal swapping ends of the river. The temps (although cool) were not unbearable and both Andy and Eli provided indication that our day was going to be fantastic and nearly perfect conditions existed for the morning activity. Andy and Mike began the morning in a place called the honey hole and quickly Mike was into a couple of hook ups on some quality rainbows. Mel and I soon made it into the river and it seemed as if the trout were eager to entertain us. The hot fly was a rust colored soft hackle. Quite frankly what made Andy select the fly is beyond my comprehension and with that knowledge, I realize that is why this trip is guided. To sum up, you get what you pay for and as I looked around me, it was several triple hook ups and bent rods all around.
For our Saturday fishing we usually break at noon or so for a Blackhawk provided lunch at the cabin. Just as we were getting ready to leave, Mike Greene made one more cast and boy ole boy was it a cast he will always remember. It was an epic battle and once over, Mike had a big fat old but beautiful 26 inch rainbow that was netted by Andy. This fish and the video taken would be the talk of lunch hour back at the lodge. The lunch Abby provided was her famous Abby J’s chili and cheese bread along with other fixing’s for our group. The chili is always a welcome site for our gang and it certainly goes well on our wintertime outings. For the Blackhawk trip we always have on hand (homemade chicken salad) and sandwich items, pastrami, roast beef, turkey and ham for delicious lunches as well.
The forecast for Saturday afternoon would include some wintery conditions and the only question was when would the precipitation arrive? As is customary we swapped ends of the river and with that Mel, Mike and I ventured back to where we started on Friday and that was on the lower end. We started at a place called the gravel/sand bar and used our 6 and 7 weight rods rigged with a mop fly and a dropper of a pink, red or green san juan worm. The pattern worked nicely for an hour or so but then the action quickly tapered off. Eventually I decided to take in a downstream journey and ran across Andy who asked if I had caught any trout recently. My answer was no and he suggested two spots to venture to and maybe just maybe something would be there. Upon hearing his recommendation I decided to continue my downstream journey as Andy accompanied me to what was known as the Hemlock hole. While there Andy tied on an Olive Green Girdle Bug to tag along behind the tan mop fly. Andy knew that forecasted rains would begin upstream and with that; more water would begin to raise an already higher than normal water level. Let’s try something big and buggy and see what happens as he described in great detail the way I needed to fish the hemlock hole. When time to make the cast, almost instantly I had a big fat brown on the line and in the net shortly thereafter. At that point; Andy was satisfied that I was in a place that would serve me well and made his way back up to check on my other fishing buddies.
After an hour or so Andy ventured down to check and get a status. He was stunned by the fact that I had not moved any more than 10 feet from where he left me. Are you ok asked Andy? “Yep, I am doing fine, I’ve caught over 20 fish” and the girdle bug is kicking butt. At that point I learned that for the morning fishing, guide Eli had his crew fish this same hole and it produced nothing. “I can’t believe it is doing so well” said Andy as I continued to land more fish as we spoke. “If you can wade to it, this hole always produces in high water times” said Andy. In fact, my lasting memory is of Andy and I chasing a couple of fish downstream in a “River Runs through It” fashion as the sleet mixed with the rain began to fall. My Reference Point (the way I choose to remember the trip) had arrived in a way that was favorable to me. Yep for the morning fishing the Hemlock had a lock on it, but for the afternoon this ole boy with Andy’s help was able to unlock the Hemlock. For the day of fishing, I had netted over 40 fish and hooked another 10 or so. Looking back and to sum up, the Hemlock hole will forever be on the mind of this fellow and the olive green girdle bug will as well.
Our day was done and on Q a hard rain finally made its way to us. Saturday evening’s dinner would feature homemade Salisbury steak and mashed potatoes, buttered noodles, cucumber salad and various deserts such as apple crisp and Sherie’s famous 7 Layer Bars. Abby also surprised us with a fresh batch of cooked greens (from the Jackson Farm) and homemade Mexican cornbread. Eli was shocked but pleased to hear of the Hemlock hole fishing report and was proud to report excellent catches for each of his three clients in Roy, Mark and Bob. The hot fly’s of the day were the girdle bugs and mop fly’s. Roy indicated it was his best day ever on the Soque and did very well with a purple wooly bugger and various other streamers.
Sunday morning was a typical later start and the rains of the previous evening had finally dissipated. The fact that it had rained hard all evening lead us to surmise that our fishing trip was over and the Soque would be unsafe for fishing due to the high water levels. At about 9 am Eli and Andy returned from a check of the river. It was bad news said Eli, “it’s unsafe and not worth the effort today; we are gonna have to call it.” His face said it all. We totally understood and felt that if that was the case, we had a great time and we would get to venture back home a bit earlier than planned. Eventually a smile arrived on Eli’s face. Yep, we had been had been tricked and the report was that the river was high but falling at a very fast rate and with this, let’s go get um for it is going to be a banner day.
Using primarily the same rigs as the day before; our gang finished well and the first Blackhawk trip of 2019 had become history. We really did well and were blessed as far as the weather was concerned. Looking back, I am so glad I decided to not forgo the trip. My aching shoulder doesn’t feel the same way and I have paid a price with something called PAIN; but the fishing, fellowship and fun leads me to wish to make a return. I look forward to our February trip and resolve to make another trip to the Hemlock hole one more time with an olive green girdle bug or two in my fly box.
A great way to start 2019 Outings Season;
Hope to see you on the Stream
SRTU Outings Coordinator