February 8-10th, 2019
By: Keith Cloud
Those who know me well; know that I can quote lines from many of the movies Clint Eastwood played a part in during his illustrious career. Arriving to Blackhawk with the sounds of the Royal Danish Orchestra and their rendition of theme songs from many of his movies had me primed for another wonderful trip. I encourage anyone to try this; for it is an excellent motivational tool for the mind. Go ahead “make my day” and search the internet for the Royal Danish Orchestra and Clint Eastwood.
As I arrived at Blackhawk our trip took on a look like a bunch of gunfighters headed for the big showdown as we gathered our weapons (fly rods) for the imminent battle before us and boy ole boy was I ready. Our January trip to Blackhawk had been a tremendous success and our new gang of attendees were anxious as ever to get into the water and catch some monster trout. The January success certainly had our gang and fishing guides excited. Attendees for our second trip of 2019 were Mel Maurer, Reuben Chandler, Mike Strong, Joe Bibbo, Harry Huntley, Steve Storick, Rich Gale and yours truly Keith Cloud. This trip featured a full complement of fishermen with a grand total of 8. We fish in pairs because it is almost impossible to net fish without another person on hand once these big fish are pulling line. Later on you will get a taste of exactly what I mean regarding netting of fish.
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 for check in and begin the process of rigging up our fly rods for the day. 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. Yep, one can be experienced but a Blackhawk fish takes catching a fish to another level and for this trip we were honored to have Steve Storick and Joe Bibbo as the latest Saluda River Chapter of Trout Unlimited members to be introduced to the Soque (SO-KEY) River and its massive trout.
Pairing up in groups of two for our rainy dreary cool Friday afternoon fishing; guide Eli would take Rich, Steve, Mel and I (Keith Cloud) to the lower end of the river while guide Andy would take Joe, Roy, Harry and Mike to the upper end of the river. Eli quickly asked if I wanted a return trip to the Hemlock hole where I had such success on my last trip and of course my answer was YES. I began with my six weight St. Croix Legend fly rod with my Orvis Access Mid-Arbor Reel. The fly of choice was Olive wooly bugger with a black midge to follow as the 2nd fly in the tandem. The water was a bit high but very manageable and a cool 46 degrees. My mind raced to recreate the success of the January trip and after a several cast, I hooked my first fish and was unable to bring to the net. A few more cast and a few more hook ups with no results. Naturally I was a bit frustrated for I was not fast enough on recognizing the strike. With that in mind I decided to quicken my hook set and with the next strike, I found myself hooked into a fish, but that is where it ended. In my zest to be fast I literally threw myself off balance and down in the stream I went. Yep, I had made friends with a fellow named Mr. Gravity and my waders said “come on in to the water” in the stream. As my fishing day continued I tried to tough it out; but once the sun sank behind the mountain; that’s when yours truly began to imitate something called an ICE BLOCK. Boy ole boy was I cold and quite frankly I did not have a good day of catching, but still had fun.
Returning to the Lodge shortly after 5 pm the smell of homemade chicken and dumplings left simmering in a crockpot caught the attention of everyone. It was the cocktail and snack time hour and the fish stories had already begun. Like most fish stories; the ones that got away and pictures of ones that graciously agreed for a picture with our anglers permeated the cabin. Just before our meal, we did something we typically do for each outing. It was introduction time and sometimes in our roundtable discussion, conversation sometimes gets deep. We remembered our lost fly fishing buddy Lance Gibson who left us way too soon on January 22nd. Also as part of our roundtable discussion, I was able to learn how much the trips mean to our participants. The expression of gratitude and thankfulness was quite overwhelming and before I knew it, I had a quiver in my voice and my eyelids had a bit more moisture than usual. Finally around the 7:30 hour we blessed the food and it was time to turn attention to a wonderful meal of chicken and dumplings, cabbage, lima beans, deviled eggs, cucumber salad, and fresh from the oven biscuits. Deserts featured homemade pecan pie and lemon bars. To sum up our day of catching was OK but not great; and as I looked around no one mentioned they wanted to go back home.
Saturday morning a good hearty breakfast of grits, eggs, sausage, biscuits, fruit salad, and hot coffee got our anglers going. All our participants felt strongly about keeping the same guides and the normal swapping ends of the river. One thing I make clear on these trips is that I do not know of a problem unless told of a problem. I ask that our attendees give me the chance to resolve the problem first if there is one. I want our attendees to get the most bang for their buck so to speak. In the case of this trip; like always things are going very well and no need to adjust the itinerary.
Eli had our fearsome foursome for the upper end of fishing on the Soque. Steve and Rich were paired up and it did not take Steve long to pick up where he left off from the previous day. For his first trip to Blackhawk he was on his A-game and each time I looked around, the rod was bent and Rich seemed to be netting a fish for Steve. Mel and I were paired up and the fishing was OK as we picked up a few in an area called Abby’s Run which is a great fast water fishing spot. Eventually Eli took us to the top end of the property during our last hour before the 12:30 scheduled lunch break. Placing me at the top followed by Steve then Rich and then Mel spaced within a 100 yards or so of each other. Eli explained the way to fish the area and tied on a Tan Mop fly with a Black caddis midge size 20 as my dropper fly. We made a few short cast and targeted a few fish and finally had a hook up with a nice 20 inch rainbow and with that catch Eli left to head downstream to check on the others. It wasn’t before Steve was already into a couple of fish as well and posing for a nice picture or two.
Prior to Eli leaving he told me to not be afraid to venture toward the property line. It will get a bit deep over there but wade as far as you can and cast up river as far as you can. Slowly I approached the spot where an inch or two moving forward or an inch or two deeper, that I would be in a similar position as the day before with water moving over the top of my waders. As I let my fly line drift downstream I finally cast as far as I could possibly cast. Mr. Mop Fly hit the water and drifted about a foot or two and BAM, I knew immediately I was in for an adventure and the reason I was at Blackhawk was for this very moment. The fish darted upstream and as I looked at my reel spinning I recognized that all of my fly line was out and deep into the backing on my fly line. A moment later I recognized a very bad thing. My backing had a loop in it and once at that loop either the line was going to snap or the rod could possible snap and simply put; the outlook was not good on getting this fish to the net.
Just as soon as the fly line got to the loop, the fish made a turn and headed straight back to me. I counted 4 jumps total from the time the fish took the fly to its downstream run toward me as I was able to wade into shallower water to attempt to net the fish on my own or so I thought. Hearing my shouts for help; Steve was there to assist and attempt to net the fish. Once the fish saw Steve, the fish was going to have no part of that and ventured across the way in an attempt to break me off behind a log. With that unsuccessful attempt the fish (a big brown) tried a downstream effort and next in line was Rich who valiantly attempted to net the fish. By this time, my arms were tired and the ole bicep was a little knotty. While chasing the fish downstream I again looked at my reel and sure enough I was back down to the backing and the loop in the backing was again visible. Next in line to net the fish was Eli and after a couple of attempts in deep water, the 27 inch brown was ready to get his picture taken with yours truly. After quite a bit of congratulations, pats on the back and hugs, it was back to the lodge for a well-deserved lunch featuring (homemade chicken salad), pastrami, roast beef, turkey and ham for delicious sandwiches.
The morning fishing had been a bit spotty at best. Of course everyone knew my story and Steve was still having a fantastic trip filled with lots of catching. Rich was spending most of his time netting Steve’s fish and was catching tree trout more than trout. Mel was beginning to get a bit warmed up and starting to catch fish as well. Guide Andy and his crew for the morning fishing had watched Joe Bibbo put on a clinic fishing without an indicator and using a beaded pink Squirmy with either pheasant tail nymph or stonefly size 16 as the bottom fly. Andy said Joe had wondered over to an area that was not well known to hold fish and hit the jackpot. Speculation was that the rains of last evening must have pushed the fish over to the spot. Also for the morning fishing Harry was able to land a huge rainbow with a very pronounced kype (which is a very prominent hook jaw). The rainbow was a big colorful beauty and if one ventures to Big Y Fly company website they can see a picture of Harry who won the photo of the month with a Soque River Trout.
As we swapped ends of the river for the afternoon fishing, I wanted Mel to give the Hemlock whole a shot. My hopes were that the fish would be stacked up and Mel could have a repeat of my January trip. Steve started with a BANG and was once again catching fish as we fished the lowest end of the property. Most of this fishing on the lowest end is fast water fishing. The strikes are sudden and a wrong move on the hook set can make the best angler reach for some four letter words as they retrieve their fly from overhanging tree limbs. As the day proceeded, I could tell that my ole buddy Rich just was not catching fish. We all have those kind of days and Rich seemed to spend time netting fish, catching tree trout, or having to re-tie flys from various hang ups. Some days you got it and some days you don’t and he knows that better than anyone. Yep, this former major league baseball pitcher and coach knows the feeling of a struggle and for this trip his fastball was not working. Eventually the end of the day was near and my Reference Point (the way I choose to remember the trip) had arrived earlier in the day with my big catch before lunch. Or so I thought.
Shortly before 5pm Rich made one more cast with his Sage One 9 foot 5 weight rod and Sage model 2000 reel. A green caddis emerger with a jig head nymph on 4x tippet had taken a massive trout. The fish made a downstream run and then ventured to the opposite side in an attempt to break the line on a log. As I looked down at Rich, I could tell his mind was racing and thoughts of missing this fish were prevalent as the battle continued. To use a baseball analogy he had been struggling to find home plate and throw strikes and was hoping the batter would help and swing at a bad pitch when he obviously did not have his best stuff. I said a silent prayer as I watched my friend fight the fight. Eventually the struggle was over and Eli had netted the largest trout ever caught by this fellow who has many years of fly fishing under his belt in the streams of New Hampshire and beyond. Soon the cameras were out and once pictures were taken, Rich sat on a rock totally exhausted and gave thanks to a wonderful God who blessed him in a well deserving way. It was an emotional time as every one of our guys provided that much needed pat on the back, hugs and praises for the final cast of the day. We all knew he was struggling but he “Endeavored to Perserver” and finished on top of his game and easily became the real Reference Point for the trip.
Saturday evening meal of homemade meatloaf, mac n cheese, mashed potatoes, green beans, deviled eggs, cucumber salad, and deserts of pecan pies, lemon bars, and cookies went down well after a very hard day of fishing. The stories and lies of fish got a little bigger as the evening continued and soon it was bedtime. After a day of hard fishing most everyone was in bed and snoozing well by 10 pm.
Sunday breakfast soon would arrive and with that our Sunday fishing would continue. Usually on Sunday we all try to return to our most favorite spot. I wanted to venture back to the upper end and fish for another big brown and cover lots of territory. I was able to hook into a few; but no fish of size. On my last cast at 12:30 pm; I was able to hook into something that took all my fly’s and made me reach for a four letter word. DANG and on my next trip, I hope to bring Rich (who is 6’ 7”) inches tall to retrieve fly’s gobbled up from an illustrious tree trout.
Endeavor to Persevere courtesy of the Indian character in “Outlaw Josey Wales”
SRTU Outings Coordinator