Checking Up on Some Old Friends

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NCHillbilly

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On August 17th last year, Tropical Storm Fred hit my county. Up to 20" of rain fell in a space of a few hours over 5,000'-6,000' elevations, and literal walls of water came boring at lightning speed down the steep, V-shaped valleys of the headwaters of the Pigeon River. Whole communities and sizable portions of towns were completely washed away. Several people died, and many roads were closed for months. Many, many people lost everything they owned. Uncountable numbers of houses were just gone, like they had never existed. The only thing that saved even greater destruction from happening was that this event happened in the early afternoon while most people were at work. If it had happened in the middle of the night, the death toll would have been astronomical.

Needless to say, aside from the human suffering, this was not good news for the many fine trout streams that make up the headwaters of this river system that I have spent so many days fishing over the last five decades. We're talking about floods that move multi-ton boulders that have been sitting in place for hundreds or thousands of years. Whole mountainsides liquefied and slid off into the valleys, carrying cliffs and timber with them.

I finally got up the nerve to head up that way and hit a couple of my favorite little creeks, trying to see if anything was left.

The first creek I visited is a tiny, mostly unknown stream that used to be brimming full of native speckled trout.

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It was still dark, gloomy, and foggy as I hiked in. I stopped to admire and sniff a patch of sweetshrub in full bloom.

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I fished nearly a mile up the little creek. Drifting a fly through countless fine-looking runs and pools yielded exactly nothing. No strikes. No fish spooking as I waded. In pools that would normally see swarms of small juvenile specks mobbing a fly; nothing. Finally, in a deep pool with a huge sunken, stripped log lying in the bottom, a fish rose to my fly and sucked it down.

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This 8 1/2" hen speck is an unusually big trophy for this size creek, but she seemed to be very much all alone. I carefully released her and watched her fin back to the security of her sunken log. I fished another quarter mile upstream without seeing another sign of a fish. I hope she can find a mate this fall, and start to repopulate this creek. It seems hopeless, but these fish have been here for thousands of years. This is not the first major flood they have seen, nor the last. I doubt if I will see this creek recover in my lifetime, but I have hope that the fish will keep doing what they have been doing since well before the first human set foot on this continent. I hiked back out, feeling much gloomier than I felt when I hiked in.

To be continued....
 

lampern

CAPTAIN OBVIOUS
The first wild brookie I ever caught was in Graveyard Fields? off the parkway up there. Visited there once and saw lots of brookies in the stream there.

Went back to fish for them. That was a long time ago. Sorry to hear about the floods
 

JustUs4All

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Sad story in the short term. Thankfully, there is a much larger plan but we do live in the short term. Thanks for sharing.
 
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NCHillbilly

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The first wild brookie I ever caught was in Graveyard Fields? off the parkway up there. Visited there once and saw lots of brookies in the stream there.

Went back to fish for them. That was a long time ago. Sorry to hear about the floods
This wasn't very far from there. Same river system, different fork.
 
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NCHillbilly

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Do you know if the fish were still in the stream at Graveyard Fields or not?

Thanks
Haven't been up there this spring, but I would guess that they were less affected than the ones further down the valleys.
 
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NCHillbilly

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@NCHillbilly, for us flatlanders down here who don't get to see changes like that, does a flood like that mess up some areas and improve others by deepening or widening parts of streams?
A lot more harm than good. You do get some new pools created by logjams and moved rocks and stuff, but floods like this scour the streambeds, kill fish, and aquatic insects alike.
 
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NCHillbilly

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It was still fairly early, so I decided to check on another one.

As I was hiking in, wildflowers were blooming, including the first of the mountain laurel-and tiger and pipevine swallowtail butterflies were fluttering everywhere.

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This creek is much bigger, and flows in from a different direction, so I don't think it got hit as hard as the ones on the other side of the divide; but the damage is still obvious. The streambed is scoured, and some familiar holes have changed considerably from how they have always been.

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This creek is populated mostly by colorful wild browns on the lower end, with native specks above the falls further upstream. @northgeorgiasportsman came up and fished this creek with me a couple years ago, and we were catching nice fish out of almost every hole.

They are still here, but not nearly in the numbers that they used to be. Oddly, most of the fish also seem to be in the same 7"-9" size range. Almost no smaller ones, not many bigger.

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The fish are also scattered. Many good lies hold no fish, then I will hit a stretch where there is a fish in most likely spots. I am catching fish fairly regularly, but having to work much harder than usual to find them.
 
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NCHillbilly

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Finally, in this big, pretty pool, I hang one about 14"-15" that comes unbuttoned at the net.

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It turned out to be the last fish of the day. As I am climbing the small fall at the head of the pool, the sky suddenly starts turning black, the undersides of the leaves turn up, and the thunder and lightning starts along with the first big splats of raindrops. I move back down to the overhanging rock cliff on the side of the creek, crawl under it, and wait out the worst of the storm. When it starts to slack, I unrig my rod, and start the long climb back out to the trail. When I reach my truck a while later, another storm is brewing, and I drive home in pouring rain and hail.

I will make it to the other side of the river divide when I can, and look for it to be even worse on that side. It could be better, and it could be worse, but I know that nature endures.

...
 
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NCHillbilly

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I've been wondering about those two streams since the floods rolled through.
The first one is one we didn't fish that day, but the second one is where the feller called you a vermin. :bounce: That big hole that we caught the slam from is changed pretty considerably.
 

Redbow

Senior Member
I'm sorry that a lot of the fish population was hurt badly in your area. Mother Nature is often cruel it seems but then again she finds ways to repair the damage over time. Hopefully that will happen to the streams of water where you go fishing. Beautiful pictures BTW, thanks for sharing.
 

northgeorgiasportsman

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The first one is one we didn't fish that day, but the second one is where the feller called you a vermin. :bounce: That big hole that we caught the slam from is changed pretty considerably.
If you remember, that little gem of a speck creek hadn't quite recovered from the last round of floods when we were there.
 
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NCHillbilly

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If you remember, that little gem of a speck creek hadn't quite recovered from the last round of floods when we were there.
Yep. Same thing there-almost no small fish, and long stretches with no fish. I haven't been back up to that one yet this year, almost afraid to.
 
Beautiful area. Thanks for sharing the sights with us. It’s tough to see thing change, but that’s natures way. Things just don’t stay the same, but with nature, things get renewed.
 
Good write up as usual NCH. The first thing I thought of reading was a conversation detailed in Don Kirk and Greg Ward's book between Greg and Ray Ball. The power created when large volumes of water is coming out of the mountains is incredible.

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Thread starter #19

NCHillbilly

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Good write up as usual NCH. The first thing I thought of reading was a conversation detailed in Don Kirk and Greg Ward's book between Greg and Ray Ball. The power created when large volumes of water is coming out of the mountains is incredible.

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What is the name of the book? I don't have that one, seems like a good one. I've got one of Kirk's books that Greg has a chapter or two in, but not that one.
 
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