Friday, February 17, 2006

Bullhead Creek



My closest trout water when I lived in north central North Carolina was about 60 miles northeast at Stone Mountain State Park. Stone Mountain is a 600 foot high granite dome outcropping that rises abruptly from near the boundary of Wilkes and Alleghaney counties on the eastern slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains. This is a rustic park-hiking trails, waterfalls and a large white-tail deer population that is off limits to hunters. The main stream running through park, cold and clear, is the East Prong of the Roaring River. For the most part the main park road follows the river's path from about five miles in to the park exit-probably a distance of eight or nine miles. For you western folks, this is something you would never call a river. Its average depth as it rolls and spills over pea gravel and medium-sized smooth, round rocks is about 12 inches-there are places where it is ankle deep and some plunge pools that might be five feet deep, but these deep pools are rare. This "river" spans at most 10 yards from bank to bank, which makes herculean casts unnecessary and even decent fly casting not a great priority to catch fish. The stream is heavily canopied and not the place for a bunch of fancy "false casting." If you make a decent backcast, you need to drop it on the water cause your next backcast will most likely be retrieved from a tree. The great thing is that the stream is stocked heavily in March and April and until the first week in June, it's all catch and release-in NC, we call this program "delayed harvest." From June to Labor Day, the banks are lined with bait fishermen and "cornflingers" who don't give one shit about sport, they just want to fry up a rainbow, regardless of the size. By July, the creek is pretty much cleaned out and the water warms enough for swarms of grinning, pasty-white toothless locals to float the river in tubes, digging Vienna Sausages out of pop-top cans and flinging chicken bones up on the banks. The river was restocked in October and reverted back to catch and release till the next June.

There are several feeder streams in the park that trickle off other mountains and hills and also hold trout. These streams for the most part are not stocked, feature small native brook trout and require hours of stooped-over hiking to reach the largest populations of these wild, beautiful specimens. An eight incher would be considered a monster, but they dart and dash like hummingbirds and their color is truly stunning.

One of the feeder creeks is called Bullhead Creek. Before the park was formed, this small stream with it's headwaters high up near the Blue Ridge Parkway was the location of a private club, the Blue Ridge Fly Fishers, that managed and operated the stream with a "beat" system that has roots deep in English fly fishing tradition. The stream has eight "beats" or sections, which are assigned on a first come basis-you signed a ledger at the old clubhouse, dropped a small fee in the envelope and the section was yours and yours alone for as long as you cared to stay that day. You signed out when you left and others could sign in. Each beat was distinct and the beauty of this particular stream, other than the fact you would not be bothered by others fishing your assigned water, was that the fish in this creek grew to gargantuan sizes due to being fed twice a week with trout chow. This small flow probably averaged a foot deep and no more that 20 feet across, but looking down from the path to the upper sections you would see 30-inch rainbows and browns finning and feeding. One day I was fishing and unbeknownst to me the Park Ranger flung in a large spray of trout chow right at my feet. Huge trout came out from under trees and rocks beating the water to a froth for close to two minutes. The unexpected commotion scared the hell out of me-I didn't see him but I'm sure the ranger was laughing his ass off. The next minute, the fury was over and all you could hear was trickling water. Before you got to the first section their was a place called the "Club Pool," a thirty-foot diameter, clear plunge pool that was full of medium to large trout of all sizes. These trout stayed there until they could be relocated farther up. This area was fairly open and a good place just to warm up with some false casting and occasionally hook one of these torpedos on a three weight rod and 8X tippet and have some fun. Beat One was a short section with huge boulders-not one of my favorites. Beat two was my favorite because it had long stretches of flat flow and also a lot of pocket water and it also allowed you to locate the large fish from the path up above, then go down and try to sneak up on them. Beat Three was actually a feeder stream of Bullhead called Rich Mountain Creek, a pain-in-the ass heavily canopied stream that contained wild brook trout and a million rhodedendrons whose tough, thick leaves would grab and hold a fly like no other vegetation I've seen. Beat Four was short and rocky but OK in a pinch, just as was Beat Five. Beats Six and Seven were long, beautiful and easliy fished sections that could be fished all day without hittlng all the prime spots. Section Eight went on for miles and miles ending up near the edge of the Blue Ridge Parkway-I never made it anywhere near the top.
Althought these trout could reach monstrous sizes, they were also old and wise-there wasn't a fly they hadn't seen and they would sit there finning in plain sight and you could drift a fly and a dropper right by their nose and not get a look. If they suspected you were there, and with me, lining them and flailing the water with the rapidity of a Japanese restaurant table chef chopping celery, it wasn't much of a secret-they would develop a full-blown case of lockjaw. One afternoon I made a good two thousand casts upstream into a little waterfall with a bead-head nymph. Lulled into a stupor, I was paying no attention when my line came tight. At the business end of the line was a 12 lb. rainbox and he was pissed, to say the least. With no place to go, he did the only thing he could-streak downstream like a rocket. I watched in horror as this beast went between my legs, the fly line and backing whistling downstream burning my crotch. My back was to the fish and my fly rod was between my legs, the tip-top five feet behind me. I lifted a leg and turned around to regain proper fishing position and dignity when the behemoth came streaking back upstream at the same high rate of speed, and you guessed it, streaked right between my legs again, twisting me into another "pretzel." After one more trip downstream and up and countless leaps, the thing finally wore itself out and I pulled the barbless hook out of his blunt, angry snout. He resumed his station at the base of the falls while I sat down panting and sweating like a Sonoran Desert mule.

If you ever get the chance, don't pass up Bullhead Creek-the best $12.00 you'll ever spend.

4 Comments:

Blogger The Wizard said...

a pain-in-the ass heavily canopied stream that contained wild brook trout

Those are tough and most difficult...frequently the most memorable though!

7:49 PM  
Blogger philgaston said...

What an awesome breakdown of Bullhead, I have been by there and thought it may be worth a try..the only reason I haven't is because I heard that the stream had been heavily poached in the last couple years.
Thanks much, a great read

12:24 PM  
Anonymous Zachary said...

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8:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been from the parkway down Bullhead Creek and have to say that the upper section of the creek has numerous waterfalls and plenty of trout...beautiful. You really have to careful over the large rocks and boulders.

I also used to work at Stone Mountain and one of my duties was to feed the fish in Bullhead creek with Purina Trout chow twice a week in the summer. One fisherman accidently killed a huge trout. We eventually ate him...no better fish than a trout!!

12:02 PM  

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