Getting an early start Friday morning, Tim Bowers and I rolled down Main Street Lonaconing in the pre-dawn darkness taking notice of the 27 degrees posted on a digital sign. Pulling into the parking lot at Barnum half an hour later we strung up our rods by lantern light blowing on our fingers to warm them enough to tie a good knot. We waded out into the river just as dawn was breaking and began drifting # 18 egg patterns through the riffles above the deeper pockets and slots. Within a few minutes I hooked and landed a fat sixteen inch rainbow that peeled of line like a big feller, and then quickly framed another just a tad shorter.
As the morning wore on, river fog collected in long white rolls against the Maryland side while the rising sun flushed bright color from the trees lining the bank. After LDRing a nice brown and missing a couple of other takes my fish catching had come to a halt just as Tim’s was turning on. He landed three out of the riffle just above me, the best a hefty seventeen inch brown that had him dog walking it down river. Around eleven o’clock we decided to head for the Savage and fish it until time to set up camp. Fall colors were at their peak, and driving back up out of the Hollow the bright sunshine illuminated the leaves along the road into bright golds and oranges. Breaking out on top of the ridge I was treated to a view of rouge smudged mountain slopes framing green pastures under a sky so blue and bright it made my eyes squint.
Getting to the savage I think we were both thinking we should have stayed on the NB. The savage was low, maybe less than 40cfs showing less charm and promise than usual. Tim and I split company at the PHD pool, he going up towards the Dam, me heading down to the foot bridge. As I retrieved my sunglasses out of the truck Ken Bowyer pulled up. I gave him a brief rundown of the morning’s events then headed on down.
By early afternoon temps had risen to a comfortable mid-50’s range but the wind was now gusting making casting with any accuracy almost impossible unless you waited for a lull, and then quickly got one off. Two hours of this with no strikes and me carelessly sinking a #16 EHC past the barb into my finger, I decided I had had enough and headed back to the truck. I found Ken working a riffle at the head of the PHD pool, he was so intent he wasn’t even aware I had moved in next to him until I shouted to Tim we should go set up camp making Ken jump and twist around a little in surprise. Tim wandering back down stream after catching the only fish of the afternoon, a thirteen inch brown on a chartreuse San Juan, waved toward the trucks and we finished our day. By this time it was rapidly cooling off so we headed for Big Run to set up camp and make a run for firewood. On our way back with the wood a flock of wild turkey paraded out onto the road in front of the truck, comically milled around in confusion as we got closer, and then beat a harried retreat back into the timber. Who needs TV to be entertained!
With camp made and the sun going down the temperature dropped with it. Trying to keep warm we huddled around the fire roasting hot dogs and marshmallows while beef stew simmered in a pot. By 8:30 the expected late arrivals hadn’t shown up prompting some speculation around the fire that maybe some folks just had better sense than to tent camp in freezing weather. Minutes later they arrived all at once though they claimed not to be traveling together. For the next 45 minutes the camp site was a flurry of activity, everybody milling around saying howdy, unloading gear, and tents springing up here and there. Around 9:30 or so the camp quieted down and we retreated to our tents where I was pleased to find out my summer rated sleeping bag augmented with a blanket was actually going to keep me warm.
The next morning I think it might have been the snoring that woke me up, but no matter it was time to roll out anyway. The thermometer read 30 degrees and there was frost on my truck cover, underneath it our wet wading boots and gravel guards were frozen. While we thawed them out under the heater on the floor boards of the truck I started to take note of where everyone was heading. Ken Bowyer, Michael Abramowitz, and John Hurwitz, were just mounting up and headed for the North Branch; Jason Castiglione was already on his way there. Jay Sheppard, William Amland, and Art Friedlander were undecided, and Tim and I were headed for the Youghiogheny. The cold was a little distracting early mornings and late evenings, but the wind was worse. Standing in the middle of the Yock the wind blew so hard it pushed me off the rock I was balanced on and I almost needed that spare set of dry clothes. Care needed to be taken when lifting the line off the water for a back cast or the wind would have it flying back in my face, or worse yet tangling the line leader around the rod. Even so, we still managed to fool a few although nothing broke the 9 inch mark. I got three, two rainbows and a brown, Tim caught a slew of little rainbows with an elk hair caddis in small riffles against the shore.
Mid afternoon we headed back to the North Branch where we met Mike and John just coming out. Mike said he got four browns and lost several more. John landed only one but had the extra adventure of falling in, which I figure probably evened things out excitement wise. Within 15 minutes, I hooked my best fish of the trip. I hate to lose big fish by doing something stupid like putting too much pressure on ’em but that’s exactly what happened, half way through the battle the line just went slack. Will I ever learn….? Tim on the other hand was busy giving me a fishing lesson, landing five good fish – the best a beautifully colored twenty inch rainbow. This is only Tim’s second year with a fly rod but you would never guess it by watching him fish. Before we left there was a sparse hatch of large brownish grey mayflies #12 that we think were white gloved howdies, followed by some smaller brownish ones that may have been blue quills. I had a full sinking line or I might have tied on a howdy after seeing a few rises.
On the way back to camp along Savage River road we had a bear sighting just up from the Savage River Outfitters. The truck lights caught eyes and I was slowing down expecting to see a deer come bounding out. We had been seeing deer all the way back from the NB. I kept looking at the spot where I saw the eyes but there was only a black blob, suddenly realizing the black blob was a bear I got all excited and started yelling bear! Bear! He didn’t stay in view for very long, Tim saw him just as he turned around and headed back up the mountain disappearing into the night. That’s two October outings in a row I’ve seen a bear, now how cool is that!
Back at the camp comparing notes, Ken said he took a nice fish on the North Branch, and Jason who had to leave early reported taking a good brown. Jay said he, Will, and Art had checked out the section of the North Branch by the upper wire and didn’t find many fish in the runs. Later they fished the Savage with Will taking a fine fourteen inch brown on a large caddis in some pocket water. All in all a fair amount of fish had been hooked or landed for such a cold blustery day. That night as we gathered around the fire the conversation meandered from one topic to another while we heated up stews or chili, roasted marshmallows and hotdogs, and baked potatoes right in the coals.
The next morning I was a little surprised how well I had slept, and as I lay there listening to the tales of others, was glad that Mother Nature’s siren song hadn’t lured me off into the cold night on a mid-night run to the bushes.
Stirring around in the pre-dawn cold the thermometer registered a hand stinging 24 degrees. We built a new fire in the hearth to warm our hands as we broke camp and within an hour we had the tents down and the gear stowed. Ken, Tim, Mike, John, and I headed for the North Branch, Jay, Art and Will opted for a warmer day on Beaver Creek about half of the way home, where Jay reported that they all caught fish. Probably the smart choice….
Meanwhile back on the North Branch it was slow going. Most of us were still sticking to egg patterns with Michael breaking ranks to fish a soft hackle and was shortly rewarded with what looked to be a good fish that didn’t quite get to the net. Within a few minutes he had hooked another good brown whose net evading tactics weren’t quite as successful. We didn’t measure the fish but it looked to be pushing twenty inches to me. I took some pictures; Michael looks so pleased I laugh out loud every time I look at ’em.
Shortly after that the group headed back to the parking lot in ones and two’s for the drive back home. The cold did get in the way some, the wind was just insane at times, and the fishing wasn’t the greatest on the Savage, but there was still a fair amount of fish caught, and a couple of truly big ones. We didn’t lose anyone to hyperthermia or frost bite and all in all I think everyone enjoyed themselves, at least after the sun had a chance to warm things up a little. I’ve already reserved the pavilion for fall 2007, October 5, 6, &7. That is Columbus Day weekend which was my first choice for this year’s outing but was beaten to the punch in reserving the pavilion by another group. To those who went I hope you had a good time in spite of the weather, congratulations to Tim and Michael on their big fish, and hope to see ya all there again next year.