Slow Morning on the South Mills (With a Little Payoff at the End)
For the last couple of weeks, I've been fishing almost exclusively on delayed harvest waters (North Mills, Little River and the East Fork of the French Broad). While I admit that I've come to enjoy catching fish in genuinely huge numbers, on some level, it still just doesn't seem all that sporting. Today, I decided I needed a little change of pace, so I headed over to the South Mills hoping to get in on a little wild trout action.
From the beginning, things didn't go quite as planned. It's been two years since the one and only time I've hit the South Mills, and back then, I wasn't the one driving (and we hit the river from the 276 side). As it turned out, merely finding my way to the water proved to be a significant challenge. My first attempt took me down South Mills River Rd. It seemed the logical choice at the time, but alas, while the road runs right by the river, it turns out that there's no public access at all along it. I tried asking for directions at local filling stations, but it was generally agreed that there wasn't public access.
With immediate local knowledge failing me, I was forced to head down 280 to the Davidson River Outfitters and get directions. The guys at the shop showed me my access options, and I decided to head up from the Turkey Pen side, rather than down from 276. This was probably not the course of wisdom in my poor little Civic hybrid, which bottomed out with a hideous scraping sound roughly every 50 feet on the way in. Ultimately, despite leaving Asheville before 8, it was 9:30 by the time I managed to get a line wet.
Sadly, for two solid hours, getting a line wet was all I really managed. I didn't catch a single fish. I didn't hook a single fish. Heck, I didn't even manage to spook a fish. I tried pretty much my whole arsenal: inline spinners in every size and color configuration I had available, dare devil spoons, Rapalas that I'd jury rigged to single-hook status, tube jigs, crappie jigs, bubble casting with nymphs and dries, Creme Lure trout bugs, and my go-to weapon for recalcitrant trout when live bait isn't an option, jig-rigged soft plastic crawfish (I've been absolutely killing it with these on the DH waters). No dice. Not even a sniff or a follow.
Around 11:30, I came to a nice pool tucked into a bend in the river. The pool was obviously someone's swimming hole, and it matched the description of the spot where a co-worker of mine said he'd caught four or five 14-16" browns recently. I decided that this would be my last stop on the river. If I didn't catch something here, I was going to head down the road and hit up the West Fork French Broad and see if I could hit on a holdover brown or two.
Taking stock of the pool, I noticed large numbers of what looked like some kind of dace or perhaps fathead minnows. I reached deep into my bag of tricks, pulled out a 2.5" gray soft plastic minnow, rigged it up on a darter head, then whipped out my handy dandy Sharpie and just drew a black line down the middle of both sides of the bait. I'd already noted that, as the current entered the bend of the pool, it struck against a ledge and created a significant corner eddy.
I tossed my bait back into the eddy, and let it sink. Twitch. Twitch. Twi...FISH ON! At first, it really didn't seem like much of a fish at all, but then, it suddenly surged away and I realized I had a heftier fellow on there than I'd initially thought. As I usually try to do any time I realize I have a big fish on, I plunged in downstream of the fish to try and cut him off in case he tried to ride the current. He gave me two more big drag stripping upstream surges, then tried to run down the river. But, of course, I was waiting. Furiously cranking the reel, I was just barely able to keep pressure on him. Then, with my best sniper shot of the season, I netted this bad boy about a quarter of a second before he managed to throw the hook.
He made my day. My week. Heck, my whole season. I've caught bigger (certainly heavier) trout this season, but those were stockers (and, in a couple of cases, lake fish). This was far and away my biggest streambred fish, and, for my money, the prettiest fish I've ever caught. For perspective's sake, the cooler is 21" wide.
- Freshwater Fishing