Thursday, July 22, 2010

Tale of Three Valleys Part II - Swannanoa

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Dawn in the Swannanoa Valley, looking south toward the Swannanoa River (treeline) and Flat Top Mountain, elev. 4340'
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So after making it down into the North Carolina Foothills - Catawba and Yadkin Valleys (see Part III) - we packed back up and headed up the Blue Ridge Escarpment that divides the piedmont region (east) from the Ridge and Valley region (west). Our destination was Asheville, aka Ash Vegas, but we "cabin camped" just east and downslope of town in the Swannanoa Valley (this is a great map). I was hoping to get in some much needed fishing and beer drinking, but I knew that the latter might end up being the dominant activity due to the harsh temperatures I've been describing lately. But it never hurts to try, or something like that.
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Being in town was fun, even with a 20lb 10-month old in tow. We hit most of the landmarks we wanted to - Jack of The Wood / Green Man Brewery, 12 Bones Smokehouse, Malaprop's Bookstore, and - unplanned - a frankly amazing Indian cafe, Chai Pani, where I had lime and salt okra fries that were so good, they nearly melted my brain. We did not get to visit the Wedge Brewery....major bummer! We've been to Asheville several times over the years, so the major landmarks (i.e. the Vanderbilts' Biltmore Estate and Chimney Rock) have already been covered. It's all music, books, beer, and BBQ from here on out!
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But back to the fishing! There are numerous abandoned/reclaimed (depending on your definition) gravel pits (now ponds) in the floodplain of the Swannanoa. Some are very much on private property, others are clearly on public property, and the official access status of many is sketchy at best. I fished a little bit in the river - a heavily stocked and heavily fished put-and-take trout stream, but it was pretty clear that no trout were in the 70-degree plus, low-water channels still running in mid-July. I also did not spot any smallmouth bass in the river. I did see numerous suckers or chubs, but tried my best not to catch them. Instead, I ended up focusing most of my fishing time on the various ponds and lakes in the floodplain. To my knowledge, I did not trespass! But that didn't make the fishing any easier.

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I had to work too hard to catch this green sunfish
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On Days 1 and 2, the large fish would only eat the live beetles that fell into the ponds, and the small fish would only take lures as hefty as this mosquito fly on a #10 hook. I saw some largemouth in the 5-8lb category, but the fish were unbelievably fat and lazy. They would casually follow lures through the water with no intention of striking. I burnt up a few really promising fishing spots just trying to get some type - any type - of significant fish to take a lure. Didn't happen. On Day 3, after another unproductive morning of fishing (3 bluegills caught and $20 of tackle lost in 2.5 hours), I was walking back to the cabin, and decided to try one of those "promising fishing spots" again......

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If you're only going to catch 1 bass in 3 days, it may as well be this bass!
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I already devoted an entire post to this warrior of a fish, so suffice to say it was an exciting, drag-running fight and I released him alive & healthy soon after this photo. I caught two more sunfish - both good size- in the same spot after releasing this beasty, but I was still so excited, I didn't even pay attention to what species they were, let alone take a photograph of them.

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Dawn breaks over the Four Brothers Knobs, elevs 3200' - 3800'
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This photo shows the log I had to stand on to cast my lure to my big smallmouth. Good luck finding it!
Isn't it amazing how one fish, one sunrise, one wave, or one stupid bird can instantly justify a trip that may have cost us hundreds or thousands of dollars to take and months (or longer) to plan?
I guess that's my reflection on this experience.

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There's only so much mountain trekkin' a baby can handle.

A few hours after catching "my smallmouth," we packed the truck and headed back down the Escarpment into the North Carolina foothills. I look forward to telling you about it. See ya then.

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