Death Prong: Part Two

23 01 2011

Part Two of a Four Part Series about my biggest adventure in over twenty years of visiting the woods and waters of Southern Appalachia.

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Part Two

The sun’s rays were bright now, and the day was warming up almost as if it were early summer. Some small bugs, little flying triangular shaped devils, were biting our arms. We’d just popped out into the creek, stopped for a snack and a short breather after our climb down the mountain. I was sure the bugs had forewarning of our arrival. Sharp little stinging bites that were like needles and pins pricking my neck and arms and legs. Enough of this. I downed the last of my half full bottle of water, one of only two I’d brought along for the day not knowing that it would be a very, very long day.

We pushed upstream, over a small series of rocky, pocket-water wrinkles in the stream-bed and came to the first good looking spot. It was an amazingly deep, clear expanse of ice-cold water, with rusty red plank-like slabs of age-old stone running diagonally along the bottom of the pool. One of the planks made a shelf, with a deep undercut where a couple of nice trout might hide. I watched as a monster of a trout slipped under the shelf at our approach. He was at least 12 inches and shaped like a little football. I can’t remember who made the first cast up to the head of the pool, where the water slid into the deep pool with hardly a whisper…but I do remember that first fat little 7 inch trout slashing up and smashing the fly with almost an angry abandon against the blue sky above. Wriggling and splashing it came quickly to hand, and we got our first look at the trout in this creek that we’d taken such great pains to reach. It was what we’d come for – a native Southern Appalachian Brook Trout and it was as pretty a brook trout as I’d ever seen.

 

A beautiful brookie from "Death Prong"

For the next few hours, we’d climb our way up the sometimes craggy, often slippery rocks that were left bare by our drought years that many thought might go on forever. The creek was a shadow of what it had been in the past, and the rushing water chose it’s path down the gorge at the lowest points; it would weave it’s way left and right down the mountain, slowly carving deeper into the earth. With this little flow though, the effectiveness of the carving was like that of a dull butter knife on a rubber chicken. Thankfully, a year later, that trickle would prove to be our saving grace. On this day it merely made it easier to pinpoint the location of the fish among the rocks and runs.

We caught fish, and caught fish, and caught fish. Nothing bigger than 8 inches or so – but they were all shiny little gems of green and gold. Bold crimson spots with bright blue halos; the familiar “wormy” markings along the back. When we’d gently release one back into it’s element it would virtually disappear before our eyes. Even in the ultra-clear water it would be very hard for a predator to spot an easy meal because of the amazing natural camouflage the brookie wears.

There were few large pools, and none that were as large as that first one, where we first stumbled out into the creek. However, there was one run that was a little longer; stretching vertically southward in a rare flat spot near a rock as big as a bus. My buddy “Milliam” crawled his way up the left side of the run, sitting and sliding up a short ledge until he was just peeking over the rock ledge and into the heart of the pool. He didn’t say a word, although I’m sure he saw them. He was suddenly all business. His first cast produced a fish. And the second cast. And the third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh. And there were more. Many more. It’s hard to recall that pool and not remember the 15 – 20 brook trout Milliam pulled out of there on almost as many casts. They were thick in that pool and neither of us could figure out the reason that so many of them found it such a welcome home. Maybe they were all brothers and sisters,… who knows?

 

The Pool of A Thousand Brookies, Death Prong

It wasn’t long before we got to a point upstream where the creek got much smaller. It was still very fishable here for one or two anglers, but we’d been fishing for 5 or 6 hours and my knees and back were beginning to send me subtle messages that they were nearing their limit on this day. It wasn’t the easy going that we find many times in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, or in some of the South’s more open water in the foothills of the Blue Ridge range. It was crawling and climbing, hopping and jumping. Carefully negotiating the rocky stream-bed, exposed by a lack of water and so steep I wished we had felt soles on our chest packs at times, I was thinking I’d had enough adventure for one day and knew I’d have to tell Milliam soon that I needed to turn back.

We stopped for water again. It was around 6 pm I guess, and I regrettably told Milliam that my back had done all it wanted to do and that if it was ok with him we could head back downstream anytime. Milliam is a very understanding fishing buddy, and is always eager to accommodate my older-than-normal-feeling body.

I finished off the other bottle of water and watched as my brave buddy used his new-fangled “UV bottle” that supposedly killed off every evil gremlin that might be in the creek water. I’d been sick years before from some bad water – or bad eggs. We never knew which one was to blame for sure, but I never take a chance on water or eggs anymore and although I was still thirsty after finishing off my bottle of water, there was no way I was drinking any creek water that had nothing more than a little blue light applied to it. The technology was very new back then…at least to me and I was just going to wait until we got back to camp. Little did I know that we were actually more than a just a few hours and a few miles from camp. We turned to head downstream and made pretty good time back to the place we first stepped into the creek. Now, it was just a matter of heading even further downstream to meet up with the larger river. From there, we’d hike back upstream to our camp along a trail that we knew from our research and several maps was “somewhere down there.” It was a great plan. What could go wrong?

Again, on this next leg of our trip we made good time, but we couldn’t help but fish the better looking pools and runs when we could get to the side of them without spooking their inhabitants. The little trout still barely managed 8 inches at most, but they were as eager to strike our flies as any we’d ever seen and even though my back was really starting to complain, I tried to keep my mouth shut so that Milliam could continue to fish a little as we headed down toward the main river.

 

Milliam and his UV bottle share a moment on Death Prong.

We’d poured over topo maps months before our visit, sometimes talking over the phone as we researched the trip. I’d been worried that the thin, closely spaced lines near the junction of “Death Prong” and the main river were waterfalls. By about 7 pm, with the sun behind the mountains and an early dusk setting in, we heard the first of them. It was a noisy sluice-type falls on river-left, and although it was impressive and very loud, we easily slipped down the rock face to the right on the small moderately slanted drop. There are very few feeder creeks feeding “Death Prong” and the flow here was about the same as it was a mile or two upstream. The gorge, however, was widening and becoming steeper. The next waterfall was more vertical, and we managed to climb our way down it on river-left, although this was an actual “climb” this time and my back was becoming more insistent that we get this thing over with and get back on more level ground. Unfortunately, there was nothing I could do for it but push on.

The lines didn’t lie. There were at least a half-dozen more waterfalls ranging from the “sluice” type that are easily navigated to a few near vertical drops with no room to go around. Many times, water wet my back and head as we picked the safest looking way down the face of the more vertical falls. There were a few where the forest pinched the creek into a tiny area less than 20 feet wide, which made the descent more dangerous. The rocks are slick where there’s no moss and where there is moss it easily slides off the moment your foot hits it. Even though I wasn’t in the best shape, I’d had plenty of experience navigating creeks like this. Over twenty years worth to be exact, and “Death Prong” ( even at low water ) is no place for a beginning Appalachian trout chaser to test his mettle. It is a beautiful but remote place and a twisted ankle or broken leg here would be a disaster of the first order. Our pace was reduced to a crawl.

 

A very rare, easily ascended portion of Death Prong.

Eventually, another hour’s worth of descending waterfalls and my back couldn’t do it anymore. Each “drop” down, sometimes 5-10 on each falls would jar my back and the pain was mounting. Also, I began to notice that I had a headache and was feeling a little light-headed. I told Milliam that if it was possible, I’d like to try to follow the creek via the woods. We had a GPS, but for whatever reason I don’t think we bothered to look at it very much. We should have. It might have saved us alot of time and energy if we had.

We struggled to bushwhack once again through the heavy undergrowth that ran alongside the creek, although at least this time it was somewhat flat compared to our previous walk in the woods almost twelve hours before. Because we had to choose the path of least resistance, we sometimes veered sharply away from the creek. Always within earshot, much of the time we couldn’t see the creek at all. After fifteen minutes or so of working our way through the jumble of rhododendron, mountain laurel and dog-hobble, we both decided that this “easier” way was worse than climbing down the creek. It was easier on my back, but it was slowing us down now, and it was getting darker and darker under the heavy canopy of this pristine wilderness. We angled back toward the creek, and were about to break out into Death Prong once again; Milliam leading the way… when he stopped dead in his tracks and I almost walked all over him because as usual I was talking and not paying much attention to where I was going. And although I didn’t realize it at the time, I was dehydrated because I’d run out of water much earlier and didn’t have enough water for a full day on the water in the first place… and it was clouding my judgement and making my footsteps sluggish.

Milliam holding one of Death Prong's resident trout.

Then, in one of the strangest moments I’ve ever experienced while in the wild, Milliam lets out a yell.

” Hellooooooooooooooo!”

I’m breathing heavily now, and tense because of his abrupt stop. Was it a bear in the creek? Poachers that built the shooting table? Other fishermen?

I almost whispered it to Milliam since I was standing right behind him….” What is it?” I asked.

“Naked people…” he said.

“NAKED PEOPLE?” I grunted.

“Yeah. A couple. Naked.” Milliam replied as he chuckled.

We’d made it back to civilization….but our adventure was far from over, as we’d soon find ourselves doing something stupid, and I’d find myself in a desperate situation.

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PART THREE COMING SOON!

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8 responses

23 01 2011
Nate - Fishing In Pa

Great read so far! Any tips on photographing fish? That photo is great (the one of the brookie in the water).

23 01 2011
Owl Jones

I have just two tips on photographing fish…..take ALOT of shots when you can, and be very lucky. 😉 lol The water was so clear that day. I will confess to you though, that when that shot was snapped the fish wasn’t the only thing in the photo. ( ie. it’s easier to get a good fish shot with them still under your control. 😉 )

I guess then I have three tips: photoshop is your friend. 😉

23 01 2011
Clif

I’m loving it! Any tips on photographing naked people? lol

Don’t make me wait for more man. That’s a cliffhanger if I’ve ever seen one.

23 01 2011
Owl Jones

A “Clif hanger.” heh. 🙂

23 01 2011
The River Damsel

And the journey of Death Prong continues…Bring on Part 3! I’m just hoping that you were a good samaritan and shared your extra clothes!

24 01 2011
Jay

You’ve definitely left us wanting more. This tale gets more interesting as we go.

24 01 2011
Owl Jones

And just think, not only is it a true story…but I haven’t even gotten to the part about the serial killer. ( Oh no….I’m not joking…)

I’ll try to get Part Three out ASAP. What kind of jerk would keep such loyal readers waiting for another week to see how it ends? ( Part Four will be a little different – Part Three concludes the actual story.)

24 01 2011
Ty

Hmmmm, a buddy and I came up on a nude couple one time on a back-country stream. Well, she was anyway. But I digress. I think you and I need to compare notes one of these days, Owl, since I suspect we fish a lot of the same water.

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