April 29, 2017 Tough Fishing on Butterball Creek.
Gary Borger once said something to the effect of "Boy, if you had a dinosaur crashing around your living room, you'd sure know about it". That's how I felt on Butterball Creek this year.
Recovering from illness and injury and woefully out of practice fishing small streams, I headed to Butterball Creek on opening weekend for the first time in years. It's a small stream that doesn't suffer fools well. Brushy and rocky with skittish fish, I kept thinking back to my 2007 Chronicle as I made my approach to the water. Easily my best single day on this stream, the secret then as it is now is low and slow.
Stealth is certainly needed but so too is skill. Something that I likely took for granted in 2007. Something that I'm somewhat lacking today. The last time I fished this stream was in 2012 and my focus these last several years has been on High Sierra lakes and streams. Regardless of size, High Sierra lakes and stream are generally open, with little brush. Casting accuracy is needed but proficiency to cast in tight places is not. I'd lost the muscle memory required to know instinctively where my fly was at all times and the timing to roll cast in tight spaces without hanging up.
I'd lost that sixth sense required to subconsciously take in my surroundings, feel what the end of my line was doing and know were the fish would be.
I hung up immediately, and repeatedly in the brush. Even while bow and arrow casting. I tried slowing down but quickly became frustrated with my choice of rod and lack of skill.
I'd brought my 7ft SNP (Shenandoah National Park rod) when my Paul Young Midge (6'3") would have been a better choice. I knew this but underestimated the amount of overgrowth and overestimated my skill.
In the 5 years that had past since my last visit, the stream had changed quite a bit. There was more growth and overhang, which I guess is to be expected as trees grow. But as trees grow you might also hope the canopy above the stream to rise and that wasn't the case. Surprisingly as well, the stream was shallower in many places than expected. Perhaps it was the heavy run off from 2017's record snowfalls but one of the best runs, which used to be 2 or 3 feet deep is now 6 inches of gravel. Must of the rest of the stream was the same.
I fished through the lower section in less than 40 minutes. In the past this would have taken me hours. It was tough fishing but regardless of that, I was happy to be fishing and happy to be on this particular stream. It's always been like home and it had been too long.
I didn't see any fish. I wasn't catching. I wasn't spooking fish. With the stream having filled in and the best pockets gone, I wondered if the fish had moved on.
The upper section of the stream has always been a little "easier" to fish. Wider, with more pockets, less brush in places. I was confident....until I wasn't. I had fished through some of the best pockets and runs on the stream and only caught two tiny fish.
Then when I least expected it. On the last run of the day, in a run I'd always had trouble with, I got a near perfect drift.