Fixed-Line Fly Fishing Trip Reports Video Warmwater

Trip Report: Haw River, North Carolina

When I drive across a bridge it always scares my wife a little bit. It is a given that I am going to slow down and slide over to hug the white line a bit. If there is water down there then I just have to see it. Do you know what I mean?

Over The Bridge

A few years ago I was crossing North Carolina on US Hwy 64 and I crossed a bridge. What I saw below was exciting. I made good mental notes about the location. For several years, I have been plotting to get out there in the water. This river isn’t in my neck of the woods and it was clear that I needed a “local” fishing buddy to help me out.

Haw River Trip Report - Fishing Map

Lucky me. A friend that I’ve fished parts of the Blue Ridge mountains with lives very close. I put a buzz in his ear about my interest in this water and that was all he needed to start getting a plan together. In this case, Jim Tignor lives 15 minutes from the Haw River in Chatham County. He got it all set up for us. Note: pick your fishing buddies wisely on more than just angling prowess.

Hit The Road

The Drive In
An overcast morning as the day trip starts.

I hit the road at 0700 that morning with my trusty companion coffee mug and a cooler of carrots, apples and turkey roll-ups. Some fresh and easy travel food. My streaming music service was playing a favorites playlist I made. There was Ted Hawkins classics like “Groovy Little Things” and “Bad Dog” and a mix of Langhorne Slim with songs like “Land of Dreams” and “Wild Soul”. Incidentally, the two and a half hour drive zips by when you are groovin’ to tunes that you feel in your bones.

Jim and I met up in a secret parking area. We looked around casually and discretely shared a secret handshake. Now we could get to business. We ogled a few flies and discussed options to use for the smallmouth bass we expected to find in the river. I laced up my 5.10 Water Tennies and Jim donned his Montbell Sawer shoes and we are ready to go.

Hit The Water

Haw River Trip Report - Graffiti Bridge
Haw River: graffiti bridge

We headed off for the water. There was an old road bridge we used to cross to the other side. The surface had been re-purposed by local “artists”. It provided a unique approach to the water that I’ll remember for a long time. At then end of the paved surface, we slipped to the left over the guard rail and descended a sandy trail to the shore line. Feet wet.

The water this day was a little stained which Jim explained as par for the course. It made sense knowing that flat slow rivers take much longer to flush and settle the sediment turned up in the water after a rain. This made navigating the thigh deep water a bit tricky on the slick rock bottom. Jim took an immediate liking to the grass line along a sliver of sandbar. I turned downstream and addressed some soft water under a tree line.

The Dance

At that point, we were dancing our way through the water. When he moved left, I shifted right. As he worked around a rock formation, I pushed through the current to reach more rocks. We were close, but respectfully not on top of each other. Always within speaking distance.

Haw River Trip Report - Jason Sparks
Haw River: Jason Sparks pulsing a fly on the back side of this rock formation

We started off with bushy flashy smallmouth bass flies that we both were convinced were going to roust a leviathan from the deep. I may have said out loud “it’s cool if my rod breaks on a really big fish, that would be a helluva story”. My first fish of the day was a small largemouth bass. Then Jim hooked up with a smallie or two. The fish weren’t jumping on our flies. To summarize, the “catching” part of the exercise was really slow.

Getting Out With Friends

We all are a part of some social networking circle. We all have “online friends” that we really like. I’m not discounting that at all as I have many myself. Something does change though when you are together in real life having a real experience with people. We probably need more of that in our days.

Haw River Trip Report - Jim Tignor
Haw River: Jim Tignor in pretty convinced there is a big fish lurking at the edge of the grass.

Jim and I have been together on fishing outings a half dozen times now. Each time, we both learn a new bit of information about each other. In the water, there was some discussion about our current careers, and the jobs we had in the past. We chatted a bit about our wives and some vacation dreams we each had. The most memorable for me will be that we talked about our children.

We shared about how the coronavirus interrupted their on-campus education. There was discussion of some hardships they are facing as young adults in this pandemic environment. We agreed that they are doing very well at holding it all together and finding new constructive processes and routines for their days. No doubt, we are both very proud of our children.

Those aren’t topics for a couple of anglers that are “fishin’ buddies”. Those are conversation points in friendships. We met a few years ago through a common interest in tenkara and fixed line fly fishing. That isn’t what made us friends. Spending time together and enjoying the company is what did it. Everyone should understand, embrace, and seek out healthy friendships like this.

largemouth bass
Haw River: largemouth bass

When You Know What You Don’t Know

We did get some fishing done during the day along with the gabbing. There was voiced dismay about the stained waters and our inability to fire up the smallmouth bass. We just couldn’t find them at all. There was no leviathan. Soon we both admitted defeat against the smallies. I won’t say who it was, but someone did say “we just don’t really know what we are doing”. There is truth and a great lesson in that statement. Knowing what you need to do as an angler changes across species, types of water, types of flies, and lures. For smallmouth, we both need to learn more to increase our angling skills.

Bluegill
Haw River: bluegill

Forecast: Chance of Rain

During the day, we saw several large storm clouds at a distance float through the sky. We had wondered if we would be spared an interaction with them. Around two o’clock, from upstream and coming slowly toward us was a dark ominous cloud tumbling through the sky. Jim and I watched it closely for thirty minutes. There was no thunder and no lightning. In fact, it didn’t appear to be rain with it. We thought it was going to float right on by.

That was not the case. As the dark cloud reached us, I caught a white crappie the size of my palm. Then the bottom of the cloud opened up and started emptying buckets. We laughed a bit and moved under the overhanging treeline. The rainfall lasted about 15 minutes and then moved on downstream. I was able to capture a few seconds of video. Have you ever been caught out on the water like this?

Haw River: a heavy rain catches us in the water

Adjusting With The Conditions

After the rain passed over we worked out from under the trees. I think by this point we had both switched to a more modest sized kebari styled fly and were targeting panfish. We worked the perimeter of the rocks and cast back to the exposed tree roots along the bank. The water went from stained to nearly opaque as the sediment levels increased. The storm had really churned the water over upstream a good bit more that I would have thought. In the waist deep water, I banged my shins and knees on underwater boulders more than once. They just could not be seen.

We laid out casts across the current and upstream as we rounded out a big loop we had made in the water. Unfortunately, the fish activity was all but nonexistent after the rain and we were just having some casting practice. As a matter of fact, I’m sure you’ve had days like that also. It didn’t matter too much actually, we were in the water and we were having fun.

Haw River Trip Report - View from Above
Haw River: Chatham County

When To Say When

After nearly six hours on the water we found ourselves back at the access point. We were fatigued and had taken on more sun that we expected. I probably should have hydrated more while we were out there. As we stepped out of the current onto solid ground we paused a moment to get our legs back. Looking out over the river I silently thanked it for permitting safe passage for the afternoon. That is something I started doing in the cold waters of the Blue Ridge mountains. It is a quick nod of appreciation between me and the river.

Jim and I sat at the cars for another hour just resting, and talking. The apples and the nut mix started to revive us a bit. I drank down thirty ounces of water. We talked some more. Somewhere near this point we both agreed to do it all again. Moreover, we definitely had homework relating to smallmouth bass and big river fishing. Assignment accepted.

Haw River Trip Report - Jim & Jason
Jim and Jason at the end of the day.

When the Drive Home Is Easy

The drive home from outings like this is sometimes hard because you are tired and maybe you just don’t want it to be over. Actually, I was energized and refreshed. The break from my homestead scenery in these coronavirus months was much appreciated. I gnawed on a small bag of salt & pepper carrots as the car cruised down the highway.

The Cotton Jones (Michael Nau) playlist was started on the radio. I chose a back road route home instead of the highway. Another nice change in scenery. Listening to “While You Stand”, “Blood Red Sentimental Blues” and “Gone The Bells” was like putting the car in autopilot. It just carried me home.


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2 comments

  1. There was a questions asked about my “soundtrack” for my adventure. I’m happy to share some of the story with those artists.

    1. Ted Hawkins. I just loved this music. There are some excellent covers of old standards that he has done, but his original lyrics are what hooked me. The first time I heard him was in 1992. I was stationed overseas in the Navy and had limited exposure to music. I used to buy CD’s out of the discount bin for $1.92. One of those was an album called “The Spirit of Venice Beach”, which was a compilation of buskers that performed at the famous beach. I have always loved the memories of listening to that album. Ted performed “Groovy Little Things” for it and it resonated with me. I have carried that song with me for 28 years now. About 17 years ago, I further discovered him when I purchased several of his CDs. I really like this artist.

    2 Langhorne Slim. I heard this one for the first time about 7 years ago while living in Boone NC. I was listening to the local radio station broadcast by Appalachian State University students. That song was “Electric Love Letter”. He too also plays a style of music that I can dig. The clever lyrics and rhythm of his music talk to me. I’ve have him and the band in rotation since then. Two to three hours drives by myself go by quickly when I am belting songs out the songs.

    3 Cotton Jones (Michael Nau) was introduced to me about three years ago. My oldest child said that I should listen to “I am the Changer” by Cotton Jones. When she heard they song, she heard my vibe and soul in it. When I heard it, she was exactly right. That song was a slow melodic cadence that soothes my heart. Opening up into the rest of the catalog revealed great lyrics and easy listening. The group is led by Michael Nau and his wife, Whitney McGraw. There is some solo work that follows in the same motif. These songs are also cemented to my playlist cycle.

    Thanks for the question. It is nice to be able to share additional backstory on small aspects of the original post.
    -Jason.

  2. Well, the reason you couldn’t find any smallies in the Haw is that there are none. Certainly not in that section. I know because I live on the river and have fished it regularly for more than a decade. Looks like you were wading about a mile above my place. Small world.

    While structurally it looks like smallmouth heaven, it’s much too warm of a waterway to sustain them. My Haw target is always largemouth and there are some beasties in the river if you know where to look. As you found out, the Haw’s no easy wade, especially when the water’s not clear. To all that fine music, you were probably dancing the Haw River Two-Step. But it can be worth it.

    And, as you also found out, it’s a touchy river when it comes to weather, making hitting good conditions a matter of luck unless you live close by. A good downpour will ruin things for a week; a prolonged rain for much longer. It rises fast and it dirties quickly. Sadly, that’s become more and more a problem as weather patterns are changing and development along the river escalates. The Haw between the 64 and 15-501 bridges has changed dramatically over the past several years, scoured from multiple small braids to wider, sediment-filed channels, and it breaks my heart.

    It’s still a beautiful place, once you get away from the bridges. Glad you enjoyed your day. New friends and new waterways are always a joy to discover.

    Cheers!

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