“You’re from where? Really? Then why on earth are you here?”
Those questions were repeated over and over to me this past week as I scoured mountain streams with fly rod in hand in both Virginia and North Carolina in search of rainbow trout, brown trout and brook trout that might be hood winked into engulfing any one of a number of hand-tied flies and nymphs I chose to best match critters that these wary fish eat.
Did you miss me last Sunday when you opened the paper and I was nowhere to be found?
I hope so, but quite honestly, I never gave writing a column a second thought because I was in 60- to 75-degree heaven.
In my defense, my wife, Karen, and I had not taken a vacation in Lord knows how long, and believe me when I say we were both way overdue.
Living in paradise 365 days of the year takes a toll on me. Up at 4 a.m. each and every day so I don’t miss a second of daylight as I get bombarded by the beauty of this area both on land and on the water.
Almost daily, some aspect of the Lowcountry knocks the wind out of me. It may be an eagle and osprey wrestling over a fish high in the air, or something as simple as a sunset that has color patterns that are almost unimaginable. Simply put, it is sensory overload.
Almost spur of the moment, both Karen and I decided we just had to go somewhere. It wasn’t until I called my daughter, Camden, a doctor in Charlottesville, Virginia, that I found out she too had the itch to get out of town and within two hours she had booked a cabin on the edge of the Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park.
I swear we were both packed, had our beagle Butterbean bathed and all my fly-fishing gear in the car lickety-split and we were on the road. With every mile that passed I could feel stress peeling off of me like a snake shedding its skin leaving it on the asphalt for some poor sucker behind us to pick up.
Meeting up with my daughter, her husband, Andrew, and my two grandchildren, Alice, 5, and Benjamin, 3 ½, we headed to the cabin. Nearing the mountains, I rolled down my window and, like a 5-year-old myself, put my head outside, eyes closed, and reveled in the cool, clean mountain air.
After months of enduring the heat and humidity here it was as if I was reborn. Oh, how I love the ocean but, folks, this was pure bliss. One thing about me that is thankfully accepted by my wife is this.
Vacation or not, if there is water nearby, she knows fishing is going to be part of the gig. It’s my magnet.
This time around, I brought two fly rods along, using the “I really want Andrew to get into fly fishing” angle, and it worked.
Not a huge fisherman, he did have an interest after one or two previous trips together, so we headed off to a trout stream in the national forest.
Wanting to make sure I had all the regulations down pat, we stopped at the park ranger station and nobody was around. Then I noticed an ambulance next to a large building and figured someone had to be there. Walking in the open bay, all the rangers were in a meeting watching a large-screen TV, and I yelled out, “So there you are!”
Oh my God, the reaction was instant and not so warm as I was hustled outside. Oh well, in hindsight it was hilarious.
Being a stupid flatlander, I fished a 5-mile section of river. All catch-and-release, the brook trout were absolutely brilliant.
The part of this hike I neglected to consider was that the last mile and a half was pretty much straight up. I thought I was going to die. To make things worse, every person I asked how far it was to the parking lot would say “ ‘bout a half mile.” That answer repeated itself for two solid hours. Lesson learned.
What a week it was. With family, in nature, deer, snakes, trout, wild azaleas, blackberries galore — the images come flooding back.
Upon leaving the cabin, Karen and I decided why rush home, so we headed to Brevard, North Carolina, for another three days.
Talk about trout, I absolutely crushed them and the locals just couldn’t figure out how I was doing it. Some secrets are worth keeping, and other than a disabled woman and Ukrainian man I befriended, those secrets are still mine.
As great as it all was, it sure is nice to get back to this paradise with a fresh set of eyes and a spark in my step.