Friday, June 6, 2014

Dark Prong

We started Saturday's adventure in Pisgah by hitchhiking on the Blue Ridge Parkway to save ourselves a shuttle and long walk. I was going to suggest that Any hide in the bushes or at least try to cover his long hair and tattoos so he could look respectable like me but when he donned a floppy leather hat and told me it was lucky I decided luck was better than hiding so out went our thumbs.

The first dozen cars to pass were all either Fit's or Prius's with their occupants holding the wheel and trying not to look at us. Then an SUV with a kayak on top slowed long enough for the passenger to say sorry and for me to see that there wasn't room inside for us or our gear. Then a Jeep driven by a young trail runner pulled over and in we jumped. He was headed for Black Balsam as well and after a few minutes of pleasant conversation we were parting ways with Andy I headed East on Mountains to Sea and the driver headed North on Art Loeb.

On the approach hike I couldn't figure out if I was way out of shape or if Andy is in really good shape and in hindsight I realize it was likely both, but we made it to the headwaters of Dark Prong without too much effort. From there we left the trail and started to follow the watercourse. After a half hour or so of walking down the creek the water volume started to increase and the vegetation started to open up. Horizon lines started to appear and and a series of cascades with perfect pools at the bottom popped up. It was east coast canyon heaven but all I could think about was when I could stop and pull out my new fishing rod.

My fishing rod  is a Tenkara rod, of course. After last months Tenkara + Canyoneering trip I've been dreaming of getting back onto a remote mountain stream to combine Tenkara and canyoneering again. Joe surprised me with a sweet Iwana rod from TenkaraUSA as a wedding gift and it made it's debut on this trip. Years ago when I first moved here I bought a traditional western style fly rod and tried it a few times but could never really get into it. The rod was too long, the reel too bulky and it didn't pack down small enough to take adventuring with me. And to top it all off it was just too involved - there was too much gear and too much to think about. The beauty of tenkara is the simplicity: just a rod, line and fly. Even the fly can be simplified by using just a single traditional pattern. I get it and am hooked.

So, there we are on the Dark Prong and all I can think about is when to start fishing. I managed to hold out for a few minutes but at the top of a nice little 15' waterfall with a perfect pool at the bottom I couldn't resist any longer and pulled out the rod and rigged up. For the most part I kept the rod extended and just casted a few times into each pool as we worked our way down the stream. The canyon for the most part with littered with a long series of small cascades, many of which made for sketchy down climbs. There was a single rappel down a very nice 60' waterfall that doesn't appear to be named or on any maps (which isn't surprising considered just how remote this stream is). I stopped to fish the pool at the bottom of the waterfall while Andy stuffed the rope. On my second cast I had a strike but missed it. On my fourth cast I landed a perfect nine inch wild brook trout. Happy with my success I then let Any play around with the rod for a little bit before we continued downstream.

I was utterly amazed at just how easy tenkara makes it fish these remote mountain streams. Patience isn't my virtue and I like to stay on the move and with my tenkara rod I was able to do just that. When the stream got choked in with vegetation or the terrain got too technical I would just collapse the rod and wrap the line in the line holder - it is a very efficient system. I shared the rod with Andy at every opportunity and at one pool he managed to get a few strikes and almost land a fish of his own.

We had been going down for two and a half hours when we came across another fisherman working his way up stream. A couple of guys wearing harnesses and helmets and carrying a tenkara rod were the last thing he was expecting to see climbing down the waterfall where he was fishing.

How far are we to the bottom? I asked.

I started up five hours ago, he said,  How far are we from the top?

We started two and half hours ago, and are moving fast. I answered.

 Neither of us was as close to our destinations as we would have liked but there was also no less spectacular of a place where we could have been. Dark Prong is a pristine blue line that snakes through one of the wildest parts of the Pisgah District. If you are looking for true Wilderness you can find it on Dark Prong.

After passing the other fisherman we figured he had already spooked most of the fish ahead of us and decided it was time to get moving so I packed up the rod and we finished up the trip in another two and half hours. A most excellent adventure in Pisgah!


















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