Posted by: 1000fish | November 20, 2018

The Appalachian Barbecue Tour

Dateline: June 14, 2018 – Eno, North Carolina

On my desk, just to left of a photo of my grandfather, I keep a handwritten list of fishing trips I want to take. As you can imagine, it’s a long list, but North Carolina freshwater was up toward the top. The place is full of unusual species, and my email is full of reports from people who have caught them. Of course, the collision of expectation and reality can be a problem – it’s a bad idea to base your hopes on everyone else’s best day. Still, when the stars aligned to take a trip to NC – and to do it with both Martini Arostegui and Patrick Kerwin – I figured it would be a slam dunk for dozens of new species. We all know what the Fish Gods do with this kind of hubris.

This would be a major effort – six days of road trip starting and finishing near Washington, DC. Sleep would be limited and food choices would be poor, but I couldn’t have asked for two better companions. Pat is well known to 1000fish readers as “Conan the Librarian,” and Martini needs no introduction. Between these two, the advance planning was simply extraordinary. They located treasure troves of species that might take others years to find. They claim to read sampling reports and other scientific data, but I believe there are dark rituals involved.

My sister’s birthday is June 9, so naturally, I celebrated by sleeping at her house the night of the 8th, then taking off early on the 9th to go fishing. She did get a nice Italian meal out me on the 8th, so don’t get all bent out of shape.

Day 1: Saturday, June 9 (Happy birthday, Laura.)

Just past dawn, I picked up Pat in Alexandria, and then we got Martini, who was staying in DC, likely with Kate Upton. The weather was clear, but there had been a major storm the previous week, so the first few places we checked were blown out. Crap. This was my first indication things wasn’t going to be as easy as I thought.

Well into the afternoon and well into Southern Virginia, we pulled up to Preedy Creek. We suspected it too would be high and muddy, but it was worth a look. I figured I would check out the lay of the land, then go get my water shoes if needed. It ended up being a mile down to the water, so when we got there and saw it was running clear and beautiful, I wanted to fish NOW.

Pat walks up the creek. He brought his water shoes.

Naturally, I just waded in my brand new Goretex low hikers. They smelled like cat food the rest of the trip, and even on the flight home, the poor woman who sat next to me kept checking under the seat for dead animals.

Finally, we could start fishing. Less than five minutes later, all that driving became an afterthought – I got a bluehead chub. A big, male bluehead chub, in full spawning colors.

It was vaguely uncomfortable to handle.

I was thrilled, and couldn’t have cared less that this was the only species I had caught so far. I was on the board, and with one of the weirder-looking things you’ll ever see outside of Cousin Chuck’s nightstand.

I don’t know how that one got by the editor.

Later in the afternoon, we pulled up at a gorgeous spillway in Salem, Virginia. I raced ahead of the guys and got a new species – the white shiner – and things looked promising for redhorse.

The white shiner.

Note to prospective Virginia anglers – many waters in the state require a trout license. Never mind that trout aren’t native here, and that they eat many of the cool things we want to catch.

Well into the evening, we found one more river. It was lovely – clear and full of structure. Martini and Pat headed upstream to fish a deeper pool; I poked around for micros.

I got one new one – the rosefin shiner.

Just as I photographed my fish, I heard a booming curse word word echo down the river. I turns out that Martini had landed what would have been a world record redhorse, only to have it flop out of his hand at the bank. As he often tells me, we can’t all be champions. Speaking of world records, I needed one more to tie Herb Ratner for 4th overall. In an amazing run that spanned from 1982 to 2005, Herb set 181 and paved the way for everyone who has tried to set numbers of records since, inspiring thousands of anglers, including yours truly. There weren’t a lot of record opportunities in this area, but it occurred to me how nice it would be to do it with Martini present.

It was that evening that Pat introduced us to Zaxby’s – a fast food chain that features chicken wings. It was awesome, and Martini didn’t hate it as much as Dairy Queen.

Day 2 – Sunday, June 10 (Happy birthday, Kate Upton. Martini told me this.)

Still heading south, we reached North Carolina, where I had high hopes for a Roanoke hogsucker. We fished hard, moving spot to spot, catching plenty of smallmouth bass and sunfish, but new species were not to be found. We did find a local barbecue spot – “Ace BBQ.” Lunch was very good, but the place was as literal of a “hole in the wall” as it could be and still remain standing.

Hours: “11am until we sell out.”

After eating, we kept moving to different creeks, but about half of them were too high to fish. It wasn’t until late in the day we found a perfect spillway on the PeeDee River. It was classic micro territory – long riffles, small pools, all easily wadable.

Pat, on the left, assumes the classic darter pose.

Martini gets a crushing strike from a chub.

The boys pose nicely. I had to give them cookies to sit still.

Among dozens of fish, I got two catches of note – the redlip shiner and the Carolina fantail darter. The species count for the trip had reached six; they weren’t as easy as I had hoped, but they were good species, and I was learning a lot from hanging with two experts.

The redlip shiner.

The Carolina Fantail Darter. Not a common species.

And another nice bluehead chub.

We celebrated with surprisingly good Mexican food.

Day 3 – Monday, June 11 (Happy birthday, Jacques Cousteau.)

We spent the morning driving from promising spot to promising spot, only to find each one muddy and high. It’s a big state, and it takes a while to get around, so we didn’t do any actual fishing until the afternoon. Martini did add some excitement to the proceedings – I thought I was being funny by driving away when he was out of the car scouting, but he leaped on the roof and managed to “hood surf” until we were laughing too hard to drive. Kids, don’t try this at home.

 

On the way to check another small stream, I happened to notice a sign marked “116th Infantry Regiment Memorial Highway.”

This is near Bedford, Virginia, home of the National D-Day Museum, and even though I am quite the WWII history buff, it hadn’t occurred to me we would be in this area. I had a quiet moment for these brave men – “The Bedford Boys.”

The 116th regiment of the US 29th Infantry division led the assault on the western portion of Omaha Beach – the landing depicted in “Saving Private Ryan.” US casualties were unimaginable. Because this was a Guard unit, most of the troops had grown up together in the same small area, and when the next-of-kin telegrams started coming in, one Western Union operator – Elizabeth Teass – took all of them.

19 men from Bedford had been killed, and she knew every single one of them.

Omaha Beach was also where my Uncle Ted, now 94 years old, began his war. We are glad to have him around, still sharp as a tack, but despite a glass case full of medals in a quiet corner of his house, he will tell you that the real heroes never made it off the beach. We owe a lot to this generation.

Later in the morning, we waded up a small tributary stream and found warpaint shiners.

It is always wonderful to find a shiner that can be identified easily.

As we drove through the countryside in search of the next creek, we became hungry. This meant that I began searching for a Dairy Queen, and the guys began searching for anything that wasn’t a Dairy Queen, including road kill. We reached a compromise – The Pedalin’ Pig BBQ.

An average BBQ, according to my expert companions. 

The name was a bit of a mystery, because if pigs really could ride bicycles, they would be a lot harder to catch.

I appreciated their equal-opportunity approach to the gluten crisis.

After lunch, driving through some gorgeous countryside (and the place is loaded with gorgeous countryside,) we spotted an interesting river and decided to stop. This was one of the few totally random spots we hit, and it paid us back with a bonus new species, the mirror shiner.

The Linville River, North Carolina. We did not see Major Burns. (Obscure MASH reference.)

The mirror shiner.

Our next stop was a country park, that had a stream that was positively stuffed with greenhead shiners, so the count crept up again.

They’re called greenhead shiners because whitefin was already taken.

We finished the day at a mosquito-infested boat ramp on the Catawba River. We caught a whole bunch of shiners that looked like they had to be something new – I was guessing as many as half a dozen. But as we dug through Petersen’s guide that night, it became clear that this was not the case. The only new one was a greenfin shiner.

This pleased me, but realistically, most of the shiners we caught fit ALMOST EVERY DESCRIPTION IN THE DAMN BOOK.

This is when I finally lost my patience with the current state of shiner identifications, and I am proposing, for the sake of my sanity, that we combine them all in a single species – the “Nondescript Shiner “Notropis nondescriptus.” It will be as follows –

“Silver or some other color. May be darker on the top, unless it isn’t. Has scales, which can be counted as a whole or fractional number. Generally has a tail and some combination of fins. Two eyes, usually on head, and a mouth, typically found near the nostrils, unless there are no nostrils. Upper labial surface in close proximity to lower labial surface. In most cases, found under water, preferring aquatic conditions that are shallow, or deep, and either still or running at some speed.”

Day 4 – Tuesday, June 12 (Happy birthday, Jim Nabors.)

I had been making a pain of myself for three days, constantly asking Pat “Are there redhorses here?” He would smile patiently and say “I have no idea, but we hit the good redhorse spot on Tuesday.” Well, it was Tuesday.

In the morning, on the way to our main spot, we stopped at a few rivers. Pat and I both got nice golden redhorses, but we were looking for exotic stuff.

It was nice to get some decent-sized fish.

It was mid-afternoon when we finally pulled up at the Green River, and I was beside myself. We knew there were brassy jumprock, v-lip redhorse, and notchlip redhorse right in front of us. Truth be told, I would have been ecstatic with any of the three. I was grumpy as we set up, as the morning had not been spectacular, and I made things worse on myself by choosing a swim in much faster water than where Pat and Martini were fishing. (I always picture these fish as faster water critters.) I got a smallmouth bass or two in the next hour, but then Martini and Pat landed a couple of larger fish and (reluctantly?) waved me over.

I started up by the bridge, but the guys let me in on their fish.

We spread out on an outside bend where we could cast into the main current or go shorter into stiller pools. Moments later, I started getting classic redhorse bites – pump, pump, pump – and I was in to a decent fish. This would be my Brassy Jumprock, a fish that is acknowledged to be a discrete species but has not been formally ID’d, so I count it on the list (#1796) but it wouldn’t be eligible for a world record as yet.

Pat’s Brassy Jumprock

Martini’s brassy.

My brassy. Pat gently mentioned that there were indeed redhorse in this spot.

I saw the guys catch the other two target species, so I was fairly wound up – and two Red Bulls didn’t help. After what seemed like hours but was actually more like 8 minutes, I landed a notchlip redhorse, a rather rare member of the family.

The notchlip. Martini’s was bigger, and this bothers me.

As a matter of fact, Martini’s was a world record. He reminded me that we can’t all be champions.

About 45 minutes later, I got a large v-lip redhorse, which was not only a new species, but was also a most unexpected world record – #181. Just like that, I was tied for fourth overall. It had been a very long journey that kept seeming impossible, but Martini had been a constant source of refreshed motivation, and on a muddy riverbank in North Carolina, we had done it. I was there when Martini passed the same milestone in Wisconsin a few years ago.

World record #181.

It looks bigger in this photo, but I have a dumber look on my face.

We spent the rest of the day just fishing. We caught at least a dozen more redhorse, and the occasional softshell turtle, which are faster than you think. It was that perfect afternoon where everything came together, and just one of these makes any trip worthwhile.

I can’t explain this photo. Martini may just be kissing the ground because he got out of the car safely. My driving was a bit off most of the week.

We rewarded ourselves that night with the best meal of the trip – Mo’s BBQ, in Forest City NC – I highly recommend it. More importantly, Martini and Pat recommend it, and they are quite expert  on these matters. We drove well into the evening, and it is at these times that the dynamics of three different personalities who have been in close proximity for five days can go horribly wrong. But they didn’t. Martini’s constant witticisms, often at my expense, matched perfectly to Pat’s humor, which was like Cousin Chuck’s honeymoon – unexpected, dark, and hysterical. We laughed until the early hours.

Day 5 – Wednesday, June 13 (Happy birthday, Olson twins. I always liked Mary Kate better.)

Things began well. We started in a small city park where Pat suspected a few species were available. My very first catch was a new one – the whitefin shiner.

#1799 on my lifetime list!

Pat and Martini got some kind of killifish that eluded me, but I forgave them, because while they were doing that, I poked a bait around some downed trees and stumbled into a flat bullhead. That new species leaves me with only one more bullhead (the spotted) to complete my collection. More importantly, this was my 1800th fish species – another milestone with Martini, and as you recall, #1700 was caught last year with Pat. These guys are good luck.

The flat bullhead. On to 1900!

Every road trip has some kind of encounter with a bewildered local, and this would be no exception. A gentleman from a nearby house walked up and asked “What are you guys doing?” I told him we were fishing, although he may have eventually figured that out himself from the rods and reels. He looked disturbed, thought for a moment, and said “I hate to tell you this, but I’ve lived here for 30 years and there are no fish in this creek. So what are you doing?” I again explained that we were fishing, looking for the smaller species that live in the area. I offered to show him pictures of the fish. He was not impressed, and responded “As I said, I’ve lived here 30 years and there are no fish in this creek, so it would be a picture of nothing. So what are you doing?” By this stage, both Martini and Pat had caught small fish and shown them to the guy, but he wandered away unconvinced. He likely believes, to this day, that we were terrorists or drug dealers and he had scared us off. Yay for him!

Our next move went badly. We went a couple hours out of the way to some lake, which was supposed to contain some sort of rare micro. It never appeared, but the more it didn’t appear, the more I believed it would shortly. We were there for hours, mostly because I wouldn’t leave. It was awful.

Once Pat and Martini finally dragged me away, we made a lengthy run to Durham and finished the day in the Eno River. It was a gorgeous place, and looked to be brimming with all sorts of interesting stuff. The wading shoes came out, and each of us headed to a different part of the river to explore. I caught dozens of fish, including chub after chub that I thought had to be bull chubs, but it is so difficult to tell these from blueheads (unless they are spawning males) that I just gave up and enjoyed the water. I got smallmouth, channel catfish, bullheads, and a bunch of micros – one of which turned out to be a spottail shiner, my 16th species of the trip.

It’s got a spot on its tail.

We dropped Martini at the airport that night, and early the next day, he would be on his way back home. Pat and I would stick it out for one more morning, then drive back to DC

Day 6 – June 14 (Happy birthday Donald Trump and Boy George. Don’t make me choose.)

Pat and I had a long drive back to DC in front of us, so we only fished a couple of hours in the morning. We focused on a couple of smaller creeks as we worked our way north, and in between loads of beautiful panfish, I accidentally scraped up one final, unexpected species – the Roanoke Bass.

This was my 17th species of a fantastic trip, and also completed my collection of the Ambloplites genus – Rock, Shadow, Ozark, and Roanoke Bass. On to Tetrapturus!!

We made good time up to DC. In most cases, it would have been four hours of counting down the miles, but with Pat in the car, it was too short of a time to plan the next four or five road trips. Pat must know at least a hundred more species to catch in the general region, and the only regret I had as I dropped him off is that we’ll never get every single one of them. But we’re going to start with the tangerine darter next spring, and go from there.

Steve

 

 

 

 

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Responses

  1. Congratulations for getting to #4 on the IGFA record list. #3, #2, and #1 will likely be a little more challenging. 3 against 1 is tough even for a old hockey jockey. Good luck. Hope to see you soon. Wade

  2. […] The rest all ended up falling into the “nondescript shiner” category. […]


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