Augie’s example of the search for adventure and finding something more… or less.
Each spring I take a few days and refresh the soul with a solo camping trip. Some years I go in search of the elusive Wild turkey. Some years, I fish the tidal bays of North Carolina and in other years I spent time doing nothing more than reading while soaking the warming spring sun. Each year’s trip is a little different, but one thing stays the same, it is time for me to reflect on myself and my life direction. In true Augie’s Adventure fashion there is normally a twist of some sort with each mini adventure. The following story took place a few years ago, a favorite over cocktails and is a fine example of an Augie’s Adventures.
Wilderness Camping For High Mountain Lake Brook Trout
The park ranger said the lake held native brook trout. “It is a little bit of a walk, about two miles, but last year we electro shocked the lake and found a good population of brookies,” he explained to me.
This year I was late getting away. It was mid-June before the family and work calendars could accommodate my disappearance for a few days. I had big plans for this trip. It was going to be a trip filled with jeep trails, river smallmouth by kayak, native brook trout and long mountain hikes.
My excitement grew as the park ranger explained how to find the hidden lake and the brook trout. First I would have to travel six miles on a jeep trail, where only 4-wheel drive vehicles could travel, then the last two miles would have to be traversed by foot. He also explained that the lake was on National Forest property and camping is allowed anywhere along the lake.
With my newly purchased map from the ranger station and my destination circled in red, I left the gravel parking lot of the station and headed on my way. I quickly made it through town and left civilization behind, or so I thought. A few miles farther, the wooden sign marked the pull off for the OHV and ATV trails. I turned in and looked for the trail head.
A local ATV’er was the only other person around and was unloading his ATV. After two circles of the parking area, I asked him directions to the head of the OHV trail. “It’s across the street and the other side” he explained. “It ain’t much of a trail for 4-wheel’n, more like a dirt road.”
And he was right. I made my way along the dirt road in 2 wheel drive. A few shallow mud puddles dotted the road between the small rocks that jutted out of the graded dirt road. Sure not what I was hoping for after all the work I had put into my XJ. She was expedition ready and I was eager to test her out. But the new 33” BFG MTs, lockers front and rear, and rock-rails to protect the body were definite overkill for this graded road.
Finally, up ahead I saw a promising looking hill climb. Not much by off-roader standards, but at least I might need to lock in the hubs. I stopped to lock the hubs, and then heard the familiar sound of a 4 cylinder engine heading in my direction. I looked up just in time to see a little Ford Focus top the hill and begin coming down toward me. The older woman in her late fifties complete with grey hair smiled and waved, as she passed me. Standing there I mixed laughter and curses. Some Jeep trail this was turning out to be.
I still had the solitude of the high mountain lake full of brook trout ahead. I pushed on. The trail soon ended and I crossed a paved road. The ranger failed to mention this part of the trail. After crossing the paved road the road to the lake became tar and chip. I passed the first gate and it was open just like he had said it would be. The next gate I encountered was closed, again just like he said. However the small parking area was filled with two cars and one pickup truck. “No one comes back here, huh,” I thought to myself.
I sat in the Jeep and contemplated my situation. A small trout stream ran behind the parking area. A well marked hiking trail also crossed close by. One set of mountain bike tire tracks went up the dirt trail. “Maybe they are not at the lake but fishing the stream or hiking the trail,” I talked myself into those conclusions.
A few minutes later, my adventure left the parking lot and the Jeep behind. With my pack loaded with enough food for dinner and breakfast in the morning, tent and sleeping bag, and the needed fishing gear, I headed off for a solo, mountain lake, brook trout adventure. I made mental note of the time and knowing I hike at a 20 minute mile pace, figured I would make the lake in forty minutes. By 4:30 PM I would be fishing.
The general up grade made for a pleasant walk. The old logging road wound through a mature oak wood then leaving the oaks for a newer pine forest. Ferns grew in the shade of the pines. The stresses of everyday life were beginning to fade with each step down the trail. I was finally beginning to embrace my surroundings, becoming part of the natural world around me.
When up ahead on the trail, two hikers walked around the bend. They saw me at the same moment. They broke out in laughter and turned their backs to me. A third hiker quickly appeared. Full of giggles they continued in my direction. I then saw the reason for the laughter. The two women were topless. They attempted to cover their bare breast with their arms. Wearing only small bikini bottoms and flip flops they greeted me with embarrassed smiles. “How about them boobs?” the guy stated, as he walked up.
Introductions were made and I asked him about the fishing at the lake, trying not to stare at the bare breast in front of me. “I don’t know about the fishing. I did see a few fish when I was walking on the ice last winter,” he explained. He went on to tell me of three more girls swimming at the lake and a guy on a mountain bike riding around somewhere around the lake, before they continued walking back to the trail head. I continued to the lake.
Another mile farther down the trail, a mountain biker crossed my path. We exchanged pleasantries, neither one of us stopping.
Once again I tried to immerse myself into my natural surroundings and enjoy the solitude. All too soon, I saw the break in the tree tops and knew the lake lie ahead. Before I could see them, I could here the giggling, shouting and laughter that could only mean high school girls. Standing on the dam of lake, I saw them perched on a concrete outfall structure in the center of the lake.
They soon saw me standing lakeside and changed their attitude. They became agitated having to share the lake with an old guy with a fishing rod. The adolescent playfulness ceased. They took to sitting in a circle on top of the concrete structure and talked of things only girls of that age can.
Ignoring them, I hiked across the shrub covered dam and came across a fire ring made of stone on the far corner of the dam, a well used campsite. I accepted my find and engaged in the tasks of setting up camp.
I made camp and collected firewood with the sounds of girl talk filling the mountain lake air. I hoped with the sun beginning to hang deep in the west, the girls would be leaving soon for home. Then finally I would find solitude and fish for the mountain brook trout of the lake.
The dead wood around camp had been collected and burned, I had to walk and climb the steep slope. Collecting fire wood was time consuming and required traveling a good distance from the obviously well used camp.
Even after the extra time of collecting wood for the fire, the girls remained sunning on the concrete structure in the lake. Standing there I looked on, and contemplated my next move. “The hell with it. I’m going fishing, girls in the lake or not,” I mumbled under my breath.
This is where you, the reader, may be thinking the story is about to take a turn for the best. Sorry. I left camp and waded along the shore line casting several styles of baits from heavy fast sinking spinners to small popper bugs skipping the waters surface. But after a few hours, the only strikes came from small, very small, bluegills.
Making it very apparent in their comments to each other, the girls of the lake were not happy with my presence. Soon they tired of the interruption of the old guy fishing the lake and in a huff, they packed their picnic, towels and kick boards.
Finally alone, I looked over the still water of the lake and toward the sky. The sun hung low in the sky, the remaining light of the day was under an hour. This is the time to catch fish. Now was my time to catch and marvel over the colors and circle rings of mature lake bound brook trout.
I walked up the lake edge along the step bank to the top of the lake and the spring head. The cold mountain spring water spilling into the lake was surely were I would find the trout feeding. I meandered along the faint trail side sloping along the lake. Reaching the top end of the lake, I stepped in expecting to feel the cool water of freshly escaped from the earth spring water. What I got for my efforts was shallow warm water heated by the sun. The lake bottom was covered in 2 feet of silt. My boots sank deeply into the soft mud. My legs felt the luke warm water of the lake. My mind knew this was not the place for feeding brook trout. Not willing to give in, and hoping the water was cooler a cast farther on, I continued in my quest for my mountain lake brook trout.
I had tossed only a few casts, when I hear the heavy pounding of a jogger coming up the trail. The tall lanky jogger appeared on the same beach the high school girls had used earlier. Out of breath, and breathing hard enough to be heard across the seven acre lake, he jumped into the lake and began to swim its’ length.
I watched in disbelieve. After three lake laps, he took to the lake outfall structure and climbed atop. Resting from his jog in the woods and his laps in the lake, he laid back and watched the sky and the disappearing sun. With about the amount of time it would take for him to jog back to the trail head before totally darkness, my latest intruder jumped off the concrete into the lake. Reaching the beach, he raced off again into the woods.
Again I had the lake to myself. Only a few minutes of daylight remained. I again attempted casting to the trout monsters that lurked in the lake depths. Darkness fell before I felt a tug on my line. With darkness, I returned to camp.
With no one around to witness, I used my best fire building skills and soon had the camp fire ablaze. I removed my wet clothes and held them close to the fire, drying them from my time in the lake. My boots sat on the log over the fire, drying. A can of bake beans bubbled fireside.
The light weight high dollar hiking shorts and long sleeve fishing shirt soon dried over the fire. I put my shorts back on only to realize I had held them too close to the fire and the mesh on the inside was partially melted away.
Sitting down to enjoy my dinner, the beans along the outside edge of the hot can burned the roof of my mouth. The beans in the center remained cold. Teamed with granola bars, the beans and snack bars made dinner. I sat by the fire, looking over the lake. I was finally alone.
I sat watching the flames, thinking over the day’s events. The fire faded and I retreated to my tent and sleeping bag. Inside the safety of the nylon, I listened to the sounds of whippoorwills, bullfrogs, feeding raccoons lakeside and even the snorting of whitetail deer downwind of camp. Reliving the day’s bazaar events, I faded off the sleep.
In the morning, I awoke with the rising sun but did not wet a line. I had given up on the fish of the lake. I packed camp, drank the mountain dew I had saved for the morning and made the short hike back to the jeep. I made it before the day use visitors began their day at the lake.
A few hours later, I found myself in town and I stopped in at the local fishing shop. I explained to the shop owner where the Park Ranger had sent me fishing the day before. “There aren’t any brook trout in that lake. The last time I went back there, I saw two of the biggest Rattlesnakes I’ve ever seen. That lake is a big waste of time,” he informed me.
“Now, is you really want to catch mountain lake brook trout, I’ve got just the place for you to try. First you need to take this jeep trail. You do have 4-wheel drive don’t you…..”