It's good not to be skunked

CorrespondentSeptember 17, 2009 

— Sundance the family dog, like most dogs, isn't worth much, but she is good company -- most of the time.

Some old-time Carolinians might remember the highway between Little Washington and Morehead City once was famous for its abundance of polecats. About 20 or more years ago, they disappeared. Authorities attributed the decline to feline distemper.

Around our ranch, skunks are not a rare species.

We woke up last week to a new perfume tainting the morning air. It didn't take much research to discover our dog had been blasted full in her face. Two vigorous dishwashing-detergent scrub downs, followed by rinses in 40-degree water, resulted in one unhappy dog but reduced the aroma by about 90 percent.

When Gene Huntsman arrived at our summer headquarters, he wanted to get in some real wilderness fly fishing. The first thing he did was make the rounds of sporting goods dealers and restock his tackle box while seeking advice.

The latest fly fashion here is the Purple Haze, a dry fly sporting white wings, a brilliant purple floss body, hair hackles, Wolf pattern, in sizes 12 and 16. Like most fishermen, I already had a tackle box with dozens of flies of every size and shape, color and pattern that I figured I could live with. But I had no Purple Haze.

We were looking for trout that were innocent and not hook wary. That left out the creek running through the back pasture. I remembered a deep canyon about 20 miles to the southeast, not far from where we'd spent a few days last week huckleberrying.

After a hefty breakfast, we left dogs and wives behind and headed up the canyon.

It was rough country, with a single-lane Forest Service road clinging to the mountainside. We found a spot wide enough for descending logging trucks to pass our parked vehicle.

The creek was just 30 to 40 feet below, but a steep drop required scrambling over rocks, roots and fallen trees.

Swarms of butterflies, hundreds, maybe thousands, with snowy white wings and black lacy trim along the outer tips flitted in the treetops.

Flying ants, bees, flies and lace wings swarmed along the shorelines while trout in the back eddies and pools waited patiently for dessert.

Gene waded to the slick rocks, and I chose to bank fish.

These are the days designed to look up at the clear blue of mountain skies with banks of fair-weather cumulus drifting amid the mountain peaks.

And few things are prettier than a brilliant cutthroat trout rising out of clear rushing waters to snatch a waiting deceiver, the frantic fight, the release and the wild fish going free.

Though we didn't keep score, Gene claimed to have hooked and released more than 30 fish in three hours, mostly cutthroats ranging up to 14 inches, including an occasional brown.

It was great not to be skunked.

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