Whitewater Fishing

While the striper remained in the cold water of the Saluda River for spawning, Dawson Jordan, Ryan Stephens, and I planned a mounted canoe trip to test our luck against the fish. We hit the road early in the morning and launched our boats neat I-26. The fog hung low over the water and you could feel the cool wind being blown off the water when at the base of a rapid. We cast our lines along the rocks and didn’t get a bite.

Dawson was the first to step from his boat into the rocks and the rest of the crew followed. We scrambled along the rocks fishing different runs and Dawson was the first to hook up. To our surprise, Dawson had landed a largemouth bass. Ryan was too ambitious in finding a rock from which to cast and ended up getting stuck when trying to cross back to the rocks where the boats were.
After fishing a bit longer, we boarded the boats and let the current take us down stream. I hooked the next fish and after a short fight, landed another largemouth. The fishing was slow compared to what we had done on this river the year before. We were approaching Mills Race rapid and after that point, this section of River would be cut off from us.
I cast my fluke lure into a cluster of rocks and was reeling steady when it was struck by a great force. It was the strike that only comes from a striper and when it pulled, the bow of the canoe turned and followed. The fish swam into the rocks and I hopped off the canoe to follow. Keeping the rod tip high and tension tight, I found the striper exhausted and perched up near a shallow rock where I caught him. The fish was not as large as I expected which goes to show the power that these river fish have when living in the strong current. I released the striper and we boarded the canoe; bound for Mills Race Rapid.
Careful not to paddle into the strong current at the mouth of the rapid, Dawson, Ryan, and I beached our boats and from a high observation point, plotted our best path. Ryan was volunteered to go first. He suited up in a life jacket and made way into the rocks. Dawson and I watched with cameras ready from our high point as the carnage unfolded. Ryan made the first two drops with ease but the third stage was sheer turbulence and only the boat made it through. Ryan scrambled onto a rock and watched the boat before moving to find his things. He lost a bag with his phone, a fishing rod, paddles, and thermos. He was collecting these items and when he reached the canoe, found that the last rod was bent. He reeled it in which to his luck, had hooked and saved his phone bag!
Dawson had hesitations but I insisted on taking my boat through. We emptied all of our gear and cranked our paddles full speed into the rapid. We took a scourge of water over the bow on the first drop but made the second with ease. Dawson was in front and he was responsible for speed while I steered from the back.
We turned into an eddy to regroup before turning and pointing the nose of our brave canoe into the rapid’s turbulent end. We rocked up and down and the boat see-sawed with the rolling water until we hit a rock head on. I saw the rock coming but the boat didn’t respond fast enough to my steering. The canoe turned sideways pitching Dawson and me into the water. I turned around and saw the canoe, bowed in half wrapped around the rock. The force of current had pulled the seats out from the hull. The current held the boat fastened against the rock and it took everything in us to break the current and let the boat float the rest of the rapid.
I swam to the canoe at the base of the rapids and to my relief, all of the damage was recoverable through some hammering! I guided the boat to land and loaded our fishing gear to continue our trek. The riverbank was lined with tubers and some kayakers. The kayakers had the gear for whitewater, water skirts, helmets, GoPro cameras, and wet suits, but they all started at the base of the rapid that we just completed.
We fished for a bit longer behind the zoo. The monkeys and elephants could be heard from the zoo, and the tubers came in crowds down the river. I only managed to hook one more striper before we decided to quit. I thought that the fish was beaten but he spat the hook right below the surface. There the striper sat suspended in the water as if he was unsure of his felt freedom, and gently disappeared into the deep.
The incident in the rapids was my cap for the day and the striper was the reason.
Fishing is not always about the number of fish caught on each trip, but about the people involved and the situations faced along the way. I am fascinated with the idea of canoeing through white water and the total commitment required as passing through. Some of the control is in our hands but we are for the most part, at the mercy of the moving water.
This is all chalked up as training for our soon to come journey down the New River.