(or, EXPLORING, for those who don't read hillbilly)
By Al Pugh
Maybe it's because I'd rather use binoculars to know if my neighbor is mowing his yard, or maybe it's just my hillbilly raising, but passing by a road I've never been down before is like turning down beans and cornbread. It just isn't natural.
Now, I haven't yet run across a cabin full of people that use banjos and guitars instead of talking, but I never know what I'll find. If I ever do run across those fast fingered folks, I hope they don't ask me to sit in because they'll be thinking music, and all I know how to play is football.
Most of my backroad running these days has something to do with water. Running water, as in rivers, smallmouth seclusions, bronzeback bungalows; you get the idea. Not that I have to fish so far from the crowd that I need buckskins and a five day supply of food, but hey, I'll go wherever the fish are.
Naturally, with river bronze, that means going wherever the river goes. In my position, that means it's hog heaven for 'Splorin'. All new places to go, and a great reason for going there.
Starting with the best state road map I can find, I pick out the river I want to learn more about. Asking around and/or taking Pappy's advice to keep my eyes and ears open and my mouth shut ("You learn more that way, son."), I pick up what I can about locations. Internet message boards about fishing are great for this. Then, I wait for the opportunity to take a few hours to scout the place out.
Not long ago, I had nine hours to go one hundred fifty miles, and only forty or fifty miles out of my way was a river with a great reputation. Man, oh man, I had to strike while the iron was hot! I got close by and pulled over to drag out the map to get my bearings. That's bearings, not marbles. I have not lost my marbles. I just needed to make sure I knew which way was what. After that, I did what I usually do, I followed my nose. Hey, if you ever saw my nose, that ain't easy to see around, hoss.
I found the river, but I was on an interstate grade divided highway crossing it, and that's bad. Limited access expressways are hard to get on and off when a person wants to. I got lucky though. An exit to a side road turned upstream just on the other end of the bridge. Hang that right! Check the mirror! Nope, no cops. I hope that lady behind me didn't get my tag number. I don't think so; she had little time and no warning.
OK, river's on the right and I'm running upstream. Problem is, the river's way down there and I'm up here. I have to be careful how I get down there, though. I'm not real anxious to turn around in some retired cop's driveway at the end of a dead end road.
That's not just a colorful phrase about a hypothetical situation, either. Thankfully, the gentleman was understanding while he was insistent that I get off his place. The point is, when it says "Private Property" it means it and there may not be warnings on the side of the road. Provide MORE respect to strangers than you want for yourself. I wouldn't care who turns around in my driveway, but he did, and it was his place.
Keep a sketch in your mind of each little road you go down as you break off the parallel road to the river. Be aware of turns in your parallel roads, especially gradual ones. It's easy to think the river is still about a half mile away, when it's actually five because you have been easing left while the river has been easing right. Stay as close to the river as you can to keep from getting really confused, and pay strict attention to the lay of the land. I was lucky, the road I found stayed right on top of the bank until the next bridge, and the accesses were clearly marked. All in all, an easy one. They are not all that way.
For instance, there was the time I 'splored the Rappahannock. I found that from US 29 north of Culpeper to Fredericksburg, Virginia was a pretty good stretch of water. That's a hard two-day float of river, and if you fish it well, figure three days. Anyway, I was in the area for something else with time to spare, and you know how I spent it. The state map showed two major roads bracketing the stretch from US 29 downstream, but upstream was another matter. It ran through farm land with no roads indicated anywhere near the river.
It would have taken me half my free time to run down a county map, even though that is a good idea. So I pointed the car towards the upper end of the river and took off. I found the river and turned downstream. Since it wasn't falling fast, I had to use the trees along the bank as a locator. With plenty of doubling back and head scratching later, I popped out on US 29, and eliminated that part of the river for smallies. No rocks, no pools, and a lot of mud bottom. I needed to get farther downstream.
After following the line of trees from across fields and farms, doubling back some more because of washed out roads, and slowly bearing away from the river, I found myself on a road that paralleled the river. Problem was, I thought the road should be intersecting the river. It worked out OK; I popped out at Kelly's Ford to a pretty pool and three quarters of a mile of what would be class I/II riffles when the river got down to summer pool. It was great smallmouth territory, and I knew it should get better downstream. I got going that way with the river on my left. Again, the road I was on was basically parallel to the river, but a ways away. When I started climbing, I kept looking left for a road back down to the river.
I finally found one and when I got to the bottom, instead of the river, I found a branch running right to left. No problem there, it's running to the river, everything's fine. The road started climbing again, though, and no road went to the left toward the river.
The next drop took me down to the river, and I was feeling pretty good. If you have been picturing this in your mind, you'll understand my confusion when I crossed the bridge and found the current running right to left, not left to right like the river should have been flowing. It turned out it wasn't the same river. It turned out the scale on the map wasn't real accurate for the backroads sections. It turned out the river I thought I found was still a good 3 miles in front of me. Also turned out this new river I found was a good one for smallies, too. One of the nice things about 'splorin' is the occasional bonus.
For those who are relatively new to river bass fishing, maybe this will give you some ideas for expanding your fishing horizons. Splorin' makes for a great Sunday afternoon drive with the wife and family. Of course, it may involve stopping to see the antiques in an old country store, but who says that's bad? To those who have been fishing a long time, scouting unknown places is old hat. Our fathers and grandfathers used to keep a rod in the model A, just in case they ran across something they couldn't refuse, and I'm pretty certain from talking to them that they relished 'splorin' the unknown road. I don't see why we shouldn't keep a great tradition alive.
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