This past weekend, walking a section of the AT, with my dog Hops, I had a chance to try my hand at catching fish and foraging along the trail. I was only doing a 30 mile segment over 2 and a half days, and I was going alone – no kids, no friends – just the dog and me on the trail. While I normally meticulously plan my wilderness adventures – this one was more spur of the moment. I had stared at a screen for hours on end, and been in endless video-chats. I needed to get out. I threw stuff in the bag, made a plan with the spouse to meet her and the kids at the trout pond at Amicalola falls (the base of the AT approach trail), and headed out. I didn’t go ultra-light (more on that in another post). But I used the opportunity to empty my cabinets. I took some mac and cheese, some cans of tuna, some Knorr Mexican rice, and some nuts and crackers. Enough to survive, though not enough to really enjoy it. Really, my hope was to catch some trout along the way and supplement my meal with fish.
I planned my trip to start at Dockery Lake, a couple miles off of the AT near a stocked trout pond. I’d stay one night near a shelter on the AT (maybe Gooch Gap), and the next night at Three Forks, which is this beautiful intersection of trout rivers in the Cohutta Wilderness. Three Forks is easily missed if you’re walking the AT. It’s only 4 miles in from Springer Mountain. When I previously hiked the Georgia section of the trail, we passed Three Forks within the first couple of hours, and didn’t even stop for a snack. In the years since, I’ve come to recognize this intersection of rivers as one of the most beautiful areas of Georgia. I had long been wanting to camp there.
I arrived at Dockery lake in the middle of the afternoon with Hops. I had been fishing for about 45 minutes – gotten only a nibble from a trout who didn’t want to stay on the line, and it started to rain. I figured I better start making my way to camp. I had about 6 miles to walk to get to Gooch Gap. I got to Gooch Gap around 7pm, made some mac and cheese and tuna, and chatted it up with some young kids doing a few miles on the trail, and a rambler named TomKat who talked to me about meandering and foraging his way towards Pennsylvania. TomKat was an interesting character who had spent the previous year jumping trains. He was walking maybe 2-4 miles per day at this point, and had mostly run out of food. He seemed like a reasonably smart character who had thoughtful things to say about dog training, foraging mushrooms, and had some deeper thoughts about politics and religion. Usually I end up with tons of extra food… this time, because of my haphazard packing, I only had a small bag of nuts and an extra packet of oatmeal for him. I also made him some coffee.
The next day was challenging – with a section called “Devil’s Kitchen” taking a toll on my feet and knees. Go figure. It reminds me of the time I hiked “Devil’s Gorge” in upstate NY on New Years with a close friend – we made it about 3 miles in sleet and ice before nightfall (about 4pm), falling well short of the intended shelter, and camped – 3 dudes and a dog in a 2 man tent – on the side of the trail.
I found a bunch of mushrooms that afternoon – some Chantarelles and some Chicken of the Woods that I packed up in the mesh of my pack. I rolled into Three Forks at around 4pm, and, while I had been picturing a sunny lazy afternoon fishing by the river, dreaming of trout and wild mushrooms for dinner – as soon as I got my rod out it started to pour. Something about trying to stand in an icy river to fish in the rain after a 11 mile walk was not entirely appealing. I packed up and continued onward – spending the night at Stover Creek. I was the only one at Stover Creek. Years ago, when doing the Georgia section of the trail, leaving from Springer Mountain – this was our first stop. It was where I earned the trail name “Whiskey Cough” for my propensity to carry a liter of whiskey on the trail and cough after each sip. It’s a very literal and descriptive name. I chopped up the mushrooms and added them to some miso soup and some Mexican rice. It was phenomenal and made me forget about the lack of fish (while carrying a pan, rod, and lures, adding a good 3 lbs to my pack).
It’s an interesting experience spending a night alone on the trail. It wasn’t the first time I’d done it – but something about sleeping around bears and in a violent thunderstorm in a tent is a bit harrowing. Stover Creek had lots of signs up about recent bear activity in the area. It’s nice to have the company of Hops, the dog, in these situations. For better or worse, Hops would either protect me from a bear, or, provoke a bear into attacking us. Still, having the dog was comforting.
The following day, I was renewed with energy. It had stopped raining (at least temporarily), and the trail was smooth and flat. I motored through 12 miles in about 5 hours, stopping only to collect some chantarelles for a risotto. I was powered by another opportunity to fish with my sons and catch some trout at the bottom of Amicalola Falls. My family met me at the top of the falls, and as we descended the falls… it rained hard. After the rain, we spent a few minutes fishing – my son caught his first trout – he was thrilled. I whipped out my camp stove and pan that I had been carrying for the past 30 miles for cooked it up on the side of the pond with a couple others that I caught. A crowd formed watching this strange bearded man clean and cook fish on a tiny little stove. I’m sure nobody had seen anything like this before.