Here's a nice, colorful writeup of fishing on the Haw River from Stephen Leonard , used with permission. This piece was written in two parts, on April 4th and 9th, 1996.
First, as David said, right now the river is not just difficult to wade, but nearly impossible to wade. (Even in low/clear water conditions, wading the Haw is like wading on bowling balls -- a very delicate undertaking. Wading on bowling balls in a powerful muddy torrent is not just hard, but plainly stupid). As you cross the river on 64, check it out. If the water is not muddy, it is down enough to wade and you can ignore the rest of this note. If it is muddy, you cannot wade -- no matter how good you are -- so you might want to read on.
Second, there are alternatives you can pursue which I have found to be effective (or at least more effective than staying home) in conditions like these, to wit:
A small (hand-carryable) boat or canoe can be launched from the Robeson Creek Canoe Access. Head downstream around the end of the first island, and upstream in the "middle channel" once you clear the head of the island. All of this water should be fished hard to probe for bass waiting to move upstream. Fly-rodding is possible here, but you may want to probe with spinning gear (see below) to locate fish (if any), then switch to the long rod. Watch especially for bass slaughtering schools of baitfish below the heads of the islands.
In the middle channel you can beach your boat just below the first rapid. It matters not whether you beach on river-right or river-left; either side will put you on large islands from which you can gain ready access to many pools and side channels in the lower reaches of the river, and upstream for many hundreds of yards. (Hip boots are a good choice for channel-hopping.)
Here's where things get dicey: If you can stomach it, leave your fly rod in the boat. Since you cannot get in the river, it is useless; there are extremely few places the Haw can be fished from the bank with a fly-rod -- no matter how good you are.
With an ultralight (I like a 6ft rod with 4lb test) spinning outfit, a mittful of 2" white plastic shad bodies on small jigheads and/or some small Mepps Comets (spinners with plastic imitation minnows -- if there are fish there, these will catch them) and/or white Roostertails (any white or silver spinner will work), begin at the runs below the first rapids in each channel and work upstream, fishing all the water you can reach from the banks. MASH YOUR BARBS! If the fish still aren't moving in numbers, you will catch a few lone individuals here and there. If they are moving you will catch them in the same place. Thus, do not move on after a single fish is caught; it may be worth fishing over the same spot for a few minutes. Slower retrieve in faster currents; faster retrieve in slower currents. If there are fish, be ready for hard strikes and hard fights. A trout net may help you get the fish out and back in the water quickly.
Congratulations! You have now joined the Advanced Mobile Bank Maggot Club. Be prepared for stares of incredulity from the bank maggots who cannot reach the inner channels as you release fish they believe ought to be destined for the fry-pan.
As of today (Thursday 4/4) I have been down to the Haw four times in the last two weeks. I have not been able to get in the river to wade, I have not had a single strike on fly equipment, and until last Monday I did not see any fish. Since Monday I have caught four fish; one strong 16" hybrid male just above the first rapid and three 14" pregnant white bass downstream from the heads of the islands.
You can ignore the following advice, but I will arrogantly assert that you do so at the risk of disappointment: My estimate is that 3-4 consecutive days of warm weather will get them moving upstream, but it will be a few weeks before the run peaks. If it stays warm, things will peter out by mid-May; cooler weather may extend the run. Rain will probably not affect the run to the same extent as temperature, but it will have a profound effect on fishability. Be particularly attentive to localized weather patterns; radar reports are especially useful. ANY SIGNIFICANT RAINFALL ANYWHERE IN THE HAW DRAINAGE (From Burlington, Haw River, and Mebane upstream down to Bynum and Pittsboro) WILL TRASH THE RIVER FOR AT LEAST THREE DAYS! Just take my word for it -- which my fishing buddies (to our collective anguish) refuse to do.
If there is rain, you can join the kayakers and have a ball in the Haw, or pursue the bank maggot strategy -- but if you try to wade and flyfish I can virtually guarantee you will go home badly disappointed. I know -- I let myself be talked into leaving the boat home twice in the last week.
I think this is enough to keep you thinking about and busy on the Haw. If you want info on techniques for fly-fishing the Haw when the conditions are just right, contact David Perry via the listserver -- I'll be out fighting the fish.
This will be the last public entry of my Haw River fishing journal. Between my (too long) entries and those others have offered, I figure that enough information about the Haw has been floated on the listserver; if you have been archiving the material, you should have a pretty complete outline of where, when, and how to fish the hybrid run. So here goes my final contribution:
I figured out how to interpret the Haw river gauge readings at Bynum published daily in the weather report of the Durham Herald-Sun. A reading of 4.7-4.8 is maximum for wading; at this level a staff is absolutely essential, and a pair of studded treads for the wading shoes would be very helpful. A careful and confident wader can gain access to most any fishy-looking water at this point -- even if you can't go everywhere you might want to.
As of this date (4/9/96) the fish are still scarce in the river, and the numbers of bank maggots is growing. Both fish and fishermen are almost exclusively confined to the extreme lower reaches (that is, the first set of rapids) -- but remember the unusually cool weather this spring when you fill out your journal! On warm days, they (fish and men) start to move, then hold when it cools. Some of the bigger (16-18") fish are appearing, but most are in the 12-15" range. The greedier meat fishermen have yet to be seen. (You will be shocked at the extent of the poaching and the trash dumping! If you are bold, say something; if not, report to the Wildlife officers who will soon be patrolling this section of the river on a regular basis. Make sure you have your license: they check everybody, and they write tickets!)
In short, the best is yet to come.
There it is! See you on the water! I'm the guy in the Cabela's camo waders, gray vest, and floppy tan felt hat with the big grin on his face fighting a fish. (Or more likely, draining my waders after falling in again.)
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