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Wart’s Soda Bread


Back in the 1920’s, Wart McGee, a friend of my grandparents in North Alabama ended up in Alaska where he owned and ran a roadhouse for a number of years. Now a roadhouse in Alaska is an altogether different business than one in Alabama, Ohio or Virginia. In Alaska, the roadhouse fulfilled the need for a grocery store, feed store, hotel, blacksmith shop, bar and grill, and many other things for the traveler, trapper, miner , hunter or other ne’er do-wells that found themselves in an awfully hostile environment.

Wart, a self-sufficient son of the South, took to running the roadhouse like he’d been doing it all his life. However,in a letter to my grandfather, he confessed that his cooking skills were somewhat lacking and he was working on improving them and had “writ home to family for some recipes and cooking advice.” He later started sending recipes to my grandfather for my grandmother to try in their home. Wart’s cooking skills evidently improved well enough that my granny passed his recipes on down the family tree and many are being used today.

The Irish heritage of Wart shows through in his soda bread recipe. In the letter that contained the recipe, Wart mentioned that the bread was a favorite at the roadhouse and that a trapper, Three Finger Jack Driscoll always wanted a fresh loaf to take back out on the trap-line with him.

  • 1 ½ cups buttermilk
  • 3 cups flour
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 tbsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. soda
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 ½ cups raisins

Mix the ingredients, except buttermilk, in a bowl. Add buttermilk slowly and stir until the milk is absorbed. Dump out on a floured board and knead thoroughly. If sticky, add more flour. Place on a greased cookie sheet and cut across the top of the dough. Bake at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes.


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Mr. Roy’s “Two-Fer” Axe Tips

Mr. Roy’s “Two-Fer” Axe Tips

It was a hot, sultry, summer day deep in the woods near Kelly Creek at the far corner of the county. There was little breeze and a lot of bugs, not to mention the copperhead  I almost stepped on as I climbed down from Mr. Roy’s battered and beaten old truck and headed into the woods. Faded and rusty, the old truck looked near as old as Mr. Roy but probably not in as good shape. The green paint had faded into a faint shade of its’ original color with rust taking over as the predominate color. Probably in his seventies at the time, Mr. Roy cut a slim profile in his well worn overalls now sky blue rather than the dark denim they originally were when he bought them at the crossroads store near his small, hardscrabble farm.Image

An old family friend, Mr. Roy told me he would be “much obliged” if I could help him “lay-in” some firewood for the winter. I jumped at the chance as I never failed to learn from his lifetime of working a farm and logging even though the lessons sometimes took years to be absorbed or put into practice. That particular day, however, his lesson on sharpening axes was absorbed quickly and has served me well over the years.

From a few feet away, he watched  me labor with the file to renew the edge on the large single bit axe as I braced on the truck’s tailgate. Thinking I was through, I put the file away and said “let’s go”. Shifting  his chew of plug tobacco to the other jaw, he said “you ain’t  near through yet , boy.”

With a quick step belying his age, Mr. Roy spun and went to the cab of the truck where he pulled something from under the seat and walked back to the tailgate.” Normally, I try to learn you something when we’re together but today I’m gonna give you a ‘two-fer’ and I ain’t  gonna charge you for it neither”, he said with a look in his eye that told me I’d better pay attention.Image

“Most folks think they can file an axe and git to cuttin’ wood without doing nothing else to the edge and you can but it don’t work near as good as when you hone it and strop it”, said Mr. Roy. With a hand rough and gnarled and aged by years of hard work in the sun, he showed me a round sharpening stone and an old brown leather belt, both of which had seen a lot of use.

“Now, feel the edge of that axe with your finger ‘fore you go to using that stone”, asked Mr. Roy. After checking the edge, I was handed the round stone and told to work the edge with just the right pressure.

Before I could ask, he said “don’t worry, you’ll know when the pressure feels right. Just work each side of that blade until the rough edges from the axe are gone.”

“That stone has took that rough edge off the axe and now we’ll strop the edge and make it smooth as a baby’s bottom,” he said as he handed me the  well used belt.  Not happy with how I started stropping the edge, he quickly took the belt and axe from me and said “  watch me do it proper ”. Deftly, he stroked the edge several times on the belt to demonstrate and handed me the axe and belt back to me with the admonition to “finish her up”. After several strokes along the belt, Mr.Roy took the axe from me, ran his thumb along the edge of the blade, grinned his tobacco stained grin and said, “I reckon that’ll work, boy”.

Mr. Roy’s approval meant a lot to me and I feel sure I puffed up some and stood an inch or two taller when Mr. Roy told me that because compliments from him did not come easily.

It has been a lot of years from then to now but the lesson is still just as valid for today’s outdoorsman, if you haven’t used a circular stone and leather strop to complete sharpening your axe, then you need to for maximum performance of your tool.

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Hazel Creek Baked Beans


Hazel Creek, in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is accessible by a boat ride across Fontana Lake or a seven mile hike to reach the trailhead where the creek flows into Fontana Lake. Going across by boat allows us to take a garden cart in which to carry our gear including full-size tents, cots, ice chests and our dutch oven and large cast iron skillets. The cart is good sized and rides on bicycle tires and makes life much easier in the backcountry. When guide and outfitter Steve Claxton (www.steveclaxton.com) sets up a camp like this, he calls it the Hazel Creek Hilton and it is truly that, in terms of backcountry camps.

Great food is a given on these  trips and Hazel Creek Baked Beans are usually cooked on the night we have the inch thick pork chops and fresh corn along with apple pie cooked in my dutch oven. Sourwood honey is the secret ingredient and it’s a bad day in camp if we don’t have some in the grub box.

1 small bag of pinto beans

1/3 cup chopped onions

½ pound salt pork or 10 bacon strips ( Cut pork or bacon into small pieces)

1 tsp. dry mustard

2 tbsp. sourwood honey

Soak beans overnight in cold water. Simmer in the dutch  oven until tender. Place all other ingredients in the dutch oven and bake until onions have cooked. I add salt and pepper to taste after the beans are ready to eat. Serves 6-10 depending on the appetites of those in camp.

A variation is to cook the onion and bacon together and then add to the beans for baking.

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Five Tips for More Summer Bass

Here it is August and I am getting a strong feeling of déjà vu. The temperatures are in the upper nineties, the humidity way too high and the streams feel like you have stepped into a warm tub of water. This is the scenario now just as it was last summer in my neck of the woods. This is the time to be on the water at daylight and fish for three or four hours or fish the last several hours of daylight in the evening. Wade fishing a stream will keep you cooler than floating in a canoe or fishing a lake from a boat during the heat of summer. Under the conditions mentioned above, I have had some good days astream during some bitterly hot summer days. Here are some tips to help you beat the heat and be more successful this summer.

First, you must remember the best time to go is whenever you can get away. Don’t let the heat beat you.

Wear lightweight and loose fitting shirts and pants that will wick your perspiration off and help keep you cool by evaporation. Also substitute a brimmed hat of some type with a mesh crown to better keep the sun off and to allow heat to escape. Lighter colored clothing will also reflect the heat better.

Secondly, be open minded as to where the fish might be holding. Normally you might fish areas that are more oxygenated or deeper where the water might be cooler. Recently, I was wading a stretch of water that had a thirty foot sandy bank that looked to be only a foot deep and I didn’t think a bass would be that shallow on a ninety- six degree day so I fished on upstream. Coming back down the stream forty-five minutes later, I decided to give it a shot since it did look fishy. As soon as my blue Boogle Bug landed just a few inches off the bank, a bass exploded on it. After a surprisingly hard fight(for the warm water), I lipped a one and a half pound spotted bass. Further down the bank, I caught two more spots in the pound and a quarter range.

A third tip would be to put up your seven or eight weight outfit until fall. The streams are shallower, the water clearer and the bass more spooky. Use your five or six weight trout outfit and fish smaller leaders and bass flies. G Loomis and Ross Worldwide are two companies making specialty rods for bass in lighter line weights that proving to be quite popular. They will handle bass flies better than a trout rod and deliver a better presentation with the bulky bass bugs.

For the fourth tip, I would scale down my fly size to cast better with the lighter line rod. Rather than the large bugs and streamers I fish with my eight weight, I’ll fish size six and eight poppers and size four and six streamers which will give a better presentation in the more shallow and clearer water and not be as likely to spook the bass.

Lastly, be well hydrated when you get to the stream and stay that way while fishing. I’ll drink a couple of bottles of water on my way to the stream and carry a couple more waters or Gatorade with me while I fish. When I get back to the truck, there is a cooler with water or Gatorade waiitng on me to refresh myself. This is not the time for a cola or adult beverage, that can be later at home after I have fully rehydrated.

     A hot summers’ day may not be ideal for fishing, but it can still be fun with proper planning and tactics.

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Summer Small Stream Success

     As summer wears on and wears us out with it’s incessant heat and humidity, salvation can be found knee deep in a trout stream at a higher elevation where the water is cooler and the fish more cooperative. Whether you fish the Rockies, Appalachians or Poconos, a high country stream can provide a cool diversion on a hot day.

     Many anglers aren’t as familiar with fishing smaller streams and find their river tactics often fall short when fishing smaller waters. An advantage of becoming a better small stream angler is that you can transfer some of your new skills to small sections of large rivers and improve your skill level on the bigger waters. For most of my life, I’ve fished smaller waters because they are more common where I fish for trout and I am at more at home on them. The following tips can help your summer small stream success and make you a better angler.

1. Stealth

     Being stealthy can mean several things when fishing smaller streams. Drab clothing, such as olive or dark khaki shirts and caps, that blends with your surroundings is very important. That great looking bright yellow, green or blue shirt or cap looks and works great on big waters but not small streams. Be stealthy in your approach on the stream, being careful not to splash water or slip on any algae covered rocks. When possible, ease along the bank keeping a lower profile. The proper fly with an ideal presentation won’t work if the fish know you are there.

2. Keep Moving Upstream

     The best small stream anglers I personally know, Steve Claxton of Bryson City,NC and Ian Rutter of Townsend, TN, stress to their clients to keep moving upstream and that your first cast to a spot on a small stream is definitely your best shot to catch a fish. After a couple of good drifts, you are better off to move on and present the fly to as many fish as possible. The more fish you present your fly to, the more fish you catch and the higher the fun factor.

3. Short Stuff

     The 9.5 to 12 foot leaders you use on your favorite tailwater or spring creek are out of place on the small stream. Some of your casts may only be 8 to 10 feet and you need a little flyline outside the rods guides. A 7.5 foot leader has served me well for years on small streams but I have found a few times when a 6 foot leader proved beneficial.

     You don’t need a real short rod either as it’s fairly rare to find a stream in the Southern Appalachians and other areas where an eight foot rod won’t do the job. It will mend your line better and roll cast better than a 6.5 to 7 foot rod.

4. Fly Foolishness

     Simply put, presentation is more important than pattern. When I was a partner in a fly shop, the number one asked question was what pattern are they hitting?

     For small stream fishing, it’s more important to know were the fish hitting on top or subsurface, riffles, runs or pocket water? Small stream fish are generally willing takers and not usually pattern specific if there are no hatches. If there is not a hatch on, I’ll generally tie on a size 16 Parachute Adams the the majority of the time. It floats good, looks buggy and pretty easy to see on the water. If the size 16 doesn’t raise a fish, then I’ll usually tie on a 14 or 18 Parachute Adams. If the change in specific pattern size doesn’t work, then I’ll try a different style fly like a Royal Trude or Yellow Palmer, usually in a size 14 or 16. Again, it is presentation more than pattern for small streams.

5. Look First, Fish Second

     As you come to a new stretch of stream to fish, take a moment or two to see if you see a fish rising or moving to take nymphs. If you don’t see fish working, look over the stretch of stream to analyze it before you start fishing. Is there cover along the bank for fish to hide and if so, is there canopy or branches to hinder your cast? Will you need to roll cast or sidearm cast? Look at the pockets, pools and runs and plan how you will fish that total stretch of water. Don’t forget to fish eddies and riffles. I’ve caught fish in both places that looked as if they would not hold a trout.

     Summer small stream trout fishing can be fun and productive. Take these tips to heart, put them in practice and enjoy some fine summer fishing.

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Why Streamers?


    Of the three main types of flies for trout and bass, dries, nymphs, and streamers, streamers seem to get the least love from anglers. Oh, I know you’ve got a bunch of wooly buggers in your fly box and probably a Clouser Minnow or two. You probably even fish them some, particularly when the fish aren’t hitting your favorite dry fly or popping bug and you have tried most of the other topwater flies staring back at you from your fly box.

     Most all of my fly fishing friends, maybe 99.4%, prefer catching fish on top than any other method. It’s totally understandable, it’s awesome to see fish hit your fly on the surface. Whether the fish gently sucks it in, slams it hard or leaps out of the water and takes it on the way down, it’s the most fun way to catch fish. Because it’s so much fun, I feel like most anglers stick with fishing on top long after the fish have quit looking up. Or, if the fish aren’t hitting on top, it’s because we have the wrong fly tied to our leader. So, we change our dry fly or bug hoping that we’ll luck into the right pattern to catch ‘em with on top. Only as a last resort do we tie on a streamer.

     I was a member of dryfly anonymous for a number of years but then I had an epiphany. I realized it was more fun to catch trout and bass on streamers than not catch them on topwater flies. I don’t remember the date of my epiphany, but I suspect it was around the time Lefty Kreh started writing about a new streamer called the Clouser Deep Minnow. For a while, Lefty did a great job of selling the sizzle of the Clouser Minnow through numerous articles and appearances. Lefty sold me on the idea and I ordered some from Clouser’s Fly Shop that were tied by Bob himself. The darndest thing happened, I started catching fish on them, both bass and trout, and quickly became a subsurface convert. I even started out fishing some days with a streamer rather than a favorite topwater fly. I began to see sections of water on streams that were probably better streamer water than dry fly water. Plus, it was an excuse to tie or buy more fly patterns(streamers).

     A few years back, our fly shop was doing a backcountry fishing/camping trip on Hazel Creek in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park with eight of our customers. I was about four miles up the trail when I spotted the head guide and outfitter, Steve Claxton  guiding two of our group. They were fishing upstream through a fifty yard run casting dry flies to the best looking lies. I don’t know if it was operator error on the two angler’s part or the trout weren’t looking up but they didn’t catch a fish from that run. They climbed up the bank and headed upstream to fish the next section. To me, that section looked like it was shouting”fish a streamer”. I waited a while and rested the water before I got in at the top and started fishing downstream with a streamer. A light olive wooly bugger with some pink krystal flash in the tail to be exact. I caught three wild trout in the 12-14 inch range on that streamer and missed another by the time I finished fishing the run. As I released the last trout, I heard “must be using bait” come from the bank to my back. Steve,along with Fred and Bob, had seen me catch the last fish. I climbed out and joined them for lunch on the trail. I could hardly eat my lunch for Steve giving me a hard time about using “bait”.

     Since that time, I believe streamer fishing for all species has increased. I can’t say for sure but I believe it is due to the number of streamer patterns available to anglers in the last few years.. Great fly designers like Scott Sanchez. John Barr, Kelly Galloup and Blaine Chocklett have created patterns that are great not only for trout but other species as well. Sanchez’ Double Bunny has won the Jackson Hole One Fly Contest and caught trout worldwide as well as bass and saltwater species. When John Barr created the Meat Whistle and Slumpbuster patterns, he created great flies for bass as well as big trout. Blaine Chocklett created perhaps the most realistic minnow pattern ever with the Gummy Minnow. It produces bass, trout and bonefish on a regular basis and most anything else that swims. No one has done more for streamer fishing the last few years than Kelly Galloup. His flies are big patterns that catch big trout. Patterns such as Peanut Envy, Butt Monkey, Sex Dungeon and Bottoms Up catch not only the anglers attention but the fish as well. The Butt Monkey has been a particularly good bass pattern for me.

     If you are not fishing streamers now, you really should give them a try. Get out of the topwater only mindset and you will catch more fish and have more fun. After all that’s really why we go, isn’t it?

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