I got out this weekend to one of my favorite streams in Shenandoah National Park. Since it was in the mid-fifties and has been for days, it seemed like it would be worth a shot to once again and per my standard practice SHUN NYMPHING and throw some dry flies, see how I’d do, then pick up some barbeque at Mr. B’s afterwards.
A trip like this involves quite a bit of traveling for the amount of fishing. I don’t live too far from the park but it was still nearly an hour drive each way for this stream. Part of that is due to the 35 mph speed limit on Skyline Drive and getting stuck behind weekenders there who dutifully obey it. Once I parked it was another 45 minute hike downhill and about an hour hike back out. So right off the bat, that’s nearly four hours out of the day just to travel to and from the water. I managed to fish it for about two hours. I could have stayed longer but had to get back home for some reason that seemed important then but I really can’t justify or even remember looking back now.
The fishing was awesome! Throwing dry flies and catching trout on the surface in the middle of winter is so much fun. I took a tip from my trip to Florida for redfish last month about sight fishing and decided to really try locating trout before just blindly casting to the seams and other good spots, like I typically do on small streams. I was pretty successful and managed to see many of the fish I caught before I even made the cast. This is a skill I’m going to try to make more of a habit, just slowing down a bit more and really trying to spot anything I can before making even that first cast.
So I fished two flies, both of which I tied in the past week. The first was a size 12 Adams “Wulff” I think I’ll call it. I am not a huge fan of tying feathers for wings on dry flies. It just seems like it’s not always necessary. I simply used some synthetic white yarn instead to make a split wing and wrapped it in a ton of brown and grizzly hackle. Seemed to float fine, cast well and fooled fish. Not sure I’ll go back to feathers for Adams style flies any time soon.
After I caught a fish or two and the fly became soaked, I put aside my principles and drifted it under the surface. Yes, nymphing! I watched several fish rise off the bottom and slurp the waterlogged fly. The first few were with an Adams, the second batch with the soaked and slimed Patriot.
A note about wading in winter: I severely limited my wading in the stream on this trip, really just wading on the very edges of the water or on shelves of big rocks and boulders. I avoided walking on the gravel and free stone areas as completely as I could. The brook trout have just finished spawning and trampling through the streams, while never a good idea, is much worse of an idea at this time of year. If you do go be very careful. There are a lot of very small fish on the bottom and we don’t want to smush our future brook trout brood.
My quest to catch at least one fish every month this year has begun. Preferably I’d like to catch a dozen fish each month. So far, I’m on track!
As a new feature of the Brook Trout Fishing Guide, I am going to try to post the West Virginia trout stocking schedule regularly. I live close enough to the Mountaineer State so that this is overdue from my point of view.
There are a lot of renowned stocked streams in the state, notably the North Branch of the South Fork of the Potomac. Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia together contain the area comprising what Trout Unlimited calls the headwaters of the Potomac, a region significant for just what the moniker implies — this is where the Potomac watershed begins and is a sensitive area targeted for protection. It is important not just for the waters that flow into the Potomac River but also is notable due to the extensive populations of brook trout that exist here.
So without further delay, here is the latest for West Virginia (for the past month):
I’m not sure when “pre-season” begins, but I assume it’s very soon given that the first period listed is “March 11-31.” I guess in some ways this is better than the states like Virginia that just publish this info on their websites for a week or so up to and including the current date.
Hard to believe it’s January here in Virginia. Temps have been in the 50’s for days and the warm trend will persist well into next week. Last night I don’t think it dropped below the mid-forties. Go get ’em.
I would even be tempted to wet a line in the Shenandoah this weekend. It will not be fast fishing but with this long stretch of warmish weather it’s worth a shot in some of the deep holes with some heavy nymphs. It might be worth dead drifting a woolly bugger, or small Clouser minnow after this rain last night, too.
“‘There is a big hole there,’ [Dan Rankin, fisheries biologist with the SC DNR] said, ‘where brook trout should be, but they’re not.’
“Rankin thinks that forest management practices of the early 1900s, when timber companies did not abide by Best Management Practices that are now in place to protect water and soil, contributed to the absence of brook trout in the region. But whatever the cause, Rankin and a coalition of government agencies and private conservation organizations are working to bring the Eastern brook trout back to the mountain streams that it historically inhabited in the Jocassee Gorges.”
And it all concludes with a sordid tale of woolly adelgids murdering hemlocks, which were then used to create better habitat for the fish. A must read!
I think 2011 goes down as the one of the best years of fishing for me. Now that we’re into the middle of January 2012, I’ve had time to go through photos and savor all of it. A quick review of the highlights and some notable firsts for me in 2011:
The first day of 2011 — New Year’s Day — I caught one fish, a 15″ rainbow in Big Stony Creek near Edinburg, Virginia. That was the first time I’d ever gone fishing on New Year’s Day. I got him on a Copper John, and it was the nicest rainbow I’ve caught so far (I know, I have to get out and try for rainbows a little more often). Big Stony Creek is a nice stream. It gets stocked by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries a few times each year but it also seems to have a population of holdover trout. Some of its tributaries, I am told, also hold some nice brook trout. This is something I am going to have to discover this year.
Brook trout fishing, which is for some strange reason still my first love, was excellent. I got to Shenandoah National Park at least a half dozen times to catch fish, plus a couple more times to scout Indian Run and Overall Run. I’ve since learned some things about the latter that give me hope it will be a decent stream to fish someday, but for me those two streams were a bust. But the Piney River, Hughes, North Fork of the Thornton, Jeremy’s Run, The Robinson River in White Oak Canyon, Cedar Run and one stream I still hesitate to name were often excellent. Beginning on the no-name stream in late February I caught three nice sized brookies on an Adams. Dry fly fishing in the winter, that’s it! And it just got better all season. In the Poconos I caught about five fish from one pool on a small mountain stream, all over ten inches and the biggest going about 12″. A twelve inch brookie in a small stream… THAT was nice!
In May I finally checked out the pond near home that I’ve been driving by for years. In a half dozen trips in spring and early summer I caught dozens of bluegill and largemouth, and one fallfish. Nice evening getaway in only a ten minute drive from home. I’d sit out there from an hour or so before sunset until the posted clear-out-of-here time (darkness), throwing micro poppers on my four weight to aggressive bluegill, or bigger poppers with my five weight Sage FLi (still love that rod once you get used to its tip-flex action) to decent sized largemouth. This year I’m going to return with a proper deer hair bass bug and see if the REALLY big bass are really in there.
Also in the spring I got up to Thurmont, MD a few times. I hooked two brown trout in Big Hunting Creek (what a nice place) and found a stream not far from there where I landed a couple nice brook trout. This is another area that merits further exploration. I drove around quite a bit and decided to check out a couple streams right next to the roads I was driving. Picked up the brookie in the photo literally right next to the road where I parked. I can’t give that one up — you’ll have to find these spots yourself.
In July I went to Canada with some friends to fish Gananoque Lake. My fly fishing was limited by their desire to not have a fly line whizzing by their heads with four of us on a pontoon boat, but I did manage to use it once with them tolerating it and a few times on the dock, catching some nice sized bluegills and one good crappie. In the boat with the spinning rod, I caught the largest smallmouth so far (about five pounds!) and my first pike, going 30″. Those both made the trip worthwhile, along with the other catches. Next time, I’m going to chuck a full sinking line over the side with a meaty pike fly. Those guys will get used to it.
Several times this summer I also got several pickerel on the fly and spinning rod in a nice lake in the Poconos my family and I go to every summer. It’s interesting as they seem to prefer different colored flies at different times of the year. In June and early July bright flies (white and flashy) work best, while late summer and fall I’ve done really well with fox tail Clouser minnows. I overdid it in mid-summer with a full sinking line instead of my usual intermediate seven weight. It seems like going too deep in that lake is not as productive as staying in the sweet spot about four to ten feet down. And the “big game” fluorocarbon mostly kept them from biting through the line except for a couple times. More to experiment with this year…
Another first (maybe I should call this a second) was returning to the place I caught my first fish when I was six years old, Round Valley Reservoir in New Jersey. My dad and I made a hot summer day of it, hitting it and later that day the South Branch of the Raritan in the morning and afternoon, respectively. Another skunking but I think I know what to do when I return there this year (i.e. don’t go on a hot bluebird day in summer — hit Round Valley by boat, too, not from shore, and early or late; return to the Raritan to catch some trout in the springtime… etc.).
Of course, living near the Shenandoah allows me to go out in the kayak or wade near shore and catch smallmouth, catfish, carp and bluegill. Haven’t gotten a carp yet, but I’ll talk about that more in my 2012 post.
I even wet a line in the Potomac for the first time ever. Skunked, but for a high muddy water day I wasn’t expecting much. My plans for shad fishing were scuttled by our incredibly wet springtime, and I still have not gotten down there to catch some rockfish as we call them here, or stripers if you’re from up north. I will be doing all that this year if the creek don’t rise.
Late in the summer I attended a two hour casting clinic with fly fishing instructor and guide Dusty Wissmath at Kelly’s White Fly Shop in Shephardstown, WV. Dusty is a fantastic casting instructor. He focused on a few key points, and though it was geared towards beginners he spent some time separately with me (probably a good intermediate caster) and that was very valuable. I highly recommend attending any instructional clinic with him, and based on that one, I may try to do a guided trip with him.
The year 2011 found me distracted with photography. I’d gotten into it off and on in years past but the past two years I’ve really taken to it, 2011 especially. That and my son’s sports schedule kept me busy and mostly away from fishing in the fall.
By the time 2011 ended I filed away fishing licenses for Maryland, Canada, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Thankfully Virginia doesn’t issue their licenses on a calendar year basis so the freshwater and trout licenses are good for me until mid-2012 or so. Maryland and Pennsylvania will be renewed right away, the others as needed.
So 2011 was a very good year, but I think I can top it in 2012. Stay tuned for what I’ll call the 2012 small-container-of-good-stuff (rather than “bucket“) list…
Quick note about my last outing of 2011 — what a great way to end the year! I fished with John Kumiski who runs The Spotted Tail, a guide service operating on the Mosquito Lagoon, Indian River and nearby locations around Cape Canaveral, Florida. We went out one afternoon the last week in December. A cold front had come through the day before and the water was discolored and the fishing reports were grim. But John put us on a bunch of redfish! I hooked three or four, and if my casting had been better I’m sure I could have had a few more, but the one pictured was worth the trip.
I am going out this weekend to catch my first fish of 2012. Only in the thirties for the highs this weekend? No problem. Like the Scandinavians say, “no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.” And where to go? Might be Shenandoah National Park (and this weekend admission is free at all National Parks), might be near some power plant on a big river, or might be one of the places below.
This is a great time of year to fish for trout. Certainly the stocked fish are abundant (if you get there before they get taken) but also the trout are active so long as it’s not too cold. Murray’s Fly Shop reports hatches of midges coming off some streams this past week. Generally you can best find fish if you’re nymphing, a drawback bigger than the weather if you ask me, but it’s almost always effective. This cold snap is pretty new so our streams should still be above the dead cold that makes the fish really lethargic. And the best part is everyone else stays warm by staying home. I’ve often had entire streams to myself this time of year, depending on the stream. Notable exceptions like Passage Creek exist and will always have some folks fishing. I see a bunch below that are worth checking out…
Alexandria (City of)
Cook Lake (01/09)
Davis Mill Creek (01/11)
Pedlar River (Upper) (01/11)
North River (Upper) (01/10)
South River (Ridgview Park) (01/11)
Jackson River (Hidden Valley) (01/09)
Liberty Lake (01/10)
Roaring Run (01/11)
Cranesnest River (01/10)
Pound River (Flannagan Dam) (01/10)
Russell Fork River (Haysi) (01/10)
Russell Fork River (Bartlick) (01/10)
Burkes Fork (01/11)
Fredericksburg (City of)
Old Cossey Pond (01/09)
Big Stoney Creek (01/11)
Craig Creek (01/12)
Poverty Creek (01/12)
Dan River (below Powerhouse) (01/10)
Prince William Co.
Locust Shade Park (01/09)
Irish Creek (01/12)
South River (Grottoes) (01/11)
Big Stony Creek(01/12)
Little Stony Creek (01/12)
Middle Fork Holston River (Marion/Chilhowie) (01/07)