Cedar Run in Shenandoah National Park is a tough stream in the section above the falls. It is very steep, boulder-strewn pocket water with the thing fish love and anglers hate — tight cover. There are definitely brook trout here but presenting a fly to them is a major challenge.
|Location||Cedar Run, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia|
|Weather||Humid, 80 degrees, mostly cloudy.|
|Water||Mid-50’s temperature, medium high flow.|
|Terrain||Steep, rocky, muddy from recent rains; tight cover.|
|Distance Covered||3.5 miles, 3100 feet elevation change round trip.|
|Tackle Used||Winston WT 7 foot 3 weight, double taper line, 9 foot leader, Mr. Rapidan size 16 and an Irresistible size 12.|
|Fishing Results||Poor. Three brook trout hooked, one landed (about six inches).|
|Best Part of the Trip||Barbless hooks pull out of fingers easily.|
|Freakiest Encounter||Millipedes crawling around everywhere.|
I feel like I was over-gunned pitching dries with a seven foot three weight on Cedar Run. A six foot or even shorter two weight (or lighter) is probably ideal for this stream. I was bow and arrow casting into a lot of the tight spots. When you’re casting like that, the stream is kicking your butt. I think had shots for fish in places I could not cast to — logs and low foliage all over this stream — but a lot of those places were difficult even for unconventional casting. On the other hand, there are quite a few deep pools. I could have tried nymphing some of them but many had very visible and sandy bottoms and were right next to the heavily used trail. I did fish a few deeper pools (with no luck) but the ones near the trail I passed by with my dry fly rigged up.
For some reason, whether due to natural barriers or thin water, there is always a line on every stream above which you find no fish. You usually realize you’ve found this line after you’re well past it, because you stop catching anything. Sometimes you never find the line, maybe because it’s getting dark, or you started too far downstream and you eventually have to head home. I have gone pretty far up many streams and not found this line when I expected to, and that’s a pretty cool discovery. But it’s always there, and if you keep going you will cross it and the action will cease. There should be a name for this place where the fish stop living. Maybe there already is, but this seems easy — the “fish line.” Like the tree line in alpine environments, fish are not found above it. Unlike the tree line, fish could still live above the fish line if they were put there and given the chance. Sometimes you find the fish line and it comes much earlier than you expect. You might think you’ve just run into some poor pools, so you keep trying the next one and the next. At some point, you grudgingly realize it’s not you. It’s the fish line. Your casting hasn’t fallen apart and no other flies are going to work. You’ve reached the line. You’re done.
I found the fish line on Cedar Run earlier than I expected. In between the falls where the trail crosses the river and the line, I managed to hook three fish, losing two — a single fish away from a skunking. There is always one fish that cooperates on days like today, and these are the worst days for me in this park if you measure them by the numbers. The only times I’ve come here and caught nothing were in both cases (I’m pretty sure) because there were no fish. The first time, on Indian Run, I am convinced I was above the fish line which was probably outside the park boundary on private property. Had to be the case. The other time, on Overall Run, I still think it was because there are no fish in that stream. I will race down to either of those streams if I find I was mistaken. For now, I’m convinced.
I did hook a good sized brookie in one pool on Cedar Run. Hooked him twice, in fact, but failed to get him. I know he was much bigger than normal because of the tug on the 3 weight rod. That may have been the best and the worst part of the day. I gave the pool a rest and returned but he was not having any of it. And that was the last fish I tangled with all day. He was at the fish line.
One thing I was not expecting was the huge amount of millipedes. Supposedly nocturnal, the North American millipede (narceus americanus) was crawling all over every dead tree trunk and rock. They were everywhere! In one spot I had pulled myself up by grabbing onto a large dead log and had forgotten that best practice of hiking and climbing — look at what you’re pawing before you grab it. Gladly I did not mash one of these guys, who can secrete some junk that can irritate your skin and cause temporary discoloration at the affected spot. Not as bad as I had thought before I got home and read about them — I was thinking it could have been certain death by their highly venomous mandibles. Not to worry, that is quite untrue.
If I get back to Cedar Run I will try from the bottom. When the water comes down that could be the better end of this stream. In the meantime, there are lots of other places and I think better streams in the park. But if you want a challenge and don’t mind demonstrating some fly fishing to the many hikers who use the trail, Cedar Run is worth checking out.