I had just finished fishing a good sized deep pool near the lower part of the falls in White Oak Canyon when this guy appeared. He was perched on a boulder upstream and above me and had just taken his shirt off. A typical day of fishing in Shenandoah National Park means seeing no one else, maybe just the occasional hiker. And the acknowledged protocol is to give anglers a wide berth. I even do what I can to not be seen at all by another fisherman when he’s on the water. After all, if we wanted to be socializing each of us would not be out here in the woods miles from any road and most people. So though I was done in that spot, I was a little miffed to look up and see someone standing over the pool I had claimed as mine for that short time.
Then the guy jumped into the water.
The Robinson River and the White Oak Canyon trail is not the secluded fishing scene I’m used to in the park. This is a very popular hiking trail, and even on weekdays you’ll run into someone. I met almost a dozen people when I fished there last week. Only two of them trampled into my stream.
The deep pool I had been fishing was beautiful and I could see why anyone would think it inviting, and I thought that until I checked the water temperature. It was about forty four degrees. So what could I say to this guy after he jumped in? He pulled himself out, looked over and saw me standing there with my camera pointed at the spot I was just about to vacate and my rod propped up against a sapling. “Man, I’m sorry. I didn’t see you fishing there.” It was no problem, and I explained I was heading upstream. He went on to say he was from Colorado and that he and his dad would go into the mountains and fish for cutthroats when he was a kid. “There are brook trout in there? I had no idea.” Most people don’t.
The next guy showed up after I had hiked back up above the falls. I had just caught a bunch of brookies in a short stretch of pocket water, including a few good sized fish (for this area). He looked incredulous. “Are there fish in there?” Yes, I just caught about ten. “Ten?!” He was marveling at this as he stood on a boulder perched above me. Just like the first guy, he was in a perfect spot to spook the pool. “How did you get here?” He asked as though it was some trick I do. I told him I had walked. He squinted and grinned and seemed resigned to not comprehending. I told him to have fun, the only polite dismissal I could think of, and he climbed back up to the trail.
Anyway, it was a good day of fishing. I had parked at the Limberlost trail head on Skyline Drive and hiked down past most of the falls before fishing that one deep pool and then hiking back up to get serious about it.
I ended up covering 6.2 miles and over 2000 feet of elevation gain each way. It was definitely a workout, and the trail is pretty steep when you get to the start of the White Oak Canyon falls. Even if you’re not into fishing, this is a great hike and the falls are spectacular. You can perch on several overlooks and get mesmerized by the water cascading above and below.
There are good fish in this stream. The first one I caught with luck and it was a nice one. It was in a pool no wider than ten feet across and about that length from head to tail. I wasn’t expecting a strike and was pulling back to start my back cast when I hooked it. That always makes me laugh. Even when you do see a fish before it strikes it’s a little surprising, but when you’re not expecting it and you get a good one, it’s great. You fooled the fish and yourself. Genuine fun.
So I slid and climbed and gingerly waded upstream, catching fish after fish, all on dry flies. An Adams, a Royal Wulff and a Rusty Parachute (the last from the Orvis Fly Tying Guide by Tom Rosenbauer). I tied all of these over the winter, and each one worked well. The only reason I changed a fly was because it got drenched and slimed by the prey, so I tried a few different ones. Otherwise I’m pretty sure any of them would have worked. I still don’t think brook trout in these small mountain streams scrutinize dry flies a whole lot. I mean, here I am pitching them some pretty crappy looking stuff I tied myself and there was no shortage of interest. Maybe that just means they are desperate for food. Still, it’s satisfying when fish eat the flies I sat in my house tying while picturing a day like this. And it mostly played out the way I had imagined. The few exceptions were the several missed strikes and the flies snagged by low hanging branches.
Since this was my first time fishing here, I walked past a ton of good looking water in the upper section while scouting the place. Lots of runs cascading into wide pools. I definitely did not have to make this a six mile hike. The next time I come here I am going to try from the lower end and work upstream. This really is a great stream and it’s no secret. I’ve read about this place for years but have always avoided it because I prefer fishing in some solitude. So running into hikers, curious folks and a swimmer was, except for the swimmer, what I expected. And it wasn’t bad. I was kind of surprised not to have seen anyone else fishing, but even if there had been ten other people this stream stretches far enough to support that.
The Robinson River and the White Oak Canyon definitely merit a return trip.