Wild brown trout are not super abundant here in Virginia. There are a few places you can find them, though. In Shenandoah National Park, there are some streams with viable populations (for better or worse, more on that below): the Hughes River, Rose River, Brokenback Run, and the Conway River. It is possible a few other streams in the park contain remnant brown trout populations as well. Elsewhere in the state, healthy brown trout populations exist in places such as Mossy Creek, but compared to, say, Pennsylvania, opportunities to find brown trout in Virginia are fairly limited.
Going from 70-degree days in February to the 50’s, 40’s, 30’s, and even a few days in the 20’s in March is pretty tough. Before the temps tanked, dry fly fishing in the mountains was on fire, and the hills were coming alive with the first wildflowers.
I had one afternoon of catching over fifty fish, all on two copies of a simple deer hair caddis I cobbled together, with a couple turns of rust-colored hackle behind the head. Shenandoah National Park is a great place to be on a warm day in late winter…
I recently headed out to Shenandoah National Park to a very small stream that I’d never heard a thing about. These overlooked bits of water in the park are hit-or-miss, and you never know if they have fish until you hike up or down to one and cast a fly.
Got out last week for the first time this year, to the Rapidan River, on the edge of and into Shenandoah National Park. That stream never disappoints. Temps were in the mid-50’s, mostly overcast, with the occasional shaft of sunshine. What worked: various Elk Hair Caddis patterns, most with a green body. Also, a green bead head nymph with rubber legs.
The first fish of 2017, in the first pool, third cast, on the nattiest looking dry fly I’ve ever tied:
It was a beautiful Tuesday to play hooky. Half the world’s hikers seemed to agree, and the Old Rag parking lot on the eastern edge of Shenandoah National Park was nearly full. Per Hiking Upward, “this hike gets a [zero] star rating for solitude,” no kidding. Thankfully, not a single one of those dozens of cars except ours brought any fly fisherman.
The water was high from all the recent rains. We fished Brokenback Run first, a new stream for me. It seemed less affected by the rain, and we found quite a few eager fish. We decided to cut that short after a couple hours and hike up the Hughes River, which is nearly always in decent shape. The water was very high, and it probably would have been better to hike down from Skyline Drive. Still, we managed several nice fish, and tiptoed around two water snakes, which is now a common occurrence on our excursions as it’s late spring.
Man, did I catch 50 fish yesterday? I can’t claim that outright because I lost count. It was close, though. Could have doubled that if I’d been able to stick around longer.
Not that number of fish is the objective, but it shows that dry fly fishing is absolutely on fire right now. It’s certainly the best time of year to be after brook trout. They are reckless, launching themselves at naturals as well as imitations. Every fly I tried worked.
Shenandoah National Park. Go there now!
Big Fish – Don’t know what it is, but we’ve been catching lots of better-than-average-sized brook trout lately. Maybe it’s due to the past couple years of good rainfall.
Big Rock Piles – Don’t know what it is, but sometimes we find these stacks of rocks. Do they mark good fishing spots? In this case (and in the case of the ones in my neighbor’s yard… been meaning to ask her about those), I can say no. And some don’t like seeing these things in wild places… probably with good reason.
Big Critters – One of the two badass spiders we saw (dark fishing spider?).
Big Little Flowers – These (some kind of bloodroot?) look big when the camera is in macro mode anyway, eh?
More Big Fish – And fish can also look plenty big in macro mode, eh?
A follow-up to Scouting New Brook Trout Streams from last fall…
On the last Sunday in February a couple weeks ago, about as balmy a day as many we had on Abaco last month, I drove south. After a week in the forties and thirties, a sunny, 65 degree day was certain to turn some brook trout on to dry fly fishing. So I went to a new place to see about it.
Shenandoah National Park on a weekend is always the same for the fly fisherman who wants to have some seclusion. You’re going to run into people, even in this pursuit that has relatively few participants. But that is something you can avoid if you’re willing to get away from the known places, the “sure things,” the spots that the internet is, unfortunately, making more popular every year.
There is a stream in the park that I’ve been eyeing for a few years. It doesn’t seem like much on the map, though, and I don’t know anyone who has fished it. It’s exactly the kind of place you’d pass up in favor of the “good spots” — the Rose, the Rapidan, the Conway, and all the rest. Time is always short — hell, life is short — so to maximize the enjoyment of driving to the park, hiking in, fishing for a few hours, then traveling back home, you want to make it worthwhile. Exploring new spots jeopardizes that kind of easy lifestyle. It’s not a sure thing. You’re going to find some gems if you do it regularly, but usually, you’re going to strike out.
Anyway, I couldn’t figure out how to access this particular SNP stream easily, so I parked at the nearest trailhead and hiked quite a ways. It was a beautiful day. At the very least, it would be one great hike.
So to shorten a long story a bit… I found some nice fish, but not that many. I put almost eight miles on the boots. It was a good day. Afterwards, I meandered around the back roads and actually did find what looked like some sketchy though probably legitimate parking right at the lower end of the park boundary where the stream exits. In other words, parking that might be two hundred yards from the nicest fish I caught. Hmmm…
A week and a half later, my wife and I followed up on this hazy parking situation. We found that you can park in that spot, and the fish were as close to the car as I had thought on the first trip. It was also about ten degrees warmer. In spots where I couldn’t buy a trout in February, we were now getting aggressive takes of our flies (large Adams and Patriots) in almost every little pool we tried. Ten degrees and into the low seventies, and the water temp was up from around forty-four on the first trip to fifty-one this time… that’s all it takes.
I have now found over a dozen good brook trout streams within easy reach of northern Virginia where I can park and catch fish with minimal hiking — a couple hundred yards or less. Reducing the hike to nearly nothing is not always my goal, though. In fact, for me, a killer hike to remote streams is a big part of the appeal that is brook trout fishing. But, yes, sometimes time feels very short, and I also just wanted to see if it was possible to find such places. These places are there, places where you can find native brook trout, and wild rainbow trout (yes, rainbows that have not been stocked in decades) within an hour and a half of the western border of Washington, DC. In fact, I know of a couple streams in Virginia that are just over an hour from DC (without traffic).
Anyway, I figured I’ve now found most of the brook trout streams that require little to no hiking within reasonable distance of northern Virginia, but there are still a few blue lines on maps I have marked to go look at. It satisfies some urge I have (maybe some dumb urge), that of the stifled explorer, or the guy who’s too busy with life to actually be an explorer. Whatever it is, I enjoy it. We are lucky to live in this area. There are lots of options to catch wild fish around here.
Weather conditions: First day – mostly sunny, winds SSW 8-20 mph, second day – mostly cloudy, winds SSW 6 to 15 mph
Air temp: First day – 64, second day – upper seventies
Water temp: First day – mid-40’s, second day – unknown
Insect activity: small mayflies, dark stoneflies
Flies used: Adams, Patriot
Five years ago I fished Overall Run, and I didn’t catch a damn thing. To this day, it is the only time I’ve been skunked in Shenandoah National Park on a stream that has brook trout within the park boundary.
That experience was a bottomless cesspool of wrong.
At the time, I wondered if the stream was actually empty. Why do I now know that this stream has fish? For two reasons I’ve learned since that day I fished it. The first is that there is research one can fairly easily find that describes fish surveys done on this stream. The second is from a Trout Unlimited meeting I attended a few years ago. The speaker, Paul Kearney, who used to own the now defunct Thornton River Fly Shop in Sperryville, Virginia, and now runs the Trout Unlimited Tri-State Conservation and Fish Camp, gave a talk about his long experience fishing the park. He mentioned Overall Run. But troublingly, he described an incident years earlier (I may not recall all the details correctly…) in which there was an accidental release of some chemicals that were stored at a site near Matthews Arm. Overall Run was contaminated and the trout were impacted. My working assumption, then, was that the stream was compromised still, and that that was the reason I had no luck there.
So Overall Run might have fish, but maybe they were not doing well — maybe they were on the decline, or on the rebound, or who knows what. Whatever the situation, I had already vowed never to waste any effort there again.
Well… time heals the smack of the skunk. Either that, or I was a fool, but last week I returned to Overall Run. It turns out this is a beautiful stream, and though I would not rate it among the best places I’ve fished in the park, it has some appeal along with its drawbacks.
Among the drawbacks is the relatively easy access. You can get there from Route 340 very quickly. The main parking area at one of the trailheads is littered pretty badly, and I suspect it’s due to this. Another issue is the proximity of the trail to the stream, which runs along quite a stretch of it. It’s definitely not the secluded experience of many other streams in the park.
Anyway, my afternoon there was just OK. I caught a few fish and they were normal sized SNP brookies, but they were few. The water temps didn’t get out of the forties, and along with my stubborn adherence to the dry fly when stalking brook trout, my limited success may be explainable. But really, I was stoked to return there and find fish after failing five years earlier. That’s a long time to hold a grudge. I curse the place no longer.
Weather conditions: mostly sunny, winds SSW 5 mph, gusting to 25 mph
Air temp: upper sixties
Water temp: fifty-five
Insect activity: some very small mayflies
Flies used: Adams, Patriot