Monthly Archives: November 2015

7 posts


Scouting New Brook Trout Streams

GWNFFall and winter are great seasons to scout streams that may hold brook trout. In fact, it’s what I spent this past weekend doing. I explored two streams, one in the George Washington National Forest, and one in Shenandoah National Park. I had long suspected that each of these held brook trout but had never heard of anyone fishing either of them.

I left the fly rod in the car for each hike to the water. My goal was to sight at least one fish in each stream, to either confirm or possibly write-off any presence of brook trout.

The first stream runs along a dirt road in the national forest. It veers away from the road a short distance upstream from the only parking spot, and just downstream it is posted as private property. Normally, I would have hiked upstream along the public access to check it out, but it’s hunting season now and hunters were at turnouts all along the forest service road. I had left my blaze orange hat at home and was dressed in tans and other colors a little too deer-like, so I stayed put at the pool next to my truck. Luckily, after staring at the water for quite a while, I saw a lone brook trout, about eight inches long. It darted and weaved upstream in a flash and buried itself under a shelf of rocks. Success!

SNPThe second stream is one of the forty-six ninety or so in Shenandoah National Park (depending on how you count them) that have populations of brook trout. I wasn’t able to find much info about this particular stream, so I drove down there and made an afternoon hike out of it. This is not one of the larger streams, but it has always looked promising. Most of the good-looking trout water seems to be quite a ways downstream. It wasn’t until a few hundred yards from one of the gates at the lower park boundary that I saw fish bolting at the sight of me in a few different pools. Again… success. Have to return with the rod to check out some promising spots further upstream.

I was hoping to see some fish guarding their spawning beds, but I saw none. A few years ago my wife and I had hiked down the trail along Jeremy’s Run the day after Thanksgiving. We saw brook trout guarding redds in one pool. I was hoping it was not too late, but Thanksgiving had been almost a week earlier than it was this year. They are probably done now.

By the way, interesting bit from the East Coast Fly Guy about fishing for brook trout during the fall. Last year, he emailed a few fisheries biologists and fly shop owners. Opinions will differ, but the biologists did not feel that there would be much impact on brook trout populations from fishing or wading during these times of year. I still think being a little careful when wading is a good idea, but it sounds like brook trout populations are resilient and much more affected by stream flows and persistent trends in weather.

Scott 845/5

Gear That’s Good – Fly Rods

Scott 845/5This is not a review of any of the latest fly rods. Rather, it’s a look at the collection of rods that I’ve spent a lot of time fishing on small streams. I still own each of them. They are all discontinued or superseded by something fancier, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t worthy.

The cast of characters:

  • LL Bean Streamlight 6’11” 4 weight
  • Sage FLi 9′ 5 weight
  • Winston WT 7′ 3 weight
  • Scott G 8’4″ 5 weight

All of them excel at various things. From least to most desirable…

LL Bean Streamlight 6’11” (4 weight – 2 piece)

The little Streamlight is an inexpensive and surprisingly good small stream fly rod. With a four weight line it leans toward the faster end of moderate action, but it still throws small dry flies well enough, especially when the wind kicks up a little. It’s only a two-piece rod, but that’s kind of nice when you’re gearing up, just twist it together and go. For durability and carefree bashing-through-the-woods kind of fishing, it’s been great and still gets some use. Props to LL Bean for making some good, affordable fly rods and having an outstanding warranty on everything they sell.

Sage FLi 594 (5 weight – 4 piece)

This is one of those rods that you don’t hear much about anymore. It is the rod I grab when fishing medium to large streams and rivers for trout, and I use it a lot for nymphing.  But it is also fine for fishing dry flies. Very good, in fact. For brook trout on small streams and casting short lengths of line or just the leader, it’s not a awful. Using this rod opened my eyes to the benefits of using a longer stick and keeping line off the water more easily on little creeks. It’s probably considered a faster action design, but not like some of Sage’s truly fast action offerings, like the old TCX, and others currently in Sage’s enormous catalog. The FLi is a sweet casting rod. It is an interesting stick to go back to now that there is renewed attention to fast action designs that are a little toned-down, a little more moderate, while still being able to throw long casts. I think the FLi is a rod in that spirit. Even if its fast-action cred is not quite the same, it’s still an easy rod for rocketing long casts (at least as five weight rods go) and covers a wide range of fishing situations.

Winston WT 7′ (3 weight – 3 piece)

Winston makes great fly rods, and this is one of the sweetest lightweight dry fly rods I’ve ever tried. It’s telepathic in helping you put a small fly into a pocket the size of a dessert plate consistently. The only things that cause it some trouble are wind and “larger” fish. The latter is probably due to my ham-fisted landing technique, but I have lost a couple brook trout over twelve inches using this rod. Both times, it was a rodeo, the rod bucking and bouncing while I tried to scoop the fish without a net, and both times the debacle ended with the fish bouncing off the hook and into the drink. And after each of those incidents, it would be a while before I found another brook trout that size… and I was not happy. Again, probably more my fault than the rod’s, though.

Scott G 845/5 (5 weight – 5 piece)

Then… there is the sublime Scott G 845/5. When I first got this rod, I wasn’t sure what to think of it. It has a wispy, moderate action that no one would describe as anywhere near fast. Not exactly like a glass rod, but it’s in that realm. I put my father-in-law’s old Lamson LP reel with a four weight line on it right away. I haven’t even tried a five weight line on it, though I’m sure it would handle it well. It is every bit the sweet dry fly caster the Winston WT is. The 8’4″ length is nice to have on tiny streams, and it’s not so unwieldy when bushwhacking as I originally feared. And unlike my Winston, the Scott has power when you need it. I can send out fifty foot casts effortlessly, and longer casts with some attention. I routinely use it for ten footers to soft pockets on brook trout streams, and it does that in the most casual and certain way. It has become my go-to fly rod for all kinds of trout fishing. In Yellowstone this summer, I fished nothing else and landed several cutthroats up to nineteen inches and felt completely confident with it. Yeah, I’ll use the word — this rod is magic, or pretty close. It’s earned its place as my favorite. For some interesting historical info, you can read what Larry Kenney, former owner and/or head designer of Scott Fly Rods (can never find good info about that…), says about this rod.

And Then… There Were Three

So now, it’s time to clear out some gear, and I think the Winston WT is the rod that has to go. What it does overlaps with the Scott too much. I really don’t want to part with it, but it’s just been sitting in its tube for a year now while the other rods get fished. Someone else should enjoy it. Ping me if you’re interested. Otherwise, it’ll be on eBay soon. Maybe… or it just may stay. Hard to get rid of a good fly rod, no matter how much sense it seems to make some days.

The Piedmont Virginian: Graves Mountain Memories

If you’ve fished for brook trout in and around Shenandoah National Park, you’re no doubt familiar with the Rose River and the town of Syria, Virginia. And you’ve probably driven by Graves Mountain Lodge. The Piedmont Virginian recently published an interesting article about the history of Graves Mountain Lodge (summary only, the rest is behind a paywall), which is worth checking out.

If you’re in the area fishing the Rose, or the Robinson, Hughes, Rapidan, Conway, or any of the other great brook trout streams in the area, lodging at Graves Mountain is an option, which I’ve never tried and never considered until reading this article. They have motel rooms and several cabins. You can also camp there year-round. And they have a restaurant. It’s an option to roughing it in a tent in Shenandoah National Park or the Rapidan Wildlife Management Area (by the way, recently found another site with good info about the Rapidan WMA, despite it not having been updated in a few years).

Jack Gartside’s Philosophy on Fishing and Traveling

From The Great Bonefish Giveaway:

To be fair, I should note that we only fished Xcalak (it’s pronounced (“Shka-lak”) for four days, and that we pointedly ignored suggestions to hire a guide; on a Gartside expedition, one survives on one’s own skills, going fishless if necessary. Hiring a guide is considered both decadent and an admission of failure — akin to having a pizza delivered while scaling Mount Everest.

Exactly my philosophy, with occasional exceptions.

jack_and_geraldEvery year, when the weather gets cooler and gray, I go through the Jack Gartside fly tying books I’ve bought and try some new patterns. The guy was a fly tying genius. Very sad that I never had a chance to meet him.