Breaking camp on a frigid Friday morning, I heard a deafening roar about a second before the fighter plane appeared. It shot by directly overhead and startled the crap out of me. If that’s how suddenly a warplane can be on you before you hear it, I’m glad I’m not one of the enemies.
Fishing can be boring, according to some. I certainly experienced what some people would point to as the quintessential boring afternoon of fishing while on a small stream in the Poconos last weekend. My wife and I were in Wilkes Barre for her umptyish high school reunion. I snuck away Saturday to what I was hoping would be an awesome spot, and it probably is sometimes.
Head north on 29 from Lynchburg, then hang a left…
Hard to believe I’ve lived in Virginia for over twenty-five years and, until this past weekend, I had never been on the Blue Ridge Parkway. All over Skyline Drive, I-81 north-to-south, backroads from here to Warm Springs to Farmville to Galax to…? Yes indeed, I’ve been everywhere, man… but not to the BRP. It was a hole in the middle of the state that had never seen my wheels, boots, or fly rod.
For anyone who may not be very familiar with the Commonwealth, Virginia is a big state. For example, a drive from Arlington to the far southwest corner of the territory will consume more than six valuable hours of your life if you zoom down there in one uninterrupted shot, and it’s closer to seven hours if you obey the laws while driving. It was almost understandable that I had just not gotten to the BRP yet.
This weekend, I finally got there. My wife and I headed back home from Lynchburg Saturday morning after visiting our son and his girlfriend at college the night before. I had bookmarked a spot some time ago that was on the way home, so we drove away that morning, north on Route 29, then left… and headed for the Blue Ridge. Specifically, the Tye River. Nice place…
It didn’t get out of the fifties while we were there. The sun shone for a little while early in the afternoon. My wife caught a nice one right away, then it slowed down, but only briefly. Bugs started hatching. Some dark mayflies (see photo above), then some medium tan guys right around a size fourteen. We pitched some Adams and Patriots, and I’ll admit my creativity seems stifled since it’s been the same selection for us on every outing this winter and spring. But it works.
Probably the most fun was the last pool we tried. Fish were rising recklessly, launching themselves out of the water at what looked like Quill Gordons. For a while I couldn’t buy a hookup. After my brain-dead loss of two flies in the same tree in two casts (a common theme in my life — lose a fly in a tree, tie on a replacement, then put it in the same tree on the next cast), I finally started catching some fish in this spot. I ended up with four out of that pool, as I just sat on a rock on the side of the water and winged some “long” casts upstream. This was some very atypical small stream fishing. It’s not often I make a cast further than about ten feet on these little creeks, so sending a cast three times further and mending some line felt like good times on a bigger river.
Done for the day, we headed to the top of the mountain, got on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and headed north. Beautiful drive, and a great day of fishing. And still, so many other places to check out.
Weather conditions: mostly cloudy, winds S 10 mph
Air temp: mid-fifties
Water temp: unknown
Insect activity: see photo, medium sized tan mayflies hatching
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
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.
Where to find some brook trout today? And can I make it easy? In other words, can I drive somewhere within an hour, not have to hike very far, catch some good fish, and not get shot by a hunter while doing it? And can I catch every fish on dry flies, in full spawning colors, and preferably in size medium at least?
Sometimes those are the questions I ask. Living here in the northern Shenandoah Valley, there are spots I can get to and be fully geared-up and fishing in under an hour. Not epic fishing, and not completely safe during hunting season, but it’s possible. For reasons known only to us fly fisherman, however, convenient and familiar waters that are just fine do little to draw us. What we all crave is a little adventure, even if the emphasis is on the “little” part — in distance, place, and fish size. It’s a craving satisfied by finding someplace new, even if it’s not “new” to everyone else, and even if it holds the promise of being only slightly better and maybe not that different from our regular haunts. That, I suppose, is the definition of fishing porn, as opposed to “fish porn,” which is the endless buffet of photos and videos of fish caught, and it’s different than, well, just porn.
Anyway… Last week I spent two days fishing Little Stony Creek. If you’re looking for a place that is a short drive and has easy access, Little Stony Creek near Edinburg, Virginia may not be that place, depending on where you live and your ideas about convenience. Turns out it’s a nice little stream, but hiking and bushwhacking is, as usual, required. I had fished Big Stony Creek before, of which Little Stony is a notable tributary, but I had never gotten up to the Little Stony until now.
On both days, I parked at the small lot where the National Forest road crosses the creek. The first day was reconnaissance. I hiked a bit and headed downstream to the Woodstock Reservoir and checked out just three pools. I tried three different flies — foam beetle, greenish Elk Hair Caddis, and in the last pool that was the biggest, flattest, and had the slowest water, a size 16 Adams. Got a fish in each before moving on. All of them were the normal, five to seven inch small freestone stream fish you would find in any of our mountain trout streams. And all on dry flies… no surprise.
On day two, I hiked upstream and spent a lot more time fishing. It was pushing 68 degrees, and the bigger and bushier the dry fly I tried, the larger the fish were that I hooked. I had a lot of action, but it could have been even better. One of the things to keep in mind about Little Stony Creek is that it runs north-south. With the sun low in the sky this time of year, it was hard to maneuver and consistently keep my shadow off the water. Actually, the real problem was the shadow of the rod when I cast. So there was a lot of pre-planning at every single pool, positioning myself off to the side, making sidearm casts, and stuff like that. On a cloudy day like the first day I fished here, that’s obviously not a concern.
Despite all that, the fishing was good. It’s not the complete wilderness experience of Shenandoah National Park, and depending on where you live, it might be a lot farther away than SNP for what amounts to very similar fishing and the potential for slightly lower fish sizes compared to a few of the better SNP streams. There are almost five miles of water to fish, though, and it empties into the Woodstock Reservoir. I want to believe there are bigger brookies in that impoundment, but despite prowling the banks a bit and making some casts, I didn’t see them and haven’t heard much about what’s swimming in there.
You do have to contend with some trash and campsite detritus here. This is the price you pay for fairly straightforward access and less strenuous hiking. It’s also hunting season, and though I saw only a single vehicle parked at a turnout on Monday as well as Friday, it’s something to be aware of. Much less a concern than some of the streams around Massanutten, though.
Now the bushwhacking part. This place is thick with vegetation. In December, it’s not too bad to push through some brush to get on and off the stream. However, come spring or summer, getting around much of this place would be misery. Even the trail itself is not always well defined. So be warned. It’s not a matter of getting lost, since you’re in a narrow, deep valley, but it can get frustrating. My wife was with me on the first day, and heading back to the car from the reservoir we somehow lost the trail because we wanted to check out one more pool we had seen on the way down. We ended up bulldozing our way up some steep slopes and a dry creek bed, knowing that simply heading due west we’d hit the trail eventually. And we did. But again, in late spring or summer, that would be a different experience.
I’ll surely head back here since it’s not too far from home. However, it’s just as easy for me to get to some other streams, and those are up next.
Weather conditions: mostly sunny, winds SSW 3 to 10 mph
Fall 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!
The second stream is one of the forty-sixninety 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.
Great fall day! I went out yesterday intending to hit just the Rapidan River near and also within Shenandoah National Park. I turned this into a three-stream trip on a whim. Hitting three streams in one day is not my usual approach. The typical thing for me is to park on Skyline Drive, hike down below fishable water, fish upstream for a while, then hike back out. Always a workout. Today, it was all drive-by fishing.
The first detour was to one of the places I can catch decent brookies without hiking more than five minutes. Sure enough, I got the guy at the top of this post on a small Stimulator. That was good enough. I turned around and got back in the car, bound for the Rapidan.
I haven’t fished the Rapidan in at least five years. It’s an odd place in the park, maybe the only stream where you can just about drive right up to all the good water and fish. Although “driving right up to the good water” makes it sound easy, see the photo — that’s a relatively mild section of the road. The road appears to be in much worse shape than when I was there years ago. And I suppose that’s a good thing. It probably keeps the fishing pressure a little lower than it would be otherwise. Despite the driving challenge, I did see a handful of cars and fishermen there. Maybe the VDGIF should drop a couple bombs and make it a little tougher still.
The fall colors are just past peak in the elevations, and there is lots of green in the valley. Overall, right now is probably peak color in the park. I suggest you avoid Skyline Drive this time of year. It is always crowded with gawkers and slow drivers in autumn.
Fishing on the Rapidan was tougher than it should have been, all due to my fly selections. I tried Stimulators, Royal Wulffs, Mr. Rapidans, each with some success but lots of splashy refusals. What ended up really working, though, was a plain black foam beetle with a small orange square on top. I got the biggest fish on the Rapidan in a super shallow spot, at a moment when I was not expecting it. No photo of that one, sorry. Gotta remember (and I know this but am stubborn) — fall is a great time for terrestrials on brook trout streams.
Heading out, I decided to fish the public stretch of the Rose River. I’ve always passed this by. Rose River Farm is right up the road and I have fished there twice. I was hoping that jumping in on the public section downstream of there would put me in contact with some of those big RRF trout that may have washed downstream. Well, that didn’t work out but I did get this one nice little rainbow.
Total stats for the day:
Three streams — ten minutes on the first, and hour and a half on the Rapidan, and hour on the Rose
Very little hiking, unusual in SNP
About a dozen brook trout, and more refusals than I care to admit until I tied on the beetle
One rainbow trout
One Rosyside Dace
Three fallfish, one pushing ten inches
First leak in my waders
Yes, finally got a small leak in my cheapo LL Bean Emerger waders. Took a few years. Even though I try to be gentle on clothes, boots, and gear, these waders have seen more than their share of sliding down rocks, ripping through brambles, and other forms of assault. I’d give them high marks, especially considering the low price. Should be an easy patch job.
Anyway, beautiful fall brook trout fishing is going to wind down in the next couple weeks. Get out and enjoy the colors and the warm weather!
Weather conditions: mostly sunny, winds SSW one to 7 mph