Investigative fishing, otherwise known as “let’s go take a look,” sometimes rewards with great moments — beautiful places, lots of fish or discoveries that are worthwhile. I did some investigative fishing this past weekend, in fact, at Indian Run in Shenandoah National Park. But it was not one of those days to remember, other than to remember not to go there again.
I have recently become interested in finding the northern-most streams in the park that hold brook trout, more out of curiosity than anything else. It is well known that the southern half of the park’s northern district, the bulk of the central district and a good bit of the southern district have great brook trout streams. But the closer you get to Front Royal and that very developed area at the park’s northern end, the more it seems the streams just peter out. Various maps show some promising blue lines and today I decided to cross one off the list. Even after hiking all the way down from Skyline Drive to the park boundary and back I still think Indian Run could have some populations of trout (if anyone knows for sure I’d love to hear about it). As I worked my way down the mountain this little brook gradually became a little deeper and a little wider. It was just starting to look fishable when I stepped on an orange blaze on the rocks, which was under the “Boundary” signage you’re familiar with if you go tromping around the park much. Oh well. If this stream does have fish it’s likely they are in the lower section outside of the park on private land.
Hiking down along Indian Run is not a pleasant trip. The main thing is that there is no trail. Not horrible this time of the year, but you would not like hiking down there when it’s warmer and overgrown. Even in February it’s a chore. It’s steep and rocky, and in many places it’s a gorge that narrows with steep slopes on both sides. Quite a workout coming back up, too, and quite a bit of undergrowth that’s difficult even in the winter.
So I got that out of the way. There are a bunch of other places I have marked to explore, but that will be it for a while.. The next several trips are going to be to where I know the fish are. But on a warm day in February, might as well gamble a little, eh?
One thing that always fascinates me in this park are the springs that feed these streams. There is so much water coming out of the ground that keeps these streams flowing uninterrupted all year, every year. Indian Run is a typical Shenandoah Park stream in that regard. At the top of the Blue Ridge, it’s literally nothing. Then you find Indian Run Spring, which is just a puddle. Then there is another puddle, then more. As you hike down the mountain, it is just a dry stream bed, but you can hear the water underneath it. Then it percolates out of the rocks into the miniature gorge, and more and more water bubbles up until it’s a real river. It all makes you wonder what’s going on underneath the mountain, and whether it’s going to keep seeping up from the ground forever or if it will eventually all just shut off. It’s one of those things you can’t take for granted or turn your back on. What if these springs all just dried up? Well, that would be the end of fishing in the park, no doubt. As scientific as geologists and foresters are, ground water is still a mysterious thing.
So, until next time when I’m back to catching fish, get out there and have fun.
The weather forecast for last Friday was for a warm day, into the 70s. So I started watching the temperature each day in anticipation, planning to take the day off to try to catch some brook trout in Shenandoah National Park for the first time this year. Friday’s weather ended up being similar to Thursday’s, but a little warmer and with wind gusts to 30 mph. Minus the wind, it would have been ideal. For the middle of February, it still was. No one can complain about a sunny, 70 degree day in the last few weeks of winter even if it means your rusty casting skills are going to be tested by that stiff breeze. I decided to head out around 8:00 and drive to a stream in the park that I had never fished before.
Three things are unfortunate for each and every one of you who reads this. The first is that this is a stream I rarely hear mentioned, and since I’ve discovered it is a great stream, I will not name it. No stream in the park is such a big secret, though. Everyone knows that just about every stream there has at least some brook trout. So get a map, find the blue lines and head out there. That’s what I do, with the occasional hint from a few books and reports found among those who do the same. I had been eying this stream on the map for a while, but without confirmation of what’s there and knowing that a poor fishing spot means an entire day “wasted” (as wasted as a bad day of hiking and fishing can be), I’ve just never checked it out. Coupled with what looked like some questionable access on the map and some roads that seemed more like suggestions, I wasn’t sure what I would be driving into. But I figured now was the time to see. Worst case was I’d be outside sunning myself in the middle of February.
The second unfortunate thing for you is that you were not out there on Friday. No one was out there. Maybe you convinced yourself to save those vacation days for April and May, when the fishing is no doubt at its best in the park. Maybe you thought stiff winds smothering your casts wasn’t worth it. Maybe you figured since it’s a three day weekend, you’d head up there on Monday, the Presidents’ Day Holiday, because you know many have to work and won’t be out there trampling on your favorite spots. Whatever the reason, I saw no one all day once I got inside the park boundary. That’s not unusual, but it still amazes me.
The third unfortunate thing is that you missed out on some great dry fly fishing in the afternoon. Despite the breeze, I found enough sheltered spots and enough will and technique to get a size 14 Adams where I wanted it to go most of the time. Cutting the wind with a big dry fly and having fish take it, even if they were a little slow, in FEBRUARY, 70 degrees, everyone else is at work… mana.
The stream was right at 40 degrees when I got there. By the time I left it had probably hit 43, according to my very hard to read thermometer. Definitely at least 42. That small warm up seemed to be all it took to get the brookies hitting dry flies drifted over their snouts. Since I wanted to explore this stream a bit, I had first walked upstream a few miles, then turned around and targeted some pools and runs that I then fished upstream in short segments. In the first several pools I had no luck. Then finally a good sized brookie hit my fly. It was a fat male still colored nicely, and as I lazily hoisted him he flipped off back into the pool. Awesome! I ended up not catching as many fish as I would in April or May, but these were all decent fish, similar to the one pictured which was the last one I caught and the slimmest.
As is the case every time I fly fish, I learned or re-learned a few things. It’s been months since I’ve fished a small mountain trout stream, and I think the reason it took me a while to land the first one was impatience. I was not fishing out every pool thoroughly. On a warm winter day, it seemed even more important to give the fish a few looks at the fly rather than one or two drifts like you’d expect in the prime time of spring. The ones I caught were taken after I floated the fly by several times, and the takes were slow, not the lighting fast strikes of spring, summer and fall. The desperate little creatures must think something like this: “Man, I’m sick of winter… Hey, was that a fly floating by? Ain’t it a little early? There goes another. Didn’t realize I was hungry. And there goes — I’m snaggin’ it!” So once I slowed down and methodically fished every seam and pocket I was successful.
I also tried another dry fly floatant, Gink. This stuff works really well. I treated the fly when it was bone dry, and until it was taken and slimed, all it needed was a good shake to restore its high-floating ways. I’ve got another dry fly floatant to try next time. The stuff I’ve been using most recently, Loon Aquel, is also good. I would have to try both side-by-side to really compare them. There are so many dry fly floatants and I’ve only tried a few. Most are silicone, so maybe they’re all actually the same. I don’t really know for sure.
Anyway, the season is upon us. Winter is revisiting for the next few days, but spring is coming quickly. Get ready.
Quick update from Murray’s Fly Shop about fishing for brookies this time of year. The brook trout eggs are still in the beds, so avoid wading if you decide to go fishing on the mountain streams right now. With the temperatures about as cold as they ever get around here, you might not be on your way out there any time soon.
My wife and I decided to work off the turkey and pie the day after our Thanksgiving feast and go for a hike. The woods around here were crawling with hunters, so we headed to Shenandoah National Park. Neither of us had ever been to Jeremy’s Run so we figured we’d hike the trail there. Besides getting some exercise, I wanted to photograph spawning brook trout. Nothing like fishing, but this would also be something new. I normally don’t come out here this time of year and have never seen spawning brookies. I didn’t know if I would have much chance to see any. When you’re fishing, these guys are usually well hidden until they hit your fly. Without a fly rod, well, it didn’t seem so likely to me.
Generations later, the challenges continue as the park services try to protect the land in the face of invasive species, eroding air quality and urban sprawl. [National Park Superintendent Nancy] Bogle said, “We’ve got to work with our adjacent communities and the people that care about this place to help protect it for the future.”
For you and me, “invasive species” means rainbow trout. Rainbows stocked by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries have established themselves in the lower reaches of many park streams. They out compete the native brook trout in most cases. We’ll have more on this in a subsequent post so stay tuned.
Where I live, I can leave the house and be fly fishing for brook trout in as little as two hours. For me, this takes some planning. Sometimes I get the pack loaded and the gear sorted the night before, but even when I think everything is ready I’m still running around grabbing this and that when I should be leaving. As I am not one to plan anything unless forced to, it’s amazing that I ever get out there. It goes against my natural tendency to wing it. For brook trout fishing, though, I do it.