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Dry Fly Fishing in Shenandoah National Park in January!

Brook Trout Adams Wulff January 2012
Brook trout are hungry for a size 12 Adams Wulff

Just a quick update…

I got out this weekend to one of my favorite streams in Shenandoah National Park. Since it was in the mid-fifties and has been for days, it seemed like it would be worth a shot to once again and per my standard practice SHUN NYMPHING and throw some dry flies, see how I’d do, then pick up some barbeque at Mr. B’s afterwards.

A trip like this involves quite a bit of traveling for the amount of fishing. I don’t live too far from the park but it was still nearly an hour drive each way for this stream. Part of that is due to the 35 mph speed limit on Skyline Drive and getting stuck behind weekenders there who dutifully obey it. Once I parked it was another 45 minute hike downhill and about an hour hike back out. So right off the bat, that’s nearly four hours out of the day just to travel to and from the water. I managed to fish it for about two hours. I could have stayed longer but had to get back home for some reason that seemed important then but I really can’t justify or even remember looking back now.

Brook Trout Adams Wulff 2 January 2012The fishing was awesome! Throwing dry flies and catching trout on the surface in the middle of winter is so much fun. I took a tip from my trip to Florida for redfish last month about sight fishing and decided to really try locating trout before just blindly casting to the seams and other good spots, like I typically do on small streams. I was pretty successful and managed to see many of the fish I caught before I even made the cast. This is a skill I’m going to try to make more of a habit, just slowing down a bit more and really trying to spot anything I can before making even that first cast.

So I fished two flies, both of which I tied in the past week. The first was a size 12 Adams “Wulff” I think I’ll call it. I am not a huge fan of tying feathers for wings on dry flies. It just seems like it’s not always necessary. I simply used some synthetic white yarn instead to make a split wing and wrapped it in a ton of brown and grizzly hackle. Seemed to float fine, cast well and fooled fish. Not sure I’ll go back to feathers for Adams style flies any time soon.

Patriot Dry Fly
The hard working Patriot. Still looking pretty good after taking a couple fish.

The second fly was a size 12 Patriot. This is the first season I’ve tied this pattern, and it was based on a tip from Paul Kearney who runs the Trout Unlimited fish camp for kids, and who has fished the park for over forty years. I also just got Charles Meck‘s book, Mid-Atlantic Trout Streams and Their Hatches. Charles Meck is the creator of the Patriot dry fly. Typical for a brook trout stream, it worked just fine, too!

After I caught a fish or two and the fly became soaked, I put aside my principles and drifted it under the surface. Yes, nymphing! I watched several fish rise off the bottom and slurp the waterlogged fly. The first few were with an Adams, the second batch with the soaked and slimed Patriot.

A note about wading in winter: I severely limited my wading in the stream on this trip, really just wading on the very edges of the water or on shelves of big rocks and boulders. I avoided walking on the gravel and free stone areas as completely as I could. The brook trout have just finished spawning and trampling through the streams, while never a good idea, is much worse of an idea at this time of year. If you do go be very careful. There are a lot of very small fish on the bottom and we don’t want to smush our future brook trout brood.

Nice Pool in the Stream
Nice pool in this stream, one of a bazillion
Releasing a colorful brook trout
The release. Lovely colors on these fish!

My quest to catch at least one fish every month this year has begun. Preferably I’d like to catch a dozen fish each month. So far, I’m on track!







Indian Run and Some Uh… Investigative Fishing

Indian Run Falls 1
The Fishless Stream

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.

The Fishless Fly Rod
The Fishless Fly Rod

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?



Indian Run Spring
Indian Run - The Source Puddle

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.

Rapidan Chapter of Trout Unlimited Fly Fishing Show Tomorrow Feb 26 2011

Trout Unlimited

The Trout Unlimited Rapidan Chapter’s annual Fly Fishing Show is tomorrow, February 26th at Fauquier High School in Warrenton, Virginia from 9:00 am to 4:30 pm. This is a larger venue than the Middleburg Community Center, where it’s been held in recent years, except for last year when it was snowed out.

In addition to the vendors, guides and the raffles for gear and a trip to fish Yellowstone National Park, they have a great speaker line up starting at 9:30 am:

  • 9:30  Jeff Murray – Mountain Trout Fishing
  • 10:15 William Heresniak – Flyfishing for Musky
  • 11:00 Capt. Tony Harding – Flyfishing Virginia Tidal Waters
  • 11:45 Beau Beasley – Fishing Best Waters of Mid-Atlantic
  • 12:45 Bryan Kelly – Three Moods of Smallmouth Bass
  • 1:30 Colby Trow – Trophy Fish of Shenandoah Valley
  • 2:15 Grizz Lambert (sorry, can’t find a link) – Shad Fishing on Potomac
  • 3:00 Jeff Kelble – Virginia Rivers Fish Outlook

Proceeds from the show benefit the chapter’s conservation projects, and if the wind keeps up tomorrow like it is right now, you won’t be out fishing anyway. So stop by the show.

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Brook Trout Fishing in 2011 – It’s Time!

Sounds Exciting

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.

First Brook Trout 2011
Nice Little Mountain Brookie

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.

Unnamed Stream
Nice Little Stream

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.

Winter Non-Fishing Report

Richmond Fishing Expo
Winter Time Means Fishing Shows

It’s the middle of winter. It may not be the official midpoint of the season, but we are smack in the middle of cold air, wind and frozen water around here. Just thinking about March gets me excited, but then it hits me: March is just another month of winter, with some nice days thrown in every few years to keep you hopeful.

The fly fishing shows are a nice distraction this time of year. In a little over a month, the Rapidan TU fishing show will be held, Feb. 26 2011 at the Fauqier High School in Warrenton, Virginia.

But since you’re curious about the fishing, the Virginia Outdoor Report sums up our fishing nicely:

  • Beaverdam Reservoir: Eddie Hester reports that not many anglers have braved the cold weather; so he has nothing to tell us. The water is in the 40s and clear.
  • Virginia Beach: Captain Jim says that things are “as cold as I’ve ever seen”, and it’s “not a good time to be a fisherman”. He predicts that there will be no good action until things warm up. The water is 38 degrees and clear.
  • Upper and Lower Tidal James: No report.
  • North Landing River and Back Bay: Dewey Mullins says that things have been iced over for the last 4 to 5 weeks; so no anglers.
  • Lake Gordon: I hope I never have to use these words again this year “I have not been fishing!”
  • Sandy River and Briery Creek: No report.

And on and on. That is a real mid-winter fishing report. Cold water, slow fishing and ice that’s not thick enough to ice fish in most places. There are fish being caught, sure, but it’s slow. New Year’s Day gave me a little entertainment, but nothing since then.

But then there’s Lake Anna, warmed by the cooling waters of its nuclear reactors: Stripers – they are biting. Bass – they are chasing bait fish. White Perch – they are active, too. Lake Anna and maybe the Dickerson Power Plant in Maryland, which I may try to hit in the next couple weeks to give my switch rod a workout.

In the meantime, I have been buying supplies and tying flies, will post some pictures soon. Got some midges and brassies, some big Clouser Minnows for pickerel this summer, lots of woolly buggers and whatever else I can learn until it warms up a little.

Happy Holidays aka No Brook Trout Fishing for Months!

Fly Fishing Christmas Tree
The new bass fly?

The holiday season is here. It’s the time of year we celebrate pleasant moments with loved ones. We eat. We sing. It’s a fine time. No need to elaborate on all that good stuff. But let’s also consider what we’re stuck with. It’s winter. Cold weather. Crowded roads. The burden of holiday shopping. It’s enough to make some of us convince ourselves that cold weather fishing is fine, and to make me write something to jolt myself out of the pre-holiday funk.

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