Blue Ridge Brookies

It was a colorful day, a comfortable holiday, in central Virginia. My son and I drove out from a family gathering to have a look at brook trout territory in the Blue Ridge Mountains. We traveled from the city to the mountains on a westward road through the rolling farm estates of the wealthy, then onward to the city reservoir and beyond. We parked on the boundary of the back country at Shenandoah National Park.

I had heard from the local Orvis shop that the fishing would be only so-so due to the continuing drought conditions, but all I really wanted was to get out into the wild and feel the freedom of classic brook trout water. Family gatherings at holiday are incomparable, but I had to admit that it felt darn good to briefly shut off contact with the rush of auto traffic, with the television noise and the beeping nonsense of the digital realm.

I suited up for some seven-foot fly rod action. Brent prepared for a hike beyond a point in the trail where I would drop down to the stream. We were learning that the trail system in the Blue Ridge was extensive. Here it paralleled the native trout stream and eventually connected to the Appalachian Trail and Skyline Drive.

The stream was low but the water seemed healthier than when I saw it back in August. I pressed a strike indicator on the leader well above the beadhead nymph. The tapered leader had a 6x tippet, fine enough for this clear stream tumbling through a hollow from the ridge. I quickly got to work. It wouldn’t be long before my son returned from his hike. At that point we would head back for our rendezvous with turkey, veggies, wine, and pie.

I waded upstream, careful not to spook the fish, stepping up and down the rounded boulders, thankful for the cleated bottom of my shoes. The farther I climbed, the better this rivertop appeared. There were shallow flats where occasionally I would spook a hefty trout, but the deep pools and riffles were the magnets for my longing eye.

On the following day (“Black Friday”) I was on the stream again, doing what came naturally. There had been no camping out in front of Best Buy waiting for an early bell, no rush to join the stampede toward a hot deal on a television. I was coming back to Shenandoah National Park to cast beyond a point where I had finished the day before. Once again the weather was perfect for an autumn flyfisher. Economics and political trim were all downstream.

Catching up to a pair of hikers on the trail, I joined their viewing of an object on the slope. A young black bear foraged on the oak leaf carpet of the woods. Shortly after this sighting of a bear, I took to the water at the “second ford.” Eventually I fished my way for two miles into scenic back country. At a feeder stream with a high, thin waterfall, I made my turn around following a hook-up with a tiny brook trout in the plunge pool of the cliff.

I was thankful to have gotten an early jump on the day. Had I started any later, I may not have seen the bear nor had as much luck fishing. With an army of trail walkers in the afternoon, my hope for peace and quiet got a royal kick in the seat of my waders. But Shenandoah is a busy national park, and you had to give these people credit. Granted, some of them couldn’t read the posted regulations, allowing their dogs to run unleashed through an angler’s pool, but at least they weren’t shopping all day long and overstimulating the economy. And the angling pressure could’ve been worse. I was probably the only fellow casting for brookies here. Although I saw a few guys fishing down below the reservoir where trout are stocked, no one else was wading through the mountains.

The fishing wasn’t great but it was pleasurable. The stream is slowly recuperating from devastation wrought by a heavy storm in June 1995 when landslides nearly decimated the native trout and other wildlife here. If I have one suggestion for Virginia’s management of the stream, it would be this: stop stocking fish above the reservoir. There’s no need for it. There’s plenty of stocked trout water below the dam. By stocking brown trout for a half mile above the reservoir to the boundary of the park, we enable the competitive brown to encrouch on an increasingly scarce commodity in the eastern U.S.  Protect this native trout stream while we can.

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About rivertoprambles

Welcome to Rivertop Rambles. This is my blog about the headwaters country-far afield or close to home. I've been a fly-fisher, birder, and naturalist for most of my adult life. I've also written poetry and natural history books for thirty years. In Rambles I will mostly reflect on the backcountry of my Allegheny foothills in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York State. Sometimes I'll write about the wilderness in distant states, or of the wild places in the human soul. Other times I'll just reflect on the domestic life outdoors. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Let's ramble!
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5 Responses to Blue Ridge Brookies

  1. Mel says:

    Hey, Walt, thanks for sharing your trip with me. Kind of felt like I was by your side. Always great to get out as time allows this late in the year. Happy holidays!

    • Mel, Thanks for checking up on me here. At this time of the year, we uplanders are lucky to get out on the water when the weather breaks. I hope you’re getting a few opportunities, too. Happy holidays to you and yours!

  2. “The fishing wasn’t great but it was pleasurable.”- That’s what keeps us all coming back.
    Great story and best of luck for next time!

  3. Thank you, Peter. When the stream itself provides the pleasure principle, we keep coming back, for trout or bird or bear, or otherwise.

  4. I found the following comment for this post in my Spam box (too good for that!):
    “Superintendent Chas Cartwright has announced that special regulations for brown trout are being implemented as a control measure for these non-native trout within sections of the Rose River, Hughes River and Brokenback Run in Shenandoah National Park… this change is needed to afford greater protection to the native brook trout that inhabit many of the park streams.”

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