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.

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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17 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.”

  5. bbillings30 says:

    Great post Walt! I love hearing about other anglers’ treks into the SNP. I read your About page and saw that you typically fish the northern tier of PA. I’m moving to Lock Haven (from Harrisonburg, VA) this weekend and was wondering if you knew of any decent mountain streams in the area. I’m excited to do some exploring, but anything you’d be willing to share to point me in the right direction would be greatly appreciated! Maybe we can go fishing sometime. If you want you check check out my latest blog post about my favorite Virginia streams as a reflection on my time here in Virginia: Keep up the good work!

    • Brad, thanks for contacting me. You’ll be moving into some very nice trout fishing locales. Good luck with the move itself! I love fishing many of the streams north of Lock Haven, including Pine, Slate, Cedar, Young Woman’s, etc. Beautiful wild trout waters. I’ve posted my experiences there many times on Rivertop Rambles. Will add your blog to my “blogroll,” so will keep in touch.

  6. bbillings30 says:

    Hey Walt,
    Thanks for the reply, and thanks for the add to your Blogroll! I’ll definitely look up your articles on those streams. What part of PA do you live in? All of those are very popular streams and bigger water, have you fished any smaller mountain streams with browns? Here in the Shenandoah Valley it’s very hard to find a small, high gradient stream with browns or rainbows, nearly all of them are brook trout only. I’d love to find a stream up there with a little variety, something with browns or rainbows in those plunge pools. Does anything come to mind?

    • Brad, I actually live in NYS but only about 10 miles north of the PA border. Purchase annual fishing license for NY, PA and VA, but spend most of my time fishing the headwaters (rivertops) of the north-central PA trout streams. Small high-gradient brookie streams are plentiful and lots of fun. There are also many mountain streams with wild brown trout (Slate, Cedar, upper Pine, Allegheny, etc.). Streams with wild rainbows are few and far between, but rainbows are stocked heavily in many streams and rivers. Pine and Little Pine are good examples with all three species.I’m an active member of the Slate Run Sportsmen that works to preserve the beauty of the Pine Creek Valley and the continued use of Slate Run as a fly-fishing only stream. For me it’s a 2-hour drive to Slate Run and the Waterville area, which I visited just yesterday. From there it isn’t too far south to Lock Haven. I think you’re gonna like it in PA.

  7. bbillings30 says:

    Nice! I’d definitely consider myself more of a headwaters fisherman too. I’m actually originally from Pennsylvania; I grew up in Selinsgrove, about an hour southeast of Lock Haven. Have you ever fished Lick Run? Not the trophy trout stream that runs into Sayers Lake; the wilderness stream across the river from Lock Haven. I’m also really curious about Bear Run, Cherry Run, and Spring Run, tributaries of Fishing Creek. Long Run, a Class A stream right near Lock Haven also looks rather intriguing. Thanks for your help, we definitely need to get together sometime!

    • Sounds good, you already seem to have a handle on the possibilities around Lock Haven. No, I haven’t fished any of those streams you mention, though I’ve heard of several. The area is a little south of my general fishing realm, that is, beyond what I can reasonably do in a day trip. (There’s so much good water between here and there, as well). Dave Wolf’s book has a small piece on Lick and Cherry Run, and Dwight Landis’ book (which I prefer) has admiring sketches of Long, Bear and Cherry runs. They sound like good streams to investigate. Maybe someday I’ll do a camp-out in your neck of the woods and we could do some research on them!

  8. bbillings30 says:

    Yeah that would be a lot of fun if you came down sometime. Either way we’ll have to go to Young Woman’s, Kettle, or Pine together. I’ve been looking at getting either Dave Wolf’s, Dwight Landis’, or Charlie Meck’s book about the streams in PA. From what I’ve read Landis and Meck have the best guides. Have you ever read Meck’s “Pennsylvania Trout Streams and Their Hatches”? Also, have you ever done any steelhead fishing? My wife is from outside of Toronto and she bought me a 7 wt. rod to dabble with steelhead while we see the in-laws on occasion, but I don’t really know what I’m doing when it comes to fishing for those beasts, haha.

    • Brad,Yeah I’ll look forward to the chance of meeting up in the coming year and doing some fly-fishing. The Landis and Meck books and Wolf’s book are considered the PA bibles for fly-fishing. I like Landis, and I have a well-thumbed copy of Meck’s “PA Trout Streams” as well as “Mid-Atlantic Trout Streams” and find them useful, if you don’t mind the rather prosaic lit qualities of his work. (Here I’ll honk my horn and say that the new edition of my book River’s Edge– see sidebar for Amazon edition– covers a lot of PA and NY streams in my own inimitable way!) As for steelhead, yeah I love fishing for them, especially in spring in the Erie rivers such as the Cattaraugus, and the Ontario waters like Oak Orchard and the Salmon. A 7-weight would work well for them. We’ll definitely have to talk!

  9. bbillings30 says:

    I have a list of books to obtain and read, and I’ve added all four of those to the list. I’m looking forward to reading your book, especially because it focuses specifically on the northern PA/southern NY area. Since I’ll be moving closer to the Great Lakes I definitely would like to fish for steelhead a bit. I just can’t even imagine how much fun fighting a fish that big would be! Thanks for all your help and I look forward to meeting you hopefully in the near future!

    • Brad,You’re very welcome to any way that I can help. Steelhead fishing is a riot, especially on the smaller streams and rivers. Usually I’ll get out a few times in fall and winter, if the weather is cooperating, then really focus on it in March. I’d be happy to hit the water with you when the fishing planets get aligned. Meanwhile, enjoy the books this winter. I think you’ll enjoy mine as well. The book is starting to catch on a bit in this area.

  10. bbillings30 says:

    That sounds awesome; I’d love that! My e-mail is if you want to get in contact with me. Hey Walt, I have a request about your blog. What do you think of adding a search bar as a widget? It’d be a lot easier to find a stream you’ve written about by searching for it than it is to sift through four years of archives. Just a thought! Have a good one!

    • Thanks for the email address. I’ll add it to my contacts list, for sure. As for a Search widget, hmm, I’m an idiot when it comes to setting up a blog and its components, and I actually hadn’t thought of it as a possibility although I’ve wondered if I should try to categorize the subjects. I tried that once and the whole thing became so overwhelming I just said screw it. But a search button would make sense for me. I’ll check into it. Much appreciate the tip, buddy.

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