The North Fork Moormans River was flowing a bit low and clear for early April. The water temperature registered a cool 46 degrees and, five hours later, hadn’t warmed at all. This small, boulder-studded river flows off the Blue Ridge inside the Shenandoah National Park and is still recovering from a devastating flood in 1995. The native trout population seems to be average (from my several visits to the stream) but the fish I’ve caught there have looked to be healthy and larger than expected.
I hiked the Moormans Trail under changeable sky, the sun giving way to heavy clouds and back again. With air temperatures in the 50s I wasn’t complaining, even though it brought out plenty of hikers and a few collegiates who decided to try some swimming in a favorite trout pool. A bright spot for me, in addition to seeing and hearing songbirds like the phoebe and Louisiana water-thrush along the cliffs, was stumbling on the season’s first wildflowers, especially the delicate bloodroot and hepatica.
Finding these wildflowers in bloom set the mood for finding more brook trout water. Next day I was on the Rapidan, perhaps the finest freestone in the region. If you want to fish this beautiful, tumbling stream, you’ll need to do some research first and (short of hiring a guide) decide if your approach will be from Skyline Drive inside the national park or from the eastern valley below.
We opted for the valley access, and may not have found the easiest approach. The hike to the river from the end of Route 649 was a bit laborious but worth the haul.
The only other angler we saw on this watershed arrived at the parking lot a few minutes after we decided we might be in the right place afterall. He suited up beside us and removed his 7-piece Orvis rod from the trunk of his BMW. After we climbed the switch-backed ridge and descended into the deep valley of the Rapidan, we came to the conclusion that the 2-mile walk to the river had indeed been worth the effort. The other fly-fisher soon arrived but something wasn’t right.
His 7-piece fly rod didn’t fit together as it should. He had lost or left behind one of the essential pieces. Having made similar blunders in the past, I sympathized with the friendly angler and, as the only bloke with a fly rod on this expedition, even offered to share my casting instrument with him by taking turns on each of the lovely pools before us.
He decided he was going to climb back out and have a look for the missing piece, which may have fallen by the rutted track or been left back at his vehicle. I wished him luck, and got to work on the narrow cascading river with its series of deep, clear pools.
While my wife crocheted on a sunny rock overlooking the stream, and while my son and brother-in-law scouted sections of the water and reported on conditions, I noted a few Quill Gordons hatching from the eddies and did my best with an assortment of nymphs. The water temperature was (again) around 45 degrees, a bit cool for trout action. In about a week’s time, this stream would be hot for dry fly casting, or so I imagined. I’d be gone, but… what a dream.
As we climbed back up the mountain on this “road” once used by the Herbert Hoover entourage en route to the original Presidential Retreat at Camp Rapidan, we met up with the unfortunate fly-fisher, now returning to the river. He had found the missing rod piece at his car, and now had the whole thing assembled happily. I had to give him credit. He may have driven to the mountains in a beautiful new vehicle, but he wasn’t afraid to get in there and fish.
At that point he’d already hiked about six miles, up and down, and had at least two more to go before he’d sit again in comfort. The Hoover entourage of last century, traveling to the headwaters for trout fishing near camp, had bogged down on this horse track more than once. The fellow whom I’d met today, the angler on his first visit to the Rapidan, wasn’t about to let an inconvenience stop him from his fishing.