(The Rapidan Camp) is a constant reminder of the democracy of life, of humility, and of human frailty– for all men are equal before fishes.– President Herbert Hoover
From Milam Gap at Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park, we descended the foot trail 1.8 miles to the camp. The Rapidan Camp, also known as Camp Hoover, was the presidential retreat of Herbert Hoover, America’s 31st President, 1929-1933.
The early afternoon was warm and cloudless as I carried my four-piece, seven-foot fly rod and my rolled-up waders with me on the trail. Richard, my brother-in-law, carried my wading shoes, in addition to water bottles. Before long, we reached the first of three stream crossings, our introduction to the several “prongs,” or tributaries, that would converge at Rapidan Camp to form the excellent Virginia trout stream known as the Rapidan.
A raven flew noisily among the steep mountains looming nearby. The first spring wildflowers, bloodroot and hepatica and trout lily, bloomed along the trail. Soon I saw the first small sign for anglers, saying we had reached the uppermost boundary of the catch-and-release section for native brook trout in the Rapidan watershed.
The Rapidan Camp has been restored to its 1929 appearance and contains three of its original 13 structures: the President’s Cabin (the Brown House), the Prime Minister’s Cabin, and the Creel. The original Camp Hoover, serving a man who “appreciated the isolation of remote accommodations,” was a precursor of the current presidential retreat, Camp David, located in Maryland.
Hoover had wanted a retreat within 100 miles of Washington, D.C., one whose minimum elevation of 2500 feet above sea-level would minimize the impact of mosquitoes and, most importantly, he wanted something with immediate access to quality trout fishing. Rapidan Camp fit the bill, and more.
Located on remote Doubletop Mountain on the eastern slope of the Blue Ridge, Rapidan Camp features the convergence of the Mill Prong and Laurel Prong to form the Rapidan. Native trout are plentiful in these streams. The U.S. Marine Corps built 13 assorted structures including a lodge, two mess halls, a “town hall,” cabins, hiking trails, stone fountain, trout pools, and a miniature golf course.
In 1929, the Commander in charge of construction wrote, “It would have been easier to have moved an army of 10,000 men across the Blue Ridge than to have built this camp. I have been amazed to find so wild an area existing here so close to eastern cities.” Indeed, the camp included electric lights and telephone, and had its mail dropped off by an airplane.
I was more amazed by the fact that the Rapidan’s water temperature was already 56 degrees F., that a small hatch of Quill Gordon mayflies was occurring, and that, by casting a dry stonefly pattern, a Stimulator, I was able to connect with trout after trout, wild brooks that were mostly small (approaching nine or 10 inches long), and wonderfully colored.
I gladly lost count of all the trout I carefully released. Rich enjoyed the rugged stream bank, the beauty of the pools and their fish, not to mention poking around the camp site and speculating on its history.
We were only the latest in a long line of visitors and guests. We hoped that the rustic beauty would remain as such and offer peace and solitude to hikers. Although there had been many notables at the camp throughout its heyday, including Thomas Edison, Charles Lindbergh, Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., and Winston Churchhill, it was good to think that we were equals in the eyes of trout.
A natural democracy rules, perhaps. It seemed to, if only for a little while.
Hi Walt this is a place every fly fisher should visit fishing below the camp is good also. I might be up at slate run this fri,good fri. Hope to see you soon
You’re right, Dale, the fishing below camp was very nice, indeed. It was quite the place. I’ll see if I can make it to Slate this weekend, but it won’t be before Saturday. Hope to see ya.
That may stand as Hoover’s greatest accomplishment as President.
I’d say you’re probably right on that account, Jim, although another possible accomplishment is the reduction of naval armaments (as I’ve been told), though I’m not positive of that.
Early spring, streams of the Appalachian brook trout. You know the beauty of life.
What’s the fly in that last beautiful brook trout?
Special water, special weather, special trout. Thanks Alan. The dry fly ticket for me was the Stimulator. I’m sure any number of dry fly patterns might have worked. Quill Gordon for the actual hatch.
Fantastic Walt, I spent a fair amount of time growing up in the blue ridge mountains. Glad to be reminded of those wonderful mountains and streams again from your post. Thanks for sharing.
You’re most welcome, Long. I wonder if you’re familiar with the mountains here in VA. It’s a fine place to hike and fly-fish in the spring and fall. We had a lot of rain yesterday, so I’m not sure how stable the mountain streams are today, but will have to check.
Sounds like a great day, Walt. Any day you catch a trout on a dry fly is a good day, but better yet is the day when you catch lotsa trout a dry! And on such a venerable stream as the Rapidan, to boot, as well as the historical significance of the place.
It was fun, Bob, if only for too short of time. Would’ve preferred at least a full day at it, but a short few hours were sweet. Started casting with a dry Stimulator and never changed it. Thought of using a Quill Gordon, since flies were hatching, but the Stimmy is a better floater on this kind of stream. Will try to catch up with you soon.
Great story Walt! I wish I was there myself.
Thanks Keith! What’s developing out there in your neck of the forest?
It’s spring or so it has since Feb. I have come to think of spring out here as “Lazy Spring.” In NJ I seem to remember that up to the end of March was cold or least it could snow and in about 4 weeks it was spring. Here it can feel like spring in early Feb but the leaves don’t seem to bloom any earlier than in NJ. Other than that it’s work at work and at home and I have been reading more books of late. Although it may not be your cup of tea I have been enjoying immensely “The Old Ways” by R. Macfarlane. He wanders the ancient paths (on land and sea) of Europe. I just read where he explored the waters between Scotland and the Isle of Lewis. A place with numerous lakes that are look good for fishing.
Thanks, Keith, for bringing the Northwestern spring into focus for us. I’d still love to visit your region some day. As for the Macfarlane book, the subject is right up my alley, I think. Love that interconnection between the sense of place and ancient history, which is why I’ve enjoyed reading books such as “A Walk Across Europe” (author not recalled) and more recently, “Young Art and Old Hector” by Neil Gunn.