River Notes, Shenandoah Nat’l Park

Day 1: Driving west from Warrenton, Virginia into the Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah National Park provided a pleasant reentry into the realms of hiking andDSCN6240 brook trout fishing.

Wife, Leighanne, and daughter, Alyssa, gave company and comic relief to my sunny day, blue sky adventure. Beautiful weather, 60s, perfect for a Skyline Drive walk downhill into the headwaters of the Rose River, a feeder stream to the Robinson that feeds the Rapidan, Rappahannock, and James River system of the Chesapeake drainage.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWith an easy 1.3 mile descent to the Rose, I started casting for native brook trout with my conveniently designed 4-piece rod. The upper Rose was flowing clear and cold (45 degrees F., a bit chilly for dry fly fishing but good with a bead-head nymph). Although groups of hikers and even a bait-casting fisherman were ahead of me at some of the pools, I did okay, considering I angled for only an hour or so.

The brookies were colorful and lively. My wintry legs and and ankles felt a bit rubbery OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAwhile stepping among the wet rocks and boulders, but I was getting there. And Leighanne, recovering from back surgery, did the 2.6 mile hike with relative ease.

Day 2: March made an exit like a lamb. This seemed to be the day I’d been waiting for all winter. The drive west out of Charlottesville into the Blue Ridge and Shenandoah National Park was filled with the anticipation of high spring.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe old road/hiking trail along the North Fork Moormans was starred with wildflowers, my first of the year– coltsfoot, bloodroot, hepatica and spring beauty. Songbirds, including the Eastern phoebe and Louisiana waterthrush, rang their notes from the cliffs of this cold mountain stream.

With the water temperature in the high 40s, it seemed reasonable to start casting with a nymph again. There were midges over the stream, but the stoneflies and Blue Quills had yet to make an appearance. Whereas the Hare’s Ear nymph was all I really needed for the day, I was glad to mix in some dry fly fishing after the first trout rose to the surface.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

After suffering devastation from flooding along with landslides in 1996, the Moormans seems to be making a remarkable recovery, if the size of its wild brook trout are any indication. Two of the trout I caught today, fooled by an artificial nymph, were notable for an eastern mountain stream. The smaller specimen was 10 inches, and the heftiest native measured almost a foot in length.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASomeone asks me, “In fishing, does size matter?” Well, I guess that here it does.

The Moormans is a beautiful stream in the wild eastern flanks of the park. There were times, well into the mountains, when I wandered farther from the trail than usual. I came to places that often included a deep, lovely pool, a place with real solitude. They were places where I’d be in quite a jam if I happened to break an ankle or something while dodging logs and boulders. But I’m glad I found those little trout locales.

Had I known of them, but failed to fish them for some reason, I might have had a tough OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAtime living with myself for several days.

All in all, the six-mile hike, out and back, was filled with a series of pools and small cascades, of wildflowers and songbirds, and colorful trout.

Spring was truly here.

Day 3: No joke, April dawned cooler than March, but clear and beautiful along the lower Rapidan River. From the dead-end of pastoral Route 662, I walked the river trail into Shenandoah National Park with Leighanne, Alyssa, and my brother-in-law Richard. Where the Staunton River poured its rocky mountain waters into the Rapidan, I parted company with the others (we had come here in two vehicles), fished the lower Staunton and caught the day’s first brook trout at the junction with the larger stream.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Staunton’s flow was high enough to thwart all hikers without wading shoes. I crossed it and proceeded up the Rapidan, one of the finest wild trout streams in the eastern U.S., and soon felt the residues of human society dissolve in the clear, deep holes and wonderful, boulder-studded pools.

With water temperature in the high 40s again, with bright sunshine overhead, the fishing was slower than on the Moormans, at least for a while. With the drifting of a bead-head nymph, I caught an occasional brook trout, none of which would surpass the nine-inch mark today.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Around 4 p.m., I saw the first rise-form in the “Emerald Pool” and, shortly after, the Quill Gordon mayflies fluttered from the rippling surfaces.

At one remarkable location framed by ancient mountains, I caught and released five brookies on a ragged dry fly, size #14.

Thank the green earth, please, for Virginia’s Rapidan River.

So, with three more days to hit the southern streams, this old April fool is tired but pleased to be your humble servant.



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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20 Responses to River Notes, Shenandoah Nat’l Park

  1. Brent says:

    The colors on those fish are just amazingly bold. Wish I could’ve joined for those vistas and the great hikes.

  2. Do you ever get your wife and daughter to fish with you?

    • My wife will tag along, bring a book or something, when she can. The daughter used to fly fish, and I hope she’ll take it up again. Thanks for the read and comment, Jim.

  3. marymaryone says:

    Great to see your wife is up to hiking again. I am so jealous of your spring photos. We are still waiting for about 2 more feet of snow to melt, although I finally saw some crocus shoots peeking through the earth a few days ago.

  4. Hi Mary,
    Yeah L. was going thru one of those recuperative sessions that you know all about, and she’s still a work in process but doing well. Wow, you still have lots of winter stuff left, huh. Sounds familiar, and I think NY still has its share in the woods. But hang on, the change is coming!

  5. Bob Stanton says:

    You’re making me jealous again, Walt. As you well know, winter is pretty reluctant to retreat here, but it’s going. I just returned from Chapman State Park where I was spying on the trout stocking happening on the West Branch Tionesta today. Most of the lake is still iced over, but it served as a convenient platform for an immature Bald Eagle to tear into a deer carcass. I counted about fifteen Tundra Swans on the open water, along with some Woodies and a few other unidentifiable ducks. Can’t wait spring to get into full swing!

    • Swans, eagle, carcass, ice. Sounds good to me, Bob, and I’ll look forward to that scenario, along with NY fishing, but when I get back. Right now just diggin’ spring, which will come north eventually. Thanks!

  6. Mike says:

    Looks like good solid family and fishing time in some warmer temps and gorgeous mountain views! Hope the time goes slowly and those amazing brookies continue the bite!

    • That’s what it is, Mike, family fun with enough room to cast in solitude and to try to slow things down with a beer or two. Thanks for the good wishes, and hope you’re getting out some and finding friendly sunshine and water, too!

  7. Kevin Frank says:

    It’s a fisherman’s haven there. You can fish for smallmouth in the morning and trout in the evening.

    • Funny you should mention that, Kevin– I’m just in from doing it the other way around today– trout in the morning and smallmouth in the evening, though I had to substitute a fat chub for the anticipated bass… Maybe tomorrow. Thanks much, and I hope you’re enjoying the new season!

  8. Les Kish says:

    Some nice scenics Walt. They give a feel for the country. No snow either. I be that you’re relieved!

  9. It’s sweet relief, Les; the northern winter was an angry bear. May you, too, enjoy the change of pace. With thanks!

  10. LQN says:

    Walt – beautiful the blue ridge mountains and SNP are such an amazing place. I need to visit this year. Thanks for sharing and the brookies look healthy and beautiful

    • You’re welcome, Long, and I know you’ll love another visit to the mountains. The brooks are looking healthy, and one can hope for a year of sufficient rains. The streams look great right now, but have dropped noticeably in the last few days.

  11. markw says:

    Fantastic couple of days, looking forward to being down there inn a couple weeks!

    • Mark, Yesterday was another good one on the Moormans, and today I’m heading back to the Rapidan. As long as we have some rains to keep the streams flowing well, you should have an excellent time of it. Happy spring to you and yours!

  12. Walt
    What a great post on one of my favorite parks in the United States; numerous trips there visiting my wife’s Grandmother right after we got married. It has been over 30 years since we were there. We hope to make a trip back to the park this summer. What weight/length fly rod were you using landing those colorful trout on those scenic streams? We were told when we were there that the Shenandoah Park area was where the movie Shenandoah was filmed. Thanks for sharing some fond memories!!

    • Bill, I’m glad that I could help with the stirring up of fond memories. I’m sure that you and your wife feel a strong connection to this area. It’s certainly beautiful, especially at this time of year, with everything bursting into flower and bloom. I hope that you guys can make it back there with another visit.
      I’ve been using two fly rods for the park streams. For the longer walks and tighter stream conditions I really like my 7-ft. 4-wt., a 4-piece Orvis, and for the shorter walks with more open casting I’ve been using my 8’4″ 3-wt. rod, another 4-piecer that’s convenient for traveling. Those are my preferences, but actually any shorter fly rod casting a 3 to 5-wt. line would be handy in the park.

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