1. The fly rod that was new for me this past summer wanted a good workout near the place where it was made. That is, the 7’6″ five-weight wanted to go fishing somewhere in the state of Virginia near the shop where it was built lovingly by hand, from elements such as tapered bamboo strips and nickel silver ferrules, with meticulous craftsmanship and artful design.
“Okay,” I said to Chester, the fly rod, “I think I know the place for you. A Blue Ridge mountain stream with lots of pretty brook trout in it.”
He was fine with that, and so our first VA outing came on Thanksgiving Day at the North Fork Noname River (pronounced No-Nahm-e, from …ancient Powhatan, methinks). It was a nice outing, with my son along for the hike into Shenandoah National Park, but fishing time was limited since we had family plans for later in the day.
I was entertained briefly by the sweet and intricate trilling of a winter wren that fluttered among the streamside boulders; later, we all watched a group of chickadees and a brown creeper pecking away at insects in the trees beside the trail.
The North Fork isn’t a secret stretch of water by any means, but it’s a park stream still attempting to recover from a devastating flood in 1996. Its native trout were nearly wiped out from that flood, but are slowly coming back to a point where the fishing (with additional park permit) is starting to shine. The brookies don’t need any more attention than they’re getting, but these mountain fish are wild and, for the most part, healthy.
The holiday outing was a slow one. Chester had a fine time, laying out long delicate casts with a beadhead nymph, with minimal grumbling whenever I wrapped the tapered leader around the tips of overhanging branches. He and I went out alone on the second day. We changed our use of wet flies, and the fishing was dramatically improved.
2. By the time I got to the park at mid-morning, there were 15 vehicles already at the space reserved for hikers and anglers. I’d have to get used to the crowd. Chester and I chuckled at the sight. It was Black Friday, and we wondered why all these nature lovers weren’t out shopping for televisions, iPads and underwear.
At the end of our day, we would find more than twice that many vehicles lining the roadway at our access point. It was that kind of a weekend, and the weather was November beautiful, with an air temperature in the 60s.
Albemarle Anglers had its guiding service parked by the river. I saw the five guided anglers upstream as I passed them heading into the mountains at about the two-mile mark. You pretty much had to climb that far to get a wilderness experience, at least on this busy weekend.
3. What a difference a day made! The third morning was overcast and warm and the water temperature registered a cool 48 degrees. There were far fewer vehicles at the parking lot. I would see only one or two anglers all day, and even the hikers were few and far between.
Hiking well into the back country, Chester and I decided that the day and the occasion demanded dry fly fishing. I tied on a floating Stimulator, and we stayed with it for the next four hours.
Yeah, the fishing was good. There’s a wild stretch of the Noname where I dropped down from the trail and found great pocket water, pools and riffles with excellent gravel beds, and plenty of hungry, colorful trout. There were times when I thought this section of the river looked and felt as remote and wild as any stretch of the Rapidan, the North Fork’s famous sister to the north.
Chester and I had quite a fishing workout over a three-day period. When I wasn’t involved with family activities centering on our holiday visit to the city, the fly rod and I had plenty of exercise hiking the river trail and climbing over boulders that lined the stream. On our final outing, we caught and released so many brook trout with a dry fly that we really got to know each other well.