Three Days in Shenandoah

On the eve of Thanksgiving Day, my son gave my wife and me a walking tour of Theodore Roosevelt Island on the tidal flats of the Potomac River in Washington, D. C.  That morning walk on the circuit trail culminating at the Teddy Roosevelt Memorial set the tone for the upcoming holiday and my three days of hiking and fly-fishing in Shenandoah National Park.

photo by Brent "Bridging the Gap" Franklin

photo by Brent “Bridging the Gap” Franklin

Teddy Roosevelt, the 26th President of the U.S., greatly altered the foreign and domestic policies for America. He improved the terrible labor conditions in this country and he helped preserve a significant portion of the American landscape. Roosevelt was a renaissance politician who wore many hats, including those of scientist, conservationist, historian, author, and naturalist.

"Big Syc"

“Big Syc”

President Roosevelt doubled the number of sites within the National Park System and established the Antiquities Act of 1906 that led to the establishment of many National Monuments. He was a multi-faceted individual who enjoyed rugged outdoor adventures and nature studies, and who viewed himself as “a guardian of the natural world.”

a straight line thru a spiral kingdom

a straight line thru a spiral kingdom

As my wife and son and I enjoyed a peaceful ramble along the boardwalk of the Potomac with its cypress swamp and high densities of migrating songbirds and raptors (including the American robin, white-throated sparrow, red-winged blackbird, and red-shouldered hawk) we basked in the crisp bright air of late November and the legacy of the 26th U.S. President.



Roosevelt might be criticized as one who tried to “conquer the natural world” by leading massive hunting expeditions into Africa to benefit American museums but, according to Darrin Lunde, of the Smithsonian Institute and author of  The Naturalist: Theodore Roosevelt, A Lifetime of Exploration, and the Triumph of American Natural History, Roosevelt “never lost sight of his insignificance when compared to nature and its awesome vastness.”



After walking Roosevelt Island in Washington, D.C. on a fine late-autumn day, I couldn’t help dismissing the idea that if a guy like Teddy Roosevelt was gearing up to take the highest office in the land this coming January, then this nation, and the world, would probably be in better shape right now.

Sometimes I like to understate the obvious…



Soon, I was traveling south from D.C. to Charlottesville, Virginia where the next few days would be spent in the pleasant company of extended family members and where I’d also be thankful for the chance to revisit Shenandoah National Park for another round of hiking with a fly rod and a box of feathered hooks.

On Thanksgiving morning, I hiked into the park with my wife and son and brother-in-law, and I also got to fish for a couple of hours, catching and releasing a handful of native trout. The fish seemed absent from many of the lower North Fork Moormans River pools where I’d come to know them on previous visits. I was reminded of the past summer heat and drought conditions, and I wasn’t feeling very good about the implications.

understating the obvious

understating the obvious

The next day, after being fortified by tasty holiday cuisine and locally brewed ales, I hit the trail for the headwaters in the park, happily singing Steely Dan’s “Black Friday” to myself and leaving behind the world of crass commercialism. While other companions traveled to historical sites and mountain breweries, I was content to hike three miles into the Blue Ridge Mountains in search of pretty brook trout.



When the hordes of holiday shoppers have dollar signs for eyeballs, I prefer to fish– and yeah, sometimes I like to understate the obvious.

Like many eastern streams, the beautiful waterways of Shenandoah National Park were running low and clear. The fishing was challenging, to say the least. As I crept along with Chester (the fly rod built in Middlebrook, Virginia) I didn’t find many trout until I finally reached the upper stretches of the river.

Second Crossing

Second Crossing

But I found them– lots of little brook trout eager to chase a dry fly or a nymph, if I made a delicate cast beyond the sight of the trail and the occasional hiker.

On the third day out, the weather turned sharply cooler and windier. I worked the lower mile of so of the Rapidan River within the boundaries of Shenandoah National Park. Again, the no-kill regulations were in effect, for casting with artificial lures only.

I reinforced my theory that the summer heat and drought conditions had taken a toll, and that many wild trout had moved upstream to find sustainable temperatures and stream conditions. I fished a lot of the Rapidan pools that had been productive for me in the past, but I didn’t see or catch a lot of trout.

the boss

the boss

I think most of the fish had swum upstream in search of former-President Hoover’s camp or, sensing their doom from climate change (or from changes in the forthcoming political climate), they adapted because… they’re a hardy breed and (anthropomorphically speaking) are smarter than we think.

We can thank Teddy Roosevelt and like-minded conservationists for what they did to preserve the national monuments and parks like Shenandoah.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We’ve got to keep working to ensure that these better known and lesser-known places that are special and open to the public remain pristine and ecologically viable.

They keep us sane and healthy…

Just to understate the obvious.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


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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24 Responses to Three Days in Shenandoah

  1. Beautiful pictures. You really managed to capture the colours on those brookies. It sounds like you a great time out on the water in a beautiful area.

  2. Thank you, Douglas. Sometimes the fish and the other elements make it pretty easy, and at other times it’s hit or miss. The national park, though, is almost always photogenic.

  3. Brent says:

    I like the narrative use of Roosevelt (through his memorial) to introduce the legacy of preserving America’s special wild places. He was a complex fellow in his life and presidency, but I think it’s fair to say that, in some important ways, he left us all a better country.

    • Yes, to be sure, I don’t know a lot about the former Prez, aside from the obvious legacy, but the walk seemed like a nice re-introduction to what was set up for everyone to enjoy as time went on. Thanks again for that.

  4. plaidcamper says:

    Thanks once more, Walt! Thoroughly enjoyed the understated obviousness of all this. Happy to read that you got to enjoy the DC swamp before it is drained by all those regular billionaire working folks heading that way to fix things come January.
    What a pleasant-sounding Thanksgiving weekend you had, with a mix of fishing, family, hiking and fine beer – a perfectly understated restorative break! I say repeat as required in the coming months (but that’s probably obvious…)

    • You’re always more than welcome, PC, and thanks again for your thoughtful responses. You’re what the old doctor prescribed, obviously, as we head for the future led by a team of brainy billionaires, and the migraines to come. Have a great weekend!

  5. Doug says:

    Beautiful tribute Walt, to our 26th President and to the environment that too many take so many liberties to ruin and destroy. In this blog, you’ve kept that all alive. Thank you brother. Thanks also for the snapshots and the look into a past that likely, with the new government may disappear before our very eyes.

  6. Bob Stanton says:

    Bully! I say! Teddy was an interesting character, no doubt. He’d likely be described as a progressive in today’s political climate. Maybe it’s time to resurrect his Bull Moose party…

  7. Having had the privilege of visiting that area many years ago I thank you (and Teddy Roosevelt) for the tour. I opted to sight see instead of fish at the time but would certainly like to test those waters one day.

    • Glad you came on for the “tour,” Howard. If you ever get back this way, I think you’d enjoy the fishing, too. It ranges from easy access to challenging, brook trout, catch and release all the way.

  8. loydtruss says:

    My wife and I will be making a trip through the park this coming summer and hope to wet a fly or two in some of the streams. I want be upset if I don’t land trout, just to be fishing there is satisfaction enough for me. Thanks for giving me an advance look at the what is in store for me come summer.

    • You’re welcome, Bill. A visit to the park is something to look forward to. You’ll enjoy it, no matter the season, and as long as there is water in the streams, it’ll be fun to cast a fly.

  9. Bob says:

    Sharing similar interests, fly-fishing, birds, nature & history I really enjoy and look forward to your updates. I really get a kick out of how we travel and fish a lot of the same places. Soo… I also spent a couple of days during Thanksgiving visiting my son in the D.C. area. I applaud you for sneaking out Thanksgiving morning for a little fishing – I wish I’d thought of that. I didn’t do any fishing this trip, I’m still discovering the area, but I’ve fished the Rappahannock & Shenandoah for smallmouth and the stream at Hoover’s camp. This trip we explored the Manassas battlefield and enjoyed good music(and a few adult beverages) at the adjacent winery at Bull Run. After the holiday we revisited Colonial Williamsburg and Yorktown. Well, a little long winded but I just wanted to say hi. I’m already planning on visiting Roosevelt’s Island on my next trip. Keep up the notes, it’s appreciated.

    • Hi Bob M., it’s great to hear from you and to learn that we follow many of the same tracks together! In what area does your son live? Mine lives in Arlington, and he knows the area quite well, so we’re always finding new places there to explore. Long time ago I lived along the Shenandoah but unfortunately never got around to fishing it for smallmouths. My loss. And it sounds like you’ve fished the upper Rapidan near Hoover Camp– a good place for brookies. Thanks much for your comments, and please keep in touch.

      • Bob says:

        Walt, my has been son living in the Triangle/Quantico area for close to 2 years now so we’re really just getting to know the area. My wife enjoys civil war history and the underground railroad, so we’re really enjoying the area. Having recently retired we’re exploring a little more. I’ll keep posted on my travels and fishing.

      • Bob, Your response here 12/6 sounds good. A great area for history buffs!

  10. Mark Wittman says:

    Walt – glad to hear you got the chance to visit the Shenandoah again, I’ve really fallen in love with that place with so many streams to explore. Our national parks are such treasures worth protecting

  11. rommel says:

    I understand the sentiment. I am currently studying US History. We had very great and respectable presidents then, where people actually listen to and honor. Beautiful nature pics, including the first photo with all the yellow leaves.

  12. Thanks Rommel. Regarding U.S. history, I guess we’re never really that far from the past, but with the oncoming political changes, I’m afraid the “greatness and respect” will have a whole new color to it. An era of Reality Television has dawned, and it’s not just on our screens.

  13. JZ says:

    Walt, you always travel to wonderful places. Places of importance, beauty and historical significance. Theodore Roosevelt laid the groundwork on places we enjoy today Walt. Teddy also looked out for the middle-class and those in poverty. He valued working class people from all walks of life. He signed legislation that protected food and drugs sold in the marketplace and placed protections that reached all corners. Known as the “cowboy president”, he protected vast lands and resources for all generations to come. He banished big corporate monopolies by filing antitrust suits and won. He was a president whose vision was ahead of his time, especially in realizing that our natural resources were what made us great. However, he also knew that safeguards were needed and worked hard in getting them realized.
    I think your walk to the monument ties in well with your walk to the stream. The 26th President would certainly be proud of your stewardship of nature, so am I..

    • Thank you, JZ. And thanks for pointing out a lot of what Teddy Roosevelt accomplished for the betterment of people living in this nation and the resources that sustain us all. He did all this and should rightly be considered and remembered as one of our greatest presidents. A trip to the D.C. monument followed by a visit to Shenandoah National Park is a good way to celebrate that rare success of political vision and environmental accomplishment. I appreciate your thoughts and concerns about our natural world!

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