Blue Ridge Buffer (Pt. 2), No Plan B

1. I love Monday mornings in the Blue Ridge, especially before the hikers, dogs and fishermen start to activate the paths inside Shenandoah National Park. The sun is out; the temperatures are headed for the 70s; Louisiana water-thrushes are at song; the violets and geraniums add their shades of pink and purple to the edges of the trail.

I love casting there in solitude, although at times like this I wouldn’t mind the company of a kindred spirit with whom the fun of catching brook trout can be shared. Before long, I pause at a favorite pool and see a nice trout rising to the surface at the base of a cliff.

I start by casting the April greys– a Blue Quill and a Quill Gordon– but get nothing other than refusals. When I finally see a bit of hatch activity, I switch to a Little Black Stone, a wet fly, and am not surprised when the brook trout nails it on the first or  second cast.

It’s good to climb the mountains, following the clear, full-flowing river, and fishing in a buffer zone between two seasons. Winter is gone except in recent memory, and spring is here like a long-awaited friend who hasn’t seen you in a while and isn’t sure about where you’ve been or what you’re scheming to do, but who accepts your offer of a beer and a comfortable place to sit.

Chester & the Stitchworts

I love fishing this mountain river near Charlottesville, but to really enjoy it I’ve got to do some serious walking to escape the crowd that also loves the river and finds it readily at the bottom of the Blue Ridge. Although the biggest trout seem to inhabit the lowest mile above the stocked waters, the density of fish seems to increase significantly the closer you get to the headwaters.

2. I love Tuesday mornings in the Blue Ridge, especially when my expectations get deflated and my sarcasm balloons. There is no Plan B for the day, which is a good thing, in my estimation. My wife and I cruise the Skyline Drive inside the park and stop at the headwaters of the river I’ve been fishing occasionally for about five years. The temperature is close to 80 degrees and rising. The stream is too small to bother with (and too difficult to reach given the steep rocky slope). We hike down for a mile and a half before discouragement overtakes us. Husband and wife, wedded in bronchitis (I’m overcoming it but she’s getting hammered), decide to turn around and make the tough climb back to the summit.

Without a Plan B, we’re actually free and able to do whatever the hell we want. We drive down the mountain and hit the Blue Mountain Brewery for tasty fish tacos and some of the best craft beer in Virginia. After enjoying this health spa in the sun, and with the hazy mountains for a back-drop, we head back toward Charlottesville. Leighanne sets me free inside the park to fish the lower river for a couple of hours.

I love it when I’m able to gravitate back toward fishing and manage to salvage a bit of my angling prospects. I catch six or seven brook trout, none of them very large but, as always, pleasurable in their company. The highlight of the evening is a couple of “holy crap” moments where a fish is on and the fly line has been artfully wrapped around an overhanging branch or a log stuck in fast water.

With a beer buzz and a brook trout bouncing in the surge of river, hanging on for dear life till my hand arrives to free it, fun has overtaken me, but I hate the moment, too. My waist-high waders make a poor choice of tearing just above an ankle. The waters come in to get me. It’s all too familiar. The waders aren’t even one year old. I’ll never order waders from that company again. Ah well. Leaks be damned; tomorrow I’ll hit another mountain stream. Plan B does not exist.

[Please stand by for more].

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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26 Responses to Blue Ridge Buffer (Pt. 2), No Plan B

  1. Brent says:

    Sometimes having no backup plan is freeing. “Oh damn, my original plan fell through. Now I have no choice but to sit in the sun and drink beer!” Glad you’re enjoying the fantastic weather. How are the water levels?

    • That’s the fun of no plan B. I understand it’s not for everyone, especially those who like to have all activities planned to a T, but now and then it’s liberating. As for stream levels, they’re wonderful for spring fly-fishing. Full and tricky to wade in, but clear and inviting. Thanks Brent.

  2. plaidcamper says:

    A week full of incident, and no plan B means drinking craft beer – fine times, and I’m standing by for more!
    (Chester and the Stitchworts – one of many great photos, and surely a record should be cut?)

    • Chester’s up for anything this week, PC. He even waits patiently while craft beers and shrimp are being consumed. Thanks for being here, pal, and I hope your week is a good one, too.

  3. Bob Stanton says:

    I fished Kinzua Creek yesterday; a couple of ‘bows on the soft hackle were the reward. Well, not the only reward – fluttering Hendricksons and brown stones, the burgeoning allium tricoccum, and a soaring, fishing osprey were welcome sights too. Congrats, also, on RR reaching the 300 followers milestone!

  4. Thank you, Bob, for noticing the approach of 300 pals, which isn’t bad for an old iconoclast who doesn’t court the social media, other than the blog. I’m glad you had some fun on the Kinzua. You’re ahead of me in seeing the Hendrickson this spring and, for that matter, the wild leeks which I wasn’t up for digging while at home. I saw a few loons but am still looking for a first new year osprey. Otherwise, thought of you a couple days ago while fishing the Staunton River. It was actually more than a flowing brook this time, with nice brookies, too.

  5. Wonderful Walt! Spring is such a wonderfully alive time. FYI – I’ve had great success with Loon UV wader repair on small holes. Just rub some over the area and lay it out in the sun and do the same on the inside. Enjoy

  6. I’ll try it, Mark. Thank you for the tip & all!

  7. Jet Eliot says:

    Your descriptions, ponderings, and photos of the Blue Ridge mountains are wonderful. I always wondered if those waders leaked….

  8. My second trip to the area. My best fishing buddy moved there a couple of years ago and used to describe it much the same as you Walt. I’m envious and await the next chapter since my buddy passed a year ago.

  9. Leigh says:

    Sounds like a trip my friend.

  10. Bob says:

    I should have read this post before commenting on the previous one! You weren’t on the headwaters of the Rose were you? So was I! Can’t believe I didn’t run into you! And we stopped for a beer at the Blue Mountain too! This is just getting too scary…

    • No problem, Bob; I’m glad to respond to your response at both of these recent posts. Happy to hear that you were on the Rose this week. I was thinking of checking it out again (I was on the stream around Christmas time) but had others I wanted to fish this week. When you were on the Rose, I was probably checking out the upper Moormans, down around Charlottesville but well up in the mountains. Great minds like a think! To Blue Mountain Brewery, of course! Hell, we might have seen each other there. A scary prospect, no?

  11. loydtruss says:

    Great post I felt I was making the trip with you; I hate the hike back up incline terrain these days. I see you put the bamboo through its paces on this trip. I know I’ve asked you this before, but I forgot its length/weight—–beautiful brook trout!! Thanks for sharing

    • Thank you, Bill. No problem. This rod is 7’6″ 2-piece 5-wt. A bit long for some of the small streams in the area, where a 6’6” 3 or 4-weight would do better. We appreciate hearing from you, and glad that you felt like you were there, as well!

  12. Les Kish says:

    Some nice blue sky days Walt. Snow here this morning and last. The tackle and flower photos are as much about time and place as the beer and fish, aren’t they? They remind me of an image from years ago. It’s a rather nondescript photo of a reel and some common little yellow violets that grow all over. However, when I see it, I’m immediately transported back to coastal Alaska. I’m kneeling, carefully trying not to squash the flowers while composing the photo. Meanwhile, my wife is trying to catch a steelhead……

    Some good memories of your “annual” outing to the Blue Ridge.

    And oh yes, all waders leak.

    • Tackle and wildflowers really do nail down an image of self in place and time. It’s better than laying out a fish there and easier than trying to find an interesting bird or other bit of natural phenomenon. And they have a spiritual equivalent to beer on a table image. Thanks, Les, for sharing another coastal memory and I hope you’ll be casting among the wildflowers soon!

  13. Mike says:

    Beautiful, Walt. Besides the leaky waders which we are all too familiar with. Thawing out here in lower NY with some decent fishing. Been a stranger of late, but still hanging around that bend in the stream and admiring your fishing and writing.



  14. Good to hear from you, Mike, and glad you’re hanging around the bend and ready for a new season. We’ll have to do some catching, and catching up!

  15. JZ says:

    Walt, sometimes the best things happen when there isn’t a plan B. Hell, I’ve lived almost half my life without a solid Plan B. I’m doing fine, I think, lol. I’m not espousing living life on a whim without pensive thought. Like when my son was born, there wasn’t even a plan A for that. So goes life.. Things happen and if your living right, things will turn-out alright. I think, lol. Surprised, I thought for sure those April greys would be the ticket there. Oh well, nice to see fish were caught and the lucky April sun had your back in the mountains. I also hope you tilted a few Full Nelsons back at the brewery. Love that beer..

    • Right you are, JZ. I seldom worry about a Plan B, actually, and I figure that a sense of freedom and a barrel of fun has resulted by not putting a lot of stock in plans, other than a general outline that gets you where you want to go. I think I could’ve done okay by casting the April greys had I chosen to, because wild brookies at this time of year aren’t terribly selective, but certain other patterns are easier to follow on the faster water and tend to float better as well. I think that one brook trout, though, was keying in on black stoneflies. So, yeah, a good time, topped off by cold Full Nelsons. I agree– it’s a great beer!

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