Grass and Glass (BRB, Part 3)

Intending to spend the whole day fishing the Rapidan River inside Shenandoah National Park, I fished it and even took a pleasant side excursion on a brook trout tributary.

White trilliums were the flower of the day, nodding their invitations to an angler with a camera and a sense of curiosity. The sky was moderately overcast, a security blanket for a guy intent on catching and releasing wild trout. A fellow hiker approached me on the trail and said, “That’s  a nice old bamboo you’ve got there,” and I appreciated the comment, but added, “Actually the rod’s only a few years old. It’s been used a bit, and grown a couple of grey hairs already. Life experience, you know.”


Life experience reoccurred half an hour later when I took a tumble along a rocky path beside the Rapidan, and Chester the fly rod flew to the ground ahead of me. Thankfully, the rod escaped real damage or serious scarring. My favorite Shenandoah river had a full-flowing body, wild and April cool, and its brook trout rose occasionally from the depths to strike the floating Stimulator and to spike excitement in the bloodstream.

The hiker who commented on the fly rod also asked if I was heading up the Staunton River (no doubt named for my friend Bob S.,the Flyfisher, although the spelling has been altered to protect an innocent stream) . I told him I might investigate it on my way back down the Rapidan, and he said the fishing could be decent on the rocky run.

I’ve tried the Staunton at the lower end, but the so-called “river” hasn’t looked larger than a brook on those occasions that I’ve seen it in the past. The hiker said that the holes and plunge-pools are enticing at this time of year, but you’ve got to hike and climb the stream for a mile or so to really appreciate it.

That sounded good to me. The stream would be like a buffer between a social venue and a wilderness. I hiked and climbed it for about a mile, and I’m glad I did. If I fish it again, I’ll have a smaller rod to cast with, say a 6’6″, rather than a longer stick.

As for the Rapidan, I’ll be quiet at this point and simply say that the world is a better place for a stream like this. Let’s keep it clean and looking wonderful.

My last couple of days fishing in the Blue Ridge were mostly spent trying to find new streams and interesting water close to my napping spot in Blossom Town. My god– the dogwood, redbud and azalea blossoms covered with birdsong were a sweet distraction to a guy putting on his waders (leaky ones at that).

golden ragwort

One day I fished the Pocosin and caught a couple of brookies there. Another time, Leighanne, Richard and I hiked the lower White Oak Canyon near Syria VA. The climb to the lower waterfall was stimulating despite an overabundance of hikers like ourselves. The run’s variety of holes and plunge-pools called to several fly-fishers, including myself and a younger guy from South Carolina. The two of us seemed to leap-frog past each other testing the waters of this pretty stream.

Comparing  fishing rods, the Carolina fellow said that I was using “grass” (bamboo) and that he was casting “glass” (fiberglass). Together, along with a hundred hikers, we reached the scenic waterfall, and some of the  mob continued on toward Skyline Drive.

The trout were as sparse as the hikers were numerous, but one of the trout was memorable…

Switching from a dry fly to a bead-head nymph, I connected with a good fish in a deep, rocky pool. It had shoulders on it and a weight reminding me of stocked fish that had overwintered for a couple of years. Okay, you see it coming here– the fish bent the rod and shook its big head several times before breaking off the fly and digging under the boulders.

No doubt it would have been my biggest Blue Ridge trout to date. It could have been…Well… let’s leave it there. I was happy to bend the “grass” in that pool, and to start packing out some memories from my buffer zone in spring. It was a nice week for rambling– in a place between the timeless mountains and a world that passes all too fast.

[Part 3 concludes the Blue Ridge Buffer series. Thanks for coming along!]


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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16 Responses to Grass and Glass (BRB, Part 3)

  1. John says:

    Oh man the rapidan river is a virginia gem. I hope to get there again one day. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Brent says:

    Sounds like Chet might have built a little character in your Blue Ridge rambles! I’m a little jealous of all the exploration you got to do in such a beautiful area, but it’s always good to see reminders that those lovely mountain brooks are out there.

    • Chet’s been slowly building some Blue Ridge character for himself. It was a pleasant outing this year, and even though you couldn’t take much time off last week, you guys are fortunate to live within striking distance and will probably catch up quickly!

  3. Bob Stanton says:

    Sounds like hoot, Walt, though I’ll bet your heart skipped a beat when Chester took a tumble. As for myself, I’ve been continuing to mess around with the wet fly – might even try my hand at tying up some married wing wets, if I can procure the materials for them.

    • When Chester tumbles, I go skipping like a flat rock over the river’s surface. As for wets with married wings, good luck with that, Bob. A fine tradition there, if you can get the right materials. I’m kind of thankful for wingless wets, the soft hackles, myself.

  4. loydtruss says:

    Glad you made it through the fall and saved Chester; hopefully thay quality trout will be waiting on a return visit. Thanks for sharing

  5. plaidcamper says:

    Thoroughly enjoyed this series full of “wild and April cool” moments – the tumble that turned out okay, the trillium, that big-shouldered fish, all quite wonderful. Thanks, Walt! (Beautiful photographs​ to go with the commentary)

  6. Thanks Walt for taking us along. This is a part of the country that I think would be great to explore, especially for those young at heart as well as physically. Glad that neither you nor Chester suffered any damage.

    • Being young at heart is important, and being physically fit to get a real sense of the mountains doesn’t hurt, although there are ways for even the impaired to greatly enjoy the park, and that’s one of the beauties of Shenandoah’s attraction. Thanks much, Howard, for your words and reflections.

  7. JZ says:

    Glad you and your fly rod Chester weren’t hurt after your fall over a treacherous stretch. It happens to all of us Walt. Although, Ill take a bruised ego over a knee and broken rod any day. I must note, that it was a good switch to pry the deeper pool with a nymph. Sometimes brook trout fishing, its easy to just throw dry’s because they do produce over depths. Perhaps not the biggest of fish are caught in these situations. Its a tactical change that paid off IMO and put better odds in your favor. I wish you would have gotten a glance of that fish. Though, the fleeting moment probably will last years longer and serve as a reminder that all prizes are not won. That’s the game we choose to play and I wouldn’t change a single rule. That the beauty of the outdoors. Enjoy it, then leave it as you found it after your wild ramble. That’s are wish, are oath and promise to the animals that wander the forest and the fish that make water there home. As for keeping streams names secret, I suspect it really doesn’t matter much. I’m sure others will disagree. Perhaps someone will write a book called “The Lost Streams”. If finding paradise was all that easy..(smile)

  8. Thanks JZ! I think that in many cases a change of strategy (read nymph for dry fly, etc.) can give you a surprise. I, too, wish I’d seen more of that fish– it may have been a major brookie, or it may have been a rare holdover brown, who knows. In any case, it’s bound to stay with me for a while.
    I pondered keeping the names of streams secret, but the fact of the matter is that none of these park waters are “lost streams.” They’re all well-known to anyone involved with Blue Ridge fishing, and I adhere to the theory that a secret stream is a lost stream in the long run because when push comes to shove from deregulation or from threats of corporate take-over, there won’t be fishing advocates to stand up for these waters and protect them. That being said, I don’t want to be so specific in my locations that the lazy “sportsman” can find a place without doing his homework. I’ve worked hard to find the waters that I love to fish, and I expect anyone interested in doing the same to also go the distance. And, as you know, JZ, the process of getting there is more than half the fun!

  9. JZ says:

    Like all fly fisherman, we tend to carry our stories and memories like flies. Some stories told more to others. Some flies used more than others. I quickly have one to be shared. I was on the fabled waters of Fishing Creek Walt, otherwise known as fishing the narrows. I arrived early and did particularly well in the morning bringing a few fish to hand. The afternoon got hot and sticky with the high sun and the fish were on shutdown. I fished it hard but took breaks often because the fishing was slow. I stuck it out and hoped for some willing fish in the evening. I got my wish, as fish again were rising in the low light of the evening and happiness once again gleaned from this fisher man’s face. Not long after, darkness had fallen. The light of the moon and the dancing stars were the only lights left. I had on a size 14 Light Cahill that was well worn and decided upon one last cast. That cast was made, I think, at the bottom of a pool ahead. What happened next caught me by surprise. I heard a gulp, the kind that makes any fishers hairs stand-up. Alone in the darkness, all hell just broke loose. My rod bent deeply downward. My reel went into drag mode quickly. I could feel the head shakes on the bottom as he moved. He caught the current and it caused me to move downstream in the darkness to have any chance. What seemed like an eternity, quickly passed, and I decided to try and coax him to slower water on the edge where he could be controlled. Because he was being fought in the middle where there was flow over fast water. As I did, the fly shot loose and he was gone. Gone quickly Walt, but not forgotten, certainly not forgotten..(smile)

  10. Great story from Fishing Creek, JZ. No only because the fish ultimately won a hard-fought battle that leaves a fine memory with you, but I like the fact that you stuck with this stream all day long, from productive a.m. through the drowsy afternoon and on into darkness. There’s a real fisherman for a subject there!

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