Squaretails, Shenandoah

I was well beyond my usual angling haunts in northern Appalachia. I was well beyond some recent and surprisingly pleasant hikes with family through Baltimore and Prince William Forest Park in metro Washington, D.C.. My placement may have been influenced by the likes of a Snarly Yow, a legendary Appalachian monster of the mountain trails.

No, I never actually met such a thing, nor hoped to, and yet, on a five-mile hike through Prince William Park we passed a couple of leashed canines (utterly domestic lab or pit-bull characters) reminding me of the wild southern woods. Later, the Snarly Yow returned to my thoughts while fishing Shenandoah National Park.

This Snarly is a spectral canine generally gray or black, with a great red mouth and prominent fangs, capable of phasing through walls and uprooting trees. It chases cars on lonely roads and shadows solo hikers, ostensibly frightening people with apparent malevolency, but there is no credible account of actual harm committed by this huge black dog.

from squaretails to swallowtails…

For contrast, I was interested in the pretty squaretail– the native eastern char, or brook trout. I climbed along the North Fork Moormans River, near Charlottesville, finding squaretails willing to investigate small flies. I was disappointed in finding litter tossed by various family groups and hikers– the plastic bottles, empty cans, etc.– dispelling the beauty of wildflowers like geranium and trillium. It seemed as though a Snarly Yow had frightened the bejesus out of recreationalists, forcing them to leave it all behind.

A hiker’s dog paused on the trail, perhaps hearing something like a deep howl from somewhere up the river or beyond the ridge. Its ears pricked to the sound, its throat responding with a gruff note, and its paws then proceeding at the master’s tug. Although the spectral Snarly is renowned in wilder areas of Maryland and West Virginia, I was open to imagining its appearance even here along the mountain streams with colorful trout.

The lower Rapidan River inside Shenandoah Park was not productive the day I rambled up in search for trout. A few trout moved half-heartedly beneath a drifting fly, as if the water was too chilly, or as if the cold front (with its wind and lowering temperature) was to blame for the lack of action rather than my own ineptitude.

Chester meets the Black Stonefly…

The Rapidan was splendid despite the cooling trend. Occasionally I would hear a crackle in the underbrush or trees nearby, and half-expected an explosive roar from the likes of a mutating dog. A glance behind would confirm nothing of substance. If a shadowy monster had been there to mess around, it was gone, and I could carry on in search of trout.

big pine was dropped between my first & second visit…

I made a final visit to the Moormans on a third day out for squaretails. I made the long hike to the stretch above the third river crossing, well above the Charlottesville Reservoir. At one point I found extraordinary pawprints in the mud beside a huge white pine that had fallen sometime in the previous 48 hours. The work of an insidious monster? Nah, but if so, then why?

trillium were abundant…

I was glad for my existence. No mythological canine would disrupt the comfort and keen-edged beauty of the wilderness. Attractive brook trout rose to dry flies through the afternoon, and none of them were harmed.

view of Rapidan River valley from Bearfence Mountain, SNP… I hope to include photos from a rock scramble here in the next post on Rivertop Rambles….

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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28 Responses to Squaretails, Shenandoah

  1. Brent says:

    I assume many of the pics were taken on your new camera? They look sharp and well-defined even when enlarged. Anyway, one thing I love about the Blue Ridge in the spring is that the elevation change is like a microcosm of a trip north. The streams at the boundary are firmly in Piedmont Virginia, while Skyline Drive is like a trip to Steuben County (minus the difference in scenery and vegetation, of course!).

    • No, the pics are still from the old camera. I’m still figuring out the new one, but photos from that are forthcoming. The experience of spring in Shenandoah is always a phenomenon, going back & forth in floral time & view as one changes elevation. Thanks again for the directions & suggestions taken!

  2. Anonymous says:

    I miss fishing the rapidan !

  3. JZ says:

    The sounds of haunted woods and the echoed howl of the snarly. Haunted places carry a rustic charm as an open door. Beware of that invitation, for your conscience sake. Sometimes its just an earie feeling that dashes hopes for another visit. Not all places are worth the visit. Everybody’s experience is different. Glad you caught fish and took in the greater experience of the woods and do hope your venture doesn’t lead to “what was that” type of scenario.

    • Thanks for your thoughts here, JZ. That “eerie feeling” is part of the attraction for me, but I know what you mean. Some places aren’t worth the risk, after we evaluate them, but the VA haunts have always been attractive for me, especially early & late in the seasons. “The greater experience of the woods” is something I feel quite worthy of any outdoor soul.

  4. UB says:

    I’m curious how much time elapsed between your first and next visit where the big pine came down? I like Chester’s new friend. Some really pretty places on your adventures. Unfortunately when too many people share the same spaces, someone’s bound to screw it up – referring to the trash you witnessed. When I see that happening, I think less of people in general. It’s not fair, but that’s what I think. Some nice inhabitants of the local streams there RTR! Nice picture of that white trillium. UB

    • UB, the second visit was two days after the first and, unfortunately, the pic doesn’t do justice to the size of that pine. Fortunately, though, I wasn’t under it when it fell… As for trash, I’ve been collecting it for most of my years, and it doesn’t do much for my hope of seeing a check on climate change. We’ll see how it goes, but those who don’t care about the smaller problem most likely don’t care about what happens with the other. Getting involved with clean-up & repair, though, does refresh the spirit to some degree. Thanks for responding here, and glad you liked reflections of the local inhabitants.

  5. Beautiful place. So much more of the USA used to look like that than currently does. We’re lucky that not everything has been bulldozed, leveled, and built upon.

  6. plaidcamper says:

    Be nice to think the snarly yow could choose to appear, have a quiet word with litter-tossers…
    Spirited meanderings through some lovely landscapes here, Walt – and I agree, a touch of the eerie adds to an outing if you’re inclined to think along those lines!

    • Come to think of it, Adam, a Snarly would make an interesting pet if it could be commanded to enforce litter & pollution control on the local level… ah well, just a thought.. I hope your favorite places have a touch of the eerie now & then, and have a great week!

  7. Wonder if I could send a Snarly to take my place on the SR clean-up date? I can’t make it then because of my daughter’s graduation in RI that day (which I hadn’t anticipated). Will have to make up for it, before & after!

  8. Blaine Emery says:

    Walt – thanks for the post – got me looking forward to putting some more casts on my Virginia license. The color variation of brookies always gives me pause… the amount of yellow spots on one of the ones you caught is spectacular. Glad you had a great trip.

    • Thanks Blaine! I, too, noticed the color variations on the VA group and, yeah, the yellow-spotted is a nice one… I hope you’re able to get into the Alleghenies or Blue Ridge & enjoy some of those waters, though I know you have some cool ones pretty close to where you live, as well. If we get some rain this spring, those streams should be running nicely for a while.

      • UB says:

        … and that’s the key, waters’ are low in this region for this time of year. Let’s hope we’re not heading to an even worse drought compared to last summer. UB

  9. … that’s starting to be a real concern once more… for the wild ones, first of all, and ours, to boot!

  10. Dale h says:

    Hi Walt me and my brother are going up to the cabin and some time tomorrow (wed) we plan on fishing the kettle!

  11. Bob Stanton says:

    My angling adventures have been largely unpolluted by trout, as this year is shaping up to be no better than last. Though I will admit that that is in part my fault, as I have been relying on old habits, familiar waters, and past successes. I need to break the mold and get out way off the beaten path.

    • I find that the streams relying on a distribution of hatchery trout are fishing poorly for a second year in a row (except at the bridges) due to Covid restrictions, and that some of the wild trout streams in the region seem to have taken a hit from last year’s drought. It’s hard to get back in the groove, but let me know if want some company.

  12. Bob Matuzak says:

    It is interesting that once again our paths are very similar. I was down visiting my son and his fiancée and hiking in the Prince William Forest park just last week. They have recently moved a little further south to Stafford Virginia and now that all four of us have been vaccinated it was great to see them. Although I didn’t get any fishing in we also took a hike along the Rappahannock around Fredericksburg. I’ll be back to pick on those smallmouth soon!
    Good hearing from you. Take care,

    • Bob,
      Indeed our paths often cross each other closely! Being fully vaccinated has allowed us, also, to visit family once again in places such as Virginia. My son gave us a hiking tour that included about five miles of Prince William Forest, probably just before your visit there. It’s an interesting place, and thankfully, preserved, within metro D.C. Glad you had a good visit, and can look forward to a meeting with the smallmouths, too.

  13. loydtruss says:

    I’ve always thought the Blueridge Mountains were a cut above the Smokies, which are less than 5 hours from me. My wife and I use to visit Richmond at least twice a year when Cathey’s grandmother lived there. Of course, that was before my fly fishing days; didn’t realize at the time what I was missing when we would hike near some of those scenic streams.
    Give me the trillium, mushrooms, and butterflies over the trash left along the hiking trails. What a great workout along with a fantastic trout fishing trip—-beautiful images and colorful brook trout taken—great post thanks for sharing

  14. Brook trout & cryptids. This is my sort of post. Beautiful water. I’ve only fished in the Shenandoah Valley once… and fished the St. Mary’s (?) and Skidmore Fork. Your trip report makes me want to get back there ASAP. I’m not afraid of Snarly Yow…. OK, yes I am. But I love brook trout more.

    • Michael, Glad the trip report got you thinking back toward Shenandoah lands, despite the shadow of the Snarly– brook trout have a way of calling from the hollows that we just can’t shake. You’ll have to take another look when you come north!

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