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.
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.
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.
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?
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.