Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Fall Brook Trout, Upper Moorman's - October 13, 2012

         With residency applications finally sent out and fall setting in I had my sights on a Saturday of small stream fly fishing.  Friend and fellow 4th year Brandon Dickinson had planned on joining but had to attend to his newborn baby girl so I went it alone.  I arrived at the parking lot just after sunrise and started up the trail as another car pulled in.  The water was low and I figured I would hike as far as I felt like and then fish back to the car.  I ended up hiking way too far, always thinking that around the next bend would be a nice stretch of consecutive pools.  I walked all the way up to the gate about 3 miles from the parking lot.

         After hiking back a ways I settled on a deep pool with several fishable runs; with no activity on the surface I tied on a bead head hare’s ear.  I quickly brought up a nice 4-5” brook, then another smaller brook.  Both had beautiful fall spawning color.  Hiking further down I found several more pools (with long walks in between) and tried my hare’s ear without luck.  I saw numerous spawning beds along the way, a reminder to be extra careful treading on the gravel beds female Brooks use to protect their eggs during October and November.  The trail up Moorman’s has two sections where the path rises much higher above the stream; these sections have poor access but held some of the best pools given the conditions.    

         On my way back to the car I stumbled upon a pool filled with one to two dozen brook trout, some of impressive size.  These fish didn’t appear to be feeding and I tried every wet and dry option in my flybox.  Whether this scene was a result of decreasing water levels corralling these fish together from neighboring runs or pools or was a behavior unique to spawning season I do not know.  I had seen fish behave this way before on the Jackson river, pooling together in large numbers during cold temps and without any indication of feeding.  The scenery made for a nice day despite the low water, but I couldn’t help but think about those big brookies I left behind.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Rappahannock Bass & Bluegill


Another great fall afternoon was too much to pass up, so Ben and I decided to try our luck for more small river bass, this time joined by Brandon Dickinson. We headed north from Charlottesville on Highway 29 and through Ruckersville to fish the Rappahannock River where it crosses below the highway. There is great access...just pull to the right before crossing the overpass when headed north.

We stripped Kreelex patterns for most of the afternoon, pulling in abundant bluegill but only the occasional smallmouth. I was unaware that most of the fish I caught were actually rock bass, which can be identified by their prominent red eyes, dark spots, and size that is shorter & stockier than a smallmouth. While we initially fished the banks from the middle of the stream, Brandon made the observation that most of the bass were holding in the middle where the water was deeper with abundant grassy structure. He shared this secret after catching several fish.

Rock bass w/ silver & gold Kreelex

When not out-fishing Ben and myself, Brandon witnessed several explosive strikes on natural surface bugs, so there are definitely some larger fish here. I tried my luck with a yellow popper but only managed to entice some small panfish too small to take the hook. I have long assumed that these warm water fish are more opportunistic than the trout and will take most any fly, the lack of abundant strikes makes me wonder if there might be more strategy than I originally thought.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Smallies on the Shenandoah River


Being too warm for trout, Ben and I decided to try our luck at smallmouth bass on the Shenandoah River, a stretch of water in the valley that is featured in Chris Santella's book Fifty Places to Fly Fish Before You Die. The book contains spots like the Madison and Green, so this Virginia stream is in good company and worth adding to your list. The closest town to the North Fork of the river is Edinburg, home to the well-known Murray's Fly Shop. I called the shop to get some advice and was immediately put on the phone with Mr. Murray himself, who was friendly and helpful. He provided directions to good fishing spots and recommended reliable bugs, but unfortunately I did not write down the directions.

We headed to Edinburg on Sunday morning with no experience on the Shenandoah and no open fly shops to visit for advice. On the bright side, we were glad to be joined by a new fellow medical student and fisherman, Chris Winstead-Derlega. We made a quick stop by the home of a car restorer in Waynesboro who had recently finished putting a fresh paint job on Chris' vintage VW bus. The guy did a nice job and even managed to spray the same two-tone scheme on Chris' bike.

We started out fishing the North Fork of the river, which is just outside Edinburg. It is both smaller and slower moving than the South Fork, which is located on the eastern side of the Massanutten Mountain Range. The two forks flow northeast on either side of the range before joining to form the Shenandoah River in Front Royal, Virginia.

The North Fork is indeed smaller in every way, from the size of the water to the size of the fish. We started out catching bluegill on poppers of various design and eventually managed to pull in a few smallmouth that were maybe eight inches in length. We would move around in the river and find pockets containing many small smallmouth, but no one caught a fish with much size to it. On the other hand, the scenery really was great, earning it a spot in Santella's book in that category.

In the afternoon we drove over the mountain to fish the South Fork just below Bixler's Bridge, which is considered section #1. This is a wide river that moves a lot of water, which is quite different from its counterpart over the mountain. While still wadeable, it is much deeper on the whole and is undoubtedly best fished by boat. This stretch of river is known to produce larger fish, but I caught only one unimpressive smallmouth while there. All total, the three of us only pulled in two fish in the afternoon.

This river is located in a beautiful part of Virginia and is worth checking out, even when it's not too hot for trout to be eating. In summary, we had a great day on the water and caught a lot of small smallmouth and some bluegill on the North Fork but had little luck on the larger South Fork. We ended the day by following Chris over Afton Mountain in his freshly painted VW bus.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Rapidan, Camp hoover section, 4.15.12

I was fortunate enough to steal some more time for trout fishing in celebration of the unofficial end of my third year of medical school! After a relaxing morning in Charlottesville my wife and I made the drive up to the rapidan WMA for a night of car camping. Much to her chagrin I had to break out the rod mere moments after we'd set up camp to try out the water near our campsite below the second bridge.

It was overcast, without any clear hatch, and pretty crowded that afternoon. Without much to go on I tied on a #16 Mr. Rapidan and almost immediately hooked into a small brook trout. I hooked into another one in the next pool, but he threw the hook right as I was bringing him ashore (I really need that net). Moving upstream I ran into another fisherman and a big group camping at the second bridge who had pretty well spooked everything in the area. Not being able to leave well enough alone I came back right before sunset and caught another fish in the same pool on the same set-up. It was great to be able to dash back and forth from our campsite, but I was pretty fortunate to find fish in this heavily pressured section.

The next morning we packed up our campsite and wandered to the less pressured section above the second bridge. We ran into a great pool just 20 yards above the bridge where I had gotten some good bites the night before. I settled in again with my trusty Mr. Rapidan with my wife on camera duty and enjoying the great spring weather with a good book. She didn't have long to wait before I had another great dry fly take. It was another small fish, but she took the best picture of any of my trips to make up for it. We landed the last of the day in the next pool up, but unfortunately in the process of releasing it my tippet broke and it took my best fly away. We didn't have any more luck on different dry-dropper rigs and packed it in early.

This was by far my best trip to the rapidan and even though the fish don't pull like the rainbows at beaver creek the scenery and camping make it one of my favorite places.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Beaver Creek - 3/31

After a long time away from Charlottesville I finally had the chance to get back out on
the water during my free weekend on surgery. My roommate, David, and I were determined to finally hook into a good sized trout after chasing brookies all last fall. We took to the road at 0500 with some high octane gas station coffee to make absolutely sure we got the much coveted Beaver Creek passes. We made it to the store just as it opened and were
at the water as the sun was coming up.

We crossed the bridge and took a right to the first calm, deep pool. We split our strategies initially with me trying a dry dropper rig and David working a small streamer. We weren't having much luck, but as the sun came up we started seeing more fish rising. David made the wise choice to switch to a #14 Adams and immediately hooked into one of the fat rainbows that beaver is known for. Right after releasing the first he caught another beauty on the next cast. I'd seen enough of David catching fish and quickly tied on the same pattern and after a few casts close to the cut bank I caught the biggest fish of the day. It was my third trip to beaver and my first time landing one of these beauties who seem to have a knack for throwing hooks.

After a successful morning we grabbed some sandwiches at the Ottobine Country store and quickly got back on the water. David and I roped in one more each, but the winds picked up in the afternoon and we were hooking more shrubs than fish. I switched to a wooly bugger and false-hooked one more good sized rainbow. He really didn't enjoy the hook in his side which made for a great fight on 6x tippet. We tried a few more spots before
the wind drove us out.

All in all it was an incredible day to start back into spring fishing. We didn't see anything hatching, but this was my first day of real dry fly fishing. Who cares if they're stocked fish if you can have this much fun for this cheap.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Thanksgiving Trout

This Thanksgiving I was fortunate enough to have an entire week without hospital responsibilities and great weather to boot. No better time to go fishing.

First I drove west from Charlottesville and met up with Pat & Taylor to fish the Jackson River about 15 miles north of The Homestead Resort. Taylor's dad had added around sixty big rainbows to their stretch of the river a few weeks before, so we spent the whole day catching them on various bugs. Though certainly not the purest form of fishing, it was still provided good practice in fighting and landing big fish. We were also surprised to catch some big 12" fall fish as well.

After settling back in to Georgia for a few days, Steven Pruitt and I finally made a day trip happen after many missed promises. Steven and I went to high school together and were roommates at the University of Georgia. While I worked briefly as a maid at Yellowstone National Park during the summer before medical school, Steven worked as a fly fishing guide at Turpin Meadow Ranch in Moran, Wyoming, which is just north of Jackson. In retrospect Steven probably had the better gig. Anyway, last Wednesday we fished the Toccoa River in the town of Blue Ridge, Georgia with our dads. The weather was not nearly as warm as we were anticipating, and on the way up there was some doubt about the point of even going. But we finally made it and started fishing not long after daybreak below the Blue Ridge Dam. We had the section of river to ourselves for the whole morning, which indicates how cool the weather was considering that the parking lot is often full of vehicles. Steven was fishing about 100 yards below me when I looked up to see him fighting a fish. He yelled upriver for me to come that way so I casually walked over to the river's edge. He again yelled and I then realized that he must have a big fish on and needs help landing it. Sure enough it was a big healthy rainbow that took a size 16 prince nymph from beneath a submerged log. It was a great fish and definitely worth fishing in the cold all morning. And to think that we had questioned making the trip.

After stopping by the local fly shop and filling up with some hot barbeque, we headed upstream to fish the Toccoa River above the dam. The water was relatively high but still very clear and the sun was finally pushing the temperature into the tolerable range. We fished various patterns for several hours with no hookups and finally called it quits in the early afternoon. Another fisherman pulled up just as were breaking down our rods. After correcting our strategy for this section of the river (he strongly favored fishing woolybuggers through the deep holes) he showed us the Oyster bamboo fly rod that he crafted as part of a rod-building class in Blue Ridge. The classes take you through every step of the rod-making process over the course of two weekends or one full week, and in the end you have built your own bamboo rod.

On Thanksgiving day my parents and I went back to fish the Toccoa above the dam, but this time we went several miles father upriver to fish a stretch near the Benton MacKaye Trail, which is named after the Harvard educated conservationist who originated the idea for the Appalachian Trail. Like the AT, the BMT begins at Springer Mountain and works its way north through gentle mountains of Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina. It crosses over the Toccoa River via a 265 foot swinging bridge, the longest of its kind east of the Mississippi River. The area is beautiful, but the water produced only one 10" rainbow that took a caddis pattern. There are almost certainly more fish to be caught here, and it's worth the drive just to see the bridge.

I was driving back to Charlottesville on Friday afterno
on, which ended up being the mildest day of the entire week. The sun was out and it looked like a perfect day to be on a body of water. Unfortunately I was stuck in my truck, driving up I-81 knowing that Mossy Creek must be covered up with bugs right now. Serial calculations on my phone showed that I could be in the parking lot by 4:00 PM, which would only give me one hour of fishable daylight at best. What the hell, I thought. It's better to fish for one hour and watch the sun set on a farm than to have it go down behind me while driving east on I-64. So I drove the extra 20 miles and watched the sun set and missed several fish rising to a BWO. Well worth it. The weather on Sunday was nice as well, and I couldn't resist going back to Mossy to make a more thorough attempt to catch fish. There were two guys in the parking lot getting ready to leave, and one of them introduced himself as James Garrison. In addition to religiously fishing Mossy and nearby streams, he also contributes to the blog Fly Curious. I caught a few small browns on BWOs but couldn't convince any larger fish to rise.

All in all it was a week of good weather and even better fishing.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

North Fork of the Moorman's - 11/6

I took advantage of the great fall weather to head out to the moorman's river on a tip from the Albemarle angler guys. Brent and I got to the river around 9:00 and I was blown away by the fall colors. It was prime time for the leaves, but fortunately they didn't cause too much trouble on the water. We took the right at Sugar Hollow reservoir to the north fork and pulled off at the second obvious pull out.

I caught the only fish of the day on a #16 orange/yellow Stimulator right next to where we left the car. It ended up being the biggest brook trout I've caught and it was fun having a dry fly take
so late in the season. The amazing colors on these brook trout have really won me over. Even though
they are the runts I've really enjoyed fishing these small streams. That being said we fished hard the rest of the morning with stimulators, dry-dropper rigs, and nymps, without another bite. Overall the water was pretty
low and there weren't many good holding places (at least that were obvious to me!) The banks are also pretty rugged and makes sneaking pretty tough. I'd really like to solve the puzzle on this river because it's so close, but I left not feeling confident that there were a lot of fish to catch. If anybody has any advice on what to try let me know I'd love to go back.