Friday, April 5, 2019

Delayed Harvest

Delayed Harvest Waters are part of Virginia’s overall Stocked Trout Plan and are regulated from October 1st to May 31st. After May 31st, the water reverts to regular stocked trout waters. Up until this week I had never paid much attention to them on the stocking schedule. They were either too far to drive after work or not near one of the areas I have been exploring for Stocked and Native Trout. 

My plan for this weekend had been to strike off to West Virginia and join in the rampage that is the Gold Rush Stocking, but things went awry and my plans had to change. So, with days of vacation already approved I did the logical thing and set the GPS to the nearest Delayed Harvest Water and struck off in the early morning hours prepared for the nearly mile hike in. 

I arrived at the parking area just as the sun began to rise over the Mountains of the George Washington National Forest.  With my gear situated, I began the one-mile hike to the stream. As I arrived at the first hole my heart sunk. The rocks around the area had bits of powerbait smeared here and there. Why anyone would walk a mile only to break the law baffles me? I hoped that this was not foreshadowing how the rest of my day would go. 

The boot prints began to subside the farther I walked along the stream until I finally found a promising looking log laying out into the river. The log created a perfect little current break that called to me. A fish had to be laying along that break waiting for food to wash down to it. I flipped my fly into a small pocket at the start of the log and began a drift that I’ll probably never be able to reproduce. My little fly danced in the current right along the edge of the log.  A flash of silver grabbed the fly and the indicator dropped. Beads of water seemed to suspend in slow motion as my fly line came taught on the hookset. Now the game began, as the Rainbow realizing that she had been hooked took off upstream. After a few aerobatics and a little pursuit, she came to the net. The power that fish brought to the fight was incredible and the release will be one that never leaves my memory. 

The day ended up being my best day ever behind a fly rod with over fifteen fish to the net. I am extremely grateful for the National Forest and VDGIF for providing such an amazing opportunity to fish for incredible quality stocked fish.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Dry River (A National Forest Gem)

Dry River is arguably one of the best Native Brook Trout fisheries in the State of Virginia.  The USGS and Forest Service Biologists have both stated it is one of the most densely populated Native Trout Streams in the Mid-Atlantic Region. Angler pressure can be heavy at times but if you are willing to get off the beaten path amazing opportunities await within the incredibly beautiful National Forest that surrounds this stream. 

Dry River is publicly accessible for over 14 miles along Route 33 above the small town of Rawley Springs. The water is also classified as a Category B Stocked Trout Stream. (More on that later)

One of the amazing things (of many) about Dry River is that the stream is fishable year around. Cold, Clean, Clear water is discharged from the base of Switzer Dam all year long and it shows with the size of the Natives that call the 14 mile stretch of water home. 

On recent trips, I have been rewarded each time with not only beautiful Brookies but large numbers successfully brought to the net. While I do often see signs of anglers, fishing the same spots as I do, I routinely can stack up double digit catch numbers within just a few hours of fishing.

Dry River also boasts an expansive floodplain for a stream its size which makes casting a long fly rod much easier. Keep in mind though, if heavy rains have plagued the area recently this probably is not your best option as it can be dangerous to wade in heavy flow conditions. 

Fly choices here can range from small streamers (if the water is up), dry flies, nymphs, or even the dreaded squirmy wormy if you are in the mood for the stockie action. My experiences here have shown me that typically the fish are not picky so there is no need for specialty flies. Get as close to what is hatching as you can with your fly and enjoy an incredible day on the water. The holdover stockies usually begin to take on characteristics of the wild fish after a few months so by summer they will be striking dry flies alongside the Brookies you are probably going here to catch. 
Ugly Stocked Brook Trout from January. Note the eroded tail and pale colors. 

Now onto the uglier side of Dry River, as I mentioned earlier Dry River is a Category B Stocked Trout Water. This essentially means it receives 5 stockings of Brook and/or Rainbow Trout each year. There have been many debates over the years regarding stocking hatchery raised trout into wild fish populations. While it is currently acceptable in Virginia and many other Mid- Atlantic States, I do not support the practice. These stockings create a great recreational fishery but do create the potential for the dilution of Native Trout Genes, introduction of diseases into the wild fish population, and also introduces invasive Rainbow Trout into a stream where Native Brook Trout thrive and belong. So if you happen upon a Rainbow Trout or 6 while fishing make sure to take them home with you for supper.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Slate Lick Lake / Slate Lick Run (Class B Stocked Trout)

Slate Lick Lake caught my attention while I was looking for new places to fish around my new home in Harrisonburg, Virginia.  The lake and associated creek are located within the George Washington National Forest northwest of the City of Harrisonburg.  The lake looked intriguing to me for several reasons: it is a stocked Brook Trout Lake, it’s remote, and it’s walk in only. My hope was that the lake could potentially contain some holdovers as well as fish from the recent stockings.

The area surrounding the lake is immensely beautiful.  As I pulled in Saturday morning, the trees were glistening like glass sculptures in the sun from the recent ice storm. I was surprised to find 8 or 9 trucks already in the parking area. Additionally, I was surprised to see the first gate locked. That meant that walk in was going to be roughly 2.5 miles instead of the half mile I had expected. 

Luckily the walk in wasn’t strenuous as I was able to follow a logging road.  The setting of the lake itself is beautiful. The fishing was a little lackluster. I got one giant bite from a 12 to 13” Brookie but a sluggish hookset on my part caused the fish to come unpinned at the bank. As more anglers arrived, I decided to fish the creek as I worked my way back to the truck. 
Slate Lick Lake
Slate Lick Run flows from the base of the dam nearly 2 miles back towards the parking area. The run is littered with tight runs, deep pools, and riffles.  The fishing pressure appeared to have been pretty high on this small stream over the last week, but I was still able to pull one Rainbow Trout out of a narrow run. (Still not 100% sure how he got there? It is supposed to be Brook Trout only.) The fish was staged below a pool tailout, in a narrow run. I let a small streamer drift into the run and the fish slammed it as it drifted behind a small boulder that created a current break. 
Where the Rainbow Trout was caught.
Unfortunately, that fish was the only fish I was able to land Saturday. I am grateful for the opportunity to fish in such a beautiful area and to fully utilize our Nation’s public land system. 

Beautiful little stocked Rainbow
Truthfully though, I doubt this area will be high on my list of places in the valley to return in the pursuit of stocked fish. I prefer the isolation of some other stocked streams closer to home. 

Friday, February 22, 2019

Hogcamp Branch / Dark Hollow Falls

Hogcamp Branch begins from the cold springs of Big Meadows within Shenandoah National Park.  The Branch then makes up the flow that pours over Dark Hollow Falls and eventually joins the Rose River.  The area is a hub for hikers and guests to the park during the busy season but can be a Native Trout Fisherman’s paradise during the park’s off season. 
Lower Falls 

There are two main access points to get to fishable waters on Hogcamp Branch. My least favorite option is to park at the Dark Hollow Falls trailhead adjacent to Big Meadows. This access point is a longer hike and is extremely steep coming back out. The easier option is to park at the small parking area adjacent to the Rose River Fire Road. The walk down to fishable water is roughly a mile but it is a gradual incline which makes the hike back out pleasurable. I will leave GPS coordinates to this parking area below. 

Travel down the fire road until you get to the lower falls. At this point you can either hike upstream and fish the large pools created by the falls or travel downstream and fish some of the amazing step pools created by the gradient of the stream. Or if you’re like me you do both in one day. 
Trail Below The Fire Road

The larger pools in and around the falls hold some sizable Natives.  I caught two in the 8 to 9 inch range at and just below the larger waterfall. (Unfortunately not pictures below)

As you travel down the branch sizable pools can be found along its length. I typically drop a nymph rig in at the start of the pool and let the current bring it back towards me. It allows me to cover a lot more water and helps me detect the small takes. 

Fish size range is typical of small mountain tributaries on this stretch of water. I have caught fish as small as 3 inches and as large as 10 inches. I have no doubt that a 12-inch fish lurks under those falls but the fish Gods haven’t blessed me with one on this stream as of yet! 

Patterns that I have found to work well are small caddis emergers, cream mop flies, chartreuse mop flies, and your typical pheasant tails.  This stream allows you to get by easily with an 8’ or 9’ rod. I have used my 7’ fiberglass 3 wt  and 6’ 1 wt with great success. 

This spot is not a secret so the fish can be easily spooked. I would recommend the lightest tippet are you comfortable with as fish can be somewhat skittish. 

The major pluses of this stream are the ease of access, natural beauty of the falls, and being relatively alone in the off season. I would not recommend hitting this between May and September. The sheer number of swimmers, hikers, and tourists make casting difficult and no ones want to be responsible for hooking an unsuspecting tourist. 
Local Wildlife 

GPS coordinates to parking area

Monday, February 18, 2019

Swift Run

A stream that is forgotten, underappreciated, and an absolute gem.  Swift Run popped on my radar after our move to Greene County. At first glance, it looks like an ordinary mountain stream within Shenandoah National Park but with an extreme twist. Road Proximity!  At its closest point Route 33 is just a cobble stone throw away.

After exhaustive research through social media, websites, and the VDGIF I concluded that the likelihood that Swift Run held a fishable population of Native Brookies was extremely slim. So, I did the logical thing and headed upstream so find out.

While the proximity of Swift Run to Route 33 seems convenient in terms of parking and access; it actually can be a quite the challenge. Don’t let that discourage you though, as it is an underutilized stream by local fisherman. The only parking area is at the beginning of the National Park Boundary on the left as you ascend the mountain. The GPS Coordinates are located below for you to navigate to the parking area.

I first fished Swift Run on November 21st, 2018. The water levels were high from recent rains and the water temperature was in the high 40’s.  I targeted deeper pools, where still water conditions were present, as the higher flows made nymphing difficult. The first few holes produced five fish in rapid succession with the largest Native being just over 9 inches.  I fished it again in December, around Christmas, and was rewarded with similar results. 
Caught November 21st, 2018
Caught December 23rd, 2018

There are some beautiful step pools as you work your way up Swift Run. The better pools are often obscured by thick vegetation or blow downs. A shorter rod would be ideal for this stream. If you prefer a longer rod, bow and arrow casts will be necessary to reach some of the better fishing. 

Ideal patterns seem to be a small cream-colored mini mop fly or gold bead caddis pupa.  I have also had great luck on small stonefly patterns. 

Swift Run has steadily become one of my favorite streams for a quick afternoon outing. If you check it out please practice catch and release fishing, take care of the Brookies by wetting your hands and quickly returning them to the water, and help clean up the parking area if you have time. Public Lands are ours to enjoy so let’s help keep them beautiful for the next person!

GPS Coordinates

Latitude: 38°20'40.56"N

Longitude: 78°30'47.70"W

Gear Used
Orvis Battenkill 1 
Orvis Hydros Fly Line
Maxcatch 1 Wt 6' Ultralight Fly Rod
Mini Mops (From Mossy Creek Fly Shop)
Caddis Patterns (Walmart)
Allen Sling Bag
Waders (You will need them to access portions of the stream)