It’s great to finally have something to report on the Gunpowder. I was able to get out this morning, and the river has the feel of a river that is just on the verge of getting good. The water was exactly 40 degrees at 11AM (measured, not reported via USGS), and there were midges in the roughly 22 size range coming off and flying around the whole time I was there.
It’s close, but not quite in prime shape just yet. Fishing was fairly slow, and a beadhead olive nymph brought my only fish to hand, not for lack of trying midges and midge emergers. Once we see temps staying in the mid 40’s, I think we’ll see some active, rising trout.
As day 3 of my excursion to the western slopes of the Shenandoah Valley dawned, the trip had already brought me enough of what I look for in a flyfishing trip that I could have had a horrendous day and still counted the trip as an overall success. Fortunately, that didn’t happen.
Weather was expected to be iffy. Cool at the base of the mountain, almost cold at the top where I planned to go. Skidmore Reservoir (Elev. 2280 ft) is just a few miles from the West Virginia line. Virginia DGIF stocks it with fingerling brook trout, which are said to thrive in the lake and grow quickly. They are also said to make spawning runs up the Skidmore Fork that lets into the lake.
I had read in this blog post that the outlet just below the reservoir could provide some enjoyable brookie fishing. At 36 degrees, walking the streambank sounded more fun than floating, so I gave that a shot.
The water coming out of the reservoir was 42 degrees. Fishing was fun but not super fast. Another one of Murray’s patterns helped me entice a pair of little brookies in about 45 minutes.
After picking up a couple of these little guys, I wanted to see what I could do on the reservoir. I developed a taste for float tube stillwater trout fishing on the alpine lakes in Utah. If you haven’t tried stillwater trout fishing in a float tube, you should. I didn’t catch anything on the reservoir, but just floating in that serene alpine setting was a great experience.
In the 3 days I spent at the cabin in Rawley Springs, I was able to fish mountain trout streams, a valley spring creek, and an alpine lake, without ever driving more than 30 minutes. I also passed up the opportunity to fish Mossy Creek, another renowned spring creek. I would say that this little known area is up there with the top opportunities in the Mid Atlantic, not quite rivaling Garrett County, but close. I’m fairly certain I will make the trip again next year.
Day 2 of my recent trip to Virginia started early. It has to if you want to fish Beaver Creek, one of the coolest trout fishing opportunities I know of in the Mid-Atlantic. I had such a great time here last year, I’d been looking forward to getting back for a while.
Beaver Creek reminds me a little bit of the Guadalupe River in Texas–it’s a beautiful setting managed by a TU chapter to limit access and create a special fishing opportunity. Only 4 people are allowed to fish Beaver Creek in a given day, determined by a first-come-first-served policy. You have to physically go to the 257 Grocery on Briery Branch Road to get your permit, and no advance reservations are allowed.
Like its namesake spring creek in Maryland, the stream maintains a relatively stable temperature all year. Fish are healthy, strong, and well fed. And large.
I hooked no less than 12 fish of similar size–and 2 decidedly bigger–in the 4 hours I fished Beaver Creek. Unfortunately I landed far fewer than that–my 4-weight wasn’t up to the task of guiding these fish away from in-stream obstacles. It could merely make suggestions.
With a giant grin semi-permanently etched into my face, at some point I decided I had played my fair share of large trout. Rain was supposed to hold off for another couple hours, and I wanted to see what the Skidmore Fork was about. I’d also been eager to test out my new tenkara outfit. With no pressing need to catch fish, I decided this would be a perfect opportunity.
The Skidmore Fork is technically a tailwater, running out of Skidmore Reservoir before joining up with the Dry River. With water temps at 46 and air temperatures in the 70’s, caddis were present if not particularly abundant. I didn’t witness any rises, but decided to stick with dries anyway.
Two different brookies came tantalizingly close to taking my caddis pattern and becoming my first fish on tenkara. I missed both of them, but I was OK with it. A note on tenkara–it is fun. I found myself thinking “this is what fly fishing is meant to be”. Yes, tenkara is limited in application, and the majority of my fishing will likely always be ‘regular’ flyfishing, but on a small mountain stream it is hard to beat the simplicity and ease of tenkara.
I grew up in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, so trips there always have the feel of a homecoming, even if I hardly know anyone who lives there anymore. Still, I like to get back when I get a chance, and the fishing provides a great excuse. I recently spent 3 days (March 25-27, 2015) fishing based out of a cabin in Rawley Springs, Virginia.
Murray’s Fly Shop
On the way down, I stopped in Edinburg to check out Murray’s Fly Shop. I’d seen and liked their ads in magazines like Mid Atlantic Fly Fishing Guide. I walked in and was immediately both confused and intrigued.
Harry Murray is a renowned fly tier and smallmouth expert. He has written several books and invented the Mr. Rapidan, which has got to be Virginia’s favorite fly. He is also, apparently, a pharmacist.
As I started to peruse the selection of well tied flies, Harry continued to work on filling prescriptions. When he came to what must have been a good stopping point, he hopped out from behind the pharmacy counter and asked me how he could help. Then he proceeded to deluge me with information–in a good way.
Harry is one of those characters that make fly fishing so damn entertaining, even without the fish. He’s clearly an expert, and he likes to share his knowledge. His dual career likely reflects a modern economic reality–it’s tough to make a good living as a fly shop owner. Or maybe he just likes being a pharmacist. If you are ever anywhere near Edinburg stop in the shop. Just be careful–you might walk away with a fly box full of Mr. Rapidan variants.
Black Run and Gum Run
Harry and I agreed it would be best to try to hit the mountain brook trout streams before they potentially got blown out, since it was supposed to rain for the next few days. Right behind my cabin, a National Forest trail crossed Black Run. I figured that was a great place to start.
The air was cool and water temps hovered in the low 40’s, which pretty much ruled out dry flies. Still, I had a blast exploring the native trout stream, and caught a handful of pretty little brookies along the way.
Fishing these little tributaries, you are essentially trading off beauty and solitude for catching large fish. I’m happy with that trade on many occasions. Tomorrow’s location, however, offers a much different tradeoff.
On Wednesday, I took advantage of the first day in recent memory that ambient temperatures weren’t encouraging water to freeze. I was prodded partially just by the desire to be outside, but also by this:
I had driven over the river in Monkton last week, and it was frozen over. Theaux at the shop said this is the first time he’s seen this in 15 years. But that is nearly 9 1/2 stream miles below the dam. Could ice be covering the river just over a mile below the dam? I hoped not.
I didn’t even bother bringing a fly rod. I just strapped on my gaiters and yaktrax and went exploring on the upper Gunpowder (above Falls Rd, where the stream gauge is.)
So, the good news is that the top section of the tailwater is NOT frozen.
It was great to get out on the trail, although calling the stretch by the boulder pools a ‘trail’ is generous. I wouldn’t recommend going on that trail. I know it by heart from the hours I’ve spent there during non-snow covered times, but there were still sketchy moments. It was beautiful, though.
Despite the frozen gauge, water temps are slowly creeping up. I’m hoping winter breaks soon and we will see some decent fishing in the not too distant future.
About this time every year I get a bit of wanderlust. The Gunpowder is definitely fishable 12 months of the year, but if I’m being honest, it’s not always fun. The dead of winter can and does produce some great days. Still, enough slow, cold days in a row and I start pining for my favorite kind of fishing: sight fishing dries to rising trout. This time of year, that means spring creeks.
Last year I took a midweek trip to 2 spring creeks in Virginia to sate my dry fly craving. This week I thought about heading north to the more famous spring creeks in Pennsylvania, but considering that there is a legitimate spring creek less than 90 minutes from Baltimore, I decided to stay closer to home. Little and lovely, Maryland’s Beaver Creek was calling my name.
My last trip to Beaver Creek was mostly about exploration. I visited in July (highlighting one of the appeals of spring creeks–they are fishable when other streams are either too hot or too cold), and walked nearly the length of the flyfishing only section. This time I had less time to explore, so I followed the recommendation of James of Beaver Creek Fly Shop and stayed near the upper end of that section.
The reward? Sight fishing to rising fish. Really can’t ask for much more than that. Like last time, I saw some monsters. The fish I caught were more modest in size, but beautifully colored. Apparently there is excellent holdover and significant reproduction of rainbows in Beaver Creek, leading to a nice wild population of ‘bows. Plus I made some friends:
I’ve grown to love Beaver Creek. It’s a beautiful option when the Gunpowder shows its stubborn side.
I apologize for the sparsity of posts as we head into the second month of 2015. There just hasn’t been much to write about.
My typical winter rig involves a medium sized bead head nymph of almost any variety (basically to attract the trout’s attention and get the dropper fly down) followed by a tiny (sz18-22) zebra midge or thread midge. Usually I use some added weight and an indicator. Typically, this method is steadily if not necessarily spectacularly effective until the didymo makes it too frustrating to bother with. So far this year, didymo has been below average. Unfortunately so have hookups. (And it’s not like I’ve been shy about trying other techniques.)
I’m going to be looking around at spring creeks in the near Mid-Atlantic over the next couple of weeks for a much needed respite from the Gunpowder. If you know of anything that has been working, feel free to share in the comments section. We should also be seeing some little black stoneflies soon, so look out for that.