Trip Report: Flyfishing Rawley Springs, VA, Day 3

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.

Allegheny Morning
Red clay on the hillsides, frost on the trees

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.

Flyfishing Skidmore Reservoir
The outlet is down there

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.

Flyfishing for brook trout below Skidmore Reservoir
He likes stoneflies

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.

Flyfishing Skidmore Reservoir Virginia
Skidmore Reservoir

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.

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Trip Report: Flyfishing Rawley Springs, VA, Day 2

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

Flyfishing Beaver Creek Virginia
Beaver Creek

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.

Flyfishing for Beaver Creek Rainbow trout
A little bigger than the wild brookies…

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.

Skidmore Fork

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.

A pool on the Skidmore Fork
A pool on Skidmore Fork

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.

Tomorrow: floating the reservoir.

Trip Report: Flyfishing Rawley Springs, VA, Day 1

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

Murray's Fly Shop in Edinburg
Murray’s in Edinburg

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.

Flyfishing Black Run VA
A promising pool on Black Run

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.

Brook Trout Flyfishing Black Run VA
Pretty little guy

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.

Tomorrow: Beaver Creek

Beaver Creek (Maryland)

Rainbow Trout Beaver Creek
Rainbow heading back home on Beaver Creek

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.

Beaver Creek Rainbow Trout
Beaver Creek Rainbow

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:

Mini Donkeys and goats on Beaver Creek
Streamside companions

I’ve grown to love Beaver Creek.  It’s a beautiful option when the Gunpowder shows its stubborn side.

Fishing Report 7/19/14: Gunpowder and Beaver Creek

The Gunpowder has been hit or miss this year.  High flows made much of spring unfishable, then we had a stellar sulphur hatch.  The transition from sulphurs to summer terrestrial season is usually bridged by significant caddis action.  This year, caddis have been there, but caddis patterns have not been as consistently productive as they could be.  Fortunately, we are finally seeing signs of moving fully into terrestrial season.  Ants and beetles are both productive patterns at the moment.

Beaver Creek

On Friday, I decided to take a break from the inconsistency of the Gunpowder and travel to Beaver Creek, near Hagerstown, Maryland.  There is at least one Beaver Creek in Virginia and at least one in Pennsylvania.  Like it’s namesake to the south, Maryland’s Beaver Creek is a ‘limestoner’, or more generally a spring creek.  The spring sources keep the temperatures and flows consistently in ranges that trout enjoy throughout the year.  In addition to stocked rainbows, Beaver Creek has a nice population of wild browns.

There are roughly 1.5 miles of public catch and release (flyfishing only, I think) waters on Beaver Creek.  Nearly all of it is densely wooded, making shorter rods advantageous, in my opinion, unless you are much more interested in nymphing than dries.  The stream holds two distinct types of habitat for trout.  The first is the classic spring creek flat:

Beaver Creek Maryland
Look for individual risers here

This is one of my favorite kinds of fishing–delicate presentations to individual rising fish.  I caught only wild browns here, stalking them one at a time.  I also saw, but fortunately didn’t catch, a huge school of suckers.

Brown Trout from Beaver Creek
Wild Beaver Creek brown trout

The other main type of trout habitat is a series of pools, mostly man made, that hold many trout.  They are primarily stocked rainbows, some of which are holdovers that act like wild trout, and many of which are HUGE.  I watched a 20″ rainbow eye up my nymph before thinking better of the idea in the hole pictured below.

Beaver Creek pool
A productive pool

Nymphing was the most productive method for me in these pools, though a variety of methods would work.

All in all, Beaver Creek is a great option.  It’s not huge, so more than a couple anglers might make it seem crowded, but there is more than enough excellent trout water to make for a fun day trout fishing.

One additional note:  nearly all the land around Beaver Creek is privately owned, and is accessible through the generosity of landowners.  Thank you, landowners, for making this beautiful little stream available.

The No-Hackle Caddis

I just realized it has been over three weeks since my last post.  Sorry about that–I have been on vacation in New England for a good bit of that time, and living in Baltimore I have learned not to broadcast my vacations…  I did get to fish a little bit, mostly on smallmouth rivers and brook trout streams.

Brook trout fly fishing
A pretty little New Hampshire brookie

I’ll be back with Gunpowder Fishing Reports this week.  Since I haven’t been on that river in nearly two weeks, any report I could give would be stale.  To help make up for my laziness, I will clue you in to a very easy-to-tie fly that will be a key part of my arsenal this time of year.  Terrestrials are gearing up on the Gunpowder, but my favorite and most productive dry from here through about October is the No-Hackle Caddis.

Caddis fly for fly fishing
Not pretty, but very effective

Credit for inventing this fly goes to Bob Wyatt (see the Spring 2013 issue of Fly Rod and Reel Magazine, www.flyrodreel.com), who calls it the No-Hackle Deer Hair Sedge.  He ties it prettier than I do, but I can’t imagine it’s that much more effective.

The tie couldn’t be more simple.  Dub a body, then tie on a deer hair wing.  That’s it. I use all sections of the deer hair, but the thickest ones float best.  This fly floats better than any fly I have ever used, yet trails its tasty looking dubbed body in the film.  This often entices very aggressive strikes.  Nearly any color dubbing can work.  My favorites are yellow, gray, and natural hare’s ear, but I have had success with half a dozen other colors.  I also typically tie in size 14 or 16.  You can match your flies to the size and color of caddis you see on the stream, or use it as an attractor.

The best use of the No-Hackle Caddis is in slightly broken water, like a riffle or current seam.  I have had very productive days with this fly not just on the Gunpowder, but on mountain streams from the Hyalite in Montana to the Appalachian freestoners in Shenandoah National Park.  Last week on the West Branch of the Battenkill in Vermont, I only had 45 minutes to fish.  I tied on the fly pictured above and raised 5 brookies in that short time without ever changing flies.

The fly has incredible floating properties.  You can easily drop a small nymph off the hook.  A special bonus:  you can swing the No-Hackle Caddis like a wet at the end of your drift, and if you don’t get a strike on the swing (which happens more than you might think), false cast once then fish it again as a dry.  You can do this for a surprisingly long time between applications of your favorite powder floatant.