A few weeks ago, I did a smallmouth bass float trip with CT Campbell of Page Valley Fly Fishing. I was so impressed with his friendliness and skill as a guide, I decided to look him up again to go on a trip for wild brook trout in the Shenandoah mountains. The Shenandoahs haven’t received a lot of rain lately, so many of the brook trout streams had very low water levels. CT decided our best bet was the Rapidan.
I met up with CT around 9 AM (the great thing about brook trout is they aren’t very active early in the morning, so you get to sleep in!), and he took me into the Shenandoah National Park. With his previous experience as a back-country ranger in the area, he pointed out different landmarks, features, and even environmental challenges the forest is having during our ascent up the mountain in his truck. We got to our fishing spot, geared up – CT uses 3 and 4 weight fly rods for these mountain streams. CT brought me to the edge of the river to review the tactics we’d be using for this trip. Looking at the stream, I had my doubts there were even fish there – the stream was hardly more than a trickle with constant “waterfalls” between pools. The biggest pool wasn’t more than about 15 feet wide and 30 feet long, and that was rare. CT assured me that the fish were there. As if on cue, I spot a brook trout holding under a tree limb in the pool CT was using to explain our tactics. From our perch on the rock about 15 feet above the pool, we could see it was pretty good size – about 10 inches. Fishing for these brook trout isn’t about catching a big fish. It’s catching a beautiful, wily, native fish. It’s actually pretty challenging fishing too, especially with the water so clear and levels so low. These fish are very spooky!
Seeing the first brookie, we sneak our way down to the tail of the pool to try to entice the fish to take our fly without spooking him first. CT tied on a Royal Wulff onto some 6x tippet. I strip out some line and make my first cast and…. BOOM! I catch the tree behind me. In the excitement, I forgot I was fishing a tight mountain stream rather than a open river. CT frees my line, and I cast again, this time paying attention to the trees behind me.
My first cast was slightly off target and missed the drift I needed. For a lot of these fish, casting 6 inches to the right puts the fly out of it’s feeding path. My second cast was right on target, but I let it drag. No bite. My third cast was to the same spot. This time, no drag. Seconds later, the brookie came up and slammed the fly! I watched in awe. Unfortunately, watching was all I did, and I didn’t set the hook. Luckily, I fared a bit better on the next pool and actually reacted to the strike. A beautiful 8 inch brook trout took my fly.
The next several pools elicited a few missed strikes and a couple “young of the year” brookies (brook trout that were born this past February and are only a couple inches). CT was getting a little confused, and thought the pools were fishing a little weird. We tried a couple other dry flies, but had the same results. Finally, CT figured it out. He noticed a wet spot on top of a rock that wouldn’t be exposed to the running water, and it hadn’t rained recently. Sure enough, we found fresh footprints – someone was fishing right ahead of us. We packed it in, and moved a ways upstream. CT was right – at our next spot, it took me two casts before I hooked another 8 inch brookie. The day continued on with lots more strikes and more hooked fish. It was a double digit day for me (without counting the young of the year), with 4 solid fish over 8 inches, and quite a few more 4-6 inch fish.
If you’ve never fished for native brook trout, it is a must-do experience for the fly fisherman. The scenery alone is enough to make one want to take the trip, let alone the beauty of the fish. You’ll see unspoiled nature, peaceful streams, and lots of wildlife. If you make the trip in the fall, you get the added bonus of seeing the leaves change colors, plus the brook trout will be even more beautiful with their spawning colors!
Ready to book a trip with C.T. Campbell / Page Valley Fly Fishing? You can contact C.T. via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at (540) 743-7952. Visit his website at www.pagevalleyflyfishing.com for more information. C.T. offers full day smallmouth float trips plus full and half day wade trips for either smallmouths or brook trout. His 2012 rates begin at $150 for a half day wading trip. Quite a deal for such a skilled guide!