Sunday, August 23, 2020

Skidmore Fork and North River August 2020

All this work at home during COVID with no escape, begged for some R&R in the mountains.  JC and Will were game so we arranged a quick trip to the George Washington National Forest for some trout fishing.

We made a quick stop at the South River Fly Shop in Waynesboro so JC could get some waders and boots to up his wet wading tenkara game.  Here is the happy camper!  
We left on a Thursday afternoon and made an early dinner stop at our regular watering hole - Blue Mountain Brewery.  I was good and had a salad along with my Kolsch.  

With rain in the forecast and all the extra fly fishing gear, we opted for a drive up campsite rather than backpacking in somewhere.  Hone Quarry campground fit the bill.
Hone Quarry is very basic - no water, no electric, but it does have a pit toilet and the $5/night fee is unbeatable.  There were only a couple other campers so we pretty much had our choice of campsites.  We picked a nice high, level one next to the stream.  With more rain forecast and the threat of flash floods, we wanted to make sure the site wouldn't flood or pond water.
The picturesque Briery Branch flowed behind our campsite, providing white noise for a great night's sleep.
JC and I woke up Friday morning, cooked a simple breakfast of oatmeal and coffee and headed north and west to meet Will at the Skidmore Fork parking lot.  Even though Will came separately from Richmond, we arrived within seconds of each other.  We suited up and started hiking to the Switzer Dam.   On the way, JC spotted this newt...
Arrival at the dam.  The meadow was full of butterflies!
The fishing in the pool below the dam bottom release was good and it was hard to leave, but eventually we did, but not before catching many brookies on parachute Adams, and yellow stimulators.
We moved downstream and split up, each of us deploying at one of the stream crossings and working upstream so as not to risk fishing water that had already been disturbed.  The water in the Skidmore was good and the fish were cooperative.  It's a beautiful little stretch of water.
It started to rain in the early afternoon, but not too bad.  I spied this one little trib with a waterfall and figured a trout would be living there.  I was right!  
While my trout finding radar seemed to be on point, this was one of the most gratifying catches of the trip.  

I moved along, and continued to catch beautiful brookies on the yellow stimulator.

After losing both Stimulators,  I switched to a hand-tied Henryville Special with a little yellow foam post for visibility.   That worked too.
The rain steadily increased, and even though we had intended to fish the Dry River for a few hours, we were thinking about our campsite, cooking and eating in the rain, and that was not too appealing so we called it a day and headed for the comfort of Harrisonburg for food and dryness.  We stopped at the Mossy Creek Fly Fishing store, aka the "Candy Store" and restocked on yellow stimulators, ants, and beetles, I got some crosscut rabbit for steelhead flies, and we got some intel from Brian on the next day's fishing.  Stopping in at Mossy is always a good time. Afterwards, we had some wood-fired pizza and ale. 

Returning to the campsite, we were pleased to find that the front had shifted, sparing our campsite and we were able to get a fire going with the aid of a Duraflame's pyrotechnics.  We talked story until 9:30 then retired for the night.  Unfortunately, I blew out my Big Agnes sleeping pad (warranty TBD).  JC came to the rescue with a spare foam pad on which to rest my old bones.

The next day, on Brian's advice, we headed south and west to the North River.  Pretty stream!
Like the previous day, we split up on different sections of the river.  Will shook off his troubles from the day before and resumed his penchant for catching the largest, fattest Brookies.
The river was full of caterpillars, and giant, beautiful butterflies.  Here's one of the smaller, but no less beautiful ones...
We all had good luck on the North River.  In the fast, rain-infused creeks, the yellow stimulator, and it's other-colored cousins as flies were lost, produced all day long.  Love my Taylor reel and G Loomis NRX rod!
In some of the deeper pools, I tried streamers, and nymphs, but got no love.  It seemed like a dry fly day and we were NOT complaining. In this deep, long pool, little brookies were rising everywhere.  I landed a bunch.
I meet up with JC as he covered this deep pool with his Patagonia/TFO tenkara rod.  He pulled many fish out of this pool.  He begged me to try streamers to get down, but again, no takes.
JC's beautiful pool... aka, the hornet's nest pool.
I was fascinated by the rocks in the stream and wished I knew more about the geology of this area.  I kept coming across these dark black rocks with a streak of white crystal in them.  

They must be tough, because I hunted for a small, broken-off piece, but could not find one.  I liked the fascinating rocks, the massive butterflies everywhere, and the fact that the bug life was healthy and on display.  Crossing this rotting tree-fall, a giant millipede was just chilling - perhaps having munched on some tasty mushroom.
One of his caterpillar buddies...
The forecasted rain stayed away, we caught many, many Brookies and had a great day.  Feeling fully satisfied, we called it an early afternoon in anticipation of the drive home to Richmond and Hampton Roads.
JC and I said our goodbyes and parted ways with Will on the back roads around Churchville and we navigated to Starbucks in Staunton to juice up before the 3+ hour drive home.  Fully caffeinated, we enjoyed good conversation until we made it to JC's house.  I threw my wet waders, and camping gear into the Outback and was home in 30.

Thanks for a great trip guys.  Can't wait to do it again!


Saturday, May 16, 2020

Ramsey's Draft Social Fish Distancing - May 2020

Took a day off from the endless grind of teleworking to recharge with a day in the woods and on the stream.  The only thing that could've made it better was the companionship of friends.  On this trip JC and Will would join.

JC and I left Hampton Roads mid-afternoon and the Corona Virus traffic was mercifully light.  After one short detour, and a tour of the metropolis of West Augusta, we made it to the Ramsey's Draft parking lot.  

We surveyed potential camp sites and selected one by the river, JC in his MSR single and me in my trusty Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2.

We enjoyed a Swartzbier while we poked around the river and then returned to the campsite to cook dinner - couscous with tuna and salmon.  

After dinner, we pierced the inky darkness with a drive bak to West Augusta to get wifi and text Will our gameplan for the next day's fishing and coordinate on a rendezvous spot.  We texted him we would hike about 2.5 miles up to Jerry's run and fish around there 'til he arrived.  We returned to Ramsey's Draft and admired the stars, made sure the fire coals were managed, and let the rush of the stream put us to sleep.

We woke the next morning, made a quick breakfast, broke camp, donned our gear and hit the trail.

 As we hiked, we kept the river on our right.  Missing an orange stripe on a tree to mark a preferred stream crossing, we continued on through a canyon of poison ivy, stepping gingerly to avoid the scourge. 

On our way to Jerry's Run, we lost count of the stream crossings, but there were many.  Not difficult to ford, but slippery nonetheless.
Along the way. we admired the rock seeps, wild geraniums, trilliums, and other wildflowers that bloomed among the poison ivy.

Once we got above Fish Hollow, the poison ivy became less prevalent.  
By and by, in about an hour, we made it to Jerry's Run.  

As the map indicates, there is a campsite with a large fire ring on the right side of the trail.  

Big fire ring, but only enough open space for a few tents.  Plus the site was ringed with dead trees so, if you stay here, pray you don't hear a thump in the night!

Enough hiking, time to hit the stream!  I fished up from Jerry's Run, while JC headed down.  The water level was lower, but the promise hinted at the stream crossings was fulfilled as I waded upstream in search of deeper pools.  
Being that it was shallow, I swapped out my tungsten bead head pheasant tail for a brass bead version and was rewarded almost immediately with Virginia's state fish - a beautiful native brook trout.

You gotta love the colors on these fish!  I continued upstream picking fish out of the pools as I went.  

With JC's daughter's pink playmobile walkie talkie I heard Will over his more powerful Motorola version making headway up the trail to Jerry's Run.  Will had driven up from Richmond and then speed-hiked in anticipation to meet us at Jerry's Run.  JC met him at the trail crossing with me just above, but I couldn't tear myself away from the stream.  I kept fishing, around that bend, up to that tree, one more pool....  Will and JC went back to fishing.  All morning long, we had the stream and its beautiful pools to ourselves.
With the water shallow, the fish were super spooky and if you scared one at the tail of the pool, he would bolt to tell his cousins at the head and spoilt he pool.  Luckily, there were plenty to choose from.  Finally turning back to work my way downstream, I stopped for a little water and a snack before hop-scotching below JC and Will.  Over the radio, Will confirmed that he was doing well and had switched over to a parachute Adams.  For some reason, I couldn't hail JC, even when I walked right past him on the stream.   Damn playmobile radios!

I found a spot on the trail with a dry creek bed and used that to work my way to the stream.  On the way, I crossed this little wetland hidden in the woods.
I started off still fishing the pheasant tail with success.

But after seeing some bugs in the air and my first legitimate rise, I joined Will and switched over to a size 16 parachute Adams.  The Brookies crushed it!  And like Will, I caught my largest Brookies on the dry.
 I continued upstream as the rendezvous time neared.  There were just too many beautiful pools to ply and so little time.   Surprisingly, there were plenty of fish in the runs too - perhaps where you would not expect them with the water being shallow.   It was just good fishing all around.
 As the afternoon turned late, I spied this little fellow sunning on a rock and he let me take his picture.   

I'm no expert, and even though it was May, I believe this is a March Brown mayfly.   The pheasant tail nymph is a reasonable approximation for the March Brown nymph so maybe that's why it worked so well.  Doesn't explain the parachute Adams though, with its grey body.  Go figure.  Those two flies are the workhorses of any Shenandoah fly box.  They just work and work.

at 4:30 Will and I headed to the rendezvous point to meet JC.  JC finished off the day with a beautiful Brookie caught on a caddis fly.  Pretty work!
Back at the parking lot, we passed around the Smartmouth Alter Egos and kept our social distance as we recapped the day.  My back hurt, I was sore, but I wouldn't have changed a thing.  The previous evening's stream-side campout was salve for my soul and spending days with friends on the river are the stuff memories are made of.  These days will carry me through the COVID-19 pandemic to the other side.  Thanks for keeping the George Washington National Forest open.


Sunday, March 29, 2020

Ivy Creek, Shenandoah National Park, March 2020

Will and I were feeling the Force drawing us to the mountains.  But with the novel corona virus scare and subsequent public orders for social distancing, the only way we could scratch that itch and still be responsible was to find a place where few other anglers would be found. 

Reports were that people staying away from work environments were flocking to public parks, trails, and streams.  So we picked one of the more inaccessible streams we had heard of - Ivy Creek in the Shenandoah National Park.  Instead of hunting brown trout in the valley, we picked a stream that had no trail and would require a mile or more of bushwhacking just to get to fishable water.  Because I knew this would be a tough, long hike/fish day, I drove up after work Friday to sleep in my car at the parking area for the Ivy Creek Overlook. 
The darkness fell quickly after I entered the park at Rockfish Gap.  
As I drove, I was alert to the herds of deer that littered the road and I did see hoards of them.  But I also saw rabbits, turkey, frogs, a skunk, possum, and a black bear that wanted no part of my Outback's headlights.  I pulled into the parking area and laid out my sleeping pad and bag, set my phone to airplane mode and settled in for the night.

It rained on and off most of the night and the wind was howling so hard, it rocked the car back and forth.  It was a fitful sleep at best.
Will came up, separately, early Saturday morning.  We met at 7:00 and then proceeded to the parking area at the trailhead for Pinefield Hut. 

The breakfast, lunch, and dinner of champions...
Because all the vegetation was soaked and we would be bushwhacking our way to the stream, we donned our waders and boots for the hike down to the stream, but, for comfort, carried hiking boots for the hike up and out at the end of the day.

Keeping a safe distance apart, we picked our way down the drainage behind the Pinefield AT Hut.  On the way, we passed this neon orange newt, a juvenile red eft, who seemed frozen as we lumbered past.
Our little drainage's flow alternated above and below ground but, like an arrow, pointed us down and onward until, after about 45 minutes, we arrived at an intersection with Ivy Creek proper.  As we approached the stream, we spied this relatively level ground and stacks of stone about that we recognized as an old homesite that had been dismantled to remove families during the formation of the national park.  Sure enough, we found barrel stays, an old axle, shards of pottery.  
We stashed our hiking boots and other things we didn't need to carry for fishing and started our foray downstream.   Will was fishing a traditional 3wt rod, and I had my Tenkara USA Rhodo (which was perfect for this tight stream).
The stream was beautiful, with numerous cascades, big waterfalls, and plunge pools sure to hold Brook Trout.
Will struck gold first.  I fished a flashback pheasant tail nymph and followed shortly thereafter.  The fish were generally small, not longer than your hand, but Brookies are so damned beautiful - especially this one!
It's broadside was darker making the colored spots really pop!  Such a pretty fish!
 Down and down we went, pool after pool, finding hungry trout along the way.  I tricked several in this pool - some hiding in the drowned leaf litter, a bigger one just below the falls.
 We bushwhacked around thorned thickets, massive rock outcroppings, and downed trees.  We're guessing we hiked another mile or more of ups and downs to follow the stream and stay far enough away not to spook the pools.  Along the way, we found beautiful flowers and plants basking in this March's unseasonable warmth.

wild Spotted Geraniums (cranesbill)...
Roundlobe Hepatica (liverleaf)...
 Devil's urn (or crater cup) fungi.  So cool!
 Fiddlehead ferns...
But I digress, back to the fishing.  Here's Will picking the pockets and catching fish as the elevation dropped.
As the foggy, cool 50's morning stretched into afternoon, the sun came out and we stowed layers as we fished beautiful pool after pool.
As the pools got deeper, we switched to nymphs with tungsten beads, but I'm not convinced they actually increased the catch rate.  I also fished a pheasant tail nymph with a hotspot and, although I caught fish with it, I'm not sure it did any better that the traditional tie.  
There were plenty of bugs around and I saw some nice mayflies too, but nothing in the water and I only saw one legitimate rise.  One overzealous Brookie did schwhack my strike indicator.  Regardless, we were both catching well and were pleased with our fishing.

We started to discuss every step we took down we would have to bushwhack back up, but the pull to fish the next pool was strong.  We told ourselves we would stop around 2:30.  By 3:15 we were both frustrated having not caught a fish in the last couple of pools so we kept hunting and made it all the way to the park boundary.  By 3:45 we had to go and we broke down our rods and started our ascent.  We found the remains of an old trail which made the start of our hike easier and more predictable.

With the sun out and in full waders, it was unexpectantly hot!  We labored uphill in waders and wading boots.  Even though the old unmapped trail suddenly ended at the stream, we continued to pick our way up the grade for an hour and 45 minutes.  Thank goodness for the occasional open path. 
Being Will's hiking handicap, I made him stop from time to time so I could rest.  During these interludes he kept staring at the water.  Finally, he couldn't resist and worked his way down the steep slope to the steam, to a familiar, friendly pool, to shake off the late afternoon skunk.  After a short rest, I started to move on slowly and eyed one of my honey holes.  I slipped down and caught a willing fish and packed up the Tenkara for good.

We made it back to the stash pretty tired.  I could barely remove my waders, but finally succeeded. We donned hiking boots and packed up everything else, ate a little, drank a little, said goodbye to Ivy Creek, and started up our drainage to the hut and our parking lot above.  

It was steeper now, but we kept the pace slow and steady.  All business, not looking at the scenery, we actually made it up and out as fast as we came down.  Pretty miraculous actually.  I took a few pictures of the hut for future reference and we happily took the horse trail the last 100 yards to the parking lot.  Out of boots an into comfortable footware and a not-so-stinky shirt we headed nothr for the Swift Gap park entrance and then parted ways - Will to Richmond and me to Virginia Beach.

It was a great experiment in social distancing, from each other, from the rest of humanity, with a gem of a Brook Trout fishing day mixed in.  Unforgettable!